In Case of Emergency

image

As a young man, Saint Nicholas was traveling by sea and the boat was overtaken by a storm. He prayed and the crew was amazed as the waters quieted. He apparently knew about the emergency procedure.
Commonly known for his good deeds on behalf of the poor, he also became known as the patron saint of sailors and merchants.

What do all of the following characters have in common?

  • One is lost and alone, wandering in the desert. Perhaps due to poor planning, bad directions, or an unexpected detour.
  • One is languishing in prison for crimes committed. He is receiving just penalty for his lawless misdeeds.
  • One is experiencing acute suffering due to irresponsible behavior. Wiser decisions might have kept him from his pain and shame.
  • One is a merchant marine at sea, struggling for survival in a raging storm. He was just doing business and living life, but God brought the storm upon him for unknown reasons.

All the characters described in Psalm 107 are in dire straits, but each has reached his predicament in a different way.  Some just happened upon their distress, and others found trouble on their own.

How would you write the end to each of their stories?  We can all root for the sailor to outlast the storm, emerging triumphant with a tale to tell his children and grandchildren. We can breath a sign of relief when the wanderer sees a city in the distance — finally, a destination where he will receive comfort and relief. But what about the criminal? Would we be satisfied to let him languish in prison? He’s just getting what he deserves, right? What about the foolish character?  He didn’t do anything illegal, but he just should have known better!  Hmmm. Maybe we would allow him to experience a miraculous recovery, but walk with a limp for the rest of his life — as a solemn reminder.

In Psalm 107, however, we find a God who is more ready to help than we might be. We find that he leads wanderers to dwelling places. He stills raging waters and brings weary and battered sailors to port. He rescues and heals the foolish, delivering them out of destruction brought upon themselves. He even brings prisoners out of the shadows and “shatters doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron.” (v. 16)

Do you find it surprising that God graciously, and even enthusiastically, delivers all four men? Despite their apparent disparities in character, they were all able to access God’s mercy, and even his favor. They did have one thing in common as it turns out. They all did one very important thing. They each implemented the all-purpose, emergency response procedure: “they cried out to God in their trouble.” (vs. 6, 13, 19, 28)

Perhaps we don’t write stories with harsher endings for others, but for ourselves.   Maybe we have resolved to suffer. Maybe we even deserve to suffer. Nevertheless, you have no crisis that has taken God by surprise. Follow the prescribed procedure. Then watch and wait. Modes of deliverance often differ as much as the nature of the distress. Sometimes the delivery is by degrees and sometimes it is by sudden emancipation. Sometimes the delivery is not seen; not absent, just not observable to the average onlooker. After all, the mysteries of God cannot be fully disclosed in a single chapter. In fact, the entirety of scripture  does not provide any formulas or decision trees to predict divine acts.  Sorry.

He does reveal a singular motivation for the his actions in all these scenarios, however. Immediately preceding these case studies, we read that “He is good and his love endures forever.” (I know your next question. There are entire books written to address it, so I’m sure it at least warrants its own stand-alone blog posting at a later date.)

And although He keeps the instructions simple in the moment of crisis, there are several follow up procedures. Giving thanks is a repeated theme (vs. 1, 8, 15, 21, 31). Then there is the exhortation “to let the redeemed of The Lord say so.” (v. 2) Finally, we are left pensive in verse 42…”Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of The Lord.”

And, how else will we learn to sing songs of deliverance? (v. 22)

Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.

Wilt Thou not regard my call? Wilt Thou not accept my prayer?
Lo! I sink, I faint, I fall—Lo! on Thee I cast my care;
Reach me out Thy gracious hand! While I of Thy strength receive,
Hoping against hope I stand, dying, and behold, I live.*

*From “Jesus Lover of my Soul” by Charles Wes­ley, Hymns and Sac­red Po­ems, 1740.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackLeave your own tracks…Tell someone about your own stories of deliverance.

The Christ Who Longs

Christ the SaviorAbout 10 years ago, I became a member of a book club, and our first assigned reading was “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In this story, a man named Florentino Ariza is to be wed in his youth to the beautiful Fermina Daza.  But under the pressure and influence of other people and circumstances, she dumps him and marries a rich doctor instead. So Florintino waits in hope for 51 years, 9 months, and 4 days for Fermina’s husband to die so that he can get another shot at marital bliss with this woman.

Though I finished off the book, I was unable to attend the meeting where it was discussed.  I’m guessing, however, that the nature of longing was addressed at length. From where does the desire for relationship, romantic or otherwise, come? I love the answer posed by the well-known author and scholar, C.S. Lewis. He believed the experience of longing or desire to be an internal signpost pointing us towards the God of the Christian faith. Lewis’ conclusion necessitates a belief in a relational God, and indeed, the entirety of biblical scripture is a drama of relationship lost and restored.

The story begins in a Garden where people walk and talk with the One who fashioned them to interact with Himself. But love cannot be forced. So He allows them to supplant relationship with their own ephemeral pursuits.  Man asserts his volition, then furtively loiters among the flora and fauna  where he used to stride in peace and confidence. Ultimately, the story ends in a City where the connectivity between God and man is reestablished, unimpeded by the sinfulness that made a mess of things in between.

Of course between the beginning and the end, there is a lot of hope and longing for the Messiah, or Christ, who would repair the rift between an unholy people and a holy God. In the meantime, humans try to commune with God in their own sin-handicapped sort of way. Catching glimpses of the divine and longing for more.

People like Job, who in while in great suffering declared, “I know my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth…I myself will see him with my own eyes — I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25, 27)

The warrior-poet, David, crafted the verse recorded as Psalm 27:4 saying, or perhaps more likely singing, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

Nevertheless, when Christ finally appeared, he had to remind people who were caught up in rules that the first and foremost rule was one of relationship: to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And that when you love God indeed, you will desire to live life within the parameters of that relationship.

Now it’s one thing to love God; he is perfect in beauty, grandeur, justice, and mercy. He is worthy of longing. But what is more amazing is that He longs for us.

At the end of the biblical narrative, humans once again dwell with their Maker.  The reunion is described as a wedding, with Christ being the bridegroom and his followers throughout all time collectively being called his bride.  Why the use of a bride-groom metaphor rather than a husband-wife metaphor? They would seem to be parallel, but there is a clear distinction. Anticipation. God himself eagerly awaits this divine consummation, revealing that “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Isaiah 62:5)

Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down;
fix in us thy humble dwelling;
all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation;
enter every trembling heart.*

In Christ we find a bridegroom who waits for his bride, with even a more perfect expectancy than that of the fictitious Florintino Ariza.

*From “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley, 1747.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackLeave your own tracks…The biblical story is concisely summarized in the lyrics of “In the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable” by Stuart Townend, who specifically references the biblical Bride and Her Lover. There are several arrangements of this song that you may want to explore.

Capturing Wisdom

What if you were charged with the task of defining the word “wisdom”?  Really.
Take a moment and think about it…

All the nuances of this term are difficult to capture, at least in a concise way.

  • How is wisdom different than intelligence?
  • What is the role of life experience in the acquisition of wisdom?
  • How is wisdom accessed, and what does it look like when actualized?

Some abstract concepts connote so much meaning that words do not suffice to describe them.  So the Creator gets creative once again, painting pictures with words penned by Solomon.  Together, words and images coalesce to activate the mind, imagination, and experiences of the learner.

photo

An attempt to capture the concept of Wisdom while reading Proverbs 3:13-20…

Proverbs 3:13-20 (NIV)
13Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding,
14 for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed.
19 By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the
heavens in place;

20 by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.

Wisdom is nothing if not implemented.  It is never just an idea or philosophy in isolation. “Wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”  (Matthew 11:19)  Wisdom must be acted out by a living agent, so perhaps this is why the literary technique of personification is employed.  And we find that wisdom is to be desired, but not as a purely intellectual pursuit.  More than that, it’s aesthetically pleasing, it’s relationally soothing, it’s physically nourishing.  And even more, we find that it’s the powerful force by which the foundations of the earth were forged.

Who may wield such a powerful force?  Despite its experiential nature, we find that wisdom is not always gained through the accumulation of years.  Nor disseminated through the abundance of words.  Just ask Job.  If you read his story, you find that his aged (and perhaps well-meaning) friends were less than impressive in their attempts to help.  The younger Elihu finally intervened, demonstrating that sometimes wisdom must take initiative — sometimes it must confront.  By it’s very nature, wisdom must somehow be expressed.

Job 32:6-22

So Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite said: “I am young in years, and you are old; that is why I was fearful, not daring to tell you what I know. I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’ But it is the spirit[b] in a person, the breath of the Almighty, that gives them understanding. It is not only the old[c] who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.

10 “Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell you what I know. 11 I waited while you spoke, I listened to your reasoning; while you were searching for words, 12I gave you my full attention. But not one of you has proved Job wrong; none of you has answered his arguments. 13 Do not say, ‘We have found wisdom; let God, not a man, refute him.’ 14 But Job has not marshaled his words against me, and I will not answer him with your arguments.

15 “They are dismayed and have no more to say; words have failed them. 16 Must I wait, now that they are silent, now that they stand there with no reply? 17 I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know. 18 For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me; 19 inside I am like bottled-up wine, like new wineskins ready to burst. 20 I must speak and find relief; I must open my lips and reply. 21 I will show no partiality, nor will I flatter anyone; 22 for if I were skilled in flattery, my Maker would soon take me away.

Wisdom that remains in the abstract is not wisdom at all.  Maybe we can learn something about its nature, even as we experience it vicariously through imagery.  The best thing about wisdom, however, is that it can be granted upon request as the Spirit of God is infused into its bearer.  (James 1:4-5)

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.*

*From “Be Thou My Vision.” Words: At­trib­ut­ed to Dal­lan For­gaill, 8th Cen­tu­ry (Rob tu mo bhoile, a Com­di cri­de); trans­lat­ed from an­cient Ir­ish to Eng­lish by Ma­ry E. Byrne, in “Eriú,” Jour­nal of the School of Ir­ish Learn­ing, 1905, and versed by El­ea­nor H. Hull, 1912, alt.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackLeave your own tracks…Try painting (or drawing) an image representative of a complex biblical concept.

Favored in a Fallen World

Archangel_Gabriel“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:28

Such a warm pronouncement, yet Mary was “greatly troubled…and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.” (Luke 1:29)  She had been chosen to bear the long-awaited Messiah — a great honor for certain!  And those moved by the Spirit knew it.  Upon seeing Jesus in the temple courts, Simeon praised God for the appearance of a Light that would let those who would see it find their way out of darkness. He then gave Mary a blessing somewhat curious to our ears, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:35)  Mary was going to experience the bittersweetness of being favored in a fallen world.

So began Mary’s special blessing, but also an onslaught of trials:

    • Her reputation was questioned due to Jesus’ supernatural conception.
    • She endured travel to Bethlehem on a donkey late in her pregnancy.
    • She surely grieved the deaths of the 300 other children born in Bethlehem as Herod sought to kill hers.
    • Her new family was soon displaced after the birth as they fled to Egypt.
    • Her son’s ministry was controversial among the religious leaders of Israel (as Simeon predicted), as well as within her own household.
    • She eventually watched her son be unjustly and cruelly executed.

But  joys, victories, and wondrous miracles were interspersed among these sorrows.  Bittersweet is an apt term to describe the outpouring of Mary’s favor, for her blessings ran counter to the nature of the fallen world around her.  In fact, both “bitter” and “sweet” are terms used to describe the hard prophetic messages given to the prophets Ezekiel and John.  Being commissioned by the God of the universe to deliver a message is certainly both glorious and sweet, but the delivery of the message to a hostile audience can be, well, bitter.  And Jesus’ life bore out the fullness of this reality.

The transcendent, divine love of God and the woe-filled sinfulness of the present age are beautifully juxtaposed in song:

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet?
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?*

Just as Mary knew Christ in his sufferings, however, she also knew him in the glory of his resurrection from the dead.  And, perhaps it was even the bitterness of circumstance that maintained her sweetness.  Much like Paul who found that thorns brought with them humility and a reliance on the grace of God, and his weaknesses showcased the power of Christ.

What bitterness compares to the sweetness of having known and been known, loved and been loved, by the God and Creator of the universe?

*From “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Isaac Watts.

Copyright © 2014. The Literate Lyoness.

trackLeave your own tracks…Make a comment or contact me at thelyoness@literatelyoness.com. Also take a look at Star of Bethlehem Documentary 2007 – Rick Larson on YouTube.