Monthly Archives: December 2012

Mind Not High Things

Christians everywhere this time of year are thinking of the birth of the King of kings. Don’t tell anybody, but even in summer I sometimes find myself singing (to myself) The First Noel, or, O Little Town of Bethlehem.

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light:
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

What cause for rejoicing!  We live in a terribly dark world, yet into this world of darkness—I am so thankful—a Light has come!  Into this world of darkness He came, the everlasting light!

And when I think of the way this happened—the way the God of glory came down into a world of darkness and revealed Himself among men—I am awestruck.  It is true that He is the high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity; there is none greater nor higher than He.  But at the same time, there is none more lowly than He.

There was great expectation in those days that their Messiah-king was about to appear.  Would it not be natural to assume that the Great King, the Deliverer of David’s line, would be born in a palace?  This in fact is what the Magi assumed when they first saw His star in the east.  They made their long journey to Jerusalem, and inquired in the palace of Herod.  Where else would such a potentate be born?

But no, He is born to a penniless teenage girl and her betrothed husband who have just had to make a very difficult trip at a very inconvenient time.  She is great with child, and just as they arrive at their destination, suddenly her pains come upon her.  The inn has no room for them, and so the King of kings is born in, of all places… a stable?  He is laid in a manger… a feed trough for cattle?  There is no pomp, no ceremony to which the great ones of the earth have been invited.  In fact His first visitors are shepherds who are keeping night watch over their flocks while most men sleep.

It is this, all this, that is so moving about the birth of Jesus Christ.  Here is all this lowliness—the cattle shed, the manger, the nameless shepherds… Yet we know we are touching grandeur, majesty of the highest order.  The open heart cannot help but be on its knees.

Do you long to be involved in great things?  So do I.  But do we recognize that God’s greatness is always couched in this kind of lowliness?  Many in our day are not so sure of that anymore.  There is as much a celebrity culture in the church as in the world these days.  Hollywood has its stars, but so now does Christendom.

Bearing this in mind, here’s another poem I love.

That Holy Thing

They all were looking for a king
To slay their foes and lift them high:
Thou cam’st a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.

O Son of man, to right my lot
Nought but Thy Presence can avail;
Yet on the road Thy wheels are not,
Nor on the sea Thy sail!

My fancied ways why shouldest Thou heed?
Thou com’st down Thine own secret stair;
Coms’t down to answer all my need,
Yea, every bygone prayer!

George Macdonald (1824-1905)

I love those lines.  “Thou com’st down Thine own secret stair…”  How deeply we need our Lord Jesus.  Only His Presence—He Himself—will avail to right our lot, that situation in our lives we so desperately need an answer for.  He comes to answer all my need—my present need, and not mine only: all the prayers of ages past as well.  But how does He come?  I look at the way He appeared back then when people looked for Him among the important of the day.  And I look at what is happening these days in the Church among the fame seekers and big-name entertainers and performers.  All too often I am seeing the red carpet being rolled out for “another Jesus” these days, one far different from the lowly One who made His debut into this world in a cattle shed.  He came down His own secret staircase, came down Jacob’s ladder from the top to the bottom, and was born in a cattle shed.  You mean the High God took upon Him human flesh in that manner?  It sends shivers down my spine.

We live in days of such grievous and heart-rending things; there are those who try to tell us that the human family is just an accident of evolution gone terribly wrong, and the sooner it’s all scrapped, the better.  I am not among the cynics.  God has things in store for the family of man beyond our wildest fancies.  He has chosen man, of all creatures, for His own Dwelling Place.  When Jacob saw that ladder in a dream at Bethel one night, it was the Man Christ Jesus that He was seeing.  It is the Son of man, Jesus Christ Himself, who is Bethel—the house of God (Gen. 28.17, Jn. 1.51).

And wonder of wonders, there are others among men who are part of this same House! But  who?  The high?  The lofty?  The praise seekers?  The great among men?  Beloved, if we want to be part of this Dwelling Place we will be companying with the lowly in “the secret place of the stairs.”

This is my great desire and prayer for those who read this little blog A Mending Feast.  Let us not be minding high things, beloved.  Let us be among the lowly… anticipating a precious visitation in the Spirit.

…Maybe you would join with me in singing another verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem.

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive Him still the dear Christ enters in.

Amen. Blessings to you all at this time, and all through the coming year.

Two Shadows

It’s happened again.  And like so many others I am hurting badly over the latest school massacre in the United States—this time little children, some of them in kindergarten.  My heart bleeds for the parents of these little ones.  They have just gone through the end of their world.

Now we are being treated to the inevitable media feeding frenzy over it all… again.  They are covering every conceivable angle… again.  They are bringing in the expert panels to analyze what happened… again.  They are bringing in the grief counsellors to treat people for post traumatic distress… again.  They are “searching for answers”… again.  Not that they search very far—by this they mean trying to find out the killer’s motive.

The thing is, the experts set forth their analyses, the grief-stricken get counselled, the answers get searched out… and then for the most part it’s business as usual… till it happens again.

It seems it is a very difficult thing to awaken a society to the consciousness that Something is missing… and that God never intended this life we live to be lived without Him being the centre of all.

Our presumption that we can in fact do this—leave Him out—is the recipe for evil.  People are prepared to live with that, of course, as long as evil doesn’t get too evil.  As long as they feel they can keep evil in their own control, they even enjoy it.  The problem is that evil is not content to stay in the harness.  In due time evil is unleashed…. as we see happening more and more these days.  Sooner or later man will have to acknowledge that he doesn’t have the answers anymore—that evil is out of control.

In fact I believe we are now entering what the Bible calls “the Evil Day.”

It’s very frightening, but fellow Christian, this is our cue.  This is where you and I come in.  We are called to the warfare of the Evil Day.  We are called to put on the whole armour of God that we may be able “to stand in the Evil Day, and having done all (accomplished all) to stand.”  In other words, when this Day is over, the victory over evil that our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished at Calvary is going to be made manifest worldwide.  Evil will have been vanquished on the field of battle, never to be found in heaven or earth again.

And so in the midst of great anguish we have great hope.  Men’s hearts are failing them for fear as one thing after another comes upon them.  But Christian, this fearful company does not include you and me.  We are putting on our armour, and we know the outcome of the battle.

We know that when the harvest of evil is ripe… what does a ripe field mean to the Man with the sickle?

When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed forever (Ps. 92.7).

He’s going to cut it down, beloved.  So we take heart in the midst of destruction.  When Death is casting a long shadow (as it is these days), what can this mean but that Death’s day is about done?

We take courage in knowing this.  God is going to deal with it all.  But even now we get out from under that shadow!  We need not live under that shadow!  There is another Shadow we can abide under.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty (Ps. 91.1).

Let us not be foolish, beloved, carrying on as we always have and suddenly finding our world has caved in around us.  Let us earnestly be seeking this Shadow, this Secret Place.  It’s not a run-away-and-hide-from-it-all kind of place.  It’s a Place right there on the field of battle, a place in the midst of trouble where we can be a help to those in trouble, a light in the darkness.  Evil is all about us.  The snare of the fowler is right before us.  There is terror by night, and the arrow of evil by day.  Pestilence walks in the darkness, destruction wastes at noonday.  Thousands around us are falling.  But it cannot come nigh us.  We are safe from it all in the secret place of His Presence—under the Shadow of the Almighty.

Just flowery words, Psalm 91, this beautiful psalm?  Please don’t be so foolish.  They are filled with promise.  Give yourself to them, as I give myself to them.  They’re the words of God that cannot be broken, and they work effectually in those who believe (1 Thes. 2.13).

We must walk, all of us, through the vale of tears, the valley of the shadow of death.  But as sheep of a very Great Shepherd, we need fear no evil in this valley.  And why not?  Because “Thou art with me.”

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.

Thou art with me!  There is Another Shadow, beloved, under which we can walk through this terrible valley.  We need to find it and abide under it.

…Lord Jesus, Thou that dwellest in the heavens, we lift up our eyes to Thee, and we lift up our hearts with our hands, and the hearts of those who saw their flock of little ones torn by the ravening wolf yesterday.  How long, Lord Jesus, how long?  Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  We have entered a day, Lord Jesus, when more and more people will be praying your prayer not ritually, but from the heart:  “Deliver us from evil!  Oh God, please deliver us from evil!”  And we believe You will answer, Lord, in this Day.  And believing, we put on our armour.  We will be numbered among those fighting on Your side in the Evil Day, knowing that when it is all over we shall be the ones standing victors on the field, and thus bringing in another Day… a Day in which the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the cow and the bear shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw with the ox… and the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  Amen.

I’ve Found Gold!

Back in the 1600s when modern science was still in the cradle, alchemists devoted themselves to the pursuit of something they called the philosopher’s stone.  They were sure there was such a thing, and if they could just discover it, they would be able to transform base metals into gold.  Alchemists also experimented attempting to find the elixir, which to drink (they just knew) would keep them eternally young.

We who are arguably wiser now know that this is impossible, but it was exciting science back in those days.  If only they could discover how to turn a more common metal, say iron or lead, into gold.  Suddenly the rocks around them would make them rich!  Or this fleeting little life locked in to decay… if only they could discover the magic potion that reverses the inevitable.

And so everyone was talking about this back in the 1600s.  Would one of these alchemists actually find the philosopher’s stone or the elixir of life?  It was exciting to think so in a time when very few people lived into their 60s.  However, an Anglican rector by the name of George Herbert who knew and loved the Lord realized he had already found this stone, this elixir.  Herbert made it the subject of one of his poems, which were published after he died at age 40.  (Some might remember that a line from one of Herbert’s poems, The Call, inspired the title for this blog—A Mending Feast.)

Here is the poem, The Elixir.  It’s a little difficult for the modern ear; if you’re like me, it’ll take a few readings to mine out the riches in it.  But first, a few definitions that will bring Herbert’s use of the English language up to date.

Rude:  primitive, coarse, unthinking, like a brute beast

Prepossessed:  to be preoccupied with, to make something of exclusive concern

Tincture:  dye, stain

Mean:  ignoble, base

Now the poem.

The Elixir

Teach me, my God and King,
In all things Thee to see;
And what I do in any thing,
To do it as for Thee;

Not rudely, as a beast,
To run into an action;
But still to make Thee prepossess’d
And give it his perfection.

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.

All may of Thee partake:
Nothing can be so mean,
Which with his tincture—“For Thy sake”—
Will not grow bright and clean.

A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws,
Makes that, and th’ action, fine.

This is the famous stone,
That turneth all to gold;
For that, which God doth touch and own,
Cannot for less be told.

Is this not a wondrous find?  To borrow a favourite phrase of our Lord’s, He that hath ears, let him hear. There is an elixir that transforms drudgery into the divine.  It is found in doing all things as unto the Lord.  Let me not be rushing through life preoccupied with its needs and chores, harnessed to them like an unthinking beast that knows nothing beyond earthly things.  Let me be preoccupied with God in it all, and give my best to Him.

Yes, we can focus our attention on the window pane of life taking note of the streaks in it, and the smudges.  But it’s a bit strange that someone stands before a window looking no further than the pane.  We can look through that and see the heavens revealed.  The base things, the mean things of life, the “servant” things… we need not chafe at these.  I know, we’d all like to leave that to others while we ourselves get on with what we know we were cut out for in this life—being kings and queens.  But—what does God know that I don’t?—inevitably there is something before me that means I must stoop to being a servant.  I am not free to do my own thing, I must obey… someone else.  But God adds a clause in that law—Do it unto the Lord—that makes the doing of it something royal, something refined.

When our lot in life is “mean” things, base things, this is the transforming elixir that makes those very things heavenly.  This tincture, this dye—“For Thy sake”—causes all that is colourless to shine with new luster.  This is the stone that, since God is now involved, the most humbling things can only rightly be told (accounted) as gold.

I like that very much.  This transforms not only the disagreeable duties of life, but the whole of life itself.  Take my own life, for example.  What a plain, ordinary, bland, boring life I live. If I ever wrote my autobiography it would be a bargain-bin book for sure.

Except for one thing… and oh for eyes to see this always!  I’ve found a Stone… and He’s turned my life to gold!  Yes, all the troubles and afflictions, too!  It’s all gold!