Category Archives: A Mending Feast

This category is about my blog’s theme.

The Lamb Is My Shepherd

In the following devotional the personal pronoun “I” has been used. Dear reader, if you are one of the sheep of His pasture, you are invited to take this “I” unto yourself. If you are not one of the sheep of His pasture, oh, become one!

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 I have a loving Shepherd of my soul, who, when I had gotten myself very lost (as all we of Adam’s race do) went as far as a hill called Calvary to find me in a valley called Sin and Death.

My Shepherd had to die to come to me where I was—dead in trespasses and sins.

Then, the God of peace brought again from the dead that great Shepherd of the sheep—my Lord Jesus Christ—in the blood of an everlasting covenant.

When He arose He brought me up with Him: He took me up in His arms and carried me in His bosom, and brought me out from that desolate valley into a green pasture called Resurrection Life, a high mountain pasture where, as the Lamb in the midst of the throne of God, He continues to shepherd me, by His Spirit leading me daily to fountains of living waters. I thirst no more. I hunger no more. I walk with Him daily in newness of life—His life. The blazing sun does not beat down upon me, nor any heat, for He who sits on the Throne has spread the shady Tabernacle of Himself over me.

This Lamb who gave Himself for me is my shepherd, the overseer of my soul. He watches over me daily, keeping me, protecting me from marauding lions and bears. He causes me to lie down in His green pastures of living truth. He leads me beside the waters of rest. Daily He restores my soul, provisioning me afresh with all I need to do His will, working in me what is wellpleasing in His sight.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His own Names’ sake.  Leads me, I say. For He Himself is ever with me. Yes, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death with evil about me on every hand, I fear no evil. For, now I am no longer a subject under the shadow, the domain, of King Death. My Lamb-Shepherd has redeemed me from that king, and now, just as the children of Israel lived securely “under the shadow” of their kings, I live under the shadow of the Anointed King Jesus, the breath of my nostrils, whose shadow is the reign of grace, of righteousness and peace, of life and light and liberty.

And so we walk together, my Shepherd and I, He leading, and I following, in the Pathway He has chosen for us through the valley of the shadow of death. No longer a resident here, I am just passing through.

My Shepherd King is with me. So I fear no evil. He has a rod and a staff, and they comfort me—the rod to deal with my enemies, or to correct me when I need it myself, and a staff that sustains me, holds me up.

He prepares a table before me in the very presence of my enemies, who, though they continue to roar and threaten, can no longer torment me with fear.

The head of my Shepherd-king is anointed with oil, and that oil flows down upon my head, making me a king too.

It is all too, too much. His cup, my cup, runs over.

My Shepherd the Lamb of God went as far as Calvary and the grave to seek out and find this lamb. What comfort—to continue to lean on Him and trust Him daily in every circumstance great or small. He—my Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd and Bishop of my soul, “has come into my circumstances with divine and tender love, making Himself acquainted with all the little details of my life; and He has brought me, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in endless life, into His own magnificent circumstances, where I enjoy the light of His countenance… where I am the delight of His heart.” (J.B. Stoney)

Now, instead of my enemies pursuing me relentlessly every day, His goodness and His mercy pursue me all the days of my life.

I shall be dwelling in the House of my Shepherd forever. I know and trust that as I do so, God will, in His time, wipe away each and every tear from my eyes.

(Psalm 23; Hebrews 13:20,21; 1 Peter 2:25; Revelation 7:15-17; Lamentations 4:20)

 

 

 

 

 

The Life That Killeth Death

The last few days I have been mourning the death of a friend.  Our friend Amanda, after a long fight with cancer, died a few days ago.

This was all the harder for many of us because we had been praying earnestly for Amanda, hoping she would be healed.  Yet our Lord did not heal her.  She died, leaving behind her a husband and twelve children… some so young they will never have known their mother.

I know few people who had the depth of faith this woman had.  On one occasion she made Job’s words her own:  “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”  So let me repeat what I said, this time more accurately.  Our friend lost a battle with cancer.  But she won the victory of faith.  For, she held her faith in Jesus to the end.  She died in faith.

In fact (again more accurately) Amanda didn’t actually die.  She fell asleep in Jesus.  This is not just a euphemism.  This is the way the apostles referred to believers who had passed on (1 Cor. 15.6,18).

For, to those who believe in Jesus, the power of death has been broken.  Jesus Christ has “abolished death” (2 Tim. 1.10).  The word translated abolished is a very strong word in the Greek.  It is katargeo, which is made up of three parts: kata-a-ergeo.  Kata is a prefix which is often used as an intensifier.  This is followed by a, which in the Greek is the negative (as in a-theist).  And then the stem ergeo, which means to work.  And so Paul proclaims that what Jesus Christ did on Calvary’s cross resulted in death being made totally unable to work.  For those who believe in Jesus, death totally does not work; death absolutely does not work anymore, is of no effect anymore… for those who believe in Jesus.

And Paul goes on to say that this is something that the Gospel is supposed to make manifest—not just tell us about, but actually make manifest.  Christ has “abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (2 Tim.1.10).

So… this is the shape my mourning has taken the last few days.  Yes, I mourn for my sister, but more than that, I am mourning for the reality of this powerful Gospel—the Good News that manifests, that shines forth as light, the victory of Christ at Calvary.  Those who know the Good News ought to be walking in a Life that is totally triumphant over the whole kingdom of sin and death.  Is that the case with you?  With me?

Just today the lines of the poem that inspired the title for my blog came again to mind:

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast,
Such a feast as mends in length,
Such a strength as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move,
Such a love as none can part,
Such a heart as joys in love.

(The Call by George Herbert, 1593-1633)

What’s this—a life that killeth death?  It’s ingrained in our thinking that death always triumphs over life, that death kills life.  And so we fear death.  But no, there is a Life that kills death, a Life that triumphs over death…

…Because it is a Life that leads in the Pathway of the Cross.  Jesus, walking in the Pathway of Life… this Pathway led Him to the Cross, where He accomplished the greatest thing that has ever happened in the universe.

He Hell in hell laid low;
Made sin, He sin o’erthrew;
Bowed to the grave, destroyed it so,
And death by dying slew.

Samuel Whitlock Gandy, 1780-1851

What paradoxes.  The Lord Jesus Christ manifested the Life “that killeth death.”  This Life led Him to the Cross, where He “death by dying slew.”  Eternal paradoxes.  And entirely scriptural.  By dying, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ destroyed (there’s that same word again, katargeo) him that had the power of death, that is, the Devil (Heb. 2.14).  He slew the Devil with His own weapon (as David did Goliath), and delivered those who “through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

For, He became sin for us—He who knew no sin.  And that is what causes death—sin. It’s there in the whole family of Adam, from the tiny baby to the ancient man.  Sin.  The poison of sin is at work in the whole family of Adam.  It’s the sting of death.  “The sting of death is sin” (1 Cor. 15.56).  In other words, when somebody sins they have been stung by death.  Sin is the sting of death.  But Jesus took the sting out of death.  He became sin for us—your sin and mine—and died, taking sin down into the grave with Him.  He died unto sin.  He died for our sins.  He died for our sins—and rose again for our justification.  What a revelation!  Paul says that if Christ has not risen from the dead, “your faith is vain (futile), ye are yet in your sins” (1 Cor. 15.17).  The implication is that if Christ is risen from the dead (and He is), we are not in our sins.  If Christ is risen from the dead, this is evidence that the sting of death (sin) has been removed, and so we who believe in Him are no more in our sins.  And, therefore, what hold can death have on us?  And so Paul concludes:

Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15.57).

What is that victory?  Yes, it’s the triumph of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary.  But thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  That’s what the Gospel is all about—or ought to be.  It ought to be a shining forth in our lives of the truth and victory that Christ wrought at Calvary, and which enables us to walk in Life even as He Himself walked.

I have to say that this is all too often not the case among us Christians, and so, as I said, I have been mourning for this.  I believe that if the Life of Jesus were more the reality we are walking in, my friend Amanda would still be with us.  I simply cannot accept that the present state of worldliness and weakness and sickness that is plaguing the churches is the will of God.

However, I know that my friend Amanda died in faith, and so, regardless what death seems still able to accomplish, it is faith that triumphs.  Death may be boasting over yet another of its victims, but faith has the last word.  For even though we see not yet the final victory over this the last enemy, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen” (Heb. 11.1).  Yes, the world is full of sin and sickness and death.  But faith is the victory.

…This is the victory that overcame the world, our faith (1 Jn. 5.4).

And this is why Amanda is not dead.  She is asleep… and waiting to be awakened.

See you later, Amanda.

Here is George Herbert’s The Call set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

No Leftovers

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When outlining to the Israelites God’s provision for their deliverance from Egypt, Moses told them they were to apply the blood of the Passover lamb to the side posts and lintel of the doors of their houses.  This would be their protection when the Destroyer went through the land of Egypt slaying every firstborn of man and beast.

This event is the basis upon which Christians claim their salvation by the blood of Christ, whom the apostle Paul calls “our Passover” (1 Cor. 5:7).  In the New Testament, much emphasis is placed on the blood of Christ by which we are saved, and rightly so.

John calls us to give all glory “to Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev. 1:5).

Peter reminds us that we were not redeemed with corruptible things like gold or silver from our futile way of life, “but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pt. 1:19).

Paul also emphasizes the redemption that is ours through Christ, “in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” Eph. 1:7).  Paul surely has the Passover in mind when he teaches that, “much more then, being justified by His blood we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Rom.5:9).

But important as this is, let us remember that in addition to this application of the blood to the doorposts of their houses, Moses gave two other injunctions which the people were to keep. (See Exodus Ch. 12).

They were to keep a feast of unleavened bread seven days.

And the same night in which they applied the blood of the Passover lamb to their doorposts with hyssop, they were to remain in their houses and eat that same lamb.

What is more, they were told there were to be no leftovers.  If any of the lamb remained till the next morning, they were to burn it.

All these aspects of the Passover are significant; not one can be neglected.  I say significant—meaning they were signs pointing to a greater reality.  The blood we have already touched on.  The unleavened bread speaks of a walk “in sincerity and truth,” as Paul explains (1 Cor. 5:8).  We must be genuine; we must walk the talk, or we do despite to the blood of Christ and the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29).

And we must partake of this Lamb.  Applying the blood does not stand alone and will not produce a working salvation in the person who is not also taking up the cross and sharing this Lamb’s sufferings.  Those who think they have been saved by the blood of the Lamb, but who then give themselves to life in this world and evade His sufferings… they are deceiving themselves.

The Passover lamb was to be roasted in fire and thus eaten; it could not be eaten raw, or boiled in water.  It had to be touched by fire, “his head with his legs, and with the purtenance (the innards) thereof” (Ex. 12:9).  That is to say, both inside and out, this lamb had to go into the fire.  And the Israelites were to partake of this lamb.

So with us.  This must become our own diet, too.  The fires of the Cross must become our own Christian experience—inside and out.

And we must see this for what it is—the highest of privileges.

For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake (Phil. 1:29).

The word given here has the thought of a gracious privilege.  We aren’t seeing right when we view the cross in our lives as an unwanted burden, and take it up reluctantly, with heavy heart.  We must, as it were, cultivate a taste for Lamb.

We must partake of the Lamb.  And we must do so today… or should I say tonight—that is, during this time of darkness our world is now enshrouded in.  Christians the world over are suffering with the Lamb of God in this night… and are longing for morning.

That morning is nigh at hand.  The night is far spent, the day is at hand.

What about you and me?  For, when that day dawns… when morning comes, resurrection morning… it will be too late to share in Christ’s sufferings anymore.  Too late.

And those who have not suffered with the Lamb of God will have wasted their lives in this world.

Keep The Feast Of Tabernacles

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A few days ago I had not spent the necessary time waiting, seeking, praying, till I had the assurance of the Presence of the Lord in my heart before venturing into my day. And so I suffered most of the day with a troubled heart.  Yes, I know, foolish me.  At the same time I know it’s not always foolishness; these are increasingly difficult days; we are up against Egypt and Babylon—a world system built from the ground up to shut God out.  But when I could endure it no longer I finally found a quiet place and bowed my head and opened my heart to my Lord.  I am so thankful for His mercy.  It was not long before His Presence seeped into my heart and washed out the troubles.  And He began to speak to me.  Oh, the preciousness of hearing His Voice again!  I am sure He could hear mine—the troubled bleating of one of His sheep who had temporarily lost his way.  But as soon as I heard the Voice of my Shepherd I had my bearings again; I knew where I was, and where I was going—that is, where I was being led.

Oh the assurance, the comfort, of His Voice!  And instead of the troubles I found these words in my heart—“Keep the feast of tabernacles.”  I knew immediately this was a reminder, for it was a word He had spoken into my heart many years ago.

When the children of Israel returned from their Babylonian captivity in the days of Nehemiah they discovered in the book of the law that they were to keep the feast of tabernacles—Succoth, or Booths—in the seventh month.  This is something they could not do in the land of their captivity; it was to be kept in their own land in the place God designated.

Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty (Dt. 16:16).

That’s a promise—that they would not appear before Him empty—and the place was of course Jerusalem, the city God had chosen for His temple, His dwelling place.  And so here in Nehemiah we find the children of Israel who have returned from the Babylonian captivity gathering together in Jerusalem in the seventh month.

Let’s quickly review the events.  On the first day of the month—the day of the sounding of trumpets that initiates the feast of tabernacles (Lev. 23:24)—Nehemiah read from the book of the law, and the Levites with him “gave the sense” (Neh. 8:8).  That is, they caused the people to understand what was written.  This is the true significance of the feast of trumpets—the sounding forth of the word of the Lord in a way that opens the understanding to what is hidden in the letter of precept and prophecy.

It’s interesting to note, by the way, that when Nehemiah gives the names of the Levites who are standing with him, six are on his right and seven on his left, making fourteen altogether.  In other words, as a friend pointed out to me once, Nehemiah himself was not in the centre here.  Who was in the centre, then?  It’s a beautiful picture of corporate leadership in the church, in which no one man, but Christ Himself, is always to be in the centre.

There is much in this passage and we can’t cover it all here.  For one thing, there is no mention of the Day of Atonement, which is the very heart of the feast of tabernacles.  Not that they bypassed this day—as many have done in our day.  This is what accounts for the great uncleanness in much of the present-day feasting in the Charismatic realm.  People have wanted to keep the Feast without keeping the Fast (as the Day of Atonement was called.)  But to celebrate the feast of tabernacles without first keeping the fast of the Day of Atonement is a recipe for deception.  Without being broken before the Lord in great repentance and sorrow at the foot of the Cross…  without apprehending His atonement for sin… without His cleansing… no wonder the feasting of our day is so unholy and shallow and full of all manner of uncleanness and carnality. “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep,” cries James.  “Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness” (Jas. 4:9).

This is what happened in Nehemiah’s day; there was great repentance when the people discovered what God called for in His Law.  The people mourned.  God’s reaction to their mourning?  He rejoiced to see it!  (In our day the reverse is true: the carnal rejoicing fills Him with sorrow.)  But then God in turn told the people to dry their tears and make His joy their own.  Don’t weep any further, He told them, “For the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).

And so in accordance with the newly-discovered Law, the people now went forth “unto the mount,” and gathered branches:

…olive branches, and pine (wild olive) branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written.
So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim.
And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so.  And there was very great gladness (Neh. 8:15-17).

I believe we have here a beautiful prophetic picture that is fulfilled in the city of God, the bride of Christ, the church.  With the help of the Holy Spirit we lift up our eyes from this Old Testament passage and see in the day of Christ the people of God gathered together as one.  They have come together from all places where they have been scattered among the denominations, have come together in the new Jerusalem the city of God to keep the longed-for feast, the great feast, the feast of tabernacles.  They are one in the Spirit with no doctrinal or denominational divisions.  They are dwelling together in unity, and their Lord is dwelling with them.  Not that they are all together in one huge building; they are dwelling in booths—little arbours of branches entwined together.  Succoth in fact comes from a root meaning “to entwine.”  It is a beautiful picture of the humble little fellowships the Lord has in mind for His people in the City of God.  A few “branches” are knit together in love, their lives are intertwined with one another… and with the life of the Man “whose name is The Branch” (Zech. 6:12).  He Himself is dwelling with them.  He is their tabernacle, and they are His tabernacle.

Israel was to commemorate this feast annually as a reminder of the day they came out of Egypt.

Ye shall dwell in booths seven days… that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God (Lev. 23:42,43).

When they came out of Egypt this was actually the name of their first encampment in the wilderness—Succoth, or Booths (Ex. 12:37, Num. 33.5).  They had left all behind; the little booth of branches was all they had now.  In the same breath, nothing else had a hold on them either!  They were no longer slaves, they were free!  Their God had liberated them from the iron furnace, from Egyptian bondage, from the servitude of building Pharaoh’s treasure cities.  They had left all the security of Egypt behind them for a flimsy booth of branches… and their God!

And so here in the days of Nehemiah the people are keeping the feast of tabernacles once again.  Do you see them—multitudes of rejoicing people camping in these little arbours of branches?  Wherever you look, there they are—in the streets of Jerusalem and in the courts of the house of the Lord and on the rooftops of their houses…  They are detached from it all—from their homes, their possessions, their jobs, their troubles, their cares, their fears….  Oh, but what about this, Lord?  What about that?  No, He says, you just keep the feast of tabernacles.  I’ll look after all that.

You touch the beauty of it and suddenly your breath catches in your throat.  There is a secret here.  A shelter of branches, so insecure, so weak… yet you are touching immeasurable strength and provision.  A flimsy shelter of branches…  and you are canopied under the eternal God.  The branches intertwined with one another speak of the corporate relationship, the individual branches themselves of the abiding relationship.  It’s a picture of the Christ-life, really, which we are to know both individually and corporately, the beautiful life of Christ Himself, the Life of the ages, which was with the Father and was manifested to us, the Life that is more than meat and raiment, the life that is free from the bondage of sin… and from the shackles of this present evil world, the life that is free from all the things that the Gentiles seek, “free from corroding care,” free to walk with God and worship Him in Spirit and in truth—at all times and in all circumstances.

It is the life free from the troubles and entanglements and cares of this world even while we are yet in the midst of them, the Life into which we ourselves have been immersed because of the Holy Spirit.  We become mingled with one another, and with the Son of God Himself.  Jesus promised this would be the result of the sending forth of His Spirit, saying, “At that day ye shall know that I am in My Father, and ye in Me, and I in you” (Jn. 14:20).  (Note well the plural here: “at that day ye shall know… ye in me, and I in you…”  If Christ is in me and in my brother as well, there can be no more division between us than there is between Father and Son.)

This, of course, is something that was inaugurated at Pentecost; Jesus had in mind the sending of the Spirit when He said this.  “At that day ye shall know…”  But Pentecost is “the earnest of the Spirit,” the pledge, the guarantee, that is given us assuring a redemption, a great fullness yet to come (Eph. 1:13,14; 4:30).  Pentecost is the feast of firstfruits (Ex. 23:16).  There is a greater harvest yet to come—“the feast of ingathering, which is in the end of the year.”  The feast of tabernacles.  So Paul (I believe referring to the pentecostal baptism) speaks of having “the firstfruits of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:23).  This is the guarantee of a great harvest yet to come, a festival of unbridled joy when the purposes of God in Christ and the church have come to ultimate fullness.

Nehemiah says that this feast had not been celebrated with such joy since the days when the Israelites first took the land in the days of Joshua—an interval of something like nine hundred years.  There were times in the days of the kings when it was observed, but apparently nothing like this.  I wonder if this, too, isn’t prophetic of the church.  Passover we know, and Pentecost we know.  Where is the feast of Tabernacles?  Yes I agree, the truths of the feast of tabernacles have been applicable to the whole church age; all through the history of the church there have been those who kept aspects of this feast… in a measure.  But I believe that now we are entering a time of fullness, and we are going to see a mighty outpouring of the Spirit, and we are going to see our Great Shepherd move His mighty arm and gather His lambs to His bosom and deliver them from all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.  I believe we are going to see these little “booths” of the feast of tabernacles springing up all over the land.  It is the City of God coming down out of Heaven from God.  The New Jerusalem.  And a great Voice says:

Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them… (Rev. 21:3).

He will tabernacle with them, the original says.  It’s the same word John used when he said, “The word was made flesh, and dwelt (tabernacled) among us…” (Jn. 1:14).   But God dwelling in His Son… this was in anticipation of the day when He would tabernacle not just in the one Man, but in a whole City of men—the bride of Christ, the New Jerusalem, the church.  Oh, the wonder of it all!  How our God has longed with great longings to keep this feast!

This is why some Christians these days are feeling they have outgrown their clothes, as it were.  The way they have done church for so long just doesn’t fit anymore.  Something in their heart is longing for more room.  It’s causing great alarm among those who consider this a threat to the old order and want it preserved.  But what is happening is of God.  He has something so much larger for His people—and for Himself.  That’s why some are being drawn to become intertwined with a few others in these little “booths.”  Didn’t I just say, larger?  How is this larger—little booths?  Gathering in a little booth like this seems very small when most are flocking to the mega-churches of our day.

But mark my words; these little booths are going to multiply.  These little booths by the thousands in the streets of the City of God all over the land—this is the only vessel large enough, compatible enough, to contain the glory of the Lord.

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!

Are You Still Saved?

Last time we talked about holding fast the title deed of our salvation—which is faith.  “Faith is the title deed of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”

Back in the old days when I lived in Calgary—yes I know, I am going back a long way—I used to know an old saint named Andy Svensen.  He was an amiable old man with a permanent twinkle in his eye—and a permanent question on his lips whenever he greeted me.

“Are you still saved?” he would smile, eyes twinkling, as he shook my hand.  I had no idea how long Andy had been saved—a long time.  I had only been saved a few months.

“Yes,” I would smile back confidently, “I’m still saved.”

I didn’t know it at the time, but I realize now that Andy was making a doctrinal statement by asking that question.  Once-saved-always-saved.

It’s good doctrine… as long as it’s held in tension with the many ifs in the Bible.

And you that were once alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled
In the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight:
IF ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel… (Col. 1.21-23).

For we are made partakers of Christ IF we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end (Heb. 3.14).

Today, IF ye will hear His Voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness, when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my work forty years (Heb. 3.8).

The writer of Hebrews applies the whole story of Israel failing to enter their promised land to us in our day.  For we too have a promised heritage—and that’s what salvation is all about.  God’s purpose is to bring us into our inheritance, the fullness of the salvation Christ purchased for us on Calvary with His own blood.

The implication is that it is possible for us to fall short of this salvation as they of old fell short… if we do not continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel.  Instead of overcoming in the wilderness, they were overthrown in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10.5).  The same with us… if we believe not, as they believed not—that is, disobey as they disobeyed (Heb. Ch. 3).  It is possible to fall short of the Promise if we cast away our confidence, which hath great recompense of reward (Heb. 10.35).  It is possible to fall short in the trial of faith if we don’t continue to come to the Throne of grace for the provision we need in every trial.  The provision is there at the Throne of grace—no matter how great the trial.  The greater the trial the greater the grace, and the greater the provision.  But neglect or disobedience on our part—call it lack of faith—could sever us from our promised salvation.

It’s quite the thing to discover that God charged those in the wilderness of not believing in Him.  “…They believed not in God, and trusted not in His salvation” (Ps. 78.22).  That’s quite the statement, but that’s what God said.  Whatever they held doctrinally, He said, “they believed not in God.”  They had been saved from destruction in Egypt by the blood of the lamb, and rejoiced as they crossed the Red Sea.  “There did we rejoice in Him” (Ps. 66.6).  But now in the wilderness… where did their faith go?  God was in the process of unfolding this great salvation, but “they trusted not in His salvation.”  They lost the joy.  This did not look like salvation—this huge trial they were in.  “They believed not in God.”  The true test of whether or not we believe in God is what happens in the fiery trial.  It may be affliction, or difficult circumstances, or unjust treatment, or persecution… or the furnace of time when God’s promise seems nowhere in sight.  “Manifold trials,” Peter calls them.  It’s all the fiery trial where our faith is assayed—whether it is genuine or not.  Do we continue to believe in God… or not?  Do we continue to come to the Throne of Grace for the provision God has for us in this trial, or like Israel of old in the wilderness, do we draw back?  They drew back.  Drew back unto what?

For we are not of them who draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe unto the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10.19).

…So there are ifs in the Bible.  If we do not heed them there is no guarantee of salvation.

The beautiful thing about the New Covenant ifs is that they do not rest upon our own shoulders alone.  Yes, we have a part in it, we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.  But this work is working with God.

For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2.13).

What a wonder.  This is cause for great rejoicing and comfort.  We have an Advocate—the Holy Spirit—who is committed to securing our part in the New Covenant as much as God’s part.  If it were not so, the New Covenant could not rightly be called a better covenant (Heb. 8.6).  Why is it better?  Well, what was wrong with the old one?  It was the people.  God found fault with the Old Covenant because of the people.

For if the first had been faultless, then should no place have been found for the second.
For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come when I will make a New Covenant… (Heb. 8.8).

The New Covenant, then, is better because it contains provision for our complete success!  Jesus our great high priest is—not only on the Throne of Grace in Heaven, but also right here in our hearts by the Holy Spirit—“the surety of a better covenant” (Heb. 7.22).

So there is cause for much rejoicing.  We can have the joy of the Lord every step along the way as much as when we first crossed the Red Sea.  Yes, “there did we rejoice in Him.”  But let us “hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope steadfast unto the end” (Heb. 3.6).  We can do this step by step along the way—all along the way—as we continue to tap into the provision of the Throne of Grace.

Which brings me back to my old friend Andy Svenson.  He’s gone to his reward now.  But I recall once when I visited Andy in his little three-room house in Bowness—he was a bachelor, had never married.  He greeted me at the door with a handshake and a smile– and his favourite question– and invited me in.  I liked the little place: it was a bit cluttered, but clean.  The good, homey smell of coffee had long since percolated into everything in the house.  We visited for a bit—this old man with his wisps of white hair and this young man who had not yet parted ways with his hippy-style locks.  And then Andy asked me: “Do you like to sing?”

Without waiting for me to answer he got out a tattered old hymn book and started to, well, sing… holding the book so I could read the words too.

Sweeter as the years go by, sweeter as the years go by,
Richer, fuller, deeper, Jesus’ love is sweeter,
Sweeter as the years go by.

This is how it should be with us, beloved.  Yes, the ifs are there.   And we must heed them.  But as we heed them with the help of the Holy Spirit, this will be our song all along the way.

…Which, it just comes to me, is what A Mending Feast is all about.

The Ever Increasing Kingdom

There is a feast that “mends in length” — that grows greater, better, richer, fuller, deeper, the longer it continues.  This feast is, really, the table of the Kingdom of God, where we are sitting down with our King at His table, and in His kingdom.

It is a kingdom the increase of which shall know no end.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it, with judgment and with justice from henceforth forever” (Isaiah 9.6,7).

There shall be no end to the increase of this kingdom—its government, its peace.  This kingdom is an everlasting kingdom that cannot be destroyed.  In fact, as many as have sought to come against and destroy this kingdom have only caused it to increase.

Daniel saw “a Stone cut out without hands” (there’s your Rock that came down from Heaven, Cole) that smote a great image of gold and silver and bronze and iron and clay—smote it upon its feet.  And the whole thing came crashing down, “and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors, and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them.  And the Stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth” (Daniel 2.35).

This is what happened at Calvary.  The Son of God at Calvary, as they drove in the nails— it was God who was doing the smiting.

Jesus the Son of God had come on the scene pronouncing that the kingdom of the heavens was at hand.  He went about ministering this wonderful kingdom—preaching to the poor the Glad Tidings of this kingdom, healing the sick, casting out demons…  The kingdom of God was not something to come some distant day down the ages.  The king of the kingdom was present!  The kingdom of God had come nigh!

“But if I by the finger of God cast out demons, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you” (Luke 11.20).

Satan was not happy with all this.  If this One were allowed to continue on, it would be the utter demise of his own kingdom.  He had to do something about it.  And so he conspired to have the King of this kingdom crucified.

People get fascinated by conspiracy theories.  God had His own conspiracy par excellence in the works.  What happened at Calvary was a sting operation like none other.  For, when Satan sought to put a halt to this kingdom by conspiring to have the king of this kingdom crucified—and he succeeded in his evil design—much to his everlasting dismay, all he succeeded in doing was causing this kingdom to increase!

For, when the risen and ascended King sat down on the Throne of the Kingdom at the right hand of the Father and sent forth His Holy Spirit upon the waiting disciples, this was the increase of His kingdom!  And now they went forth in multiplied numbers proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom of God (Acts 8.12, 14.22, 19.8, 28.23,31) .

Oh, what a wonder.  Oh, the wisdom of God—“the wisdom of God in a mystery… which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory” (1 Corinthians 2.8).

In spite of all his knowledge—and he prides himself on his knowledge, we are told: Ezekiel 28.3,17—Satan (I say this respectfully) seems to be a slow learner.  He just never seems able to comprehend the wisdom of the Cross.  For he continues to assault this everlasting kingdom to this day.  What shall the end be of all his malice, I wonder?  For he is working overtime these days, intent on obliterating this kingdom from the earth.  At times it seems he has almost succeeded… as he did that day at Calvary.  (We are smiling at this now, aren’t we?)

…Beloved saints of the Most High—the ones Daniel in another of his visions saw taking the kingdom, Dan. 7,18—let us not be slow learners ourselves.  Let us walk in the wisdom of God.  Let us take up our own cross, and follow Jesus.  I confess… I myself have been such a slow learner in this area.  Even so, I continue to take my place as a disciple at the feet of Jesus.  For, wherever the saints of the Most High are taking up their cross and following Jesus, are standing true in their troubles, are fighting the good fight of faith, are fighting the Lamb’s war, are seeking to overcome evil with good, are walking in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit… this is the fellowship of the “kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ”—and the increase of His everlasting kingdom is inevitable.

And God has a surprise in store.  The hour is at hand when this kingdom shall “come”—shall be openly manifested in great fullness.  When, and where, shall it stop?  Never, apparently.

Daniel saw this mountain filling the whole earth.  Isaiah saw a day when its increase would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11.9).

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