Reading & Musing on a Sunday Morning

I was reading a passage of scripture this morning and decided to write my thoughts down, in case anyone is interested.

II Corinthians 12: 2-10

In this account, the Apostle Paul is telling the church members at Corinth about an experience he has had, and the effect this vision has had in his life. He doesn’t name himself, yet Bible scholars agree that he’s telling his own story here.

2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago…such an one caught up to the third heaven.
3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth)
4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

Some scholars have read the story of when Paul was stoned and left for dead, wondering if he really did have an out-of-body experience. The Apostle himself isn’t certain, and leaves it open as to whether he was really dead or if this was a vision he had. However, during this experience he saw such beauty and glory, and heard such words as could never be described to an audience here on earth.

5 Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.

So why doesn’t he tell the world about his experience? Why does he refer to it so discreetly, not mentioning that this happened to him? Why does he rather rejoice that he has these infirmities that drag him down? First, he doesn’t want people lifting him up:

6 For though I would desire to glory…now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.

Most scholars agree that this “thorn in the flesh” was an infirmity that slowed him down, and probably a disfiguring one. We get the impression from different passages that Paul wasn’t such an attractive man.

8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

God has chosen to leave him weak so that the Spirit of the Lord can speak through him. People aren’t meant to look to Paul for the answers in life. The Lord Jesus doesn’t want people following Paul because he’s physically attractive or such a persuasive orator. So the Lord leaves him with this weakness, one which seems, from other scriptures as well, to be obvious to Paul’s audience.

Paul accepts this situation with grace:
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

It’s so human to want to be strong, to be talented, articulate, to have our listeners nod when we present our ideas. The thought of stepping up to speak, either to an individual or to a crowd, and having absolutely no speech planned out is frightening. The thought of stammering and groping for words is abhorrent to most of us. Likewise we’re inclined to shy away from a task if we’ve had no prior experience in that line. None of us want to sound, or look, dumb.

When we lived in Ontario our neighbour was a minister in another denomination. One day his wife explained to me how ministers were hired. A congregation in need will hear of a pastor who wants to move from the place he’s at, so a small delegation from the pastor-less church goes to hear him —or her, in this group— speak. If the pastor presents a good sermon, if they like the looks of him and feel he’d be a good fit for their own congregation, they offer to hire him. (Again, or her.) How tempting would it be to put a lot of effort into making a good physical impression.

Paul has adopted a different mind-set. In one place he says, “The ways of God are higher than ours.” Aware of his own weakness as a human being, he “takes a step back from himself” and rather goes forward in the Lord. The idea of winning followers of using eloquence to gain a good salary, these are laid aside. He doesn’t take pains to please the audience or “keep out of trouble.” He rather lets the words of Jesus flow through him and speak to the hearts of his audience.

This is more pleasing to God and the Gospel more effective, than if Paul could attract listeners and entertain them with his own oratory ability, or persuade them by his skillful reasoning. He leaves us this example, so none of us can feel we’ve nothing to offer. When we feel we have no talent, skills, physical attraction, or never “the right words,” we can comfort ourselves God’s words to Paul: “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

 

He Signed His Name

By Michael D. Blythe

He signed His name in granite
as the mountains tall were formed;
He signed His name in sunlight
and the cold earth slowly warmed.

He signed His name in water
as He filled the seven seas;
He signed His name in fertile soil
where He placed the mighty trees.

He signed His name in clay made flesh
as He created man;
He signed His name on the earth He made
according to His plan.

He signed His name in wrath
as He destroyed the world by flood,
but to save us from our wicked ways,
He signed His name in blood.

Since we’re coming up to the Easter season I’ll post this verse as today’s contribution to National Novel Month. Sadly, Mr Google can’t tell me anything about the writer.

Yet A Little While

This shall be my contribution to National Poetry Month today:

Yet A Little While
by Mary J MacColl

Beyond the clouds smiles the clear blue sky,
and the sun will shine when the storm blows by.

In the frost-bound earth through the winter lay
the flowers that in beauty bloom today,

and soon from the buds on the bare brown trees
will banners of green be unfurled to the breeze.

Cloud, flower, and leaf, ye are teachers three
of the many my Father hath given to me.

The lesson ye teach I can understand;
to me ’tis as rain to the thirsty land.

I know that the sunlight will gild my sky,
in the sweet, mysterious “by-and-by”

and from chilly realms of dark despair
will spring Hope’s blossoms fresh and fair.

Then my heart will thrill like a wind-kissed leaf,
though it fainteth now ‘neath a weight of grief.

Oh, Thou who dost clothe the lilies aye,
in light or in shade may I feel Thee nigh.

May my faith burn bright and my love be strong,
though the tempest rage and the night be long.

Help me to work while ’tis yet today—
ere the twilight falleth cold and gray;

help me with careful hand to sow
good seed from whose germs no tares may grow.

May the Lord of the harvest upon me smile,
when He cometh to reap in “a little while.”

From the book, BIDE A WEE by Mary J MacColl,
published in 1880 by Peter Paul & Brother of Buffalo, NY.

I found this book in a sale somewhere, still in fairly good shape, with gold-trimmed cover edges and letters! And on the first page there are impressive endorsements of Miss MacColl’s poetry from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry W Longfellow, Joaquin Miller, and John G Whittier.

Be There for Me

Fellow Blogger Joel Tipple has posted an inspiring poem about coming along beside and lending strength and support to someone who’s down. He’s kindlly allowed me to reblog it so you can enjoy it, too.

Hop over to Write here, Joel to read more inspiring Christian poetry. There’s a link in my sidebar.

Write here, Joel.

Be there for me
when everything’s wrong.
Be there for me
when I’m not feeling strong.
When everyone runs away
like I’m a building burning,
run to me and say you’ll stay.

I sometimes dream there will be a day,
when I can stand for someone too
but then this tidal wave of sad knocks me over.
I might be able to hold on a little longer
if I knew you’d row out
and pull me in with your oar.

Be there for me
when I’m not attractive or fun,
when I don’t have anything
that anyone would want,
when I look like I’ve been washed up
by the sands of time,
when what separates me and death
is a very thin line.

I’ve heard your Jesus
went through a lot too.
If you know him, could he help me too?
I’m not looking for charity,
I just need a…

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Book Review: The Face of the Earth

When Does A Spouse Move On?

A friend once told me of an elderly gent who visited his wife everyday in the nursing home. She had advanced Alzheimer’s and wasn’t responding to anyone at all anymore.
Finally someone there asked him, “Why do you still come and sit with her every day? She doesn’t even know who you are?”
The old man relied, “But I still know who she is.”

At what point, if ever, are you released from your marriage commitment when the one you made them to is absent, either literally or mentally? For some people a marriage is simply an agreement “for as long as we feel like it.” A Christian, however, promises “before God and these witnesses…to be faithful…for as long as you both shall live.” Are there circumstances where God releases a spouse from that promise?

I just finished this amazing story where the author sets up this scenario and demonstrates a sensible, faith-based response to the question. I really admire the scruples of the characters in this book! While these are people who embrace Christian principles and seek direction through prayer, I’d recommend this book to anyone.

The Face of the Earth

© 2017 by Deborah Raney
(First published in 2013 under the same name by Howard Books/Simon & Schuster.)

Friday, Sept 3rd:
Principal Mitchell Brannon pauses on his way home from work to call his wife Jill, a third-grade teacher who’s driving home from a personal development conference in Kansas City. He’s happy he persuaded her to go, now they’re planning a relaxing evening at home. They’d just delivered their second child to University and are starting their new life as empty nesters. Jill has been feeling blue about this change, but Mitch is rather looking forward to being “just the two of us” again.

He gets her voice-mail, so he leaves a message: “Just wondering where you are. Give me a call so I know when to put on the steaks.” She hasn’t arrived yet when he gets home, but she’s left him a message on their house phone at 1pm saying she’s leaving the hotel and should be home by six at the latest. She sounds upbeat, ready to be home.

Mitch fires up the grill at 6pm and takes out the steaks. Calls and gets her voice-mail again. That’s odd. At 7:30 he shuts off the grill, calls the hotel, verifies her leaving time, checks the weather to see if there’ve been any storms along her way. At 8pm he stops pacing the floor to call her best friend, Shelley Austin, a divorcee who lived next door. Shelley hadn’t heard a peep from Jill that day. By 9 pm he’s calling everyone who might possibly have heard from her.

Mitch calls Highway Patrol. No reported accidents. And they seemed reluctant to get involved — after all, she may have chosen to not come home. Mitch doesn’t buy that; he knows he and Jill have a good marriage. She’d never worry him like this. Has she been in an accident? Shelley comes over to help Mitch in his search, calling all the hospitals in KC and along Jill’s route home. The next morning they head out and drive the route she’d have traveled, hoping to find some clue.

Saturday Sept 4th :
Highway Patrol officers pay a visit. They have no news, but bombard Mitch with questions. Is she choosing to stay away? Did she seem depressed? Had they quarreled? Can anyone verify where he was during those hours when his wife went missing? Obvious insinuations.

Mitch & Jill’s son and daughter come home from University and join in the waiting, the rushing to the phone. Always hoping. There must be some reason… Then Jill’s cell phone is discovered on the floor in the parking garage.

Mitch and Shelley are two vulnerable human beings thrown together in a time of high emotions time and you know the connection is sometime going to produce sparks. Shelley’s trying to not betray her friend. Mitch intends to be faithful to his wedding vows and keep hoping, “Til death do you part.” Eventually, though, he wonders: at what point are you released from those vows when the one with whom you made them has vanished from the face of the earth — and may never return?

This story is masterfully written and played out in a totally realistic way. You ride along with these people on their roller coaster of hope and despair, feeling with them through their painful vigil, the nightmares, the (finally tiresome) expressions of sympathy, the flashes of hope when some new detail is uncovered, the suspicion, the gossip. I appreciate that Mitch respects the Bible admonition to “avoid all appearance of evil” even though he needs Shelley’s help and support.

Cautionary Note:
Don’t start this book after 9 pm unless you can afford to be up half the night. It’s very hard to put down.

A Burn Under Control

Oh, lovely springtime, what is so fair! But…

So many things show up once the snow is gone. We have a lovely, tree-filled yard, which means we need to walk around before mowing the lawn and gather up odd branches the wind has brought down. Some trash often drifts in and catches in the tall grass, too.

A controlled burn can be a very useful tool to clean up all this debris. This spring, however, our RM has put on a burning ban because of dry conditions. We heard in the news a few weeks ago how one town in Sask suffered loss when a “controlled burn” got away and consumed half a dozen homes. (Thankfully most of these were unoccupied.)

Last night when I went out for a walk the air was hazy in spite of a strong wind and I caught a faint whiff of wood smoke. Sure enough, a look online shows a forest fire raging out of control in the northern part of the province. It’s hard to picture any benefit coming from an inferno like that, yet scientists say an old forest needs a good fire. It does for the forest what a clean-up fire does for our yard: gives the land a chance to rid itself of dead wood and breathe again; lets the forest get a new start. Otherwise there comes a time when a forest chokes itself.

Between our yard and our neighbours, there’s an “old” woods. The original trees, planted a hundred years back by the first settlers, are dead and ready to fall down. A lot of new growth has sprung up since, but so many young trees are twisted or crushed when their elders drop thick branches on them. And when those big old trunks hit the earth, it takes many years for them to decompose.

It would be so beneficial if a fire could sweep through and consume all the dead wood, but leave the living. And more importantly, leave our and our neighbours’ homes intact! Since we know that isn’t going to happen, both of us couples hope and pray no lightening strike or careless cigarette starts our woods on fire. There’s so much ready fuel, none of us could control the damage.

The Bible talks a lot about fire, both in a destructive sense, where God destroys the enemy as if by fire, and in a purifying or enlightening sense.

“Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he shewed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire.”
Deuteronomy 4:36

Thoughts of God’s fire tends to scare me, though, because it’s not a thing I can control. I can’t tell him, “Yes, I’d like to get rid of this bit of attitude, burn this fault out of my life, but leave the rest of my habits alone.” He sees all the trash that needs to go, not just the little bit that’s causing me embarrassment. He sees all the dead wood in the heart of the forest, not just the bit I can spot from where I stand.

Though we can’t govern what God’s fire will consume in our lives, the good news is, HE can. He may select trash (like bad attitudes) that needs to burn out of our lives, but our God is merciful. He leaves all the good wood to keep on growing. He may burn the wood, hay, and stubble, but he leaves the silver and gold.

“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.”
Hebrews 12: 28-29

In every life some matches will fall. Trials come to those who believe in God and those who don’t, to those who choose to live a Christian life and those who don’t. Living in this world along with other human beings guarantees that flames will pop up from one source or another. Unkind words or discrimination may burn, health or financial woes may flare up.

These troubles aren’t always the result of a direct action on God’s part, sent because we have need of major refinement. But God can use any fire to purify us. If we give our lives into his keeping, He can control any burning so that it doesn’t damage us beyond hope of restoration.

“When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour…” Isaiah 43:2-3