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The Return of the King

img_4832PIPPIN: I didn’t think it would end this way.

GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?

GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

PIPPIN: Well, that isn’t so bad.

GANDALF: No. No, it isn’t.

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Proverbs 4.18

“But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.”

Grandma Ferguson has gone on ahead of us to join Grandpa in that glorious and eternal day of our Heavenly Father. As for us, we press on in eager anticipation of our forthcoming reunion.

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Master’s Monday: Those Moments of Loneliness

You know, no matter where our life-journeys take us, it’s pretty much inevitable that there will be moments in life when little (or big) waves of loneliness just seem to rush over top of us and knock us flat…even if (or sometimes precisely because) we just finished having dinner with a friend or Skyping with family. It’s often not completely rational, but that doesn’t stop the emotion from crashing in on our lives and demanding our full attention.

I have had a few of these moments recently, perhaps not surprisingly, as this weekend has been another major transition period of moving back to a place that I do love but once again leaving behind a place that I’ve loved much longer (and for somewhat different reasons). For such a gregarious soul as mine, when the feeling of loneliness sweeps over me, it’s very easy to lose all sense of perspective and just become numb and useless for a while, at least until the feeling passes.

This weekend, however, as one of those moments started to come over me, I realized that the old Steve Green song, Find us Faithful, was playing on my Spotify station. As I listened to the words, I began to understand just how limited was the perspective that I was allowing myself to become entrapped in. Allowing myself to remain overwhelmed by a temporary lack of contact with others is not only a rejection of the beautiful promise of our Saviour, “I am with you always,” but it is also a denial of the fact that every step I take leaves a footprint on the sands of time—one that will most likely be traced by future generations of Christ-followers. Even in my (seemingly) most “alone” moments, I am making choices that build a character—one marked either by faithfulness or by faithlessness.

“Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful! May the fire of our devotion light their way. May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe, and the lives we live inspire them to obey.” This is a weighty summoning. It demands that we lift up our inward-focussed gazes and march ahead in trusting reliance on the call of our Creator.

Lord, help me to give my moments of loneliness to You; may You use them to bind my heart closer to those I love; but may they never become excuses for feeling (or becoming) useless to the purposes of Your ongoing Kingdom.

Master’s Monday: “Intention was everything”

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Dover Castle

“But of course intention was everything in the question of right and wrong.”

Would you agree with that statement? Hang on, before that becomes a trick question, let me give you some context.

This quotation comes from Chapter 30 of George Eliot’s Middlemarch, where the reader happens upon the sentence embedded in the thought process of an extremely pious man…who is talking himself into murder.

I don’t know about you, but I find that quite jarring. It’s easy for me to become very comfortable with the everyday theological maxim, “God cares more about why you do what you do than He does about what you do per se.” “Intention is what matters,” we say, but is it really all that matters?

In the past, I have found George Eliot to be quite an adept in the portrayal of human nature. And after some thought on the matter, I believe I’ve now come to see what’s missing from her character’s assertion, what makes his words sound so hollow. The missing piece of the puzzle is, quite simply, honesty.

You know, intentions are some of the easiest things to lie about—especially to ourselves. How often have we quickly assured ourselves, “Well, that isn’t what I meant,” or, “I really had his best interest at heart”? We don’t like to think of ourselves as “gullible,” but so often we are the surest victims of our own self-comforting falsehoods. By telling ourselves our stated intentions are all that really matters, we do ourselves as great (or greater) a disservice as we do to anyone else.

In our rush to emphasize the importance of “intention” in place of “legalism” or “perfectionism,” it’s important that we not forget about the fragility and the absolute necessity of our own self-honesty. God is never fooled by our lack of intentional honesty. In fact, those around us who love us as He does are unlikely to be fooled by it either. It seems to me that it only makes sense that we should all seek the help of our brothers and sisters in Christ in our journeys toward greater self-honesty. If intentions really are “all” that matters, we must learn to uncover those intentions and bring them honestly and humbly before our God, the One who knows them before we do.

Master’s Monday: The Burden of Glory

In The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis describes the love of God thus: “How this should be, I do not know: it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes. It is certainly a burden of glory not only beyond our deserts but also, except in rare moments of grace, beyond our desiring.”

In our fleshly weakness, the inexorable love of God is often far from comforting. While we ought to spend our lives in awed gratitude for the divine Charity which seeks insistently to make us more like itself, we are generally too busy complaining about the discomfort, even the pain, that we experience as He gradually peels back each layer of the fleshly crust that we are born with.

Often, we would prefer to remain of only limited value in our Creator’s eyes, because the creatures for whom God cares and hopes the most are also those who must endure His sharpening iron, if they will allow it. God loves His sons and daughters too much to let them remain trapped in the decaying shells with which they naturally begin to encase themselves from their very first breath. His transforming love in our hearts does indeed become an uncomfortable “burden of glory,” when we lose His perspective and find it so easy to settle back into our “normal”—and so very limiting—patterns of existence.

How does God work his inexorable, loving transformation of creatures into sons and daughters? In many ways, surely. “For the word of God is alive and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my anxious thoughts” (Psalm 139:23). In his Life Together, Bonhoeffer emphasizes an agent of God’s love that probably ought to be one of the most obvious, but often is one of the hardest for us to accept: our fellow Christian. Bonhoeffer writes, “The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of JIMG_4494esus….Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of man.” Only those who know us as we truly are can effectively call us further along in our walk with the Spirit.

Lord, grace me with gratitude for the effective working of Your Love in my life, regardless of what—or whose—challenges You are allowing to shape me into a daughter delighted to bear the “burden” of Your loving glory.

Master’s Monday: “But not all things are profitable”

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“Before you decide to jump that fence, make absolutely sure that the grass is indeed greener.”

When we find that we want to make significant changes in our lives—and then find that we need to justify that decision to ourselves and to others affected by it—our tendency is to gravitate towards questions like, “Why can’t I? What’s wrong with it? What’s the big deal?” These questions, however, evince a perspective that is limited to only one small sliver of our daily lives and experiences.

Questions such as, “What’s wrong with it?” take into account only the legal* facet of our existence. “Why can’t I?” is simply a legal question. In more blatant terms, the real questions being asked here are, “What rule am I breaking? What law tells me I can’t do this? Why do I have to consider this a moral issue?” Once again, however, all of these questions pertain only to the “regulated” side of our daily experiences—to the part of us that keeps a careful list of “do’s and don’t’s,” memorizes charts and tables, demands others do the same, and insists that everyone just “bug off” if “there’s no rule against it.”

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Hanging out with Grandma at the Sweet Greens farm. 🙂

But we were not made to be calculators! Human life is a multi-faceted thing. We are not just creatures of law. We are moral beings, relational beings, embodied beings, temporal beings, the list could go on and on. Every important decision we make touches on all of these aspects of our lives, and the questions we ask as we deliberate change should reflect that same polyvalence.

The challenge, then, is to replace our limited, “rule-oriented” questions with a much more robust set of considerations, one that takes into account as many sides of our human experience as possible. Questions such as, “Why should I do this? What will its effect be on those around me? On my relationship with God? How does it align with my current set of priorities? Is there any chance I might regret this decision in the future?” Not until we have exhausted such questions to the best of our ability—and sought guidance from the Lord and from others we trust—do we really have a chance of determining whether the grass is indeed greener, whether deliberate change is for the best.

 

* For today’s purposes, I am grouping all types of laws that affect our lives—Biblical, institutional, societal, etc.—under the single category of “legality.”

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C. S. Lewis: Miracles

[The Incarnation] digs beneath the surface, works through the rest of our knowledge by unexpected channels, harmonises best with our deepest apprehensions and our “second thoughts,” and in union with these undermines our superficial opinions. It has little to say to the man who is still certain that everything is going to the dogs, or that everything is getting better and better, or that everything is God, or that everything is electricity. Its hour comes when these wholesale creeds have begun to fail us.

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George Eliot: Middlemarch

But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.