A Woman’s Calling to the Good

My oldest daughter graduated high school recently, and at the small ceremony we had, I offered to her the following charge.  Because of time constraints, I had to edit the original piece down a bit to make it fit with the time we were allotted.  I present the unedited version here with her permission.

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An Inventory of Victory

This past Sunday, our congregation’s livestream of our morning worship was a failure due to technical difficulties. But ours was not an isolated event. The livestreams of worship services seemed to have problems all over if I hear my fellow pastors correctly. I thought that there was at least a little something saved when the recording of the sermon seemed to be intact. But then when I sampled it on line, the audio quality was atrocious, a drastic departure from what we normally have. So I thought, as an ironic extension of our series of failures (An inventory of victory? Really?!) this past Sunday, maybe I should post the manuscript of my sermon here. So here it is. At the very least, for anyone who tunes into the livestream this coming Sunday, we’ll at least all be at the same place in second Samuel.

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An Excerpt on Fear and Death

My previous post that included a collection of chapters curated from various resources by the folks at www.wtsbooks.com included a few devotions from  A Small Book for the Anxious Heart: Meditations on Fear, Worry, and Trust by Ed Welch.  I present one of those devotions here for your reading and edification below.  The passage from Hebrews 2 that Welch quotes in this is one that I have had laid before me a few times in my reading of late.  I guess when God starts repeating himself, I need to listen, huh?

Fear and Death (Welch)

Escapism versus Meditation

Here is a collection of 15 chapters from various published works that have been cobbled together by the folks at the Westminster Bookstore.  While I have only read a couple of the book selections that they have drawn from, the folks at wtsbooks.com are some of the best curators of faithful Christian literature that I’ve found.  So I commend this collection to you all and encourage you with the wtsbooks.com director’s words:

“While escapism ignores, meditation, in contrast, orients. Indeed, meditation is more than a helpful suggestion, it is a command for God’s people (Philippians 4:8). Books that expound on the wonderful works of God are perhaps the single greatest tool we have for orienting us towards our creator.”  –Josiah Pettit

You can download those chapters by clicking here:  Read_Slow_Collection_WTSBooks or by going to their website and downloading it there.

Prayers Beyond the Sick List

We have little visitor’s cards in the backs of our pews at church just like every other church that has pews.  They aren’t anything special – just a place for us to help collect some contact info from folks who visit so that we can follow up with them.  On the back side of these visitor’s cards is a side where people can write a prayer request, drop the card in the offering plate, and have the elders pray for what is written later that week.  People write on these cards what is on their hearts.  Little children ask for prayer for a sick teacher or sibling.  Someone has a major surgery coming up.  Someone else is recovering surgery.  Someone has a loved one who is fighting cancer or battling some kind of intractable pain.  There are lots of hurting people out there, and their hurts and pains and struggles show up on these cards.  But recently I’ve been getting a congregation member who is asking for prayer for a different kind of battle.  And it has upset my prayers in the best possible way.  Here is this saint’s three most recent prayer requests (shared with permission):

Prayer requests

What a humbling thing to have a congregation member asking for focused prayer that gives thanks for the fact that “the grave and death are conquered“, prayer for “those who feel without hope” and “those lost in substance abuse“, and prayer “for the fulfillment of His promises.”  What a privilege to be joining with this dear woman at the throne of grace for such things.

Yes, of course, we should always be praying for these things.  But how many times does our “should” and “do” look very different?  Someone once told me that we often speak of “making something a priority”, but at the end of the day, a priority is what we actually do.  So the content of the prayers we actually pray reveal what we have prioritized.  It reveals what we deem important.  If I lose my job, you can bet I’ll be fervent in prayer for the Lord to provide a new one.  If I lose my health, God is going to be hearing from me about restoring me to health.  Health, provision, safety, good relationships… these are important to us, so that’s where we camp out in our prayers.

But every once in a while, something rises to the surface that causes us to lift our heads and see the broader world that holy scripture lays before us to be used as content in our prayers.  For me, that something happens when this dear congregation member writes a prayer request card.  And if there’s at least one saint at Pilgrim Presbyterian Church in the small town of Martinsburg, West Virginia praying this way, how many other saints are out there in your churches, casting these cares upon the throne of grace? How many other saints are out there asking for others to join with them in giving thanks for the resurrection of Jesus?  How many fervent petitioners are laying siege to the gates of hell that the captives to depair and addiction might be released?  How many other Christians in our churches are pleading with the Father to fulfill His promise to cause the earth to be “…filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2.14)”?

How many of you when reading this feel like me when I get one of those prayer request cards?  Kind of makes you want to get in on this kind of praying, doesn’t it?

A Humbling Thanksgiving

I’m not sure whether it’s every Thanksgiving season or every time Black History month rolls around (or maybe both) that I think of this poem by Phyllis Wheatley [“On Being Brought From Africa to America”(1773)].  She was the first African-American woman to publish a book, and every time I read this, Ms. Wheatley’s words humble me.  May I, one day, be refined as Ms. Wheatley.  I look forward to the day I get to meet her in glory.

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand 
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refined and join the angelic train.

Imagination as an Antidote to Insanity

My wife and I had the privilege of participating in our oldest son’s homeschool graduation ceremony this past weekend.  Each of the six graduates and their parents had 8 minutes each to show their video montage of photos and make any remarks.  So our son chose the song “Into the West” by Annie Lennox [choking back tears… proud father of LotR fan] and my wife and I chose enough photos to fill up about 3 minutes.  That left us with about 5 minutes to make our remarks as his parents.  So I wanted to say something more than the standard “we’re so proud of you and love you.”  SinWhat can you see on the horizonce we give people charges when they enter into a new office in life, I thought it’d be appropriate to give him a charge at this boundary between boyhood and the “office” of manhood.  I hope this manuscript of my charge to my son may challenge you young Christian men out there as you begin to carve your path forward, a path of loyalty to the King of kings.

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“Death, be not proud” by John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee 
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
death be not proud

Seven Stanzas at Easter by John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.