Without Much Fanfare

North America’s most renowned venue for Shakespearean plays is in Stratford, Ontario, and during their “Stratford Festival” from May through October, the town is brimming over with art and theater lovers (except early in the morning when I took this picture; I think most of the town was sleeping in).

Alan, Joel, and I went recently for a long weekend to take in a couple of Shakespeare’s finest—one comedy and one tragedy—and a musical.

Sunset along the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario

Each play was so provocative that I’ve reflected for a long time on the themes, morals, and values, but today I want to admit that what I loved the most—and what I’ve remembered with the greatest sense of pleasure—was our evening walk through the Shakespeare Gardens and along the Avon River.

Oh, the plays were amazing, no doubt about it! The acting was superb. The props were fresh and fun.

Sydney Opera House in Sdyney, Australia (2004)

Alan and I saw The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Sydney Opera House fifteen years ago, but it seemed (if anything) even more ludicrous than ever.

The tragedies of Othello were still as dark and senseless as ever, and the musical (which I’d never seen before) was both enlightening and hopeful (although the profanity was so bad that I wouldn’t personally choose to attend it again 😦 ).

Fanfare at the Festival Theater

Five minutes before the end of each intermission, a troupe of musicians came outside to alert us that it was time to go back inside, playing a short fanfare. It made me smile, as I always think of “fanfare” as some sort of ostentatious commotion used to draw attention to something . . . which—of course—it was, but not as we think of it today. This fanfare was straight out of Shakespearean England and the 400-year-old tradition of announcing something important: In this case, the conclusion of an impressive play!

That being said, our visit to a local church Sunday morning and our walk along the Avon River Sunday evening (following the Sunday matinee and a great dinner) were the true highlights for me!

Bumblebee on Dill Weed in Shakespeare Gardens

They weren’t our reason for going, and they weren’t what we paid to see, but those events most refreshed and restored my soul, and they gave me the most pleasure!

Truly memorable breakfast at Features Restaurant in Stratford, ON
(YES! I recommend it!! 🙂 )

In your busy life, what most feeds your soul? If you’re like me, it’s not the fanfare of life’s theatrics but the solace of God.

Not in excited pomp and circumstance, but in stillness and reflection . . . Truly, in practicing the presence of God and communing with Him through prayer.

The silent testimony of God’s great goodness speaks to me

Full House at Stratford’s Festival Theater

even more eloquently than the thunder of music and applause.

How about you?

Raindrops on roses . . . one of my favorite things!

O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee . . .To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name” (Psalm 60:1-3).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (48): The Quiet Do-Gooder

Do you get overwhelmed by all the appeals for help you receive from organizations? How about the folks at the markets with placards asking for spare change? Fall is “the season” for fundraisers in Grand Rapids, and this past week, one of my friends experienced one company’s latest bright idea for pressuring people into donating: “Just text in your donation right now while you’re sitting at the table, and we’ll flash your name and amount up on the big screen!” Woah! Is this meant to create competition, extra glory for the donor, or shame for those who won’t or can’t give more (beyond the extremely expensive ticket price for the dinner)?

I would like to say, “Wait! We’re getting this all wrong!” I’ve been to fundraisers that are almost like auctions: “Who will give us $100? Just raise your hands! Now, who will give us $1,000? Who will give us $5,000?” I think the last bid was for $25,000 that night. We didn’t participate in the bidding war, but I did go home feeling a little shell-shocked.

Jesus taught us the “right” way to give: “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4).

Giving to the poor is commendable, but let’s give out of hearts that overflow with compassion, not to avoid the social stigma of feeling uncharitable! Giving can fill us with joy when done out of a pure heart for the right reasons, but otherwise, it just makes us resentful or proud. Dear Lord, don’t let our acts of charity go to the loudest, highest bidders or be governed by our desire for the praise of men, but rather let us give prayerfully, in response to the quiet promptings of your Holy Spirit. So simple. So obvious from scripture. So contrary to the way our world works!

Text for this meditation: Matthew 6:1-4 “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (47): Be “Perfect” . . . Is That Even Possible??

My father grew up going to church but rejected what he had learned as a child and became a self-proclaimed atheist for many years, so when I was a child, I never went to church or heard anything about Christianity. In fact, my mother wrote as a “cute saying” in my baby book that at some point I said, “I think I should know more about the Bible.”

After eagerly trusting Jesus as my Lord and Savior the first time I ever heard the good news that God loved me and Jesus died for me, I immediately shared the Good News with my parents. I don’t remember what they said, but my mother’s attitude was sort of a non-descript “That’s nice honey,” and my father’s was a condescending, “Well, you’ll soon grow out of it.”

I was much older before I got my courage up to ask them why they didn’t believe. My mother (who was at that time agnostic) said it was because she didn’t feel certain God was real. She was afraid he was perhaps just an abstract construct, so she was unwilling to trust lest she be disappointed or discover that she’d been deceived. My father, on the other hand, had a more definitive reason. He remembered reading Jesus’ command from Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” and—knowing that he could never be perfect—decided to give up before he ever started trying. Why ascribe to an impossible standard? Why undertake an impossible quest?

My husband’s parents both believed in God and felt that the Bible was true, but Alan’s father had an almost exactly similar stance to my father’s. He said he could never be perfect, and that if he were to say he was a Christian, then he would have to be perfect, and since that was impossible, he would always feel like a liar and a hypocrite.

Why did Jesus tell people to be perfect, since he knew good and well they couldn’t be? Was he trying to turn people away? Was he just setting us all up to feel like guilty losers who are nothing but failures? Was he suggesting that unless we attain perfection, we’ll never enter heaven?

NO! But, well yes (in a way)! Jesus spoke the truth, which is that in order to go to heaven, we must be perfect. Thankfully, Jesus is also the way: Although we can’t be perfect, he could, and he was. He fulfilled the Laws of God perfectly, but then he offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins. If we are willing to humbly admit that we aren’t perfect and never will be, and that we don’t deserve to go to heaven based on our ability to keep God’s perfect standards . . . if we are willing to admit that we are sinners (law-breakers of God’s perfect laws) BUT are also willing to accept the free gift that Jesus offers us—his death as the full payment for our sins—then we become children of God, joint-heirs with Jesus, and possessors of eternal life. When we accept Jesus as our savior and surrender our lives to Him, He becomes our Savior and Lord. The Holy Spirit indwells us and begins the good work of making us more and more like our Master, until someday—when we see Him face-to-face in heaven—we will at last become perfect, not because we are, but because He is, and He has made us like himself.

Now, that’s not so hard, is it? Nobody told me I had to be perfect to become a Christian. All I heard was that God loved me and Jesus died to save me, and that’s all you need to hear. Believe in Jesus and surrender your life to him. He will receive you, give you eternal life, and the Holy Spirit will indwell you to comfort, guide, and teach you. Life is hard, but trusting Jesus is inestimably easier than trying to attain perfection without the aid of the one and only, truly holy, 100% good Higher Power, which is God himself!

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Also: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

P.S.—Thankfully, both my parents became believers in their eighties, and Alan’s mother became a believer in her sixties. I hope Alan’s father also became a believer, but I’ll have to wait until heaven to know for sure. At any rate, as long as you have life and mental faculties enough to choose Christ, it’s never too late. Hopefully, as we age, we’re better able to recognize our own lack of perfection and more willing to lean on God’s everlasting arms for help! He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). My mother was never disappointed in Christ after she believed. Instead, she became peaceful about her impending death, which assured me that her future was secure. God is so merciful!!

Photo Credit for Painting: “Love Everlasting” by Yongsong Kim, permission granted by Foundation Arts, website: Havenlight.com

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (46): Be Merciful

“I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice” (Abraham Lincoln). Given that “Honest Abe” Lincoln was noted for truthfulness and integrity, that’s a pretty strong commendation for the value of mercy, and his assessment wasn’t unprecedented. In the Old Testament, we’re taught that God himself, the supreme judge over all the earth, is merciful (1), and that He desires us to be merciful (2).

So, what is mercy, how does it square with justice and the law, and why should we be merciful? “Mercy” comes from Anglo-French “merci” (which we think of as “thank you”) and Latin “merc” (“merchandize”) meaning “price paid; wages.” To show mercy is to extend forgiveness and grace to someone who has wronged us when it is within our power and right to punish them for misconduct, or more generically, it is “the compassionate treatment of those in distress” (Merriam Webster).

I doubt there’s anyone who would denounce mercy as “bad,” but strict moralists often cannot square mercy with justice. Moral radicals usually demand justice without mercy for those who fail to keep the law perfectly (be it the Ten Commandments, Shiraiah Law, or the requirements of any religious or governmental system). It is the oppressive “keep our laws or die” philosophy that makes life unbearably difficult for many people around the world.

Divine Mercy

One of the unique beauties of Christianity is the fact that our God is a God of great mercy and compassion (see verses listed below), but He also completely satisfies the requirement of justice. “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, so that God can be both just and merciful. When we come before the judgment seat of Christ, we can say “Mercy! Thank you! The price for my sins has been paid by Jesus Christ!”

Sound too good to be true? It’s not! It’s the transcendent plan of our almighty, all loving God who has made a way for each of us to receive mercy and grace from his hand rather than the punishment we deserve for failing to keep His perfect laws!

Why should we show mercy to others who hurt and offend us? I’m not sure on what basis unbelievers choose to be merciful, but for me, it’s because I love God and want to please him . . . to be like him . . . to keep his commandments and extend the goodness and mercy I’ve received from him to others.

Have you experienced God’s mercy? Doesn’t it make you want to share his compassion and love with those around you?

Below are ten of my favorite verses on mercy from the Bible gleaned from hundreds. May our meditations be sweet! “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.” Psalm 86:5

The Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if ye return unto him” (2 Chronicles 30:9).

Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy” (Psalm 33:18).

All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies” (Psalm 25:10).

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23:6).

For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:5).

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah” (Psalm 67:1).

Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart” ( Proverbs 3:3).

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Text for this meditation: Luke 6:35-36, “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

Notes:
(1) “Thou art a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness” (Nehemiah 9:17).
(2) “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (45): “Pray for Them”— Which “Them”?

The “them” is “them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” I’ll tell you, the concepts Jesus taught are so radical it’s no wonder he was both amazingly popular and singularly hated at the same time!

I just finished listening to an interview between Dennis Prager and Jordan Peterson. Prager identifies himself as Jewish; Peterson identifies himself as a “Christian” who does not believe in God. (Not sure how that’s possible, but there you have it.) So, I don’t exactly agree with either of these men spiritually, because I do believe in God, and I do believe that Jesus is the Messiah. However, despite religious differences, I still respect what they are attempting to do, which is to live out their understanding of truth, and most of their understanding of truth comes from both the Judeo-Christian scriptures (which they believe is corroborated by their research and life experiences).

Although I’m not politically savvy, it was obvious from their discussion that Peterson has come under a lot of fire for his stand against “political correctness” pressuring American and Canadian society to conform to speech regulations that are contrary to “biblical correctness.” I haven’t followed either of these men closely enough to know what all they believe or teach, but one clear message that came out of the interview was that Peterson is both immensely popular and immensely hated. He mentioned that at one time 200 of his fellow colleagues signed a petition trying to have him fired from his position at the university where he was teaching. But, in the next breath, he said that no matter where he goes, people thank him—often with a great deal of emotion—for what he’s taught about the fact that we are individuals who are responsible for our own lives and decisions and need to accept and act on our personal responsibility for self-control and self-improvement.

I definitely agree with Peterson’s understanding of individual person-hood and responsibility, and the great ambivalence surrounding Jordan Peterson helps me understand the tremendous emotional upheaval that Jesus caused. The religious leaders hated him, and the common people—who experienced the healing benefit of his teachings—loved him.

I have no clue if Peterson prays for those who despitefully use him and persecute him, but I know that’s what Jesus did . . . and what he tells us to do. Peterson professed being afraid to say he believed in God, because if he truly believed, he would have to live out the Christian faith, which seems impossibly hard to him. In fact, it is impossibly hard, but that is okay. Jesus died to bridge the gap between our best and perfection. We are works in progress. We are challenged to be perfect, but we fall short. Jesus paid the price for our failures. That’s what it means to be a Christian: to become a child of God through faith in Christ. But, just like Jesus, we have the wonderful capacity to find help and grace through God who helps us take responsibility for self-control and self-improvement! Through God we can learn how to humbly “pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

We may end up dying for what we believe, like Jesus, or we may end up with a thrilling triumph of good over evil (such as I’m going to write about this coming Tuesday). Either way, it is our job to be faithful to the truth as we understand it, to do good and not evil to others, and to pray for (rather than physically bully or attack) those who oppose us.

Texts for this meditation: Matthew 5:45, “and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Luke 6:27, “Pray for them which despitefully use you.”

(Reproduction of the painting, “Jesus Praying in Gethsemane,” by Yongsung Kim, used by permission. Website: Havenlight.com)

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (44): Do Good to Them Which Hate You

If there was ever a human being who did good to those who hated him, it was Jesus Christ. How so, you ask? Well, one of the best examples is in Matthew 26. At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus warned his disciples that in two days he would be betrayed to be crucified, but Jesus didn’t skip out of the country, even though he knew exactly what was going to happen. By verses 3-4, we learn that the religious leaders all came together for a secret meeting trying to figure out how to capture him and kill him. Why? Because they were so envious that they hated him (see Matthew 27:18 and Mark 15:10).

Despite revealing to his disciples what was about to happen, Jesus’ s twelve closest friends found fault with him because he accepted the ministry of Mary anointing him with oil. The disciples were critical of such a “waste” when the money might have been given to the poor. Instead of lashing out at them for failing to appreciate what Mary was doing, Jesus patiently explained that Mary was preparing Jesus for his high-priestly ministry of dying for our sins! He was going to die in our place, as payment for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God, and she was anointing him for his burial.

“Oh, now we see!” they all exclaimed. I wish!! No, the disciples didn’t understand at all. In fact, Judas got so mad that he left the group and went straight to the chief priests, where he plotted to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

Now, in a somewhat similar situation of danger (in 2 Kings 1), when Elijah’s life was at risk, Elijah called down fire from heaven that consumed the men who came to capture him. Not so, Jesus! When Judas brought the soldiers into the Garden of Gethsemane to capture Jesus, he still called Judas “Friend.” Friend? How could Jesus call Judas “Friend” knowing full well that he was plotting Jesus’ death?

Why didn’t Jesus call down fire from heaven to consume them? As Jesus explained to Peter a few verses later, God would have given Jesus more than 12,000 angels to protect them had Jesus asked him to! But, he didn’t! Why? Because he loved his enemies. He was doing good to those who hated him.

You might wonder how Jesus surrendering himself to die at the hands of wicked men could possibly be “doing good” in any sense, but don’t forget that Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen, had prayed fervently for God to intervene if He wanted to, and then surrendered completely to God’s will. Jesus could “do good to them that hate you” by surrendering to God’s will.

How could being tortured and killed be God’s will? Well, we know from studying the entire Bible that Jesus was the Lamb of God who came on the mission of dying for the sins of the world, so that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. ” (John 3:16-17).

And, what about you and me? What does it look like to “do good to them which hate you”? Does it mean killing everybody who doesn’t believe in Jesus, or fire-bombing those who don’t worship God? NO! It means being like Jesus, who patiently taught and lived the truth. It means doing what’s best for others, whether or not they like it! The religious leaders would have preferred for Jesus to stop preaching the gospel, but that wouldn’t really have been doing good; that would have been doing what they wanted, which is different!

Doing “good” can only happen when we do what God wants us to do, and that we can only figure out by meditating on the Bible and asking the Holy Spirit to teach us how to “do good.” We do good to those who hate us, not only by being kind and caring for them, but also by setting our face “like a flint” to obey our heavenly Father. To be good is to be like God. To be like Jesus. To give our lives so that others may find eternal life in Christ, who gave his life for all of us.

Believest thou this?

Jesus said, “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:26).

Here is a beautiful song about Jesus, our Gentle Shepherd, who can help us.

Text for this meditation: “Do good to them which hate you” (Luke 6:27).

Photo of our gentle shepherd used by permission of Yongsung Kim, website: Havenlight.com

Grace’s Wish for a Super Power

Did I ever mention that I have the world’s best in-law kids? They are each so special and “just perfect” for my kids! What gifts from the Lord!

This summer has been a whirlwind of festivities with our children and their children. From near the end of June and still ongoing (although soon to be over), we’ve been blessed by visits from all 30 of our kids and grand kids with many weeks of overlapping fun! Frankly, I’ve been delighted with how happily all the cousins have played and am a totally typical grandma in that I’d love to bore you with details about how sweet and clever they are.

However, I will readily admit that “kids will be kids,” and my angelic grandchildren do have their moments! One day as my daughter-in-law Grace and I were washing up the dishes, we were laughing about one of the videos my kids made when they teenagers. Her husband (my son Michael) made a movie called Quality Man about a guy whose super power was to SLOW DOWN in order to do all things well.

“If I had one super power, do you know what it would be?” Grace asked. I thought about it but was clueless, so she answered, “It would be to return good for evil.”

Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that so like Christ (and Grace really is)?!

As I was reflecting back on her thought this morning, it occurred to me that this is exactly what Jesus was talking about in the Beatitudes when he said to “Bless them that curse you” (Matthew 5:44). The ability to return good for evil, love for hate, and blessing for cursing is way above and beyond our frail humanity to achieve. Such love and goodness is not within us. It would be super human! Super natural! Even more miraculous than being able to transform our bodies! Iron Man is cool, but what about Pure Gold Grace? Even better? I think so!! Do you?!

Only God, through grace, can transform us from selfish creatures into people who love others enough to return good for evil, but that’s exactly what God’s Holy Spirit offers us if we’ll yield our lives to Him. Ready to possess a super power? Just think— We can if we will!

“The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him” (Made famous by Dwight Moody, but learned from British revivalist, Henry Varley).

Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jeremiah 33:3).

“O To Be Like Thee”
(—Thomas O. Chisholm, 1897, Public Domain)

1. Oh! to be like Thee, blessed Redeemer,
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.

Refrain:
Oh! to be like Thee, oh! to be like Thee,
Blessed Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart.

2. Oh! to be like Thee, full of compassion,
Loving, forgiving, tender and kind,
Helping the helpless, cheering the fainting,
Seeking the wand’ring sinner to find.

3. Oh! to be like Thee, lowly in spirit,
Holy and harmless, patient and brave;
Meekly enduring cruel reproaches,
Willing to suffer, others to save.

4. Oh! to be like Thee, Lord, I am coming,
Now to receive th’ anointing divine;
All that I am and have I am bringing,
Lord, from this moment all shall be Thine.

5. Oh! to be like Thee, while I am pleading,
Pour out Thy Spirit, fill with Thy love,
Make me a temple meet for Thy dwelling,
Fit me for life and Heaven above.