Wednesday, January 30, 2008

richly poor

"There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches."

Proverbs 13:7

The scene is Jerusalem, at the height of Jesus' ministry. Days ago He raised Lazarus from the dead. Hours ago He rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and was hailed by the people as King. "Hosanna!" they cried. "Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord."

Jesus' fame was at a fever pitch. So was the anger and fear of His enemies. In the midst of all this, John writes that some Greeks, who were in Jerusalem for the Passover, came to the disciple Philip and asked to see Jesus. (The whole story is found in John 12:20-26.)

This was unusual. These were Gentile converts from a distant land. Apparently they had also heard of Jesus' fame and the incredible miracles He had done. Here, in this gloriously Jewish setting, a few Greeks dared approach.

Jesus responded, "The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified."

What did Greeks have to do with the Son's being glorified? The key is in the name Jesus gives Himself: "Son of man." He didn't think this up Himself. It has a clear Old Testament precedent in the incredible visions of Daniel. In fact, Daniel describes the Son of man rising to heaven on the clouds, there to be fully glorified. He writes,

"I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.

"And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed."

Daniel 7:13-14

As these first few Gentiles approached, timidly, wanting only to see Jesus, the kingdom to come was foreshadowed. Jesus knew the glory that would be His: the glory of welcoming us all, Jew and Gentile, Greek and barbarian, into the fold of God.

It is staggering that Jesus should count us as riches--as a reward. Yet He does. All that He did was for this purpose, that He might redeem mankind and make us His own. So great is this love that makes so much of us! But Jesus did not gain riches the American way--the human way--the natural way. He is the epitome of Solomon's long-ago words: "There is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches."

Jesus gave up His position on the Father's right hand. He gave up the invincibility of Heaven, the wideness of life outside of this world. He came into our narrow sphere and impoverished Himself, making Himself poor even by earthly standards. Yet great riches were His, even here. He had the riches of the Father's love. He had the riches of doing God's will. And He had the riches of salvation in His hands: His privilege, and His unspeakable gift to us.

Jesus' next words to Philip were, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."

Jesus alone had the untainted friendship and favour of God. Jesus alone had eternal life. Jesus alone had the joys and riches of fellowship with the Highest. But He was not content to abide alone. He suffered, died, and rose again, that He might forth fruit in us. All of His riches, He gives us freely.

I leave you with Jesus' next few words. They are a challenge to us. How will we respond to them?

"He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour."


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

a lightening word

"Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad."

Proverbs 12:25

My dad is a musician who listens to music of every stripe, so I've always had my finger on the pulse of society. Listening to contemporary music will tell you a lot about how people think and feel! When I was a little kid, I didn't understand why the radio expressed so much weariness--hurt--bitterness. I get it now. To live in this world is exhausting. Even those of us who walk with God can be affected.

Sometimes the heart is heavy. That's just the way it is.

But God, in His goodness, has given us many ways to care for each other and lighten the load a little. When another's heart is heavy, we can help! Solomon said it well: "A good word makes the heavy heart glad."

We don't often realize how much power there is in the words we speak. The Apostle Paul did, which may be why he wrote, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers" (Eph. 4:29).

To minister is to serve. When we speak truly good words, we bring grace in our hands and pour it over the heavy-hearted. Through our words, we can wash the world's dirt away. We can heal hurts. We can encourage and shore each other up in faith. We can point others to Jesus.

Spoken with sincerity and truth, good words are power. "I love you." "God loves you." "Just hang on a little longer." "I'm here for you."

If we follow Christ, we hold the evangel--the good news--in our hearts. This same evangel is the best word we can speak to anyone. I love how the Christmas carol "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear" puts it:
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
I want to be a woman of the gospel--someone who always has grace and good news in her tongue. The good words of Jesus and of those who follow Him have lightened my own heart and strengthened my faith more times than I can count. By His grace, I'll do the same for others.


Friday, January 18, 2008

the source of riches

"He that trusteth in his riches shall fall; but the righteous shall flourish as a branch."

Proverbs 11:28

A new year has begun, and out of mercy for my tax helper I've started going through my financial records for 2007. Alas, I wasn't as organized as I thought! It turns out I didn't keep careful track of what currency my income arrived in, so I don't actually know how much I made in Canadian dollars--which is what I need to report.

This is my third year working as a freelance writer/editor/writing coach/publisher. Each year at tax time my sisters dig out a handful of T-4 slips while I march out with the equivalent of Mt. Vesuvius in paperwork. It's a lot of work, but I don't mind it that much--largely because I'm still getting used to the idea of regular income.

I make money! Every month! It's consistent, even. This isn't normal for me for various reasons, and the fact that I do it without even having a normal job sometimes makes me giddy with glee.

I'm highly aware that I have this income because God takes care of me. Because He meets my needs, as He always has. I remember a song we used to sing when I worked in volunteer ministry: "My God shall supply all my needs/According to His riches and glory/He shall give His angels charge over me/Jehovah Jireh cares for me."

It applies in a spiritual sense, of course, but also physically. It is God who gives me the strength and talent to work. It is God who blesses my efforts. I'm grateful.

Grateful and careful to keep my trust in Him.

Before I had a regular income or the ability to earn one, I trusted wholly in God for every little detail of provision--and He never failed. Solomon was a very wealthy man, but he was clear on this: "He that trusts in his riches shall fall, but the righteous shall flourish as a branch."

A flourishing branch never stops producing. Do you know why? It's because it's connected to a source of life. God is the source of life to us; the source of all things. As believers in Jesus, we are specially connected to Him. When He provides for us by external means, it's important that we don't transfer our trust to those means!

As I pour over paperwork and try to get all those numbers to line up, I'm in awe at the way God has provided for me. I pray that I will keep my trust in Him. "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." Not now--not ever.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

words to live by

"The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked."

"In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found: but a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding."

"The tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth."

Proverbs 10:11, 13, 20
Solomon writes, over and over again in the book of Proverbs, about the power of the tongue for good and ill. We live in a physical universe that was created by the Word of God--it stands to reason that words, whether spoken or written, are more powerful than almost anything available to us.

Words inspire love or hatred. They stir up revolution and give revelation. They calm us, rile us, edify us, or get us into trouble. They set us apart from all other creatures. They enable us to open our very hearts.

For all that, sometimes I get sick of them. It's no secret that most people misuse their words. That's why Solomon was so harsh about "the mouth of the wicked"--even declaring that "the froward tongue shall be cut out" (Prov. 10:31).

In glorious contrast is "the mouth of a righteous man," "the tongue of the just." Life flows from a righteous man's words like water from a well. The just man's speech is richness--like well-tempered silver.

I'm currently reading the Gospel of John, and nothing strikes me so much as Jesus' words. They're powerful. Convicting. Sometimes confusing. Always, if we look at them in the light and don't just shove them under a religious bushel, shocking. The claims He made are beyond the scope of any mere man.

Yet, they give life. My spirit rises up to meet them, even the words I don't understand. In John, Jesus continually proclaims Himself. "I am the bread of life." "I am the light of the world." "I am the way, the truth, and the life." "I am the resurrection." "Before Abraham was, I am."

He is the Just One with eternal riches in His tongue. He is the Righteous Man whose words are a well of life. As He told the Samaritan woman, "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life" (Jn 4:14).

As this new year begins, I challenge you to spend a great deal of your time listening to the words of Jesus Christ, especially in the four gospels. Read them. Memorize them. Let them sink in.

After Jesus claimed to be the food and drink that alone gives us true life (read John 6), many of those who had followed Him went away. His words were simply too much for them to handle. Jesus turned to His twelve disciples then and said,

"Will ye also go away?"

"Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God."

This year, may the words of eternal life cause you to see Jesus more clearly.