Withstanding the Wind

2876076925_1889f93593.jpg

Spring Grove after the Windstorm

I delivered this devotional at this past week’s Christian Marketplace Network meeting.

What were you doing a year ago?

I was walking through my neighborhood, amazed at the damage caused by those incredible winds from Hurricane Ike. Our house was lucky, but other houses on my street looked like, well, like they had just been through a hurricane. My parents lost nearly 30 other trees on their property.

Photo: Spring Grove Cemetery after the windstorm by elycefeliz

Before the winds came, I could not have told you which trees would fall and which would stand. The Bible often uses this image of wind as a test that reveals our relationship with God. A person might appear to be strong and mighty, but when the winds come, we find out what they’re really made off.

Psalm 1 says that a righteous person is “like a tree planted by streams of water.” “Whatever he does prospers,” writes the psalmist.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.

What distinguishes the righteous from the wicked? Why does one stand and prosper, while the other one blows away? The Arbor Doctor could tell you what you need to prepare your trees for a long and healthy life. This psalm tells us how to prepare ourselves. The righteous person loves the word of God. Verse 2 tells us:

…his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

This Hebrew word “law” – torah – isn’t just a list of rules that God wants us to obey. It’s more like the teaching that we receive from a parent or a good mentor. The righteous person listens to that teaching, day after day.

God’s word is the food, water, and fertilizer we need to grow deep roots. None of us can predict when trials will come, but they will always come.

By spending time with God, though, and filling ourselves with his word, we prepare ourselves to stand firm on that day of trial.

Up-to-Date Language is Overrated

13110327_236912cfd7.jpgYesterday, Biblica and Zondervan announced that they would stop revising the controversial TNIV translation of the Bible and would resume revising the NIV translation, the best-selling translation of the past three decades. The “new” NIV would be called the NIV Bible 2011.

Photo: Detail from a 1770 Bible, from eye2eye via Flickr.

Keith Danby, CEO of Biblica, stated

We shackled the NIV to the language and scholarship of a quarter century ago, thus limiting its value as a tool for ongoing outreach throughout the world.

The language of a quarter century ago! Gasp! Why, that was nearly…wait, that wasn’t that long ago was it? I was 8, Mary Lou Retton was on the cover of Wheaties, and a cool cartoon about transforming robots debuted on television. That was just yesterday, right? More on that in a moment. Continue reading

When the Rain Comes In

rain or shineOkay – cheesy illustration time. This morning, I checked the forecast and saw that thunderstorms are predicted through next Monday (I’m writing this on Tuesday morning). We’ve been extremely busy the past week, I haven’t had a chance to mow our lawn, and the grass was starting to resemble the Amazon. To make matters worse, both of our neighbors just cut their grass with professional-grade mowers, giving them that super-clean, striped look like a Major League ballpark. To make matters even worse, my boss is coming to visit me this week, and I want to make a good impression, since he hasn’t seen our new house yet.

There wasn’t time to mow the whole yard, so I made an executive decision to mow just the front lawn. So there I am, mowing my front lawn at 8:15 in the morning, with storm clouds moving in, knowing full well that my back yard looks horrible, with no plans to even attempt to clean it up for at least a week.

So, here’s the cheesy illustration: what’s your front lawn? When the storms of life move in, what do you rush to make presentable (or presentable enough compared to everyone around you)? What’s your back yard? What do you ignore because, even though it’s just as important and looks even worse, only you and your family can see it?

Photo: Ben McLoed, via Flickr

More About the Seven Last Words

I hope that my hymn cycle based on Christ’s Seven Last Words helps you reflect on Good Friday and Easter this year. If you’re from a church tradition that doesn’t have a service observing the Seven Last Words (like mine), here is some background about these sayings. They aren’t “words” per se, but the sayings of Jesus from the cross, traditionally recognized by Christians as especially significant.

Each of these hymn lyrics, except for the Seventh Word, was written to an existing tune. Part of my love for hymns is their cross-cultural, cross-generational nature. Here’s just one example. My lyric, the Fifth Word, based on “I thirst,” was written to the tune “Love Unknown,” by early-20th-century composer John Ireland. But Ireland wrote his tune in order to fit a poem by Samuel Crossman (what a name!), written in 1664. It amazes me how the grace of Christ crosses over the centuries, and how I could take a part in this artistic conversation about the power of the cross.

The City of God

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=thisland-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=0140448942&md=10FE9736YVPPT7A0FBG2&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

For a long time now, I have intended to read Augustine’s City of God, his massive (1000+ pages in English translation) book about the fall of Rome, the will of God, and the “two cities” – the city of man and the City of God – that coexist during our current era. It connects several themes that I have been interested in, and, having heard many good things about the book, expected it to be enlightening.

I did not expect it to be so pastoral, however. This has been a difficult time for our nation in general and for my family in particular. I won’t go over the details here, but suffice it to say, it has been a rough 2009.

So, too, was the year 410 for Augustine. Alaric, king of the Visigoths, sacked Rome. It was a crushing defeat for the once-invincible Roman Empire, and many Roman pagans blamed Christians for “softening” their formerly great city. (Christianity had recently grown considerably in the Roman Empire.) For Augustine personally, it was a great tragedy, since he loved the city of Rome and the Roman glory that it stood for. He began City of God in 413, at the request of a former student, who was facing challenges from pagans that Christians were to blame for the fall of Rome.

Thus, the book begins with a consideration of evil and suffering, the classic question, “Why do the good suffer while the evil prosper?” Augustine, following the lead of Jesus, observes that suffering and prosperity fall on both the righteous and unrighteous alike, according to the will of God:

But he has willed that temporal goods and temporal evils should befall good and bad alike, so that the good things should not be too eagerly coveted, when it is seen that the wicked also enjoy them, and the the evils should not be discreditably shunned, when it is apparent that the good are often afflicted with them. (CoG, 1.9)

Suffering, however, takes on very different characters, depending on who suffers:

…when the good and the wicked suffer alike, the identity of their sufferings does not mean that there is no different between them. Through the sufferings are the same, the sufferers remain different. Virtue and vice are not the same, even if they undergo the same torment. The fire which makes gold shine makes chaff smoke; the same flail breaks up the straw, and clears the grain; and oil is not mistaken for lees because both are forced out by the same press…Stir a cesspit, and a foul stench arises; stir a perfume, and a delightful fragrance ascends. But the movement is identical. (ibid.)

The same suffering that leads the unrighteous to curse God, leads the good man to prayer.