Monthly Archives: April 2015

Death Is Dead

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jesus statue kneeling

Though death is dead
        to death he wages war
Each death a vict'ry
        in this lovers' quarrel
'tween sin and death—
        two partners in the fight
to steal mens' lives
        and lay them in the grave
 
Yes death is dead
       but still death carries pain
As one much-loved
       slips out beyond our grasp
And leaves a hole
       that never shall be filled
Though life and time
       for us yet linger on
 
Yes death is dead
        and sin's defeated, too
That much made known
        one Resurrection Day
When One who died
        for sin lay buried in the ground
And three days on
        no longer to be found
 
Yes death is dead
       and life is sweeter far
When lived with hope
       of life beyond the grave
A life for Him 
       who buried death itself
To give us life
       eternally with Him


[Written in honor of my sister-in-law, Jeaneen Blackinton Davis, as she fought a brain tumor that finally stole her life on April 27, 2015.]

The Steadfast Love of the Lord Endures Forever

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Photo copyright 2014-2015 by Randall J. Ehle. All rights reserved.

Photo copyright 2014-2015 by Randall J. Ehle. All rights reserved.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

So begins Psalm 136…and then continues for twenty-six verses with the same refrain: “for his steadfast love endures forever.” This was never one of my favorite psalms. I always thought it was too choppy and repetitive, not flowing well in my prose-centered, Western mind. The only words that stood out to me were those repeated lines. Okay, I get it already. “The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.” Next psalm. Or do I get it? I never took the time to analyze the psalm because it’s a song—emotional, not intellectual. Shouldn’t poems and songs simply float into our minds, their meanings gently wafting into our subconscious with hardly a notice from us? Or, as Archibald MacLeish penned, “A poem should not mean | But be” (Ars Poetica).

Only when I took the time to read between those obnoxious, repetitive lines in Psalm 136 did I notice what this psalm is doing. It is not merely a call to gratitude, though it is that. The first three verses and the last all begin with, “Give thanks to….” Give thanks to the Lord, the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the God of heaven. He is the object of our gratitude, the Source of all we have and are. He is above everything we worship or serve, like money and security and family and even health; yet He is at the same time a personal God with a personal name (Yahweh or YHWH, also written as LORD). Give thanks. A good and needed reminder. But there is more.

It is also not simply a mantra of God’s love, though it is most certainly that. His steadfast love endures forever. We Westerners—and certainly we Christians—are not accustomed to mantras. These repeated words used as aids in meditation stem from the Eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism; since we have lost the art (and meaning) of meditation, we run from anything that resembles it. (Don’t get me started on Christmas trees and Hallowe’en.) Yet repetition runs throughout Scripture and church history, and we do well to employ it in our communion with God.

Between the exhortation to gratitude and the mantra of God’s steadfast love, Psalm 136 simply tells a story: God’s story. Israel’s story. Our story. Each line is a reminder of who God is or what He has done: He made the sun, moon, and stars (verses 7-9); He rescued Israel from Egypt (10-16); He led them to victory in battle (17-20) and gave them a homeland (21-22); He remembers and watches over His people (23-25). And at every step of creation, salvation, destination—at the very core of who God is and what He does—is His steadfast love.

It’s easy to breeze right through the Psalm and miss its depths and richness, to let the repeating words slip across the tongue without ever digesting them. But don’t. Instead, sit and soak in this Psalm as in a hot tub, basking in its truths and comforts, remembering God’s presence and activity…and His steadfast love. And someday—some quiet, rainy day with a cup of coffee by your side and a pen and journal in hand—write out your own story, then go back and insert this lines between each event:

“…for the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever.”

 

Why You Shouldn’t Go To Seminary

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I have just started writing for a couple blogs, published by Logos Bible Software, which are geared toward current and prospective seminary students. My first post was just posted at best-seminary.com and, ironically, is titled, “Why You Shouldn’t Go To Seminary.” Now I need to hurry and finish a follow-up piece that will be titled, “Why You Should Go To Seminary”—before Logos decides they don’t want me writing anymore!

What I’m Reading: Under the Unpredictable Plant

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Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, by Eugene Peterson, is the third in a series of three books on the work of pastors in North America. (The other two titles are Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity and Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, which sit on my bookshelf waiting to be read.)

If I had to choose a pastor after whom to model my ministry, it would be Eugene Peterson. He seems so much more concerned about his congregation’s toward maturity in Christ than about its growth in size. His writing is theological, sometimes philosophical, often eminently practical. Best of all, he offers no programs to sell, no models to follow; only sound, Biblical counsel.

In Under the Unpredictable Plant, Peterson uses the story of Jonah to help clarify the pastoral vocation in the midst of a culture that calls (and tempts) pastors to “religious careerism.” He uses Tarshish, Jonah’s destination of choice, as representing an exotic and far-away city where Jonah dreamed of doing big things for God (just not in God’s presence). Pastors today are similarly tempted by the culture to run to the next big, exciting church where they might do great things for God…and then get invited to speak at a conference or two. Ninevah, on the other hand, represents the heart of what God calls pastors to do: faithfully proclaim His message of love and grace to messy people.

Throughout his books, Peterson weaves pieces of his own story: growing up in a home with a Pentecostal preacher mother and a butcher father; childhood encounters with rough-edged farmers; struggling to make the language of the Bible real for an adult Sunday School class (the genesis—no pun intended—of his contemporary-English Bible translation, The Message). These personal stories bring Peterson’s philosophy and theology to life.

I would love to meet Eugene Peterson. I am almost jealous of a pastor friend who, with his wife, got to spend several days in Peterson’s home as a gift from his church! In fact, when looking into seminaries several years ago, Regent University in British Columbia was high on my list, precisely because that’s where Peterson was serving at the time. For now, though, I am content to be mentored vicariously through his books.

Unless you become like little children…

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She prays her childlike prayers and I correct, seeking to bring maturity to her childlike faith. After all, she’s twelve, and I am old. And, I fear, ignorant.

She asks God to help her aunt not be sick; I ask Him to heal. She asks God to help China get more Bibles; I challenge her to buy Bibles for China. She asks God to help her have a good day at school tomorrow; I pray that she would bring Him glory in whatever comes her way. She asks God to do what He wants; I ask Him for what I want.

What am I doing, trying to make my little girl grow up? I should be asking her to teach me to pray!

“A little child will lead them.” Familiar words. Convicting words. Are they really in the Bible, or merely a slogan that sounds good? My old, mature, needs-to-know self searches: yes, there they are, in Isaiah 11:6. Then Jesus’ words come to my old, mature mind: “Unless you become like little children, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven!” (Matthew 18:3)

Tonight, Abba, help me; help me learn from my little girl.