Upside Down

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You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, “He has no understanding“?  Isaiah 29:16

 THE PRAYER OF CYRUS BROWN by SAM WALTER FOSS

“The proper way for a man to pray,” said Deacon Lemuel Keyes,

“And the only proper attitude is down upon his knees.”

“No, I should say the way to pray,” said Rev. Dr. Wise,

“Is standing straight, with outstretched arms, and rapt and upturned eyes.”

“Oh, no; no, no,” said Elder Slow, “Such posture is too proud;

A man should pray with eyes fast closed and head contritely bowed.”

“It seems to me his hands should be austerely clasped in front,

With both thumbs pointing toward the ground,” said Rev. Dr. Blunt.

“Las’ year I fell in Hodgkin’s well head first,” said Cyrus Brown,

“With both my heels a-stickin’ up, my head a-pinting down.

“An’ I made a prayer right then an’ there– best prayer I ever said.

The prayingest prayer I ever prayed, a-standing on my head.”

 

Cyrus Brown was upside down and he knew it.  The people to whom Isaiah spoke were upside down but they didn’t know it.  Still, Isaiah spoke in order that the people might see and understand.  Whether in outright denial of God (he did not make me) or sitting in judgment on God as they perceived him (he has no understanding), the people were in peril and Isaiah called them to consider their upside down condition.

What we face isn’t new.  There is an earth-long struggle to displace God from his sovereign role as creator and judge of all.  Humankind can never be quite comfortable pursuing its own ends with a sovereign God looking on.  So he must be displaced or discredited.

The first place that this struggle must be faced is in our own hearts.  In fact, this is what a Christian is, a person who has acknowledged before God that God is right and we have been wrong.  A Christian is one who says “He did make me.  He knew what he was doing.  He alone can fix what is wrong.”

When we are found by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, our eyes begin to open to the peril we were actually in but never knew.  God hears the “prayingest prayer” we ever prayed and, being rich in mercy, saves us.  But we also come under a burden for our neighbors who still hang upside down.  Let us not condemn them.  God is a sufficient judge for all.  Let us pray for them.

As usual, those who pray most earnestly are those who see the peril most clearly, kind of like old Cyrus Brown.

What a wonderful Savior we have!

Turn Loose or Turn Back

Luke 9:61-62   Another also said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.”  But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Don’t go back and say goodbye.  Does that seem an unreasonable request?  Does it apply to everyone?  Read on.

1 Kings 19:19-21  So he (Elijah) departed from there and found Elisha… who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him.  And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”  And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.

Double standard?  Only if you try to be literal where Jesus is laying down a principle.  The principle applied to both men.  There was no danger in Elisha going home.  This is evident by his actions.  He gathered the people, killed the oxen, turned his plow into fuel for the fire, and went after Elijah.  Elisha wasn’t turning back.  He was turning loose.

The would-be disciple who asked permission to go home wasn’t turning loose.  He was turning back.  Danger awaited him at home or else Jesus would not have warned him.  It wasn’t life threatening danger, but eternal life threatening danger.  What waited for him at home is not hard to imagine.  Home was comfortable and familiar.  No doubt there were one or two aggravating souls, but they were aggravations he knew how to handle.  The problem you know is better than the problem you don’t, right?  But what happens when you follow Jesus, no man can tell.  Jesus knew that for this man, going back was turning back.

The principle applies to all.  The world was contrary to Christ.  It will be contrary to the one who follows him.  But Jesus thinks that following the Son of God is worth everything.  What do you think?  Turn loose?  Or turn back?

What a wonderful Savior he is!

Tongue Tied

Psalm 64:8 They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them; all who see them will wag their heads.

The old preacher spoke quietly.  Anyone listening could have heard, but the words were meant especially for me.  “The words you speak had better be sweet, for they are the ones you will have to eat.”  Had I heard that about two days earlier, I am not sure it would have done any good.  But eating bitter words will sometimes get your attention.

A loose tongue is the product of a loose heart, so Jesus said.  Matthew 12:33-34  “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.  You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

The psalmist knew he needed help.  Psalm 141:2-3  Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!  Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!  Sometimes when the tongue seems tied we should count it a great blessing!

I’ll say no more but this… what a wonderful Savior he is!

Sunday Morning Subterfuge

Psalm 55:16 But I call to God, and the LORD will save me.  Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice.

When you have been told from the pulpit that if you have joy then you ought to inform your face, it becomes pretty clear that pain is not allowed in the fellowship.  At least pain is not allowed to show itself.  We sometimes do this in an unthinking way and then we are surprised when hurting people stop showing up at church.  But there is such a thing as a plastic smile and when the pain becomes great enough the plastic shatters.

We all know the story of the family that is at each others throat until they roll up in the church yard on Sunday morning.  Then it is all smiles.  People may ‘put a face on it’ for many reasons.  With pain you can’t always do that.  The psalmist in Psalm 55 cried “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!  I would fly away and be at rest.”  His daylong complaint to God might not have been suitable for public worship, but God heard his anguished cry.  We should not forget that there is a lot of Sunday morning subterfuge going on.  Some of the smiles are genuine but some of them hide real grief.  Christian joy has never been circumstantial.  It is always relational.  It rests in the conviction that God is with me, even, and perhaps especially, in trouble.

Don Francisco wrote a song entitled “It Ain’t No Sin to Get the Blues.”  Here are some of the lyrics.

Some people when they meet you wear a manufactured smile
You can’t tell if they’re really happy or just tryin to be in style
It’s like somebody told ’em only sinners ever frown
But when you’re really hurtin’ it ain’t no crime for feelin’ down

No, obedience that means sufferin’ and to some that may be news
Jesus paid our lifetime membership but you still gotta pay some dues
So when Job’s comforters surround you and your prayers all seem refused
Don’t you lie about your troubles it ain’t no sin to get the blues

Now some folks dig self-pity but others make it clear
That if it were pos’ble
They’d rewrite the Epistles and the Gospels
So that nobody, nobody, ever had to shed a tear

Everybody’s got to suffer sometime
We all got to work out our salvation on our own
Jesus never told you pain would never get a hold of you
He said “I’ll never leave you all alone”
So when you feel those tears start rollin’ don’t you get yourself confused
He’ll dry your tears if you just cry ’em it ain’t no sin to get the blues

Ever and always, what a wonderful Savior he is!

The Love We Need

Ephesians 5:25  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

My counsel to young women who think they want to be married goes like this.  A woman who finds a man that loves the Lord more than he loves her has finally found a man who has the capacity to love her as she needs to be loved.  If she does not find that man but another kind of man, one of two things will happen.

One, she will find a man who loves her more than he loves the Lord.  Then she will be what is known as an idol.  It may seem pleasing to be loved more than anything in the world.  It may in fact be pleasing for a time.  But one thing it will never be is blessed by God.  God does not bless idolatry in any form.

Or two, she will find a man who loves something more than God and more than her.  For her, this will be an endless heartache.  Her heart can rest with second place if first place belongs to God.  But it will never rest when other things take first place.  Her heart will always be asking, ‘what will come ahead of me next?’

The model is always Jesus.  He did not love his bride, the church, more than God the Father.  Indeed, it was because he loved God the Father so much that he was able to love his bride as she needed to be loved.   John 14:31  but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.  He rose from there to go to Gethsemane and on to the cross.  What his bride needed more than anything was redemption.  She needed someone who loved God supremely and her enough to lay down his life.  Jesus did that, not because he loved us more than anything, but because he loved the Father more than anything.

Have you noticed that when God is first, all other things find their rightful place?  And when all other things begin to find their rightful place it produces a thing called peace?  Of course!  He said as much.  Deuteronomy 6:5  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

What a wonderful Savior he is!

You Don’t Have to Shovel Potential Snow

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Someone must have been fretting.  Someone must have been envious.  Why else would the psalmist write (Psalm 37:1-2) “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!  For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.”  Therefore, he urged (Psalm 37:3-4) “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.  Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

“Befriend faithfulness” is sometimes translated “cultivate faithfulness” or “enjoy safe pasture.”  The New King James goes for the literal and translates “feed on his faithfulness.”  I like the literal.  We know this is poetry, so let the words paint the picture.

The psalmist has placed us on a road between two pastures.  On one side of the road is everything to be desired, everything we don’t have.  Just across that fence the urgency and frustration will be relieved.  Just beyond where we are standing, people are having it easy and sweet.  Look at them!  They are no better than you or me!   Why, some of them are worse to be sure!   The thing we are fretting over, the thing our neighbor already has, is just beyond our reach.  Only a step or two in that direction and it will be ours!

Look again.  The psalmist draws back the curtain and shows us the same things, the same people, the same bounty, but just a short time down the road.  The once green pasture is as brown as January’s yard.  The once vigorous souls who had it all are withered.   Is that where you want to go?

That thing you are fretting about, is it real?  I heard two meteorologists talking about the potential for snow in February.  “The potential is quite high,” said one.  “Only good thing,” said the other, “is that you don’t have to shovel potential snow.”  Do you waste time shoveling potential snow?

And that thing you are envious of, or is it that person?  You know, the one who always has the first or the best or the latest or the fastest or whatever.  Have you noticed that the best and the brightest is never good enough?  If it was good enough they would quit.  But they can’t, because it isn’t.  And the only real satisfaction they have is making you envious.  If you only knew!  If you only knew, how that elegant and resourceful wife of your neighbor fusses and fumes behind closed doors.  If you only knew, how that dashing and cash-flushed husband of your neighbor goes home each night and removes his hair and his teeth and who knows what else.  If you only knew…  some pastures are bright but conceal a blight.

Then the psalmist turns our heads to other side of the road, to another pasture.  It didn’t look like much when we first viewed it, nothing to catch our eye.  Over the gate, a one word  sign, “trust.”  Inside the gate, there is nothing flashy, but everything is good.  It is so good that you begin to think that you are not good and that you would like very much to be good.  And as you begin to feed on this goodness and walk in this good way, you notice that the goodness never fades nor dries up.  In fact, the longer you feed here, the better it gets.  Your desire for goodness grows even stronger.  The stronger your desire becomes, the better the pasture is revealed to be.  It is much greener and far brighter than you thought at first.

The psalmist has helped us to see that the souls in this second pasture are feeding on the faithfulness of God himself.  Of this faithfulness the apostle Paul wrote, “If we deny him, he also will deny us.  If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Timothy 2:12-13)  Now that is faithfulness!

So, which pasture are you feeding in?  Chewing up a lot of fret and envy?  Shoveling a lot of potential snow?  Trying to keep up with people you don’t really know?  Or are you feeding on the faithfulness of God?  Undeniable faithfulness.  Enduring faithfulness.

Faithfulness incarnate has a name, Jesus.  And, O, what a wonderful Savior he is!