Friday, December 28, 2012

Such Kind Of Service

Well, here I am, trying yet again to figure out how to condense my life over the past few months into a blog post!  Several times I have tried to put into words the things that God has been doing, and always I was defeated by the magnitude of the task. How quickly the words multiply into something longer than most people have patience to read, yet without fully conveying the joy and wonder of watching God work
From the outside, my life doesn’t look too spectacular—lots of garden work in the summer and fall, occasional shifts as a nurse at the local emergency room, several Bible studies and kids’ Bible clubs throughout the week, and always plenty of plain old housework.  But this daily routine (or lack of routine, some days!) has been the framework into which God has woven joy, peace, love, and fulfillment, in larger doses than I’ve ever experienced before!  

There has been the unspeakable joy of seeing a couple of our friends come to faith in the Lord Jesus, and the thrill of rediscovering the Scriptures through their eyes as we study together.  There has been the immense privilege of telling children about the Jesus of Whom they know literally nothing—of Whom they have never heard except as a curse word.  There have been many opportunities to fellowship with other believers and serve them, which always brings great joy as I see Christ’s image more and more strongly reflected in them.

But the greatest thrill of all is that through these events and opportunities, I’ve been discovering God as a real Person.  Like King David said so long ago in Psalm 34:15, God is bending down to hear my cry and to do for me the things I ask, things that only He could do.  There is nothing like waking up in the morning and asking God to reach down His hand to work in our little town, and then watching all through the day to see the things that He is doing, and at last going to bed at night knowing that He has answered and that my work, because it is His work, is not in vain. 

He is so good to give us work to do for Him!  Our works are utterly useless to gain us forgiveness from sin (Ephesians 2: 8,9), but once we have believed in Christ, they are precious to God.  He both made us for good works and made good works for us, according to Ephesians 2:10. Sometimes the work He gives us to do means a real sacrifice of time or effort or sleep, or the willingness to pour yourself out in love and trust God with the likelihood that your love will not be fully appreciated or returned.  Sometimes it just means washing the dishes or vacuuming up the dog hair on the floor.  But regardless of the form that our service to God takes, it is His way of putting our hand on the plow-handle underneath His, and including us in the magnificent things that He is doing.  When He asks us to really expend ourselves for Him and for the sake of the gospel, but it’s not because He needs an extra boost—rather, it’s to give us a taste of the joy of working with Him, and of the satisfaction of gathering a harvest for which we have spent our sweat and tears. 

Yet when it comes down to it, no matter how hard we have labored, the work of God is always a case in which, at the last, we simply “stand by and see the salvation of the Lord.” (Exodus 14:13).  When He begins to move, we can only look in wonder from the sparkplugs in our hands to His lightning bolts, and gasp, “So THAT’S the God we have!!”

The very insignificance of our own labor shows off the surpassing power of God.  When we see hearts softening and Gospel seed sprouting and new growth appearing, we look from our poor efforts to the magnificence of what God is doing, and say, “That could only be from Him!”  

A man many miles ahead of me in the journey of faith once wrote:

“Here is the great secret of success. Work with all your might; but trust not in the least in your work. Pray with all your might for the blessing of God; but work, at the same time, with all diligence, with all patience, with all perseverance. Pray then, and work. Work and pray. And still again pray, and then work. And so on all the days of your life. The result will surely be, abundant blessing. Whether you see much fruit or little fruit, such kind of service will be blessed... “ --George Mueller

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Plug In!

A few days ago I woke up extra early and decided to enjoy the luxury of lying in bed listening to some hymns on my mp3 player.  It certainly was lovely—the perfect way to begin a Sunday morning.

The music swirled through my earbuds, lifting my soul to think of God and to rejoice in Him and marvel at His works.  Usually when I listen to music I’m in the car or working in the kitchen, with lots of background noise, so I miss the finer points of the music.  But lying here in the silent room, I could hear the delicate musical devices, balanced by tasteful strokes in the bass.  I let myself be lost in the music and the delicious sensation of absolute rest.

Suddenly, it all stopped.  My earbuds had come unplugged from the mp3 player.  I was lying in a silent, pitch-black room.  The magic was gone. 

I fumbled for the cord, and plugged it back in, and the music swirled on, picking up a few measures from where I had left off.  It hadn’t stopped, of course.  I had just unplugged.

What a lesson.  I sit by my window at night, looking out on the little valley that is our town, watching a few cars drive by on the road.  We live in a rural area, so there aren’t many lights to defy the darkness of the night.  Yet the darkness is far deeper than night.  Broken homes, broken dreams, broken promises, broken bodies, broken social systems, broken resolutions, so very many broken hearts, and all of this multiplied in every little valley in every country across this broken earth.  And I know that my grief is only a drop in the vast river of tears that have been wept down through the centuries.  

But is it possible that, existing in parallel with this broken weeping world, there is another world of rejoicing and hope?  Is there music being sung somewhere, if only we could “plug in?”

I open my Bible and find the answer.  The music swirls around me.  Not an absence of sorrow, for here are tones of the greatest sorrow of all, the sorrow of Love rejected and hung on a cross.  Yet that very cry of agony ends in the triumphant cry of new life.  And the music swirls on, jubilant and victorious.  It sings of a Child born, and a King triumphant, of a bride won, and a bridegroom satisfied, of a battle fought and the last enemy conquered.  It sings of a plan accomplished and a work finished, of a son come home and a lost sheep found, of a home filled and a table laid, of promises completed and hopes fulfilled.  The song goes on, and the singer is God Himself, to tell of Love at last rewarded, and faith at last made sight, and hope fulfilled beyond our dreams.  The rich strains span all of time and eternity, one harmonious whole in which every note makes sense.   The voices of the morning stars that sang together before the beginning of the world, are mingled with angelic jubilation over sinners repented, and answered by the countless voices of those saved ones themselves, worshiping the Lamb Who is worthy.  The trumpets at the walls of Jericho, and the harp of David, mingle with the voice of the last trumpet and the harps of the elders in heaven. 

Sorrow is woven all through the song, and yet it is sorrow that has fulfilled its purpose.  This is not a song of frustration, but of victory.  It is not the song of well-laid plans gone awry, but the song of a perfect plan fulfilled just as expected.  The pace is measured, not too fast and not too slow.  Not a note is hurried, nor does a single note lag.  The conductor is perfectly in control of his orchestra, though the instruments range from the devil himself, to the created world of nature, to mankind, to angelic hosts, to the very Son of God.

Is it possible that this song is being sung even now, as I look out at the dark valley and feel the weight of a collapsing society and a disintegrating world, pressing in on me?  Surely the sacred pages answer, “Yes,” and remind me that that world is, after all, more real than this.  That song of the triumph of God was being sung long before this little world hung in space, and it will continue long after the stage has been dismantled and the blood-bought singers gathered home.  I can take my place even now in that choir, and add my voice to the chorus, "To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever." (Revelation 5:13)  All I have to do is plug in.

Monday, July 2, 2012

God...As Seen From a Mountaintop

I spent the past couple days backpacking with a friend in the Pemigewassett Wilderness of New Hampshire. It was an expedition I had wanted to do for some time, both because I had never done an overnight backpacking trip before, and because I had heard spectacular reviews of this particular route (the Pemi Loop, for those who need to know. =)

It is hard to express the absolute delight that these trips above the treeline always give me. In all honesty, a good portion of the enjoyment seems to arrive after the fact, because during the actual hike, black flies, chafing pack straps, sore toes, and intermittent sensations of exhaustion, hopelessness, and doubts of one’s sanity, tend to scream louder than the more delicate elements of pleasure. But now, sitting at home, showered and rehydrated, with only miscellaneous aches and sore spots to remind me of the physical exertion, I keep marveling at the sheer privilege that is mine.

There were so many individual things that thrilled me on that hike—the fluorescent green of moss and ferns lying in dappled sunlight on the forest floor, the spectacular rollicking laugh—or was it the theme of a Bach fugue?—performed by winter wrens, the captivating scent that wafted from the alpine scrub along the path under the influence of the warm sunlight. And of course, there were the funny, unceremonious toads that scrambled to get away from the trail, the different species of lichen on the rocks, and the bubbling springs that gushed, clear and cold, from the mountainside to refresh weary hikers. Encompassing all these beauties were the grand mountains themselves, with their bold cliffs encrusting the headwalls of dramatic ravines, the ancient rockslides, the indescribable vastness of space stretching above, below, and to either side of the trail.

“What a privilege!” I found myself thinking, over and over, day after day, as we hiked. What a privilege to have eyes to see all this, ears to hear, a nose to smell, skin to feel the sunshine and fresh wind, and yes, feet to carry me across mile after difficult mile. When you are hiking in a lonely place, it is easy to believe again that God created this world to be “very good,” and that all His ways are still “very good.” Wherever there is a lower concentration of humans, there is a lower concentration of sin and its deathly consequences, and all the glorious creation is freer to burst forth in fuller beauty, betraying God’s delight in His handiwork by its sheer unbridled magnificence.

The wonder continued even after the hike itself was over. “What a privilege!” I thought, as I drove home ward through Franconia Notch, and saw the mountains again, or rather, saw the bases of the mountains whose summits were now swathed in cloud, as though they were too grand for mere mortals to look upon. I nearly cried with awe and gratitude as I saw those vast slopes, and especially as my gaze traced the routes of past hikes. There are millions of people who drive through the Notch every year, and comment, “Very beautiful indeed,” but to them, the beauty is like that of a painting on a wall—merely aesthetic, not experiential. For the vast majority, their appreciation will never extend beyond that level, either because they cannot physically climb a mountain, or because they have never been given a great enough incentive to pay the price in sweat and bug bites and blisters. But me? For these years at least, God has loaned me a body that’s capable of climbing (something I was never entitled to and which He is not obligated to give me tomorrow)—and He’s given me more than adequate incentive, too.

Because up there, I’ve discovered far more than sweeping vistas and delicate alpine flowers. I’ve discovered a God Who puts three different shades of blue into one scene—the brilliant blue of the sky, the indefinable misty blue of the mountains themselves, and the deep, mysterious blue-black of a far-away lake on the valley floor. He’s the God who bothered to make intricate flower blossoms scarcely a quarter inch in diameter, growing in a crack of some rock where likely only He will ever see them. He’s the kind of God who keeps track of the flitting of some little bird with a song so complicated that you could only decipher it in slow motion. He’s the kind of God who puts a mountain range in front of you so vast that it seems thoroughly inaccessible, and then shows you, many long miles later, how you came across it after all, just by putting one foot in front of the other.

As I drove through that notch on the way home, trying to drink in the beauty of the mountains and stay on the road at the same time, a song was playing on my mp3 player,

“There were haystacks in His palace,

In a manger was His throne…”

I looked again at the mountains, and tried to fit the two things together—God who made the mountains, God incarnate as a Baby in a manger?

And again I thought, “What a privilege!” To know this God, not aesthetically as a picture on a Christmas card, but experientially, brought to share in His divine life because He became a man, living this human life with its sweat and blisters and sorrow, and all so that He could die for my sin and bring me near to enjoy His love.

And that’s just what I’ve been doing these past few days. Enjoying His love in the form of mountain wind and sunshine, birdsong and gushing streams, thrilling peeps over precipices, and silent symphonies performed by the starry heavens. But most of all, I’ve been enjoying that love through the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, displayed not by creation, but in the face of Jesus Christ. And that is a beauty worth experiencing, a privilege worth accepting, no matter what the cost!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Just a Shout!

Well, the name of this blog is Joyful Shout, and that's really all that this post is! I haven't got anything profound to say, only a burst of exultation to share with you because the thrills of spring demand it!

We are having a truly lovely spring, so lovely that I think I must recant my previous statements that spring is my least favorite season. We did have our share of the famous mud that graces this part of New England, but let's chalk that up to end the of winter, and allow spring to retain its reputation for loveliness.

We have had some gloriously warm and sunny weeks, and during that time, the grass progressed from being dingy yellow, to bearing the first few shades of real green, to brilliant lushness, and then that most magical transition of all, when it was suddenly long enough to begin waving in ripples of silver/blue/green light, under the touch of the wind. Somehow that represents the beginning of genuine summertime to me.

Then, just when we were beginning to fear a drought, we got a day of delicious rain, a real downpour which set all the brooks to gurgling joyously, infused the rich dirt with quickening moisture, and all the vegetation leaped even more swiftly to life.

The trees are a bit behind the grass; the hills are just beginning to wear a thin veil of misty green, and some trees still have no vestiges of color. But the birds are back in the branches, singing their lovely morning and noontime and evening songs. Delicate snowdrops, rich maroon trilliums (which bear the most unromantic name "Stinking Benjamins", in the colloquial speech), brilliant forsythia, and a number of other flowers for which I don't know the names, are appearing along the dirt roads. And of course, the dandelions are back in full force--that is, the ones that escape being eaten by us local gatherers of free vitamins!

There are so many delightful things of springtime to be seen and heard and smelled and touched and tasted around here. Today was like a bouquet of springtime, all the loveliest things about this time of year drawn into a cluster of twelve hours or so. There were, of course, the grass, and the birds, and the flowers, which I've already told you about. But there was also the sight of the little beef calf that is being kept with her mother in our pasture. She was tearing around the pasture, head and tail up, skimming across the grass in circles, just for the sheer fun of it. Every so often she would pause to catch her breath, and then take off again, heedless of the stolid lack of enthusiasm on the part of her mother. Then, when she was tired, she cuddled up to her mother and had a good long drink at her udder.

There was also the salad we had for lunch which really ought to have been photographed, it was so beautiful. The Lord had satisfied a few of my little wishes by providing, for free, lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots (the carrots being dug from a friend's garden after spending the winter sweetening in the ground). To this we added a number of our own garden vegetables from the freezers and shelves, and finished off the work of art with some fresh dandelion greens, fresh Jerusalem artichokes, and, last but not least, freshly picked fiddleheads. My, it was a fine way to celebrate springtime!

And then there was a lovely walk in the sunshine, during which I enjoyed the aforesaid roadside flowers, the earthy fragrances from the farm on our road, and the birds singing in the bog. Later on I got to join a neighbor friend in picking fiddleheads, which becomes somewhat of a competitive sport in these parts, with all the local gatherers vying for the best spots. In case you haven't tried them before (I hadn't), fiddleheads are the tender tips of a certain kind of fern, picked before they unfurl (hence the name, because they look just like the end of a violin). They have a positively delicious taste, which is only enhanced by the beauties of flora and fauna that one discovers by squelching through the wet areas where they grow.

I didn't get a whole lot done today--but I sure enjoyed the glories of the season. And surely that must count for something! After all, somebody has to be able to give the shout of jubilation--SPRING IS HERE!!!!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Grammy Sue is home!

I have had a simply wonderful day! But even my wonderful day can’t compare with the day that my dear friend and surrogate grandmother, Grammy Sue, had. You see, today was her first day in heaven! She arrived there last evening, just at the moment that her Father decided her tired old heart had finished its job and it was time for her to come home. It was the moment she’d been anticipating for years. And who can say but that her Savior hadn’t been looking forward to it too?

All throughout the day today, as I’ve puttered around the house, cooking and tidying up and making phone calls, I kept wondering what she was doing today. What must it be like to really and truly SEE the Lord Jesus? To realize just how much He loves you, and has loved you through the years? To be right there with Him, and know that never again can time and space separate you from His physical presence? To realize the grace with which He has watched you live your life on earth, the mercy that He has shown to you? Can you imagine what it is to realize that you no longer are a sinner at heart, and that you will never again do anything that will cause anyone pain or regret?

I wonder if Grammy Sue keeps having to remind herself that no, this isn’t just a dream, and she won’t have to wake up to “real life” after all? Nor is it a beautiful vacation from which she’ll have to return “home.” Because for her, heaven is home, and home in a deeper way than any other place has ever been for her. And this is life, eternal life, life which has nothing whatsoever to do with death.

Grammy Sue was someone who never got over the fact that Jesus Christ loved her and died because of her sins. Nor did she forget the hope of eternal life embodied in His resurrection. She could vividly remember the time in her life before she believed in Christ, when she was headed, not for heaven, but for hell. And the joy she had in being saved was evident by her eagerness to share Christ with any who would listen. Not only that, but she labored in her prayers for them, and for scores of her brothers and sisters in Christ. She used to pray for me every day—and now that she’s gone, I can’t help but feel the loss. There are many Christians who know more than she did, who have done more “impressive” things for God, who have read more books and heard more sermons. But there are few who have loved with such warmth and prayed with such faithfulness.

I’m so glad you’re home now, Grammy Sue! And I pray for the help of God to help fill the hole you’ve left behind, to be one of the pray-ers and lovers that this hurting world needs. For as much as I’d love to be there with you now, there are still so many who need to hear of God’s love and sacrifice for them—and it’s worth staying here a while longer to be able to tell them, so that all who believe “should not perish, but have eternal life” in that home that you’re just beginning to explore!


Christ said not death;

He called it sleep;

A vast awaking,

A new day breaking,

A bright way taking,

With visions deep.


Christ said not tears;

He said, “Weep not!”

The body dying;

The still form lying;

Then soul upflying,

And grief forgot.

Loss?—Christ said not loss;

He spoke of gain,

In light diurnal,

In worlds all vernal,

In joy eternal,

With no more pain.


Christ said not end;

He promised life;

The last word spoken,

A parting token,

Sweet love unbroken,

And ended strife.


Christ said not dust;

He called it this—

A tender yearning,

A quick upturning,

A Face discerning

And endless bliss.

--H. W. Frost