Watchfulness

When our son Matthew was in college, he and some friends decided to encourage another friend, Andrew, as he ran in the St. Louis Marathon. Each painted on his own exposed torso one letter of the runner’s name, so they could spell it out together and cheer him on as he raced by the half-way point. Marathons are lengthy, however, so they began to pass the time by seeing how many words they could spell with their animated alphabet. When Andrew ran by—grinding out the distance on his own—his would-be cheerleaders were completely distracted and unprepared. It was actually Andrew who got their attention as he sped by, “Hey, guys!” Peggy and I laughed as Matthew related the story, and we asked him, “What were you spelling when he ran by?” “Nothing!” he exclaimed. It was for these merry collegians a short course in attentiveness, if they let it be, and one gained at virtually no cost.

Life lessons aren’t always so mercifully learned. It was Jesus enduring the distance that dark night of Gethsemane, “very distressed and troubled … deeply grieved to the point of death”1 by the punishment and abandonment which lay immediately before Him. He’d schooled the disciples in the importance of watchfulness—remaining attentive over time—and now asked it of them as He implored the Father for mercy and strength. Yet every time He sought their support, Jesus found his friends asleep and Himself alone. His frustration might be tallied (but not fully measured) in exclamation marks: “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”2

“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy,”3 wrote a very sage Solomon. It is true, we can never truly experience the depths of another’s pain or the fullness of one’s gladness; only God can, and only God does. Yet it is inestimably vital that we be there amid cries for help, be they spoken or, more often, silent. “Sit here while I pray,” friends may say, or “Stay here and keep watch,” they fear to ask. Together, then, may our lives spell out, “WATCHFUL,” for the assurance of our presence makes both bitterness and joy a far less lonely place to be.

Father, it is so encouraging when others share my joy and pain, yet I tend to shortchange the value of my presence in their life. Send your Spirit; make me attentive to those who, like me, need someone to be there in the moment with them. In this also, be glorified. In Christ, I pray. Amen.

1 Mark 14:34, 35
2 Mark 14:41, 42
3 Proverbs 14:10

Human Tiles in the Divine Mosaic

I would have to say the mosaic icons in The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Columbus, Ohio, are more captivating and inspirational than any European cathedral artwork I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing. Here master mosaicist Bruno Salvatori arranged an estimated five million Venetian glass tiles of various colors, shapes and sizes into intricate patterns to depict the early-church apostles and some of their Old Testament forebears. His exquisite portraits dutifully adorn the walls and vaults of the Byzantine structure as thoughtful reminders of these ancients of the faith, yet they also illustrate something even more profound, the unsearchable beauty and creative genius that is the church—the body of Christ.

The apostle Paul explained that to each believer there are given different kinds of spiritual gifts, all of which are “the work of one and the same Spirit,” and that “he gives them to each one, just as he determines.”1 Every such gift is a “manifestation of the Spirit … given for the common good,”2 he mused. We are, in a way, like pieces of glass in countless combinations of dimension and hue. Some stand out as bold shards of brilliant red, those who preach or those who exhort us onward to our heavenly goal. Evangelists among us emanate life and hope with all the energy and optimism of sunlight yellow, while teachers of indigo blue dive deep in study, raising to the surface unalterable gospel truths and revealing them in graspable ways. Those who serve as accents or assume background positions are every bit as worthy of honor and appreciation—reliable earth tones representing the bedrock of faith and wisdom, and golden inlays, the hearts of the givers, perhaps the greatest of whom are the poor who sacrifice generous portions of limited means.

We are all precious tiles of inestimable worth in the hands of the true Master, and He has arranged “every one … just as he wanted [us] to be.”3 Yet this masterpiece, this body of Christ, is alive and with purpose, climbing down from our domes and commencing forth from our walls to serve others in grace and truth and in justice and mercy. Peter challenges us: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”4 Paul likewise exhorts, “Do not neglect your gift”5; we are instead to “Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you … For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”6

It is a beautiful thing God has done in your life and in mine. Then this body He has made from all of us is utterly breathtaking, and what He accomplishes through us, life-giving.

Father, through Christ you bring us into your glory; be glorified in the praises—the living sacrifices—of your people today. In Jesus we live, and in His name we pray. Amen.

1 1 Corinthians 12:11
2 1 Corinthians 12:7
3 1 Corinthians 12:18
4 1 Peter 4:10
5 1 Timothy 4:14
6 2 Timothy 1:6, 7

 

When More Is Less

It was those darn Pharisees again, some of them now believers in Christ (yea!) but pushing some alloyed brand of righteousness: “grace-plus,” we might dub it—believe in Jesus as the Messiah, yes, but still earn God’s favor by keeping the law. It was a straddling of the fence, trusting God but not all the way, compromise when compromise was the worst possible option. Protecting liberty against oppression—and with all the boldness required to do so—Peter spoke up, “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yolk that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved.”1 Thank you, Peter, it needed to be said.

How many times does God have to remind us of the emptiness of our own goodness? “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one,”2 lamented David in a psalm intoned by God’s people for centuries. Echoed Isaiah, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”3 So, do we now with “filthy rags” augment Jesus’ sacrificial atonement for our sin as though it were insufficient? Do we load again onto the backs of His people the law, a burden Christ so painfully, lovingly and completely removed at great cost? Peter, redux: “No!” What righteousness could we or anyone else possibly contribute to that which God himself has given to us in Christ Jesus? “Grace-plus” is grace-less!

We can do nothing more than what Christ has already done for us, for there is nothing more to be done. Paul explains: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”4 This is the truth in which we rest, the promise in which we stand, and the strength in which we go. We are forever forgiven and free. Praise His name!

Father, thank you for sending your Son to do what we could not do—live a perfect life, die a perfect sacrifice, and rise to present us perfectly to you. Grace us to live as free people, blessing you and serving others in great confidence, peace and joy. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Christ in me is freedom.

1 Acts 15:10, 11
2 Psalm 14:3
3 Isaiah 64:6
4 Romans 8:3, 4