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Wintry Wanderings and Wonderings | First Baptist Church at Conshohocken, Pennsylvania

Wintry Wanderings and Wonderings

   I write amidst an Arctic chill laced with a shallow and fluffy snow, the first falling of any significance, and a trifle at that; still, the treachery of potential icing on the roads isn’t diminished by the promise of milder air just a few days hence – It is, after all, winter!

I am an aberrant to the norm:  I love the arctic air, loathe the more mild climes that make forays into the dead of winter, and actually find comfort in the arms of old man winter.  I was never constructed for so-called “fun-in-the-sun”; I would feel naked and vulnerable.

It is my loss, surely, having been sequestered from the pleasures of beach-romping and backyard mingling over barbecues, though the latter I have occasionally known and often enjoyed, though I wish that it were colder, but that would defeat the purpose; wouldn’t it?

It is doubtful that Jesus ever saw snow, at least not in His incarnated expression, as He took up residence amidst the warmth of Israel’s climate, though He no doubt knew a few chilly nights, especially in the mountains.  Did He like it?  I would love to know. 

Did the warmth of His love offset any wind-chill experienced at sea?  No doubt, but I wonder still; indeed, I would even go so far as to say that there had to have been a decided offset, given His nature.  Dallas Willard writes this of God and of God the Son:

“We should … think that God leads a very interesting life, and that He is full of joy.  Undoubtedly He is the most joyous being in the universe.  The abundance of His love and generosity is inseparable from His infinite joy.  All of the good and beautiful things from which we occasionally drink tiny droplets of soul-exhilarating joy, God continuously experiences in all their breath and depth and richness …. Now Jesus Himself was and is a joyous, creative person.  He does not allow us to continue thinking of our Father who fills and overflows space as a morose and miserable monarch, a frustrated and petty parent, or a policeman on the prowl …. One of the most outstanding features of Jesus’ personality was precisely an abundance of joy.  This He left as an inheritance to His students, ‘that their joy might be full’ (John 15:11).  And they did not say, ‘Pass the aspirin,’ for He was well known to those around Him as a happy man.  It is deeply illuminating of kingdom living to understand that His steady happiness was not ruled out by His experience of sorrow and even of grief.”

Willard writes such beautiful theological thought in temperate southern California, but I imagine that he would readily agree that one would be warmed to the core by being in the presence of such joyous company! 

I would add that the more one is engaged by the Holy Scriptures the more one is aware of its vocal tones, often joyful and loving ones.  Perhaps it is truer to say that we can be spiritually tone-deaf to the biblical voice. 

A surface encounter with the Bible can produce an impression of wooden and plodding narrative filled with one or at best two dimensional characters.  We read translations of the original Greek and Hebrew, so in one sense our experience is comparable to a German reading Shakespeare in translation; something, obviously, even a great deal, is lost!  We have the privilege of reading the Great Bard in the original English.

We also have the blessing of the Holy Spirit to help us in our studies of the Bible; in this light, any translation will afford us the opportunity to hear God speaking to us.  He is our guide and our interpreter as He leads us into the deep waters of the divine Word and in the way of all truth.  I love how A.W. Tozer has put it:  “For a man to understand revealed truth requires an act of God equal to the original act which inspired the text.”

That act is the didactic impulse of the third Person of the Triune Godhead as He opens our minds and hearts to the text before us that He illuminates with increasing clarity.  And He makes us vitally aware of the character and the work of Jesus Christ our Savior.

My recollection of when the Spirit of God first spoke to my spirit is nearly as fresh as when the communication was actually conveyed:  His voice was assuring (of which I was in great need, being filled with fear and distress as I was), authoritative (in that there was no ostensible reason to doubt), but also warm, as warm as a summer sunshine.

And my heart was warmed, just like that of John Wesley upon ascending the steps of the Christian meeting on Aldersgate Street in London:  The speaker was quoting Romans 1:16, 17, where Paul pronounces that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.  Wesley remarked in his journal the now-famous words, “My heart was strangely warmed.”  I know, for so was mine when He spoke to me.

I was led to the beckoning words of Jesus:  “Come to my, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).  I was overwhelmed by the warmth of His love.

Let it be remembered, too that He not only keeps us warm but also wise!  A little child understands the importance of keeping close one’s parent when confusion or fear attends; how much more are we drawn to God, whether out of fear or amidst the hum-drum of everyday existence, as He is our strength, our joy and our life.

My lovely little grand-daughter instinctively knows when she has the luxury of being ornery, but also when her sense of security necessitates a clinging quietude alongside of her guardian, which is often, I happily confess, her besotted Pop-Pop.  They simply know!  How about those of us who are adult children of the Father?

How about Jesus?  He was very explicit in acknowledging the vital importance of His relationship with the Father; it was everything to Him.  It was well-understood that He claimed to be the Son of God, which is what got Him into so much trouble with the religious elites of His day.  He was ultimately tried and found guilty of blasphemy; sadly, the very Jews to whom Jesus was sent of whom He was such a part weren’t able to receive Him as was their privilege, as they had longed for Him for centuries.
Benedict XVI writes of this relationship to the Father:  “He lives before the face of the God, not just as a friend, but as a Son.  He lives in the most intimate unity with the Father.”  The Gospel, he continues, “sees Jesus in light of His communion with the Father, which is the true center of His personality; without it, we cannot understand Him at all, and it is from this center that He makes Himself present to us still today.” 

Like Father, like Son!  So, too, like the Son, so like His followers.

It is not for nothing that we are instructed that only those who are like little children will have the privilege of entering God’s world.  Jesus loved children and wouldn’t allow them to be prevented approaching Him.  They were never in His way (Mark 10:13-16).

I suspect that every child who was drawn to Jesus was taken by the unmistakable fact that He welcomed them with an appreciation the likes of which can only be construed as genuine love for them.  They knew it and assuredly returned the sentiment.

What about us adults?  It should be reasonably clear to us that He loves us; the problem is not so much whether He does as it is whether we loves ourselves or, even more, we love God:  Do we?  Or do we just like Him or begrudge Him or make room for Him?

My wife, an insightful student of Scripture and Spirit, has observed that many people, even Christians, view God as a religious God and not as a loving and joyful God.  He is a God who has taken root in our conceptions, but does not reflect the God of the Bible.

It is bad business for our Christianity if this is true.  Our faith will turn rancid if we aren’t experiencing the love that God our Father has for us.  And our churches will become filled with a spiritual fetidness that will turn away inquirers and deny light to our world.

Our God is not an “adult” God but a holy God; no more is He a God for adults, for He is a God for children.  We should never think more of ourselves than we truly are:  We are the children of God – elite but not elegant; significant, but not sophisticated.

The emotive worlds of “like” and “lust” thrive in a world of adults, but not of love; love is for children, even children who are called upon and equipped by God to grow into maturity, but even mature children are still children, certainly before their Father.

The most Christ-like humans I know are either child-like in their deportments or utterly dependent upon God for their sense of direction and for their provision; they lack for nothing because God has richly provided for them.  Some have humor and others are stone-sober, but they are all children of the Most High God.

They and they alone are capable of knowing and displaying the love of Christ; all else is dross and all others are handicapped by their “likes and lusts.”  All theological dogmatisms, ecclesiastical empires and technological accretions must be judged in the light of the distinct and unique love of Jesus.

It is a love, even a joyous one, to which children are uniquely attuned.  G.K. Chesterton remarked that “A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon.  But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened the door.” 

Or by having the door opened for us, for extant within a child is the charm of appreciative wonder.  My lovely little grand-daughter is thrilled when I let her collect paint-chips at Lowes!  It doesn’t take much to please and delight a five-year-old.

It shouldn’t take much to delight anyone who knows the Jesus.  We don’t need stained-glass windows or the latest technology or the best preacher or choir … Just a joyful appreciation that God loves us, as well as a joyful affirmation of our love for Him.

Actor Raul Julia portrayed Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero who was brutally assassinated.  He is depicted as worshipfully singing and clapping with nuns in the middle of nowhere.  There is no musical specialization, merely the joy of God’s love.

God loves such child-like worship, which can also be expressed trained voices and the latest in technology, just so long as the texture remains child-like and not “adult;” Jesus, who was indignant that the children were being kept apart from Him, will also be perturbed by those who think that they are worthy because of they have “arrived.” 

(Evangelicals, Beware!  This is a besetting sin of our world if we aren’t careful.)

This kind of appreciative love bodes well for our lives, our families, our churches and our communities.  It is the kind of love that is recognized by the Father because it is the same love that prompted Him to send His Son to die for us (I John 4:9, 10).

It is the kind of love that is recognized by Jesus, if only because it is the love He embodied, both in His earthly ministry and on the Cross.  He so loved us and directed us to so love one another (John 15:12).

And it is the kind of love recognized by the Holy Spirit, for the very reason that it is the first of His fruit as borne forth in our lives and in the life of the Church (Galatians 5:22).  Such love enables us to rejoice amidst suffering, as Paul famously exclaimed:

“We rejoice in our sufferings, because suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:3-5).

My heart is warmed in the knowledge that God is making me wise for salvation, whereby I am drawn more concretely and fully into the joy of His loving Presence.  I trust that you are being comparably warmed as well.  We children have it made!

Bradley E. Lacey
February 3, 2013