If the Lord is gracious...?
It was so exciting to arrive in the little port of Jin Hae
(sometimes spelled Chin Hae), in Korea and to go outside and breathe in the
fresh air and the scent of freshly cut pines. After coping with a little wave of
homesickness that swept over me, it was fun to go ashore with Ted and a friend
from Cyprus and play badminton on the quayside.
In the mornings, I walk early to avoid the intensity of the
morning sun and the peaceful scene of the little fishing village right on our
doorstep is interesting to watch as I struggle to wake up fully. No matter how
early I'm out, (this morning was 5.30 a.m.), there is a little hut with two to
three old men who sit playing othello and smoking together while others, just
slightly younger than them, gather together on the wharves and spend time
together as they slowly prepare their boats for the day. The water is calm and
the air cool, while the boats are slowly lifting from their positions on the mud
as the tide comes in.
It was during one of these walks, as I thanked the Lord for
the peaceful scene in front of me, that a phrase kept running through my head
-– "And if the Lord isn't gracious?" (It often strikes me how funny some
of the lessons are that the Lord uses to teach us things.) A couple of weeks
ago, my brother, Andrew, had rung us from Auckland, New Zealand, and I was
having a great time catching up with family news. In the middle of the
conversation, he asked how I coped with the voyages between countries and I
replied that I often got a little seasick but if "the Lord is gracious, then
we get a lovely, flat voyage." Andrew laughed and then said, "And if the
Lord isn't gracious, you get a rough one?"
I got a shock and didn't quite know how to reply and made
some laughing rejoinder but the words stuck with me and often I have heard them
repeating themselves in my head along with the question -– why did I say them?
Shortly after that, a young lady came to see me and when she
had finished making herself comfortable on the floor with some of my cushions,
(cabins are so small that the floor becomes our normal place to sit), she said,
"I'm a pastor's daughter and if called upon, I can smile for 12 hours a
day if necessary, but I am so sick of doing it. I want reality in my life and my
walk with the Lord."
After much discussion, we decided that growing up in a 'Christian'
environment is very much an advantage but that it can have certain drawbacks -–notably
'jargon', 'behaviour' and sometimes 'all-out nonsense'.
It has really been coming home to me that today's people
are no longer happy to accept just what looks good, but really want to find some
reality behind it. My phrase, "If the Lord is gracious...." is actually
quite ludicrous because the Bible says that He is gracious all the time. I'm
not quite sure where I picked up the erroneous idea that only a flat, calm
voyage would show me the outward working of God's graciousness but pick it up
I did and what's worse, I was silly enough to say it. My young lady felt that
by smiling at the parishioners all the time, she would be conveying God's love
in her life and His presence in the vicarage. Where was room for reality?
I guess by now some readers are worried in case I am
recommending a rabid outbreak in honesty that will shock the Christian world.
Not so. Awhile ago I read such a book written by the son of some very prominent
Christian people who, although controversial, have been used by God in very
interesting ways. As I read through this man's effort to find reality in the
religious jargon, nonsense and learned behaviours, my feeling was that he had
overstepped the mark and had ended up taking the holy and making it profane.
Even taking the occasional unholy behaviour of his parents and exposing it for
the world to see was not godly honesty and I believe it transgressed the
exhortations in Proverbs regarding the faithfulness of friends who take it upon
themselves to present their loved ones in as best a light as they can.
So if I'm not recommending rabid honesty, what am I saying?
When Jesus was on earth, His actions, although sometimes
offensive, were always very clear. His words, although spoken in parables, were
likewise very clear. Nonsense was never part of His life.
A few days ago, while on the way back to the ship from a
committee dinner, we were driven to have a look at a new church that was nearly
ready to open. As we stood in front of this amazing building, I heard the
translator say, "It has cost $20 million dollars so far..." and my immediate
reaction was, that money should have been used for a worthy project. Straight
after that, the words of Judas Iscariot popped into my mind, (paraphrased) "That
perfume could have been sold and the proceeds given to help the poor". Jesus'
answer was straight and to the point. "The poor are always with you but I am
only here for a short time."
The translator went on to explain that the purchase of the
land had come through an amazing miracle, the surrounding buildings had been
offered to the church by the government through another miracle, and that
miracle after miracle had made the building of this church possible. There was
no debt or mortgage involved and for two years there had been a 24 hour prayer
chain going (and is still going even now) to ask the Lord to finance and bless
the project in this particular area where there are many people who have not had
much opportunity to hear the gospel. It didn't take me long to apologise to
the Lord for my poor attitude.
Jesus' life was a picture of openness and integrity. If He
was tired, He went up a mountain to pray or went to sleep on a boat. He didn't
try and explain away His tiredness. If something was not right (i.e. the
moneychangers in the Temple), He didn't use politically correct phrases -– He
just did something about it. When the disciples objected to Him consorting with
children, prostitutes and tax collectors, possibly because it was bad for His
image, He reminded them that of such was the kingdom of Heaven. When He was
upset in the garden of Gethsemane, He didn't try to hide His emotion -– He
called out to God for help. When He was on the cross and felt abandoned by God,
again, He didn't try to hide it -– He called out, "My God, my God, why hast
Thou forsaken Me?"
He was practical. Matthew 25:35-40 shows us this while 41-46
shows us what He feels about those who speak and yet do nothing.
Whatever He did, He was real! And whatever He did, was only
what would please God. "For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own
will, but the will of Him that sent Me." John 6:38.
If we are supposed to be 'changing from glory to glory',
into the image of Jesus, then His reality needs to be seen in us and that is
what I am being challenged in. To accept that He is gracious whether the sea is
flat or rough, whether life is good or hard and whether I feel He is or not.
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