Letter 1 to Michael

Dear Michael:

It was a great pleasure to have dinner with you and your lovely family last evening.  Your wife is a wonderful cook and the presentation in your dining room was fit for royalty!  Indeed, I think that if you really could be spoiled, you have the optimum opportunity of being so.

I found our conversation very worthwhile.  I promised that I would reflect on some of the things you said about your pastor.  It seems that many of my thoughts on the matter relate to much of what the apostle Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians.  You will recall my mentioning it.

You say that it bothers you when the pastor talks about sensitive, personal issues.  You are uncomfortable when he shows emotion in the pulpit, or when he seems to lean more heavily these days on the theme of encouragement rather than the more philosophical or social matters that you enjoy more.  First of all, friend, let me charge you not to be so self-centered.  Surely it is the case that there are people in your parish who need encouraging, comforting words.  Indeed, it may be that your pastor – through private visits and phone coversations of which you are unaware – knows in detail the stresses or sorrows of his parishoners and is simply trying to apply Paul’s principle here.  He has surely himself experienced sorrow, pain, loss, etc., and has also experienced the comfort that Christ brings his servants (often through illumination of Scripture) and is trying to pass these costly and precious lessons on to the parish.

Have you taken time to reflect upon your pastor’s personal life?  What has it cost him, or his family – immediate or extended –  to be in the ministry, to live in your community, to pastor your church?  I do not know much about the man, but didn’t I hear that he lost his mother last year, and that his father is quite ill?  Then, there was the incident with his teenage son a few months ago.  Thankfully, it was not that serious, but it was certainly enough to alarm a caring parent.  And is the rumour around town true, that a deacon or two at your church are among those unreasonable, cantankerous types that cannot be happy about anything?  No names please!

I think, if you try, you will probably realize that this man must be experiencing that strange mixture of both trouble and the comforting grace of Christ.  It is simply his duty to pass on the personal experience of the comfort of Christ – which by its nature is an emotional thing – to those whom he has been sent in order to do this very thing.

In closing, I hope your pastor has also displayed at least some kind of emotion when he has spoken of Christ and his cross.  A man whose heart is not moved by the greatest display and act of love in all history has no business being in the ministry.  The loving response of our whole being to the gift of the Saviour is what the Christian life is all about.



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Taste and See

The writer of Psalm 34, we assume King David, is full of praise for the LORD. He seems to have recently experienced a deliverance of some kind from a painful trouble he has endured. He begins by saying, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” While that may initially seem to be saying too much – all times? continually? – yet it seems that the experience he has just had with God has so elevated his idea of how involved God is in our lives that it seems to him quite safe to say, “yes, always, whatever the circumstances I may face, I now know that I can still bless the LORD in the midst of them.” And David does not think of this experience of God to be just for himself. He bids us to experience this God as well, in v. 8: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”

In our time when so much credit and emphasis is given to experimental or observational knowledge such as we enjoy in the various sciences, sadly the daily experience of a different kind of knowledge – an intuitive knowledge – is ignored or even disdained. Yet it is with us every day. It is our common human experience. There are things to know in this world that – not our five bodily senses – but our personalities can recognize and affirm. The kind of knowledge gained about one another through personal contact is a real way of knowing things that are true about one another and we rely upon this knowledge constantly.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has revealed himself to be a person. Indeed he is the Source and Ground of all personhood and personality. And David plainly encourages us to know him as such. He wants us to have the kind of personal encounter with him that he himself has had. He doesn’t want us to observe God’s goodness, but to taste it, to experience his goodness as we would experience the goodness of any other person in our acquaintance.

But he does seem to lay down a precondition. Apparently, this God does not have a personal or intimate relationship with just anyone. He says in v. 18: “The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit.” Psalm 138 says much the same thing in verse 6 “Though the Lord is on high, Yet He regards the lowly; But the proud He knows from afar.” The prophet Isaiah says something similar, in Isaiah 57:15 “For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” It appears that God is willing to be on personal terms with those whose hearts are of a humble quality, with those who know it’s foolish to be proud before God. He draws near to those who are humble enough to admit their need of him and to relate to this good God on his terms; to let God be God, as we say.

Sadly, none of us have hearts like this naturally. Naturally, we are all proud, too proud to humble ourselves before God and to let Him be God. Thankfully, God will give us humility of heart if we ask him for it. God himself will meet the precondition for knowing him, if we really are sincere in our seeking him.

Well, David is certainly anxious that we know God in this way. He has experienced the goodness of God and want us to experience it as well. But what good specifically is he referring to when he says that God is good? What is there about God’s goodness that has so moved him? We find the answer in similar phrases repeated over and over in this psalm:
4 I sought the Lord, and He heard me,
6 This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him,
15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their cry.
17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,
David is thankful for the answers he had received for his prayers, but he is not as excited about those answers as he is about the simple fact that this Almighty God has heard his prayers – that God has listened to him.

C. S. Lewis talks about this in one of his books. I believe he was answering the critic who thought that we pray because we are trying to manipulate God and get what we want from him. His reply was that the child of God trusts the wisdom of his father in heaven. We may certainly long for a particular answer very deeply, but the main thing is to know the LORD knows us and hears us. We may not feel like he does at the present, but when we look back on our lives, as David does here, we realize he really was listening and helping us. And that gives us courage to keep on praying as we step into the future. For if he has heard in the past, he will hear us again, for he is faithful and he is good. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Friends, if we have that humble and contrite heart, if we, by God’s grace given to us through Jesus, are willing to admit that our plans are not always best, and our prayers are not always the wisest things to ask; if we have that heart that is willing to let God be God of our own lives, we can begin to taste and see that the LORD is good. We can be comforted. We can even rejoice. We can join in with David and declare to all who will hear us: O taste and see that the LORD is good. May such be the true experience of our hearts, through Jesus Christ the Lord, the one who came to bring us forever into all the good that His Father has for us. Amen.

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