Wednesday, February 3, 2021
Measured cord cut;
Game over. . . .
End of discussion:
No more opinions;
All choices chosen;
Personal history frozen:
The last period
The last sentence
In each autobiography
(Once partly private,
Hereafter an open book).
End of the trail,
Concluding all steps
Down all forks in the road
To finish the journey;
Point of no return;
The ticket’s last stop;
End of the line
At the final destination,
Where earthly life stops
And afterlife begins.
In reward and rejoicing,
In retribution and regret:
Gate shut. . . .
— David L. Hatton, 8/28/2015
(from Poems Between Here and Beyond © 2016)
As a Gospel preacher, my wish isn’t to create a morbid focus on death. I want to remind everyone to take their life-decisions seriously before death. But not all reminders about death do this equally well.
Inundation with news of death can be a blessing or a curse. Hearing of others dying warns us to prepare. We’re mortal, and sooner or later, we’ll leave this life for the afterlife. But a constant media stream—announcing the passing of faraway people unrelated to us—can numb our perception. Tragic stories of freak accidents, lethal illnesses, merciless homicides or desperate suicides may shock us, but to preserve mental hygiene, we dare not dwell on daily mortality reports too long. Yet dismissing them too quickly can dull us to what news of any death ought to instill: a resolve to be ready to face our own.
I pulled the trigger… blackness… light…
Unspeakable regret… fumbling for the world again.
Too late! Thus I came here,
With lungs for breathing… one cannot breathe here with lungs,
Though one must breathe.…
Of what use is it
To rid one’s self of the world,
When no soul may ever escape the eternal destiny of life?
* * *
At ninety-six I had lived enough, that is all,
And passed to a sweet repose.
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you—
It takes life to love Life.
Death in fiction and poetry can be powerful and moving, but when closer to home, it’s another matter. At the passing of neighbors, friends, relatives, a parent, our spouse, a son or daughter, we mourn more deeply and ponder our loss much longer. Over time, grief may subside, but reminding memorablia in our immediate environment frequently resuscitate and extend the pain of the parting. Achieving a complete goodbye may take years, or we may still be in the process when it’s our turn to depart. While some call belief in an afterlife superstitious, the goodbye intrinsic to grief may unconsciously express the hope contained in the contracted phrase from which it derives: “God be wi’ ye!” Almost as a cultural reflex—and perhaps even contrary to one’s personal doubts or unbelief—the human tendency is to add to “God be with you” the colloquially familiar phrase “till we meet again.”
Because these nearer and dearer incidents of death are not quickly forgotten, the personal message they offer is not as easily brushed aside. Our thoughts linger on missing faces. We reminisce about lost embraces. I believe there’s a built-in human longing—an afterlife hope, stated or unstated—for a heavenly reunion, where we regain the presence of our departed loves ones and again feel their warm hugs.
The sterile worldview of modern philosophical materialism—a belief that time, space and matter are all that exist—cancels any hope for an afterlife. It evaluates personal individuality after death as “dust in the wind.” Religions envisioning God as a moral scorekeeper, who tallies our successes against our failures in life, provide no assurance that we’ll make it to such a reunion. But the Gospel call to follow Jesus Christ is relational. His personal promise is certain, inspiring confident faith. In John 14:2b-3 (NKJV), Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”
Many years ago I wrote a poem to contrast what philosophies and religions offer with what the Gospel of Christ proclaims. I think it presents a perfect appeal on which to conclude these thoughts about the inevitability of death and what we need to decide before we meet it:
Is there any meaning, a purpose why we’re here,
A reason for our living and dying day by day?
Could there be a message that comes from the beginning,
Outside our world of striving? Is someone there to say?
If it is all illusion, if we are just machines,
How can we measure value? Are we worth more or less?
If we are merely atoms that clumped by time and chance,
Why deem ourselves so precious upon vague hope and guess!
If only Someone’s out there to speak His love by word,
To tell us who we are; if only Someone came,
Then we’d have an answer. (Religion gave too many—
Science forgot our souls), but He’d have to leave His name.
Science said, “Keep searching.” Religion said, “Try harder.”
Some said, “Do your own thing.” And others said, “Be brave!”
But tell me how to listen. The voice of pain is loud!
The wounded scream around us. We face an open grave. . . .
But One came speaking purpose and wept at pain and death
And healed the brokenhearted. “A lunatic,” said some.
But He said Someone sent Him named Father God and Love.
He claimed to seek the lost ones; that One who came said,
— David L. Hatton, 8/23/1978
(from Poems Between Heaven and Hell ©1991, 2014)
Saturday, October 17, 2020
When we, as sinners, get concerned about our standing before God, we usually think first about our sins. We’ve broken laws, transgressed commandments, trespassed forbidden boundaries, omitted obligations and in many ways “missed the mark” (the literal meaning of sin in the Bible, from how poorly aimed arrows miss targets). This initial concern is natural for humans, and God may use it to get our attention. In John 8:24, Jesus told those who doubted that He was God’s Son, “if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” But earlier, in the same chapter, His words to a woman caught in adultery clearly expressed His Father’s attitude: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
Because God is gracious to repentant sinners, He forgave sins and transgressions in the Old Testament, long before Jesus became the sacrificial Lamb of God. But, while guilt for sins was one problem the Cross addressed, God’s major target was the sin nature: our disposition to sin. Because God created us with an intrinsically united body-spirit nature—the human body created to be spiritual and the human spirit created to be incarnate—Adam and Eve could not help but genetically pass on to all their descendants this bent toward sinning. We all inherit it, and receiving pardon for sins doesn’t eliminate it. Genesis 3:1-7 tells how Satan strategically worked to get this functional source of sins inside of us as a race. But 1 John 3:8 proclaims that the Son of God showed up on earth to destroy “the works of the devil.” This was His pragmatic purpose, but not His motivating goal.
The motive of His heart was revealed when Jesus said in Luke 19:10, “the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” We lost much in the Fall of our first parents, but the most crucial loss was in the memory of our created identity. Personal sins, whether in thought, word or deed, do not cause this spiritual amnesia. Sinning is a developed habit, bred and fed by deeming ourselves independent from our Creator. Yet this way of thinking seems to come naturally to us. We are born with no memory of our absolute and total dependence on God. Complaining that this ignorant situation isn’t our fault will change nothing. The effects of this missed mark on the human condition are universally persistent. The personal multiplication of sins, in acts or attitudes, continues to confirm this race-wide matrix of sin, which functions in this absence of an authentic, dependent relationship with our Maker.
Mark 1:4 states that “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (plural).” But when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him, he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin (singular) of the world!” (John 1:29). Oswald Chambers explained this theological difference between sins and sin extremely well:
The Bible does not say that God punished the human race for one man’s sin; but that the disposition of sin . . . entered into the human race by one man, and that another Man took on Him the sin of the human race and put it away (Hebrews 9.26)—an infinitely profounder revelation. The disposition of sin is not immorality and wrong-doing, but the disposition of self-realization—I am my own god. This disposition may work out in decorous morality or in indecorous immorality, but it has the one basis, my claim to my right to myself. (My Utmost of His Highest, October 5th)
By a preoccupation with sins instead of a focus on sin, many have misconstrued what happened in the beginning. We know from Genesis 1:31 that after completing creation, “God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” This divine evaluation included “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9), even though its early misuse derailed its “good” purpose from being revealed. God merely told Adam to take care of it, to guard it, but not to eat from it, warning that, if he did, it would kill him. When Adam and Eve ignored this warning and ate that tree’s forbidden fruit, they immediately died spiritually, and afterwards, physically. What they took into themselves had the deadly effect of making them morally independent from God. Once ingested, it gave them their very own “knowledge of good and evil”—an ability to determine right and wrong for themselves. This laid the groundwork for humans to develop a myriad of conflicting personal and cultural moralities down through history, each relying on a knowledge not directly received from God.
When a father warns his child, “Don’t play with the gun . . . it can kill you,” and the child disobeys and dies, the disobedience may have led to the death, but a bullet killed the child. Similarly, when Satan duped Adam and Eve into ignoring God the Father’s warning, they disobediently consumed something that had the power to separate them spiritually from Him and from the divine life He wanted for them. The ultimate effect of imbibing moral independence from God was to kill themselves and us, their descendants. Incorporating this spiritually lethal fruit into their lives and into the human race was the precise point where “sin entered the world, and death through sin,” as described by Romans 5:12-19. But in that same passage, God’s gracious solution to the sin problem is also explained.
Any possibility of having restored human bodies, souls and spirits with clear memories of our original role in servant-leadership required a new humanity. This hope materialized when God’s Son became a body-spirit human being. Christ’s unique conception (Matthew 1:20) from one of Mary’s ova and from the Holy Spirit’s overshadowing (Luke 1:35) combined both the necessary genes of the sin nature, which Mary inherited from Adam, and the essential “seed” of a new human race, which the Holy Spirit’s breath freshly created from earthly matter (as God had first done in Genesis 2:7).
God’s Son becoming a human being is the greatest of all cosmic and celestial miracles. This marvelous Incarnation initiated a new human genome, one with an intrinsically divine nature. But the genetic presence of the sin nature in Jesus, and its utter defeat throughout His earthly life, allowed Him to take this disposition for sinning to the Cross. Paul describes this incredible fact in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” It’s the theological ground for his insistence that “our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin,” (Romans 6:6). This amazing facet of the Incarnation enables both Paul and us to say, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me,” (Galatians 2:20).
Because it’s our self-life of sin that produces sins, God’s goal in salvation was not just forgiveness but renewal. The DNA of the old Adam was nullified by Christ’s bodily death. But the new human genome, the immortal DNA in His resurrected body, made Jesus “the firstborn from among the dead” (Colossians 1:18), with many others to follow. Resurrection introduced a new order of human life, a new humanity destined to reign forever over “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1), led by Christ the Savior and King.
Our upbringing in a world alienated from God’s will and ways confirms and nurtures our sin-bent false self in sinning. God’s plan for us is that we stop being sinners and remember our true selves. Christ’s saving gift of new birth begins a new creation in us that reinstates our lost memory. By indwelling us through the Holy Spirit, He facilitates our growth in remembering and living out our true identity as servant-leaders, created “in the image of God,” the Supreme Servant-Leader (Genesis 1:26-27).
If you’re not a Christian, you’re still suffering from spiritual amnesia. God wants to remedy that, but He will not override your personal will in order to do so. You must freely choose to surrender yourself to Him, the Lord of heaven and earth Who came to restore your spiritual memory loss. Heed Christ’s warning in Mark 8:36, “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Nothing is more eternally precious than the true self God intended you to manifest in creation. He calls you to forget your false identity of a self-directed self-sufficiency, so you can discover your forgotten identity as a uniquely designed servant who depends on divine guidance. Your success in that holy remembering is enabled by the special grace that accompanies your choice to obey Christ’s familiar invitation, “Follow Me.”
If you’re already a Christian, but have been so preoccupied by worldly concerns or distractions that you have forgotten “your first love” (Revelation 2:4), then you also must surrender. Choose to remember who you really are. Don’t let the world define your identity. Only your Maker and Lord can tell you who you are. If you wake up each day with your Christian memory foggy or fading, then realize your need for forming new habits. Start spending more time talking to God in prayer, more time reading His Word, more time focusing your mind on Christ and listening for His voice in your daily activities. Memorizing Scripture is one of the best habits to develop, and modern technology has brought modern help in that area (Google “the Verse-Locker app”). There’s really no such thing as a once-for-all surrender. The NKJV of Luke 9:23 records Jesus instructing each disciple to “take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”
The following verses offer a concluding summary and poetic reinforcement of these finals exhortations.
Never wait until disaster
wraps your body in a ball,
or your limbs get set in plaster
after feeble flight and fall:
cease today to flee the Master,
slowing down to heed His call.
Boast no sinful self-reliance
to disparage Heaven’s Throne;
wave no scepter of defiance,
proudly claiming, “I’m my own!”
or you’ll drown in dark compliance
to a demon’s rule alone.
Inner conscience is observant,
when away from God we swim:
our Creator is a Servant,
calling us to image Him
with devotion full and fervent,
waylaid not by wish or whim.
God won’t confiscate decision . . .
we must relegate our will
to His radical excision
of the sin that made us ill.
Dream no shallow, quick revision:
we’ve a void He longs to fill
When a sinner’s heart is willing
to become a saintly soul,
Christ indwells by Spirit filling,
making broken places whole.
Even angels find it thrilling,
watching Jesus meet His goal.
— David L. Hatton, 10/17/2020
Saturday, July 25, 2020
Many Christians, including myself, began the year 2020 hoping it would be one of 20/20 vision, a year for gaining a clearer perspective on God’s will and purposes for us as His people. The verse prefacing this article encourages us not to despair of that hope. What the Apostle Paul proclaimed to Timothy predates all the fearful crises of history that followed its writing and still tells us what thwarts the “spirit of fear” that typically accompanies all such critical times.
When frightful dangers do take control of the mind, panic is the result. But God gave us “a sound mind,” one equipped with the spiritual fruit of self-control. This divine inheritance should distinguish our response to dangers from that of a worldly reaction, as Paul makes clear in Romans 8:15 (NKJV), For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” Pressing down on one side of the contemporary scales is the authentically bad news of a global plague. On the other side of the scales is the infinitely weightier Good News of who we are in Christ. But, before examining how our identity as God’s children tips the balances, I want to discuss another balancing act between bad news and some better news that is currently in effect for everyone.
We will each die from something, and the odds are that it won’t be from the CV-19 bug. This virus should not be identified with the Grim Reaper. It is merely a new tool of his for maintaining human mortality. But the broadcast focus on his recent use of it has made some people stop watching TV’s bad news reports altogether. This popular media-boycotting may not be so much a way of ignoring the contagion as an attempt to find some peace of mind. Such a motive would be a tacit statement that humans do not thrive on morbid fear but on hopeful faith.
This is where the best news comes in, at least for those willing to believe in what was accomplished by the Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because of Romans 3:23 and 6:23, Christians know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and that Jesus countered sin’s universal sentence of capital punishment on the human race: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” These basic Bible teachings confront the inevitability of earthly death with the divine provision of heavenly life.
Having healthy fear is a necessity, especially when it alerts us to moral and mortal dangers that God wants us to avoid. Jesus was highlighting healthy, godly fear, when He said, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4-5, NKJV). But, because anxious human fear is unhealthy, Jesus also told us in Matthew 6:34 (ESV), “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Despite these troubled and trying times, those following Jesus should not cave in to this pandemic’s panic-demic. We are not called to imitate those who, by rejecting faith in Christ, are still “held in slavery by their fear of death.” This global crisis is indeed extremely troublesome and tragic. But it’s only one episode of trouble in a world that has been full of tragedy ever since our first parents were banished from Eden. Whether or not the gatekeepers of modern media continue to inspire fear with bad news reports, believers must heed and hold on to what our death-conquering King told us in a special verse that we should all memorize: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33, NIV)
BE OF GOOD CHEER
Trials and tragedies, trouble and pain,
Hopes that are dashed amid dreams that are slain:
All of these pepper the world where you dwell,
Making your life just a little like hell.
Satan may threaten, and demons may swarm,
Yet I am with you in tempest and storm.
This I will promise: your heart will have peace,
As you let go in My Spirit’s release.
Yes, there is darkness, disease and despair
Marring My beautiful world everywhere.
That’s why I came, to connect with each loss
By the embrace of My sin-laden Cross.
Be of good cheer in the Message you’ve heard.
Others have suffered who knew not My Word.
Others are hurting who still know Me not—
Yours is the cross that can light up their lot.
Take tribulations and trials you face . . .
Plunge them in love by the strength of My grace.
Follow My path, when the suffering grows.
Cherish the Cross! It will conquer your foes!
— David L. Hatton, 7/12/2000 (revised, 1/17/2014)
(from Poems Between Here and Beyond © 2016)
Friday, June 5, 2020
Holy Communion, or the Eucharist [from the Greek word for “thanksgiving”], is a powerful means of grace. I touched on this briefly in my blog article of 3/9/2018, “Two ‘Means of Grace’ for Healing,” which you might want to read before this one. God has never stopped using means of grace, although most Christians today have stopped thinking clearly about them. But we must be very clear on the Table. For too many years Holy Communion has been treated as merely an act of ritual obedience. The Eucharist must be retrieved for what it is: a means of grace for personal spiritual growth, inner healing and, at times, spiritual warfare.
A Mystery Beyond Human Speculation
The Lord’s Supper is a mystery. Making what’s on the Table fit our theological explanations may comfort human minds, but it often robs Holy Communion of its centrality to Christian life and witness. Disputes about the virtues of one position over another have divided the Body of Christ. It might be best to approach the Table always repenting that we ever tolerated such division. Roman Catholics insist on transubstantiation, the more ancient Orthodox on objective transformation; for Lutherans it’s a sacramental union, for the Reformed a spiritual union, or for many other Protestants, a holy memorial; unfortunately, for some denominations, it was a temporary rite no longer needed. Please, for the sake of our King, put all these rationally-defended theories and viewpoints on hold and bask in the mystery. Heaven will eventually vindicate or obliterate your chosen view. But right now, and for the rest of your earthly life, be a servant subject to our Sovereign Lord, and take Him at His word. With the trust of childlike faith, regardless of your viewpoint, accept at face value what is written in the Book:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-57, NASB)
And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood,” (Luke 22:19-20, NASB).
And to solidify your meditation on the Eucharistic mystery, plunge your heart deep into what Paul says about the ongoing celebration of this Holy Meal: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16, ESV, emphasis mine). Both Paul’s understanding and Christ’s clear instruction should convince us that approaching this sacred Table is physically the closest we can get to what Jesus accomplished on Calvary. In a mysterious way, to “eat this bread and drink this cup” is to both participate in and “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26, NIV).
A Table of Death
Christ’s crucifixion was a terminus, an end point for many things; His Resurrection, the beginning for many others. The Cross and empty tomb divided time into BC and AD—now renamed BCE and CE, which hasn’t altered that division. They closed the Old Testament with a New Covenant, turning a Jewish story into a global one. For every believer, they end the old life with new birth, as sacramentally portrayed in baptism.
Baptism—a one-time rite for initiation into the Christian community—is a burial of the old life (as in a watery tomb) and an emergence into a newborn life (as from a watery womb). Paul describes this in very plain language: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3-4, ESV). This break with the old life and entrance into the new life is demonstrated once in baptism, but our ongoing need for replacing old ways of living with Christlike living is repeatedly demonstrated at the Table. There we participate again and again in the fruits of Christ’s sacrifice and empty tomb for the rest of our earthly sojourn.
It’s highly significant that Jesus introduced foot-washing in the context of His Table. He told Peter its purpose in John 13:10 (ESV): “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” Whether or not foot-washing accompanies Holy Communion, the need for cleansing is ongoing. We bring to the Table an array of worldly attitudes and behaviors that we must part with and leave behind. They need to die, and Paul says their death is the work of Christ’s Cross: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world,” (Galatians 6:14, NIV).
God is not into magic. Physically taking the Eucharist does not automatically free us from worldliness. This is why Jesus said, “you are clean, but not every one of you.” Judas missed out, despite having his feet washed by Jesus and eating the new Passover meal. An authentic participation in the body and blood of Christ at the Table is a relational act dependent on personal faith. Just as baptism is a physical confession of faith in Christ’s work on Calvary, so is partaking of the fruits of the Cross presented to us again on the Table. This makes Holy Communion a means of grace—a focal point where God’s power can put to death those vestiges of worldly ways clinging to our lives—as long as we faithfully bring them to Him, remembering that the purpose for His death was to eliminate them from our lives.
Practically, this means spending time in prayer before coming to the Eucharistic Meal, asking the Holy Spirit to convict us in whatever areas we have participated in those dispositions and deeds that belong to the realm of darkness. It may be helpful to ask Him to show us if we have:
- any attitude we need to confess and forsake
- any behavior we need to bring to an end
- any habit or addiction from which we need to be set free
- any laziness or laxity needing banishment from our lives
- any ties we have inherited or formed that need to be severed
- any obsessions or compulsions that need to be broken
- anything else in us that needs to die
A Table of Life
If we have made our prayerful preparation and are bringing our worldly trash and baggage to leave at the Table, we will likely approach Holy Communion with tears of grief. It is right to be sorrowful that such things have been held back from our Lord, in spite of having received new birth from Him. But when what the Holy Spirit has shown us is left on the Table, we can then take His life from the Table with tears of joy and celebration. Holiness and wholeness and freedom must fill up those areas where unrighteousness and darkness and bondage have been banished.
This participation in His resurrection life is a relational act of faith in its initiation and its continuation. When you accepted Christ as your Savior, you entered salvation by new birth. But you have been exhorted to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose,” (Philippians 2:12-13, NIV). Jesus stipulated baptism as a physical faith-affirmation of new birth, and He gave us His Table as an ongoing physical faith-reminder of our need to let His resurrection life fill every area of our personal lives.
With the same heart-searching prayer and personal intention, we must come to the Table of Christ’s resurrected life, taking from Him what we need in the area of:
- attitudes and desires aligned with the mind of Him Who indwells us
- choices and behaviors that reflect “not my will but Yours be done”
- habits of devotion to prayer, Bible study and spiritual growth
- a serious concern for others and commitment to serve them
- gathering with other Christians for spiritual fellowship
- waging spiritual warfare against the realm of darkness
- whatever else God reveals that needs to come alive in us
We may not be used to thinking of physical rituals, like baptism and Holy Communion, as truly spiritual activities. We may have a Gnostic view that sees no relationship between the physical and the spiritual, no intrinsic union between the body and the spirit. If so, have ignored God’s many uses of physical means of grace throughout Scripture, but worse, we have fail to uphold the central significance of Christ’s incarnation, bodily death and resurrection. Our faith is incarnational, or it is not the Christian faith found in the New Testament. The fruits of the Cross and of the Resurrection are on the Table, and Christ’s “in remembrance of Me,” includes His words, “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” Embrace the mystery and participate in it.
I hope that all reading this article will discover a new way of coming to the Communion Table. I hope all will start seeing it as a return to the Cross, where Christ’s death brings us life, by putting our old life to death so that we can freely participate in His resurrected life. The following poem makes an apt conclusion, describing the approach both to the Cross and to the Table.
THE DARK SIDE OF THE CROSS
Brokenly we stumble down the twisted trails of life,
Struggling to discover peace in self-made worlds of strife,
Fighting to escape our fears of losing what we gain,
Craving for a feast of pleasures free from any pain.
Yet, upon these broad and damning roads beneath our feet,
There’s a solemn shadow that our steps may often meet.
In the setting sun of earthly dreams there stands a Cross,
Casting hope upon those paths of everlasting loss.
From its slender shade, which seems at first so cramped and tight,
Comes a whispered offer for a journey into Light.
Once, there was no exit; now a doorway stands in view,
Open for the weary passerby to walk on through.
Oh but how it looks constricted, narrow as the grave,
Waiting to convert the seeker’s soul into its slave
By its strong death-dealing nails for fixing limbs to wood:
No more wandering the world we thought we understood;
No more squandering of precious gifts that God bestows;
No more pity for ourselves for self-engendered woes;
No more place for stubbornness within our willful heart—
Selfish thrones must topple, proud dominions fall apart;
No more so-called freedom for our flesh to play the fool;
Only crucifixion, setting Jesus free to rule . . .
Harsh and strict, this pathway through the Cross of Christ appears,
Warning all who enter of its dark side’s loss and tears.
Yet, if we have thought it out and in that way have stepped,
We elude what choked our lives, rejoicing where we wept.
Such emancipation on the Cross’s other side
Opens up to us a realm extremely rich and wide.
Heaven’s light unveils a vast expanse where glory shines.
Holy wealth with pure delight and beauty intertwines.
Far beyond imagination, rapture fills our souls.
Endless joy in useful service flows from godly goals.
What were not true friendships in the world we leave behind
Change to new, real fellowship we’d always hoped to find.
On the Cross’s brighter side, our destination’s clear.
Working out His Word and will, we sense His presence near.
Jesus walked the dying side to hellish depths below
To unlock the living side, where treasures overflow:
Mysteries of faith and prayer, His Body’s bread and wine,
Light of Life, a life of Love, and love for Light Divine.
What He purchased when He hung as “nothing” on the Tree
Was to be our everything: His life in you and me.
So, don’t flee the Cross because you see its darker side.
Don’t keep running off to find a wider place to hide.
Stop and leave the worldly highway, choose no more to roam:
Make the Cross of Jesus yours, and it will lead you home.
— David L. Hatton, 4/6/1993
(from Poems Between Darkness and Light ©1994, 2014)
( For a 10-minute, online Holy Communion
observance, go to https://youtu.be/lWQtfOM3caY )
Monday, May 4, 2020
|Those living at the Lord's Land in the 1970s|
|Cross at the bluff - Lighthouse Ranch|
|View from the water tower at Lighthouse Ranch|
I soon began to grow spiritually in this group, especially under the powerful preaching of Jim Durkin, a Foursquare Gospel minister who led Gospel Outreach, the name they chose for their ministry. Under his evangelistic preaching, several hippie communes had become Christian communes, and I eventually became what they called “a coordinator” of one of them, Living Waters Ranch near Whitethorn, an hour west of Garberville.
|Young Hattons at Living Waters Ranch|
Every few weeks, we caravanned up to Eureka for a general Sunday gathering of the communes at the War Memorial Auditorium, the only place large enough to hold those meetings. One such Sunday, I clearly remember discussing a question with Jim DeGolyer, another leader who later helped lead Gospel Outreach teams in Guatemala and Ecuador: “What is spiritual maturity?” He offered his idea of it, but suddenly an illustration popped into my head, and this imaginary narrative has stuck with me as a defining answer all these years:
A Christian counselor is approached by a young couple having marital problems. He listens, then prays, asking God, “Lord, I’m helpless to counsel this couple without Your guidance. Please, show me what I’m to say to them.” God tells him to share a certain passage of Scripture with them. It solves their problem. Soon, another couple comes with seemingly the identical problem. Instead of assuming that he has God’s answer, he prays again, “Lord, I’m helpless . . . ,” and God directs him to the same Bible verses as before. The problem is solved.
The next couple, and the next, and the next, 25 times in a row, come to him with what he perceives to be exactly the same problem. Instead of assuming he knows what God wants him to share, he does not turn to that passage to answer them, but always prays with complete sincerity the same prayer, “O Lord, you know what this couple needs, and I’m at a loss to help them without Your guidance. Show me what to say.” Again, God directs him to the same Scripture, which he then uses as his counsel to them. Their marriage is sailing smoothly again.
Some would define spiritual maturity as having the gumption to learn the mind of God from these many episodes where He did not vary in His guidance. After all, how many times does a lesson have to be repeated? Isn’t it obvious that God wants to give that Scripture passage to such couples, whose relational troubles are obviously so similar? For the spiritually mature counselor, absolutely not! Nothing is obvious, because only God knows the human hearts involved. Only He can give them what they individually need for healing.
The example of that counselor’s spiritual maturity is confirmed when the 26th couple arrives with the same problem. He prays the same prayer, desperate for God’s clear direction, and God shows him a different passage of Scripture to share with them. It uniquely meets their need.Spiritual maturity has nothing to do with how long we have been Christians. Some young believers are far better at seeking and obeying God’s guidance than older ones who have tons of Bible knowledge but a poor track record of personally listening for divine guidance. Yet it is God’s will for all of us to listen to Him directly. Jesus in Matthew 4:4 quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
From the very beginning, we were to get our guidance from a direct, personal relationship with God, not from an internal, independent “knowledge of good and evil.” In John 10:27 (NKJV), Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” When self-confident of being right about things, based on our own experiences or education from others, we easily end up listening to the voice of our own mind. Guidance from God should always be checked against His Word, for He will not direct us to do anything in conflict with what He has already revealed. God’s Word, however, was not intended to substitute for hearing from Him directly for guidance in areas where His Word does not specifically give direction.
Jesus, our best example of spiritual maturity, said in John 6:58 (NKJV) that He came “not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” That was His whole ministry, to do and teach what He heard and saw from the Father (John 8:28, 38). We know, as Christians, that is our calling too, because He said, "Follow Me."
Saturday, December 28, 2019
|Signed copy available - CLICK image|
This "Introduction" and the concluding poem are from my first book of poems. To read the posts from my others, click on these links:
* * * * * * *
destroying the plants on which they grew . . .
the mighty iron that gave it birth . . .
to ravage the threads that feed them there . . .
from the fueling wood from which it came . . .
consumes the life of its host, the soul.
Wednesday, December 25, 2019
Don’t fail to give the gift
that no one else can bring.
If there’s a former rift,
Let love remove its sting:
All grudges find release
when bygones rest in peace.
Your joining in can lift
a broken tune to sing.
You may cause ice to melt,
if you are truly there.
No matter what life’s dealt,
Stay present with your care.
Meet eye-to-eye, as planned—
no smart-phone in your hand.
Your self’s uniquely felt,
when you remain aware.
As get-togethers mount
at Christmastime each year,
your heart can be a fount
to draw the thirsty near.
The smiles and hugs you give
must flow while people live.
So, make connections count
before they disappear.
— David L. Hatton, 12/09/2018
(this is in Poems Between Fear and Faith —
for purchasing it, go to My Books 4 Sale)