“Day in Autumn” by Rainer Maria Wilke

After the summer’s yield, Lord, it is time
to let your shadow lengthen on the sundials
and in the pastures let the rough winds fly.

As for the final fruits, coax them to roundness.
Direct on them two days of warmer light
to hale them golden toward their term, and harry
the last few drops of sweetness through the wine.

Whoever’s homeless now, will build no shelter;
who lives alone will live indefinitely so,
waking up to read a little, draft long letters,
and, along the city’s avenues,
fitfully wander, when the wild leaves loosen.

Source: The Poetry Foundation
 from German by Mary Kinzie.

“The Touch of the Master’s Hand” by Myra Brooks Welch

Perhaps you’re struggling with worth—either that of yourself or someone else. Perhaps it seems that person you’re sharing the gospel with will never believe, or that you are too far gone to know the Lord’s grace. I came across this poem that celebrates how God can take what seems worthless and make it new. He has done this over and over. From Rahab the prostitute to Paul the terrorist—God takes what and whom the world deems valueless, those “scarred with sin,” and makes them new and precious. He does this chiefly by giving us the precious righteousness of his own son, Jesus! How much would Paul have rejoiced in this truth as one who was “battered” by sin, that though we once were enemies of God, in Christ we are “new creations. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17; Romans 5:10). This turning of people (represented by old violins in Welch’s work) brings God great glory, though it confounds the world. As Paul says, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Will you know and rejoice in this power today? 

‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
But held it up with a smile:
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
“Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar”; then, “Two!” “Only two?
Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?
Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
Going for three—-” But no,
From the room, far back, a gray-haired man
Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then, wiping the dust from the old violin,
And tightening the loose strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet
As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”
And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once, three thousand, twice,
And going, and gone,” said he.
The people cheered, but some of them cried,
“We do not quite understand
What changed its worth.” Swift came the reply:
“The touch of a master’s hand.”

And many a man with life out of tune,
And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd,
Much like the old violin.
A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine;
A game–and he travels on.
He is “going” once, and “going” twice,
He’s “going” and almost “gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that’s wrought
By the touch of the Master’s hand.

“We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

I’m not sure where Paul Laurence Dunbar — widely known as one of the first premier, african-american poets of the 19th century — was with the Lord . But his famed poem, “We Wear the Mask” seems like one that would resonate all the more deeply with American citizens given all that’s gone on in the media, cities, and minority/police relations. The reason the piece struck me is because it basically sounded like a modern Psalm — uninspired, of course. The plea to Christ in the last stanza rings of a Davidic lament — a cry from a “tortured soul.” This past Sunday, my preacher heralded the glories of Luke 12 for his sermon. In verse 50 of this passage, the Lord says, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” This baptism refers to his death, but what struck me was his distress; surely, the torture his soul went through was not only on the cross. So for any tortured souls out there, for any wearing a mask of a smile but who scream on the inside, turn to Christ this day. He is able to sympathize like none other. Hebrews 4:15-16: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

“Jesus of the Scars” by Edward Shillito

Everyone suffers. But not everyone responds to their suffering in the same way. Many try to find the answers in religion, and some even in a religion of a god who does not know suffering. But John Stott’s words echo my curiosity on this: “In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” Christian, ours is a God who has felt agony like none other and this for our sake and His glory (2 Cor. 5:15). Not only does he know our suffering and thus can empathize with it, but he spends our sorrows well (Rom. 8:28). Stott affirms this powerfully by quoting a playlet entitled “The Long Silence,”

At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly — not with cringing shame, but with belligerence. 

‘Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?’ snapped a pert young brunette. She ripped open a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured terror…beatings…torture…death!” 

In another group a Negro boy lowered his collar. “What about this?” he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. “Lynched…for no crime but being black!” In another crowed a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyed. “Why should I suffer” she murmured, “It wasn’t my fault.” 

Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in his world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that man had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said. 

So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, a Negro, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever. 

Before God could be qualified to be their judge, he must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth — as a man! 

‘Let him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.’

‘At last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.’ 

As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the the throng of people assembled. 

And when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No-one uttered another word. No-one moved. For suddenly all knew that God had already served his sentence…

Often, we’re like Thomas, not convinced of God’s goodness and care until we see his scars. “Edward Shillito,” Stott writes, “shattered by the carnage of the First World War, found comfort in the fact that Jesus was able to show his disciples the scares of his crucifixion. It inspired him to write his poem, ‘Jesus of the Scars’:”

If we have never sought, we seek thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-marks on thy brow,
We must have thee, O Jesus of the scars.
The heavens frighten us; they are too calm.
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by thy scars we know thy grace.
If, when the doors are shut, thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of thine;
We know today what wounds are, have no fear;
Show us thy scars, we know the countersign.
The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak;
They rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.

Stott, John R. W. The Cross of Christ: 20th Anniversary Edition. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press (quotation found on p. 335-337).

“Do the Next Thing” (quoted) by Elisabeth Elliot

Trials and circumstances rarely greet us warmly. Especially when they shift and multiply, morphing into daunting options. This turmoil could be rendered a large part of the human experience in this fallen world; after all, no one has lived and not, at some point or another, felt completely overwhelmed by beleaguering decisions (or lack thereof) before them. Elisabeth Elliot, wife of the renowned martyred missionary, Jim Elliot, who was killed in 1956 trying to reach the Auca people of Ecuador, certainly knew this reality, perhaps more deeply than most ever will. While she didn’t author the poem below (the author is anonymous), she aided its soaring by quoting it. How many saints have taken refuge in the shadow of God’s wings because of these words? How many weary pilgrims has this poem spurred on to do all that they can do: take the next step? We believers are not commanded to know every step, but to take the next one resigning all to the covenant care of our Lord, who plans them all for his glory and our good. 

From an old English parsonage down by the sea,
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, as it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the hours the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: DO THE NEXT THING

Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, Let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows, Child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus. DO THE NEXT THING

Do it immediately; do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His Hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all resultings. DO THE NEXT THING

Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
(Working or suffering) be thy demeanor,
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing,
Then, as He beckons thee, DO THE NEXT THING.

“GOD’S UNCHANGING WORD” by Martin Luther

My pastor often says, “feelings are good and unreliable.” So many times I’ve been tempted to make my emotions my ultimate guide; our individualistic, romanticized culture in the West doesn’t help fend this temptation. And so if something — an event, a relationship, a memory — is hard, I assume it to not be good. But this is horrid reasoning — for the cross was the hardest yet best event done by the most loving person ever. The cross is why we can trust that God will spend even our sorrows well (Rom. 8:28). Below is a piece I stumbled on written by the monolith of the Reformation, Martin Luther; it serves as a helpful reminder for what I should truly lean on: God’s Word. 

Feelings come and feelings go,
And feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God —
Naught else is worth believing.

Though all my heart should feel condemned
For want of some sweet token,
There is One greater than my heart
Whose Word cannot be broken.

I’ll trust in God’s unchanging Word
Till soul and body sever,
For, though all things shall pass away,