Why "St. Cuthbert's Island"?

Saint Cuthbert was a Celtic monk who lived in the 7th century.
He received visitors at his monastery in Northumbria and was even appointed a bishop, but he yearned for the life of an ascetic. While living at the monastery on the island of Lindisfarne, he sought to spend time with the Lord whenever possible. Early on, he practiced solitude on a small island that was linked to Lindisfarne by a land bridge when the tide was low. This tiny island, known as Saint Cuthbert’s Island, was a training ground of sorts—a place to grow in faith and in love for God.

I chose to name my blog after this island for two reasons:
1) I hope that it will be a place where I can spend time alone with God, growing in my love for Him.
2) Perhaps, when the tide is low, others may find their way to this tiny island
and, by God’s grace, be blessed by what they find there.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Psalm 127

(Note: I originally wrote this over a year and a half ago. For some reason, I didn't think it was ready to share, so I just saved it as a draft. Now, as I read it, I don't know why I hesitated.)

First, a translation:

Psalm 127

A Song of Ascents, of Solomon
If YHWH does not build a house, the builders exert themselves in vain.
If YHWH does not watch over a city, the watchman is vigilant to no avail.
It is worthless for you to get up early, to delay sitting down, 

you who eat the bread of hardship, for He will give sleep to His beloved.
You see, children are given by YHWH; the fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a hero, so are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the young, strong man who fills his quiver with them.
They will not be ashamed, for they will speak to their enemies at the gate.

When one becomes a parent, this is truly a gift from the Lord. Although we can explain the whole process of reproduction biologically, something about the privilege of being used by God to create a new life is truly breathtaking. In fact, seeing the face of one’s child is one of the greatest joys in life. To quote cartoonist Stan Lee, however, “with great privilege comes great responsibility.” Post-baby, life has suddenly changed. We are no longer free to follow our own whims and to live footloose and fancy free. This 8 pound bundle changes everything.

As a husband and a father, my main concern is to be a provider and a protector for my family. Safety and security are basic human needs, and it is our job as parents to provide them for our children. As breadwinners, we earn money to feed and clothe our children. As nurturers, we build their self-esteem and give the needed assurance that they are loved. We teach and train them, and we hope that they will grow up to be good, responsible citizens. But there are no guarantees.

So what does this have to do with Psalm 127? Everything! I think that the whole psalm is about childrearing. At first reading, it appears that verses 1 and 2 have little to do with verses 3-5. In fact, some interpreters have speculated that these are two different compositions that have been joined to form this short psalm. However, this conclusion seems unwarranted.

Verse 1 speaks of “building a house.” Is it a stretch to relate this to building a home (a family)? I don’t think so. In Genesis 16, for example, Sarai refers to having children as “building a family”. In fact, the verb “to build” (bana) may derive from the noun for “son” (ben). Providing (v. 1) and protecting (v. 2) are integral parts of building a family.

How do I as a dad relate to building a home? I immediately think of being a breadwinner (verse 2) and providing for the material needs of my family. In addition, I want to establish in my children a sense of responsibility, of morality, of kindness, and of self-esteem. I want my children to be established in the faith; thus, I must not only teach, but model a life built in relationship with Jesus. If I hope for such a home, the Lord needs to be the architect and the contractor.

"Unless the LORD build the house..."

What about the lengths we go to in trying to make our family safe? There are so many baby safety products, so many rules, so many precautions, so many doctor visits, and so much advice. So do I rely on Parent’s magazine, immunizations, and 5-point safety harnesses to “guard” my family? Am I to put my trust in teachers, extracurricular activities, and sex-ed programs to guide my children’s choices? Unless the Lord is watching over them, all our precautions are worthless.

"Unless the LORD guard the city..."

In fact, all of our efforts, our strivings, are useless if the Lord doesn’t mold and protect our families. We need Him. He is not an optional extra. He is the foundation, the only source of the Life that is truly Life. It is a matter of entrusting the home building to Him. It is a matter of trust. Derek Kidner, in his commentary on this psalm, points to a parallel in Genesis 11. While men rely on their own ability to build a tower that reaches the heavens, God is choosing a man whom He would bless with a son, through whom He would build a great nation.

Verse 2 speaks about the uselessness of breaking one's back to "get ahead" in life and pile up possessions. The psalmist contrasts the "bread of hardship" (or pain) with "sleep." The frenzied striving of the overachiever is shown to be ultimately fruitless.
Luke 12:20 But God said to him, "Fool! This very night the demand will be made for your soul; and this hoard of yours, whose will it be then?"

The beloved of God can close his eyes and sleep, knowing that God will provide for all of his needs.
Luke 12:24 Think of the ravens. They do not sow or reap; they have no storehouses and no barns; yet God feeds them. And how much more you are worth than the birds!
Luke 12:27-31 Think how the flowers grow; they never have to spin or weave; yet, I assure you, not even Solomon in all his royal robes was clothed like one of them.
Now if that is how God clothes a flower which is growing wild today and is thrown into the furnace tomorrow, how much more will he look after you, who have so little faith! But you must not set your hearts on things to eat and things to drink; nor must you worry. It is the gentiles of this world who set their hearts on all these things. Your Father well knows you need them. No; set your hearts on his kingdom, and these other things will be given you as well.

As the saying goes, the best things in life are free. Children are one of those blessings, a gift from the Lord. We do not deserve them. We did not earn them. They are graciously entrusted to us, and yet do we dare try and raise them on our own? Do we trust in our own power and wisdom to rear our children? No, we dare not. They are a blessing, but they must be given back to the Lord's care. We must teach them to walk in the fear of the Lord. We must cover them in prayer. We must ask the Holy Spirit to bear fruit in them. We must train them up in the way they should go. We must speak the strong name of Jesus over them as a shield. In short, we must lift them up and give them over to God. As Abraham surrendered Isaac, and Hannah devoted   Samuel, so must we entrust our children to the care of the Lord.

Only in the Lord can we have the assurance that they will be well. Only in God is our soul at rest (Ps. 62:1). He is the Father, the Daddy who can look after our children and provide for them in ways that our sins and shortcomings would never allow. He gives grace in our parenting flaws. He can understand, comfort, guide, shape, and protect our children in ways that we could never imagine. Trust Him. They will deal with their enemies and will not be put to shame (verse 5). They will be established by the Lord. They will not be moved.

Love them. Pray for them. Teach them the fear of the Lord. Then sleep, knowing that He who gave those little blessings to you is faithful. So shoot your arrow. Let God guide, build, and protect your home.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Jeremy Lin

I don't know if you've heard of Jeremy Lin, the Asian-American basketball phenom. I really like his story.
Check out this interview with him while he was a basketball player at Harvard.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cuthbert's Devotion

I came across this account of Saint Cuthbert in a beautiful book that was lent to me:
While on Lindisfarne, Cuthbert used to pray day and night. Sometimes he prayed in solitude on Hobthrush Isle (also known as St. Cuthbert's Island -- my note). At other times he used to work with his hands so he could stay awake to pray. He also walked all around the island to see how everything was getting on. As he walked he sang psalms. He slept little, sometimes going all day without sleep. Even when he was sleeping if he was unexpectedly awakened he was never angry. He used to say, "No one who awakens me angers me. He who wakes me up makes me happy for driving away the heaviness of sleep and making me think of something useful." When Cuthbert celebrated Mass he could not do it without shedding tears. When he sang he sang from a full heart. The music often broken by the sound of his sighs. He was upright and holy in his personal life. He reproved wrongdoing in others but was most kind and gracious with the penitent. He was even known during confession to break into tears, thus by his example prompting greater penitence and more complete forgiveness.
As time went on Cuthbert had a greater desire to be alone with God. He withdrew more and more to spend time on Hobthrush Isle....

from p. 33 of Cuthbert and the Animals by John McManners

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Psalm 126

This is the 7th of 15 Psalms of Ascent.

First, my translation:

A song of ascents.
When YHWH ended the sojourn of Zion, we became refreshed, like people who have just woken from a dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, our tongue with a cry of joy.
Then among the nations they said, “YHWH has done a great thing with these people!”
YHWH has done a great thing with us.
We have become filled with joy.
Restore the captives, O YHWH, like wadis in the Negeb.
Those sowing in tears will reap the harvest in a cry of joy.
Surely he who goes out (and weeps), carrying his pouch of seed, will come in with a cry of joy, carrying as much bundled harvest as he is able!

When the LORD ended the sojourn of Zion… Does this not describe our condition? Are we not sojourners? We are not captive, yet we have not yet reached the promised land. How will it be when we finally arrive at home? How will we react when we see our Father, our Savior, our Breath of Life face to face? Will we not be like those who dream? “This is too good to be true!” Will our mouths not be filled with laughter? Will our throats not send forth cries of joy?

Or maybe, as this translation suggests, we will not be like dreamers. Rather, we will be like those who have just awakened from a dream. We will experience a reality that is more real, not less, than what we experience here and now. I am not denying the reality of this world but proposing the super-reality of the world to come. We will be refreshed. We will awaken from the deep sleep of death and will breathe the sweet, clean air of eternity.

The restoration of the captives is a foreshadowing of our eternal restoration in Christ. We must know that we will reap a harvest in time. Our identity must be so tied up with Christ that we know we are not at home here. Our sights must be set on eternity. The decisions we make must be based on this reality, and because we live “out of step” with the world, we should expect to suffer. When we hold fast to our faith (like Daniel) and speak truth boldly (like Hananiah, Azariah, Mishael in Daniel 3:17-18), the world may be impressed or it may turn against us. But even in the fire, the Son of God will accompany us (Daniel 3:25).

Are we not rejoicing even now? We should be! We are going home, and the LORD is leading us. Shouldn’t our mouths be filled with laughter, our tongues with a cry of joy (the sound I can most liken this to is the interjections often heard in Mexican music)-- a big “woo-hoo!” The Negeb (v. 4), a dry and desolate place, can quickly turn into a land of flowing streams after the rains come. We must wait in hope for the Lord to transform our desolation. We who sow in tears will reap more than we can possibly carry. But, I notice two things here. First, we must go out. No matter what our circumstances, even through the tears, we must faithfully press on. This is an act of faith. Second, we must carry our pouch of seed. We do not rely on God to do everything. We are active participants. Whatever we are sowing to in the Lord, we should work at it with all of our hearts. In time, we will reap a joyful harvest, for we know that our work in the Lord will not be in vain.

What an encouraging song. (Have you ever sung the Matt Redman version in a jubilant assembly? I have, and it is truly wonderful!) What the Lord has done for Israel, he will do for us. We are part of a nation of overcomers. The nations know it. They will see it again. Let us live in the knowledge that we are blessed, that we have a great God, that we serve the Great Redeemer, the Giver of Life, the Fount of Eternal Joy. The Lord has indeed done great things for us and is doing a great thing with us…and we are filled with joy!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Caim Prayer

In my last blog entry, I examined Psalm 125. In this psalm, God's encircling protection is compared to the mountains encircling Jerusalem. It's a beautiful visual reminder of God's presence and concern.

Well, that's all well and good for the people in Jerusalem, but I live in the flattest place in the entire world! What possible visual reminder of God's encircling love could there be for me?

Well, it just so happens that the Celtic saints had a prayer that they called an "encircling" prayer. Their word for it is caim. When saying a caim prayer, you draw a circle around yourself with your finger. "This symbolizes the encircling love of God....See yourself and others encircled and be aware that the living God surrounds and encloses with His love, care and protection." -- Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings of the Northumbria Community, p. 297.

An example of a caim prayer is:
Circle me, Lord.
Keep protection near and danger afar.
Circle me, Lord.
Keep hope within and despair without.
Circle me, Lord.
Keep light near and darkness afar.
Circle me, Lord.
Keep peace within and anxiety without.
Circle me, Lord.
Keep comfort near and discouragement afar.
Circle me, Lord.
Keep holiness within and sin without.
The eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
shield me on every side.

Of course, the "me" above could be replaced with us, him, her, them, or someone's name or names as needed. (This example is again taken from the Celtic Daily Prayer book.)

Naturally, there is nothing magical about making a circle with your hand. But as physical beings, engaging our bodies in prayer and in worship can be very helpful. I have found the encircling motion to be a very powerful reminder of the reality of God's presence and power when I pray.

So if you're a flatlander like me, try the caim prayer. The Lord surrounds us all in His unfailing love.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Psalm 125

First, a translation.

A song of ascents (a going up song)
Those who trust in YHWH are like Mount Zion.
They will not be made to stumble, abiding for eternity.
Jerusalem, the mountains surrounding her,
and YHWH surrounding His people for all eternity.
For the rod of the wicked will not rest
on the lot of the righteous,
so that the righteous will not let their hands go to wickedness.
YHWH, treat graciously the good and upright in heart.
But those branching off on their twisted, winding paths
YHWH will send off with those who practice sin.
Peace be upon Israel.

Imagine a group making a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They see the mountains ahead of them. As they ascend to the dwelling place of God, they sing this hymn. They equate the protection, majesty, and surety of the mountains with the strength and certainty of God. Those who trust Him will be made like these mountains.
“My dear friends, stand firm and don't be shaken. Always keep busy working for the Lord. You know that everything you do for him is worthwhile.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Those who trust will not be moved. They won’t totter or be shaken.
(Cue “Those Who Trust” from Enter the Worship Circle.)
It isn’t that they won’t experience trouble or hardship, but the LORD is surrounding them. His protection is sure.

Yes, the Lord protects. But what about the wicked who seem to be in control? How can that coincide with the LORD’s protection? Why do they prosper and thrive?

Psalm 125 says that such a situation is temporary. The rod of the wicked may indeed lean upon the upright, but it will not remain there. If it did, good people might be tempted to get ahead by joining in with the evildoers. Too many people fall into this trap. They see a "shortcut" to happiness and abandon the Way.

Psalm 73 explores this temptation so well. Here the psalmist is frustrated by the prosperity of the wicked. Where’s the justice?! But then, he sees their end. Believers can’t be shortsighted. We must be among those who TRUST. So, though the days are evil, and though the tares and the wheat grow side by side in the field, their end is coming. The rod of the wicked will not rest upon the lot of the righteous.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)

In verse 4, the psalmist prays for the Lord to be gracious to those who are good and upright in heart.

He was…
and His graciousness cost Him His Son.

The psalmist’s prayer was answered in a more profound way than he could have imagined.

So, having assured us of God’s protecting & sustaining presence and answering our concerns about the place of the unrighteous, the psalm ends with a warning—those who abandon God and choose evil will be punished with the ungodly. To receive God’s reward, believers must stand firm to the end. Just glancing over the New Testament, I see that we “stand firm” through faith (1 Corinthians 16:14, 2 Cor. 1:24), prayer (Colossians 4:12), God’s empowerment (2 Corinthians 1:21), holding firm to the Word (2 Thessalonians 2:15), following the example of the saints and anticipating Christ’s return (Philippians 3:17-4:1), wearing the heavenly armor (Ephesians 6), resisting the devil (1 Peter 5:9), and through the Spirit (Philippians 1:27, 2 Thessalonians 2:13)

Eugene Peterson sees this psalm as an assurance of our salvation. God will remain faithful to us through all our ups and downs. We can remain confident, because our souls are secure in His hand. The Good Shepherd protects us. His rod and His staff (His protection and guidance) give us comfort.

Charles Spurgeon has a great quote regarding this psalm:
As Jerusalem is fortressed by the mountains, so are God’s people castled in the covenant, fortressed in the Omnipotence of God, and therefore they are impregnably secure.

No hardship or persecution can separate us from the love of God— not the rack, nor furnaces, nor crosses, nor stakes, nor martyrdom, nor being forced from our homes. Not calumny, scorn, nor slander. Not heresy nor divisions. We are secure.

Though I feel I could write much more, I’ll go ahead and conclude with a hymn that Charles Wesley wrote based on Psalm 125:
1 WHO in the Lord confide,
And feel his sprinkled blood,
In storms and hurricanes abide,
Firm as the mount of God:
Steadfast, and fixed, and sure,
His Zion cannot move;
His faithful people stand secure
In Jesu's guardian love.

2 As round Jerusalem
The hilly bulwarks rise,
So God protects and covers them
From all their enemies.
On every side he stands,
And for his Israel cares;
And safe in his almighty hands
Their souls for ever bears.

3 But let them still abide
In thee, all-gracious Lord,
Till every soul is sanctified,
And perfectly restored:
The men of heart sincere
Continue to defend;
And do them good, and save them here,
And love them to the end.

Amen. Rest secure in God’s encompassing protection!

Saturday, April 3, 2010


During this Lenten season, I did some fasting. (I realize that by sharing this I may be violating the spirit of Matthew 6:16-18, but I think this is important to share.)

Why did I fast?
Fasting is...
* a way to show God that I love Him more than _________.
* a reminder that "Man does not live on bread alone..."
* a way of identifying with the sufferings of Jesus.
* a chance to say "no" to bodily desires and thus build my Titus 2:11-14 muscles. (If I can learn to say "no" to food when I'm hungry, I can say no to sinful temptations as well. It's a way of practicing self-denial.)
* a reminder that our business here on earth is not just to "eat, drink, and be merry." We, too, have food to eat that too many men know nothing about--to do the will of God (John 4:31-34)
* a reminder to pray (often with a certain focus).
* a means of humbling oneself and relying on God.

I'm sure there are many other reasons to fast, but these come to mind now.

I've fasted before and have been blessed by it. This time, however, it was harder than normal. By the evening of a fast day, I sometimes felt weak or cold.
I was very irritable, overly sensitive, short-tempered, and, at times, downright mean.
Darina's comments about how my fast was adversely affecting the family and about how unspiritual this seemed were right on target. And they stung. This was not the kind of fast the Father desired.

I began to be aware of how physical discomforts affected my moods. Fasting then became an opportunity to work on exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, even as my body didn't feel like it. While I am sure that my moods affect the way I act all of the time, fasting made me realize this acutely. Praise God that as I prayed for a gentler, more loving, and more self-controlled spirit, I believe He answered me. It seemed (to me at least--I hope my family would agree) that I was nicer on fast days toward the end of Lent.

Today is Good Friday.
And because of fasting, I am now aware of another aspect of the crucifixion that I had never before considered.
Think of how physically taxed Jesus must have been during his last hours. He did not sleep. He did not eat or drink. He was interrogated and falsely accused. He was abandoned. He was mocked and beaten. He bled. He was forced to do physical labor. He was crucified.
Now if I'm irritable and short-tempered after a day without food, imagine how Jesus' mood must have been affected by all of these trials.
I am amazed that he did not sin during this time!

I have always taken the passages concerning Jesus' silence as if He simply had nothing that needed to be said. Today, however, it strikes me that Jesus' silence may well have been His self-control on display. If the tongue is a fire, how easy it would have been to strike that match during the extreme and unjust trials He was undergoing.

But He kept silent. He did not lash out. He did not defend Himself. He did the will of the One who sent Him. He finished His work...without sinning.

This makes me love Jesus even more. This act of faithful, self-controlled silence. In His anger (if indeed He was angry--I think He may have been more sad than angry) He did not sin. What a Savior.

Thank You, Lord, for Your obedience unto death. Thank You for Your love, for Your sacrifice, for Your self-control. May I learn from You. May Your Spirit lead us into Your fulness.