the heavens declare the glory of God

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
    It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
    like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
    and makes its circuit to the other;
    nothing is deprived of its warmth.

Psalm 19

Yesterday was the solar eclipse making its path through the United States. It was a wonder to behold. My favorite part of it was NASA’s coverage, which I was able to enjoy on a computer in the midst of work, seeing the first sighting of it in Oregon. It was so exciting, my heart was full of praise for its Creator, and I couldn’t help but think of Dean Ohlman who has helped us learn to appreciate more, the wonder of creation.

I was surprised to find out that besides the big screen in the break room with NASA’s coverage and some snacks, there was a party of sorts going on outside, with solar glasses, and even a couple of welder’s masks on hand. I was able to get a nice view of the partial eclipse with one of the solar glasses which were provided.

Scientists, whether they have faith in God or not, ooh and ah over nature. The more they learn, the more astounding it becomes. It might seem simple in its singular beauty, but it is also complex beyond simple human understanding, as quantum physics has demonstrated. Somehow I believe it reflects the endless creativity of the One who made it. John Polkinghorne is especially helpful here.

One of my regrets in life, especially when we had our daughter was not taking in sufficiently the beauty of our national (and state) parks. We have an immense variety of this beauty right here in the United States, and set apart for our enjoyment. As the psalm above suggests, something of the reality of God in God’s greatness is revealed in the grandeur of creation. We miss a lot, if we don’t see it firsthand.

Amazingly, even though in our warped mindset we’ve made a concrete jungle, life won’t be denied. Creation is still in our face, even in our tiny yard, which my wife has so artistically landscaped. As my dad used to say, reciting a line from a poem I’m sure he had to learn as a boy, “Trees”:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

Joyce Kilmer

I end with one of my favorite hymns, This is my Father’s World:

  1. This is my Father’s world,
    And to my list’ning ears
    All nature sings, and round me rings
    The music of the spheres.
    This is my Father’s world:
    I rest me in the thought
    Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas—
    His hand the wonders wrought.

  2. This is my Father’s world:
    The birds their carols raise,
    The morning light, the lily white,
    Declare their Maker’s praise.
    This is my Father’s world:
    He shines in all that’s fair;
    In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
    He speaks to me everywhere.

  3. This is my Father’s world:
    Oh, let me ne’er forget
    That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
    God is the ruler yet.
    This is my Father’s world,
    The battle is not done:
    Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
    And earth and Heav’n be one.

 Maltbie D. Babcock

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hard topics (and the tongue)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

Politics and religion can be quite dicey topics fraught with potential fallout for relationships. The heat can be turned up pretty high when topics surrounding either are being discussed. Discussion and conversation is soon lost into heated argument, if we’re not careful. Perhaps it’s better to avoid such altogether. Probably one of the most helpful attitudes is to acknowledge how much we don’t know, rather than what we think we know.

In Paul’s small but great letter to the Philippians, we find an apt exhortation near its end which can help us in this. First of all, referring to values that were esteemed in the culture of that day, Paul directs the church and by extension us, to ponder what is true, good, beautiful, and praiseworthy. And then he reminds them to live as he did in following Christ. When you consider the letter of Philippians alone, that is indeed a tall order. But one within our grasp to grow into in Christ.

Back to difficult, controversial issues. It might be best to avoid them altogether when we know we might differ with a fellow believer on this or that. It can be good to discuss differences, provided there is a listening ear and openness to learn on both sides. And to those who are not believers, we should major on simply loving, and sharing the good news in Jesus.

Above all, we need to inculcate love between us, especially when what could divide us is simply a few words away. And we can’t take that for granted with anyone. If we do touch on the difficult issues, we need to be quick to draw back and make room for the other person, and their viewpoint. Out of love for them, and for the Lord. All of this in and through Jesus.

in what are our thoughts steeped, and what follows?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4

We steep teabags in water (I, strangely enough, in coffee water) to let the leaves soak in the heat for the brew. Day in and day out, what do we soak our thoughts in?

This passage written by the Apostle Paul tells us to be occupied with that which is good and helpful. It clearly seems to include good from any source, though one has to be discerning, and separate the good from the bad. Of course the emphasis would be on God’s special revelation in scripture, while certainly including God’s general revelation which might well include a Greek philosopher like Plato, and any number of writers or people, not Christians themselves. Again, we need discernment. There is actually much good to gather in from sources which are not explicitly Christian.

I think we know the difference from what is good and what is not. Though sometimes we might become somewhat numb to that distinction. There is much that passes for entertainment and information which at best is questionable and at worst is unhelpful and downright demoralizing. What is especially challenging, though, is that which is couched as good, yet would not fit into any of the categories in Paul’s list above. It is one thing to expose the fruitless deeds of darkness (Ephesians 5). But it is quite another thing to fight fire with fire, to essentially enter into that darkness, ourselves. We can become immune to that which is objectionable, and even begin to participate in it ourselves.

Interestingly, Paul follows up the list of what we are to reflect on with the instruction to do not only as he said, but as he did. His example in his life day in and day out was seen by some who were recipients of this letter which we entitle Philippians. Maybe he was seen by all the believers there, and surely especially so by the leaders of the church. That example is passed down from generation to generation, hopefully, and at any rate, the same Spirit who helped Paul and others to live in the Jesus way, is present to help us in becoming followers of our Lord.

So our thoughts, what we dwell on impacts how we live. Not that this passage is actually saying that, though we know from other passages and in life that this is true. What is fundamental for us includes both what we occupy ourselves with, and what examples we follow. Something we need to concern ourselves with as we seek to live with others and in the world in the full will of God.

when gripped by fear

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

Psychological descriptions and thoughts, I believe indeed can have their limitations, yet can be helpful with careful discernment under the category of “general revelation,” wisdom given from God to all of humanity. That’s simply an introduction to say, from what I hear about the term, I suppose there exists something of an obsessive compulsiveness in me. In some ways that can be good, but in other ways surely not.

My understanding of this term is something like we see a problem or potential problem, and we become obsessed with it, and then compelled to try to solve it. Good luck. There is only so much we can do to solve many of these problems, and we’re not going to run out of them, new as well as old, anytime soon. It’s just the way it is. But I’ve found that no amount of reasoning in itself sets me free from this. Although if I can find some comforting thought online, then I latch on to that. Instead what we really need is grace from God and what is prescribed in scripture. We need to think on those things and put them into pratice. Maybe practically as obvious as the nose on one’s face, but difficult, just the same.

The context of Philippians 4:6-7 is 4:4-9, and better yet, the entire book. But for the current problem, given a groundedness in Christ, the above passage quoted is sufficient.

When fear grips us we need to apply faith. The two are certainly mutually exclusive, and yet in the real world I find I can still be a person of a sincere and genuine, even if at times weak faith, yet still have fear nagging at the edges, and sometimes filling the heart and occupying the mind, and perhaps paralyzing, or at least debilitating it. We need to keep going back to first things, the basics, the passage above bringing us back to one important, helpful aspect of that.

And so we need to rejoice in the Lord, gentleness characterizing our lives, knowing the Lord is near probably both in terms of his presence by the Spirit, and also through the promise of his return. Then we’re not to be anxious, or to worry about anything. A tall order indeed. Instead we’re to pray about everything (see the New Living Translation, included in the link above). Yes, bringing our concerns to God, and giving thanks at the same time. We can surely come up with some thanksgivings which are especially appropriate given the nature of this kind of problem, or the matter of anxiety in general. Like for example, that God is faithful. That we can trust God to keep God’s word, the promises given to humankind in and through Jesus.

And then we receive the promise, the fulfillment of which will certainly be beyond us, but comes from God: that the peace of God which transcends or surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus, or as the NLT puts it, “as you live in Christ Jesus.” I’ve experienced this over and over again in my life, but to get from A to B seems particularly hard or even impossible when we’re stuck on A. That’s because we can’t do it ourselves. It’s something which God alone can do, and that in spite of our understanding, not because of it. It transcends or surpasses our understanding, which is certainly limited in itself, and of itself, not full of or even prone to faith, to having faith in God.

And then we’re to think on things which actually include the good we can find anywhere at all: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy…” And so it’s not like we stick our heads in the sand, and forget about the problem. But rather we seek to address it with the best information we can gather. And at least just as important, with a good, overall perspective. And this not just on the problem, but good thoughts in general.

To cap it off, the way of life in Christ Jesus taught and exemplified by Paul, we’re to work at putting into practice ourselves. Paul was a pattern man, a pattern person for all of us in Christ Jesus, one whose life in Christ is an example for us all. We need to find that center in Christ, and with that, the passion it brings, and live in that. With the promise that the God of peace will be with us.

So this is an exercise in looking at this one passage which seems especially appropriate for dealing with anxiety and worry, or an obsessive compulsiveness which all too easily and too often can be given over to fear. We simply need to carry on in our life in Christ Jesus, not letting the inevitable problems of this life define us, or finally undermine, diminish, or even destroy our faith. In fact such problems can indeed be an opportunity to exercise our faith, and ultimately strengthen it, honed in the fires of the trials of this life, as we learn to push back against such with the faith given to us in Christ Jesus.

 

the beauty of poetry

Sometime back one of the best writers I’ve ever known or read tried to get me to begin to write poetry. I think I tried a bit, and I have written some, but that soon went by the wayside, as I continued on in the simple prose which marks my writing.

Now for some time I’ve been reading the psalms daily, which are poetry. I think we are probably adversely influenced by the overemphasis on reason from the Modernist Enlightenment. Contrast the so-called “Dark Ages,” referring to the Medieval Era, which to the Modernist is dark, but was actually full of light that the darkness of Modernism seeks to shut out.

Poetry is something one can’t completely pin down and explain. While it is open to some explanation, its appeal is not just to the intellect, but to the whole person, and to life as it is, in all its beauty and mystery. Sometimes even in its gloom and utter darkness. I think of the book of Lamentations.

Poetry can be like a good Impressionist painting in that it can help one enter into the experience, or more likely, find a correlation to one’s own experience, and that of which the poet was writing. It probably has plenty of room for imagination. And if read literally, as if it was some kind of completely rational document, it is open to all kinds of misinterpretation, since it is then read, not in the way it was written. I think of the catastrophic way the book of the Revelation is read, a book which while not completely poetry, has a strong poetic element to it. In fact we might do well to call it a poem in prose (though it has poetry, as well).

Maybe I’ll be trying my hand again at poetry in coming days. I would do so, not simply to write poetry myself, but to help myself and perhaps others, see something that prose can’t communicate. And to help any reader into something of the same language and beauty. Something similar to a good song.

In fact when we think of poetry, what might help us is to think of it in terms of good songs. One of my favorite song writers is Michael Card, whose lyrics and music help one think of life in biblical terms. And he has been writing helpful books, for example on the gospels, as well.

Probably the first and foremost reason that Anglicanism has such a strong appeal to me is because of the Book of Common Prayer, which so wonderfully and beautifully can say alot in a few words, and in a poetic way, which while theologically accurate, defies our own rationalistic and therefore limited thought. Something actually like what the Bible itself does, a book which scholars have come to understand is full of much more poetry than was known, say in the era of the King James Version of the Bible, the beauty of which to some extent at least, would seem to make up for that.

Poetry has its limits. We do need direct and clear counsel which cannot be misunderstood, clear teaching to inform our lives, our living. Words which hopefully are not easily given to misunderstanding.

I can’t help but think of our Lord’s parables, which are full of light, but only understood by those whose hearts are open to the Light. So that in them is a strong element of the poetic.

But the poem helps us begin to see something of the Mystery which is God, and God’s will in Jesus, which accompanies that. To help us by faith enter in, and begin to live and breathe in that air, and beauty, in a world that wants to, but can’t shut it out.

beauty in brokenness

Our society doesn’t embrace brokenness. Somehow it needs to be fixed, and the sooner the better. The leading candidate of one party for the upcoming presidential election is popular in part because he would not only never acknowledge such, but doesn’t believe in it. But Jesus did. Even if some of us, and even some churches might to some extent get caught up in something of an unbroken superiority complex.

Give me the real, the human, the honest and suffering person, and there you will find someone who not only can be helped, but who more often than not enters into a beauty that is beyond them. Simply to be honest and reject all masks is beauty enough. There is a person I know who is up there in years, and supposedly has the cognitive ability of a two or three year old, and while I may not doubt that, I think assessing this person is more complicated than that. And even though she may not be pretty to look at, as the world sees it, I find her to be one of the most beautiful people I know, because she radiates and lives in the childlikeness which the Lord holds dear. “Except you change, and become like little children, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And in our brokenness and humility, something of the greatest of all beauty can begin to break through: the beauty of the Lord.

Part of the difficulty in this condition is that although we’re close to being in rhyme with heaven, we are also close to being in rhyme with hell (Michael Card). I can find myself there a number of times everyday. Pushed onto that side for whatever reason. So that I realize I need more of the Lord’s work in me to overcome that. Perhaps too little in my eyes, and at least largely hidden from others most of the time, but important in God’s eyes, and as we learn to see more and more with God’s eyes, it becomes more important in our eyes as well.

Yes, we need a broken and contrite, humbled, penitent heart, because we indeed are broken. The ones most broken are those who don’t believe they are. But brokenness can be beautiful, when before the Lord we acknowledge such, and his beauty begins to be seen through forgiveness and cleansing, and even in the midst of our struggle and weakness and even failure. It is certainly not us we want others to see, but only the Lord.

the beauty of Jesus

One thing I ask from the Lord,
    this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
    and to seek him in his temple.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

If there’s one thing we need to see and become changed by it’s the beauty of Jesus and the beauty of the Triune God in him. As we contemplate that beauty we begin to be changed into that image so that we reflect something of it into the world.

This is both an individual and a church matter. The beauty of Jesus is seen in our lives individually especially in terms of loving God and loving our neighbor (which is the first and greatest commandment and the second like it). It is relational at its core since at our core we are relational beings, surely part of God’s image in us, God who is inherently relational as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This beauty is worked out or becomes evident in community, and in fact can be seen and transformative there. As well as in solitude. We surely need both, perhaps with a needed emphasis on community since we have inherited such an individualistic (and rationalistic, both versus tradition and authority) world view in the Modernist Enlightenment.

It is not as much a matter of being right as being good. However goodness does not exclude truth. Truth and love are joined together in scripture. Love does not belittle truth. While we hold humbly to truth as we’ve received it as the church from scripture, we above all see the truth in Jesus, who is “the truth” (“the way and the truth and the life”). In some ways this beauty is easily recognized and appreciated by us, but in other ways not. We need new eyes to see, and that’s what we receive in the gift of the Spirit. Without the Spirit’s revelation we simply won’t get it. This revelation is for each of us, but is not a privatized vision, but one that is affirmed over and over again by the church.

And so that is what I hope for: both to see and to reflect the Lord’s beauty as I more and more am changed into that image with others in and through Jesus.