thinking God’s thoughts after him

I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.

Johannes Kepler

I love this thought attributed to this German mathematician and astronomer, even theologian, “a key figure in the 17th-century scientific revolution” (see Wikipedia article). Here is what he wrote where the above quote might have come from, although I don’t think that lessens its thought:

Those laws [of nature] are within the grasp of the human mind; God wanted us to recognize them by creating us after his own image so that we could share in his own thoughts.

Kepler’s Christianity

I know for myself, I can easily become confused in my own thoughts, although I have long since abandoned any belief in their benefit, except insofar as they are latching onto, and derived from God’s thoughts. And where can we find his thoughts except both in the book of nature (general revelation) and in the book of scripture, called God’s written word (special revelation). Not to say that we can’t find something of them even in humans who don’t acknowledge or know God, since they are created in God’s image. But we want to go to the source. So I seek to think something of God’s thoughts after him.

That is my only hope to get through and past what amounts to the confusion within the labyrinth of life, and the deceptive lies of the enemy, which we as fallen, broken humans are all too susceptible to. And so I make it my aim to be in the word as much as possible, throughout my days (and nights), as well as taking in God’s beauty in nature/creation, which I have not done nearly enough in my lifetime. Sleeping Bear Dunes is just one place in Michigan where we live, which helps one do that. I receive a lot of this general revelation through listening to classical music which gives us something of that through humans created in God’s image. And for me again, it’s a necessity for me to try to find and get immersed into God’s thoughts, rather than get literally lost in my own.

Psalm 19 is a beautiful encapsulation of all of this:

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

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.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Psalm 19

 

reward in the life to come

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Luke 14

It seems to be stressed most often that our faith in and obedience to Christ is rewarded in this life, or I could say, makes a difference for us now. There is no question that the Bible is full of promises which would agree with that. One such, here:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.”

Isaiah 58

Reward in the next life, I think is underrated in many Christian circles, and has been by me, too. In a desire to emphasize the difference following Christ makes in this life, we can fail to see an emphasis in scripture that makes no such promise. I also think of the promise at the end of Romans 8 that nothing at all in all creation, in this world, including famine and death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

This can help us in faith carry on, even when it seems like we are not being helped at all in doing so. It’s not like we do things to receive back; love gives regardless of the response, or outcome. It’s simply that we live in a hope which in scripture means an anticipation of God’s future glory and goodness within that. Much in this life, we might really say everything, is broken, and will be completely healed only at the resurrection in the life to come.

That doesn’t mean God doesn’t help us now. God helps us as we press on in faith and obedience, doing good works for others. It does mean that the final award awaits us in the life to come, all the blessings of this present life pointing toward, and we could say completed in that.

I find this helpful and liberating to continue on, regardless of what happens in this life. In the faith, hope and love that are in Christ Jesus.

good theology like good music: discovering what is already there (J. S. Bach: “To the glory of God alone.”)

C. S. Lewis once wrote something like: the true teaching of God and God’s will in Jesus, or good theology is never about advancing something new, but sharing from what is already established, what is old. On a recent program I heard that J. S. Bach, who I believe one can well say is the greatest of all the western composers of music, perhaps the greatest of all musicians, that he believed that he was not coming up with anything new in his writing of music, but simply discovering what was already present. Precisely the relationship between nature and God. And he wrote all of his music: “To the glory of God alone.” (Soli Deo Gloria). An offering by Bach to God.

That is what the true teachers of the faith do, albeit in unique ways according to the gift given to them from God (like jazz, though I heard on the program linked above that Bach and classical composers believed in and practiced improvisation as well). It involves searching and finding what already is there in and through Jesus and God’s grace and kingdom revealed in him. Found in scripture, with tradition at the forefront of that understanding and then reason along with experience properly understood at the end.There is a beauty to all of it, and especially so with the score as a whole. The gospel is the heartbeat of all of that and the church in and through Jesus is both the locus and agent in this world and present life.

And so look to scripture, look to the church, senses and reason blended in that mix all verified in our experience over time.

Christmas carols

Christmas carols are a wonderful part and tradition of Advent season. The words speak powerfully about the reason for the season, Jesus. We are taken back in time to those wonder filled days, when the Messiah, God’s Son was born into this world.

It is good to dwell on the words. To really sing these carols. The ones we sing year after year have endured for good reason. In poetic word and song they help us reflect on the Incarnation, when the Word became flesh, God becoming one of us, in the person of his Son, Jesus. When the hope of the world, the Messiah was born.

It is next to impossible for me to pick a favorite. I have several favorite carols, though for different reasons I can well say I love them all. But if I have to choose a favorite, I’ll choose this one:

What Child is This?

What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
Raise, raise a song on high,
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

William C. Dix

Let’s sing the Christmas carols. Maybe just choose one, or one at a time to sing for awhile. Yesterday someone shared enduring lines from “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, after which I sang that for a time.

As we remember the awe and wonder of this season in Jesus and his birth.

tone deaf

We read the words, but do we really get it? That is a problem in social media both on blogs and on sites such as Facebook. One may not be cross at all, but may be misunderstood as such. If we can be misunderstood in person, we most certainly can be in print. Although I find pros and cons to that on either side for myself.

Reading scripture, God’s written word, conveys to us promises of God in Jesus which bear out well God’s fatherly care of his children. Or how God in his sovereignty rules over all, and in a special, present, growing sense, in the coming of Jesus within and out from the church. We read truths and related promises, but do we really get it? Speaking for myself, I think we are often tone deaf. We miss the music, so to speak, that accompanies the words.

Scripture is put to song, especially evident in the psalms. And it is told in story form in significant measure. In fact we do well I think to see it as story, with much directly so, and the rest contributing to that. We do well to listen so as to catch the rhythm and melody, to gather in the stories which are fulfilled in the story of Jesus, and now ongoing, as we head to the consummation when the fulfillment in Jesus begins to be completely realized forever and ever.

Do we see God’s word as both story and song which finds its plot, music and end in Jesus? Are we picking up that music now, be it ever so faintly? Or are we caught up in other stories and tunes from the many the world has to offer?

I think to overcome this we need to learn to listen better. To catch the tune which is coming out of the story, no less than from God. More silence and meditation, as well as awareness of this, can be helpful.

I am grateful for our pastors at our church, as well as for friends and books which can help us in this way. Actually all that is from God will help us to begin to really pick up the music and begin to understand the story and plot in Jesus, so that we with others can find our place in it, our own role and part together in and for this world.

praise to God

When a heavenly host of angels appeared to the shepherds on the night Jesus was born, they were said to praise God, I would imagine in loud but hauntingly beautiful chorus, saying:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.

Luke 2

One of the wonderful aspects of Advent season are the Christmas carols (another good link, this one getting into the songs). Wonderfully written- which is why they are sung year after year, tunes forever embedded in us with words recalling God’s great act of love in becoming part of his creation through the Incarnation when the Word became flesh. One of the strengths of the content of lyrics is that they help us remember what God has done in Jesus. This is what true praise to God involves: a recounting of what he has done. From that we can begin to sense and enter into what God is doing in the present, as well as anticipate in “hope” what God will do in the future, according to his promises in Jesus.

Worship can be taken up with just the greatness of God himself, who God is. While praise, which actually can and should be a part of, or accompany worship is more like high commendation, in this case the highest, to one for their great and good works.

Some of my most meaningful times in spirit are when a song just seems to come to me, and I begin to sing it, or sing with it. This works alright at work, my singing drowned out by the humming roar of all the machinery.

The best lyrics help us focus on God and on what God has done in Jesus. Of course other lyrics can be meaningful and good in different ways. We have the Hebrew song book, the Psalms which gives us clear indication of that. Psalms of lament and even complaint, along with the psalms of praise. We need both, actually. I would agree with Michael Card on that, which goes along with the Great Tradition of orthodox Christianity, and most importantly lines up with the testimony of scripture. But praise to God, which actually is called a sacrifice offered, should be something we are learning to practice, becoming more and more a part of us. I confess in my own life, which often is played in minor key along with major at intervals, such has been at best lacking, overall, and at worst absent.

The Christmas hymns we call carols can help us reflect on the wonder and beauty of what God has done in becoming a helpless little baby for us and for the world.

impoverished

Something of God is seen in his works. Everywhere on earth, or in what we can observe through science, people simply marvel and get lost in the vastness and complexity of what is seen, along with the amazing simplicity in how it all fits together. One regret I have in my life is having not seen firsthand much more of the wonders of God in the part of the world where I live.

I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (no. 6) while driving on a freeway and seeing majestic trees towering nearby. Psalm 29 tells God’s people to ascribe, or attribute to, even give as in worship, to Yahweh glory and strength, the glory due his name. The psalm goes on to describe God’s voice in terms of what is seen in creation, in the magnificent and frankly at times rather terrifying storms. The power and majesty of God are shown in such, as well as his greatness, and how he is to be feared.

I see myself as frankly impoverished when it comes to appreciating God through his works of creation in nature. That is something I want to work on. To enjoy God’s creation, and from that have a new appreciation for God. To meet God anew through it. A friend at my work who is an intellectual and naturalist, has a most wonderful blog to help us to that end. Dean Ohlman’s blog, The Wonder of Creation is the most helpful online resource I know of to both kindle and help us keep in flame our wonder of God through his creative works.

In our part of the world it is late Spring, and a most wonderful time for getting out and taking in God’s works. I want to steadily work on enriching my experience and witness of God through the wonder and beauty that is especially preserved in some places. Along with what we can find all around us in this remarkable world God has made.