The Land of the Free

This year we will celebrate a Great Experiment that began two hundred and thirty six years ago, based on the inspired and inspiring idea that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are a divinely given right afforded to all.

Considering the backdrop before which Thomas Jefferson and his fellow Revolutionary co-authors gave this principle its first written expression, the words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” were not only treasonous, they were staggering! The scope of this declaration is breathtaking, not only in its prose, but in its ramifications.  Whatever your background, wherever you live –  from sea to shining sea, whether you’re red or yellow, black or white (or any color in between), whatever your station in life, these words speak of a fundamental, qualitative equality, an essential dignity in all people, and every person’s freedom and right to build a life that is meaningful and satisfying.  These are rights granted to and inherent in all – and they are truths that are held to be self-evident.

The fact that such ideals are at the root of our American society give us reason to celebrate, and to pause. Such freedom comes at a cost, and for so many of us, that cost was paid by another who was willing to make tremendous sacrifice on our behalf. How much the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and all who would fight for the liberation of this land were willing to sacrifice is humbling, to say the least. And while thinking on these things is enough to illicit a strong sense of gratitude, they also compel me to consider the God Who bestows upon us the unalienable rights that so many have died to protect.  On a grander scale, there is another powerful force seeking to hold us under its tyrannical sway, namely that of sin.  And in truly heroic fashion, Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice in our place that we might experience liberation on a level that has the potential to impact every area of our lives, and even our society as a whole!

These are lofty ideas to consider, and they are worthy of regular remembrance.  The task of building the kind of nation that our Founding Fathers sought to build would be accomplished through tremendous effort, and by the providential hand of God.  History records the daily and desperate prayers of these brave men, whose signatures on the Declaration was akin to the signing of their own death warrants. The storied events that would follow describe a nation and its leaders whose dependence upon the Lord was often met with miraculous response from the Almighty.  I’d direct you to American historian David Barton (www.wallbuilders.com) to read of the incredible workings of God in these formative years.  We would certainly do well to seek Him in our day with the same measure of trust and fervency that they did in theirs!

The foundations that our nation stands upon are not only strong, but they are good.  The principles that were laid down as a path for our course are enduring, because their roots tap the deep river of eternal truth.  The quote had been ascribed to Alexis de Tocqueville (though there is question as to his having penned it. Nevertheless, I believe the adage itself is still sound), that America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.  Observant parties might disagree on our current place on the moral spectrum, but one thing is for sure, that God will honor a nation that honors Him (Cp. Psalm 33:12).

May God shed His grace on us, stand beside us and guide us through the night with a light from above.

God bless America!

This is My Father’s World

Though I went to church as a kid, I didn’t grow up in a tradition where we heard many hymns. That said, over the years I’ve grown to take quite a liking to many of these vintage treasures.  Names like Fanny Crosby, Robert Robinson and Horatio Spafford and their timeless works have become more and more familiar to this late-comer.  Some joyous, others haunting, yet most strangely familiar, I’ve found that there is something that resonates within me as I hear and sing the time-proven melodies, as they paint a vibrant picture of the various aspects of the nature of God.

Just take a moment to consider these words from Maltbie Babcock:

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening 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.

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.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.  
This is my Father’s world: why should my heart be sad?  
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad!

I’m moved by ideas like these – affected at the thought of a creation that worships God not only as creator and Lord, but as Father. He is powerful, He is mighty, He is creative, and yet He is even more…

There is a familiar story in Scripture that also paints a very particular kind of picture of God. It is the story of the prodigal son. In the story, a father has two sons, one of whom, the younger, requests his inheritance in advance, and then goes on to quickly squander it all on short-lived, sinful pleasures.  Upon coming to his senses, this son begins to make his way back home, hat in hand and tail between his legs. What he hoped for upon his return was just to be allowed back home as a servant – certainly he couldn’t expect to be received again as a son!  What he never anticipated was that his father would be watching and waiting, in the hope that his wayward son would come back to him. The picture is a dramatic one, and is intended to help us see what the heart of God is truly like.  (There is certainly a lesson to be learned from the older son as well, but that may a be a topic for another time!)

Jesus spoke of God as our Father, even encouraging us to address Him in prayer in the most warm and comfortable of terms (Believe it or not, “Father” in Jesus’ well-known prayer in Matt. 5 comes from an Aramaic word which might well be translated “Daddy”).  Thinking of God in this way is unfamiliar, and even uncomfortable to many, but by the Son’s own invitation, it ought not be.  The Bible describes God, not as a cold, distant creator Who is uninterested in the affairs of mankind, but rather as a loving Father Who is interested enough to know us each by name, has promised to provide our needs and Who has even numbered the hairs on our heads (Matt. 10:30).  God so loves us, that He sent His Son into the world to repair the bridge burned by our waywardness, so that we too might be able to come home.

I have a great earthly father, a good man whom any son or daughter would be thankful for (Happy Father’s Day, dad!). I’m grateful for him.  And I also have another Father, a Heavenly Father, the object of so many of the songs in the genre I’ve mentioned; songs who’s appeal to me, I think, have to do with their power to bring me into a deeper consideration of Him. And as I reflect upon the open arms that my Father has extended to me, I find that I’m very, very thankful for Him.

Living on Promises

If you’re like most people nowadays, your head is probably spinning, and maybe your heart is even sinking as you try to understand the times we’re living in.  It’s easy to be shaken when when you discover that the ground that you thought was so firm under your feet turns out – not to be.  We’re looking for something to hold on to, and maybe even someone to explain the seeming unfairness of our circumstances.

In Psalm 73, Asaph was shaken as he wrestled with similar questions.  As he tried to understand the world he saw, it became too painful for him…until he went into the Sanctuary of God.  Interestingly, God didn’t give Asaph an explanation, He instead reminded him of His promises.  The Lord knew that Asaph wouldn’t find peace simply in an explanation, but he would find it when he rested in Him.  Isaiah put his trust in God when he wrote: “You will keep him in perfect peace, who’s mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.”

Less Than a Nickel’s Worth of Free Advice

The bible has a lot to say about giving as an act of worship.  But seldom has so much been said by saying so little, as when Jesus took a moment to point out an unsuspecting, poor widow as an example to be gleaned from (Luke 21:1-4). Three things come immediately to mind…

She was a widow.  Where some might turn away from God as a response to the kind of loss she’d suffered, this woman clung to the Lord (Cp. Job 1:21).  I wonder if she might also have clung to the knowledge that, though she may have become a widow, she still had a Husband (Hosea 2:16)?

She was poor. Yet in spite of her poverty, she desired to bring an offering to the Lord.  Enlightening us to heaven’s perspective, Jesus declared her offering, though the least in amount, the most costly of any of the gifts offered (meditate upon 2 Sam. 24:24).  Only the Lord noticed, but, as it was an act of worship, it was only for the Lord to notice anyway.

Much more could be said on this, but I’m humbled by the way that this woman simply put her two cents in and said it all…without saying a word!

God Speaks

An old puritan preacher once asked two very profound questions: “Does God speak?  And if so, what does God say?”  Profound indeed!

As Isaiah opens his prophecy, we’re told that his ministry spanned the reigns of 4 kings of Judah.  During this period of time, no doubt many proclamations were given, letters dictated and delivered and speeches given (God knows politicians like to give speeches!)

Isaiah himself had a lot to say during these many years as well (His is the longest prophetic book in the Bible).  He was a prophet of God with a tremendous calling to bring the hearts of God’s people back to the Lord.

All that said, it becomes immediately obvious who’s voice is preeminent:

vs. 2: “Hear, oh heavens, and give ear, O earth!  For the Lord has spoken…”

I am amazed at how often, and how clearly the Lord spoke to His people in Scripture; leading them, teaching them, instructing some in such minute detail as to leave us with the impression that these followers of old were hearing from the Almighty as we would hear someone across the table.  How can it be that we seem to hear Him so little?

I’m reminded of the scene at the mount of Jesus’ Transfiguration; how in the presence of Moses and Elijah, three of Jesus’ disciples (Peter, James and John) were so awestruck as to be speechless – almost.  One spoke up (you can guess), calling for monuments to be erected for Jesus, and His two guests (who represented the Law and the Prophets).  Well intentioned as they may have been, Peter’s words can’t truly capture the meaning of the moment, and even carry a caviat, declaring that: ”…he did not know what to say.” (Mark 9:6).  In that moment, the Lord spoke from heaven, encouraging Jesus’ followers not to speak, but to listen (vs. 7): ”…hear Him” the Father would say, referring to the Son – as if to say: ”Listen…and listen to the voice that matters most.” After all, it was His word that brought about the creation (Jn. 1:1-3/Gen. 1:3-30), and opened the door for our re-creation (Jn. 19:30).  That being the case, isn’t it worth hearing what else He has to say?

Does God speak?  The answer is a resounding “Yes.”  The answer to the old puritan preacher’s second question is a treasure to be discovered by those who can heed the words of another prophet, who said: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before Him.”

Thankful

I know we all have our favorite holidays, and for many different reasons.  But when it comes to “food holidays,” I just don’t know how you can compete with Thanksgiving.  Incidentally, when it comes to Thanksgiving, I believe that there are two kinds of people in this world: Ham people and Turkey people.  As for me, I get pretty dog-gone excited about my yearly overdose on tryptophan.  And let’s face it, what meal couldn’t be made better with mashed potatoes and gravy!  Don’t even get me started on pumpkin pie…

But, setting aside these culinary delights for a moment, there is a much more meaningful aspect to this holiday that is worth exploring.

By most accounts, the first gathering, from which we derive our current Thanksgiving holiday, occurred in December of 1621.  The three-day feast was called when Pilgrim and Indian alike came together to celebrate their relationship, and God’s good provision.  By the grace of God, and with the help of their new found friends, the Pilgrims had survived a very harsh first winter in the New World, and were now sowing and reaping their first harvest.  Struggle and toil had turned to blessing, and a tradition was established to give thanks to the One who seen them through.

Continuing on that thought, in Deuteronomy chapter 8, the Lord told His people to be careful not to forget Him and all that He had done to provide for them, preserve them in their 40 years of wilderness wandering, and to protect them from those who would seek their hurt.  God had been good to them, and had shown Himself faithful, even supplying bread from heaven to meet their need!  However, knowing their propensity to forget the Source of their provision and protection, He sought to remind them lest they should overlook the Lord to their own ruination. In fact, when God gave the Law to Moses, He included in it the observance of a number of feast days, among the purposes of which was to give the people opportunities throughout the year to remember.

In the Scriptures, it becomes evident that God wants us to remember Him; what He has done, where He has brought us to, what He has delivered us from.  Whether it be the feast days in the Law, stones of remembrance (Joshua 4), or the Lord’s Supper, God’s intention is for us to remember and acknowledge Him.

I can relate to the kind of forgetfulness that God’s people demonstrated in times of old (Actually, I can relate to most kinds of forgetfulness – They always told me what would be the first thing to go when I got older, but I can’t remember what they said!)  You wouldn’t think it could happen to someone who spends a good part of his time trying to help people know the Lord better, but I find myself, just like the Israelites, enjoying the bless-ings in my life, while somehow forgetting the Bless-er.  It isn’t that I (or they) have forgotten that God is there, but rather, because my tendency is to think that what I have in life is the result of my own ambition or accomplishment, I forget that, in truth, these things are a gift from His hand.

Interestingly, in that same chapter in Deuteronomy, the Lord reminded His people that even the lean times had been given as a blessing, in order that they would come to understand that though they might not always be able to count on the harvest, they could, without fail, count on Him.  As I read that passage, I think about the last few years, and how much has happened to undermine our sense of stability.  Be it rising waters or a sinking economy, we recognize that security has gotten to be a scarce commodity.  At the same time, I’m also reminded the same God who’s gaze never departed from the Israelites and Pilgrims, sets His watchful eye over us as well.

Thanksgiving really is a wonderful holiday.  It’s a blessing to be able to enjoy a tradition of (hopefully) taking a little time off from work, getting together with family and friends, enjoying each other’s company and maybe even a good meal.

All that said, on this oldest of American holidays, I’d encourage you to take a moment to observe another tradition that reaches back to the very first Thanksgiving – the all too often overlooked tradition of giving thanks to the Lord, the Provider of the bounty.

Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving all!

For just a moment I was “Somebody”

I overheard myself being referred to as “somebody” in a phone conversation here on the cubicle ranch (as in: “Somebody here said they heard you were gone today.”)  Of course, when I heard that, I immediately felt compelled to launch into my impersonation of Brando in “On The Waterfront” (as in Terry Malloy: “I coulda been somebody Charlie…”).  It wasn’t pretty.  (Although, as impersonations of people impersonating Brando in On The Waterfront go, it wasn’t too bad.)

 

 

 

 

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