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.

Advertisements

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 the Glory of God

Julie is listening to Handel’s Messiah.  This transcendent  masterpiece, thought written in a brief span of time (4 days?), was birthed out of great heaviness of heart, and brokenness of spirit. As I listen to this familiar, beautiful piece, I can’t help but consider that it is a worthwhile endeavor to seek to be excellent at whatever your pursuit, even under the most difficult of circumstances, for the glory of God.

Integrity

School’s out!  Summer’s here and the time is right for….well, swimming, summer camp, family vacations, slumber parties and in general, carefree living for the next few months or so (for the kids anyway.)

I used to live for summertime.  Truth be told, I was never really a great student as a kid, and so the thought of a 90-day “homework-release program” suited me just fine.  I was free – and not only from book reports and algebra tests, but also from the other pressures that often follow us throughout so much of our growing years.  Like a lot of young people, I was not only anything but a grade A student, but I was also never the star athlete, never first chair in band, never class president. I did, however, make the dean’s list once (ok, not the good one.) And, like so many kids trying to find their place, what I lacked in scholastic or athletic ability, I certainly did not lack in the desire to find a way to become popular…to be considered special.  For young people, there is such a danger in the temptation to compromise character in the pursuit of popularity.

Thankfully those years eventually pass into memory, and in time we become comfortable in our own skins.  But still, I have to say that I really don’t envy kids today.  As often as any time in history (if not more), young people have a desire to find and to be that which is authentic and real.  By contrast, and so similar to our own experience (if not much more), they are pounded with peer-pressure to conform.  What can a young man or woman do to survive with their integrity intact?

In the Old Testament book of Daniel (chapter 3), we meet three young men who were teenagers when they were carried off as captives to a foreign land called Babylon.  God had blessed them with health and wisdom, and consequently they were offered places of prominence as servants of that nation’s king.  However, in time, circumstances (and the king’s heart) changed and these three friends found themselves in a situation that tested what they were truly made of.  They were literally confronted with an ultimatum to get with the program (conform)…or die by being thrown into a fiery furnace. Talk about a “peer-pressure-cooker!”

Now, considering their circumstances, why not give in – and fit in?  After all, who would know?  And besides, “What happens in Babylon stays in Babylon,” right?  But “fitting in” meant casting off their character and, most importantly, denying the Lord Who had been faithful to them in so many ways.  While they clearly saw the high cost of non-conformity, they also recognized the much higher cost of compromise, and so they refused to give in…and were thrown into the furnace. But amazingly (albeit, not surprisingly,) the Lord stood with them in that place, and rewarded their commitment by delivering them.

It’s been said that integrity is best expressed by being the same person when nobody’s watching as you are when everybody’s watching.  That’s a pretty good definition, but it can still be hard to live out.  The good news is that God is always watching – He can’t take His eyes off of you, and He wants to help you walk in integrity. In many respects times may have changed, but the God Who stood with these young men of old has not – and He’ll stand with you…today!

New Life

The brief conversation is not widely known, but it took place immediately following the horrific events that had occurred upon a hilltop just outside of Jerusalem.  A man named Joseph, from Arimathea had made a request of Pontius Pilate, to take possession of the body of Jesus in order that he might give Him a proper burial in a tomb that his family owned.  Pilate was surprised by the request and asked Joseph why he would ever consider using this tomb, reserved for his own family, as a burial place for this crucified Carpenter.  Joseph assured Pilate that this was ok, because after all…

…it would only be for the weekend.

Tongue-in-cheek as that little story might be, it plays off of the reality that defines this season.  Spring is a beautiful time of year when creation awakens from its slumber, bursting with the splendor of new life.  And so it’s no wonder that in the mind of God, this was to be the time of year when His Son would overcome the cold, harshness of death and rise to newness of life.  His creation would provide the perfect analogy, a similitude in nature for all to behold; a view of the natural giving us a glimpse into a much greater supernatural reality.

Like the vibrant entrance of this season of rebirth, the thought of the resurrection of Jesus instills a sense of wonder.  Much as the season’s early buds demonstrate the beauty of renewal as they spring to life, in His resurrection, Jesus reveals the possibility of our being made new (2 Cor. 5:17).  A wonderful idea to contemplate!  And unlike the seasons that, bound to their unbreakable cycle, ultimately can’t help but change, the resurrection of Christ points to a glorious life that never ends.  It reminds us that we were created for more than just a season.

For so many of us who might have grown up in a Christian tradition of one stripe or another, the story of the resurrection is a familiar one, sometimes an all too familiar one – familiar enough to lose its poignancy.  For those who may have been brought up with a different spiritual (or non-spiritual) background, the accounts of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday might simply sound like a popular Sunday School story.  But in truth, this history-altering series of events that took place in relative obscurity outside of the Golden City two-thousand years ago make all the difference.  Jesus’ resurrection from the dead changes things.  It changes everything; from the way that the grand story ends, to the way that our daily stories unfold.  It leads us to the climax of the meta-narrative that has been the undercurrent of the whole of human history.  It opens the gateway to eternity.  It tells us that the One who died and lived to tell about it stands at the threshold of forever – alive.  And because He is, He’ll see to it that one day we will too.

So enjoy the holiday, and the season.  And as you bite the ears off of a few chocolate bunnies, celebrate.  No, even better, rejoice!

For He is risen, He is risen indeed!

This article appeared in the April issue of Magnolia Magazine.

Love Is A Verb

Some say it’s all we need.  It’s been called a “many-splendoured thing.”  Who would deny that this crazy little thing called love has been the source of more inspiration (and exasperation) than any other human emotion.  Singers have forever crooned about it, poets and bards have tried their hand at articulating it, nations have even gone to war over it.

Yet, in spite of the grandeur of so many endeavours and expressions performed in the name of Love, for many, this chief of emotions never grows beyond the emotional level and remains, at best, only a feeling.  And while early on, feelings and emotions can fuel so much, eventually relationships can run out of steam when emotions cool, and feelings begin to change.  And when a love that is rooted only in emotion begins to die, it can become a many-splintered thing, far from what it could have been; far from what it was intended to be.

A story is told of an old, married couple, Ma and Pa, who found themselves winding down one evening in their respective easy chairs, when Ma turned to Pa rather suddenly and asked, “Pa, Why is is that you never tell me that you love me?”  Pa thought about it for a moment and replied, “Ma, I told you that I loved you when we got married.  If anything changes, I’ll let you know!”

I hope that’s not how it is in your relationship!

This May, my wife and I will celebrate out 17th year together.  I won’t pretend that we’ve been married for 60 years, but thankfully we have learned a few things along the way in our journey together.  I don’t think of myself as any kind of expert, but if I may, it seems to me that love is not so much a thing to be possessed, but rather a lifestyle to be lived, based on a choice that is made.  In other words, love is a verb. To draw from a well-known source, love is, among other things, patient, kind, protective, trusting, hopeful, enduring and unfailing (1 Cor. 13); all words that describe something that is active, expressive, giving, and in most respects others-centered.  Love is something that, while wonderful to be spoken of, doesn’t rely upon words in order to be known.

I don’t hesitate to point to the Lord as the great example of this – of love in action.  He is the incarnation of the God who “so loved the world that He gave…” I find it fascinating, and even convicting that of all that is written of Jesus in the New Testament, we have no record of His having told His disciples that He loved them.  I don’t know that He didn’t at some point, but noticeably absent in Scripture is any scene where He meets with His closest followers to say…”Mathew, I love you.  John, I love you.  Peter, I love you.  Judas, well….”  Never-the-less, among his parting admonitions, Jesus could encouraged them to love one another as He had loved them (John 13:34).  Whether He ever actually told them straightforwardly or not, clearly Jesus had demonstrated His love for them to the extent that they were fully aware of it, and now had a model to employ in their own relationships.

Now that might sound a little academic in this season of flowers, candy and romance, but I wonder if it really is.  After all, real love isn’t confined to the emotion of a moment.  Rather, by its others-centered nature, it has the potential to flower into the adventure of a lifetime  Actually, if we loved the way Jesus taught and exampled, there would be far too much love to squeeze into one day-a-year.  If Pa had been like this, Ma wouldn’t have had to ask!

We all need love, true love, love that never leaves or forsakes. Love that lasts forever.  We need God’s love.

…not that you shouldn’t still bring home some flowers & candy!

This article appeared in the February 2011 issue of the Magnolia Magazine