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.

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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!

Far From Home

On a cold, dark morning, on a hard and dusty road
These faded tracks, they lead me back to a place I used to know
I’ve felt the cold wind on my face, I’ve seen the calm before the storm
Sunny skies won’t hurt my eyes, no, not anymore

I’m far from home, I’m where my feet have taken me
I think I’ve been mistaken about what I’ve left behind
The birds have flown, they’re watching high above me
They sing but they don’t love me, how could I have been so blind
I’m far from home

I’ve wandered on the highway looking for something beyond the bend
My shadow, it has led me here but I don’t know where I am
So I’ll take this old walking stick, set my weathered face toward home
I can still make out those tracks, they’re not yet overgrown

I’ve felt the cold wind on my face and I’ve seen the calm before the storm
Sunny skies won’t hurt my eyes, no, not anymore

I’m comin’ home, from where my feet have taken me
I know I’ve been mistaken about what I’ve left behind
Birds have flown, watching high above me
They sing but they don’t love me, how could I have been so blind
I’m comin’ home…I’m comin’ home

(Thoughts from Luke 15:11-32, Matt. 13:1-23)

Community

One of the things that I really enjoy about living in Fieldstone Farms is the genuine sense of community that has always been so evident.  Arriving here from Chicago on the evening of February 2nd, 2007, it wasn’t twenty-four hours before my family and I were introduced, not only to our neighbors, but also to the warm, inviting Southern Hospitality that, until then we’d only heard about.  New friends brought over cookies & the like, names and phone numbers were exchanged, and we discovered the pleasant way that those south of the Mason-Dixon line define “visiting.”

Just prior to our official relocation, I had the opportunity to spend a few days here in Franklin, settling on a job and securing our new home.  With a couple of hours to spare before my flight back to the Windy City, I’d decided to take advantage of a little down-time by walking the streets of downtown Franklin.  My Caffe Verona was still tepid when I found myself in a conversation with a gentleman who was from out of town himself.  He asked if I was from around here, and I let him know how, in a manner of speaking, I was almost from around here. He was looking for a drugstore, and so we made our way toward Gary’s, but as it had already been closed down, we just kept on walking and talking.  Nearly 20 minutes went by as two total strangers shot the breeze like old friends. Now, I’m fond of saying (only a little bit tongue-in-cheek) that where I’m from, after walking side-by-side with a total stranger for 20 minutes, you’re likely to want to make sure your wallet is still in your pocket!  But here, that kind of encounter can be pretty typical, and it was an experience that I’ll likely remember for a long time.  It was also a reminder that, for the most part, human interaction is best experienced in-person, rather than through a text or an e-mail.

It’s been said that the key to life can be found in relationships. Having passed the midway point of my three-score-and-ten, I find that I’m seeing more and more, the truth in that statement.  The more I contemplate the relationships in my life; my wife, daughter and our families, our church family, our friends, the more I come to understand that cultivating deep, lasting relationships is a good and necessary thing, even a “God-thing.”

Actually, looking back to when God created the world, He created it good. All through creation week, He would create-each passing day receiving His approval.  In time, after declaring so many things to be “good,” the Lord eventually got to pointing out something that wasn’t so good.   Significantly, the first time that God let on that something wan’t good was when He pointed out that man was alone.  God created man to enjoy relationships – and no wonder; even God Himself, though Singular in Being, enjoys fellowship within His own Triune nature.  We were made in His image, and I wonder if one way that that truth bears itself out is in our natural desire to seek out relationships.

Many years later, as outcasts in the first century, the early church came to lean heavily upon their community  as they needed to “be there” for one another.  They spent time in the Word and prayer together, and they encouraged and met each other’s needs as they arose – knit together, they were the body of Christ!

In contrast to previous generations, I recall hearing a statistic that the typical Facebooker today spends an average of 169 minutes in that online community – per visit.  It amazes me how we can spend so much time together…without actually being together!

Don’t get me wrong – I believe that online communities have found a genuinely valuable place in our time in history – I’m actually a relatively frequent twitter-er myself (@/brianbachochin) – and clearly these avenues of connection can help to bridge the various sorts of distances between us.  But when it comes to relationships, and truly “doing” community, God help us not to lose the truth in the old adage: “I guess you just had to be there.”

This article appeared in the May issue of Magnolia Magazine.

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.

True Potential

I am what is known as a bi-vocational pastor; sometimes also called a “tent-making pastor,” which is to say that I work a regular full-time job in addition to ministering at our fellowship here in Franklin (Some who have heard me preach might well suggest that I not be in too much of a hurry to quit my day job!)

That said, having spent around two-thirds of my life in the workplace, I’ve become very familiar with the concepts of pecking orders and the struggle for stature; the drive for parking spot numero uno, the corner office and the key to the executive bathroom.  I’ve held leadership positions and I’ve also had a chance to work for a variety of managers of differing styles and leadership qualities.  Some have been very effective leaders, and some…well, not so much.

Nowadays, there are so many avenues one can pursue en route to becoming a strong leader.  Blogs and career sites are myriad and resources abound for those seeking to develop the skills necessary to “change the world.”

Well, all of that got me thinking…

If you were going to put together a leadership team, what sort of qualities would you look for in a potential candidate? After all, if you’ve only got a certain number of spots to fill and a limited amount of time to accomplish your mission, you’d very likely want to pour over resumes and interview only top-notch candidates; strong contenders who will quickly become powerful contributors.  You’d be on the lookout for the cream of the crop; people who’d really bring something to the table in your organization.  After all, you’d want to make sure you’ve got the best possible fit, right?

By contrast, Jesus assembled the most influential ministry team in history with arguably the most ordinary men of His day. Primarily composed of fishermen, Jesus brought together a number of outcasts from society who, in many instances didn’t even get along with each other (often guilty of trying to establish a pecking order of their own! – Cp. Lk. 9:46, 22:24).  They were hardly the cream of the crop.  Amazingly though, Jesus knew this about the crew He was assembling, and yet He chose them anyway. That seems like a counter-productive approach, but somehow Jesus made it work. That was the key – It was Jesus who made it work.

Healing the sick and raising the dead wasn’t in their “skill-set” before they came to Jesus; again, most of them were simple fishermen. But in the Hands of the Master Potter, these very common lumps of clay would become vessels of honor – Fishers of Men who’s impact and influence has reached even to our day; leaders who were and remained first and foremost servants, which ultimately served to make them great leaders.

2 Chronicles 16:9 says that: “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” While there are a number of insights to glean from this passage, one important truth that emerges implies that when it comes to God’s “corporate culture,” it’s not as much about your ability, as much as your availability. Hmm.

With that in mind, imagine what the Master Potter might fashion if you let Him set His skillful hands to work on you!

This article appeared in the March 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