27 February 2012

Barren Clay by Michelangelo

My unassisted heart is barren clay,
That of its native self can nothing feed:
OF good and pious works thou art the seed,
That quickens only where thou sayest it may:
Unless though show to use thine own true way
No man can find it: Father! Thou must lead.
  • Michelangelo Buonarroti (yes, he wrote poetry, too)
    (translated by William Wordsworth)

23 February 2012

More Things Are Wrought By Prayer

There are those scoffers and diminishers of prayer. A scoffer would say it doesn't work, and a diminisher tells you, "all I can do is pray" (betraying a very wrong view of prayer!).  Good true prayer "works"-- the scoffers have no studies to tell them that it does - or does not (which is what they claim they want); diminishers don't seem to realize that prayer is 1) the best and first thing to do for the person 2) gives light/guidance for action.
Lacking prayer, what are we doing but "nourishing a blind life within the brain..."?

"More Things Are Wrought By Prayer"

More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of.
Wherefore let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats,
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer,
Both for themselves and those who call them friend.
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
—by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

22 February 2012

His Hands, His Heart

We speak much about the hands of Jesus Christ at the time of his crucifixion, but I would also like to think about His Hands as we begin the Lenten season. The hands of God are sacrificial loving hands because He is both sacrificial and loving towards us. The poem below uses a phrase taken from Psalm 31, verse 15. If you read the psalm, you might recognize how many times it is quoted in the gospels.

My Times Are In Thy Hand

“My times are in thy hand”;
My God, I wish them there;
My life, my friends, my soul, I leave
Entirely to thy care.

“My times are in thy hand”;
Why should I doubt or fear?
My Father’s hand will never cause
His child a needless tear.

“My times are in thy hand,”
Jesus, the crucified!
The hand my cruel sins had pierced
Is now my guard and guide.

“My times are in thy hand”;
I’ll always trust in thee;
And, after death, at thy right hand
I shall forever be.
  • by William F. Lloyd
Psalm 31 (complete)
In thee, O LORD, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness.
Bow down thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: be thou my strong rock, for an house of defence to save me.
For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me.
Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength.
Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O LORD God of truth.
I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I trust in the LORD.
I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities;
And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room.
Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly.
For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed.
I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me.
I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel.
For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life.
But I trusted in thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my God.
My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me.
Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me for thy mercies’ sake.
Let me not be ashamed, O LORD; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.
Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous.
Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!
Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.
Blessed be the LORD: for he hath shewed me his marvellous kindness in a strong city.
For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee.
O love the LORD, all ye his saints: for the LORD preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.
Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.

21 February 2012

Leaping Forward By Going Backwards

I was reading an article that said we are in the midst of a sea change (hmmm…that’s been our continual state, hasn’t it?). The article suggested that that our current woes stem in the West stem from three causes: the “disestablishment” of legal authority in the 18th century, the subsequent disestablishment of civic authority in the 19th century, followed by the disestablishment of cultural authority in the 20th century. While this presents an interesting socio-political framework for thinking about systems, cultures and mores, it’s a sociological perspective, a filter. Perspectives are ways to look at things, but that’s it.
The cause of our woes is that from our origins, we’ve had sin problem at the root. We are off-track when we begin to think we can effectively treat our socio-political problems simply because we’ve identified them: identifying them is good but don’t confuse that with the rectifying the problem. Too we often we simply treat our toothache but not our rotten tooth so the pain always returns and never leaves us. I do believe while we can make progress (or change), but we mustn’t forget that we cannot fix the big root problem: our teeth are slowly rotting. Still, I agree with CS Lewis that progress can be accomplished, yet only if we start at the right end. Lewis stated that any progress required a stable core, and for that we need the Permanent–for the permanent is the root from which change takes place. Lewis asserted that with the changing demands of culture on morality and ethics, it is only an unchanging system of thoughts and values that can accommodate the continual increase in knowledge:
“A great Christian statesman [politician],considering the morality of a measure which will affect millions of lives, and which involves economic, geographical and political considerations of the utmost complexity, is in a different position from a boy first learning that one must not cheat or tell lies, or hurt innocent people.
But only in so far as that first knowledge of the great moral platitudes survives unimpaired in the statesman will his deliberation be moral at all.
[But] if that goes, then there has been no progress, but only mere change.
…change is not progress unless the core remains unchanged. A small oak grows into a big oak: if it become a beech [tree] that would not be growth, but mere change.”
It’s not possible to make effective change unless we know what to change—and we cannot know that until we understand what is intrinsically critical, necessary, and permanent to our existence prior enacting a change.
More simply put, without goal you can’t know where you should go; without a budget, you don’t know how much you can spend before going broke.
Just imagine the vagaries of the weather from one week to the next, or one year to the next—its affect on crops, roads, and even your attitude. But then, imagine that you awaken one day and to find that all that is critically necessary to life, (the permanent), let’s say, the sun and the moon, are obliterated. At this moment the day’s weather would be your least concern—you’d find yourself in a science-fiction horror film!
“…there is a great difference between counting apples and arriving at the mathematical formulae of modern physics. But the multiplication table is used in both and does not grow out of date.” Lewis elaborated:
“The possibility of progress demands that there should be an unchanging element. New bottles for new wine, by all means, but not new palates, throats and stomachs, for that would not be for us, ‘’wine” at all. …we find this sort of unchanging element in the simple rules of mathematics. I would add to these the primary principles of morality. And I would also add the fundamental doctrines of Christianity.
To put it in more technical language, the positive historical statements made by Christianity have the power, elsewhere found chiefly in formal principles, of receiving without intrinsic change, the increasing complexity of meaning which increasing knowledge puts into them.”
The truth and the necessity about Christ’s coming, the truth and necessity of His sacrifice, our redemption, and His transformative work in his disciples in so many people throughout millennia and cultures supports Lewis’ assertion in practice.
And, no, the world hasn’t progressed by accident, evolution, or government. When it has “progressed,” it has been because of the long, mostly laborious efforts of people who’ve grasped the big, permanent truths. Love chains us and binds us to seek improvement for our families and for others. GK Chesterton asserted: “Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.”
I have found no more biblical, no more permanent Christian “system” than the Creed. The Creed is only so because it is a comprehensive succinct expression of biblical truth of God, His work past, present and future, both in the world and in me. Stamped throughout out the Creed are expressions not simply of historical fact or theological assertions, but of supernatural and sacrificial love. It is out of the “permanent and fundamental principles” of faith that our lives can grow and bend as the seasons, times, cultures and environments. I can grow and change without losing my original God-ordained purpose, placement and end.
If you’re not familiar with a Christian creed, such as the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed, here it is. And for readers unfamiliar with the biblical handprints all over the creed, I have placed some recommended scriptures after it. (The Apostles Creed is shorter, than the Nicene Creed).

Nicene Creed::
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,
begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and His kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

Deuteronomy 6:4, II Peter 1:17, Matthew 6:9 Job 4:17, 35:10, Isaiah 17:7, 54:5, Genesis1:1 Psalms 104:5, Jeremiah 51:15, Psalms 89:11-12, Amos 4:13, Revelation 3:5, Colossians 1:16, Ephesians 4:5,Romans 1:7, 5:1, I Corinthians 1:2, 6:11, II Corinthians. 1:2, 8:9, Galatians1:3, 6:14, Ephesians 1:2, 3:11, Philippians 1:2, 3:20, Colossians 1:3, 2:6, I Thessalonians 1:1, 5:9, II Thessalonians 1:1, 2:14, I Timothy 6:3, 14, I Timothy 1:2, Philemon 1:3, 25, Hebrews 13:20, James 1:1, 2:1, I Peter 1:3,3:15, II Peter 1:8, 14, Jude 17, 21, Revelation 22:20-21, John 1:18, Matthew3:17, John 3:16, Hebrews 1:5, John 1:1, Colossians 1:17, 1 John 1:1, Hebrews1:5, Micah 5:2, John 1:18, 17:5, John 10:30, John 14:9, I Corinthians 8:6,Colossians 1:16, Matthew 20:28, John 10:10 b, Matthew 1:21, Luke 19:10, Romans10:6, Ephesians 4:10, Colossians 2:9, Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:34-35, John 1:14,Matthew 20:19, John 19:18, Romans 5:6, 8, II Corinthians 13:4, Romans 5:8, I Corinthians. 5:15, Matthew 27:2, 26, I Timothy 6:13, I Peter 2:21, Hebrews 2:10, Mark 15:46, I Corinthians 15:4, Matthew 27:63, Matthew 28:1, I Corinthians 15:4, Mark 16:6,II Timothy 2:8, Psalms 16:10, Luke 24:25-27, I Corinthians 15:4, Luke 24:51,Acts 1:9, Mark 16:19, Acts 1:11, Psalms110:1, Ephesians 1: 20, Matthew 26:64, Hebrews 1:3, John 14:3, I Thessalonians4:16, Matthew 16:27, 24:30, 25:31, 26:64, Mark 8:38, Colossians 3:4, Matthew25:3146,Acts 10:42, 1 Peter 4:5, John 18:36, II Timothy 4:1, 18, Luke 1:33,Revelation 11:15, Psalms 145:13, Matthew 28:19, Acts 13:2, II Corinthians 3:17,John 6:63, Romans 7:6, 8:2, II Corinthians 3:6, John 14:16-17, John 15:26,Romans 8:9, Galatians 4:6, Luke 4:8, John 4:24, John 4:24, I Timothy 1:17, I Peter 1:10-11, II Peter 1:21, I Corinthians10:16-17, 12:12-13, Ephesians 3:16-17, 5:27, I Peter 2:9, I Corinthians 1:2,Ephesians 2:20, Revelation 21:14, Ephesians 1:22-23, Colossians 1:24, Hebrews12:23, I Peter 2:9, John 3:5, Romans 6:3, Ephesians 4:5, I Peter 3:21, Titus3:5, I Thessalonians 4:16, I Corinthians 15:12-13, 16, 52 and I Corinthians15:54-57, and Revelation 22:5

14 February 2012

The Relentless Pursuing God

You might be down in the mouth, bummed, empty, or simply lonely.  In that case, you likely haven't got a sense that God's got a care about you. Yet God is, and always has been passionate about you. Everything, your entire world, whether it is what you wish it to be or not, is designed to get your attention on Him...in particular His love for you:

After Parting
Oh I have sown my love so wide
That he will find it everywhere;
It will awake him in the night,
It will enfold him in the air.
I set my shadow in his sight
And I have winged it with desire,
That it may be a cloud by day
And in the night a shaft of fire.
  • by Sara Teasdale
And, from the Bible:
"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the LORD's hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD,
or what man shows him his counsel?
Whom did he consult,
and who made him understand?
Who taught him the path of justice,
and taught him knowledge,
and showed him the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?
An idol! A craftsman casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and casts for it silver chains.
He who is too impoverished for an offering
chooses wood that will not rot;
he seeks out a skillful craftsman
to set up an idol that will not move.

Do you not know? Do you not hear?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing,
and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown,
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth,
when he blows on them, and they wither,
and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

To whom then will you compare me,
that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see:
who created these?
He who brings out their host by number,
calling them all by name,
by the greatness of his might,
and because he is strong in power
not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength...

from Isaiah 40, partial, ESV

09 February 2012

His Power & Love, My Love & Trust=One Place Everywhere

The Temper

How should I praise thee, Lord! how should my rhymes
Gladly engrave thy love in steel,
If what my soul doth feel sometimes,
My soul might ever feel!

Although there were some forty heavens, or more,
Sometimes I peer above them all;
Sometimes I hardly reach a score,
Sometimes to hell I fall.

O rack me not to such a vast extent;
Those distances belong to thee:
The world’s too little for thy tent,
A grave too big for me.

Wilt thou meet arms with man, that thou dost stretch
A crumb of dust from heav’n to hell?
Will great God measure with a wretch?
Shall he thy stature spell?
O let me, when thy roof my soul hath hid,
O let me roost and nestle there:
Then of a sinner thou art rid,
And I, of hope and fear.

Yet take thy way; for sure thy way is best:
Stretch or contract me, thy poor debtor:
This is but tuning of my breast,
To make the music better.

Whether I fly with angels, fall with dust,
Thy hands made both, and I am there:
Thy power and love, my love and trust
Make one place ev’ry where.
  • by George Herbert

07 February 2012


Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
- by Emily Dickinson

05 February 2012

It's Good To Be Preoccupied... About...

In this Herman cartoon by Jim Unger, there are two men on a desert island, they have been marooned for a long time. The man sitting under the lone palm tree is fretting, and says to the other man, "In two days I'll owe $3,000 on a library book I haven't even read!"
There's an old New Yorker cartoon where a woman and a man and their child are walking down the street. The woman is holding the hand of a child who has a saucepan (a cook pot) upside down on his head. Passerbys are staring back at the child, gawking. The woman has a scowl on her face as she says to her husband, and is obviously disgusted,"I know what they're thinking! They're thinking, 'What an old, banged up saucepan that is!'"
Both of these cartoons have a common theme--preoccupation with the wrong problem. Maybe your lifestyle isn't quite what you envision for yourself, so you chafe about that. Your so-called career never took off, and you stew. Or,you are "just a mom" and not using your college education--or never got an education--you're merely loving your children well. Or, you met and married the person who was to be the love of your life but the companionship is like, well, a bad prosthetic leg (good ones are great, I am told). Or you sleep on the floor on a mattress in a little room with people you hardly know because you're in another country--far from your home, far from the people you love. Or, you're in the military, and think about getting out, hoping for a better tomorrow--but wish that were TODAY. Or, maybe you had planned well but lost everything in the stock market, or in gambling, or perhaps your 401K is now a 201K.
Perhaps you live in a house which is either a fixer-upper but you're not a fixer-upper, so you feel helpless. Or you're are the owner of a house which can now be sold for half of what you bought it for 6 years ago.
Maybe you're going to lose your house--the house you raised your children in, and the house which holds such memories-good and bad. But it's the house you thought you'd live in for the rest of your life.
Maybe it's really bad--you just moved to a new city and don't know anyone, don't have a job, and are unsure of how long you can stay where you're staying tonight.
You're anxious about the future. You're a bit like the bird in this picture:
Many of these are justified concerns yet some of them are in the light of eternity, things that will pass. Our daily occupation is to work for a better tomorrow, to hold ourselves accountable to our Maker, but we're not to be preoccupied, to be worried all the time,  with the wrong things.
I will answer the unasked question which is begging for an answer: What should I be preoccupied with-or-what is justifiable preoccupation?
I think the answer we need to ask ourselves is always the same and is a variation of this: Am I drawing closer to God every day (today)? That, I think, was what Jesus was endeavoring to paint a picture of in Matthew 6 as well as many other places: Jesus says:
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
"Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly
Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
"So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles
seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

04 February 2012

A Time For Love - Above and Below Me

"....when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine." - Ezekiel 16:8

"He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love." - Song of Solomon 2:4

After Communion

Why should I call Thee Lord, Who art my God?
  Why should I call Thee Friend, Who are my Love?
  Or King, Who art my very Spouse above?
Or call Thy sceptre on my heart Thy rod?
  Lo now Thy banner over me is love,
All heaven flies open to me at Thy nod:
For Thou hast lit Thy flame in me a clod,
  Made me a nest for dwelling of Thy Dove.
  What wilt Thou call me in our home above,
Who now hast called me friend? how will it be
   When Thou for good wine settest forth the best?
Now Thou dost bid me come and sup with Thee,
  Now Thou dost make me lean upon Thy breast:
How will it be with me in time of love?
- by Christina Rossetti

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there.  Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples.  When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”  His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim.  And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it.  When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom  and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” John 2:1-10