Monday, March 29, 2010

God's Glory Shines in Starlight

With Easter coming up next Sunday, most of us are thinking about the miraculous ways God reveals His glory. But how often do we notice when He reveals His glory on "ordinary" days? How often do most of us thank God for the sun or the air, without which our lives would end in minutes? How often do we consider that everyone we meet in the course of a day is a unique example of God's image?

And how often do we ignore the beauty of blue sky and birdsong, and of tiny wildflowers blooming within inches of our feet, as we trudge to work grumbling at the prospect of "another day of drudgery"?

When Jesus said He came "that [we might] have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10b), it's unlikely He meant only the perfection of the world beyond this one. Eternal life was meant to start with salvation, even when a person's earthly life lasts another eighty years. The reason many Christians are bored with the lives they have now is because they keep thinking in terms of "everything is either standout-spectacular or dull-ordinary."

Those who remember that with God everything is extraordinary never "outgrow" the childlike sense of wonder that sees the spectacular in "regular" things. The secret of "life to the full" is to constantly look for God's handiwork everywhere.

God's glory shines in starlight
And in the moon's soft gleam,
The sunrise and the sunset,
The rainbow's arching beam;
In every shining dewdrop
On spiderweb or tree,
God's glory is reflected
For all with eyes to see.

God's glory sings in splashes
Of every waterfall,
In every robin's music
And in the bullfrog's call;
In every running river
That dashes free and clear,
God's glory calls to listeners
Who have the ears to hear.

God's glory shows in kindness:
The outreach of a hand,
Soft words to the discouraged
From those who understand;
Each human act of mercy
Our God's compassion shows,
With visions of His glory
For every heart that knows.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Perfect Unity

Loneliness has been called the great disease of our age. Ironically, the worst of the epidemic is where people are most crowded together--the cities where that other great modern illness called workaholism runs rampant and steals time needed to introduce oneself to the neighbors, where everyone is presumed to have a hidden agenda and few dare strike up a casual conversation on the street. And where the single people come by the thousands: those fresh from school, to find jobs; those newly single, to forget or hide; all, leaving behind the friends and family they knew. Many a one-night stand, many a cohabitation, and many a bad marriage owes its start to utter desperation for human contact.

Perhaps this phenomenon is partly responsible for the blow that marriage's reputation has suffered in recent decades. For many people, the fear of being alone forever is matched by the fear that giving one's whole self to another will ultimately lead to an even more painful loneliness. Practically every week, we hear of someone--often someone we know personally--for whom "till death do us part" proved empty words or came considerably sooner and more painfully than expected. We may well have been that person ourselves. Small wonder that many opt for the "solution" of settling for physical intimacy without commitment, or for a "trial period" that stretches on for month after uncertain month. It can take years to realize that the "solution" is really the worse problem, by which time irreparable damage is already done.

Thankfully, in God's Kingdom no damage is ultimately irreparable. This applies especially to the first great damage, done on the day of the Fall when loneliness first entered the world, when human beings became alienated from God, from Creation, and from one another. All marriage problems have their root in the day Adam let Eve coax him into trying just one little bite. Hardly surprising that God's final redemption of His people is frequently compared in Scripture to the consummation of a marriage: it will be akin to what that first marriage originally was, with no barriers of selfishness to cause misunderstandings or arguments.

In the meantime, if you're blessed with a happy or even decent marriage, remember to thank God rather than whining that your spouse isn't everything you wanted. And, if you aren't married, to look to God for fulfillment rather than demanding He deliver your life partner immediately. Marriage--and all human relationships--are only a reflection of the perfect relationship we were all meant to ultimately find in the Lord.

God made one man and one woman
When the human race He began;
The man was there for the woman,
And the woman made for the man.

That day, all earth's sin was future
And the pain of doubt was unknown,
And love was perfect in beauty,
No one needing to feel alone.

God made us all for each other,
And us all His own family;
So hearts still long for the coming
Of uniting Eternity.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Our Father in Heaven

Do you love your father? Too many can easily be forgiven for saying "no." Sociologists, law enforcement officers, and preachers agree that there's an epidemic of biological fathers who have no interest whatsoever in their children, or whose interest is all the wrong kind: coldly demanding, physically violent, or sexually intimate.

Still, it's not always the father's fault when the parent-child relationship fails. Growing up, most of us had times when we hated Dad (or whoever was head of the household) simply for not giving us whatever we wanted and letting us do whatever we pleased. The best of earthly parents can be helpless against human selfishness that could care less who's right so long as it gets its own way. A really determined case may repay family for years of wise care and concern by telling them, Prodigal-Son-style, to give him his share of the savings account and get out of his life.

If we need any proof that no father is good enough to force rebellious children to love him, we need only look at the way the human race treats its perfect Heavenly Father. He gives us air, sunshine, food, and life; He tells us the best way to live for our own good; and the vast majority of us respond with, "If You won't give me what I want when I want it, go away and quit nagging me!" Even those who genuinely want to live according to His direction can hardly get through a day without whining at Him to hurry up with the reward already. He would be perfectly justified in writing us all off as hopeless.

In the face of that fact, the lengths He goes to to find and keep us are all the more incredible.

Our Father in Heaven, all honor You rate;
Though men may impress us, You only are great.
Beyond reach of evil, above selfish deed,
You reign, all untainted, to guide and to lead.

Our Father in Heaven, though Master above,
You still stoop to meet us with purest of love.
Your heart is so gentle; Your touch is so kind;
Your arms are so tender; You keep us in mind.

Our Father in Heaven, You see when we stray,
And reach down to turn us back into your way.
Lord, keep our hearts humble to hear Your command,
Lest You have to strike us with heavier hand.

Our Father in Heaven, You know we are weak:
So eager to wander, so thoughtless to speak,
So helpless ourselves to accomplish a thing:
Yet still You work through us by power that You bring.

Our Father in Heaven, You give all we need;
You soothe us, empower us, refresh us, and feed.
Forgive us the times when we moan we want more,
And open our hearts to the riches You pour.

Our Father in Heaven, You rule without end;
We look for Your city from Heaven to descend,
When all of earth’s trials pass forever away—
Our Father in Heaven, we long for that day!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

God, Our Holy Father

Today, I'm going to give you a break from scanning through paragraphs of prose--and myself a break from the compulsive and stressful habit of telling all I know--and let this praise-and-worship poem do most of the talking. It can be sung to the same tune as "Holy, Holy, Holy."

God, our Holy Father, Master, Creator,
In the early morning our praises rise to You;
Molder and Preserver, Maker and Sustainer,
Lord of the living, ever pure and true.

God, our Lord and Savior, Holy Redeemer,
As the day moves onward, we keep our eyes on You;
You alone are worthy; You are all we dream of,
Perfect, unblemished, loving, pure, and true.

God, our Guide and Comfort, ever all-knowing,
As the day is waning, we give our thanks to You;
You are ever with us, Power forever flowing,
Glorious and mighty, ever wise and true.

God, our Lord eternal, holy yet gentle,
When earth’s days are ended, we’ll still sing praise to You;
You are King forever, Heaven’s firm-standing Temple,
Through endless ages, faithful, strong, and true.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

All Praise and Thanksgiving

Detail-oriented perfectionist that I am, I have a love-hate relationship with goals and To-Do lists. Some might call it a dangerously codependent relationship. As long as everything progresses smoothly I'm content; but the moment circumstances even hint I might not finish something at the time originally planned, up goes my blood pressure by ten points, and out the window goes the common sense that knows regular breaks are good for you.

Although goals can be first-rate achievement tools, business experts have discovered that they have their dark side. "In many situations, the damaging effects of goal setting outweigh its benefits," noted a recent article from Harvard Business School, which recommended the practice be treated as a prescription drug--helpful when used properly, but a disaster waiting to happen if taken indiscriminately in large doses with no eye out for side effects. One of the most harmful of these is the way goal achievement plays on the human tendency toward idolatry: thousands of people have sacrificed their patience, their self-respect, their good judgment, their human relationships, and their health to a mad drive to achieve overambitious goals, a drive that brooks no interruptions in any form. It also reinforces the idea that everything depends on us. If we fail to achieve our goals, we curse ourselves for it; if we succeed, we become dangerously proud of ourselves; and throughout, we see God merely as a source of extreme-emergency support.

"A ‘success without goal setting’ paradigm... overcomes the narrow focus of goals by opening the mind to an array of possibilities and successes," advises one popular motivational speaker. "Live for the moment not the morrow.... Live by a ‘theme.’" Christians serious about the "purpose-driven" approach to life will likely approve. So might the apostle James, who had things to say about being too sure of one's plans; so also the many Bible characters, from David ("One thing I ask of the LORD... to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple," Ps. 27:4) to Paul ("I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord," Phil. 3:8) to Jesus ("seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well," Mt. 6:33), who emphasized that knowing God is the one goal that the wise aspire to.

But we'll never know Him until we learn not to let lesser goals distract our thoughts from His power and glory. Why not set a goal for this month to spend fifteen minutes a day just praising God? I don't advise aiming for more immediately, if you're new to the practice; I know from experience that planning on "hours of prayer" holds the same hazards as any other "try to do too much too soon" goal. If you have trouble managing even fifteen minutes (and I still do), use your favorite Scripture passages or hymns--or the following poem--to guide your thoughts.

All praise and thanksgiving raise high to the Father,
And sing forth in worship with all of your might!
He gives us His blessing; His hand is upon us
To strengthen our cause as we stand for the right!
He heals and refreshes; our food He provides us
As He does for all of the creatures of earth;
He chose us and saved us; He cleans and empowers us;
He guides all our days from the time of our birth.

All praise and thanksgiving raise high to our Savior,
And sing forth in worship with all of your might!
He gives us His blessing; His hand is upon us
To bring us new hope through His glorious light!
He came for our freedom; His touch was our healing,
He reached out in love to the children of earth;
His death was our cleansing; His raising our raising;
And He, in His love, brought us wondrous new birth.

All praise and thanksgiving raise high to the Spirit,
And sing forth in worship with all of your might!
He gives us His blessing; His power is upon us,
And ever encouraging us for the fight!
He brings us His comfort; great gifts He provides us
To use in God’s work that we do on this earth;
His breath is our strengthening, His fire our empowering;
He guides all our days from our time of rebirth.

All praise and thanksgiving raise high in rejoicing,
And sing forth in worship with all of your might!
Our God gives us blessing; His power is upon us
To raise us on upward from height unto height!
His love is eternal, His strength has no limits,
And straight from His hand come all blessings of earth;
So let us sing praises to God Who is for us,
And Who will be bringing a new world to birth!