I have to admit, this is not a reaction I enjoy. I want to meet with God in prayer, feeling loved, confident, and joyful. And I know that God is sovereign, awesome, and powerful…but I want to revel in the goodness of redemption and the hope of glory, not tremble in fear or awe.
Yet, we are told to do both throughout scripture. I can’t really have one without the other.
Today, I need to tremble– to see and acknowledge the awful wrath of God, fully and horrifically borne by Jesus on the cross. God did not send His Son to tidy up an uncomfortable or embarrassing “slip” on the part of one man. Jesus bore the weight of the Holocaust and the nightmares of genocide, abortion, plague, and famine throughout the ages. Jesus paid the price of slavery, and sex trafficking, and human sacrifice committed over centuries and millennia of hatred and abuse. Jesus faced the punishment justly deserved by billions of acts of rebellion and rejection by people He had lovingly created. And He did it so that you (and I) could be held guiltless and allowed to enter the courts of praise.
Someday, we will see Him face-to-face. Yes, it will be joyful, and glorious. But it will also be cause for trembling. To see perfection, righteousness, Holiness, and Love, and yet see the One who was “pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities…”
There is little glory in momentary happiness or small victories. But when we stop and tremble at His Majesty, we arise with joy unspeakable, and true worship!
I love words. But sometimes, it can be frustrating to find just the right word to express a complex idea. I’m sure the Apostle John felt the struggle as he began writing his Gospel account of the life of Christ. How can mere words describe the arrival of GOD– creator and ruler of the universe– into a darkened and sin-filled world, come to live among and serve the very lost souls He would die to save? John, of all the Gospel writers, uses the most visual metaphors to describe the Advent of Jesus (many of which he heard from the lips of Christ Himself)– He was the “Light of the World”, the “Bread of Life”, the “Living Water,” the “Way, the Truth, and the Life,” and the “Good Shepherd.”
But right away, the phrase John uses to talk about the “Light of the Life” causes modern English scholars confusion. John says that the light “shineth”, or “shines” in the darkness and the darkness “comprehended” (or apprehended, or understood, or overcame) it not. The phrase is simply too big for one word, or idea. The Greek word comes closer to expressing a dual idea, but even it can’t wrap up the totality of such an event.
Consider–This Jesus, one with God from the beginning, and the “Word” of creation, spoke light into existence. Where there was darkness, He exploded– light upon light– stars and galaxies of light! Even on the darkest night we will ever know, there are millions of lights spread out across the vastness of space, including our own sun, even unseen on the other side of the planet. Darkness can never “comprehend”, let alone “overcome” the existence of light in our world.
Moreover, when we see physical light piercing the darkness, we are aware of it, but we rarely comprehend, or understand it. Whether we are blinded by a flash of light, or compelled to seek out a single hint of light in a darkened tunnel, it is not obvious at first glance (and sometimes even after diligent study) the source or scope of the light. It may be a candle, or a set of glaring headlights, or the glint of reflected light in a mirror. It could be a distant star, a satellite, or a street light shrouded in fog.
But in a spiritual sense, it is even more true that “Light has come into the world” (John 3:19), and it “shines” in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood, or apprehended, or overcome it. Jesus came as an infant to His own chosen people, people who were longing for the advent of their Messiah. But few of them recognized Him. They didn’t understand– even Jesus’ closest friends didn’t “get it” at first. And some of them tried their best to “overcome” and “apprehend” the Gospel message– zealous religious leaders like Saul tried to stop the “light” of Jesus’ message and all those who trusted in it. Saul had to be “blinded” by a light on his way to Damascus, so that he could finally “see” Christ (Acts 9).
And the light is still shining in the darkness– as followers of Christ, we are to reflect God’s love and grace to those around us. Many of them will not comprehend; many will try to overcome or even destroy the message we bring. Our light may seem small and insignificant. It may seem like we are surrounded by the vast darkness of space, or shrouded in fog. But the light of Christ cannot be extinguished, or rationalized out of existence, or contained. All the words ever spoken, written, or thought throughout all the ages of mankind cannot compare to the power of God’s “Word”, who spoke worlds into being in an instant, and yet entered His own creation with a soft cry of an infant in the middle of a dark night so long ago.
This is the “little light of mine”, and of yours if you are a follower of Christ. It pierces through the darkness of despair, hatred, addiction, injustice, greed, oppression, malice, rebellion, war, grief, loss, disease, and sin.
This season, as we anticipate the Advent, let us remember the greatness of the tiniest of lights, and the triumph of that light over the vast darkness. It is easy to get distracted by the twinkling of a thousand artificial and commercial lights this season, or blinded by the soot and smog and clouds of gloom and pain that surrounds us. It’s so important that we keep shining; continue reflecting the true light that only comes from the “Light of the World”
“This little Light of mine–I’m gonna let it shine! This little Light of mine– I’m gonna let it shine, Let it shine, Let it shine!”
Yesterday, in our Bible Fellowship class at church, we continued our series on a Christian view of “Hot” topics: we focused on Environmental issues.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.” (Genesis 1:1) “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” (Psalm 24:1) KJV
Our environment can become a politically and emotionally charged subject. How should we as Christians, view our environment, our environmental impact, and our attitudes toward dire reports about climate change, extinction rates, emissions, pollution, habitat reduction, natural resources, and energy needs?
The Bible gives us guidelines, warnings, and even hope!
Ultimately, the fate of the world does not rest on my shoulders, or yours, or our generation’s…This is MY FATHER’S world. He created it, He inhabits it, and He has a plan for it. That does not give me an excuse to ignore the problems facing our planet. It does not give me the right or the privilege of passing the problems along to someone else, where action can and should be taken. But it does remind me that God has not left us alone and helpless to stop an environmental apocalypse left to us by previous generations and accelerated by our own.
GOD created the heavens and the Earth. God, who knows the end from the beginning. God designed our planet, our atmosphere, our universe. What even the best of our scientists know about our planet is infinitely smaller than what God knows, and what even the boldest plans of man propose are nothing to the power of God to heal and restore. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to be concerned about things that are happening– but we can’t let our concerns turn to despair and doubt. When the nation of Israel first entered the promised land, God gave them a list of blessings and curses. (Deuteronomy, chapter 28) If they obeyed, they would be blessed. If they were disobedient, they would be cursed. Many of these blessings and curses relate directly to the land and weather. God is still in control of nature, but this leads me to…
God gave stewardship of the Earth to mankind. We are to be the daily caretakers of God’s Earth. That there are so many problems with our environment shows that mankind as a whole has failed to obey God in this matter. We are not under the direct blessings and curses that came to Israel in the promised land, but there is still a correlation–as Sin proliferates, so does death and destruction– including that of the world around us. That doesn’t give me the right to point the finger at others and justify my own disobedience because “at least I don’t…,” or “at least I do…” God expects me to act in ways that protect, preserve, or develop the environment to benefit those around me and give glory to Him. This includes the way I interact with the land, water, air, plants, animals, and other people. It includes the actions I take to destroy harmful plants and animals; to protect the soil and water; to dispose of waste; to eat; to build, or heat, or cool buildings; what I eat and drink and wear. It even includes being informed about second-hand resources that I buy and use, and whether or not those resources are being stewarded well by others. This doesn’t mean becoming an environmental Pharisee– publicly calling out all my neighbors who still use plastic bags or buy products from “that” company. And it doesn’t mean I must become a vegan, or a homesteader or give up my computer or cell phone. But what can I do to become a better steward?
Is it possible that my attitude toward the environment is coming from a lack of exposure to both the environment itself and its maker? Am I spending more time reading about climate change than I am spending in the climate itself? Have I thanked God for the world He created? Do I take the time to notice the beauty in a blade of grass, or the colors in a sunset, or the mystery of running water, and marvel at God’s handiwork? How would my view of Nature change if I developed my relationship with its maker?
Lastly, I need to engage with others to find ways we all can become better stewards– not (necessarily) by bashing people over the head with statistics and mandates, but getting the facts– not just the hype or the denials–and sharing practical ideas.
I don’t have to save the world– that is God’s job; He’s the only one who can. But I CAN do my part to protect, preserve, develop, and enjoy all the beauty He created. And in doing so, I pray that I can help others see the One who loved us all enough to create such a beautiful home!
For the Beauty of the Earth The United Methodist Hymnal Number 092 Text: Folliot S. Pierpoint Music: Conrad Kocher; Arr. by W.H. Monk Tune: DIX, Meter: 77.77.77 1. For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies, for the love which from our birth over and around us lies; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
2. For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night, hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
3. For the joy of ear and eye, for the heart and mind’s delight, for the mystic harmony, linking sense to sound and sight; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
4. For the joy of human love, brother, sister, parent, child, friends on earth and friends above, for all gentle thoughts and mild; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
5. For thy church, that evermore lifteth holy hands above, offering up on every shore her pure sacrifice of love; Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
6. For thyself, best Gift Divine, to the world so freely given, for that great, great love of thine, peace on earth, and joy in heaven: Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
This week, may we raise hymns of grateful praise to the creator of all the beauty of the earth.
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all tings were created by him and for him.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Yesterday, I wrote about reflections– about being a reflection of God’s character in a dark world. Today just happens to be the 49th anniversary of the first moon landing, so I’d like to revisit yesterday’s theme, but with a slightly different analogy.
Mirrors, lakes, glass, and more can be used to reflect both light and images. The moon reflects light from the sun to light our way at night. God created it to do just that, and I believe that God never wastes an opportunity to teach us lessons in nature. So I want to look at just some of the ideas that occur to me about how the moon can teach us about reflecting God’s light in our darkened world.
First, the moon generates no light on its own. The moon is NOT the sun– it does not and cannot generate light or heat. On its own, it is lifeless and cold. But because of where it is, and what it is, it provides light, acts on the oceans to create tides, and helps us chart the weeks, months, and seasons. The moon doesn’t act independently, but it has purpose and beauty in reflecting the sun and following its prescribed orbit around the earth. If the moon were smaller, farther from the earth, nearer to the earth, or different in its nature, the effect on the earth and on all life would be devastating.
Second, the moon can only reflect the sun’s light when it is in position to do so. Moonlight is different every night because of its changing position. We have names for all the many phases– full moon, half-moon, quarter moon, crescent moon, new moon, and so on. Even more dramatic are the eclipses– when the world comes between the sun and moon, we get a lunar eclipse– the moon is shadowed because the sunlight cannot reach it– the world gets in the way. And, if the moon comes between the sun and the earth, there is a solar eclipse– the world becomes dark as the moon gets in the way of the sun’s rays. There is a good lesson here to us. If we are to reflect God’s light and character to the world, we cannot afford to let the world block out our light source. Worse, we cannot reflect light to the world when we step in front of our source and block out the Son!
Third, the moon can be visited– it can be mapped, studied, comprehended. We can look directly at the moon, stare at it, look at it through a telescope, and not go blind. We can send people in rockets to walk on the moon, take samples of its dust and rocks, plant flags on its surface, and even leave trash on its surface. There is still mystery and fascination to be found on the moon, but it doesn’t have the glory and awe of the sun.
Another interesting observation– there is no moon, nor need for it, in Heaven. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, but there is no mention of a new moon. There will be no seas (no tides), and no night. We will no longer be a reflection of God’s character to a darkened world– instead, we will be living in the actual light of His presence. What an awesome thought!
Obviously, like most analogies, there is no perfect correlation here. These are just some random thoughts and observations, and I’m no scientist or theologian. But, today, as we (hopefully) enjoy some time in the sun, and tonight as we reflect on the moon, I pray that we would get a special glimpse of His glory, and that we may use any opportunities that come our way to reflect it.
I love spending time in nature– walking, riding, or biking through woods and meadows, hills and valleys, along lakes or rivers. God has created such beauty and majesty in every part of our world! I grew up surrounded by woods and water– lakes, rivers, old forests and new-growth woods, with lots of farmland and meadows spread out over low rolling hills. So it is always with wonder that I look upon mountains, deserts, rain forests and jungles, and tropical settings because they are not part of the “normal” landscape for me. Even so, I never tire of the sites that greet me year-round–the steady breaking waves rolling in off Lake Michigan; the babbling of a small river or stream over field stone as it races down a small hill toward a pond; trees bowing and dancing in the wind just before a storm…
Nature is not just beautiful. It gives us yet another way to experience God’s “nature”– his character and provision. God is steady like a rock– strong, enduring, a safe refuge. God is refreshing and life-giving as a river– ready to wash away aches and soothe us. God is eternal, and his love is as vast and deep as the ocean. God is mysterious as the forest–giving shade and cover, and concealing treasures, and ancient secrets. God is as open as a meadow, as pure as an ice shelf, as glorious as a desert sunset.
God uses his glorious creation to illustrate his “nature.” I pray that we can experience the both aspects of God’s nature today, and praise Him for who He is and how He has revealed Himself all around us.
Tigers and turtles; flamingos and fleas; whales and warthogs; skinks and skunks; rocks and rosebuds; Eskimos and Ecuadorians–God’s world is filled with variety. Chirping birds and thundering herds; roaring seas and buzzing bees. Colors, sounds, smells, and sensations– we are surrounded by glimpses of glory, echoes of eternity, and hints of Heaven.
Often, we take for granted the beauty of God’s creation– we don’t stop seeing it, we just stop marveling at it. Instead of drinking it in, we drown it out. We criticize, analyze, and theorize…why did God make rats? how does He exist outside of time? when will He change the seasons this year (will we have spring? how long will winter last)? what is the purpose of dust? why are some animals (or rocks or plants) colorful, or noisy, or deadly, or smelly, or slow? And we miss the forest for the trees– we get caught up in the amazing details and infinite variety in creation, and miss the majesty of the creator– His sense of the ridiculous in things like tumbleweeds and walking sticks, dust devils and platypuses, or His artistry in butterfly wings, dew on spiderwebs, and cascading waterfalls– in geodes and dimples and mewling kittens. We miss the elegant design in a bees knees, or galaxies, or a banyan tree.
God creates– it is an element of His character. And we are made in His image– we long to create. From drafting sentences to making a pie to shaping a piece of wood into something sturdy and useful– we long to produce, to concoct, to cause growth, to heal, to nurture, and to effect change. We are also created with a deep appreciation of creation– the wisdom and the work it takes to set planets spinning, and ecosystems cooperating, and to unfold a new sunrise every morning.
If you haven’t already, take a few minutes asking God to open your eyes and ears to the song and dance of creation today–from dandelions to darting dragonflies to the amazing variety of people dodging traffic or making conversation around you. Join in!
In the Broadway musical, Godspell, there is a simple ballad, “Day By Day,” in which the singer(s) express a desire to be closer to Jesus. Day By Day/YouTube There are three “prayers”– 1) to see thee more clearly; 2) Love thee more dearly, and 3) follow thee more nearly. I have heard various opinions and critiques of the musical, from the use of clown makeup and vaudeville tunes, to the marginal grammar of this song. But I’d like to spend some time digging in to the three simple prayers.
Today, I want to look at (literally) the first prayer– “to see thee more clearly”. There is one prayer, but I think it can be broken down into two parts.
First, I want to SEE God. God is Spirit–an invisible essence– and yet he manifests himself in a million different ways all around us. God is in the inky, endless blackness of a moonless night, and in the vibrant colors of spring blossoms; in the glaring reflection of the sun off the lake, or the gray and palpable mist over the meadow. He is in the wrinkled face of my neighbor, and the exuberant smile of a toddler, and the beauty of a horse running or an eagle soaring. But I can see all of this and more and still not see God. I can focus on the creation and miss the creator. I can focus on the beauty and learn nothing of the artist. I can see the amazing variety of people in the world– skin tones and eye shapes, facial expressions, and body language, dimples and hairstyles and nose-wrinkling, and hand-wringing, and miss the Love of God for each one.
Sadly, I can sing this prayer, pray for insight, and still miss seeing God. I can trample His creation, dismiss His presence, and hate the people He loves enough to die for; people who bear the stamp of His image.
And I want to see Him “more clearly”–I want to see him as he really is, and not as I imagine him to be. We live in an age of glossy retouched photos of models and celebrities; we “see” their image, without knowing what they truly look like, and without knowing anything about who they really are inside. In many ways, God is only slightly less invisible than the real people around us. How many people do we ignore in a day’s time? How many do we glance at, only to get stuck on a single detail (a hair on their sweater, or something caught in their teeth, or a receding hairline or blotchy face). How many people surprise us by not being like the image they project? I don’t want to see a Photoshop Jesus; a glossy, smiling image of someone who says only what I want to hear, and looks like nothing ever touches him. I want to see the Jesus who wept over the death of his friend; the Jesus who laughed with delight as he talked with children; the Jesus whose eyes were full of compassion even as he was dying on the cross. I want to see the Living Word of God.
Jesus is close– closer than we think. I want to spend today seeing him more clearly.