• What I Believe: Begin with the Basics

    I wrote this several years ago in a now inactive blog. But my thoughts on it haven’t changed. I offer it here for your consideration.

    Ranting Against the Status Quo

    As a father and grandfather, I am intrigued as I watch my children and grandchildren grow. However, I am troubled by certain things I see in them, particularly in matters of faith and belief. Granted, my kids have grown up in an era of situational morality, multiculturalism, political correctness and “tolerance” for all viewpoints except the one that holds there are absolute standards against which all human behavior is to be judged. My fear is my children have absorbed so much of this cultural mindset that they have lost their way. But my concern is also for my neighbors, the citizens of this nation and indeed, those who are searching for light in a world of darkness.

    As the patriarch of my clan (it’s true: as the eldest male in my immediate family, I can legitimately make that claim), I still hold a certain amount of responsibility for the spiritual…

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  • Safe with Papa

    This was almost eight years ago. This “little one” isn’t little anymore, as are her brothers and sister. But I hope the message is meaningful to you, because it’s still true.

    Back to the Natural State

    Safe with PapaMy wife and I just returned from a four day trip to Austin TX where we enjoyed a “Grandkid Fix”. It had been a few months since we saw them last, and really needed a pick-me-up. Every grandparent in the world knows exactly what I mean. There is no substitute in the world for it.

    My grandkids are nine, seven, three, and the little one above will be one next month. Each is fascinating in their own way, and all are a joy to have around (most of the time). They bring blessings to my life I haven’t found anywhere else. I have several names and nicknames that I have worn over the years, but one of my favorites is Papa (my wife is MiMi).

    My grandkids love to climb up in my lap and have me hold them, and I love to have them there. It gets even better when they…

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  • The Tyranny of Our Rebellion

    “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.”

    John Milton, Paradise Lost

    “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

    2 Timothy 3:1-5

    I approached this journal entry with a great deal of trepidation, for I want it to be understood in the way it was intended. I don’t wish it to be judgmental or condemning. My motivation for writing this is sorrow and concern. I see what is happening in the world, and I hope to offer a little light in the darkness. If you find this offensive, I am truly sorry. but it won’t change my mind and heart. My hope is you will consider what I say with an open and honest mind.

    In the last post, we looked at how God chose to make mankind, male and female, in His own image, and created them differently than all the rest of creation. We saw the heartbreaking episode in the Garden where Satan, disguised as a serpent, enticed the man and woman to disobey and rebel against God’s command, causing a separation between God and mankind that was only restored through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross.

    We have been sold a lie all of our lives. We are under the same curse, the same BIG LIE that led to Adam and Eve being thrown out of the garden. Our rebellion is the same as theirs; we deceive ourselves with the same lie: we think we can be our own god and control our own life. We’ve rejected the true God because we don’t want Him anymore. Worse yet, we may deceive ourselves into thinking we can act in whatever way we choose and still be alright with God.

    We think we don’t have to answer to anyone, and we’re no one’s slave. But as Bob Dylan once sang, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. It might be the devil, it might be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody“. Satan convinced Adam and Eve they were free to do as they please, and he tells us the same lie. The secret is, when we continue in rebellion and disobey God’s commands, we serve Satan. We’re acting exactly the same as him.

    Satan hates you, because you are God’s greatest creation. Satan wants to destroy you, and his choice of weapon is deception. He convinces you there is no such thing as absolute truth and reality. That the Bible is nothing more than myths and stories, full of contradictions and errors, written by a patriarchal, misogynistic, racist group to oppress and subjugate. That reality is what you say it is. That you can do whatever you want as long as it makes you happy. That you can define yourself by any gender, race, or even species you choose. That you were ‘born that way’, and anyone who questions it is hateful and intolerant.

    Why is it so important that everyone must accept ‘your’ truth, if every person has the right to formulate their own? If tolerance and inclusiveness are the ultimate end, why must ‘privileged’ people and other ‘incorrect’ groups be negated or eliminated? Why are some considered of greater value than others? Why is victimhood such a prized commodity? If power and control aren’t the true goals of silencing those who are not sufficiently “woke” or properly supportive, then what is?

    We can’t withstand a challenge to our image of who we are because our self-esteem won’t allow it. It is pride driven. Pride is why Satan led a rebellion in Heaven against God and was cast out with his followers. If you serve Satan, and if you do not belong to Jesus Christ the sad truth is that you do, you are subject to that same spirit of pride and rebellion. You’ve been told the most important thing in life is to feel good about yourself, and you must do whatever is necessary to accomplish that, including constructing your own reality. To admit that there is an absolute truth as set forth by God in His word, and your life, your ‘truth’, your ‘reality’ doesn’t square up with it is to admit that your life is a lie.

    Satan tells you God is a lie and you need to love your life, no matter what it takes. Jesus said you must hate (repudiate) your “life” if you wish to be His disciple and be reconciled to God. Satan would have you believe that you can never be good enough for God to love you. Jesus agrees you can never be good enough but tells you it’s not necessary, because God already loves you enough to sacrifice His son, and His blood shed for you makes you clean no matter how sin-stained you may be. Satan would have you believe it’s better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. Jesus tells us He has many mansions ready for us, and a great feast, and serving at God’s throne is the greatest privilege and glory we could ever hope to experience.

    The Bible tells us that every one of us will come face to face with God’s truth and reality at the final judgment. You have the choice to do one of two things right now. You can continue in your ‘reality’ and reject God’s, or you can repudiate the lie that Satan has held you under, surrender your life to Christ, obey His commands, and become His servant. If you choose to reject God, He will allow you that choice, but living without Him will be for eternity in the same torment and punishment reserved for Satan. Because you either serve God or Satan; there is no third choice. You will receive the same reward or punishment as the one you choose to follow.

  • Made in His Image

    Not long ago I was reading through the first chapter of the book of Genesis. I’ve read this maybe dozens of times, and even noticed what I’m about to mention. But for some reason, it hit me harder than it has in a while.

    As you read the creation account of Genesis 1, over and over you read, “And God said”. God spoke most of creation into being, until He got to the last step. Starting in verse 26, it says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in Our own image, according to Our likeness’” (emphasis mine). It goes on to say God created man in His own image, male and female. Up to that point, God had declared each step of creation good; when He finished creating humans, He declared it “very good”. Mankind was the crowning achievement of creation.

    It’s important to notice what is happening here. God found it sufficient to simply speak most of creation into existence. But when it came to man and woman, God chose a more personal, hands-on approach. Chapter 2 of Genesis tells how God took the dust of the ground and formed man and breathed the breath of life into him. When it was found that no suitable helper for man existed among all creation, God took a rib from man’s side and formed woman. She was not an afterthought but the perfect complement to the man. The strengths and weaknesses of each fit perfectly with the other. To them was given the task of ruling over the rest of creation, and to ‘be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it’ (1:27). They were to be the caretakers and to populate the earth.

    What does it mean to be “the image of God”? There’s been a great deal of discussion about the meaning of that phrase, and I will freely confess I have no hard and fast answer. I would suggest we are unique among creation in that we are told we have a soul and a spirit, which is not spoken of as being present in any other part of creation. I’d further suggest that Genesis 2:7, where God is said to “breathe into {man’s} nostrils the breath of life” could indicate this. Nowhere else in the creation narrative is it mentioned that God did this. The way God chose to create man and woman is radically different from the rest of creation.

    When we understand and accept we are unique in all creation because we bear the image of God Himself, it is both humbling and terrifyingly seductive. It was the weak spot that Satan exploited when he tempted the woman in the Garden. He began by causing her to question God’s command, especially the consequence of doing what was forbidden. Satan then pulled out THE LIE. First, it was, “You surely will not die!”. Then he followed up with the coup de grace: “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 2:4-5) In other words, God was holding out on them because He knew they would no longer need Him; they could run their own lives. The unspoken lie: you don’t need God. It’s the same lie that Satan told himself when he rebelled against God, and is still the same lie he tells us in a million different forms every day.

    With that first bite, we were no longer the reflection of God’s glory, the pinnacle of His creation. Our relationship with Him was broken, and God banished us from His presence, being unable and unwilling to tolerate sin in His presence. Lest you heap all the blame on the woman, read a little further. The next verse says that “she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate”. Think of what that’s really saying. The man was standing there watching all of this happen and said or did nothing. Other than giving the woman God’s command regarding the tree (which apparently, he didn’t even get right, or chose to add his own interpretation), he did nothing to intervene and stop her. He fell right along with her.

    We still suffer the aftereffects of that first act of disobedience. We are born and live in a world corrupted by sin. A world that tells us, “You can be your own god. You create your own reality, your own truth, and no one has the right to question it.” Instead of humbly seeking to reflect the glory and image of the One who created us, we glorify ourselves. In our pride and arrogance, we seek to satisfy our own desires and lusts because we’re told we ‘deserve’ it, that it’s our ‘right’ to have it, that we’re “worth it”. We glorify the rich, the strong, the ruthless even while we envy them because we covet what they have.

    Saddest of all, we fail to recognize that all men and women are made in the image of God. We hate those who are different than we are, be it because of skin color, nationality, religion, or opinion. Americans are conditioned to hate the Russians because we are told they are “evil” and a threat to our country and the world. Those who choose to see themselves as ‘victims’ (as opposed to those who have actually been victimized and exploited) hate whatever group they perceive as those who are ‘victimizing’ them. Those who preach loudest about tolerance have the greatest amount of hatred and intolerance for those they consider ‘intolerant’ (and usually ‘inferior’).

    Why do we do it? Because we all live under the lie that we define our own right and wrong, that no one has the right to tell us what to do, and that anyone who is different from me or holds a “wrong” idea (that is, one different from what I inflexibly believe) needs to be ‘cancelled’, exiled from public life, or in extreme cases, eradicated. We refuse to allow anyone who is different to have a voice or a presence. It’s ‘our way or the highway’.

    God knew before the beginning of creation what would happen. In order to have people who chose to love and obey Him it was necessary to allow them the choice to disobey. Satan, the great liar and deceiver, made that disobedience so attractive it seemed almost like a good thing. Rather than abandon mankind for all time (He did completely destroy life in Genesis 6 with the exception of Noah and his family, and the animals on the ark with them), God put a plan in place to pay the price for sin, and break the power of Satan, sin, and death. He came to earth in the person of His son Jesus, born fully human yet still fully God, exposed Himself to every temptation known to man, overcame them all, and voluntarily died on a cross to pay the penalty that rightfully belonged to us.

    Those who choose to believe Him, repent of their rebellion (turn away from sinning), and obey Him through baptism become God’s possession. When we surrender our sinful selves, with all of our pride and arrogance, selfish desires, and ‘rights’, God will restore His image in us. He will give us His Spirit to let us shine with His glory. For that, indeed is the glory of mankind: not a false glory of our own devising, but a reflected glory of the One who formed us, breathed life into us, and pronounced us “very good”.

  • Awesome God

    Christians speak of an ‘awesome God’, even write praise songs about him. I wonder if we really understand what that means. The word awesome gets thrown around to describe many things in our modern culture, everything from a cup of coffee, to better than average experiences, to a relationship with that special girl or boy. The word has been mangled and misused so as to lack any meaning, and we have no concept of real awe and what inspires it.

    The dictionary defines awesome as “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear”. We think of God as loving, tender and gracious, and he is. If that’s the limits of our perception of Him, then we don’t really know God. If we don’t experience at least a little apprehension at the thought of approaching God, then we need to go back and learn who He is.

    God is. Genesis 1:1 we are told, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Consider what that’s saying. Before there was a beginning, God was already there. He has always existed and will always exist even after the creation we know has disappeared. When asked His name by Moses, He said, “I AM”. No matter where you look at the timeline of human history God was there and is already present in what we call the future. The Psalmist described it this way: “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were born or you gave birth to earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God” (Psalm 90:1-2).

    God exists everywhere.Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your right hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night, Even the darkness is not dark to You. And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You” (Psalm 139:7-12) . This should either terrorize you or give you immense comfort. If you’re trying to run from God or think you can hide from Him it should scare you to death. On the other hand, if are trying to draw closer to God you can enjoy peace knowing that you can never be in any place or situation where God is not there.

    God is immensely powerful. As you read the creation account in the first chapter of Genesis, pay attention to what the words actually say. Over and over the Bible tells us, “Then God said”. The earth, the universe as we know it, sprang into existence at God’s spoken word. It was literally thought into existence by a God who has power we can’t even begin to comprehend. At Mount Sinai the Israelites experienced the power of God firsthand, seen in fire and earthquakes, and “all the people who were in the camp trembled” (Exodus 19:16). Hebrews 10:31 says, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God”. The Old Testament speaks of God destroying armies and leveling nations. It tells how mankind became so totally sinful it caused God to grieve their creation and destroy all life except Noah, his family, and a few select animals, with a flood. If you are a Christian, why are you so timid in your prayers, when you know God is able to do great things? And if you are not a Christian, why on earth would you believe you can stand against or live without Him?

    God knows everything. “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down. And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all. You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it.” (Psalm 139:1-6) Consider this: God knows everything about you, right down to the number of cells, molecules and atoms that compose you. He knows what you’re thinking, even before you think it. He knows everything you’ve ever done. Nothing escapes God’s attention. When you think you’ve got God figured out, you need to go back to Isaiah and remind yourself, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts. Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55: 8-9) Just as you can never run away from God, you can never hide your thoughts from Him, and you are foolish to think you can always know what He’s thinking and planning. God had a plan for creation from before its beginning and for after its end, and He remains firmly in control of it-all of it. Men and women dedicated to evil make their plans, but God has already defeated them through Christ’s death on the cross. While it may seem that evil has the upper hand, the final victory has already been won. God’s delay in declaring, “Enough”, is for the purpose of every man and woman to have the opportunity to come to Him through Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:9). But there will come a time when time is no more. Then it will be too late.

    Our pride and arrogance are breathtaking, a result of living in a world controlled by sin and being blinded by the lie that we can somehow be our own gods. Being consumed by our pride, we fail to see God in all His glory, and so we fail to be awed by Him. Only when we see ourselves clearly and God fully will we finally realize how awesome He truly is. He wishes to be sought and found. His signature is written on all His creation, and we can see it if we actually look and see it. But His full portrait can only be found in His love letter to humanity, the Bible. He wishes you to find Him; are you willing to seek Him?

  • God Moves in a Mysterious Way

    The hymn God Moves in a Mysterious Way may not be as familiar as hymns such as Amazing Grace or When Peace Like a River, but its words carry a great deal of meaning, nonetheless. I first became acquainted with it while I was in college, and it became one of my favorite hymns. It was written by William Cowper (pronounced Cooper), a poet who was a well-known poet in England of the 1700’s. He was a contemporary of John Newton and collaborated with him in the production of the Olney Hymns, of which this was one.

    Cowper’s story is one of pain and tragedy. His mother died when he was young, he did not get along well with his minister father, and he was a victim of bullying while in school. He experienced great anxiety over testing for his law license, and he suffered from horrible bouts of depression which drove him to suicidal thoughts from time to time. It’s generally accepted that this hymn was the result of one such episode.

    As the story is told, Cowper had decided to commit suicide by drowning himself in the river Ouse. Calling for a cab, he directed the driver to take him to the river. The driver, noticing Cowper’s melancholy and state of mind, chose to simply drive around the city for a time, finally dropping Cowper at his own front door. Realizing what had happened, Cowper was inspired to write the following words (which are taken from his poem Light Shining Out of Darkness):

    God moves in a mysterious way
      His wonders to perform:
    He plants His footsteps in the sea,
      And rides upon the storm.

    Deep in unfathomable mines
      Of never-failing skill,
    He treasures up His bright designs,
      And works His sovereign will.

    Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
      The clouds ye so much dread
    Are big with mercy, and shall break
      In blessings on your head.

    Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
      But trust Him for His grace;
    Behind a frowning providence
      He hides a smiling face.

    His purposes will ripen fast,
      Unfolding every hour:
    The bud may have a bitter taste,
      But sweet will be the flower.

    Blind unbelief is sure to err,
      And scan His work in vain;
    God is His own Interpreter,
      And He will make it plain.

    Cowper came to faith under a Calvinistic system, which was based on election (the idea that there are only a select few who will be chosen to be saved, and the rest will be eternally damned, and the individual has no choice in the matter). Although Cowper had professed faith in Christ and his salvation, he feared that he was not one of “the elect”. Though he never successfully carried out his suicidal plans, Cowper carried the burden of fear and depression all his life.

    When we experience tragedy, pain, loss, or trials and tribulations, we expect God to act in certain ways that are in line with what we consider “fair”, “loving”, and “just”. If He does not, we either grow angry and reject Him, or we judge ourselves to be somehow unworthy of His love and attention, thinking He has chosen to reject us, which usually ends in depression or worse. The problem is not God, and it may not even be us, but our limited understanding of who God is.

    We have a God that has always existed and will always exist. He can simultaneously see the beginning and end of everything because He exists in every single moment. He knew what would happen because of Satan’s treachery and set a plan in place to defeat his plans before the words, “Let there be Light” were ever uttered. He knows every person who has been or will be by name, right down to their very atoms. He knows every joy, every sorrow, every pain, every struggle that each one of us has. And He knows when He will finally declare, “Enough”, and this old, corrupted world will be destroyed in that instant and replaced by one that will be what it was always meant to be.

    Our temptation is to believe one of two things: a) God put creation in place and pre-determined how it would play out, which abandons us to ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’ over which we have no control, or b) God finished creation, wound it up like a clock, and left it to its own devices, and we’re on our own, victims of the vagaries of the universe. But God is neither impersonal nor uncaring. He made us in His image. We carry it with us, the soul which makes us unique among all the rest of creation. Furthermore, He gave us the gift of choice; it’s called free moral agency. God allows us to decide whether we will love Him or not, because of His desire to have a relationship with mankind based on love freely given, not blind obedience from puppets who have no choice in the matter.

    In spite of this we often see the way God chooses to act as incomprehensible. We don’t understand because we can’t. Our vision, our minds are very limited in comparison to God. He even said so: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are my ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9). God sees farther and in greater detail than even the most intelligent and prescient of us can.

    Our vison and thinking is clouded by the curse of sin under which we live. It is why we suffer and die. It’s why the evil we see in the world is so incomprehensible. And it’s why we don’t understand when it appears God has chosen not to intervene or has allowed things to happen to us that we don’t deserve. We are so blinded by our own pride and self-righteousness that we try to interpret God’s actions by our own standards rather than His. We cry out that life is ‘unfair’ if we are made to suffer pain or loss. We feel as though we’re being ‘punished’ if we are made to face disease or hardship. We believe it because we are incapable of seeing the big picture, of pulling back the curtain and seeing what’s really happening.

    God tells us over and over in scripture how much He loves us. He makes extravagant promises to those who will come to Him with humble hearts in submission. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:7-8) If we belong to God, we have access to all of His blessings, which He pours out richly on His children. His love is so encompassing and overwhelming that even our struggles and hardships can become blessings. He will intervene on our behalf although we may not understand His purpose or timing. What He asks from us is to trust Him. Judge not the Lord by feeble sense But trust Him for His grace. Our faith in His goodness and grace allows us to trust Him even when we don’t understand.

    When we learn to trust Him with our pain, our disease, our hurts, our struggles, God will reveal Himself in glorious and breathtaking ways. If you have ever received an unexpected and maybe undeserved victory or deliverance from an overwhelming defeat, you have seen God at work. He loves to take what we see as impossible situations and produce miraculous results. We may not understand, but we have a God who is worthy of our praise and our full devotion.

  • How Great Thou Art

    “O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!”

    Psalm 8:1 (NASB)

    The hymn How Great Thou Art has a long and rather convoluted history which I won’t attempt to cover here. But it is truly an international hymn, having been translated into several different languages. It was first translated to English by a missionary who heard a Russian translation of a German version (!). Through many further iterations it became the hymn that’s been sung by a multitude of popular singers as well as one of the most well-known (and beautiful) hymns in the church.

    The story handed down from the family of the original author Carl Boberg is that it was a paraphrase of Psalm 8 and was inspired by a walk home from church in a brief thunderstorm, and its aftermath. The hymn speaks of the awe that comes from considering God’s creation, and how that awe inspires the soul to sing of the magnificence of God. It speaks of forests and mountains, stars and thunder, all of which display the majesty of God.

    I live in northern Michigan. We have beautiful forests filled with birds and all sorts of creatures. In the fall, the forests come alive with a riot of color that is overwhelming. We have the Great Lakes. Sitting and looking out over the water is overwhelming yet relaxing and gives me time to meditate on God and life. I’ve stood at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, waded in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, walked through a tiny portion of the Amazon rainforest, seen the beauty of Italy and the amazing waters of the Caribbean. The planet fairly shouts with praise to the glory of the One who created it. This hymn resonates with me.

    Likewise the 8th Psalm. Here it is in its entirety:

    “O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is your name in all the earth. Who have displayed your splendor above the heavens! From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength Because of Your adversaries, To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.

    When I consider Your heavens, the work of your fingers, The moon and the stars, which you have ordained; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, and You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands, You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heaven and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.

    O Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth.

    Psalm 8:1-9

    Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:26–28)

    According to Genesis, God spoke Creation into existence and called it good. But in His final created act, He made humans, male and female, from the dust of the ground. Then He called His creation very good. It was complete, and we are the crowning achievement, different from the rest, given instruction to subdue the earth and have dominion over its creatures. All of that changed when sin entered the picture. A curse was placed on the man and woman, but also the creation because of them. As a result, humankind lost our glory. Instead of the earth providing for our needs, man had to labor and toil to scratch out an existence. Instead of being stewards of creation, we became exploiters. Most importantly, we lost our intimate walk with God. We were separated by sin that God could not allow in His presence.

    What we also lost was our sense of awe toward God. In our vanity, pride and false belief we can be our own gods, we no longer hold God in fear and reverence; in other words, awe. Even if we claim to believe in Him, we sometimes treat Him as some sort of divine vending machine or a kindly grandfather who loves to coddle and indulge us. We want God to be like one of our buddies because it makes us ‘comfortable’. That is if we even believe in Him at all.

    Compare that to the Psalmist writing Psalm 8. After looking at the night sky and seeing the moon and the myriad of stars, the question is raised, “who is man that You take thought of him?”. In comparison to the vastness of the universe we feel insignificant and should. And yet, God made us the pinnacle of His creation, lower only than God himself and the heavenly beings. Psalm 8 is a declaration of awe: O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

    Boberg understood the spirit of Psalm 8 as well. O Lord, my God! When I in awesome wonder Consider all the works Thy hands have made. God’s autograph and nature is present in the whole creation, and yet we either fail or refuse to see it. Paul writes in Romans 1:18 and following (emphasis mine): “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse”. God shows Himself to us in every part of His creation, and we have no excuse to deny Him except our own pride and rebellion.

    We cannot have awe without humility. We carry the image of God Himself, and yet we are still a creation, not God Himself. That image is tarnished and damaged by our sin and rebellion that is our heritage of mankind’s curse. Only when we recognize our own wretchedness and rebellious nature can we finally see how glorious, holy, loving and good God is. When we realize how we deserve nothing but death, then we understand how amazing it is that God grants us life and grace because of what Jesus suffered for us. We are right in feeling insignificant when we look at the magnificence and scale of the rest of creation; yet we are the only ones made in His very image, designed to be the stewards of the entire earth, different in nature than anything else in creation, including the angels. It’s why God paid such an extravagant price for our redemption and adoption.

    We serve a God who, when He spoke, the creation came into being because it could do nothing else but obey. A God who brought thousands of galaxies into being with a mere thought. The God who still directs all of His creation in its paths. And a God who knows our name and everything about us, who paid the price of Himself in the form of His son so that we may once again walk and commune with Him. How could we not proclaim, “How Great Thou Art”?

  • It is Well with My Soul

    The hymn When Peace Like a River was born of tragedy. The lyrics were written by Horatio Spafford, a successful lawyer who lived in Chicago in the late 1800’s. His story is that of a modern-day Job. He lost extensive real estate holdings in the Chicago Fire of 1871. Just prior to that his son died of scarlet fever. He decided to take his wife and four daughters on a trip to Europe to recover. Delayed by business concerns, Spafford sent his wife and daughters ahead. During the trip their ship was struck by another and sank, taking the daughters with it. His wife was rescued, and upon arriving in Europe sent her husband a telegram reading: Saved Alone. As Spafford sailed to meet his wife, the spot where it was thought his daughters had died was pointed out to him. He then wrote the words to this hymn.

    I’ve sung this song for most of my life, but it wasn’t until I learned the story behind it that I finally understood the message. When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll. We’ve all known joy in life, and have experienced burdens and sorrows, some of which we may carry with us each day. Sometimes we are blessed with days of peace and contentment, others we are called upon to bear tremendous burdens. It’s the nature of this life. Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well with my soul.” When we put our trust in God and devote ourselves to Him, circumstances don’t matter. In Him, it is always well with our soul because He never leaves or deserts us.

    The apostle Paul said it this way in Philippians 4: “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content-whether well-fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (v. 11-13). God loves those who are His, and He provides what we need no matter our situation.

    My sin-O the bliss of this glorious thought-My sin, not in part but the whole, Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! Of all the blessings we can enjoy from God’s merciful hand, this is far and away the greatest. It is the reason Jesus chose to come to earth and suffer the death he did, so we could be redeemed and reconciled with God, the power of sin broken and fellowship between God and man restored. Once given and accepted, how can we not continually praise the one who gives it?

    And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight, The clouds be rolled back as a scroll. The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, “Even so” it is well with my soul. Jesus left us with a promise that He would come back to get us and take us home. His coming will be a joy for those who are watching and waiting for him, but great sorrow and despair for those who are not. This earth and all of creation will be done away with in its present form. But “even so”, for those who are in Jesus Christ it is well with their souls because it is the moment they’ve anticipated all their lives.

    This hymn has become personally meaningful to me. I mentioned in my very first post I have prostate cancer; have had for the past 15 years (probably longer but that’s when it was diagnosed). I’ve been scanned, radiated, androgen-deprived, and turned into a walking chemistry experiment in an attempt to get rid of it. But it’s never been completely eliminated, nor will it ever be. I’m back on the medications in an attempt to slow it down, but my lab results done every three months haven’t shown much slowing so far. I don’t like to talk about it, because this isn’t about me, it’s about God at work through me to accomplish His purposes in spite of my weakness. I still get up every morning and thank God for another sunrise and another day. Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well with my soul”.

    As with many of the hymns we sing, we are familiar with only a few of the verses. Spafford wrote several more than we traditionally sing. Here is his hymn in its entirety.

    When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
    When sorrows like sea billows roll;
    Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
    It is well, it is well with my soul.

    It is well with my soul,
    It is well, it is well with my soul.

    Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
    Let this blest assurance control,
    That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
    And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

    My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
    My sin, not in part but the whole,
    Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
    Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

    For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
    If Jordan above me shall roll,
    No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
    Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

    But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
    The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
    Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
    Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!

    And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
    The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
    The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
    Even so, it is well with my soul.

    If you are not in Christ, I pray you will come to Him, obey His call and surrender your will to Him as Lord, so that it may be ‘well with your soul’.

  • Pray Constantly

    “Pray constantly.”

    1 Thessalonians 5:17

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.’

    Matthew 5:43-45

    Once again, the world finds itself under the shadow of war. Russia has invaded Ukraine, as it has threatened to do for some time, according to the American president and leadership. The level of threat remains unclear, depending upon how trustworthy the media reports are, always questionable. No matter the objectives of the Russian military, the fact is no one is safe in war. Civilians bear as heavy as cost, if not more, than the military.

    A friend shared this article on Facebook this morning from the Christian Chronicle, which can be read here. The article talks about the Christians, Ukrainians and Americans, who are having to deal with the situation and how they are choosing to do so. Some have chosen to leave, others who can’t or won’t are helping those fleeing the areas of conflict. Then there are the Russian Christians. They are fasting and praying for their brothers and sisters in the Ukraine, and for wisdom for the rulers in this situation. They love them as fellow believers and are demonstrating the spirit of Christ in a breathtaking way. One of their leaders is quoted as saying they are praying ““for Ukrainian and Russian brothers and sisters in Christ to keep their focus on what makes us one (Ephesians 4:4-6) and to maintain love regardless of the ever-changing political situation.”

    The verses he referenced are these: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Our Russian fellow believers remind us of an essential truth of what it means to be the body of Christ.

    In God’s kingdom there are no nations, no tribes, no borders, and no enemies. We are not Americans, Russians, Ukrainians, Chinese, or anything else. We are one body, the body of Christ, who bought and paid for us with his life and blood. Our hearts need to ache for one another: when one suffers, we all suffer. Nations and governments will always do what they will do. They are all about power and control. It may be couched in language such as “security”, “exceptionalism”, “national interest”, or a hundred other terms, but it is still about wielding power and control. It is born of the Evil One who holds power over this world until God declares, “Enough”.

    We need to be in prayer, constantly, for our brothers and sisters throughout this world, many of whom live under a shadow of persecution that we in the West can only dimly understand. We who are blessed greatly should share our blessings with those of the body who have need. We do it, not only by command, but because they are our spiritual family, and we are constrained by love to share what God has given us. What sets Christians apart from the world is this command of Jesus: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It’s what Jesus did for those who crucified him; how can we do less? If we love Him, we keep his commandments.

    If we are of Christ, we are of a kingdom that is not of this world, a citizenship granted of a higher power. The mightiest are those who are servants of all. Those who considered ‘least’ by this world and seen as weak and powerless receive the greatest acclaim in God’s kingdom. Its citizenship is open to any who will receive it and name Jesus as their Lord by giving Him their full devotion and obedience.

    Pray for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, and in Russia, that they will be safe, but more so that they will remain steadfast and faithful, and their light will blaze in the darkness that has descended upon them. Pray the insanity that has apparently overtaken our leaders will be broken, and they will humbly seek God’s wisdom and counsel in seeking peace.

  • Amazing Grace

    “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

    Colossians 3:16

    I was walking through the house this morning when I caught a snippet of one of my favorite hymns playing on my wife’s phone. It started me thinking about worship in song, the debate over traditional hymns versus contemporary worship songs, and why I have a preference, just as everyone else does. Knowing something of my background may help to explain it.

    I grew up singing mostly traditional hymns in a church where the singing was acapella. I was blessed with being born into a family that could sing and sing well. My mother had a beautiful voice, as did her brother and cousin (the one who recently passed away, mentioned in earlier entries). I was fortunate to inherit the music gene as well. I lead the song worship for our church each Sunday and have done so since I was 15 (that’s a long time, believe me) for many congregations wherever we’ve lived, and hope to continue for several more years, Lord willing.

    While there are several contemporary praise songs that inspire and encourage me (Chris Tomlin’s version of Amazing Grace being one of the foremost), there are several reasons for my love of traditional hymns. First and foremost, their words are weighty and meaningful, and they can’t properly be sung except with the full agreement of the singer. As a friend of mine used to say, you have to “sing it like you mean it.” The singing in worship is the expression of our hearts and minds to God in song, our prayer and our praise. If we sing the words but don’t make them our own, we condemn ourselves. The singing is also a means of teaching and encouraging one another as we sing. As we sing hymns which contain biblical truths we teach and encourage each other in our efforts to grow in our faith.

    My appreciation of a hymn is greatly increased by knowing the ‘backstory’ behind its writing. Some of my favorite hymns are the product of extraordinary circumstances and are a powerful expression of faith in God. Such is the case with the hymn Amazing Grace. I’ve heard it sung in a variety of ways, some more touching and inspirational than others. It’s regarded as the most popular hymn of all time. One of the first recordings I heard of it was by Judy Collins backed by a choir. It was amazing in spite of the fact that Ms. Collins has never expressed any faith in God and regarded the song as ‘inspirational’ but didn’t associate it with any Christian belief. (That recording, by the way, is a powerful testimony to the beauty of acapella singing; it is hauntingly beautiful, and often brings tears to my eyes). The hymn is one of my favorites, close to being my absolute favorite.

    It was written by John Newton, and many of you know his story. He was a sailor on a slave ship, later a ship captain, who had been taught the Bible by his mother at an early age, but who had rejected that teaching and wandered as far in the opposite direction as possible. During a life-threatening storm at sea, he began to reexamine what he had been taught and eventually repented and left the slave trade. Years later he became an evangelist and wrote this and many other hymns. He was influential in the life of William Wilberforce who was instrumental in outlawing slavery in the British Empire. His ministry lasted for many years, and some of his final words were, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.”

    The words resonate with me because my conviction is the same as that of John Newton: I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I deserve nothing good from the hand of God; the only thing I deserve is death. God once grew so distressed over the sin and depravity of mankind that he flooded the earth to eradicate all of humanity. Thanks be to him that he not only promised not to do it again, but he also made it possible to extend his love, mercy and grace to us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Christ is the only avenue by which we can have access to the amazing grace of God.

    I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see. Unless I am in Jesus Christ, fully surrendered and obedient to His Lordship of my life, I am lost and without hope. Even more distressing, I am blind to the fact that I am lost. I may see myself as doing just fine and have no desire to change, not realizing that being outside of Christ means I am anything but fine. I’m blind to my own peril: eternal separation from God and eternal punishment for my rebellion and rejection of God’s invitation of grace. But when I come to Christ and become his possession, I finally begin to understand just how amazing God’s grace truly is; now I see.

    Most of the times when this hymn is sung, there are only four verses listed. Sadly, there are several others that most people have never heard. The entire set of verses is below; read them slowly and take time to meditate on what is written. They are the story of the Christian life and hope encapsulated into six verses.

    Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
    That sav’d a wretch like me!
    I once was lost, but now am found,
    Was blind, but now I see.

    ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
    And grace my fears reliev’d;
    How precious did that grace appear,
    The hour I first believ’d!

    Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
    I have already come;
    ’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
    And grace will lead me home.

    The Lord has promis’d good to me,
    His word my hope secures;
    He will my shield and portion be,
    As long as life endures.

    Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
    And mortal life shall cease;
    I shall possess, within the veil,
    A life of joy and peace.

    The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
    The sun forbear to shine;
    But God, who call’d me here below,
    Will be forever mine.

    The last verse that’s traditionally sung is attributed to Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin and was not originally a part of Newton’s hymn. But it fits so perfectly with the rest of the verses, indeed, is the exclamation point to what Newton had expressed. When we understand how wretchedly hopeless our condition is, and how amazing God’s grace is, why would we not spend eternity singing God’s praise?

    When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
    Bright shining as the sun,
    We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
    Than when we first begun.

     “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

    Ephesians 2:4-10 (emphasis mine)

    Amazing Grace, indeed.