A Certain Precious Magic

Today is the 22nd anniversary of the first time I contacted the girl who became my wife. Here is the song I wrote and sung for the occasion last night.

There’s a certain precious magic in communication
When distant souls discover they are close;
Two lonely hearts that have their homes in separated nations
Take a chance, and thus a friendship grows.

That friendship can plants seeds of love that sprout and grow and bloom,
And multiply the joys and stakes of life,
Until the two stand side by side as blushing bride and groom,
Forever to be joined as man and wife.

I’m so glad I started down this path that led me to your heart
And grew my soul immensely on the way,
So I’ll do my utmost to always play my part
In blessing you, my treasure, every day.

Victory

The Devil rested on his laurels
Knowing that he’d won;
He’d arranged for God’s own people
To kill his Only Son.

“His wrath is unavoidable,
He’ll cast them all away,
I’ll drag them down to join my fate,
Despairing all the way.

“The great plan of his creation
Has failed so utterly,
The thought of all those screaming souls
Fills my heart with glee.

“What other torments can I plan
For the fools who followed the Son of Man?
They fled the scene and failed the test
When my time came with his arrest.

“Now they cower, now they hide
In locked rooms fully terrified
Of my next great show of power
As morning breaks this very hour…”
 
Then the ground shook, the curtain tore,
The stone was rolled from the entrance door,
Angels stood and told the news;
His soul was utterly bemused.

“How can this be? He’s back to life!
And thrown the gates to heaven wide,
So any sinner can approach
The throne of God without reproach!

“He used the scandal and the shame,
Humiliation and the pain
To pay the price for what went wrong,
Instead of where the blame belongs.

“All my scheming, all my work
To drive the human world beserk
Has come to nought, my power’s broke,
How dare he twist my twisted joke

“Into something beautiful and true
That cure’s man’s ills and will renew
His bond with his creator God
So all will call him Saviour, Lord?”

And so the Devil did retreat
Ashamed by his complete defeat,
His mandate over Man revoked
For those who choose to bear Christ’s yoke.

Your Burden

My failures stand before you,
Adding to the weight
Of your burden on the cross
When you took my fate.

As they drove the nails in
You did not rage or curse,
Determined in your task to save
The entire universe.

As your lifeblood flowed away
You looked to other’s needs:
Your mother’s care, forgiveness
For those who did the deed,

And most of all to pay the price
In anguish of your soul,
Separated from His love,
So we could be made whole.

Let me not forget your grace
In all I try to do;
The thing that everyone on Earth
Needs most of all is You.

Welcome

May You be as welcome
In my heart as on that day
When crowds laid cloaks and branches
To glorify your way,

Proclaiming you as rightful king,
They sang and praised your name,
That you healed the blind, the sick,
The outcast and the lame.

Your rule in me is what I need
To combat my foul pride and greed,
To count the cost and sow good seed
With wisdom and with grace.

So as your influence grows,
Your wondrous mercy flows,
With joy my whole soul knows
That I have put You in your place.

Today’s Sermon: The Master Renovator

2 Corinthians 4: 6-18

Ezra 3: 10-12

The temple had lain in ruins for around 50 years. Destroyed, but not forgotten, just like Jerusalem itself. It still had immense, painful value to the Israelites. The visible sign of God’s presence among them desecrated and useless for anything except a reminder of what once was. Hence the strong emotions of both joy and sorrow, joy that the temple, and through it the nation of Israel, is being rebuilt with God at the centre, and also sorrow that it will never be like it was under the glorious rules of David and Solomon.

It’s hard to imagine the task of rebuilding an entire nation, but I’d like to look at the process of reconstruction, of renewal, from a different angle, using some modern examples from youtube. There are a lot of channels that focus on this sort of project, whether it’s restoring a classic car, a boat, an airplane or a house, but there are some projects that stand out.

A youtuber with a lot of followers often drove past a hill that had a ruin on the top of it. It wasn’t a castle or temple or anything like that, it was an incomplete construction project that had been planned to be a great mansion, but for various reasons construction halted and the partially completed house was abandoned to the elements for nearly twenty years, had been frequently snuck into by teenagers and animals, every window was broken, rain had gotten into the stonework, there was dirt, rubbish and broken glass everywhere, and many of the timbers were rotten. What could have been a very valuable property was now useless. He saw the potential of the place, bought it for a vastly reduced price and began to work on it, documenting his progress in various episodes and updates. He cleared debris and filth, tore down rotten beams, parts of the roof and walls until there was nothing left but the foundation and the interior walls and floors that had remained intact and undamaged by the elements, then over the next two years new frames and walls are added, roofs and windows replaced, plumbing and wiring done, doing a lot of the work himself alongside various professionals, learning new skills from those professionals, and in the process made changes and expansions to make the house even larger and more practical for his family, finally moving into it recently while some areas surrounding the house are still being worked on.

The viewership of his channel increased enormously, he obtained sponsors for the individual episodes that enabled him to pay for professionals to implement his more ambitious plans, His viewers are excited and happy for him, supporting him financially through buying his merchandise, giving him advice as well as professional contacts on all sorts of aspects of the project.

Another youtuber who specializes in restoring planes and motor vehicles was offered a plane for free if he could get it running. It had cost half a million dollars new, but had broken down and been left to rot outside for fifteen years, inhabited by birds, rats, mice and spiders. It was filthy, stank of mould and every kind of droppings, its engines were clogged with all sorts of gunk and seized up with possible corrosion.

Step by step he took the engines apart, scrubbed and cleaned the various components, cleared the lines with pressurized air, put them back together and after many failed attempts got first one engine to start, and with the help of some spare parts sent in for free by a viewer, also the second. Both engines will be sent for a full professional service later, the exterior has been given a deep clean, and recently crawled around the filth and foul stench of the interior to clear the trash, remove the seats and carpets to begin the process of giving the whole of the inside a deep clean.

Again, his channel received a major boost in viewership from this project, he’s raised over $200,000 via crowdfunding for the project, from people who will get nothing in return, only the knowledge that they helped make this project succeed.

Why is that? What is it about these projects that so captivates the audience? Is it following the progress of a pleasant, enthusiastic and skilled individual working hard to achieve their goal? That’s definitely part of it, but these cases also touch on something deeper.

Something that was clearly valuable was overlooked and written off by the crowd as worthless, beyond saving, too much work to consider bothering with. But then a wise and kind individual came along and fell in love with the beauty and potential and true value of the thing, currently spoiled as it may be. That person then lovingly and patiently and skilfully sacrifices their time and effort, working to restore and polish that treasure so it’s true magnificence can be seen by all.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone loved me or you like that? Are we dirty, broken treasures that can be repaired, cleaned, renewed and transformed into something wonderful? I have good news. You are a treasure, loved deeply by God himself, though you are full of dirt, brokenness and corrosive sin. He is ready and excited to work on you to clean, repair, renew and transform you into something glorious. If you have already given Him your life, then he has already begun that work, it is called sanctification. This process takes a long time, can be unpleasant and for long periods it can seem that no progress is being made. Parts of you need to be scrubbed clean of all the corrosive sins and attitudes that threaten to eat them away; that can hurt. Some parts will need to be thrown away and replaced entirely with something new and better, so we can become a new creation; that can be scary. Parts that have been seized up your whole life will begin to function, giving you capabilities you didn’t know you had.

You are a temple of God, a place for the Holy Spirit to dwell, a great treasure in a pot of clay. You might think that you are too broken, too polluted, to be of any use, but a whole new abundant life awaits you, if you only allow the master renovator to do his work.

A Sermon: Love and Terror

(This is a sermon I gave on the 20th of February this year, before the Russia-Ukraine Conflict began)

Romans 8:14-18

1 John 4: 7-21

Last time I gave a sermon, I introduced a new song, and played a video connected to the sermon that also served as a pre-sunday-school message for children. This time, I have (almost) combined all of those into one (I’m not sure it quite works as a message for children, but they might enjoy some of the images at least)

Many people struggle to love God because they can’t grasp who and what God is, how indescribably wonderful he is and worthy of our praise and attention. This passage provides us with one key to grasping a whole lot more of who we are called to worship and follow.

God is love. Would you say that the song was telling the truth about love? We see examples of love in the world that reflect those aspects, those properties of genuine love. Even if we aren’t experiencing them directly ourselves, we have certainly witnessed something like them in the lives of others around us, or in stories that really resonate with us, because they are showing something true and pure, the love of good parents or grandparents, of good and honest friends, a motivated rescue worker or doctor, the camaraderie and sacrifice of an honourable soldier, a helpful colleague at work, a kind-hearted stranger, a loving husband or wife. All of those loves that we can see concretely are weak reflections of the perfect, abundant, generous and powerful love of god. All of those loves that we see around us or hear about ultimately come from him.

God is love. So everything that the song said about love, we can say about God. He is patient and kind; he won’t leave us to our fate, he looks us in the face; he sees our flaws, but that doesn’t discourage him; he gives us a place where we truly belong, he continues to care even when we turn our backs on him, he forgives us and welcomes us back when we realise how stupid we have been, he gives us room to grow and empowers us to be the person we were truly meant to be.

God is love. A key aspect of God is that He is a powerful, active, invigorating, joyful, and supremely generous relationship between three persons. God is so overjoyed by this relationship that he wants to share it with us! Imagine that. He wants us to be as loving, as joyful, as generous and fulfilled as He is—to have live in abundance. To grow the gifts that he has already given us and become more and more the magnificent creations he made us to be. Now that is an invitation worth accepting. If we have already accepted that offer, it is one worth remembering, being grateful for and living accordingly with all our heart, all our strength and all of our mind.

Perfect love casts out fear. What is the message that the world, our governments and news organizations has been telling us for the last two years?

Be terrified. Suffering and death is around the corner. Hide. Everyone around you is a threat; keep them away. Don’t meet together, don’t celebrate, don’t sing. Wear a mask, or two, or three. Be responsible and show everyone around you how terrified you are. I recently saw a video of a man on an airplane putting on six masks. He was very proud of himself, making a show in front of everyone of adding mask after mask, as if to say, “Look at me! I’m better than all of you, because I’m more afraid.” It’s absurd. Other people scream hysterically whenever anyone comes near them, as if standing next to someone is the same as attempted murder. Some just play at being scared so they can look down on others and bully them, others have become addicted to this foundation of fear and are unable to cope with things going back to normal. They should be pitied.

What else does the news try to terrify us with? War is coming with Russia! (Now that the war between Ukraine and Russia has begun, that it’s the start of World War III and nuclear catastrophe) Democracies are turning into tyrannies all over the world. Civil wars are on the horizon. Economies are collapsing. Everything is unstable, out of control and you’re powerless to do anything about it. Despair, cower, and most of all, be terrified.

How do we respond to that? We could quote Mark Twain:

“If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.”

Because so much of the news is distorted, if not invented, and important events and contexts are often ignored completely. Unfortunately this is not only true of the tabloid press, the never-ending news cycle means that reaction and attention is everything, and the easiest attention-getting reactions to evoke are fear and outrage. (The fact that these reactions also make the viewer/listener easier to manipulate is a bonus). There will be some fragments of truth mixed in occasionally, but without a reliable direct source for comparison, it becomes very difficult to know what is really going on (even moreso during a time of war, as all you will hear on the news is propaganda from one side or the other), so ignoring the sensationalized version of what a given news source wants you to think becomes more appealing, even healthy.

Even if every danger they warn of is real, the words of C.S. Lewis that have been recently circulating online in various venues come to mind:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

If all of our hopes are in this life, then despair and terror are logical responses. It has always been that way. But our hopes are not all in this life. We are promised persecution, struggles, difficult tasks and difficult choices, but also the strength to endure and grow through them. We are not abandoned and helpless, we are treasured children of a loving God. If the worst happens and we die, we go to be in the arms of God, fully plunged into that amazing relationship, seeing His infinite beauty face to face.

Getting back to the song, a blind friend of a friend by the name of Michael Bayus listened to it, liked it and shared the following thought:

“Being deeply loved by someone gives one strength, loving someone deeply gives one courage.”

So know that you are deeply loved by someone stronger than the world, who has defeated the world, and take strength from that to deal with the discomforts and troubles of life, and we are still very well off compared to any era in history.

Let’s have the courage to love those that God loves around us, work to make our little part of the world a little closer to what it should be, create something beautiful and share it, renew a relationship that’s been neglected, support a friend in their efforts to improve themselves, work on developing the gifts we have been given, aim to be more like Christ in the way we treat others. Meditate on what it means that God is love, and that He loves you, and learn to love him back.

Without Love, There is No Life Finally Released

After far too long to get it ready, I am pleased to announce the release of Without Love, There is No Life, available on most streaming and music platforms, complete with a music video on youtube.

All options for listening to and downloading the song can be found here

https://song.link/WithoutLove

The song has been tweaked and expanded on since the poem version, originally inspired by multiple scenes in Nobility Among Us, and even since the live performance a year and a half ago (which was less than an hour after the piano accompaniment was worked out with the extremely talented Daniela Zoubková).

She is back again providing the piano, Petr Mares is on the guitar, (whose talents you may know from Did you Know? and A Tale of the Once and Future King) and I provide the vocals. I edited the music video using freely available stock footage and imagery from Pixabay and Unsplash. English closed captions are available in the youtube video for the hard of hearing and non-native English speakers, and Czech subtitles are available.

Listen, watch, enjoy, and share with those you think will appreciate it.

Lyrics:

Love is full of purity.
It shows patience and humility.
Love is not a selfish lust;
Instead, love gives a grounds for trust.
Love gives a child security.
Love gives a thing its beauty;
Because, without love there is no life.

Love is a many-splendoured thing.
Love gives a broken man new wings.
It perseveres, no matter what the cost;
If you have love, you’re never truly lost;
Love, seeing all my flaws;
Love, guided by higher laws;
You know, without love there is no life.

Love simply wants to hear the truth.
Love, it is not eternal youth.
Love is more than soothing noises,
‘Cause love steps up and makes hard choices.
Love lasts through the ages,
It’s written on all life’s pages.
You see, without love there is no life.

It makes the ordinary great,
Won’t mind if you are late,
Won’t leave you to your fate,
This is love.

Love puts you in harm’s way.
Though you try, you can’t always save the day.
Love is there to share your pain,
To weep and help you on your feet again.
Love is a healing flow.
Love gives you room to grow.
You know, without love there is no life.

Love looks you in the face.
Love helps you find your place.
With love, you can forgive the past,
Move on and build a peace to really last.
Love is where you find your worth;
If you’re loved, you’re more precious than the Earth.
You see, without love there is no life.

Love is full of light. Love does what’s right.
Love is patient, love is kind.
Love is humble, but not blind.
Oh, love is beautiful!
Oh, love is wonderful!
You know, without love there is no life.

It shows you you belong,
It admits when it is wrong,
It’s majestic and it’s strong,
This is love.

But love is not every time returned;
Love is not something you have earned.
Sometimes our care isn’t even prized;
Instead our thoughts are utterly despised.
True love goes on caring anyway,
Even when we walk the other way;
It knows that without love there is no life.

Love is how your soul can truly shine.
Through love, I am yours and you are mine.
Love expressed is such an open book;
A life of love is worth a closer look.
Can it be, that here is love for me?
Come explore this greatest mystery,
And see that without love there is no life.

**EDIT** Czech subtitles are now available, translated by Petr Mares. It is not meant to be singable and is not always an exact translation, the emphasis was on the beauty and flow of the text while capturing as much of the original meaning as possible.

Kde není láska, tam chybí život.

Láska – ta je vždy čistá,
Plná trpělivosti a pokory,
Není sobeckou vášní,
Ale právě naopak: je základem vzájemné důvěry.
Dítě pocítí v lásce bezpečí
A každá věc jen v lásce nabyde své krásy.
Protože kde není láska, tam chybí život.

Láska je něco nadmíru zázračného.
Je to láska, co dá zlomenému nová křídla.
Láska vytrvá, ať to stojí cokoli.
A máš-li lásku, nikdy nejsi ztracený případ.
Lásce nejsou moje chyby skryté,
Řídí se nicméně vznešenější logikou.
Totiž tam, kde není láska, tam chybí život.

Láska chce znát pravdu takovou, jaká je.
Láska není slib věčného mládí.
Láska je víc než plané konejšení.
Umí se vydat i cestou těžkých rozhodnutí.
O tom, že láska přetrvá věky,
se dočteme na každé stránce života.
Ono totiž kde není láska, tam chybí život.

Věci běžné promění ve skvělé,
nerozladí ji zpoždění,
nenechá tě napospas osudu.
Taková je láska.

Láska tě neušetří těžkostí.
Rád by ses jim vyhnul, ale není to vždy možné.
Ale je tu láska, aby sdílela tvou bolest.
Aby s tebou plakala a pomohla ti znovu na nohy.
Láska je proud moci uzdravení.
A láska ti dává také prostor k růstu.
Totiž tam, kde není láska, tam chybí život.

Láska ti hledí do tváře,
A pomůže ti přijít na to, kam patříš.
V lásce dokážeš odpustit věci minulé,
dokážeš jít dál a budovat trvalý pokoj.
V lásce najdeš svou pravou hodnotu.
Když jsi milován, jsi vzácnější než celý svět.
Ono totiž kde není láska, tam chybí život.

Láska je plná světla; udělá to, co je správné.
Láska je trpělivá a vlídná,
je pokorná, ale nikoli slepá.
Jak nádherná a úžasná je láska!
Víš, kde není láska, tam chybí život.

Láska ti dá najevo přijetí.
A pokud se mýlí, dokáže to uznat.
Je vznešená a silná.
Taková je láska.

Láska nicméně není vždy opětovaná.
S láskou to není něco za něco.
Občas zůstane naše snaha bez ocenění,
někdy se setká dokonce s opovržením.
Pravá láska i tak vytrvá.
I tehdy, když je jí odpovědí lhostejnost.
Ví totiž, že bez lásky není skutečného života.

Teprve v lásce se tvoje duše skutečně rozzáří.
Skrze lásku jsem já tvým a ty jsi mou.
Láska vepsaná do stránek otevřené knihy,
Život v lásce stojí za bližší prozkoumání.
Mohu se opravdu i já setkat s pravou láskou?
Pojď, prozkoumej to největší tajemství.
A přesvědč se: není života bez lásky.

He Knew, and Yet…

He knew we would betray Him,
He knew we would rebel,
He knew we’d turn this good, green Earth into a living hell.

He knew our vicious natures,
Our lusts to mar and maim,
And how we’d mock and sneer at Him as He died in pain.

And yet He came down to this world
As a weak and helpless babe
To give new hope to all mankind, our souls to cleanse and save.

So when you look within your heart
And find so much that’s wrong,
Remember that he paid the price so you could become strong

In faithfulness and mercy, joy,
Peace and self-control,
Kindness, gentleness and love that heals your very soul.

This joyous day, the tides all turned,
The Devil’s schemes all crashed and burned,
And purity revealed its power to make our spirits whole.

When the Skies Were Silent

I was saddened over the weekend to hear of Lou Antonelli’s passing. He was a true gentleman, a kind and joyful soul and a gifted writer, and it deepens my sadness that I never got to meet him in person (he was supposed to stay at my cousin’s house with me for DragonCon 2017, but terrible traffic conditions prevented him from making the journey). While I didn’t write this song with him in mind, it seems somehow appropriate.

When the Skies Were Silent

When the skies were silent,
No song came from the clouds;
No whisper wafting on the wind
To calm the madding crowds,

No burning words of wisdom
That leave a man in awe;
No key to all my problems
That opens every door.

I sat there in the quiet,
Frustrated and alone;
Despair welled up inside me,
To which I’m all too prone.

But then I looked up at the trees
That speak of His great artistry;
The sun and rain, each in their time,
His generosity;

A mountain’s great endurance
Reflects His faithfulness;
Birds sing songs of glory
That words cannot express.

Animals at play give us
A glimpse of His pure joy;
The beauty of the stars above
Our sins cannot destroy.

A shoulder there to cry on,
A smile and warm embrace,
Expresses part of His great love,
His mercy and His grace.

So when the skies are silent
Above the dreadful noise,
I’m clear on my assignment:
It’s my turn to be His voice.

Yellow Roses for My Love

Today is my twentieth wedding anniversary. Here is the song I sang to my wife as I handed her the below bouquet.

Yellow Roses for My Love

Yellow roses for my love,
Who I’m always thinking of,
And ways in which I can support and help her soul to grow;
Though my love for you is deep,
Mere sentiment is cheap,
The thing I really struggle with is how to make it show.

I’ll wipe the table in the kitchen,
Take away your dirty plate,
Think of other minor kind requests I can anticipate,
Find ways to lift your spirits, give you strength to last the day,
And in the calm and quiet moments, most of all I’ll pray

For your heart to find its rest
In Him, and all he’s blessed,
In our lives together as we’ve built this family.
Two decades have flown by
Of such abundant life
That I still can’t quite believe it’s happened all to me.