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.

When You Are in Your Prime

Yesterday was my wife’s birthday, and since her age is now a prime number, I came up with this song for the occasion (rosnička is the Czech word for a tree frog, which was my wife’s nickname as a teenager. According to Czech folk tradition, tree frogs can be used to predict the weather, and so rosnička is also used to refer to weather girls on TV)

Chorus:

When you are in your prime,
Your eyes begin to shine
At all the wild adventures that have led up to this date;
Five kids, two dogs, two cats,
Countless silly games and spats,
With lots more fun in the future we anticipate.

Verse 1:

Though you can’t predict the weather,
Climbing trees is not your game,
You’re still the greatest rosnička
To ever bear that name.
From childhood to this tender age
As sister, colleague, friend,
You’ve blessed so many lives down here
In ways that never end.

Verse 2:

Your kindnesses uncountable,
Your wisdom deep and strong;
You create a home in which
We’re glad we all belong.
The noble feasts you set before us
Fill us with new life,
It’s a privilege to know you
As a daughter, mother, wife.

Today’s Sermon – They Can’t Hear the Orchestra

1st text:

1 Corinthians 12:12-31:

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[d]? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

Main text:

1 Corinthians 3 5-15:

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

Message for Children:

I’d like to show you a short little video I made 11 years ago, that has a boring name, but is also called “How to Park a Toy Car”

Did you like that? As you saw, the little ball at the start had all sorts of adventures and did all sorts of interesting things before it set another ball going, which started another little chain reaction, and another, then finally the big ball hit the wall that set off the toy car to park itself.

That first ball didn’t see the end result, it just knew that it did its job well. Life can be like that, in that when we do something good for someone, it can seem like nothing has really changed, when in fact we’ve started a process that will end up causing something truly beautiful. So don’t give up and stop doing good things for people, because the good things you do, especially the things you do for God, are much more important than you realise.

Sermon for adults:

Basically, if you remember the children’s message, you’ll get the main point of today’s sermon, but us adults tend to make things much more complicated than they need to be, and like things to be explained in more detail, so let’s try to do that.

Deep down, all of us would like to make a difference in the world. Some of us have less ambitious goals than others, and many have given up on the idea, but ultimately we would like to think that we can make a little part of the world a better place than it would have been without us.

Many of us look at our own efforts and the results from them, and get discouraged. We don’t see crowds of people getting saved in response to something we said, we don’t get people coming up to us to thank us for something we did for them that changed their life completely. Of course, it’s a very good habit to be sure to thank people that have helped you in small ways, it is a real encouragement to them to persevere with acts of kindness, especially when the person didn’t realise how much what they did helped you.

But small acts of kindness can have much more impact than we realise. Someone who has just been shown a kindness, especially an unexpected one, is in a better mood and more likely to then show kindness to someone else themselves and less likely to be needlessly cruel, so our initial act is multiplied, echoing further and further, making more and more of a positive difference the wider the context we take in.

This is multiplied again by the fact that humans are beings of habit. When we overcome our nerves and do something once, it is easier to do it again, and the more times we do it the easier it gets until it becomes second nature and we do it almost without thinking.

The same can be said for speaking important, even painful truths. Openness breeds openness.

Unfortunately, the same is true in the other direction. Cruelty breeds cruelty, and deceit breeds deceit. So it is a great power that we have, a great responsibility, far more than we realize.

So a kind act, a kind word, a small piece of the truth can help another soul along their journey to find God, but a soul’s journey does not end when it gives its life to Christ, it is only just beginning. As God’s children we have that foundation of Christ, and it’s time to build on that. We can help each other practically, we can study together, share our discoveries, offer warnings about dangerous paths, support each other through difficult times and encourage each other to build good habits and grow in character, becoming more and more citizens of heaven down here on earth. We are not all teachers, we are not all prophets or miracle workers, we don’t all have gifts of healing, we all have different skills, talents and opportunities, but what we do does not have to be spectacular to be worth doing, it can still change the world.

Maybe you didn’t like the analogy from the children’s message. After all, you’re not an inanimate metal ball or block of plastic—you can think, you can choose, you can actively participate in or fight against things, so here is a different one, a musical one, from the ending to the film Robots:

When Herb starts playing by himself, even though he is putting all of his heart and skill into it, it sounds awful, like he’s gone insane and is just making random noises. It’s only when the others realise what he is doing and start playing the other parts that it becomes obvious that he is actually playing beautiful, fun and joyful music.

It can be like that with us. When we try as hard as we can to do what is right, serve God, and stand up for the truth, but to the outside world we can look like a fool doing pointless random things, and sometimes the situation can get so bad that we start to see ourselves that way.

But that’s because they can’t hear the orchestra. They don’t see the ripples of influence flowing out, the slow processes that have started, the grand context that will show the true beauty of what we’ve done.

In summary, I’d like to share a poem I wrote back in January for people who saw all the scary currents in the world and were tempted to despair and shut themselves off completely.

[Perception]

So don’t give up, you just can’t hear the rest of the orchestra yet.

Drowning

I barely have the strength to keep my head above the waves,
My face bombarded by a roar of driving rain and spray;
The broken hull of my old ship is sinking out of sight,
Flashes from the thick, black clouds illuminate the sky.

I’m losing vital body heat,my limbs are growing numb,
Cries of rage and anguish pour from my embittered tongue.
I’m sure the sharks are circling below me in the deep;
As soon as one dares venture up, I’m nothing but fresh meat.

I let my head go under, the storm is muffled, faint;
My struggle to survive seems somehow unimportant, quaint;
I am so very tired now, why not just let go
And let my body drift down where the mighty currents flow?

Off to my right approaches a patch of light and calm,
Could it be the peaceful eye within this awful storm?
A chance to feel the sun upon my face one last sweet time,
Float a while, forgive the world, then join the glorified.

I spot a pair of sandals on the surface over me;
The one who lost them overboard evokes my sympathy,
But then a strong hand reaches down from between the two,
Grabs and pulls me up into the clear and crystal blue,

It is the Lord of Life, he came walking on the waves
Through this brutal hurricane my puny soul to save!
He rebukes the mighty storm, the sea becomes as glass;
Every cloud evaporates, the sky is blue and vast.

“Take a breath, get back your strength, be healed and be restored
To the role and purpose you were created for;
There’s still so much for you to do before I call you home:
Many tasks and challenges, and skills you need to hone.”

And so he walks me to the shore,
Where life awaits and so much more,
Invigorated, full of joy and hope enough to share.

From this day I start afresh,
Battling my mortal flesh,
Beginning every morning in grateful, reverent prayer.

When we talk at length,
It gives my soul new strength,
To carry out each worthy work for which I am prepared.

Communication

Today is the twenty-first anniversary of the first time I contacted my wife. Here is this year’s poem:

Communication

Communication is so cheap, and yet it brings so much;
How greatly we’re enriched by another human’s touch.
One and twenty years ago, we took our first small steps,
When words were typed and sent with faintest hope in their effect.

Yet as the back and forth went on, a deep connection grew;
An unexpected friendship, something beautiful and true,
That served as the foundation for a life we both now share,
So bountiful and loving that our old selves can’t compare.

The lesson to be taken is to reach out and connect;
The worst thing that can happen is that they will just reject
Your offer of communication, friendship or support,
In which case you’re no poorer, in fact you’re only short

The time you would have spent uncertain, torturing yourself,
To formulate the perfect words to cast the perfect spell
And win them over to your side as friends or something more,
When all that’s really needed is to open up the door

With honesty and openness, being true to who you are;
Few healthy people really want a puffed-up movie star.
Luckily for me you liked the things I had to say,
And who I was inside didn’t frighten you away.

I learned to share my deepest thoughts, my passions and my fears,
Building up a trust that’s served us well so many years,
So let’s keep talking, sharing, as we build our family,
Our lives woven together as a wondrous tapestry.

God’s Solution to Worry, Anxiety, and Fear by Nathan Haddock

For the purposes of transparency, the author is a friend of my wife and I was provided this book for free for review purposes.

The world is a stressful place, and it is easy to become consumed with worry, anxiety and fear. Doing so is very unhealthy, but thankfully also unnecessary. This book provides an effective antidote to the constant barrage of messages to be terrified and discouraged by what is going on in the world and what is just around the corner, by focusing on the unchanging rock on which our faith is built.

Nathan doesn’t do this with artful prose, ground-breaking insights or powerful rhetoric, but with simple reminders of biblical truths in a way that is accessible to new believers. For those of us who have been around the theological block a few times, you’ll most likely have heard these things before, but these basic principles that lead to a healthier mindset can be drowned out by the hectic pace of life, so reminding yourself of them can do no harm.

Promises Kept

A bitter, last goodbye became the dawn of a new age
When the Lord of Life burst out of death’s unyielding cage,
Flung the gates of hell so wide they let in heaven’s light,
Allowing all the souls trapped there to witness his true might,

Bend the knee and join him in His wondrous kingdom come,
Transform into the holy throng they were made to become,
Inviting all of us on Earth to live a whole new life
Where hope is unavoidable and miracles are rife.

We can be sure of every promise he has ever made;
His resurrection proved to all the price is really paid,
The heaven he described is real, the power he offers, too,
To be with us in every fight for what is good and true.

So courage, now, and boldness, to share His love and care,
And take on every stronghold of the foul Prince of the Air,
Including those within your heart, let Him purify
And cleanse your soul so that in time you’ll never truly die.

Promises

Promises are easy to believe when things are going well,
When every ear wants to hear the truths you’re offering to tell,
When the crowds are cheering, and coming near from far and wide,
Miracles abound and life comes back to those who died;

But when the mob turns violent and screams in rage at Christ your Lord,
Mighty Rome is on their side and stands with endless gleaming swords,
The one you thought would save you is scourged and beaten half to death,
Those promises can easily seem like an empty shibboleth.

When He hangs there, maimed and spent, His lifeblood flowing from each tear,
The jeering, leering audience fills your heart with more despair.
Last week’s words of hope and life are lost amidst the awful sight,
All thoughts have turned to how to hide and survive the coming night…

Promises are easy to believe when things are going well,
Not when your world’s transforming into a seething, living hell;
Amidst the chaos, turmoil and the terrifying noise,
Remember what he promised in his calm and loving voice.

Childlike

A plastic block’s a mountain, a rubber ball’s a world,
A tabletop’s a nation whose flag was just unfurled.
A robot army marches on a super-powered cat;
His lasers, bombs and megasword will quickly see to that.

Imagination unrestrained, wild creativity
That dances in a thousand realms of possibility,
Transforming mundane objects into treasures, toys and games;
Enjoying tricks the hundredth time and crying out ‘Again!’

Beauty is exulted in and give its due praise,
Basic principles explored in unexpected ways;
Enthusiasm on display for all around to see,
Opinions given freely with no guile or sophistry,

Gratitude so open, it lifts the room they’re in,
Affection overflowing for their dear beloved thing,
Simple and infectious joy you can’t help but admire,
Purity of thought with no twisted, sick desires.

When Christ calls us to be childlike when we join his family,
He grows our hearts to more express our full humanity.