A Young Man’s Soul


A Young Man’s Soul

When unseen forces press upon a young man’s soul to find his place
In something so much grander than his daily wants and woes,
What foolish quests and sophistries will the world place in his way,
And how can we direct him to a far more worthy goal?

With stories and examples that inflame his spirit’s noblest fires
Of faithfulness and prudence, vitality and craft,
Courage and discernment, love that wades through mire,
Of fortitude in service with purity of heart

To the One who loves us more than we can ever know
Who invites our souls to soar above the vile flow
Of sewage that this world pretends is culture, virtue, truth;
But really serves the foulest ends and drains away their youth.

He heals our deepest scars of shame and cleanses us of sin
Burns off our dross, shares in our pain, and asks to be let in
That we may tread the narrow way and scale the holy hill;
To bask in bright refreshing day and find our rest until

We’re called to fight beside Him and destroy the Devil’s hordes
Renew what does delight Him and find our great reward,
That all might see true justice done, infused with mercy grand;
The cruellest tyrants are cast down, the humble asked to stand

And look upon the One who gave himself for one and all
Hung upon a brutal cross and given bitter gall
That we might know the joy that He gave up for our own sake
And share in the great glory that was His alone to take.

He knows us, yet still fills these jars of clay with treasure lavishly
And has prepared above the stars a place in His great family.
Where all our virtues are perfected, our flaws are washed away,
All is seen with new perspective, and we are here to stay.

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You Really Are Too Good to Us

This year’s bithday poem for my wife:

You Really Are Too Good to Us

 

You really are too good to us,
So we have to thank you thus
(Plus of course in other ways,
From time to time and day by day).

There’s no one in the world that we would rather know
To hold us as we cry and watch us as we grow,
To celebrate our victories, commiserate our falls,
Encourage us that next time we will surely scale that wall,

Warn us when we wander from the straight and narrow path,
Hand us holy soap when our spirit needs a bath,
Hold us to higher standards than the world around us does,
Show unexpected kindnesses, simply just because

You love to give, to understand and help us lift our heads,
Gently kiss our foreheads when we’re tucked up in our beds,
Loving mother, daughter, friend and sister to a throng
Of souls who’d surely join us in singing you a song

To celebrate all that you are, the difference that you make,
The many blessings you provide, delicious treats you bake,
The comfort and encouragement your simple presence gives
Are heaps of shining evidence that in your heart He lives.

Today’s Sermon: The Music of the Spheres

I had the privilege of preaching in my church today, and it was well received by all. Here it is in its entirety:

2 Peter 1: 2-11 (NIV):

2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters,[a] make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

This list is a recipe for spiritual growth, and could easily form the basis of a whole series of sermons, but I would like to focus on one small aspect of it, how knowledge of God leads to love for God.

The word translated as faith, pistis means a clinging to things we know to be true from the evidence, even when our emotions tell us to doubt. Goodness is self-explanatory, a long-term determination to seek the truth and do good, whether that is in the form of defending the innocent, standing up to evil, consoling the suffering or declaring the uncomfortable truth as best we can.

We all know the greatest commandment, from Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV):

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Some people really struggle to love God, they have it in their heads that love is a feeling, a mood you have to be in, but that is an unhealthy approach, a dangerous lie sold to us by advertisers and bad storytellers, that will not only lead us to an unhealthy, superficial and fragile relationship with God, but similarly disastrous and unsatisfying relationships with other people.

The attitude of “As soon as you stop entertaining me or make me uncomfortable, I’ll discard you” leaves you alone, shriveled and childish. Like goodness, love is an attitude, a determination and daily decision to seek the best for the object of your love in the long term, even when it is sometimes the last thing that person wants in the short term. It is the highest calling, and a difficult challenge.

Some would say that the key to loving God is gratitude for what He has done for us, for saving us, and they would be right. Gratitude is a cure for all sorts of evils, it helps us to see ourselves as we really are, a healthy motivation for all sorts of good things and a very important part of a loving relationship. However love is more than just gratitude, and gratitude can wear thin. An important part of true, deep love is really getting to know the one that you love, and delighting in who they are.

This is sometimes difficult with people here on earth, because we can discover unpleasant things about them, and this can spoil our impression of what God is like, but with God, who is perfect, we know that there will always be more and more wonderful things to discover and admire, that the greatest appeal of heaven is that we will be there with God, and see Him in His full glory and beauty with none of our own flaws and sins getting in the way.

Many people struggle to love God because they have a false impression of who God is, they imagine he is a cosmic Santa Claus, a magical grandfather who smiles, pats us on the head, gives us a treat and sends us out to play (and when they see the pain and suffering in the world, they start to doubt that He exists at all); others see him as a mean and strict sheriff, watching our every move so he can bring the full hammer of the law down on us the moment we step out of line.

Both of these images are wrong. God is more loving and generous as well as more powerful and just than both of these images.

Others see him as an engineer, who built his creation as a great machine, then left it to run, following its progress with interest and occasionally tweaking it or reprogramming to make sure everything is running properly and it does what he wants it to do, sometimes even stopping it and acting directly to rescue someone or tell his creations something important.

This one is a little better, but like all images of God falls far short of reality, He is far more involved and interested and foundational in His creation than this. No one image can capture God completely, He is far greater and more amazing than we can possibly imagine, but there is a much better approximation, and one that is far from a new idea. First, a quick look at Revelation 4:11:

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

Not just created, but also have their being. Not just crafted, activated and left to themselves, but actively maintained from moment to moment, from nanosecond to nanosecond. The idea from classical theology, the analogy for the relationship between Creator God and His creation is of a musician and the music that he plays. He is the source of all existence, and is actively involved in absolutely everything that exists, if he stopped actively supporting the existence of the universe, it would no longer exist, just like the music would end as soon as the musician stops playing. We don’t need to worry, the patterns, and harmonies that we know as the Laws of Nature are solid and dependable because God is solid and dependable. It is a powerful analogy that works on multiple levels, in that God’s creation is full of beauty, harmony, and repeating patterns, like well-crafted music.

In ancient times they used to call the motion of the stars and planets musica universalis, the music of the spheres. Even in modern physics, String Theory (which I don’t pretend to fully understand) has vibrating strings as the basis of all matter, with different vibrations like musical notes producing different particles, the notes with which God plays the music of the universe.

Well-known authors of fiction have also famously made use of this imagery, such as C.S. Lewis in The Magician’s Nephew, when Aslan sings Narnia into being and into life, or J.R.R. Tolkein in the Silmarillion where Eru Illuvatar (God) and his Ainur (Holy Ones) together sing the world into existence, and Melkor (the greatest of the Holy Ones) out of pride and lust for power and influence corrupts his part in the music, causing disharmony and twisted, evil creatures, but in a musical battle Eru takes Melkor’s harsh and dissonant part of the song and adds his own higher music to transform the whole into something even more beautiful, and this is all reflected in the world and its history that is created, as Eru announces, “Behold your music!”.

In this analogy of the relationship between God and creation, miracles are not God stopping the music to rearrange the orchestra or fix a broken instrument, but flourishes, fanfares and improvisations that fit into and enhance the overall work.

We are part of that music that God plays, we are utterly dependent on Him in every way, there is nothing we are or have or can have that is not directly reliant on Him. Not only that, but He has given us life, a mind a spirit and the ability to choose to take part in and add to that harmony, joy and beauty, or work against Him and create disharmony, ugliness and suffering.

Many people, and many of His angels, have chosen the latter, resulting in the polluted and corrupted world we live in, causing many to see God as cruel and heartless. If we can look more carefully, past the flaws, we can see a dim reflection of His true nature, his beauty and harmony, his astounding generosity and his power.

We see it in the sunset and in the night sky; in the majesty of mountains, forests, seas and deserts; in the songs of birds and the graceful movements of animals; in the inventiveness of ingenious machines and devices; in the purity of a child’s eyes wide with wonder; in the paintings and music of true artists; in the faithfulness and kindness of true friends and loved ones, in the magic of the seasons.

The triune God who is perfect love, who loves us more than we can ever love him, who gives us all these things and more, who will right all wrongs at His appointed time, sacrificed himself to pay for our part in ruining His creation, and invites us to come and know him, for now in part, but when the time comes we will know Him clearly, perfectly and eternally.

One day He will sing a new song, transforming this song that we know into something better; a song that will never end and never go wrong; music that this current song makes possible, and he invites us to be part of it.

That is something to look forward to and be grateful for. That is who we have the honour of knowing. That is someone to love.

Who else would dare?

Today is my wedding anniversary, here is this year’s poem:

Who else would dare?

Who else would dare to join with me,
With all my flaws and fears?
Who else has set my heart so free
To love you more each year?

There’s no-one I would rather share
My secret pains and joys;
There’s none more worthy of my prayers
For refuge from life’s noise,

For beauty’s glimmer, pure and deep
To wash right through your soul,
For heaven’s peace to fill your sleep
When hard days take their toll,

For my love to give new strength
When all of yours is spent;
That we may share the same wavelength
And know what each one meant;

That our bond may forever be
A taste of His sweet rule
That helps us touch what we can’t see,
The pledged celestial jewel

Of His kingdom on the earth
And life forevermore,
Bought by His death and humble birth
To open up the door.

Upstream

The mighty salmon swims upstream to die and to give birth;
We, too, must resist the flow and climb for all our worth.
The world spews out debauchery and every kind of sin
In waves to surely knock us down the moment we give in.

And yet we stand on solid rock with strength that’s from on high;
Just stay upon the narrow path, that way your feet stay dry.
He promises to bring us back should we ever stray
From His footsteps up the hill along the narrow way.

Don’t dip your toe in that awful flow, it’ll soak you to your skin;
Worse yet, drag your foot away until you topple in
And tumble hard against the rocks that pulverise your soul
‘Til purity and sanity are futile, foolish goals.

That’s when a feeble plea to Him is answered at a run;
He dives in, pulls us to the shore, but still His work’s not done,
Gives us the pure white robes He left behind as He dove in,
Then sets off with divine resolve to break the power of sin,

Swims up that putrid torrent to block it at its source,
By soaking up its vileness with His own disfigured corpse.
He made himself a horror that no holy eye can stand
To open up a way for us to reach the Promised Land.

His humbling sacrifice complete, He rose again in power,
Now sits upon His throne and at His own appointed hour
Will judge the living and the dead with justice, but with grace
To welcome those for whom He has prepared a special place.

Generosity

Observe the grasses’ greeting as they wave within the wind;
They bless the ground beneath our feet as if we’d never sinned.

The quiet kindness of the trees feeds rivers in the sky;
They offer up their strength to every creature passing by.

Streams bear precious nutrients that they themselves don’t need,
Reviving weary souls of every nation, tribe and creed.

Birdsong adorns the fragrant air and sunset’s amber hues
Give otherworldly warmth to those who haven’t paid their dues.

This fount of generosity is but the faintest glimpse
Of all the Father does for us and many others, since

Eternally He gives all that He is to His own Son,
Who gave Himself to pay for all the awful things we’ve done.

His Spirit pleads on our behalf and gives gifts on our way
Of life in full abundance towards eternal day.

(I composed the above while walking around our village to give my eyes some rest from looking at computer screens, since a recurring eye problem (malfunctioning tear duct causing severe eye dryness and headaches) has flared up again. Prayers for me would be appreciated).

Such As These

Trudging through a wintry plain
As toes begin to freeze;
Kind eyes look down from heaven
To watch over such as these.

Disfigured outcasts stumble on,
All ravaged with disease;
Holy hands don’t fear to touch
And make whole such as these.

Abandoned by their former friends,
Despite their desperate pleas;
A well-lined back in heaven knows
The pain of such as these.

Souls wracked with guilt that won’t wash out
And wearying unease;
Scarred hands and feet in heaven show
He died for such as these.

Slandered, beaten for His sake
And forced onto their knees;
A special place in heaven
Is prepared for such as these.

Their race full run, their strength all spent,
Their breath a painful wheeze;
Arms in heaven are stretched out
To welcome such as these.

A loving smile, a sick friend healed,
A fragrant summer breeze;
Foretastes of His heaven are found
In moments such as these.

A child’s unflinching openness,
Trustful and keen to please,
The kingdom of our God must be
Approached as such as these.