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.

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.

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.

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.

Come With Us

Today I was reading Numbers chapter 10, and this little passage jumped out at me:

Numbers 10: 29-31 (NIV):

Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place about which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised good things to Israel.”

He answered, “No, I will not go; I am going back to my own land and my own people.”

But Moses said, “Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes. If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us.”

This is the heart of evangelism. We, as beneficiaries of the New Covenant, are heading for the true Promised Land, and it is only natural that we should want others to come with us, since all are invited.

Our journey there is the greatest of all adventures, offering the greatest of all rewards, along the way choices and challenges with enormous stakes, our actions leaving ripples that echo to eternity.

Notice that Moses does not just offer to have him taken care of the whole way, but invites him to participate. He has something to offer Israel, he will make their journey better.

What Christ offers as part of being his children is not just an adventure tour, not just a journey where everything is prearranged for us like a safari, package holiday or adrenaline sports, but a partnership in a great and glorious mission.

You might not think so, but you have something to offer. You can make a very meaningful difference. You can share love and truth and hope with others. You can help to mould your own character and those around you in ways that will be reflected in eternity. You can be part of God’s blessing for someone else, take part in the great love story that started before the creation of the universe and will outlast it.

Who’s up for that?

The Dragon

Deep within the mountain fortress of your troubled heart
A vicious dragon guards a more than priceless work of art.
He smothers it from shining in his greed and jealous rage,
Marring its true purpose as a prideful living cage.

“I’m no worse than the others, there’s no need to improve,
I’ll only hear the thoughts of those whose views I preapprove.
I’m wiser than those fools who strive for beauty, depth and love;
I laugh at lofty goals that I know all will fall short of;

“I deserve great treasures more than those who work and build
Because of who I am; it’s their fault I am unfulfilled
Questions of truth and justice are for others to decide,
I’ll wallow in my opulence and drift with every tide

“My appetites alone decide what is worth my time
Hurting others is just sport, depriving me’s a crime!
Today’s appointed devil I will curse and rend and burn
Until my wrath is spent and it is someone else’s turn.”

Another victim wanders in, dressed in robes of white,
Carrying a lantern that gives off a meagre light.
“This treasure’s mine!” the dragon roars, “You have no power here!
I’ll roast your flesh, and as you die, enjoy your pain and fear.”

The victim doesn’t move, and seems resigned to his bleak fate;
He’s bathed in flames from that foul mouth, his robes disintegrate,
Revealing flesh that’s charred and marred with scars of many kinds;
He gasps and shudders with the pain, but does not moan or whine.

“You thought you were so pure, and yet your skin is black with sin;
Your shoulders bear the cause of all of this world’s suffering.
Now I’ll tear you limb from limb, crush out your final breath,
You will meet a pointless and most agonizing death.”

The Dragon lunges forward and pierces the man’s chest,
Then draws its claws back to itself in manifest distress;
The blood that flows from that great wound is poison to the fiend,
Corrodes away the dragon’s form until the treasure’s cleaned

And gleams with a new glory as your soul is born anew,
Ready to be servant to the good and fair and true.
He suffered for you willingly, his love is unreserved,
Go out and pay it forward in a way that’s undeserved.

Sabbath

A day of rest to muse upon your place before your God,
Where you have fallen short and where you’ve gone back on your word,
The many blessings you’ve received you clearly don’t deserve
That fill your heart with gratitude and new desire to serve.

Appreciate the love he shows so far beyond our own,
Recall the recent struggles through which your soul has grown,
Look back upon the path you’ve trod, the progress you have made,
Broaden your horizons to see those that you can aid,

Realign your compass if you see you’ve gone astray,
Deal with a nagging problem that has worsened every day,
Take the time to reconnect with loved ones you’ve ignored,
Put an end to enmities your soul cannot afford,

Gain the wisdom others had to pay a high price for,
Make connections that had never come to mind before,
Free yourself to concentrate, to learn, to grow, to soar,
And look towards the One we rightly worship and adore.

Fortitude

True fortitude has always been the strength to feed your family,
To survive when all around are giving up on life;
Facing trials as they come with one eye on eternity,
Despite your pain and troubles, staying faithful to your wife,

Staying grateful when the hard days come and stretch out into weeks or months,
Knowing that the things you have are more than you have lost;
Not giving in to promises of easy wealth and influence,
Taking time before you sign to truly count the cost;

The strength to listen to a friend,
Admit what you don’t know,
Seek the truth together
In a way that you both grow;

Tell the truth when it still hurts
And gaze at your own flaws;
Revive a habit left inert
That points to higher laws;

Clarify a vague unease
To see what can be done
To stop a creeping vile disease
Before its course has run;

Rectify a thoughtless act,
Redeem a broken soul;
Lead them back into the light
With fresh and healthy goals;

Laugh at unfounded, nagging fears
That held your heart in chains
When their true nature has appeared
And you can breathe again.

Stand strong against each foe and woe,
Defend the light you’ve grown;
Be more than just an outward show,
And know you’re not alone.