..."and a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; evil minded people shall not travel on it, but it shall be for those wayfarers who are traveling toward God. (Isaiah 35:8, adapted)

Saturday, December 31, 2011

For the Beauty of the Earth

 For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies,

for the love which from our birth over and around us lies;

Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

 For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night,

hill and vale, and tree and flower,  sun and moon, and stars of light;

Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

 For the joy of ear and eye, for the  heart and mind's delight,

for the mystic harmony, linking sense to sound and sight;

Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

. For the joy of human love,  brother, sister, parent, child,

friends on earth and friends above,  for all gentle thoughts and mild;

Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

For thy church, that evermore  lifteth holy hands above,

offering up on every shore her pure sacrifice of love;

Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.

For thyself, best Gift Divine,  to the world so freely given,

for that great, great love of thine,  peace on earth, and joy in heaven:

Lord of all, to thee we raise  this our hymn of grateful praise.

Hymn: For the Beauty of the Earth

Text: Folliot S. Pierpoint
Music: Conrad Kocher;
photo taken in Gould, CO

Saturday, December 24, 2011

"Solitude Sweetened"

Solitude Sweetened

by James Meikle, 1730-1799

If God gives Christ, what can he withhold?

Are believers in the valley of tears? Is their dwelling place Bochim and Baca? Well, God's mercy outstretches all their misery! Promises of grace dispel the mental gloom, and bear away the ponderous loads of grief! The soft handkerchief of love wipes off the furrowing tear! An inspired penman begins the glorious sentence with an unanswerable question. "If God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up to the death for us all, how shall he not also with him give us all things?" (Romans 8:32) Comfort, then; you sons of sorrow; comfort, my soul! There is more in this verse than can be comprehended! And there is more love in the heart of God, than any language, or idiom of speech, can convey to finite creatures!

If, for my sake, he has given his Son, what will he withhold in all the creation? Is his creation—the breath of his mouth—better to him than his eternal, co-eternal Son? Is the work of his hands dearer to him than his well-beloved bosom Son? And has he given him to the die for you—and then will he deny you any necessity? No! He who feeds the soul with heavenly manna—will support the body with daily bread! He who gives drink out of the wells of salvation—will not fail to afford a cup of cold water! He who has provided a robe of righteousness, to cover the shame of my sin—will also give wool in the cold season. He who furnishes my inner man with all the armor of God, will put a covering on my head in the day of battle and war. (At this time the Author had a view of entering into the navy, being time of war, as he did some time after.) He who, in the counsel of peace, from eternity, secured my peace, will also shine upon my path, and decree what shall come to pass. He who has written my name among the living in Jerusalem, will also preserve, (this my faith pleads and expects,) my character, that I shall not shame what I profess in the world. He who has destroyed spiritual death, will also for me unsting natural death, and spoil the grave of its victory!

Again, how can it be possible that God should give his Son, himself, his all—and yet deny me any good thing? Will not he who is to crown me with glory above—strengthen me with grace below? Will he not bless me with peace of mind—who is to be my peace forever? Triumph, O my faith! all things are Christ's, and Christ is God's! And God, Christ, and all things, are yours! Time is his, and in it I have my years numbered! The air is his, and in it I breathe! The world is his—and on it I dwell; its fullness is his—and I am fed! Grace is his—and in it I stand! Faith is his gift—and by it I overcome the world! Tribulations are from him—and in them I glory! Perfection is his—and towards it I press! Death is his—and by it I arrive at home! Heaven is his—and there is my mansion! Eternity is his, and there is my treasure and glory forevermore!

--taken from Grace Gems (http://www.gracegems.org/)
photo taken in Gould, Colorado

Friday, December 23, 2011

Characters in the Christmas Story: The Shepherds

An integral part of the Christmas story are the shepherds. But if you or I  were going to write
this story, you probably wouldn't think to add the shepherds in. God did. Have you ever
wondered why God chose to send the angelic envoy to simple shepherds in a field to tell them
about Jesus' birth?

It would seem like if someone like God were going to announce that His Son had been born He
would have invited the religious bigwigs to a press conference, or call a UN meeting,
or call everyone to Camp David or something.  Thank God there is no one like God!
You've got to love Him, you've got to fall down and absolutely love Him that He decided to
tell a bunch of humble shepherds that the King of the Universe had just been
born in a stable and was now laying in an animal's feed trough in the backside of
some hotel's barn. Maybe they, in their simply humility, would be the ones most
likely to believe Him! For it showed God's humility in how He sent Jesus, so
of course He would first tell the humble of heart and life.

The Shepherds, and there is nothing told to us about them--not their names or their
political or religious views or anything--were simply out doing their job in the fields
outside Bethlehem when an angel appears to them with the Glory of God flashing
all around. The text says, with a penchant for understatement, that "they were
terribly afraid." I'll say! The angel tells them the Messiah has just been born and
that they will know it is Him when they find him wrapped in "swaddling" clothes
laying amongst the horse and cow feed.  Now if this had been a modern story,  the
shepherds would have had to worry that someone had laced their shepherd-ale with
mind-bending drugs. Especially when from behind the one angel, a whole army of
angels appears, praising God and glorifying Him. But this is first century
Bethlehem and God is at work.

So when the angels take off back to heaven the shepherds are now WIDE
awake, and I mean WIDE awake, and, despite their duty to their flock, they
have to go look for the baby.  They must have looked at each other
and said, "What in the world just happened?" But God had chosen them
wisely, as God always does, and off they go and sure enough,
find Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger. Oh, my Lord!

Joseph probably tried to shew them away to give Mary some semblance
of privacy and dignity, but Mary must have said, "No, Joseph, let them
in, its OK" because of course, God had made a wise choice in Mary . Its
not like ANY of them are going to get any sleep and she wants to hear
their story.  And little baby Jesus, with his eyes still dripping with the
beauty of Heaven, looks sweetly up at them.

And what are those swaddling clothes anyway? Did they know? I looked into
it and they used to, and sometimes still do, wrap babies up tight with swaddling
clothes to keep them secure and from moving too much. You have to imagine
what Mary was thinking. "It's my duty to keep Him safe and clean and
I'm not going to let any part of Him touch that dirty manger that some
donkey may have licked." I know that if it were me I'd be so scared that I'd
drop the Baby or that He would roll out of the manger or something on the
first night and the whole plan of God would get disrupted.

On the other hand, she might also be afraid that maybe He might suddenly
go from being a baby to morphing into full blown God. It's not like she
had all the details. She had to have a lot of questions and fears.
On the one hand the swaddling clothes fulfilled what God had said, and
also, in those times, show that the baby is loved and wanted and
has a Father (cp Ezekiel 16:1-5)  but the behind-the-scenes punch line that
God probably shares with Mary is Him teasing her for thinking :
"Better to wrap Him up tight, Don't take any chances."
So He put it in Scripture and shares a  laugh with her each year when
the Christmas story is told, the kind of laugh that two people share when
they have gone through something great together.

As much as Mary wanted to keep all of this on the QT, God was a really
good PR man, thinking WAY outside the box, but in such a perfect way.
And now here are the shepherds with their story and Mary just kept
shaking her head as if trying to wake up from a dream
and saying, "Tell me again what happened in the field?"  Soon,
the shepherds had told just about everyone whether they cared
to hear or not.

Yet the shepherds had good hearts, and glorified and praised God for
all they had seen and heard. They were simple men who must have
just walked along quietly with God, doing their job. (Shepherds have
a lot of time to pray you know). . Its these kind of people that
Jesus came to and comes to now. "Blessed are the pure in heart
for they shall see God." And see God they did.

I love that God thought way of the box in every way, and in those
deep and dreamless streets, the Everlasting Light, came into
our world, and changed all our lives.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Characters in the Christmas Story: Elizabeth

After his encounter with the angel Gabriel, Zacharias goes quickly to his house in enforced silence.
No doubt he had a lot to think about. Just as Gabriel said, Elizabeth, Zacharias' wife, becomes
pregnant, and no doubt she had a lot to think about also! You see, even when we love God
very much, and have walked with Him a long time--even or especially when He does not seem to
answer our prayer, there are deep things going on in our hearts. God is doing a deep
work and when we are deeply shaken much of what we have thought in the deepest,
most private parts of our hearts rises to the surface.

I think it is because we so want God to be all that we need Him to be that disappointment
can come when our human expectations are not met. Then, when God shows Himself
to be faithful, we have a whiplash of counter emotions of greatly varied sorts!
Do  you know what? God is bigger than our expectations of Him and "what we
need Him to be."  He is Who He is and often we need time to sit with that truth.

Just as Zacharias must sit and ponder in silence, so must Elizabeth .
She goes into seclusion for  five months. I don't blame her. All those people
who, over the  years,  must have given her a million "spiritual" reasons why
she didnt have a baby, and a multitude of sad suggestions on what that meant
about her, no doubt, would be showing up on her door to find out what happened
and to view an old woman who has gotten pregnant..  Gossip is so horrible.

Elizabeth shows her wisdom and fear of God, and we can see a glimpse
of why God chose her. You see, Elizabeth and Zacharias, Anna and Simeon,
Joseph and Mary are those that held the torch of the testimony for
their generation.  They are "old-school" believers--tried and true--not
giving into the depravity of the times; battered down but not hopeless;
weary but not apostate.  They have kept the faith! No easy task!

Meanwhile, Gabriel is about to visit Mary. Elizabeth stays in seclusion
for five months (Luke 1:24) and in the sixth month Gabriel visit Mary and tells
her she is to have Jesus, but also tells her that Elizabeth is six months
pregnant. Mary goes quickly to visit Elizabeth.  What a wonderful
provision for both of them as I am sure no one in the world would understand
what they were going through and Mary would soon be glad
to flee a lot of hostility and gossip also. This is no small blessing
for them both.  I am sure they prayed and talked
deep into the nights of the wondrous and puzzling thing that was
unfolding in and to them. Even as Mary arrived and greeted
Elizabeth, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesies
how blessed Mary is and how blessed is Jesus within her.
Even the in-utero John the Baptist jumps for joy (Luke 1:41,42)!
This is, indeed, an amazing story!

Elizabeth is a woman of faith, and like Hannah, has received her
promise from the Lord. Both give their miracles babies over
to the special service of God.  No doubt she did not live to see John
the Baptist grow older (and this probably saved her much grief)
but she did get to exult in the amazing grace of God her Savior.

Elizabeth worships the God Who Hears and Knows and
meanwhile, the young John, grows within her in an atmosphere
of praise and worship. God miraculously takes away her
reproach (Luke 1:25) and her neighbors show her mercy
and rejoice with her (1:58). Sometimes things happen not because
we have sinned, says Jesus, but so that the works of God can be
manifested in us. (John 9:2 &3)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Characters in the Christmas Story: Zacharias--On Believing God

I was just reading over the Christmas story recorded in Matthew and Luke's Gospels
and have been reflecting on each character. I am going to write something on
each of the characters and today, to start, I am choosing Zacharias, the father of  John
the Baptist, because it's really here that the whole thing begins. Here is the story:

5There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.

8 And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, 9According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense. 11And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. 16And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. 17And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. 20And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

21And the people waited for Zacharias, and marvelled that he tarried so long in the temple. 22And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: for he beckoned unto them, and remained speechless. 23And it came to pass, that, as soon as the days of his ministration were accomplished, he departed to his own house.

Zacharias was not a bad man. Let's keep in mind from the beginning that he is introduced here,
along with his wife Elizabeth, as righteous and walking blamelessly before God. He was a priest
and was faithful in his administrations. He knew God--to a degree. He didn't know when the
Messiah would come--he didn't even know, and probably had long since stopped
hoping, when, or dear God, if,  his own child would come along.  He had prayed
for a son to come, prayed long and hard, and now he was old and it looked like God
had ignored him. He still performed his duties, because you don't serve God for what
He can give you, but I wonder what he was thinking inside and where his heart had gotten to.

When Elizabeth passed menopause, you had to wonder what happened to
their hopes for a child, and with that, their ability to trust God wholeheartedly.
They both had served God as well as they knew how, and yet, what got lost?
What hadn't they understood? What they DID understand is that they had
received no child. You can imagine what the equivalent of Job's comforter's
in the community must have said to Elizabeth and him: cold things, harsh things,
well-meaning advice, subtle judgments, silent things never spoken but easily read
on the faces of those looking on. "You know, if you had really been holy
you would have a child." Awful. Just awful. But they kept praying. Or at
this point, perhaps simply crying in a heavenly direction.

So it had finally fallen by lot for Zacharias to offer the incense in the Holy
Place, and believe me, you do have to be careful there,  so on top of
being nervous about doing it right, an unexpected angel appears to him
with an incredible announcement: You are going to have a son!

Now all Zacharias had to do, really, was just nod his head, and get safely
out of there. But his doubts, and all that had troubled him formed themselves
into words that rushed out of his mouth before he could stop himself.
He asked the angel, "But how can I know for sure? You surely know
that we are too old and all our hopes have drained out over the passing years?" 

Gabriel does not coddle him with sympathy but rebukes him and strikes
him speechless until the prophecy is fulfilled and the promised son is born
and brought to the Temple. If this seems harsh, perhaps we have something
to learn, for God always acts to help bring us to a better place.

Zacharias is the priest,  he needs to speak for God, not to engender doubt.
If he comes out of their speaking doubtfully, it will not help the community,
or Elizabeth, his wife. If he lets his broken heart, and the up- to- this- hour
wrestling with the apparent silence of God speak, then his testimony may
fall into infamy.  Like Jacob, he wrestles with an angel and loses
his natural function.

In the ensuing silence of nine months he has time to think about it. Think
about whether he believes God. Think about his calling to the
community, and his place as priest in it. God holds the leaders to
higher standards and  Gabriel announces that the Word of the Lord
is going to be fulfilled whether he understands, believes or
accepts it. Sovereign acts of God are like that.

What we still need to see is how much God is honoring Zacharias. He is answering
his prayer because he IS a righteous man, and because God thinks he is the best
choice for the daunting task of raising John the Baptist! Now think about it,
youth would have been on their side as far as sitting up caring for a crying baby,
but wisdom gained over a lifetime might be better attributes for raising
the young prophet--as long as that lifetime hadn't hardened his heart..

God was giving him some silence to think about it all and to get ready.
The strain of life can, for a season,  take its toll, but if God sends a
wake up call, we still have a chance  get back on the path. Zacharias'
life was a long obedience, he had layed the groundwork by being faithful,
but he was dangerously close to becoming hard-hearted and unbelieving.

We walk by faith and not sight.  Zacharias had to walk according
to the pattern God provided and being in God's presence carried
a certain danger with it. The text hints that the people praying outside
where getting worried about Zacharias. Old Zach just got a "yellow card":
he is not out of the game, He just needs to sit on the sidelines and think
about his behaviour. 

Zacharias' job as priest was to burn incense--which speaks of an
unreserved offering of our will to God and of the spirit of trusting prayer
in God .  Zacharias as he functioned  in the priestly  roll of incense bringer
represents Christ as our intercessor: ever sure of the Father's love and concern
for His Own. God heard Zacharias' prayers just as He would hear Christ's.
So there was no room for signs or doubts. Zacharias just needed the
nine months to get on page with that. Here is spirit of a "just man being
made perfect."  Thank God that He comes to us, see our hearts,
and gives us exactly what we need. May we learn that sitting in
silence before Him is a great gift that gets us ready.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Wait with blazing desire, deep humility, and much eagerness!

Wait with blazing desire, deep humility, and much eagerness. If you learn to wait, you'll surely receive our King, who comes to us humble and meek, and seated on a donkey. O endless love! You confound human pride. We see You, the King of kings, approaching humbly, seated on a beast, disgracefully rejected. Let those who seek worldly honor and glory think on this and blush for shame.

- Catherine of Siena, Letters

leaves floating in stream, Wilmington, Delaware

Monday, December 12, 2011

What Our Eyes Often Miss

While there is perhaps a province in which the photograph can tell us nothing more than what we see with our own eyes, there is another in which it proves to us how little our eyes permit us to see. ~Dorothea Lange

Oh Lord, help us to see what is hidden in plain sight. Help us to look, and search out.
Heal our shortsightedness, Expand our spiritual vision. We cannot see without You!

photo of young moose taken in Gould, Colorado

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Rest Assured in God

You may rest assured that God will not allow you to be tried beyond your strength. It is when we are powerless that God does all, and thereby manifests His power and goodness in a striking manner.

- John Baptist de La Salle

photo taken in the Yorkshire countryside, UK

Saturday, December 03, 2011

May I enter Him as my Refuge;
Build on Him as my Foundation;
Walk in Him as my Way;
Follow Him as my Guide;
Conform to Him as my Example;
Receive His Instruction as My Prophet;
Rely on His Intercession as my High Priest;
Obey Him as My King...

(prayer taken from The Valley of Vision,
A Collection of Puritan Prayers)

photo taken near Glencoe, Scotland

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Narrow is the mansion of my soul; enlarge Thou it, that

Thou mayest enter in.

... St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), Confessions
photo taken near Loch Ness, Scotland