Taking Time

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I’ve written before in this space about the beauty and goodness of time.
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I’ve written about this time we are in now, the thousands of years between creation and restoration, and how the delay of Christ’s coming is a gift to us.
I’ve written of the idea that it is not a failing of the created world that it reaches its fulfillment only through time. This is part of the way God made things. The created world takes time to be what it is. ~ Jeremy Begbie, Resounding Truth
Sometimes, though, it is easier for me to accept this idea in the abstract than it is to accept it in my own little life.
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It is easier to be okay with Christ’s delay in returning, because that feels a long way off anyway, than it is to be okay with a delay in God fulfilling a dream that I think is His will for my life.
I feel sure that I am not alone.
We think that if God wants us to do something, to accomplish some purpose, then it should happen now. Or at least within a year or two. If it doesn’t happen quickly, perhaps it really wasn’t God’s will.
I am certainly guilty of this thinking. I dream of writing in a way that changes hearts for God. I dream of articles and books, of ministry that is a part of the story of God’s kingdom.
When I get yet another rejection, I wonder if perhaps I was mistaken. Perhaps God does not want to use my writing after all.
I forget.
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I forget about Joseph who spent thirteen years in slavery before becoming second to Pharaoh. I forget that it took Moses forty years to get from the burning bush to Canaan. (Yes, I know he didn’t actually make it to Canaan, but that’s another story for another essay.) I forget that David waited over twenty years from when Samuel anointed him as king before he actually became king over all of Israel.
Like many of you, I forget that part of fulfilling God’s purpose means delay. It takes time to become what God created us to be.
Would Joseph or Moses or David have been the leaders they were without the waiting? Would they have been able to live out God’s story and lead His people without the process that shaped them into those very leaders?
No.
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And neither can we do anything within God’s story without allowing Him the time to change our hearts into the beauty He intended.
Whether it takes thirteen years or forty, we must accept where we are now, we must be faithful and obedient now, trusting that waiting is not bad, that delay is not ugly.
Growing into our role in God’s story takes time, so rather than chafing as though it were a setback, let Him use that time to make you into who He created you to be.
It will be beautiful, I promise.

Art credit: World Time by rizeli53; Ornate Clock by Kevin Tuck; Just In Time by Adrian van Leen; Clock Tower by Miriam Wickett

God in Music

(I’m trying something new this week. If you would like to hear me read my blog post aloud, just click the play button. Let me know in the comments if you’d like me to do more of this!)  (If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.)

 

God is a creator.
Supernova
Pulsar
Starry Sky
It is the first thing we learn about Him. In the beginning, God created.
Perhaps it is because I am an artist myself, but I like to think that this is important. That God-as-creator being the first thing He tells us about Himself is a clue to His character, to what He deems is significant.
Creator God placed art in a position of great importance because it reminds us of the glory that once was and the glory that will be again.
Music
I don’t know much about the visual arts or about theater or dance.  Music, however, is an art that I know quite intimately, and I love the insights it gives us into the nature and character of God.
For example, music helps us to understand time. It shows us that the present is what is most important. Music only truly exists in the present. Music in the future is just a possibility, just a plan. Music in the past is done, it cannot be heard again. Music in the present? Beauty. Only as it passes that razor edge moment of the present time can it be heard and appreciated.
Music also shows us that taking time to accomplish something can be good. More than good, it can be amazing. We often chafe against the delay between creation and restoration. We want God to come now, for Him to make everything perfect immediately. Yet when we listen to a Beethoven symphony, we are drawn into more than an hour of experiencing the music unfold and are astounded at the way it all fits together to create the final chords. No one would be impatient for that hour to pass just to reach the end. We savor that hour of music and that hour of music makes the ending all the more stunning.
As we experience the music’s dark shadows and turns, we allow ourselves to be led far more profoundly into the story’s sense and power. Music is remarkably instructive here, because more than any other art form, it teaches us how not to rush over tension, how to find joy and fulfillment through a temporal movement that includes struggles, clashes and fractures. ~ Jeremy Begbie in Resounding Truth
One more?
Music give us insight into understanding the trinity. Three-in-one is beyond the grasp of comprehension, yet God gave us music to help. If I play one note on the piano, it fills up all available aural space. There are no gaps. If I play a three-note chord on the piano, all three notes still fill up all the same available aural space, yet all three notes also sound their distinctive pitch. More than that, it is not a particular chord unless all three notes are played together.
The notes interpenetrate, occupy the same heard space, but I can hear them as (three) notes…What could be more apt than to speak of the Trinity as a three-note chord, a resonance of life; Father, Son, and Spirit mutually indwelling, without mutual exclusion, and yet without merger, each occupying the same space, ‘sounding through’ one another, yet irreducibly distinct, reciprocally enhancing, and establishing one another as one another? ~ Jeremy Begbie in Resounding Truth 
There are many other ways that God uses music to teach us about Himself, to give us wisdom to understand Him more. What are some that you have thought of?
It leaves me awestruck with gratitude. I am grateful beyond measure that He gives us something so beautiful as a way of revealing Himself.
You artists who practice other genres of art, what theology do you find in your particular art form? What about those of you who are non-practicing art lovers? Do you see God in any particular form of art?

Art credit: Thanks to NASA for sharing such magnificent photographs of the mysteries of space.

Our Purpose

It is a question as old as humanity: Why are we on earth and what are we supposed to do while we are here? 

Working the Land

Even the ancients spent time on this.  The Bible tells us from the very beginning in Genesis about many who searched for and discovered their purposes: Jabal discovered how to raise livestock, Jubal developed different types of music, Tubal-Cain mastered metalworking. 
These ancients figured out what to do while here on earth, but what about us?  What is our role?  Many answers can be found by gazing into the moment we were created. 

Out of the Dirt

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”
We have a dual role, we humans.  A dual purpose, given to us by God Himself.  Let us make.  We are created, a part of God’s creation.  In our image.  We are God’s unique counterpart, His representatives here on earth.
Being made in God’s image brings with it certain responsibilities.  The second part of Genesis 1.26 says that God decided we were to rule, to have dominion over, all living creatures.

Dominion

David echoes this in Psalm 8 when he says that God crowned us with honor and made us rulers of all that God created.
This has, unfortunately, been used too often as an excuse to plunder the earth and destroy it.  Instead, “as God’s image bearers…we are to be wise stewards of the earth, caring for it and protecting it in a way that reflects and embodies God’s rule over his creation.”  ~ Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie
As God’s representatives, His image bearers, we also are to spread the knowledge of God and His love to the rest of the world.  We are to work to speed up God’s future goal for creation, to bring healing, restoration, hope and peace to the world around us.
Israel was supposed to be a picture of this.  Israel was called to be God’s people, accomplishing God’s purposes for humanity in and for the world.  They had experienced God’s rescuing power and love and were intended to be His way of giving that love to the rest of the world.
Does that sound familiar, as though it were, perhaps, something we are supposed to do?  I wonder what would have happened if Israel had obeyed.  What would our world look like if they had acted as God’s representatives?  This is a painful question because Israel’s purposes were but a shadow of our own.
What would our world look like if we were truly acting as God’s representative?  What would our neighborhood, our community look like if we were caring for and protecting our world, if we were sharing God’s rescuing love with the people around us?  Different? 

Neighborhoods

Things have gone wrong and many live in alienation from one another and in purposeless and destructive living.  We should want to be different.  We should be reflecting the image of God to the piece of creation in which He has placed us.
Our second role from that moment of creation is our very creatureliness.  “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” 

Created

We are created by God.  Along with the trees, mountains, birds and sun, we ARE God’s creation.  We humans, however, have a unique role that was given to us on behalf of all of creation.  A role that only we can fulfill.
We are (as far as we know!) the only creatures who can love God in return.  We are the only part of creation who can give voice to the wordless praise of all creation. 

The Trees Shout

In the human being, creation finds a conscious answering voice, a mortal from the dust of the earth who can know and respond to God’s love as a creature, love God in return, and as a part of this response, voice creation’s praise. ~ Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie
This is a beautiful picture and a beautiful role.  What grace that God entrusted this to us!  And yet what tragedy that our role as worshiper in creation has twisted into worshiper of creation.  Including worshiper of self.  Just as we have twisted our role as God’s representative, we have twisted our role of offering worship on behalf of all creation.

Worshipping

However.  (What a beautiful word is however!)  God gave us grace through Christ.
Jesus.  Man.  God.  A man who gave complete and un-distracted praise to God.  A man who perfectly acted out God’s wise rule in the world.

Perfect Man

He is creation’s worship to God ~ perfect praise from us to God, creation’s perfect voice.  He is the image of God to us ~ perfect representation of God, being a wise steward of the earth He brought healing, restoration, hope and peace from God to earth.
Jesus helped and healed many people, like this. He made blind people see. He made deaf people hear. He made lame people walk. Jesus was making the sad things come untrue. He was mending God’s broken world.  ~ Jesus Storybook Bible
The most exciting part of this news about Jesus?  We are invited to join Him.  What joy and grace!  What a gift!  By reflecting God’s image to the world around us, to the tiny piece of creation (human and non-human) in which God has placed us, we are voicing the praise of creation back to God.
What a beautiful circle.  What beautiful purpose.

Art Credits: photo of bird in hand by SP Veres; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer

reworked and much edited from the archives

it’s a little funny to me that this blog is old enough to have archives

Beautiful Messiness

I hear a story about a company that allows you to rent a grandma.
Grandmother
I am intrigued and turn up the volume to learn more. I learn that you can rent a grandma of your own ethnicity who can teach you about your roots. She will teach you your traditions and will teach you how to cook your ethnic foods.
Gram and A cooking
As I smile to myself and think about the silliness of the idea of renting a grandma to try to fill a space that can only be truly filled by someone who has known you from birth, who knows your good and your bad and yet loves you anyway, my mind drifts off to what I might wish to pay someone to accomplish for me.
Cleaning my home. Birthdays. Decorating my home. Planning a vacation.
The more I dream about not having to do any of those things anymore, however, the more it occurs to me that perhaps hiring someone to plan a birthday party or to clean my house is not really all that different from paying someone to be a grandma.
Both are about avoiding a process that might be a bit messy and difficult, as well as trying to achieve a result that will be more perfect than what I am able to accomplish on my own.
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Yet if I search my own memories of childhood, or if I ask my own kids what they love and remember most, it is that very same messy process and not-so-perfect ending that bring the most smiles and laughter. Perhaps, if I truly want a beautiful party or an inviting home, the only way to really get that is for my family to journey through the process together.
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Later, as I watch my girls with their finger paints, I can’t help but wonder if these ideas in my head about process and journey are perhaps true for more than just the activities in my life.
Perhaps they are true for life itself.
When faced with the ugliness that can be found in this life, in this world, I often echo John’s words: E’en so, Lord Jesus, quickly come.
I wonder why there has been so much delay between our salvation and our redemption.
4.13.09 016
I sit at the piano and play through a bit of Bach.
As I play, the music reminds me that time is good. That delay can bring out beauty. That tension makes the release infinitely more beautiful than could be had otherwise.
Music challenges the belief that the longer something takes, the worse it will be…Music, in a very concentrated way, tells us that something can take time AND be good. Music takes time to be what it is, and as such can be glorious. It can remind us that it is not a failing of the created world that it reaches its fulfillment only through time. This is part of the way God made things. The created world takes time to be what it is. ~ Jeremy Begbie in Resounding Truth
I need this reminder.
I want to look for the purpose in this time we have here. I want to see the beauty in the way God created our world to need time in order to become as He intends.
I want to enjoy God’s glorious ending (beginning?) when God will make his dwelling among us, when there will be no more tears, when we will forever enjoy the beauty of the new heaven and new earth.
Listen and revel in the way the music takes us through the delay, the messiness, and the tension of time on into a glorious ending.
(if you are viewing this via email/in a reader, click here to view this video)

God’s Passing Notes

I am really tired of getting things wrong, of feeling ashamed of myself.

I didn’t speak when I should have spoken because I was afraid of someone’s opinion of me.

I spoke sarcastically to my husband in front of several friends.



I chose to read story books rather than to spend time with God.

I yelled at my babies. While we were praying!

I often have a really hard time loving myself. I feel frustrated with my inability to obey, to love, to be perfect. I often have a very low opinion of myself.

I am fairly certain that I am not the only one who feels like this.

I want to share a truth that was recently spoken to me: Your opinion of yourself doesn’t matter.

Does that sound hard? It is true.

I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself…it is the Lord who judges me.  ~ I Corinthians 4.3

It doesn’t matter what you think of yourself, whether or not you approve of yourself. Only God’s opinion of you matters.

That’s worth saying again.

The only thing that matters is whether or not God approves of you.

This then is…how we set our hearts at rest in His presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts and He knows everything. ~ I John 3.19-20

And the best news of all? The news that fills up my heart and gives me peace?

If you are in Christ, God does approve of you!

Just read Romans 8:

vs 1: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…

vs 33: Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? (Yes, this includes bringing charges against yourself!) It is God who justifies.

vs 38-39: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (italics mine)

When I am playing a difficult piece on the piano, sometimes I play the wrong notes. When that happens, rather than getting upset, making horrid faces and just quitting, my mother taught me to simply improvise the wrong notes into the next bit of music. These wrong notes are then given a new name: passing notes – notes that don’t really fit but can become fitting.

For me, one of the most breathtaking things about being a Christian is that God can take our worst mistakes and turn them into His passing notes. That’s what God is promising to do for us in the end, and it can start now. And if you haven’t heard that before, it’s time you did. ~ Jeremy Begbie

So. Take a deep breath. Quit thinking about yourself and your mistakes.

Trust God’s approval of you in Christ. Allow Him to turn those mistakes into His beautiful passing notes that lead us to become who God intended for us to be.

Our Sacred Imagination (part one)

“Take a drink, Mommy!”

My eldest daughter offers me a sip from her little tin tea cup.



“Mmmm! Delicious! What is it?”

“Applesauce. I made it myself.”



I love watching my eldest’s imagination blossom and flourish. Already, her younger sister is joining in the pretend play, offering me a bite from her fork or a sip from her cup.

Our imaginations are a beautiful gift from God.



Imagination helps us to create inviting homes, solve difficult problems, invent new ways of doing things, build beautiful buildings, plan delicious gardens, come up with ways of serving others.

Imagination is what allows us to create…anything.

But does it belong in our God-life? Does imagination belong in our prayer, our Bible reading, our relationship with our Father?

Many would say no. Many would say that using our imagination when it comes to Scripture or to God is dangerous, allowing our own selves to take precedence over what God has spoken.

When God looked at what He had made, His earth and His man, He declared it to be good. Very good.

I presume that He did not mean “it is all very good except for that imagination piece of man’s soul”. In fact, God asked Adam to use his imagination right away when He asked him to give names to all of the animals.

Our imagination, along with everything else in our lives, is to be made sacred.

How? How can we use our imagination in our God-life in a way that is good and sacred?



In his book, Resounding Truth, Jeremy Begbie says that using imagination is required when thinking through issues of theology. He is quick, of course, to offer the qualification that 

this is not an invitation to uncontrolled fantasy or fiction, as if we should conjure up ideas out of thin air. By imagination here I am speaking of the ability to perceive connections between things that are not spelled out, not immediately apparent on the surface, as well as between what we see now in the present and what we could or will see in the future.


Begbie says that our imagination should be applied to our reading of Scripture:

…trying to perceive broad patterns and unifying threads and to be alert to the themes and counter-themes that crisscross its pages and that together throw into relief guiding convictions about who this Creator God is, what kind of world He has created and relates to, and what our place within this world might be.


He also says that imagination helps us to discern connections between what we perceive in the world and what we perceive in Scripture.

One more aspect of what I wrote about last week!

The third way that Begbie discusses the sacred use of imagination is in living in and living out the connections between Scripture and the world:

The Bible does not spell out the details of Christian behavior for all times, prescribing exact courses of action for every circumstance…Because not all is given to us now, imagination is needed. The church needs to improvise imaginatively – that is, to be so schooled in these texts and scriptural tradition that it can…act in ways that are true to the texts yet engage with the world as it now is, responding in ever fresh and fruitful ways to whatever life throws at us.

What do you think of these ideas? Are these sacred ways of using our imagination or is this too dangerous, having too much potential for abuse?


(photo of the Pulsar is from NASA)

When I fear being led by the Spirit

I overheard my eldest last week: “God loves me and Jesus loves me.”



“And the Holy Spirit loves you”, I gently prompted.



She dutifully repeated, “And the Holy Spirit loves me.”



Already. Already she is leaving out the Holy Spirit when she thinks about our Triune God.


I know that a large part of the reason for this is that I have a hard time remembering to include the Spirit when I  speak about God. But why?



Why is it that the Holy Spirit is so difficult for me to understand? It is, of course, impossible to truly know any part of the Three-In-One, but why is the Spirit so much more…mysterious?


I began to think about this, to read and study.


It seems, as I begin to search out what God says about His Spirit, that we should be hugely excited about the Holy Spirit rather than feeling awkward or embarrassed whenever someone talks of Him.


Jesus tells His disciples: 

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. ~ John 16.7

The Holy Spirit is even better than having Jesus physically walking beside me through life? Why do I find that so difficult to understand and believe? 


Part of my difficulty is that I truly don’t understand the Spirit. I don’t understand how He works in me or what He really does.


I continue reading, searching for some insight.


In Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie, I read this: 

…while Christ is undoubtedly the one in whom diverse things cohere and relate in their diversity, is not the Spirit the agent of diversity, and as such the one who particularlizes things in their difference – that is, enables them to become more particularly themselves? … Or Paul in I Corinthians 12: the Spirit gives different gifts to different people, enabling each to flourish…the Spirit enables all things to be what they were particularly created to be, to praise God in their own fashion.

Elsewhere, he writes that 

It is the Spirit’s role, as life-giver and transformer, to bring about here and now among us the conditions of the new age, in advance of its final and full coming. The Spirit previews the future.

Bringing about the conditions of the new age. That is truly exciting!


Clearly, there is much more to be learned, much more to the Spirit’s role in God’s kingdom…but that could fill up many books, and this is simply one essay.



As I think through this, it seems that my other main difficulty is paradoxical. I fear both  that God will not answer my prayer for more of the Holy Spirit’s fruit in my life…and that He will answer my prayer for more of His Spirit!



In his book, Forgotten God, Francis Chan says 

I think the fear of God failing us leads us to “cover for God”. This means we ask for less, expect less, and are satisfied with less because we are afraid to ask for or expect more…I can’t imagine how much it pains God to see His children hold back from relationship with the Holy Spirit out of fear that He won’t come through.

Jesus tells His disciples: 

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! ~ Luke 11.13

Chan also says this: 

What if God does show up but then asks you to go somewhere or do something that’s uncomfortable? … The truth is that the Spirit of the living God is guaranteed to ask you to go somewhere or do something you wouldn’t normally want or choose to do. The Spirit will lead you to the way of the cross, as He led Jesus to the cross, and that is definitely not a safe or pretty or comfortable place to be. The Holy Spirit of God will mold you into the person you were made to be.



As I think carefully about the implications of all of this added to everything else I’ve learned while studying about the Spirit, I have decided to say “yes”.


Yes, give me more of the Holy Spirit’s fruit in my life.


Yes, make me into the person I was made to be.


Yes, use me to impact the world around me.


I admit to God that I am afraid. Yet even in this fear, I am comforted by the knowledge that God is in me, to change me and help me. I am comforted by knowing that this is a process for my life, not a whiplash-like instant change. I am comforted by the Holy Spirit.

Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. ~ Galations 4.6-7

These verses speak an amazing, beautiful truth…This is one of the precious gifts the Holy Spirit gives us. He assures us that we are in right standing with and loved by God…He assures us that we have nothing to fear because we are His children and He is powerful…And He reminds us of the victory that is coming when God’s kingdom is fully realized. ~ Francis Chan

Holy Spirit, please teach me, change me, show me. I want to be led by You.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  ~ Romans 8.15-17



credit for art: Holy Spirit stained glass; Holy Spirit tongues of fire

To Voice Creation’s Praise



I am a musician.


There are, of course, many other words that could be used to describe me, but this word is one that I have claimed for more than twenty years.

I am a Christian.

This word is also one that I have claimed for more than twenty years.

It seems odd, then, that I have never really put these two words together. Oh, I play piano and sing in the praise band at church, and in that way have put these two identities together.  

What I mean, though, is that I have never really thought deeply about the theology of music. I have never thought about how music, all of the arts really, fits in with God’s creation and with His kingdom.


I have never considered how music as an art points to God.

I am a reader.


I have been reading a book called Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie. It has for a subtitle: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music. 

I’ve referenced this book before in previous essays (here, here and here) because I have been challenged in many ways while reading this book. May I share with you some of the other things I have learned, some of the beauty that has struck me?

Music is a part of this created world. Obvious? Perhaps, but many would argue that music is a purely human enterprise rather than “tuning into and respectfully developing an order we inhabit as bodily creatures”. 


The materials we use to produce sounds (both instruments and vocal chords), the sound waves themselves, our bodies (both in producing sounds and in being able to hear sounds), and even time are all things that already exist, created by God, with which we are allowed to join. 



If, by making music, we are tuning in to something that has already been created, perhaps music is able to “elicit something of the character of the cosmos and through that testify to the Creator”. As well as declaring the glory of God, perhaps music (all of the arts, really!) “through the Spirit, (is) capable of granting glimpses of eternal beauty and as such can anticipate and give a foretaste of the transfiguration of the cosmos”, that moment when all of creation will be made perfect. 


What grace! What a gift!


We should be awe-filled and grateful for the very possibility of music. 
It will mean regularly allowing a piece of music to stop us in our tracks and make us grateful that there is a world where music can occur, that there is a reality we call “matter” that oscillates and resonates, that there is sound, that there is rhythm built into the fabric of the world, that there is the miracle of the human body… 

None of this had to exist, but it does, for the glory of God and for our flourishing. 



As I think about this theology of music, it draws me to the essential habit of gratitude. 

Giving thanks is the way into joy. ~ Ann Voskamp in One Thousand Gifts

Paul says in Philippians 4 to not be anxious but rather to give everything to God with thanksgiving and in return, God will give you the gift of peace.  


It seems almost ludicrous now, but before reading this book I had never thought through what music can teach us about God. How could I have gone so long without thinking through the implications of this art that I practice? Perhaps this is something that the rest of you have put together long before now, but I am a little slow at times.


I have already, in a previous essay, discussed what music teaches us about the goodness of time, the goodness of delay. Music also teaches us that tension is not bad, that by not trying to skip over days with 

dark shadows and turns, we allow ourselves to be led far more profoundly into the story’s sense and power. Music is remarkably instructive here, because more than any other art form, it teaches us how not to rush over tension, how to find joy and fulfillment through a temporal movement that includes struggles, clashes and fractures.



Music gives us a beautiful picture of the Trinity: If I play a chord, three notes on the piano, each note fills up all of my heard space, the entirety of my aural space, yet I hear the notes as distinct from each other. 

The notes interpenetrate, occupy the same heard space, but I can hear them as (three) notes…What could be more apt than to speak of the Trinity as a three-note chord, a resonance of life; Father, Son, and Spirit mutually indwelling, without mutual exclusion, and yet without merger, each occupying the same space, ‘sounding through’ one another, yet irreducibly distinct, reciprocally enhancing, and establishing one another as one another?

Music also gives us a beautiful picture of our freedom in Christ: If I play one note on the piano while silently depressing the key an octave above in order to open up the string, the upper string will vibrate even though it has not been struck. The lower string sets off the upper, and the more the lower string sounds, the more the upper string sounds in its distinctiveness. Do you see where this is going? 

The more God is involved in our lives, the freer we shall be, liberated to be the distinctive persons we were created to be. And such is the freedom we can share, by virtue of God’s gift of freedom, with others. Simultaneously sounding notes, and the music arising from them, can witness to a form of togetherness in which there is an overlap of spaces out of which come mutual enrichment and enhancement, and a form of togetherness that can be sensed first and foremost as a gift, not as a consequence of individual choices.

Oh, there is so much more I wish I could discuss with you: How music teaches us about how the love of God can be our cantus firmus around which the other melodies of life provide their counterpoint. How it teaches us to read Scripture on many different levels and view our lives as part of a “multileveled hope that covers a huge range of timescales”. How music shows us that delay teaches us something new “of incalculable value that cannot be learned in any other way”.



Ah, but I will restrain. This is becoming too long already.


May I close with a challenge for us as the Church? A challenge for musicians and non-musicians alike?


We seem to have an intense musical conservatism in contemporary worship music. 

Granting that simple songs have their place,…one would have hoped that a movement that can put such weight on the Holy Spirit’s renewal could generate somewhat more adventurous material…Is the church prepared to give its musicians room to experiment (and fail), to juxtapose different styles…to resist the tendency to rely on formulas that ‘work’ with minimum effort…in order that congregational worship can become…more true to the God who has given us such abundant potential for developing fresh musical sounds? 



Could we, as a church, consider music (as well as all of the arts) as something that can glorify God without having an evangelical message tagged on to it, simply by having artistic excellence?



I would love to hear from artists who practice in other arenas. What theology do you find in your particular art form? What about non-artists? Do you see God in any particular form of art?


I’ll end with one last quote and a poem: 
We who have misdirected our praise have been invited, against every expectation and everything we deserve, to step back into that role intended for us, to voice creation’s praise to the resounding glory of the Creator, and to witness wonders beyond imagining in our own lives and the lives of others.



Since I am coming to that holy room,
Where, with thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made thy music; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before.
~ Hymn to God My God, in My Sickness by John Donne




~ If you are receiving this in your email, may I suggest that you go to the website to better view the videos and hear the music?
~ all quotes, unless otherwise specified, are from Resounding Truth
~ photo credits: Street Musician; Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra

The Goodness of Time

I sit with my sweet sister, my brother’s wife, this 26-year-old mommy of a 16-month old, watching her life ebb away. She has fought hard for her husband and son, fought hard against this cancer that is quickly overtaking her lungs, her bones, her eyes, her brain. 


We now want her to just rest.


Cancer.


Such a hideous piece of this broken world. This broken world that can yet be so beautiful.

Why does God allow things to go on the way that they are? If He knew ahead of time the brokenness, the fallenness, the sin of this world, why begin? If He knew He would have to send the flood, send His Son, why create at all?

I have been wondering for a long time.

I don’t have any answers, just a few “perhaps’”.

Perhaps, just perhaps, it was the only way.

If God created with a purpose, a future purpose as well as a present purpose, perhaps this brokenness is the only way to reach that future goal.

My mind protests.

If He is God, can’t He create a world that has already reached that goal? Can’t He do anything?

I think it through.

Yes, He can do anything. Anything, that is, which is not nonsense, not just silly.

Perhaps, just perhaps, creating a world that has instantly reached God’s future purpose is as silly, as nonsensical, as creating a round square, a four-sided triangle, a circle with corners.

Perhaps the journey is essential to the goal.

I wonder and ponder for several days as I go about my daily work.

Then I receive a gift from my family: a bit of time alone.


That is when I read this:


Music challenges the belief that the longer something takes, the worse it will be…Music, in a very concentrated way, tells us that something can take time AND be good. Music takes time to be what it is, and as such can be glorious. It can remind us that it is not a failing of the created world that it reaches its fulfillment only through time. This is part of the way God made things. The created world takes time to be what it is. ~ Begbie, Resounding Truth

Ah.

Why DO we persist in thinking that God’s delay in coming and making all things perfect is a bad thing, that somehow He is impatiently waiting for something to happen so that He can be allowed to return?
IF (this is, don’t forget, just an “if”) all of this brokenness, all of this fallen-ness is essential to bringing about the new earth in which:

the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God…It (Jerusalem) shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. ~ Revelation 21.3,11



THEN
Let us:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! … Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. ~ Philippians 4.4-6

I don’t mean that we shouldn’t long for Christ’s return, wait anxiously for all to be set right again. The Bible is clear that we should yearn for the day when we shall see God.

And God’s delay, these thousands of years between the beginning and the end, is a gift, not a curse.

I don’t pretend to understand how. So much of this world seems so bad to me. We probably won’t understand until the end.

We must, however, give thanks and know that time is a gift and is part of the way God made things. This middle of the story is what moves us from the beginning to the beautiful, glorious end.


The created world takes time to be what it is.


Thank You, Lord God, for doing whatever it takes to carry all of creation into its glorious end…which is, after all, only the beginning.

credit/source/copyright for the last two pictures: New Jerusalem and New Earth

An Old Question, Part Two

May we continue our conversation from last week?
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…”
~ Genesis 1.26
The first part of that amazing declaration is “Let us make”
We are created by God. We are part of God’s creation.
Along with the trees, mountains, birds and sun, we ARE God’s creation.
We humans, however, have a unique role that was given to us. A role that only we can fulfill.
We are (as far as we know!) the only creatures who can love God in return.
We are the only part of creation who can give voice to the wordless praise of all creation.
As Jeremy Begbie says in Resounding Truth,
In the human being, creation finds a conscious answering voice, a mortal from the dust of the earth who can know and respond to God’s love as a creature, love God in return, and as a part of this response, voice creation’s praise.
This is a beautiful picture and a beautiful role.
What grace that God entrusted this to us!
What tragedy that our role as worshiper in creation has twisted into worshiper of creation.
Including worshiper of self.
Oh.
Just as I have twisted my role as God’s representative, I have twisted my role of offering worship on behalf of all creation.
…disproportioned sin
Jarred against nature’s chime, and with harsh din
Broke the fair music that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion swayed
In perfect diapason, whilst they stood
In first obedience, and their state of good.
~ John Milton “At a Solomn Music”

However.
What a beautiful word, “however”.
God gave us grace through Christ.
Jesus. Man. God.
A man who gave complete and un-distracted praise to God.
A man who acted out God’s wise rule in the world.
He is our worship to God ~ perfect praise from us to God, creation’s perfect voice.
He is the image of God to us ~ perfect representation of God, being a wise steward of the earth, He brought healing, restoration, hope and peace from God to earth.
Jesus helped and healed many people, like this. He made blind people see. He made deaf people hear. He made lame people walk. Jesus was making the sad things come untrue. He was mending God’s broken world. ~ Jesus Storybook Bible
The most exciting part of this gift, this grace? We are invited to join Him!
As Begbie says,
Our privilege is to find our true place in the world, to be conformed by the Spirit to Christ (II Corinthians 3.18) so we can start to be true image bearers ourselves, reflecting the covenant love of God to the world…In Christ through the Spirit we can recover our calling as God’s image bearers, as the people of God exercising wise stewardship. This is part of authentic “spiritual worship” (Romans 12.1).
What joy! What grace! What gift!
By reflecting God’s image to the world around us, to the tiny piece of creation (human and non-human) in which God has placed us, we are voicing the praise of creation back to God.
What a beautiful circle.
*paintings are Christ and Samaritan by Henryk Siemiradzki and Christ Healing the Blind Man by Eustache Le Sueur