Joy and Gratitude, Sorrow and Longing

Easter.


Spring.


New life.



On Easter morning, my eldest ran into the living room where we had left Jesus on the cross the night before, eyes wide with hope of resurrection. “Daddy, look! Jesus left us flowers that God made!”



Hope and joy at the end of sorrow and pain. This is Easter.

On Easter morning, gathered with our Family, we sing

The greatest day in history

Death is beaten, You have rescued me

Sing it out, Jesus is alive!

Endless joy, perfect peace, 

Earthly pain finally will cease

Celebrate Jesus is alive!

Oh, happy day, happy day…

My heart swells and overflows with emotions that at first glance seem to be at odds. For some time now, I often feel both joy and gratitude, sorrow and longing. 



On Easter morning, the joy is easy. Jesus is alive!

Sorrow and longing, though, those are things that are more difficult. Yet they are real and, although hard, they are what should be.

My sorrow is over our first Easter without Kristina



As we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death and as our family celebrates a new season of birth from my youngest brother and his wife, we miss Kristina with a physical ache. As I plan a baby shower, I can’t help but think of how Kristina would have been at her finest, crafting beautiful invitations by hand. 

We acknowledge that all of this, this pain and death and sadness, is not how it was supposed to be. None of this existed before we rebelled against God. 



And so I sorrow.

My longing is for that day of redemption and transformation. The day when earthly pain will cease and death will be banished for all time. I desperately wish to be gathered into Jesus’ arms and told that all is now well. 



And so I long.

Sorrow and longing. At second thought, they are what we should feel. After all,

Our kind, heavenly Father has provided many wonderful inns for us along our journey, but He takes special care to see that we never mistake any of them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis

May I return for a moment to gratitude?

On Easter morning, as we worshiped together, we sang

You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of the dust.
You make beautiful things,
You make beautiful things out of us.

My heart cries out “Why?”

Why do You love me that much? 



You went to the cross to allow me to become a daughter of God. Wasn’t that more than enough? Why would You now also work so very hard to make beautiful things out of the dust that I am? Why would You pour so much into molding me into someone who looks like You?

There is much deep theology in this. Perhaps I will explore these things later.

For now, I will fall on my knees in gratitude for such deep love.



On Easter morning and beyond, I will let my heart swell with sorrow and longing, joy and gratitude, knowing that Jesus is alive.


art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West; heaven picture; cross picture by Asta Rastauskiene

What will you do when God says "no"?

What do you do when you don’t get your way?



My eldest screams with a red hot rage and sobs tears of hurt and disappointment.

As much as I would like to hold my head up high and speak with condescension about the ways of a child, I can’t. Instead, I will bow my head with shame and confess that, even if I don’t do it out loud or in front of people, I have much the same reaction in my deepest places.

I received another “no” from God this week.




It really hurt. Yet another of my well-laid plans was swept away with the dust of a hope.

I do gain deep peace and joy from knowing beyond a doubt that the only reason that God said “no” was because that wasn’t what was best.

And, just as I wrote recently, my heart still grieves.

There is a piece of me, that child that can’t seem to grow up, that wants to shout and rage and stamp its foot and demand a “yes” from God.



The desire, the temptation, is not wrong. As I often tell my eldest, the feeling is not wrong, but what you choose to do can be either wise or foolish.

So what did I choose to do?

This time (I wish that I could say “every time”) I chose what was wise.

With tears, I praised God.

I thanked Him for telling me “no” because I trust that it was best, that it was done out of love.

Then I went to church and worshiped.

You make all things work together for my good.
You stay the same through the ages,
Your love never changes.
There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning.
And when the oceans rage,
I don’t have to be afraid
Because I know that You love me.
Your love never fails.


My whole life I place in Your hands.
God of mercy, humbled I bow down
In Your presence at Your throne.
I called, You answered
And You came to my rescue
And I want to be where You are.


You stood before my failure,
Carried the cross for my shame.
My sin weighed upon Your shoulders,
My soul now to stand.
So I’ll stand,
With arms high and heart abandoned,
In awe of the One who gave it all.


I turned my eyes back to Jesus and gained back my perspective. No matter to what God says “no”, it is so small compared to the huge thing to which He has already said “yes”: allowing us to become His children through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. He has given us everything, and so…

I’ll stand
My soul, Lord, to You surrendered.
All I am is Yours.

art credit: 
songs are from Your Love Never Fails (Jesus Culture); Came To My Rescue (Hillsong United); The Stand (Hillsong United) 
sketching is The Three Crosses by Rembrandt

Science, Faith, and Fear

Why are so many Christians afraid of science?



So many Christians get incredibly defensive and angry when it comes to debates and discussions about science, particularly when our origin is the topic under scrutiny. People will argue fiercely and loudly against theories such as evolution or big bang cosmology.

Some would even go so far as to state that Christians cannot also be scientists.

Why do we get so defensive and angry?

Fear.

While most would not admit it, many are, deep down inside, afraid that if such theories are true than their God does not exist. They fear that God is unable to defend Himself and so they get angry in order to drive out their fear.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship

I have fear too.

I am afraid that this divide between Christians and science is driving people away from our faith rather than drawing them in.

How can we possibly think that science could destroy God? How can we believe that science could ever come up with a truth that would cause God to cease to exist?



We worship and serve God Who is Truth and science cannot help but point to Him.

Perhaps part of the trouble is that Christians have mistaken the purpose of science.

Science tries to figure out how things work. Science does not give ultimate explanation for the origin and existence of the universe or answer questions concerning the purpose of the universe or of our existence.



What if evolution is true? What if the big bang theory is true? Does that take God out of the picture at all?

God created our universe. The Bible is clear on that point. 



As Richard T. Wright writes in Biology Through the Eyes of Faith:

Whether you believe that His gifts were bestowed at the outset of creation, or periodically over time, or all at once recently, you should see design in what He has done. What we see doesn’t prove His existence, but it does point people in the right direction, and for Christians, what we see and learn should cause us to thank Him and give Him the glory for such a wonderful creation.

Why should we fear science when science can give us more and more insight into how beautiful and complex is God’s design? Science doesn’t deny God, science glorifies God! 

God reveals Himself through His Word: 

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching…

God also reveals Himself through His created world: 

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Why do we try to throw out one of His revelations?

At the end of one of his papers, the biologist David Wilcox says this:

In our speculations, we must be limited by God’s self-revelations – both by Scripture and in His created world. As we seek to be guided by these two sources of truth, let us humbly acknowledge that our interpretations of both sources of knowledge are worldview guided and fallible. We will always need to be guided – and corrected – by the Spirit of Truth, in science or in theology. And when we get home…won’t we have a good laugh at ourselves?!

Perhaps we should trust God. Trust that He is able to defend Himself, trust that He is Truth and that science can never knock Him off His throne.



Whether you believe that the earth is young or old, whether you believe that we humans were created in one day or over billions of years through evolution, when we have debates and discussions with other Christians and with non-Christians, please remember that the most important thing to God is not our origin but that we love Him and love each other.

It is not wrong to have your opinion, to study science and debate with others about various issues, but don’t fear those who disagree–love them. In the end, our love and respect, our willingness to listen and prayerfully consider new ideas is a much stronger way to show Jesus to the world around us than attacking others or becoming defensive out of fear.

…But perfect love drives out fear…

As we think about how we love, may I end with one last thought from Wright’s book?

Over the years, I have realized that even though it is necessary to look at these origins issues and problems, the more important problems are those that are facing us today as we try to learn how to take care of the creation and how best to use its gifts. (If God were to ask us a question about His Creation,) would He ask us what we thought about how He made the world, or would He ask us what we did with it?


Art credits: DNA photo by Tomislav Alajbeg; photos of Eagle Nebula and Supernova from NASA; microscopic view of a lime tree by Kriss Szkurlatowski

A Psalm of Love


Holy. Beautiful. Glory.



Creator. Author. Majesty.



King and Lord. Humility and Servant.



Love.






Wise beyond my wisdom.



Knowing beyond my knowledge.



Perfect plan beyond what I can comprehend.



Love.






Giver of all that I grasp too tightly.



Sacrificer of all, that I may see Your face.



Abundant mercy and grace, I rest in your delight in me.



Love.






For all that comes before,



When I cannot understand,



Still I will cling to Your power, Your goodness and



Your Love.




What You Should Do Next

What should we do now?

How should we respond?

When life seems to be running rapidly into a dead end




When we feel carved out and emptied by the rivers of this world’s realities




When the weight of our pain threatens to crush



When our hearts are pitted and scarred by pain, anguish, shame



What should we do?

Yes, we continue to obey, to follow the signs.

To what purpose? To what end?

The men who walked in the fire told a king that even if God refused to rescue, they would continue to obey.

The man who lost all but his life declared that even if God took the last thing remaining to him, he would continue to trust.

Why do we obey, why do we trust even when we cannot seem to find the light?

Listen.

Listen to the Word speak.

Listen to what the Word says as He is drawing very near to His own darkness.

“Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

The Glory of God our Father.

Out of the rocks, His glory bursts forth.



Out of the dead and the dying, His beauty shines out.



All praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

Father, glorify Your name!


(If you are viewing this via email/in a reader, may I suggest that you click here to view this video?)

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

Kristina

Grateful for a life given as grace
Beauty in both heart and face
God’s gift for twenty-six years
More than we deserved
Hard to see through tears

Scraps of colored paper were her gift
Our hearts now are torn, our emotions set adrift
Made divinity, read books, gave flicks, played games
This beautiful marriage was more of God’s grace
Her husband’s world, on the outside, is going up in flames

Yet

God is always good and God is always love
Beauty and joy in even this is given from above
I don’t begin to understand but I declare what I don’t yet see
God promises to transform weeping into dancing, pain into glory
She’s home, she’s well, her life and body as they were always meant to be



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