The Incomprehensibility of God

I am pleased to introduce you to a Guest Writer today, my beloved Husband and editor of The Ruminant Scribe, Bill Mowles. He wrote this submission several years ago, but I only became aware of it recently and I wanted to share his comments with you.

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The Webster’s definition of “incomprehensible” is “impossible to comprehend”.  Not hard to understand, not difficult to put into words, but impossible to comprehend.

During a Sunday School Class on the development of the Church, the leader used the word “incomprehensibility” in the context of our inability to fully understand God.   Indeed, when cataloging 15 attributes of God, one author stated: 

What are God’s attributes? When we talk about the attributes of God, we are trying to answer questions like, Who is God, What is God like, and What kind of God is he? An attribute of God is something true about him. While fully comprehending God is impossible for us as limited beings, God does make himself known in a variety of ways, and through what he reveals about himself in his Word and in his creation, we can begin to wrap our minds around our awesome Creator and God.

As I thought about the incomprehensibility of God following this class, I resisted the use of our relationship with our dog Cuddles as an example of this concept.  But I kept returning to how similar our understanding of God and Cuddle’s understanding of us seems to be. 

What we do must seem incomprehensible to her.  We make her food and water appear, and while she “knows” when we go to a particular cabinet that a meal is forthcoming, she cannot grasp why, or what we have to do to make sure that there is food there to give her. She “knows” that when we put her harness on her that she is going for a walk or for a ride, but she has no control over what will happen to her, nor can she tell if she is going to visit a dog park (a good thing) or the vet (not quite so good).   She seems to understand somehow that we are the source of all of this. 

Cuddles trying to understand what Daddy was doing when fixing the faucet in the kitchen sink.

I’m amused at her expression sometimes when we are doing something not related to her care; she cocks her head to one side and seems completely puzzled.  “Why”, I imagine she is thinking, “do they spend so much time staring into those funny lights on their laps (computer and cell phones), where I should be?  Or that big funny light on the wall (television)?“  We provide her every need, because we care for her and want her to be well.  But we don’t grant her every wish, nor do we give her a snack whenever she wants one.

Likewise, God is our loving Father, and from the beginning made available to us our every need.  He has created a world made perfect for our needs.  He has given us His Word, to feed on, to guide us, to make us understand what He wants for us.  He doesn’t explain everything and He doesn’t give us everything we might want, but He provides our every need.

Cuddles seemingly asking Daddy “Hey, can I drive?” while we were on an RV trip and she was studying his movements at the wheel.

I feed the Squirrels. I started doing this to keep them out of the bird feeders, but have continued because the little rascals can be pretty entertaining, One day, when I was putting the peanuts in the little hinged box and the ears of corn on the holders, I became aware of Cuddles barking at me, She might have been saying, “why are you taking care of them? They don’t belong to our family! They don’t love you like I do!”  She doesn’t understand that I care about them too.

This made me think about some of my responses to situations: Why am I surprised that God makes the “rain fall on both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45)?  Why does God let “bad things” happen to good people? (the unbeliever’s favorite argument!)  Why does He call people home to Himself when we aren’t ready to see them go? 

These questions have the same answer: because there are things about Him that He is not ready for us to understand.  God is incomprehensible to us now, but we will understand them when He calls us home.  His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8). 

What God wants from us, here and now, is that we trust Him and to know that He is providing. He wants us to love Him and glorify Him as best as we can.  He wants us to embrace the gifts He has given us, curl up in the lap of His Son, and be a part of His Body.

And I don’t need to understand much more than that!

Father God, I praise Your name for all that You are, and I pray for the wisdom and peace to accept Your will, which is beyond my comprehension. In all things, gain or loss, joy or sorrow, may Your will be done.

Are we angry or submissive?

We were reading the book of Jonah in the Old Testament recently, and I was convicted about attitudes.  

Ocean waves (C)
Atlantic Ocean Waves

We all know the story of Jonah, the recalcitrant prophet.  God told him to go to the city of Nineveh to tell of God’s glory and mercy.  Nineveh was an enemy of Israel, so Jonah took the boat to Tarshish, in the opposite direction from Nineveh.  Of course, he ultimately did get to Nineveh via the great fish that vomited him up onto its shores.  

At this point, he proclaimed the word that the Lord had given him and then he left.  The king and all the people repented of their sin and the Lord had mercy and did not destroy them, as He was going to do.  Jonah succeeded!  Now, read the concluding chapter of the book: 

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.  And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.  Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?” [“Is it right for you to be angry?” NKJV]

Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city.  

Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.  But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered.

When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”

But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”

And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night.  And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Jonah 4:1-11 (ESV)

Jonah was angry with God because the people of Nineveh were going to be given mercy since they repented of their sin and humbled themselves before God.  His message was received and the people appropriately reacted to it.  But Jonah was angry.  He didn’t want “those people” forgiven.  He didn’t want “those people” to receive God’s mercy.   He didn’t want “those people” to survive God’s wrath!  He was angry.  He was so angry, he asked God to kill him because he just didn’t want to live anymore.

Then God addressed the ultimate issue for Jonah, by sending a tree and a worm.  The plant grew up and gave Jonah shade in the hot sun, and Jonah was happy.  Then a worm attacked the plant and it withered, so when the sun was high in the heaven and scorching heat was upon Jonah, he was angry, again.  So angry, he once again asked God to kill him because he just didn’t want to live anymore.

God pointed out that Jonah had pity on the plant which was here today and gone tomorrow.  Then God got to the crux of the issue — “should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons”.  

What is the point of the story for us in 2020?  We are in the same position as Jonah.  We don’t know God’s plan for us or for our world.  We understand that ultimately Jesus will return and claim His people and His kingdom, but that is at the end.  We are in the middle.  In Isaiah we read:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)

God had mercy on Nineveh even though they were enemies of Jonah and the Israelites.  Jonah had to learn the lesson of submission.  He didn’t know why God granted mercy to Nineveh.  We don’t know why we are going through the difficult times facing us, individually, as families, as communities, as a nation, and as the world.  But, we know that God is in control.  He is fully aware of the trials that each one has, and He wants us to be submissive, to call upon Him, to submit to the tasks that He outlines for us.  He wants us to do His will, even while we are stuck in the COVID19 morass.

Are you angry?  Or are you submissive?  Does God need to put you in the belly of the great fish to calm you down so that you can do what He has asked?  Are you angry even when you have succeeded in the task?

James writes:

Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. … Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

James 4:7. 10 (NKJV)

Rather than being angry, submit to God, Beloved.  He will lift you up!

Father, forgive me when I have been so entrenched in my own agenda that I have been unable to see what You want me to do.  Forgive me when I have run in the opposite direction from the direction You wanted me to go.  Forgive me when I have become angry at Your direction.  Cleanse my heart and let me see Your working in my life and in the world around me.  May I submit to Your will even when I don’t understand it.  You are my God and I am Your child.

Are we walking worthy of God?

During a trip to Oregon, we drove along the coastline and, ultimately, came to the Garibaldi estuary.  That is, we came to the point where the river met the ocean, where fresh water mixed with salt water.

Estuary in Oregon 2009 159 (C)
Garibaldi estuary,, Oregon

The setting was beautiful and the concept mind-numbing.  How does fresh water and saltwater combine while remaining separate and not tainted by contact with each other at the estuary?  Given the mass of the ocean, it is clear that the fresh water is not going to dilute the salt in the ocean.  But the same cannot be said of the fresh water in the river.  Its mass nowhere compares to the ocean so why does the saltwater not taint the river’s fresh water? 

I’m not an expert on watersheds or the movement of rivers, etc., but after doing some reading, I think a simple answer is that the saltwater is much more dense than fresh water.  The result is that saltwater cannot go over the natural barriers that occur in the riverbeds.  While there is some mixing of the two, in various ways depending on the estuary configuration, ultimately the fresh water is not at risk of contamination from the salt of the ocean.  It seems to be impervious to it!

While we were reading in 1 Thessalonians, this week, we read these verses:

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

1 Thessalonians 2:11-12. 

Paul uses the illustration of a parent and his child, one we can certainly understand even 2000 years after this was written.  We teach our children how they should behave, how they should be courteous, how they should be kind and assist those who need help, etc.   I recall that, when I would come back from visiting with relatives or friends, my parents would specifically ask if I “behaved myself”, and often a phone call would be made by my mother to confirm the validity of my affirmative response.  She didn’t take my word for it, she checked herself!

This is like what Paul is saying to the Thessalonian Christians.  We exhorted (strongly encouraged or urged) and they charged (entrusted them with a task or responsibility) the people.  Why?  Paul wanted them to “walk in a manner worthy of God.”    

Matthew Henry, writing in the 17th century, asks what our “gospel duty” is regarding our relationship with God. 

What is our great gospel privilege-that God has called us to his kingdom and glory. The gospel calls us into the kingdom and state of grace here and unto the kingdom and state of glory hereafter, to heaven and happiness as our end and to holiness as the way to that end.

What is our great gospel duty-that we walk worthy of God, that the temper of our minds and tenour of our lives be answerable to this call and suitable to this privilege. We should accommodate ourselves to the intention and design of the gospel, and live suitably to our profession and privileges, our hopes and expectations, as becomes those who are called with such a high and holy calling.

A more modern approach is expressed by David Guzik when, in considering these same two verses, he says the following:

It is impressive that Paul could freely appeal to his own life as an example. Paul didn’t have to say, “Please don’t look at my life. Look to Jesus.” Paul wanted people to look to Jesus, but he could also tell them to look at his life, because the power of Jesus was real in his life

… “How we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you … that you would walk worthy of God.”  Paul himself lived justly and blamelessly, but he also told the Thessalonians they should live the same way. He could tell them that they should walk worthy of God because his life and message were consistent.

I suspect that you are asking yourself, “what does our walk with the Lord have to do with an estuary?”

Perhaps nothing in your mind, but in mine, I come up with these questions: Am I mixing salt with fresh?  Am I getting so bogged down in this world that I no longer desire God and His kingdom? Am I so acclimated to the saltwater that I no longer relate to the fresh water of the gospel?  I pondered whether my walk was worthy of God and His kingdom as I flittered from one thing to another, ignoring people in need, taking precious time for frivolous activities, putting Bible time off until I’m too tired to concentrate on what I’m reading.  You get the idea.  

Do I spend so much time doing things, which seem important at the time, with the result that I have no more energy, time or ability to pay attention matters that are of paramount importance, matters that have eternal consequences?

Does this sound familiar to you?

We are to walk through this world although we are citizens of God’s kingdom.  We are to be salt and light to those we come in contact with, but we are not to be so attracted to them that we lose our perspective.  We are to mingle and be Jesus’ representatives to others but we must remember, always, that our citizenship is in God’s kingdom — so we are not attached to the temporary things of this world, rather we look to those things above that are unperishable.  In short, we must walk worthy of God even as we walk through this fallen world. 

Paul reiterated this point in 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 where we read:

To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.

Do I walk, every day, in a manner that is worthy of my citizenship in the kingdom of God?

Do I walk worthy of my calling so that the name of the Lord Jesus will be glorified through me?

Do you?

Father, I read in the Bible tht I should not have an attachment to this world but that I should set my mind on tings above, that I should glorify You through my actions, thoughts and words, that I should walk worthy of my calling that I have received from You.  Oh Holy Spirit, cleanse me and give me Your power to do that which has been commanded so that my life will glorify my God and my Lord.

LOUD VS. STILL

It seems that in our modern culture, there is an emphasis on volume.  Music is no longer melodic and soothing (I’m old school, sure enough), but rather it is ear-splitting loud with lyrics that are almost unintelligible to the listener.   Even country music has transformed from the acoustic guitar to electronics along with bands and a variety of drums. 

Sounds, loud sounds, are found in nature as this world was created by our Almighty God.  Indeed, Scripture frequently references God using thunder to get his message across, and anyone who has been in a thunderstorm, with the cloud above their house, knows the fierce sound and shaking that occurs with thunder.   Consider these verses:

Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt.

Exodus 9:23

And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.

Exodus 19:19

David, a man who tended sheep and was a warrior, who was outside and saw the handiwork of God often, said this:

The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side. The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook.

Psalm 77:17-18

We understand thunder and loud crashes and sometimes it terrifies us.  But there is a flip side to God’s loud creation, and that is Silence.

Currently, we are in the midst of a show shower.  Likely, it won’t amount to much accumulation, but it is positively beautiful to watch as it falls from the sky and covers the ground. 

Snowy tranquility (C)
Snowy tranquility in the backyard.

This blessing, in the form of small white flakes, comes, not with blasting thunder, but in silent beauty descending from the sky.

Snowy branches
Snowy branches up close and personal

In First Kings, we have the record of God speaking with Elijah who had just confronted King Ahab and Jezebel.  God understood that Elijah was exhausted and deflated from his work, and God came to him.

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; [but] the LORD [was] not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; [but] the LORD [was] not in the earthquake:  And after the earthquake a fire; [but] the LORD [was] not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

1 Kings 19:11-12 KJV

God came to Elijah in a still, small voice.  Oh yes, God can shout louder than our ears could withstand, but He comes to His servants, often, in a still small voice.  A voice which we will miss if we only pay attention to the cacophony of sound constantly around us.  We must retreat and be quiet, be still!

God has even directed His people to be silent before Him.  In Exodus, Moses told the people to be silent and watch as God brought about their salvation from the Egyptians.

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.  The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

Exodus 14:13-14

David understood this concept of being still before God.  In Psalm 46:10, God tells him:

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Be still – know that God is with you.  Be still – know that God loves you.  Be still  — know that God will fight for you.  Be still – hear His still small voice in your heart, mind and soul. 

The command to “be still” is not the same as “do nothing.”  The command does not mean that we sit down in a comfy chair and just relax while God does everything.  He is not your manservant nor is He going to do that which He has called you to do. 

Remember, God’s Son, Jesus, left heaven and His eternal relationship with the Father to come to earth and do that which we could not do, save us from our sin.  Jesus did not come to earth, do some miracles and then just rest on his laurels … “I healed the leper so I don’t have to do anything else today!”  No, He was busy doing God’s will, all of it, every day and every moment.  Even when He was a youth, He went into the temple “to do His Father’s business.”  Luke 2:49.

Beloved, let the beauty of falling snow remind you that there is beauty in silence.  Be silent before the Lord and let Him fill you with His voice and His love, with His direction and His grace.  Be silent and know that He is God.

Father, I too often run around “doing good things for You” and forget that I need to send time listening to You, hearing Your still small voice.  Forgive me when I don’t block out the loud sounds of materialism, commercialism, greed, consumerism, violence, entertainment media seeking my attention, distractions from the cell phone … everything that takes the place of listening to Your voice.  Calm my heart and help me hear You.

WHY SHOULD WE PRAISE GOD?

Bald eagle, Moores' pix cropped

When we were in Alaska, we had occasion to see eagles soaring high overhead and one of them was flying along the river, likely anticipating the taste of the duck that we saw flying just ahead of it.   The eagle was beautiful, sleek and fast.  Its talons were strong and its beak was sharp.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA

Our traveling companions snapped this picture of a bald eagle while they were on an excursion along the glaciers.

Eagles are referenced in the Holy Bible for various reasons.  One is as a warning for disobedience.  See, for example, Deuteronomy 28:49:

The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand,  …

The picture is clear.  If the people are disobedient to the commands of God, a nation will come against the disobedient Israelites bringing swift destruction.

Like an eagle!

But, Deuteronomy not only warns us by using an eagle as an illustration, the book also tells of God’s love for is people, again using the eagle as an illustration. 

Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the LORD alone guided him, no foreign god was with him.

Deuteronomy 32:11-12  

Of this passage, Matthew Henry makes the following comments:

The eagle is observed to have a strong affection for her young, and to show it, not only as other creatures by protecting them and making provision for them, but by educating them and teaching them to fly. For this purpose she stirs them out of the nest where they lie dozing, flutters over them, to show them how they must use their wings, and then accustoms them to fly upon her wings till they have learnt to fly upon their own. This, by the way, is an example to parents to train up their children to business, and not to indulge them in idleness and the love of ease. God did thus by Israel; when they were in love with their slavery, and loth to leave it, God, by Moses, stirred them up to aspire after liberty, and many a time kept them from returning to the house of bondage. He carried them out of Egypt, led them into the wilderness, and now at length had led them through it.  The Lord alone did lead him. God needed not any assistance, nor did he take any to be partner with him in the achievement, which was a good reason why they should serve the Lord only and no other, so much as in partnership, much less in rivalship with him. There was no strange god with him to contribute to Israel’s salvation, and therefore there should be none to share in Israel’s homage and adoration, Ps. 81:9.

The eagle teaches her young to arise and to be industrious.  She teaches them to fly, at times carrying them on her own wings until they can do it on their own.  God worked alone in accomplishing Israel’s release from bondage and, thus, God is to be praised and worshiped.  There is no other god beside Him.

In Psalm 103, David is praising God for the numerous benefits given to His People.  I encourage you to read it in its entirety, but here are the first five verses:

1 Of David. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,

3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The theme of the psalm is our blessing of the Lord.  Blessing, here, refers to one who kneels or gives humble adoration – it is absolute praise of the one who is to be blessed.

David knows that we would forget to bless the Lord given our natural tendencies.  It is for this reason that he exhorts us to bless the Lord with all that is within us … all that we are, our thoughts, words, actions, feelings, desires … all that is within us should praise the Lord. 

He then goes on to remind us that the reason we should be compelled to bless the Lord is the remembrance of all the benefits that come with following our Lord. 

            Forgiveness of our sins

            Healing of our diseases, both of mind and body

            Redemption from hell

            Crowns us with steadfast love and mercy

            Satisfies us with good

            Renews our youth like the eagle’s

That last one, renewing our youth like the eagle’s, threw me for a loop.  What does that mean?  So, I consulted Matthew Henry, again.

The eagle is long-lived, and, as naturalists say, when she is nearly 100 years old, casts all her feathers (as indeed she changes them in a great measure every year at moulting time) and fresh ones come, so that she becomes young again.  When God, by the graces and comforts of His Spirit, recovers His people from their decays, and fills them with new life and joy, which is to them an earnest of eternal life and joy, then they may be said to return to the days of their youth.  Job 33:25.

Matthew Henry was born in 1662 and died in 1714.  I don’t know how long eagles would live in our day, and it may not be the 100 years that he referenced.  But, the explanation of molting I do understand.   And, I also understand the new life and joy that comes to the believer when God, by His grace and mercy, because of their faith in Christ alone, adopts them into His family. 

Why should we bless the Lord?   The reasons as too numerous to count.  They are as the grains of sand on the seashore, or as the number of stars in the heavens.

Pick your reason to praise the Lord for today! 

Then, praise Him frequently throughout the day.  Don’t skimp … praise when you feel joyful, and when you are grumpy!  Praise Him when things go well, and when they are not so hot!  Praise Him when you want to, and even when you don’t. 

Father, I praise You for the gift of life and I praise You for your loving kindness, patience, mercy and grace extended to me each day, moment-by-moment.

DAILY PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING

The Holy Spirit has been impressing upon me the privilege of praising the Lord and giving thanks to the Father, not just when something good (in our way of thinking) happens, but regularly, multiple times per day.  It has been said that gratitude should be our modus operandi. 

When we went to the western United States, we found ourselves praising God multiple times per day as we saw His beautiful creation spread out before us.

USED Half dome (C)
Yosemite National Park

The natural beauty of Yosemite National Park prompted us to praise Him and give thanks to Him for the glory of His creation.  Half-Dome standing like a sentry over the mountains and valleys reminded us of the Lord’s watchfulness over His people, and of His omnipotence.  The sure and certain knowledge that He is in control and His purposes will not be thwarted by anything that man can conjure up!

Landscape Rainbow, Seward Highway, Alaska
Landscape Rainbow, Seward Highway, Alaska

The Landscape Rainbow that became visible as we were driving to Seward, Alaska reminded us of God’s unfailing promises. We saw this rainbow the day after I had surgery to repair my broken ankle, a sure-fire way to cut vacation travel short!  But the Lord was with us even in those difficult days thousands of miles from home, when He sent numerous people to minister to us, helping us get through the trial of no place to stay, of surgery, etc.   His people surrounded us, even in the hospital corridor.  The rainbow was a visual reminder that He had not lost track of us, and He would not do so, ever!  And, in response, we uttered a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to Him for sending this beautiful reminder of His presence.

Praise and thanksgiving should be ever present in the life of a Christian, even when things are not what we expected, when they are difficult and painful, when they are overwhelming and frustrating.  Praise and thanksgiving are appropriate at all these times because God is teaching us to be more like His Son, our Lord and Savior.

Paul said:

Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.

Ephesians 5:4

The writer of Hebrews said this about praise to God:

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Hebrews 13:15

This is not just a New Testament command – it is referenced multiple times in the Old Testament as well.

David referenced praise and thanksgiving numerous times in his writings, and here is one of them:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!

Psalm 100:4

In fact, the Israelites were told to practice daily praise and thanksgiving.  With regard to the obligations of the priests, we read in 1 Chronicles 23:30:

“And they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the LORD, and likewise at evening,”

The command is to begin and end the day with praise and thanks to the Lord God.  Notice, God didn’t say that this was required on those days that were easy, or when they were encamped and not fighting anyone, or that they were exempted from this requirement when it was too hot!  Every morning and every evening — come rain or shine, home hard times or easy ones, come plague or famine, come ease or comfort.  Praise and thanksgiving were to be their standard daily.

Do we do this? 

Every day or ever? 

Even on those days that are so frustrating and maddening that we want to scream? 

Even when the children are fighting and we can’t hear ourselves think? 

Even when our spouse has done something that infuriates us? 

Praise and thanksgiving when illness hits or an unexpected death occurs?

Yes, we should!  Daily praise and thanksgiving.  At times it is difficult but calling on the Name of the Lord and giving Him praise and thanksgiving for His presence and comfort, for His guidance and leading, always is music to our Lord’s ears.  It is glorifying to God the Father and it is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in our lives.  I’m not saying that we will understand the reason behind what happens to us, that is God’s area of expertise!  I am saying that the Christian’s response to these things should be humble acknowledgement that we are hurt and that we don’t understand why this bad thing occurred; but, we have confidence in God and His wisdom and we praise His name and give thanksgiving to Him for his faithfulness and His abiding presence with us that gives comfort and peace even in difficult circumstances. 

What a difference daily, moment by moment, praise and thanksgiving would make in our lives!  Glorifying God, giving Him praise and thanksgiving, even at your deepest hour will bring peace and comfort, even when nothing is going right and everything is going wrong. 

Father, forgive us for failing to give You praise and thanksgiving on a daily, moment-by-moment basis.  Enable us to see even difficult days of suffering and loss as times to give You praise as You execute Your purposes for us and for the world.  Give us strength and wisdom as we live our lives and lead us to give You the praise and thanksgiving that You rightfully deserve, every moment of every day. 

CLEAN SLATE!

I believe that I have commented, at least once in this site, that we live in a heavily wooded area, and we have LEAVES to rake up in the fall.  Actually, we pull a leaf vacuum behind our lawn tractor and it shreds the leaves into little pieces which we then take to the street for the city to pick up.

The leaves in the front yard are handled that way.  The leaves in the backyard, however, are mulched in the same way but they are put into the woods in the back yard rather than trucking them down to the street.

Shredded Leaves down at the street

This year was somewhat unique because virtually all of the leaves hanging from the trees fell before the pickup date.  Also, we had very little rain so the leaves were not wet making their removal less difficult. The result was this huge pile of shredded leaves.

In short, this year we had a bumper crop of leaves, a condition which is testified to by the size of the pile along the street.

Yard without leavesThis year, therefore, was also unique insofar as I resulted in a situation seldom seen by us — a “leaf-free” yard.

(Please, if you are a horticulturalist, don’t inspect the yard too closely!  It is, in many areas, also a “grass-free” zone!  That’s probably fodder for a future post!)

The point of the story is a simple one – the ability to have all of the leaves removed from the yard provides us with an opportunity to have a clean slate in the front yard.  Now, we can do what is needed to improve the grass quality, to plant flowers for the spring, to do many things that the plethora of leaves prevented us from doing in the past.

This new year also provides us with a clean slate.  A new year and a new decade – 2020.  If the Lord wills, we will have 365 days ahead of us to do things differently than we have done before.  I’m not necessarily talking about making resolutions –those things are extremely fragile and I usually break them within the first couple of weeks of the new year.

I’m talking about making new habits that will bring spiritual growth, that will increase our love for our Lord and Savior.  We can use this new year to check on our heart … so, how is yours?

Lisa Allen in her devotion 4 Habits of a Healthy Heart, dated September 15, 2014, suggests these habits that will produce a healthy heart:

  1. We should develop a heart for God.
  2. We should develop heart to heart relationships with other Christians.
  3. We should open the eyes of our heart as we go through our day.
  4. We should appreciate the uniqueness of our heart.

First, when we develop a heart for God, we will make time to read His Word daily.  I’m not talking about reading the single verse in the Upper Room and then ignoring scripture the rest of the day.  I’m talking about spending time with God and meditating on the truths found in His Word.  This will give us godly wisdom and will prepare us to meet the hazards and challenges of daily life.  David said:

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Psalm 119:105

David says scripture is a light for us. But, it spreads no light if our Bible is only on our nightstand or shut up on a shelf without being read!

Second, we should develop heart to heart relationships with others in the Christian community.  We can develop this when we worship with people weekly, when we fellowship with them in small group Bible studies or Sunday School, when we eat together at the communion table or at a potluck meal.  We read in Acts 2:42:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

At our church, every other month we have a specific women’s ministry event, such as a game night, craft event, a church-wide picnic, spring and fall retreats and a Christmas brunch.  Participation in these activities enable women to meet each other in an informal, fun way so that we can develop healthy relationships that can encourage our spiritual growth.  We can’t pray for other’s needs if we don’t know them!  Be sure not to get so busy that you don’t have time to worship with others, to fellowship with others and to pray for others!

Third, allow God to open the eyes of your heart to see others as God sees them.  When we spend time with God each day, we begin to see others through God’s eyes.  We will notice their gifts and talents, their passions and their fears.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

We can encourage others as they develop their gifts and their strengths.  This will allow us to reach out to the world, and not limit our interaction with the Christians we see in church on Sunday!

Fourth, recognize that you are a unique creation by God.  Just as there are no two identical snowflakes, there is no one else just like you.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.  You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. … 13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. … 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Psalm 139:1-5, 13, 16

God knows you intimately because He created you with a unique heart, mind and soul. You are a creation by God with skills and abilities that you should put to use in God’s kingdom work.  Yes, nurture your marriage and care for the family, but also take time to invest in activities that reflect your own passion and ability.  If you are a leader, volunteer to lead a Sunday School class or Bible study.  If you want to learn to do something, take a course at a nearby school or take a class on-line.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1:8

Don’t forget that a necessary component of having a healthy heart for the Lord is to find ways to express your own gifts.  God created you for His purposes and He gave you the abilities to do His work through His Holy Spirit.  Be God’s hands and feet in this world by ministering as Jesus did. Take your focus off of yourself and your problems by redirecting your focus to serving others!

Make 2020 a new year with a clean slate and work toward developing a healthy heart.  The clutter of the old year and its leaves have been removed … the new year is here with a clean slate on which you need to put your imprint.  Make it one that glorifies our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Father, I pray that I would take this time to develop a heart for You by reading Your Word faithfully, not out of a sense of obligation but out of love for Your Word.  I pray that I would take this year and fellowship with other Christians so that I can encourage them and receive strength from them as well.  I pray that I would see others as You see them, people who are lost in sin and need a Savior, and I pray that I would introduce them to Jesus through the power of Your Holy Spirit.  Thank You for making me a unique individual, with gifts and talents granted by You for use in Your kingdom.  May I use whatever gifts you have given me so that Your name will be glorified throughout the world.

The Planets

We had the opportunity to listen to the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra recently.  The program included Clair de Lune by Claude Debussy, On the Beautiful Blue Danube by Johan Strauss, Jr.,  These Worlds in Us by Missy Mazzoli, and The Planets, Suite for Large Orchestra, Opus 32 by Gustav Holst.

Each piece was masterfully performed and it was a pleasure to hear them performed live.

The work that is subject of this blog, however, is The Planets.  The composer characterized the orchestral work as “mood pictures” in which each separate movement represented a planet in the solar system. (Notably, he did not include Earth.)  This composition was created in 1916, so there were only seven planets, excluding the Earth, that had been identified and were the subject of Holst’s work..

Along with the music, the Symphony presented a montage of video showing each of the planets in space.  Viewing the video, one became acutely aware of the difference between each of the planets and our Earth.  All were beautiful in their own right.  The rings of Saturn were gorgeous while the rings of Uranus were not quite as complex. While beautiful, none of them had any visible evidence of life.  No trees, no flowers, no animals, no oceans, no clouds.  Just barren rock.

earth-from-space-dscovr
Earth as seen from space.

In contrast, on this planet that is the third from the Sun, we have life in all its fullness.  Beautiful trees, incredible variety of flowers, animals that range from minute little gnats to enormous elephants and apes, fish that swim in the oceans that live so deep man cannot go there apart from specialized submersibles.  Evidence that God created creatures for His glory and beauty is found when, at the bottom of the deepest oceans where no light is found, the camera lights come on and fish are seen displaying a panoply of colors.  God’s enjoyment of His creation is profound, and man can only taste a bit of that joy here and now.

Scripture tells us that God created all things.  Genesis 1:1 states without equivocation:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Matthew Henry says of this verse that:

this world was, in the beginning of time, created by a Being of infinite wisdom and power, who was Himself before all time and all worlds.

The Apostle Paul says:

“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,  and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,

Ephesians 3:8-9

Paul was more clear on this point when he wrote to the Colossians:

“He [Jesus Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Colossians 1:15-17

For the Christian, these words are comforting and clear.  The Old Testament says that God created all things and, in the New Testament, we find that Jesus Christ is the Person who performed that creative work.  We are also told that this creation was created by Him and for Him, and that He holds everything together.

The Biblical creation story is certainly not popular in our 21st century culture.  Big Bang and Evolution are more tantalizing today than a mere statement that by the Word of God creation came about.  But, popular or not, this is the Word of God and it is the authoritative source for my faith and its practice.

I believe the video showing the barrenness of the other planets in our solar system is evidence of the grace of our God in giving us this Earth to live on.  Not too close and not too far from the Sun.  My husband said that Earth’s placement  is called the “Goldilocks Zone” … it’s just right!

Praise God for His marvelous works.  Thank you Lord for giving us this beautiful planet on which to live, and for giving us life itself.

Father, forgive us when we act like we created anything!  Forgive us when we take Your creation for granted.  Forgive us when we disrespect our world and when we take actions that harm the environment.  Thank you for giving us such a beautiful world in which to live, all because of Your glorious grace, mercy and love.

Yes, You Learned Math You’ll Never Use After High School. Here’s Why. — Brandon J. Adams

I follow  Brandon J.  Adams, and his most recent post reminded me, fondly, of physics in high school.  My teacher, Mr. Townsend, was a patient man, whose Christian ethic was evidenced in how he taught our class.  I was his problem child — not from a disruptive standpoint — I simply could not understand physics.  I just did not grasp it.  And, since I was going to be a nurse, I didn’t believe that it was anything that I would use in the real world.  I passed the class, barely, only because I repeatedly stayed after school with him tutoring me, trying to figure the subject out, to only moderate success.

However, God had other ideas.  Through a series of avenues, I ultimately found myself in law school, 11 years after graduating from college as an English teacher.  I began working in a law firm where my clerking and then my practice centered on product liability litigation.  In doing this work, I found myself dealing with experts in mechanical devices, learning how the differential on a vehicle worked, what a limited slip differential was, what the Delta-v of the accident was and why that mattered.  In short, I was using physics in my defense of the product at issue.

Each time I used these concepts I envisioned Mr. Townsend, spinning in his grave, but smiling also, knowing that his work was not misguided!  In short, God was even then teaching me what I would need to know later in life (much later in life, actually!).

This is rather the subject of Brandon’s post, and I pray that you would enjoy it and ponder how God prepares each of us for the work that He has planned for us to do. I find Brandon’s posts at brandonjadams.com.  Please feel free to check out what he has to say here and on his site.  I think you will find it enlightening and a wonderful blessing.

I see it all the time – some character on the internet asking why they were taught (fill in the blank algebra) they never used after high school instead of (fill in the blank practical math like budgeting or taxes or mortgage math).

Having served in the teaching profession, this question is really mine to answer. I now oblige.

Beyond the fact that many schools do offer alternative courses in such math (I’ve taught them)…

…or the fact that practical math is far easier for someone to self-teach, so we reserve algebra for professionals…

…or lines like “it’s about problem-solving” or “we could use more trade schools” or “because federal agencies are dictating our content #lessgovernment #murica”…

…the answer is simple.

You learned math you’ll never use after high school – because your teachers believe in you.

You’re welcome.

Contrary to popular opinion, teachers have no crystal ball revealing exactly what each student will grow up to be. We have no way of knowing a future environmental researcher or mechanical engineer from a future office receptionist or restaurant manager.

And since we don’t know, teachers labor to equip students for as many choices as possible. Perhaps for when that space exploration video smacks your eyeballs in junior year and launches your imagination into overdrive, or when you read about that ecological crisis brewing in the Solomons and suddenly feel driven to find solutions. Darned if teachers are about to bar you from those possibilities by not teaching the basics.

Students might think we should know. “Can’t you see the loser I am? Can’t you see I have no capacity for that great stuff?”

No. We don’t. That’s not our job. Teachers believe in every human that sits before them – even when they don’t believe in themselves. How can they do their jobs with any passion otherwise? We will not count you out, even when you count yourself out.

Even if you do become a stay-at-home mom, had you chosen a path of research at Cal Tech, you at least had the option. That is not a waste of your time. For you were not a waste of their time. You may not have understood the lesson then, but it gives you limitless options later.

You could say much the same of God – except he knows exactly where you’ll end up.

Perhaps you’re currently wondering, when on earth am I going to need these heartbreaking lessons I’m learning? Perhaps your current circumstances are stretching you to the breaking point, beyond what you thought you could bear. The fear and depression don’t lift. Money stays suffocatingly tight. The loneliness bears down like a fog. Month in and month out, year in and year out, no matter how many “things are about to change!” sermons you hear, nothing ever does.

Know that it is not in vain. Nothing on God’s blackboard smartboard is ever wasted. 

Imagine being admitted to a NASA engineering internship only to find out you haven’t the slightest math skills. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

God is averting you from that fate. He loves you fiercely and is arranging the strength and knowledge, professionally taught, that you will need for your destiny. When it arrives, you will be ready.