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.

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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.

BLOWING YOUR TOP!

We have been watching one of The Great Courses on Pompeii.  It is a fascinating look at the society that formed in the Bay of Naples centuries before the time of Christ.  The predominant physical structure of the area is Mount Vesuvius.   The lecturer said that today, the volcano is about 3,000 feet high.  Prior to its eruption in A. D. 79, the volcano was in excess of 7,000 feet high.  The effect of the volcano blowing its top was a sudden cataclysmic pouring of lava, volcanic ash and pumice throughout the region.  Notably, Pompeii was buried in 13 to 20 feet of ash and pumice.   That is blowing your top in a big way!

When we were in Yellowstone National Park, we observed a number of geysers including one call the White Dome Geyser.  It was clear why it was called that – it was a white dome that looked like the top of an ice cream cone. 

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White Dome Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

It would erupt at different times each day with a spray that went high into the air.  Although it is the result of volcanic activity deep underground, clearly the White Dome Geyser is on the scale of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.  It is much more controlled, still venting, but not destroying.

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Fortunately, few of us ever experience a Mt. Vesuvius explosion.  But, on a personal level, blowing your top can take a variety of forms.  Usually there is loud, sometimes abusive, language accompanied by throwing things, slamming doors, or breaking items that are in our way … in short, there is dynamic activity that potentially destroys something, or someone, in the process of relieving our pent-up anger.  Then, when all is done, there is a, perhaps, strained quiet, but after the outburst at least it is quiet.  The outburst is over – now it is time to assess the damage. 

Scripture talks about blowing your top … not in those words, but the meaning is abundantly clear.  Take these Old Testament references for example:

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”

Proverbs 14:29  

“A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.

Proverbs 15:18  

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

Proverbs 19:11  

Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man,”

Proverbs 22:24  

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”

Psalm 37:8  

This theme is continued in the New Testament by the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians:

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,”

Ephesians 4:26.  This verse states that it is alright to become angry; but we must not let it fester so that you become enraged, and out of control so that you then are guilty of sin.  

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

Ephesians 4:31  

Jesus Christ showed us what should cause our anger:

“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.””

Matthew 21:12-13

Jesus was angry when His Father’s house was subject to desecration, when people were being cheated and when people could not pray there.

Scripture tells us that God can become angry, very angry indeed!  But His is a righteous anger when His creation has become so sinful that He cannot tolerate to even look upon it.

Consider the flood which wiped out all people, animals and plants, except for Noah, his family, and the animals secreted in the ark. (Genesis 6 and 7)  Consider Sodom and Gomorrah where God said He would spare the cities if He could find 10 righteous people in them.  When He could not identify even that few righteous ones, the cities were destroyed by fire from heaven. (Genesis 18 and 19)

David recognized that God could become angry. 

Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?”

Psalm 90:11  

David also recognized that God was merciful and slow to anger.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”

Psalm 86:15  

If we are honest, our anger is usually triggered by a feeling of personal hurt, by a sense of being ignored or cast aside.  Our own agenda has been violated, our desires have been dashed, our wants have been slighted.  We feel that others have taken advantage of us to our detriment and to their benefit, and we are angry.  In short, our anger is usually self-centered.  We are focused on I/Me/Mine.

As Christians, we are called to be like our Father and to follow the example of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  James, the half-brother of Jesus said we should live like this:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;  for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

James 1:19-20  

We are called to keep our anger under control.  Note the list that includes anger and the list that includes self-control in Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of GodBut the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Galatians 519-:24

Don’t blow your top.  When the acid of anger wells up in your heart, quench it with the fruit of the Spirit.  Remember that you did not deserve to be saved from your sins – it was an unmerited gift from God.  Because of that gift, you should give others undeserved love as well.  Remember, Paul gave this instruction, from Deuteronomy 32:39, to the Christian:

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.””

Romans 12:19 

For the Christian, there really is no need to blow his/her top!

Father, forgive me when I have become angry with others, when I have vented my anger in an ungodly manner rather than seeking the other person’s good.  Help me to remember the Holy Spirit is my strength and guide and may I grow in self-control today, and throughout my life.

ANGER MANAGEMENT

On our trip to Yellowstone National Park, we visited the Norris Geyser Basin.   According to the information on the park’s signs, the basin is far below the towering peaks of the Gallatin Mountains.  Water accumulates underground.  The basin sits near the Yellowstone Caldera and is at the edge of one of the largest volcanos on our planet – the Yellowstone Volcano.  Heated by the volcano, the water travels upward to erupt from acidic geysers, or to rise from steaming fumaroles (an opening in or near a volcano through which hot, sulfurous gasses emerge), or to simmer in shimmering pools, steaming throughout all kinds of weather.  Names such as Fearless Geyser, Monarch Geyser, Yellow Funnel Spring, Steamboat Geyser, Whirligig Geyser, and Pinwheel Geyser give evidence of the variety of sights available in the Norris Geyser Basin, appropriately described as beautiful and bizzare.

While watching the geysers, I considered that they were rather like an allegory for what anger looks like.    

For example, the White Dome Geyser stands tall and is silent. 

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Until, at some unpredictable time, it erupts.

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Now, I’m certainly not saying that the geyser is angry … but the unpredictability of its eruption is similar to those whose anger can flare up for seemingly no reason.

Of course, we know that the geyser named Old Faithful erupts almost to the minute on its schedule.  No National Park Ranger has to tell it when to erupt – it just does it, day in and day out, on time, on schedule.

Old Faithful could represent the one whose anger erupts over the same trigger, time and time again.  Those around him/her know not to say anything about that trigger in fear that the tantrum could erupt again.

We even saw one vent in a fenced off area of a parking lot.

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Steam rising up from underground without an on or off button!  This geyser could represent the one whose anger is just under the surface, whose anger tinges his/her attitudes and reactions even if a full-fledged eruption does not occur.  It is just a matter of time.

Not all geysers shoot high into the heavens.  Some geysers bubble up from under the ground, and they continue bubbling nonstop.

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This could represent the one whose anger is always churning within, whether or not anything is said to others … the anger is seething and boiling up inside in a never-ending tumult of pain.

Anger – it is something that all of us, if we are honest, have experienced and most would likely say they have experienced it often. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “For every minute you remain angry, you give up sixty seconds of peace of mind.”

Long before Emerson said this the Psalmist said:

“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”

Psalm 37:7-8

In the Book of Proverbs, we read Solomon’s words on anger:

“Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”

Proverbs 14:29

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” –

Proverbs 15:18

Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man,”

Proverbs 22:24

“Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?”

Proverbs 27:4

The Apostle Paul said:

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

Ephesians 4:31

But too often our anger is misplaced, and many times our anger is motived from self-interest, greed or a desire  to control.  I know that I have been angry over the actions of another person and the Holy Spirit immediately brings to mind a time when I had done the same thing to someone else.  In other words, sin in our life is also a cause for anger.

Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying something along these lines:  “When angry count to ten before you speak.  If very angry, count to one hundred.”

The advice to be reluctant before exercising anger is stated in scripture frequently, with the Apostle Paul saying:

Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,”

Ephesians 4:26

I suspect that most everyone has heard “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger”.  This is a good statement to newly weds and is a good policy for a positive marital relationship.  But it extends much more broadly to all our relationships. 

However, the first part of Ephesians 4:26 is not quoted as often.  In certain situations, it is appropriate to be angry. Remember Jesus at the temple when he was angry that it had been turned into a “den of thieves”?  Read Mark 11:15-17.  That is appropriate anger, my friend!

Aristotle said:

Anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.

I suggest to you that anger is frequently sinful and, when harbored continuously, is physically harmful to you.  Eruptions of anger increase blood pressure and all sorts of physical reactions when, in the long run, can cause damager to your body, even disregarding the damage it can cause to relationships, family members, etc.

Take time to consider the geysers and their eruptions, consider which one parallels your emotional make-up, and then consider the scripture that speaks to anger and its management. 

The Holy Spirit will help you because it is the Spirit’s job to transform you into the image of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

Father, I pray that we would read Your Word and consider whether the anger that we so often experience is a holy anger or if it is motivated by selfish desires, pride, arrogance or any other sin that we have harbored in our hearts.  Let us confess and repent of that sin and live a life that is based on Your Word and empowered by Your Spirit.  In Jesus Name, I pray.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE?

An old joke told by my husband goes something like this:

After a long discussion about serious matters confronting our country and our businesses, one man asked another “What do you believe?”  The response was “I believe I’ll have another cup of coffee.”

While the humor is superficial, the real question hangs in the air like Spanish moss hangs from tree limbs – what do you believe?  Of course you need to complete the thought … what do you believe about ____fill in the blank_______?  We can believe any number of things about any number of topics: politics, military necessity, recipes that are tempting, education, how much to drink at any given time, etc. but the only belief that is of eternal consequence is “What do you believe about God?”

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” 

John 3:16. 

Cross
The cross, a reminder of the glorious gift of God provided to us by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

While there are many additional concepts involved in God’s salvation for His people, the Scripture of the Holy Bible encapsulates them concisely and definitively in the John 3:16.  Christians can argue about the finer points, the details and the doctrine, but ultimately, eternal life comes down to believing in Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

In our church, we recite The Apostles’ Creed each week.  It is a statement of the common beliefs of the Christian community that is a bit longer than John 3:16.  

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into Heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic* church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

*Catholic means “universal”.

It is appropriate for us to remind ourselves of that which we believe because what you believe about Jesus Christ determines your ultimate destiny.  Why do we need Jesus as a Savior?  See Romans 3:23.

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” 

According to Dr. R. C. Sproul our sin is “cosmic treason” against God.  [For more from Dr. Sproul on this topic, see the post Good and Bad Together?, posted January 27, 2017.]  

Unfortunately, we cannot save ourselves from the consequences of our rebellious sin.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” 

Ephesians 2:8-9

If you receive Him as your Savior, through grace alone, as you believe in His atoning death on the cross and His resurrection and ascension into heaven, if you confess your sins and repent, Scripture says that you will be saved.  Your position in Heaven for eternity is guaranteed and you will be a new creation in Christ.

Think about the Apostles’ Creed and each of its elements.  Do you believe this?  Does it make a difference in your life?  Pray that you will be more aware of how your beliefs determine your actions, because they do.

Here is a song entitled “I Believe” sung by the Bar J Wranglers For God and Country.  I pray that you would be encouraged by its beautiful message.

Father, I thank You for Your grace that was extended to me by Christ’s death for me on the cross of Calvary.  I thank You for the mercy and forgiveness you granted to me and I praise Your holy name for the gift of salvation.  I pray that these words would challenge those who may not know You, and I pray that Your Holy Spirit would touch their hearts and bring them to You.