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. 

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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.

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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.

THE WORD OF HIS POWER

The word of His power.  This is a phrase that we don’t hear in our modern speech, but it is wording that is found in Scripture, specifically in the opening of the book of Hebrews:

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.  He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,”

Hebrews 1:1-3

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Dubois, Wyoming
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Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
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Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah
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Red Canyon, Richfield, Utah

This same creative power was not only extended to Jesus’ work of creation, it also was on display when He was living among us.  The same word “power”, or the Greek word δύναμις which is transliterated as dynamis, was used when people who met Jesus discussed His miraculous works:

“and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works?”

Matthew 13:54

“And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!””

Luke 4:36

And it is the same word that Jesus used when He said this to His disciples, as recorded in the first chapter of Acts:

“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

This same power is available to us when we are doing that which God has told us to do, specifically when we are witnessing of His great love for us as shown through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Praise our God and Father for the work of His Son in creation and in sustaining our universe through the power of His word.  Praise Him also for sending His Son to save us from our sin so that we could have life everlasting with Him.  Silence yourself and worship our God.

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

Psalm 46:10

Father, I thank You for your Son and for His marvelous works in creation.  I thank You, Lord Jesus, for your wondrous love as evidenced by your sacrificial death on the cross, and I thank You, Holy Spirit, for your work in quickening our hearts so that we can believe and have saving faith in our Lord.  I pray that I would silence my fears and concerns so that I can be still before You, as I glorify You, my God and my Redeemer.

500 years and counting!

Just a short note to say that Today, October 31, is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  October 31, 1517, marked the beginning of the unveiling of the light of the gospel that had been hidden during the dark Middle Ages.  It was a day that resulted in being able to spread the word that salvation is available through faith alone in Christ alone.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther stood up and faced the authorities, challenging them to accept Scripture as God’s Word and the sole guidance for our life and as the rule for our faith.

He also penned multiple hymns, the most famous of which is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, based on Psalm 46.  This hymn celebrates the sovereign power of God over all earthly and spiritual forces, and it highlights our sure hope that we have through Jesus Christ.   It is said that Luther’s hymn was on the lips of the people and that it encouraged the faint-hearted, bringing strength to fight the battle of the Lord.

It was sung at Augsburg during the Diet, and in all the churches of Saxony, often against the protest of the priest.  It was sung in the streets; and, so heard, comforted the hearts of Melanchthon, Jonas, and Cruciger, as they entered Welmar, when banished from Wittenberg in 1547.  It was sung by poor Protestant emigrants on their way into exile, and by martyrs at their death.  It is woven into the web of the history of Reformation times, and it became the true national hymn of Protestant Germany.

Studies of Familiar Hymns, by Louis F. Benson, D.D., The Westminster Press, 1903, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” at page 159.  

Listen to this wonderful hymn and praise our God for the work of Luther and the other Reformers 500 years ago.  Then, praise God for His preservation of His Word and for His marvelous Gift to the children of men!

Here is “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” as presented on the album Hymns for All Saints: Adoration, Praise, Comfort, (Concordia Publishing House). 

As you listen to this wonderful hymn, praise our God for the work of Luther and the other Reformers 500 years ago.  Then, praise God for His preservation of His Word and for His marvelous Gift to the children of men!   Now, work for God’s kingdom and pray that 500 years from now, if the Lord has not yet returned, the light of the Reformation will still shine out over our planet!

Praise the Lord!

SILENT NIGHT, PART 2

We have spoken of the way, in 1818, this carol came about.  From the majestic heights of the Austrian Alps we see the image of the village covered in snow and the profound silence that the snow brings.

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Snow in branches, undisturbed by frenetic activity on the ground below.

While the carol is a calming influence in a season of tumultuous activity, the carol is also calming because of its sound theology.  Let us look at the words of this carol and consider the Scripture that relates to each stanza.

  • Silent night, holy night; All is calm, all is bright.  Round yon virgin, mother and child, Holy infant, so tender and mild, Sleep in heavenly peace, Sleep in heavenly peace

The prophet Isaiah foretold in Isaiah 7:14:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  

This prophecy was quoted in Matthew 1:23 with a small addition, the meaning of the term “Immanuel”: 

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

Mary was a virgin when she gave birth to her son, Jesus.   Indeed, she confirmed that this prophesy was being fulfilled when she said, in Luke 1:34:

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Then there is the phrase “Sleep in heavenly peace”.  Jesus is, truly, the source of peace.  When His disciples were afraid, He said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 14:27

The peace Jesus provides is overwhelming, and is heavenly peace!

  • Silent night, holy night,  Shepherds quake at the sight; Glories stream from heaven afar,  Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!  Christ the Savior is born, Christ the Savior is born!

While the Holy Scripture does not use the word “quake” to describe the shepherds on that hillside, the Scripture does support the concept in Luke 2:9 where we read:  

“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.” 

I have to say, if I saw an angel of the Lord, with the glory streaming from the angel surrounding me, I believe that I would be filled with fear and would likely “quake” too!

Then we read in Luke 2:13-14 that there was great singing by the heavenly host:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” 

I can’t write these words without smiling and hearing in my soul the choir singing these words during Christmas anthems.  Another way to say “Glory to God” is by use of the word “Alleluia” or Hallelujah meaning “God be praised”.

“Christ the Savior is born”.  The angel told Joseph that Jesus was going to be the Savior of men when he announced to him that his betrothed was with a heavenly child.  

She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Matthew 1:21

The angels also announced this to the shepherds on that hillside so long ago: 

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:11

When Jesus became an adult, He ministered three years and then “set His face toward Jerusalem” so that He could fulfill the mission assigned to Him by the Father — being the sacrificial lamb crucified in atonement for the sins of His people. He was, is and forever will be our Savior.

  • Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure lightRadiant beams from thy holy face With the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

It is true that the babe in the manger was the Son of God, and it is also true that He was “love’s pure light”.   Jesus said:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

John 15:12

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

John 8:12

I doubt that the Babe in the manger had either a radiant face or a halo around His head as depicted in religious art.  But radiance does apply to our Lord.  Think of the description of Jesus when He was transfigured before three of his disciples.  Matthew describes it as follows: 

And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.

Matthew 17:2 

Redeeming grace was truly brought to earth when Jesus was born.  Paul sums this up in Galatians 4:4-5 where he says:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

The carol concludes with the profound statement “Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.”  This is, too, an accurate statement and it is an affirmation of faith and belief in that wonderful Babe.  

Paul writes:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:9-11.  Jesus is Lord of all, and He was Lord even as the Babe.  He gave up His heavenly place so He could save us from our sins; but He was no less Lord when He was a man than when He was in heaven.  The God/Man Jesus Christ is and always has been part of the Triune God, from the time before time began and He will remain such when time no longer exists and we are in heaven for eternity.  Jesus is Lord.  Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

Yes, the beautiful carol “Silent Night” sums up the theological point that Jesus is the Son of God, Who was born of a virgin and Who came into this world for the purpose of redeeming us from our sin.  The Babe Who is the Lord of all.  The salvation story is on full display in this beautiful carol. Praise the Lord!

May the blanketing silence of snow cover you, whether literally or figuratively, so that you experience the peace that our Savior brings to your heart and soul even in the hectic days of the Christmas season.  The Psalmist says it this way:  

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Psalm 46:10.  Unfortunately, we cannot be still so that we can know God when we are running frantically in hyper-mode to get everything accomplished that we think needs to be done.  Nor can we be still so God can make Himself known to us when His voice is drowned out by the cacophony of electronic beeps and tones, television’s call to view programs of no redeeming value, malls demanding that you purchase goods that you think will satisfy hunger and need but which will only wind up stacked against the wall, unused. You can likely add other scenarios that keep you from being silent before God.  

Remember the silence of that holy night when Mary and Joseph looked with loving eyes at the Babe Who was born so miraculously.  

Perhaps listening to Silent Night will get you into the stillness mode.  Here is “Silent Night, Holy Night” as sung by Saint Michael Singers on the album Gloria.  

Do whatever it takes to let yourself “Be still”. You will be glad you did and your relationship with your Father will grow stronger this Christmas season.

Father, thank You for Your Word that tells of the birth of Jesus even hundreds of years before it occurred.  Thank You for Your Word that speaks to us today, thousands of years after Jesus was born, telling us of His birth, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return.  Help me to keep my eyes on You and Your gift to us, the Babe in the manger who became our Sacrifice on the Cross and is now our Savior in Heaven.   Give me the grace to “Be still”, even when chaos reigns around me, through the power and love of Your Son, Jesus Christ, my Savior.

SILENT NIGHT

Anyone who has stood outside while snow is falling has heard “the sound of silence”. 

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Chicago big snow in 1967

The blanket of snow simply muffles sounds that ordinarily would be heard. 

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Front yard and drive covered in white blanket of snow.

It is a silence that is palpable, beautiful and spell-binding.

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Snowy tranquility.

That snowy silence was the impetus behind the Christmas carol “Silent Night” which is a staple in the Christmas collection of carols for thousands of churches.  Even secular groups will sing the song because of its incredible imagery, beautiful lyrics and soul-calming theme. 

Here is the story behind the creation of this beautiful Christmas classic.

In 1818, Josef Mohr was assistant pastor of the St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, a village near Salzburg in the Austrian Alps.  He was in a meditative mood as he walked home after a Christmas presentation in a friend’s home.  He walked along the longer path to his home which took him to the top of a hill.

Surrounded by the majestic Alps, from his vantage point over the village, Mohr looked down on the peaceful snow-covered village.  He experienced the awesome silence of the night as he looked at the shining scene below him that looked rather like a Christmas card.  As he pondered on the scene, he remembered a poem that he had written a couple of years earlier which described the night when angels came to the shepherds on a hillside to announce the birth of the Messiah.

While Mohr had words that he believed would be a good Christmas carol for the congregation to sing at the Christmas Eve service, he did not have any music.  So, he went to see the church organist, Franz Gruber.  In short, Gruber had to have a melody that could be sung that evening with a guitar since the organ was out of commission.  Gruber composed the music for Mohr’s poem and they sang it that evening without the organ. The congregation loved the carol, and it is reported that many of the people had tears in their eyes from its beautiful rendition.

Later, the organ builder came to repair the St. Nicholas church organ, and, when completed, he asked Gruber to play a tune to test the repair.  Gruber sat down at the organ and began playing the melody he had written for Mohr’s Christmas poem.  Struck by the beauty of the piece, the organ builder took copies of the music and words of “Silent Night” back to his own Alpine village, Kapfing.  There, two well-known families of singers, the Rainers and the Strassers, heard the song.  They were so thrilled with “Silent Night” that both groups put the new carol into their Christmas season repertoire.   

The rest, as they say, is history.  The carol swept the world and now it is sung in over 300 languages worldwide. 

The words of the carol are beautiful but their power comes from the fact that the carol is also theologically sound, quite a powerful combination!  In the next post, we will examine how theologircally sound this wonderful Christmas carol is.  In the meantime, Here is a rendition of the carol by The Piano Guys in their album “A Family Christmas”.

May the blanketing silence of snow cover you, whether literally or figuratively, so that you experience the peace that our Savior brings to your heart and soul even in the hectic days of the Christmas season.  The Psalmist says it this way:  

Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10.  Perhaps listening to Silent Night will get you into the stillness mode.  Do whatever it takes to let yourself “Be still”. You will be glad you did and your relationship with your Father will grow stronger this Christmas season.

Father, help me to keep my eyes on You and Your gift to us, the Babe in the manger who became our Sacrifice on the Cross and is now our Savior in Heaven.  I pray that my soul would rest in Your peace despite the calendar demands and obligation.  Give me the grace to “Be still”, even when chaos reigns around me, all this is through the power and love of Your Son, Jesus Christ, my Savior.