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Archive for December, 2020

Listen closely! The heavenly messengers melodically announcing ‘High praise for the weightiness of the freshly arrived sovereign.’

You know that as “Hark the herald angels sing. Glory to the Newborn King!” My interpretation of the excellent poetry of Charles Wesley is pedantic but also calls attention to the meaning of the phrase. This hymn of the season is my favorite. I like it so much because of its dense theology. There is nothing trivial or lightly thought out about it and it demands thought to understand which raises high praise for God’s work in Christ on our behalf.

It had been my intention to discuss the “dense theology” of this beloved hymn, which I will do at another time. This morning as I contemplated its meaning other praise came to my mind. It is not so dense in content but it is of some value I hope:

Oh, that more praise were lifted up
That more souls of salvation’s cup
Would drink and raise their voice in song
Harmonize with heavenly throng

For God is worthy of all praise
Loud shouts and quiet voice we raise
That more may know His holiness
And live for Him in righteousness

A God transcendent above all
Yet stoops to save us from the Fall
His Son in flesh to recue man
Christ’s death brought life, a gracious plan

Creating all was just a start
Sustaining it in every part
Reversing corruption of sin
Those who trust Him, He now calls kin

We see His goodness in this life
Not despite but in midst of strife
We by His Spirit overcome
Submit to His rule and kingdom

All things His power and beauty show
The heavens and all things that grow
Design complex and delicate
Ever studied, how intricate

His Word reveals all we must know
To serve Him well and in Him grow
His peace and joy will through us flow
The world His praise and glory show

All our worship to God should be
From a heart that has been set free
In spirit and truth ever praise
His name and works forever raise

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It is time for a seasonal entry. I start off with a little “bah-humbug”, but hang with me, because is is short.

I have long been disturbed by the a phrase in the third verse of the Advent hymn, “Joy to the World”:

“No more let sins and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground.”

As if we could prevent these problems or as if they will be quelled this side of His second advent. And yet, by the power of the Spirit, we can and should reduce sins (1 Corinthians 10:13), and that will reduce sorrow (Proverbs 13:15). But deceivers will go from bad to worse (2 Timothy 3:13) and the world problems will increase (Matthew 24:7-8). The post-millennial view (1) that things will improve until Christ’s return just does not fit Scripture (Matthew 24-25 and many others). Thorns, both literal and spiritual, will increase. (Isaiah 51:6, Jude 1:14-15)

So how do I sing this verse? In times past I have hummed this line, but I realized last evening that the majority of this hymn is about the Second Advent. Consider Psalm 98 from which Isaac Watts is said the have been inspired to write the hymn. It concludes, “For He is coming to judge the earth; He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.” (verse 9) Yes, we received our King with the Magi as vanguard, in our hearts individually as believers, and intermittently in various societies, but the level of fulfillment of His reign herein sung about occurs during the time of the Second Advent.

That being the case, I will sing this song with renewed and greater joy this season because celebration of the First Advent should always point to the Second.

“Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.” (2)

  1. 3 Views on the Millennial Kingdom | Christopher L. Scott3 Views on the Millennial Kingdom – Christopher L. Scott (christopherscottblog.com)
  2. Isaac Watts, 1739

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 “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, so that you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man.” Proverbs 3:3-4

There resides deep within our collective thinking a dichotomy that somehow there is a separation between love (or kindness) and truth. The word dichotomy comes from the Greek and means literally “to cut in two”. This implies that love and truth are mutually exclusive, that is to say, the only thing they have in common is that they have nothing in common. You know this in daily conversation. “Oh, she’s just a bleeding heart liberal who couldn’t see the truth as plain as the nose on her face.” Or “He is just bullheaded (1) and unkind and only cares about the facts.” “She thinks she knows so much, but doesn’t care a bit about people’s feelings or how much people are being hurt.” “He is gullible but such a helpful and friendly guy.” We evaluate churches and ministries in a similar way. “I love that church. They are so caring and help people regardless of their lifestyle or beliefs.” “They uphold the truth but there’s no spirit in their worship.”

I see four possibilities here: 1) Kindness and truth are two different concepts with two different ways of applying them to life. 2) There is a societal dichotomy in thinking, speech, and action surrounding kindness and truth. 3) Personal perspectives and biases cause us to see a dichotomy in kindness and truth where there isn’t one. Or 4) there is no dichotomy apart from our misunderstanding and application of these two concepts.

Even with all of the biases of perception, it is obvious that there are significant differences in how people do life, and some lean toward kindness more than truth and others toward truth over kindness. But are these two concepts poles apart or two sides of the same coin? Have we misunderstood what they are and how to apply them in our lives? I try to find answers to my questions in Scripture, which communicates the truth and love of God. Let’s look at some things it says.

Proverbs 3:3-4 says, “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, so that you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man.” The verses are explaining that both are important and should go together in your clinging to them. You should take both to the seat of your emotions and will and make them visible in how you do life. God will be pleased and you will gain a good reputation with people even if you don’t always please everyone.

Romans 3:24-26 “Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” I see truth in His righteousness and being just. I see kindness in His grace and being our Justifier. There would be no need or love of His kindness if there was no truth and He was not just. There would be no need or love of His truth if there was no kindness to rescue us and restore us to that truth.

Psalm 145:17 “The Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds.” Only He could pull off both at the same time. That is what “just and the justifier” means in the previous verse.

Psalm 116:5 “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; Yes, our God is compassionate.” Righteous means “morally right”, which then is based on truth. Compassionate means feeling and showing concern for others, which is based in kindness toward others.

Psalm 5:4 “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You.” Wickedness and evil necessitate a right and good, which means there is moral truth. But we see here and in the Luke verse below that because of God’s goodness, He acts kindly and rejoices over sinners who turn away from wickedness.

Luke 15:10 “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” God loves those who love truth. He knows you cannot pay the price for your sin, but He does require that you admit to guilt before Him and call on Him to save and change you.

Micah 7:20 “You will give truth to Jacob and unchanging love to Abraham, which You swore to our forefathers from the days of old.” There it is, the strongest most straightforward statement that truth and love are merely two sides of the same coin. Hebrew parallelism (2) helps us to expand our concept of truth and our concept of love. They are part of each other. The reference to Jacob and Abraham, both mean their descendants, the nation of Israel. (3) When God gives one, He is giving the other.

II John 1-6 “The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.” Truth and love are intertwined and of equal standing and part and parcel of one another. Love is to obey truth; truth is to embrace love.

I Corinthians 13:4,6 “Love…does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” Love is not merely a warm fuzzy feeling. It is a way of thinking about what is right and true and therefore best for someone with whom love is felt and expressed in words and actions.

Ephesians 3:19   “…and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” This love of Christ does not mean that knowledge is useless by comparison, but rather there is a higher knowledge, loving Christ.

Colossians 2:2-3 “…that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”   The love that is knitting their hearts together is resulting in full knowledge.

These verses make a very strong case for kindness and truth being inseparable concepts. They are not the same but are like two sides of coin, facing in opposite directions, holding equal value, and part of one another. That being the case, what can we do about the tendency to treat them as mutually exclusive?

We pursue them equally. It is not loving to allow someone to continue in ignorance or wickedness. Supporting evil in society that is clearly counter to the truth of the Word of God is not loving and tolerant. It is wicked and unloving. Jesus did not say to woman caught in adultery, ‘I know your upbringing and circumstances were difficult so I forgive you of your sinful lifestyle that you continue in because you can’t help it.’ Rather “Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:11) They both knew she had sinned, but Jesus extended forgiveness for repentance (“sin no more”). This does not mean we excuse wickedness and that there are no consequences for evil acts. It means we work with people who are repentant to live through and above the consequences. It is not truthful to overlook people’s needs and pleas just because you can or the law supports you in it. Have compassion and empathy in feeling and action. It will reveal deeper truth and benefit the recipient and benefactor. 

  1. not the term usually used but I don’t repeat the ones that are
  2. Hebrew Parallelism – The Christian Researcher provides a very good article on this concept.
  3. The context assures us that this refers to the people of God- Micah 7:14: “Shepherd Your people with Your scepter” and 7:20: “Which You swore to our forefathers from the days of old.”

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We don’t enjoy harsh teachers, but we can learn from them nonetheless. “But it isn’t fair”, “such a teacher shouldn’t be allowed”, and “we must do everything in our power to rid the system of such teachers”. Unless of course the teacher has tenure with no intention of retiring any time soon.

Pain is just such a teacher. Now I’ve lost some of you. We want the fun, picture filled blog entries. But life has not been so fun lately, and that is not the goal of life anyway. So I decided to share a little of the less pleasant side of life, not for pity or running readers off, but because it is part of life and part of my life at present. And there are lessons to be learned from this less than favorite teacher.

I started having mild back pains about three weeks ago. I have had back problems all of my life and I think there is evidence of it being genetic since my three brothers have and father had back problems. I do exercises to keep my core strong and avoid extreme motions.* However, this time I didn’t do anything that I could have avoided to prevent the problem. I guess if I had been able to see the future and its ramifications, I could have worked around it, but I don’t have that ability. Sometimes it is just small things that trip us up.

Anyway, I have these down periods with back maintenance, but this was a perfect storm. The two most painful things were getting in and out of bed and putting shoes and socks on. Function and activity came to a standstill.

In the midst of this particular storm**, my attention was riveted by the frequent bolts of lightning running along my lower back. The teacher had my attention. When in pain, you pray more. Certainly a prime topic is relief, but I found myself praying for others I know who experience constant pain and wondering how they cope. And what of people who have reduced functionality because of pain? Couldn’t I be more compassionate and helpful? And the thought occurred to me several times that at my age, when a significant regression in health occurs, is this the downturn from which there will not be recovery or serious reduction in functionality? And if it is, what is my new focus? What would be my purpose? What new goals do I set? In short, I found this bout with pain highlighting (throwing a shadow on?) my mortality. Life is short and the end is coming, sooner perhaps rather than later. Don’t think so darkly you may say, but in the midst of the pain, lighter thoughts are hard to come by, and they may be no more than whistling in the wind anyway.

So here are the deeper and brighter, not lighter, thoughts that resulted from what I am going through. Life is good, because God is good. I have purpose and meaning because He has assigned those to me. Even if my body wears out or continues in pain, I can pray for others, for my family, the infirm, this sick nation, my lost friends, and my church. I have peace with God even in the midst of turmoil within and without. I am more content when I am thankful, even in the midst of difficulty. Even though I knew all of this beforehand, I know it at a deeper level now. I suspect the lessons are not done since the holidays (the second advent) have not come, but I will have to focus on these and like thoughts as soon as the next lesson starts rather than days into it.

That should make the teacher and lesson seem less harsh, even though still uninvited and unwanted.

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I should report that my back has shown some improvement in the last few days, though I don’t know what that means for work and play just now. I am privileged to be able to start again, but wary of the fact that physically that is not sustainable in the long-term. Life is full of ups and downs, but I don’t have to pin my hopes on the ups nor dread the downs. I belong to God.

*I hear some of you snickering (LD and BF, for instance).

**See “Midst the Storm”.

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Have you ever smelled rain? Have you been exhilarated by lightning? Have you ever been fearful in the wind or awestruck at the rising waters? The power of the storm both attracts and repels. Why might that be?

The air of rain does smell
All birds’ songs it does quell
The nerves of grazing beasts try
When a fierce storm is nigh

Of sudden does it burst
Relieving ground’s long thirst
Overtop river banks
Calamitous flood pranks

No way to stem the tide
Or break the waves’ wild pride
Neither calm the screaming wind
Nor many trees defend

Where can one find shelter
Midst the helter-skelter?
Or from much loss be spared
No matter how prepared?

The Maker of the storm
Who gave to all things form
He our refuge always
To Him for help one prays

He may deem things be lost
Great material cost
But rescue of the soul
Is the reward and goal

Though many troubles come
Storms that frighten and numb
Yet He is gracious still
Your heart with thankfulness fill

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We are awed by the wonderful, the powerful, the overwhelming, and the strikingly beautiful. The God who created the world is all of those things and more and He has made us for Him. We have then an inbred desire to seek for the glorious*. I believe that it gives glory to Him to see the superior in Creation. We must, however, make it our goal to see Him in all that He has created and done, so that all glory and honor goes to Him as is due Him and beneficial for us. Fear of harm must surely be the main reason we are repelled by storms. God is merciful to those who trust Him, but He is powerful and not to be trifled with.

I read poetry online infrequently, but recently I did because of a poet’s name that came up in conversation. One of the poems was about storms. It was good poetry, but it was atrocious theology. I don’t like poetry with bad form but I really don’t like poetry that tells lies or misses the truth. So, I set out to write my own poem about storms. When it flows and conveys deeper truths, I am happy with what I have written. Given the constraints of poetical form I place upon myself, it is difficult to convey the ideas in the way that I want.

*from Hebrew kabod, meaning weighty and the Greek doxa, meaning of honorable reputation

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I love words. God has graciously created language so that we may commune with Him and with each other. Language enables us to think and create abstractly.

Certainly language is changed and molded by culture, but culture is profoundly and deeply effected by language as well. For example, as my pastor is preaching, he will occasionally explain how a thought is put at the beginning of a sentence in Greek for emphasis. English generally places the subject and verb at the beginning or in the place of prominence in a sentence. In this way the language influences how the conveyed thought is perceived by the hearer or reader. I think that means that our language is an action language. Subject, action, emphasis- how do they influence our communication, intent, and meaning? In another example, Don Richardson in the book “Peace Child” says, “The Sawi have no word for nor concept of God; they believe only in disinterested or malevolent demons and spirits of the dead.” (1) The result was an elevation of treachery and revenge killing in their culture. But their culture also had a redemptive analogy, the “peace child”, that Richardson utilized to teach them of the ultimate peace child, Jesus Christ.

I have favorite words. Some because of meaning or usage or connotation and others because of sound. Below I list a few of these with explanation for why I like them. (I have already discussed my liking of many of these words, and I have links to some of my past blogs. But some of these terms have categories of their own on the sidebar of my blog. For instance, you can click on “Grace” here or on the sidebar for articles that specifically include the idea and workings of grace in Scripture or in my life.)

So: (“So..?!”)- I like therefore also, but so is a more intoned, intense than therefore in my mind and usage. I can hear it being pronounced “soooooo” or “so?” or “so cool”. Or it can mean “therefore” of “in conclusion”. It seems to function as an idea conjunction. (2) In short, I am fascinated by the multi-function of this short word.

Copious: An abundant supply of examples has been my usual use of this word. Newton’s Third Law comes to mind, in that every action is met with a reaction. You cannot touch without being touched. A normal force as read on your bathroom scale in the morning is also weighing the Earth. (3) The word itself has a narrow meaning, but the focus of that meaning possesses a cornucopia (4) of extent.

Ubiquitous: “Everywhere all the time” is how I think of this word. By example, most of the fundamental forces (5) are very short range. Gravity is by far the weakest but exerts its influence beyond galactic distances, and therefore may be said to be ubiquitous in the universe. I am seeing a trend in my liking of words: I seem to like words that reflect the big, complete, and abundant. Let us see if this continues.

Colloquialism: I am neither from a big city nor a rural life. My home town has grown into a small city after I left it, but when I was there our family lived in the older middle class suburbia in houses many people wouldn’t even look at on a real estate sales sheets these days. The houses were not run down but neither were they fancy. So, where did that come from? I have never felt like I grew up with nearly so much culture as I would have liked nor devoid of much culture that I only became aware of later. TV (now streaming) and cultural elitism have greatly damaged cultural diversity. Regional sayings and idioms seem to hold on most tenaciously and tenuously. Some of the language needs to go because of its crudeness and disrespect of others, but many sayings are informative of meaning and perspective, “I reckon”. It is more interesting to have different perspectives, ascents, and ways of saying things.

Jesus: I am forever and always thankful that the meaning and power of this name has been revealed to me. His name means “to rescue”, as the angel said, “for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) “For this reason also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11) At the mention of His name the demons obey (e.g. Acts 16:18) and tremble (James 2:19) for they “recognize Jesus” (Acts 19:15). I call on His name when I am afraid, when I am thankful and excited, and when I am confused or needy.

Grace: (“All of Grace” and “Of His Grace” and “Grace Enough” are blog examples) When speaking of it, I define grace as “getting what we don’t deserve”, while mercy is “not getting what we do deserve”. Where would I be without grace? I am grateful for God’s saving grace, His “manifold grace” (I Peter 4:10 KJV, NASB1995) for serving Him in the church and the world, and the abundance of grace for living (II Corinthians 1:12). It is my desire to make grace my life theme, but it is a struggle since everything in my upbringing seemed to speak otherwise.

Apropos: The word means “being both relevant and opportune” (6). Both of those ideas are connected to time and context. Speaking the right words at the right time for the right reason to a hearer in the right frame of mind to receive them in the right way is crucial for wisdom to be imparted rightly. I feel deep contentment when those moments occur. In fact, I hope that such a moment has occurred as you have read this blob entry.

If you have made it this far into my ramblings, I have a request to make of you. Put in a good word for me. That is, comment on this entry with a word that you like or is your favorite with a reason why. I look forward to seeing what you have to say.

  1. Peace Child (1974) …review and/or viewer comments – Christian Spotlight on the Movies – ChristianAnswers.Net
  2. Idea conjunction is my thought on connecting ideas as opposed to word or phrase conjunction like “and”, “or”, and “but” So is considered to be a regular ole conjunction, too.
  3. As I taught my students, weight is not gravity nor the pull of gravity, but the measure of the pull of gravity. Because of the interaction of Newton’s Third Law that measure may differ between the two objects because of distance, relative motion, and the mass of the two objects.
  4. Etymology is an interesting study, too. The “copia” part of the words comes from the same Latin word for abundance.
  5. three, four? It changes, but I think in terms of Strong Nuclear, Electromagnetic, Weak Force, and Gravity, recognizing that Strong and Weak have theoretically already been combined as Electric and Magnetic were many years ago.
  6. Apropos | Definition of Apropos by Merriam-Webster (merriam-webster.com)

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My recent reflection on the hymn “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” (“The Only Begotten of the Father”) had a precursor thought to it in the form of a poem. I noticed the late 4th century date of composition and reflected that there was much heresy in the church then that centered mostly around the person and work of Christ.* True believers are called upon to always “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 1:3) Considering both the earnestly contending for the faith that has occurred in times of challenge to the truth and the person and work of Christ as revealed in Scripture, I wrote the following poem:

Songs, sermons, various creeds
Born in time of heresy
For those moments and those needs
Help us all their truths to see

To the Christ of Scripture point
The One Who God did anoint
God the Savior did appoint
He beginning and endpoint

Our focus must always be
Second person of the Three
In Jesus the Father see
He bought grace so rich and free

By words and deeds we defend
Truth of Christ against new trend
Knowing truth will transcend
Not allow with error to blend

New songs of praise we should write
With Scripture truth, never trite
Sermons preach with Gospel might
Know the creeds, why they are right

*In reality, there is always a focus on destroying our knowledge and faith about the person and work of Christ. This early time was just when many of the heresies went through the church the first time or first became public.

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While preparing to lead two songs for Sunday worship, I was drawn to the words and odd tune*, by Western standards, of the first song, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”. The three verses translated and frequently used in English hymnbooks of the nine originally written by Marcus Aurelius Clemens Prudentius in the late 4th century focus on Christ’s eternality and the praise due to Him. My meditation focused on the first verse:

“Of the Father’s love begotten
ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the Source, the Ending He,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see,
evermore and evermore!”

The concept of begotten of the Father is indeed a mystery. Mothers bear children and fathers beget children, but Christ was not created, so what does it mean? Afterall, this idea is used by the skeptics and cults to deny His divinity and eternality, both of which Scriptures clearly teach. I sought out commentary and interpretation but most importantly related Scripture passages. I discovered two ways in which Jesus Christ is “the only begotten” of the Father.

In the story about Abraham being commanded by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac, God uses the term only son when He commands the act and after He prevents him.** As it says in Hebrews 11:17-18, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, “In Isaac your descendants shall be called.” (Hebrews 11:17-18 NASB1995) How was Isaac his only begotten son when he had an older son, Ishmael? Verse 18 gives the answer: “In Isaac…” In other words, Isaac had a special relationship with his father. We are brothers and sisters who are in Christ by faith in Him. Therefore, since Christ is our older brother (Hebrews 2:11), God the Father has many children also. But there is little doubt that Christ has a special relationship with the Father since He is the second person of the Godhead. So the first reason Christ is the only begotten is the uniqueness of His relationship to the Father.

Jesus says something in John 8:42 that has long bothered me because I didn’t know why He seemingly repeats Himself. Does He repeat for emphasis, because that was a cultural way of focusing the hearers’ attention, or because it really isn’t repetition? “Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.”” As I considered this turn of words, I considered that “proceeded forth” is a good definition for begotten. In eternity past, and therefore not marked by time, Jesus proceeded forth from the Father. This is not a moment of production but of introduction as God, being one in substance with the Father. Having “come from” God is the act of having “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:7) I think that Jesus was declaring to these unbelieving Pharisees that He was both God and Man- God by way of “proceeded forth” and Man by way of “have come from”. The second way in which He is the only begotten of the Father is proceeding forth from the Father and revealing “His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father” when “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Jesus is Eternal God, revealed in the flesh. As “Alpha and Omega” He is the “Source” of all things and the “Ending” point of all that ever will be. To Him be praise and glory!

*It was written as plainsong, which means that it has no meter.

**Genesis 22

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The tradition in my family for about 30 years has been to gather at my oldest brother’s house for Thanksgiving. Numerous traditions grew up around this basic idea. One of the most enduring is the day after hike (see “Cascades and Escapades” and “Ebb and Flow of a Tradition” as two recent examples).

Of course, you can guess that this year was different. We didn’t meet at the elder brother’s house. His immediate family did. They also went on their hike. A good portion of my immediate family met at my house on Friday for thanksgiving reflections and a meal. There was plenty of good food prepared by numerous hands. We read psalms of thanksgiving and sang hymns and shared things we are thankful for.

On Saturday, prompted by two of my sons, we took a hike. My youngest and a young friend were beginning a one night backpacking trip, and the rest of us were along for the views and conversation. The slope had been burnt over twice about 15 years earlier and eliminated much of the topsoil. Regrowth has been slow, but the views are good.

The backlighting turned out OK, but since we did not know that at the time we shifted 180 degrees and posed again for the friendly hiker that I asked to record the images.

My son admitted that he was overly packed for a one nighter.

There are patches where it was not completely burned off and the younger trees come back faster here with the presence of more soil.

New growth is heartening.

The previous pictures show the relatively shallow slope the southeast face of the Shortoff Mountain. The next one shows where the trail comes along the edge of the vertical northwest facing precipice.

Table Mountain Pine predominates the stressed conditions of shallow soil, wind blown and otherwise drying conditions.

You wouldn’t be surprised to discover that this young friend is a tri-athlete. He stands upon metamorphized layers that are common to the Gorge.

Lake James actually dams three parallel streams, two of which are visible here. The South Mountains are visible in the background, being the last foothills before subsidence into the Piedmont region.

Wind is a creative and random sculptor of trees, imparting to this specimen a bonsai appearance.

There are many lone trees hanging onto the cliffs but the pine on this vertical section seems somehow “braver” or “more determined” as anthropomorphisms would have it.

Table Mountain Pine is also one of those species that require fire to open the cones and germinate the seeds. The cones appear to be fortresses against their time of opening.

Shortoff Mountain is amazingly flat on top as seen in this view along the Mountain to Sea Trail.

I know that fire is necessary and unavoidable, but I hate what it did to this little pond. First of all, it is amazing that a pond exists at the summit of a flat-topped mountain. It is not a mere wet weather pool. It used to have shade, open water, abundant frogs, small fish with only minimal vegetation in the water. Now the pond has eutrophied to such an extent as to hold no discernible animal life.

Not knowing that it was there, I had to point out to my young friends that we should stop and look at the best view of Linville Gorge available. Because the Gorge turns slightly at the mouth, you stand here on the rim looking straight up the majority of the length of the Gorge.

You can tell by the quality of the colors that this picture was not taken with my phone. I credit my daughter-in-law for this good picture.

And here she is with her husband.

Near the previous view is another one facing out of the mouth of the Gorge, revealing ridges more than 30 miles away.

I conclude with a picture of me contemplating the change and continuity of God’s nature. We can design our Biosphere 2 in an attempt to copy the real thing*, but our attempts cannot hold a candle to the ability of God’s designed Biosphere to absorb stress in the form of weather and natural disaster and human pollution and still recover and adapt. Man may have caused the fire that so affected this pond, but lightning could have just as well accomplished the same thing during drought. The pond may be changed for the duration of its existence or it may eventually recover its shaded, lively charm. Either way it is and will adapt well.

*If you don’t believe in design in nature, just consider the extent to which scientists go to design experiments like Biosphere 2 and they don’t even work that well.

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