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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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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

.

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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I have a desire to write my blog to give glory to God by relating everyday events, intermittent musings, scriptural insights, and special privileges/opportunities in my life. There are, of course, some things too private to share, but there are others that I am not sure if I should share. Consider pictures of a worship service, for instance. Video, if done discreetly, for the purpose of conveying a sermon or song to encourage or instruct someone not in attendance seems appropriate to me. But I simply took pictures during church which could have distracted others and certainly my own worship. Actually, only three of the following images were taken during the service, at the very beginning of the speakers’ comments. The rest were captured before or after church.

And I did know what the sermon was about. Our pastor finished a series on Second Peter with the last five verses of the third chapter. He reiterated that the theme of Peter’s second epistle is godly living in an ungodly world. No more apropos subject could be addressed in these times. In these closing verses, Peter gives four closing commands to his Christian readers. Firstly, be diligent to be found in peace and live godly. Secondly, account or regard the patience of God for salvation for the lost. Thirdly, beware of false teachers. Fourthly, grow in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. I take Peter’s words to mean that sanctification is a work of God but not a passive pursuit on our part. We cannot work apart from God but God most usually does not work apart from our participation. He is not restrained by us but He does frequently choose to work through us. He receives all of the glory; we receive the benefit.

I especially find the third chapter of Second Peter challenging and satisfying. It delivers much fodder for thought about godly living and about apologetics of the faith. Verses about the true history of the world and the canon of Scripture are very instructive.*

Congregants arriving
Fellowshipping before service in the seating area
Front row seating
Soundman, Music Leader, and Pianist

You can see several people visiting around to various cars. Church is not just about hearing a sermon. It involves fellowship, which is the sharing of Christ’s life lived out in the individual’s life with others of like mind and belief. That includes but is not limited to songs, sermons, prayer, sharing, giving, and serving others. You can’t do that in front of a screen.

The podium is a tad bit scary to mount. Take note of the tall green tree over the rooftop.

Behind the podium
One pastor welcomes with Scripture
The director of the local Preganancy Care Center encourages the church because of God’s work there and the church’s generosity.
The pastor concludes Second Peter.

All during the service, a tree removal service was taking down a tall tree just beyond the first house from the church property. The tree at the far left is the one pictured earlier. Once upon a time in our culture, such loud work on Sunday would not have been dreamt of, especially on Sunday morning, and during a church service. The whole of the culture is responsible to acknowledge God. I couldn’t help thinking that the enemy of mankind did not want someone in the neighborhood to hear the service. Thankfully, apart from momentary cut-outs of the microphone, the communication came through loud an clear.

We were also thankful that the chipper did not begin until the benediction. It was truly loud.

It was quite a tall tree, probably a yellow poplar, before the service.

Pastor standing with Pregnancy Care Center Director

Be aware that the culture in subtle and not so subtle ways is trying to discourage and prevent worship of God. The difficulties so far are mild, but God may well be preparing us for much more difficult times. We belong to God. We must worship Him corporately because He commands it, because we need it, and because our culture needs it. As our church motto says, “”Loving God, loving one another, serving the world”. It is a tall order and our aspiration in knowing and serving God.

*2 Peter 3:5-7,10,15-16

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Happy is fun. Happy is cheery. Happy makes friends. Happy is temporary. Happy is situational. Happy is temporal. I want to pursue joy, the kind given by the Spirit of God. Joy draws from things unseen. Joy exists in times of stress. Joy exists in confidence and repose of spirit. Joy heals the spirit and encourages others. Joy gives testimony to the presence and work of God.

But I experience joy in fits and starts at best. How do I get from here to there?

Peace with God, no condemnation in Christ Jesus, and sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise am I. If ever a person had reason for joy in the midst of the added relative safety and security, then it would be me. But the nagging struggles and regrets with strained relationships, slipping health, tenuous finances, and undesired direction draw my attention.

I must plead for the grace of discipline to focus on those truths of excellence and good repute (Philippians 4:8).

“The joy of the Lord is my strength” Nehemiah 8:10) is a command which begins “Do not be grieved,…”. I need to take up this weapon of strength. It seems to me that joy, a fruit of the Spirit, is an ancillary accessory to the girding belt of truth in the armor of God (Ephesians 6:14). To state the case more plainly, focus on truth brings joy despite circumstances. And though commanded, joy cannot be manufactured as happiness may occasional be.

This command to be joyous must be placed in the context of the other commands like it. The command was given during a feast to God in which God commanded rejoicing (Deuteronomy 16:14-15). There were other required assemblies (e.g. Deuteronomy 16:8) in which God called the people to solemn assemblies and holy convocations in which they were commanded to humble themselves (Leviticus 23:26-32). Sorrow and grieving over sin are necessary emotions and attitudes as a part of repentance.

But joy springs up from doing what is right after repentance (e.g. Nehemiah 8:17-18) or in gratitude for blessings (Deuteronomy 16:15). Paul, in a passage about upholding his ministry, lists many hardships contrasted with blessings. Among them is “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (II Corinthians 6:10). And in the next chapter he says that he is “overflowing with joy in all our affliction.” (7:4) And Paul commands, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) There is no contradiction in hardship and repentance for sin being mixed in with joy.

Why then do I still have fits and starts of joy? I think that a verse of the hymn, “Trust and Obey”, helps me here:

“But we never can prove
The delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay
For the favor He shows
For the joy He bestows
Are for them who will trust and obey”*

When I seek my own way for whatever reason- fear, neglect, pride- I grieve the Holy Spirit who indwells me. He does not leave me, but He does allow me to feel the pain of distance from Him. And certainly His fruits are not being manifest in me going about my own way. I, we, are so self-oriented, that I fear we don’t even realize how much we proceed apart from Him.

So, joy is the fruit of the Spirit, a gift, a perspective on circumstances, a discipline, a strong weapon against temptation, a reaction to truth, and a strong testimony to God’s work in the midst of difficulty. May you and I pursue it by choosing God’s way over our own.**

*Written by John Henry Sammis, 1887.

**I have mulled over the subject of this blog entry for nearly a month. I feel that it is woefully incomplete and that I fall far short of what it says, but I feel a real need to encourage the pursuit of joy in God for the furtherance of my own spiritual life and yours, dear reader.

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I read the book of Titus recently and came away reflecting on the contrasts of our sinful past, our God altered present, and our glory bound future. Paul speaks some ugly things about Cretans, but makes it clear that all we sinners share the same ground. The difference for believers is that Christ, “to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.”* Paul wanted Titus to silence the “empty talkers” and “liars” who “deny Him”, so that they will not “upset whole families” on the one hand, and “be sound in the faith” on the other. This reminds me that we must stop soft peddling the Gospel because it is not true to God or His Word and because sinners need to hear the truth of the desperation of their condition in order to be saved. The following poem came slowly with much labor, but I think the result communicates the essence of the passage (Titus 1:10-16, 2:11-14).

Lazy and rebellious
You know the kind
Hateful and pugnacious
A good one hard to find

Foolish, godless, enslaved
And such were we
Deceivers and deceived
Who truth refuse to see

Defiled, unbelieving
Claim to know God
Worthless for well-doing
Perverse things get the nod

God’s grace has now appeared
Salvation come
Ungodliness denied
We more righteous become

For blessed hope looking
Glory of Christ
Savior and God stooping
His redemption sufficed

From every lawless deed
To purify
For Himself His own breed
Ardent good works thereby

*from the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

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Knowing You better would be such joy
Deep in my heart You would peace deploy
Hope springing forth in the darkest hours
Purity grow as the brightest flow’rs

But sinful passions too often rule
Perverse* actions make of me a fool
The Spirit is quenched by my poor choice
I groan within and give grief a voice

I may God pursue with heart tender
By His Spirit complete surrender
Daily repent, always move toward Him
Extra pursuits and wayward paths trim

Worship the Father with praise and praying
Hear His Word through reading and preaching
Devoted to the truth where’er it leads
Truth more than life that for the lost pleads

By diligence know Him and find rest
Even when I am put to the test
Communing with my Father and Lord
By His grace growing deeper and toward

 

When I arose last Sunday morning and was reading the Scripture and praying, I thought to myself, I have not had a poem come in quite sometime. So, I ask my Father if He would give me one that would focus on Him. A few minutes later the first stanza came rapidly. On my drive to church the first two lines of the second stanza came. I kept having to repeat them so that I would not forget. When I arrived at the parking lot, I quickly wrote them down. The rest of the verse came soon after I had greeted fellow believers and sat down in the pew. During the sermon I was executing some major multitasking by writing the third stanza and listening and taking notes on the sermon. I recognize my pastor for the fourth verse, because it is my distillation of the statements he made that most grabbed my attention. The last verse came during the afternoon down time. 

*The idea of perverse is a “turning away from what is right and good”, not just what we consider to be sickening evil. All sin is abhorrent to God.

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Blue Ridge Parkway Milestone

I enjoy the occasional foray into the realm of etymology. Word origin provides insight into the many and varied meanings and connotations of words and metaphors. There is a humorous twist on the origin of the terms mile and milestone. I assumed that since mile is a thoroughly English measurement of distance that the word, though perhaps not the concept, came from bloody ole England. Afterall, the U.S. is the only major country in the world to still be using the English system. But no, when traced back, mile comes from the Latin mil, or one thousand, which is quite base ten, or metric. Milestones then were stone markers called mille passus, meaning one thousand paces (1), along Roman roads. They were first placed every one thousand steps along the Apian Way out of Rome. Even then they would not have actually paced off the distance, but would have used a standard chain or rope length, the stade (eight stades to a mile). (2)

Etymology was only a small part of why I’m writing this blog entry, but it is fascinating. Metaphorically, milestones are visual, emotional, mental, or group markers for significant events or changes. Milestones typically include salvation, graduations from educational institutions, marriage, arrival of children, job changes or promotions, retirement, lifestyle changes, or significant personal goals reached like weight loss or the first marathon. The term can be overused, particularly in the business and education worlds it seems to me, and there is definitely a difference in significance levels from eternal to trivial. Nonetheless, the idea is solid and shows up in Scripture, even promoted by God (Joshua 4:1-7), and used by prophets (I Kings 18:31, I Samuel 7:10-12).

I have been privileged to have many profitable and enjoyable  milestones in my life, and a few significant ones of late. All five of my children are now married and I have just recently retired.

I passed a small milestone in blogging, which I only inadvertently realized while rereading a few blog entries. This very entry is my 500th blog entry. Having written in this blog since July of 2007, it is quite an accomplishment for me to have continued with only a few months in all of that time of not publishing at least one entry. In fact, the average number of blog entries per month over the that period of 13 years has been just over three entries. It causes me to muse upon why I would be so consistent for so long. The obvious answer is a love and a need of the this forum. I need an outlet for my thoughts and love this particular one that is potentially interactive (3). It gives me a voice, an influence, if ever so small, and a sense of not forgetting what experiences and insights God has so graciously given to me, that is, an online journal. It may hopefully be part of my intellectual inheritance to my children and grandchildren.

But a question arose in my mind: Would a milestone be a milestone if we were unaware of it? I don’t think that this is the existentialist argument about a tree falling in the forest (4), because we are talking about a metaphor for the perception rather than a physical mile marker. When I consider this idea, it reveals to me how dull and fickle our perceptions are. They are dull because we do not perceive significant events that have eternal consequences for good or for ill (John 3:7-8), and they are fickle in that we may see them as significant in one situation and for one group or person but not for another or not at another time. What revealing of missed opportunities and privileges may be ours when our lives are reviewed in eternity. I am thankful for God’s grace to test all things by fire and reveal those works which were by and for Him (I Corinthians 3:10-15, 21-13), for I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

So, I conclude this 500th mille passus of sorts with one further testimony to God’s goodness in my life. He has been and will be at work in my life to bring it to a good and completed conclusion (Philippians 1:6), not because I am deserving or always willing or cooperative or able, but because He is good and powerful and has attached me to His riches by His grace. To Him be all praise.

 

1) How our mile got to be such an odd number, 5280 feet, is more complicated, though the origin of the whole measurement seems to have been the Roman’s copying of the distance around a Greek stadium track for running events, and thus the unit stade.

2) I wonder if they had workers who held signs for travelers to avoid collisions in construction zones?

3) Oh, that it were more so, that I had to moderate multiple comments, questions, reprimands, and encouragements on each entry. Alas, life is busy.

4) If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? Being a Christian and a student of Science but not an Existentialist, I would retort that of course it makes a sound. It vibrates air particles, following God’s physical laws.

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Experience is supposed to make us wiser and more prudent. Sometimes we heed lessons learned and sometime we don’t. It began with a seemingly innocent change of plans: “Oh, I can’t go overnight. We’ll just have to figure it out.” Next up was not taking a map. Then there was the part where I should have asked what the actual plans were. The trails are not well maintenanced, that is, cleared, so they can be hard to find. A new trail had been cut that was not on the map I had nor had I seen it, so we wasted some time going the wrong way. About 1/3 through the trip leg cramps ensued which caused us to change our route to avoid uphills that increased the cramps and pain, which then resulted in perhaps an extra 5 miles of hiking. We attempted to traverse a trail in the dark we had never been on. The trail passed through a field. In retrospect there were probably two exits, maybe more, from that field. After too much walking, we ended up on a road and knew where we were, which was about five miles from our vehicle. So we called in a rescue from an in-law. The final result of these multiple missteps was an estimated 25 miles in rough terrain, having left the house at 8 AM and returned at midnight.

On the up side, it was a beautiful day with cooler than usual June temperatures, partly cloudy and mostly tree covered to shield us from all day sun exposure. The river was cold and relaxing. The conversation was pleasant. We succeeded in hiking the length of the Gorge from Cabin Trail all the way to the lake and seeing several trails we’d not been on before. I took some good pictures and felt the beauty of God’s Creation. The stars shone brightly as we awaited the pick-up. My son asked me at one point how I could still be talking about plants. I had a two part response: 1) That’s just who I am, and 2) When you are hurting and in too deep, it’s best to focus your mind away from the difficulty onto more pleasant thoughts.

A few examples of Providential** assistance included finding a laminated map propped up against a tree at a campsite, a clean water source along the way, and an answer to prayer for assistance. I had told my son earlier in the day that I had prayed in the form of a daydream that a person would be standing in the river, fishing, who knew where to cross and would be willing to point out where the trail was on the other side. In actuality, the answer came in the form of two people who were camping and were just stepping out of the river after swimming. The man walked about a 1/4 mile up the river to show us where to cross and gave a detailed and accurate description of the turns to get on the trail we desired. The end of his description was as follows: “I don’t know what happens after the field because I haven’t gone any further.” (Reference earlier sentence about the two exits from the field for a small chuckle.)

Am I wiser for the experience? In one respect, no. I knew all of those things to do and had regularly done them in times past, except when I didn’t. In another respect, yes. For hopefully a long time, and perhaps permanently, I will ask questions of preparedness of my self and others before attempting something more than moderate. And, the moderate can become the strenuous, so take heed there, too. Now, a few of you are thinking how foolish the whole adventure was. I suspect you don’t have much adventure in your life. Some are saying, what’s the big deal since no one was hurt. Your adventures will likely be short-lived. The balance is to take calculated risks. That involves foresight, preparedness, physical and mental vigor, and a willingness to ask for help. I resolve to be better prepared next time rather than just stay home.

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Father-Son Outing

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Ferns have such a feel of richness

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Never seen Galax so profusely blooming as on this trip

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Mountain Laurel

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Steep, poorly marked trails

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Do you see the fisherman?

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Sourwood sprouts and Table Mountain Pinecone

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Steep terrain and sharp meanders

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The reason the trail doesn’t always follow the river bank

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Raccoon Tracks

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Hawksbill

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1 3/4 liter was not enough

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Wild Ginger (Asarum sp?)

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Refreshing

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Chimneys

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Japanese Meadowsweet. What is it doing here?

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Solomon Seal with seed pods

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???

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Fire Pink

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???

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Indian Pipe

*Last lines of “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

**Answer to prayer is a Providential assistance, too, but is more direct, so I classify it differently from common grace (Matthew 5:45). God oversees all things in our lives.

 

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While driving a short distance to run at my local Greenway, I turned on the radio to hear the beginning of a TED Radio Hour presentation on NPR about the idea that “Everything Is A Remix”, a web series and idea by Kirby Ferguson. The host of “Science Friday”, Ira Flato, asked, “Is there really nothing new?” Mr. Ferguson said, “The Big Bang.” This line of thinking dissonated with me because of the worldview conflict, and because it is only correct in a way undisclosed by either of those speaking. Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.” But what about beyond the sun? And what does this mean, anyway?

Mr. Ferguson’s point is that any song you hear has an association to an earlier song. He generalizes his maxim to say no thought or attempt at creativity is original. The only creativity is found in remixing it to make it your own and make it fresh. Johannes Kepler wrote, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.” My conclusion to Kepler’s quote is that God has made us in His image, which includes creativity, but our discoveries are repeats of a limited nature of His thoughts and plans. We receive joy and He receives glory when we explore, create, discover, and acknowledge.

Create beauty in visual or musical art forms, God has been there already. Create beauty in prose or poetry. He has known it long since. Create sacrificial love and moral purity. He has perfected it. Create novel questions and solutions. He has mused upon and answered them all. The Humanist will be offended by what seem to him or her a deterministic regurgitation of God’s ways. I rather find joy in discovering what He has done.

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My pastor preached an informative, challenging, and encouraging sermon this morning on John 14:1-3. I am always trying to organize information so that I may digest it. If it is not organized in my brain, I have trouble living it, because I don’t know what the next step is or even where to look for it. He gave four reasons from the passage that Jesus gave for why their hearts should not be troubled: 1) Jesus is trustworthy (v.1), 2) We have a sure promise of a home with God (v.2), 3) Christ began preparing a place for us immediately afterwards through the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension (v.2)*, and 4) Jesus is coming again to take us to be with Him (v.3).

We will outlast troubles, while troubles will burn away like the morning fog, he said. He ended the sermon with the most encouraging book ends of the eighth chapter of Romans. From verse 1, we know that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, and from verses 38 and 39, “[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.”

Which of following two responses will you have to troubles and trials, brother and sister? Friend, will you consider the hope and peace you may have by trusting Christ, who saves** all those who trust Him?

Responses to Trouble

*Pastor agreed with me that those past preparations do not exclude the present and future preparations in us and the world and in heaven.

**He saves not only through troubles and trials but more importantly from sin and eternity under God’s wrath in hell.

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The following blog entry was written several months ago, but the mental state of the time, the ambivalence about publishing it, the time constraints to finishing it, and the arrival of better emotions and thoughts prevented me from publishing it until now. Now it is time and it will add some balance and veracity to my blog by telling more about who I am. People enjoy a good story, but how about a melancholy tome? It may be instructive to those who don’t struggle with this problem and encouraging to those who do.

I have been struggling with a touch of depression lately. I purposefully state it that way because it is nothing compared to times past. It will be passing, which I can say with confidence because I know how to get help and from Whom. But is it depression or could it be, particularly since I say passing, discouragement? Or might it be desperation? Now I could refer to the dictionary and sort these out, but I am going to give a personal, experience based definition, which may not ring true for you, or better yet, may ring all too true and give you encouragement and tools for dealing with them or it, as the case may be.* These definitions will by no means be totally devoid of knowledge gained from study.

In my experience, depression is an emotional background noise or foreground roar that is hard to define in terms of its source, and harder still to get rid of. Many people excuse it as a chemical imbalance that is not of the person’s doing. I believe that chemical imbalance is a problem for some people, but even then there are ways out, most of which don’t involve drugs in the long-term.** It is not helpful to dwell on the depression itself, but it is profitable to study your own modus operandi during depression for the purpose of recognizing when there is an onset. You are experiencing one of my quirks of depression by reading this passage. When I am depressed, I get very wordy, verbose, articulate, long-winded, redundant. That is most likely the source at present of my long sentences. Another way I deal with depression is to become very silent, but because I have learned to attack it, I now do the opposite and become verbal. Oh, that is the reason for quirk #1. And here is a help for you, dear friend, if you suffer with depression. Talk yourself out of it, not by any random droning of your voice, but by declaring out loud truth. The form it takes in me most often is singing hymns. So, I knew that I was dealing with mild depression this morning because I felt compelled to sing. The odd thing about my singing is that I can be loud and enthusiastic and crying, either inside or literally, all at the same time. I don’t know if the crying is repentance, thankfulness, remorse, release, or sadness, but I do know that if I sing long enough the cloud dissipates. That occasionally is too much for my wife because she is a stroke victim and the continual sound and language overloads her aphasic processing. If it is a hymn that I know well, whistling works so that I can think about other things or tasks simultaneously, but whistling is particularly problematic for my wife.

Desperation is more easily recognized and pinpointed. I was desperate yesterday because I had so much paperwork to do and a sense that it would never end. Perhaps that was part of what brought on today. Planning ways to lessen the load, spread it out, or see light at the end of the tunnel are ways I usually deal with that short-term irritant. Finding the purpose in the mundane and repetitive and distasteful makes it more palatable. Procrastinating is something we have all done to avoid what we don’t like to do, but it is counterproductive because it just prolongs the mental desperation. Desperation, then, usually comes from a fear, be it fear of purposelessness or fear of harm by whatever traumatic or long-term means (e.g. old age for example).

Discouragement can be short-term or long-term and its source obvious or not. Unfulfilled goals and dreams are the source of most of my discouragement. Inability to do something at a higher level of my own making or meeting someone else’s expectations can weigh heavily on me at times but do not usually cause discouragement. I guess that I understand that despite my attempts to be exceptional in various areas of my life, I am just a “common Joe” with perhaps a little better than average ability. I am profoundly limited in some areas. Failure or rejection are high on the list of what brings discouragement to many people.

In all of these areas, particularly depression, I have several coping mechanisms that are my go to’s. I have already listed 1) identifying when I am depressed by things I do and think when depressed and 2) singing my way out of that mode. For me, and these must be specific for you individually, I 3) rock in a rocking chair and think, 4) write to organize my thoughts and identify how I am feeling, 5) talk it out to others***, 6) walk, 7) do anything active, particularly climb, run, bike, or hike, 8) experience nature, contemplating God’s goodness, and 9) organize and propound truth on any subject, though theological and scientific areas are my most common subjects. What is your coping mechanism? Don’t know? Try one of mine. Experiment with things that are true and good (Philippians 4:8). Make them edifying pursuits, not destructive ones like drugs, alcohol, binge eating, binge videos or computer time, or pornography or illicit sex. Look for a way out, not a way further in.

I have purposely separated my last help for depression, desperation, and discouragement: 10) Spend time in prayer specifically about the source of your feelings, or about the emotion itself in the absence of knowledge of the source. To not just be talking to yourself, several things must be true: 1) You must be a believer in Jesus as your Savior, 2) You should be seeking to be repentant of sin, and 3) You should seek to discover what expectation you have that has not been given you by God and give it up to Him. Frequently either #2 or #3 is the source of the depression. If #1 is true, then you have power given to you by God to repent of sin (I John 1:9) and overcome temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). 4) Persist in prayer until you get past distraction, temptation, doubt, and waiting. Your circumstances may not change, as God sees fit, but your peace and joy can return in the midst of the sorrow.

Life is a journey with a destination rather than a destination only. Therefore, be patient with yourself. Conversely, don’t let yourself off the hook in the sense of ‘oh, everybody does it’. Instead, seek to make progress. Growing requires effort, but in the same way as you can not pull yourself up by your boot straps, you need an outside force, the power of God, to make real and lasting progress. May God enable you with His power to grow and may you find those coping mechanisms that work for you to ease your pain by pointing you to truth.

*Long sentences are so fun to attempt, because they are so easy to get wrong, particularly concerning commas, and therefore challenging. I think mine are right.

**How could I be so unfeeling and arrogant as to suppose I can make declarations about others people’s difficulties? Well, not only because I have studied this issue, but because I have personal experience with serious, dare I say, clinical depression, I am speaking up. You may need drugs to steady the boat, but they are a poor way to propel it forward.

***Thank you for your patience, friends.

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‘For me this place is therapeutic, but I don’t know why exactly’, my partner mused.

Black Fork 1

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Table Mountain Pine

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Clouds cruising over the ridge (Colors were more vivid in person.)

It is the most isolated place in our county, thoroughly quiet and secluded, but opens up on a view of the valley a distance across several miles of woods. It feels like you are alone with God in this small wilderness with time to reflect.

The clouds and low sun made a significant distinction and contrast between the wooded draw and the valley and mountains beyond. We felt set apart. The clouds with evening colors rushed over the ridge like great ships entering harbor and yet there was no wind at the surface. The barren trees lay quietly in their winter snooze. A lone train whistle on the far side of the ridge quietly reported its presence at a far distance in the next valley. It was a time to praise God in prayer and quietly reflect on the peace it brings to the beleaguered mind and heart.

The Table Mountain Pine is not common unless you are on a south facing, shallow soil of a flat cliff top. It’s spiky cones suggest the struggle it has to tolerate the harsh heating and drying conditions where it outcompetes other conifers. My rough fingers, tape, and chalk suggest the cherished struggle I had with rock faces moments before.

It was a good day to climb, a good day to reflect, and a good day to imbibe the tranquil therapeutics. I am so blessed to have this outlet in seasons of stress. The focus and intensity of climbing and the reflection and relaxation of time in the woods and views from the clifftops are a gift.

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Life is good because God is good.

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Paul and Jeremiah were compelled to preach the Word that God gave to them. Paul said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel.” Jeremiah said, “But if I say, ‘I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name,’ then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.” From whence came these obligations? Is some obligation common with all believers? If so, how do we fulfill these compulsions?

Preaching from Romans 1:12-15, my pastor communicated obligations that Paul had before God. My pastor made such conclusive statements as* ‘When duty is delight we please God and find joy,’ and ‘When love empowers our duty, it becomes delight’ glorifying God. From his explanation I took the clear point that our obligations before God must turn into love which will then result in eagerness.

obligation —> love —> eagerness

I wish it was easier to draw that here, because I would keep the arrow** between obligation and love dashed while making the one between love and eagerness solid. Eagerness will follow what you love, but love is not a necessary or normal result of obligation. And I said to my pastor after the sermon that I was challenged to muse on how to get from obligation to love. This is that musing.

How might I make the transition from obligation to love? I began to peer further back behind obligation, and further ahead of eagerness to find motivation for loving my obligations. Obligations before God come from His command. His command may come in the form of inner compulsions or providentially guided circumstances, but all must proceed out of and agree with God’s Word. God’s commands come from His purpose, which in turn come from His character. At the other end, delight will result in diligence in the form of prayer, pursuit, and practice. Diligence will bring about God’s purpose through the power He supplies, revealing the glory of His character and works. It would look something like the following:

God’s attributes —> God’s purpose —> God’s command —> my obligation —> my love —> my eagerness —> my diligence —> God’s purpose in me accomplished —> praise to the glory of God’s attributes and works***

If instead of focussing on my obligation before God or even His command, I focus on the beauty of His attributes and the praise of His glory, my love for Him will be increased along with a love of the obligations that bring that praise to Him. I must know my obligations before God. I must obey His commands. But I must focus on Him, His attributes and grace toward me, so that I love Him more along with all of my responsibilities before Him.

After I communicated these ideas to a friend, she said so concisely, “I don’t have to. I get to.” She went on to say, “I get to be a teacher. I get to be a mother. I get to wash the clothes.” Her attitude and simplicity are refreshing and true. I still needed to consider the why behind them so that when “I’m not feelin’ it”, I can focus on the One who is beautiful and merciful and worthy. Everything else will follow, if not immediately, then progressively and surely.

 

*When I use a ‘ instead a “, I mean it to communicate approximate quote rather than court evidence quote.

**As I tell my students, arrows mean for me cause and effect (cause—>effect). Sometimes that is just sequence or correlation, but with a desire to find and communicate cause and effect.

*** Notice that this cause and effect chain goes full circle: “so that God will be all in all.” (I Corinthians 15:28)

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I had a conversation today that was weird. I don’t mean the contents but the timing and process. I had decided that I was far enough distant from injury and sickness to try to start running again today. I had intended to walk a 1/2 mile, run a 1/2 mile, and walk back 1 mile. Just as I approached the entry to the Greenway, a man, perhaps in his late 30’s or early 40’s walked by at a moderate pace, followed by what I estimate to be a 9 year old boy, running to catch up. Both sported headphones, his avocado green and his son’s white. I was walking faster than them and slowly was catching up. As I followed, I thought how the father should remove his headphones and just talk to his son. As if on cue, the father uncovered the ear toward his son and glanced back at his son and said, “It will quit hurting soon, I promise.” His son took off the speaker toward his father and replied, “But it hurts.” “It will stop hurting, I promise,” he rejoined, and put his head set back on. In my mind I imagined, based on the evidence of the conversation, that the boy had a stitch in his side. I wondered how I might be able to encourage the boy if the father and I were to trade places. Such a thought came to me possibly for two reasons. I commented to my principal a few days ago, about a student of mutual acquaintance, that one of the things I dislike most is wasted potential, particularly in someone who has so much potential to waste as the topic of our conversation has. The other reason was the rarity with which I have succeed in spurring anyone, and particularly young people to try hard. When it has happened, I have wondered how it happened, and why it doesn’t at other times. So, as I paced along to gain passage by this father and son, my thoughts went as follows. “Son, walk the stitch off, and then push on. Finding your limits increases endurance and pushing your limits increases toughness.” At this point we had traversed one tenth of a mile, indicated by a blue 6 x 6 post off to the left. Just as I was two steps behind the father, and as if all of my thoughts had been part of the audible conversation in which I had not been involved, he turns and says to me, “I don’t want to walk the whole Greenway. This is enough for my needs,” glances at me and turns sharply. I replied that the whole of the Greenway is a nice walk and said over my right shoulder, “Well, enjoy. Have a good day.” He waved and was off, but the conversation was not quite over in my head. He was content to have enough. Now contentment is good, but I don’t want to be content about everything, because some contentment is denial or laziness or weakness of spirit or I don’t know what. I don’t know what the man meant and have no reason to think ill of him, but I want to be content with what God has given me but not content to merely hold it, or bury in the ground like the lax servant (Matthew 25:24-29). I want to grow. Now growth looks different at different stages of life. Sometimes maintaining is more than enough to keep you busy, and as we get older that is not even possible. But as I slide into final departure from this world into the glories of the next, I am determined to not be content with a quick slide, if God so allows it, but grow by maintaining physical and mental and emotional and spiritual health to extent that effort might allow. And concerning the spiritual health, I may even grow as I better understand the fleeting nature of life here. That does not mean that I will or should give in to lax and lack luster living as I approach the other side. All of the other healths may increase my spiritual health as well, because I am not a dichotomous* or trichotomous (etc.) being, but one whole person focused increasingly on the mark.

And I appreciate God’s humor when I understand it. My thoughts fell away as I turned thoughts of walking into the increased intensity of running after so long a time off from running. Then I turned to walk the one mile back, enjoying the gentle breeze and quiet walk. At six tenths from the end it began to rain lightly. The sky looked threatening and I didn’t know what was moving in, so I ran the last 1/2 mile*.* I stopped at the car, did a hurried stretch and jumped in. Before I could drive out of the park, not 30 seconds later, it poured. So, you want to push your limits, be tough? Then run, now!

The only additional thought I had on the whole subject was, with whom was I having a conversation: myself, God, the father and his son, or all of the above?

*A dichotomous view of the human is the heresy of the Gnostics and others. They thought spirit was good and body was bad. But God has created both and declared both good. Yes, we have fallen into sin, but the spirit as well as the body is in sin. God brings our spirits into life and will resurrect a glorified body. Not only is this theology a problem for my understanding of me, it also caused the Gnostics to believe that Jesus was not fully God and fully Man, but only appeared to be a man, not really existing in the flesh to be hugged or crucified.

**A slight shortcut at this point alleviates one tenth of mile distance.

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