Category Archives: beauty

Let me pay attention..

David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,

“Praise be to you, O Lord, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honour come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name…. Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”

(1Chron 29.10-14)

“I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things. You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the Lord, have created it.”

(Isaiah 45.6-8)

..for I am sure we ought to love God in our lives and in all the blessings he sends us. We should trust him in our lives, so that when our time comes, but not before, we may go to him in love and trust and joy… We ought to find God and love him in the blessings he sends us.. Once a man has found God in his earthly bliss and has thanked him for it, there will be plenty of opportunities for him to remind himself that these earthly pleasures are only transitory…. But everything in its season, and the important thing is to keep step with God.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer;  from Letters to a friend, in ‘Letters & papers from prison’: SCM 1953)

I have been privileged these past few years to live in one of the loveliest places, where the view from my kitchen sink is a panorama of mountains and water, with ever changing light, and a richness of colours and textures that intoxicate the heart. The lavish outpouring of beauty is a constant challenge to my capacity for thanksgiving, and at times I am moved to tears, overwhelmed by the generosity of the Lord who gives good gifts to his children.

I believe that our future as believers holds something even better, even more glorious than what I now enjoy – a new creation where all that moves us now will be found to be a faint echo of what God plans, and we will need our resurrection bodies in order to contain and express the joy that we will feel as we live there without sin or grief or death.

Even as I anticipate that future though, I am called by God to live in the present. I cannot be in two places or times at once, and He knows that! It is my task and joy to live here, now, to be fully present for those around me, and also – wonderfully – to enjoy all the good things he has provided for me in the present. Yes, these are all gifts which, having been given, may be withdrawn – but that is in His hands, and how churlish, thankless and downright foolish it would be of me to refuse to enjoy them now because one day they will be gone! I honour and praise the King of heaven most fully when I receive and use and appreciate what he has given me each hour and day.

It is my experience that in the midst of grief, and even of near despair, the Lord of my heart is offering me his good gifts – whether in the love and kindness of friends, the power of music to speak comfort, the beauty of the tiniest detail in nature – and I am so thankful that he has taught my eyes and heart to be attentive, so that I can receive these messages of love and the assurance they give of his presence, his power, his faithfulness and his greatness. I rejoice that the human frame is so fashioned by our God that we can experience joy in the midst of sorrow, and light in the midst of darkness, and even as we acknowledge our limitations and needs to Him, we are held and loved and known – what inexpressible comfort there is in such intimate care.

May the Lord give us attentive hearts to receive all the good things he has provided for us today, may he give us thankful hearts to use and appreciate his gifts, may he give us grace to fully enjoy those gifts while never forgetting that the best is yet to come.  Though it may lie on the other side of pain and loss, yet it is guaranteed to us as his beloved children. Dear friends, take hold of your days as gifts, relish and cherish them and lay them at his feet each evening as a thank offering, not fearing what the morrow may bring because he will still be with you when it comes.

Joining in the chorus!

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendour and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. Worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.

Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy, they will sing before the Lord, for he comes, to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.

(Ps 96)

Today, the world has been singing. Today, the Lord woke me to a glad heart and a thankful spirit, as I looked out on spring and the miracle of renewal after winter. Today, the Lord put a song into my heart, a song of thankfulness for all the many gifts which I have received, and all the ways in which He makes my life sweet. Today, I joined the chorus of creation, from the great striding bass notes of mountain and ocean, up to the top line melody of birdsong and delicate flowers. Today, I sang too.

Friends, it is not always easy to lift our eyes beyond our troubles, and those of others, in order to be reminded of the truth about our God as He reveals himself in creation – in its complexity, beauty and power. But when we are able, it is surely one of the most refreshing and encouraging experiences. To celebrate our Creator and delight in his creation is to do what we are made to do. To choose to praise him in spite of the very real trials and troubles of our lives and our world, is to glorify and honour the only one who can rightly address those troubles, and perfectly work all things together to fulfill his plans.

To praise God is to defy the devil. To praise God is to proclaim his greatness to a world which doesn’t want to know him. To praise God is to affirm the faith which He has given us in His character and promises, and to offer an acceptable sacrifice to the Almighty. To praise God in the midst of our messy and broken human lives is to shout aloud that we believe the best is yet to come, and that through our Saviour, Jesus, we will be alive to see it – more alive than we have ever been!

Let us then pray for one another, to be granted the strength and vision to praise our God, no matter what else is happening to us. Praise restores our perspective; praise puts our focus on God – who alone can aid and does sustain us. Praise enables us to affirm with Paul these wonderful truths:-

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No!

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Rom 8.35)

Drawing breath

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law….. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him..

(Det 29.29; 30.19&20)

Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen? Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the bear with its cubs?           

           Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?

(Job 38.28-33)

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?…. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

(Matt 6.26&27,34)

Be patient.. until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near… As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

(Jas 5.7,8 &11)

My soul, draw breath: turn your inner ear away from the cacophony of voices which are calling you names, reminding you of weakness, folly, errors and failure. 

My soul, draw breath: turn your eye away from the list of things you ‘should’ be doing, the things that are ‘good and worthy’, the great towering mountain of expectations that you feel obliged to fulfil.

My soul, draw breath: your Lord is near, and while you deafen yourself by telling over the lists, you cannot hear him; while you fix your eyes on the expectations, you cannot see him.

My soul, draw breath: remember just how much has been done for you, in the name of love, and by whom. Remember that your smallness does not require you to work harder than ever to achieve and to succeed. Remember that your riches are inherited, not earned, and that the loving hand which gives so generously is your Father, not your employer. There are no conditions attached, only the invitation to respond in love and adoration.

My soul, draw breath: yes, there is so much that you do not understand and cannot bear to think about. But remember who holds those secret things in his keeping: He holds you too, as his beloved. In the closest places of his heart you are present and precious. Nothing happens to you beyond his knowledge, and the burdens belong to him, who alone is able to bear them in justice and holiness, doing all things well.

Almighty God, the secret things belong to you, and sometimes that great amount of unknown threatens to overwhelm me – both my immediate questions, and the wider ones affecting your people around the world. But one of the things revealed is your power in creation, and so much more than power; brilliance, artistry, wisdom, vastness, and majesty. You are the great artist, the ultimate maker, and I praise you today. Thank you for human artistry which can help me to take time to look, really stop and contemplate the beauty of the details as well as the big pictures. Thank you for those whose gifts of word, hand and tongue cast light on your creative genius and help me to see it afresh – to find rest in contemplation of your handiwork.

Thank you, that when I take time to receive from you the daily bounty of beauty, the love in every detail, I can live in gratitude and in expectation of what you are yet to do. Thank you that this contemplation restores my perspective, and I am reminded that my place is not to uncover every secret, but to live for you on the basis of what is revealed to me. The burden lifts, as I humble myself before my maker and accept my limitations.

Draw breath my soul: look, listen, and remember what is true. And then let your song rise to your Lord, as you rest in him today. 

Chewing it over…and over..

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.

(Ps 1.1-3)

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord, for the display of his splendour.

(Isa 61.1-3)

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

(Gal 1.3-5)

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom… the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving; considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

(Jas 3.13,17&18)

It is always good to remind ourselves of what the scriptures say is true about us, to choose to let God’s words be the basis on which we evaluate not only what is going on around us but also what weight to give our own thoughts – those constant companions which colour our actions and words.

When I feel that I am astray in this present evil age, weak and wayward, I recall that Christ has died to rescue me – and that he succeeded! The resurrection proves that my debt is paid, and I am free from the powers which so cruelly dominate our world. As one of his ransomed and precious children, I have total security in my Saviour’s work, and in the place to which God is leading me is called home. 

The work of Jesus is completely sufficient, and not only am I rescued, but also transformed. For the dust and ashes, the rags and tatters of human brokenness, I receive a crown; beauty for brokenness, rich royal robes fitted for a princess. And these are mine not to cover up shameful secrets, to deceive God as if He could be fooled. Rather, these are now my proper possession as His child. I am a new creation, a beloved, beautiful God-delighting daughter, and all that He bestows on me now is simply my birthright – all because of Jesus.

This is wisdom then; to chew over these truths again, and again. Choosing to make them the basis on which I face each fresh challenge and stage of life. Choosing to live as though they were and are and always will be true, so that more and more my thoughts follow God’s thoughts about me, and I have that never failing stream of renewing, nourishing life flowing through me. 

I am planted by the Lord, to bear witness to his glory and power and righteousness as the One who keeps his promises and does all things well. I am not here because of an accident, but by His design and to fulfill his purposes. What keeps me anchored here is the life which is flowing – by the spirit in me – from his grace and inexhaustible love. As I meditate on the truth, his truth, my roots go deeper and hold more strongly, and my surroundings matter less. I can, and must, ground and nourish myself in this heavenly wisdom, trusting that it will bear fruit in my life for God’s glory and the blessing of those around me.  Trees don’t actively decide to bear fruit… it happens because they are healthy trees. May I remember that next time I am fretting over the apparent fruitlessness of my life, and trust that while it may not be obvious to me, yet my heavenly Father will be satisfied that this particular bit of his planting is doing just what he planned it should!

Travelling mercies and wayside glories!

By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them..and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light..

Moses said to the Lord, “…You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favour with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you…” The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here…” 

So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels.

(Ex 13.21;33.12-15;40.38)

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me.

(Ps 23.1-4)

There is a famous song from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical ‘Carousel’, entitled “You’ll never walk alone’, a song which tugs at the heartstrings quite unmercifully, and speaks powerfully of our desperate need of presence as we face the trials of life. Although I doubt that it was written with the Christian faith in mind, it does fit very well with the words of the psalmist, as he rejoices in the knowledge that the Lord is present at all times and in all places, even the valley of the shadow of death. As believers, we do not rely on the memories of departed friends for comfort, nor even on the actual human presence of fellow travellers, but on the promise of God himself to be with his people.

As Moses urged God to remain with the Israelites – well aware that their sin and rebellion deserved no such favour – so also we cling to God in prayer and depend on his promise to be with us always – to guide us and to bring the light which drives out fear. Ultimately, we all face life alone, since no one can live for us, or share our experience of it completely, and so unless our companion is the Lord himself, our maker and sustainer, we will be astray and vulnerable. But with him, we are fortified against whatever may come. He often uses the presence of others in our lives as a means of communicating his love, and making provision for us in our need – do you ever think of your friends as travelling mercies and wayside glories, gifts to sustain and strengthen your faith for the day ahead? They are both those things! The love of others – fellow believers and those who do not yet know him – and the gift of their friendship are among the loveliest things that the Good  Shepherd bestows on his flock.

In addition to these human gifts, we receive direct from his hand those things which he knows are best suited to our nature by way of encouragement, and the restoration of our souls. For many people, the wonder of creation in nature is a boundless source of joy and encouragement, and I know for myself that even the most desolating times have been pierced by light from God as my attention is drawn to some delicate flower or moss, the colours and textures of rock and wood, the grandeur of distant mountains and the perfectly timed appearance of a rainbow or particular bird.

We do not rely on these things, but we do well to be open to receiving them from the Shepherd’s hand, as gifts for our good, and tokens of his loving presence in the midst of whatever we are facing.

There is an old song, perhaps a little trite sounding, but precious in the deep reality of which it speaks for Jesus followers:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me, and talks with me along life’s narrow way.

He lives, He lives, salvation to impart; you ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart!

The One who loves us, the One who died for us, the One who rose to stand forever at the Father’s side to intercede for us; this is He who lives within our hearts and from whom nothing can ever part us again. Let us take care to be on the watch for his daily mercies to us, and the glories which are so lavishly bestowed along the way, so that we may be restored in our souls. We have his presence to guide us, and the light of his victorious glory to drive away our fear. We are safe in his hand and need never walk alone!

It does me good to stop..look…and give thanks

Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn – shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.

Psalm 98

The sun is brilliant from behind a veil of silver clouds in the west, and the stiff breeze whips colour into my face. Overhead, the gulls are riding the wind, arrogantly motionless, they soar aloft, their mewing cries joining the voices of sea and wind in exaltation. All the earth around me is indeed singing for joy to the Creator, the Lord of all things. Colours are intensified by the low sunshine, and glory sounds on every hand, from green field, deep yellow gorse, and the white-ruffled blue of the water; from the wisps of cloud scattered across the skies, and the sharp faces of mountain peaks. 

I do not worship creation…but I look, and am healed, comforted, nourished and inspired by the beauty which the Creator has put into this tiniest corner of a mind-boggling universe. I do not worship creation…but I look and wonder as all that is made gives glory to its maker by being itself – reflecting his power and expressing his greatness. I do not worship creation…but I look and am humbled, reminded of just how insignificant we are, and how resolutely we continue to dishonour our maker, to destroy his creation, and reject the very notion of his existence.

Why should the Lord of all this beauty, the power which created and sustained it, be concerned in the lives of human beings who defy, deny and destroy? Why should his right hand and his holy arm work salvation, revealing his righteousness to the nations? Why should the judge of all things choose to act in such a way that sinful humanity might be delivered from the justice which would require our destruction?

Why should God choose to set his love upon humanity, and then go to the Cross in the person of his Son so that we might know and return that love, living with him in hope here, and in fulfilled and perfect immortality? 

He loved us, because he loved us, because he loves us…

This is why my heart sings when I see the beauty all around me, from the tiniest frond of moss, to the stars lavishly scattered across the night sky. Because all these things proclaim the God who loves me..all these things are now mine to cherish as his gift to me, as his provision for me, and because when I rejoice in them, I bring delight to the heart of the giver. 

There is so much that I cannot understand, so much grief and darkness in my own life and in the world around me. But when I take time to look, to remember what creation is telling me every moment of every day, that the Creator is no distant, uncaring or arbitrary deity but a God of bounty, of beauty, of blessing who gave his Son that I might know him, I take courage for the next step of obedience. 

Sin remains, weakness persists, temptation recurs; but the Lord has done marvellous things, and salvation for all who believe, from every nation to the ends of the earth is accomplished. Friends, let us avail ourselves often of this encouragement from the beauty around us – that our Creator God, the holy and righteous judge, has done for us all that we need, so that we stand beloved in his presence, and raise our whole being in praise, in chorus with all his creation, shouting for joy before our King.

and arbitrary

church…a work in progress?

So on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly , which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand..Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord. The Levites..instructed the people..making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.

(Neh 8.2,6-8)

Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.

(Ps 149.1-4)

It was he[Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.

(Eph 4.11-13)

…Christ is the head of the church, his body of which he is the Saviour…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless

(Eph 5.23, 25-27)

Have you ever wondered at the gulf between the passionate, potent love we see in Jesus, and the qualities of the church which is his body in the world? Why does the community which is commissioned to witness to divine love, and incredible grace have such a record of intolerance, bigotry of every kind, division, coldness, selfishness and worldliness? Why do so many people outside the church view Jesus as someone admirable, and then reject the gospel because of those who claim to know and love him?

Our record as a people called to bear God’s name fruitfully, making disciples of all nations, rejoicing in our salvation and provoking the unsaved to envy of our peace, unity and hope is woeful. Our record as a people able to pick quarrels, hold grudges, mistreat, suspect, withhold forgiveness, abuse, lie, conceal and hoard on the other hand is quite impressive. How shameful, how heart-breaking, that the body of Christ in the world should be a source of such grief, pain and rejection of the gospel.

We have the incalculable riches of the word of Almighty God – his personal revelation of himself, his great purposes in creation and redemption. We have the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, whose task is our daily transformation and enabling for the work of mission – whatever that may look like in our unique calling. We have Jesus, our salvation, our glory, joy and crown, by whom we stand in the the immediate presence of a holy God, with a guaranteed eternity in which to finally and fully live. What happens to us, that our lives fall so short of our calling, our identity?

From earliest records, we see that the body of Christ has been flawed, there was no golden age when everything went well. We are a community of sinners who have been saved, and who – this side of death – remain prone to every temptation known to humanity. The result is that the bride for whom Jesus died is far from pure, united and holy, and her continued existence is itself a cause for wonder and humble thanksgiving. Only God could have preserved a witness for himself in the face of so much weakness and failing. The larger our institutional churches get, the more they become like worldly institutions, with the same flaws. The tragedy is that Christ’s body in the world ought to be different. Unbelievers know this, and mock our faith; we know it, and grieve for the trap from which we seem unable to escape.

We have to take responsibility for our own personal witness, and pray for the reform of our institutions, pray for our leaders and confess our failures and sins. We also have to continue to work at being a community of believers. Each of us has a role to play in the body, in addition to our own willingness to give reason for the hope we have. We look to love, to build up, to encourage. We look to unite in praise and in learning from the word – reverencing the revelation and hungry to learn for ourselves what it means for us.

Lord of the church, for whom you died, have mercy on us. Fill us afresh by your Spirit, so that we shine for you – as individuals and as a body. Cleanse us from our persistent sins so that we honour you, and show how we treasure the blood shed to make us clean. Do not give up the work of building your church in our day, in our land, but in your mercy let us see your power poured out and a new generation of people coming to new life in Christ.

Not tame…but good!

Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm…”Brace yourself..I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand…On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?..Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this…”

(Job 38.1-4,6&7,16-18)

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

(Ps 8.1)

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.

(Ps 19.1&2)

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see….By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

(Heb 11.1&3)

I do not see the point of so many things – slugs and midges, the common cold, why hair has to turn grey or fall out, hiccups and stinging jellyfish..I don’t understand so much of God’s ways in the world – tyrants, war and misery apparently unchecked, human morality veering ever further from God’s principles, God’s apparent inaction in the face of people rejecting and reviling him. And I also don’t understand beauty, the persistent presence of goodness, truth, kindness and selflessness in the midst of chaos, pain and darkness.

But Jesus never said we would understand – he reminded his disciples that their faith should be like that of little children, who depend implicitly upon those who have power to protect and provide for them. Our faith in God is not because we understand what he is doing right now, or can predict what he will do next – we are not qualified to participate in the divine work at that level! Ours is a humbler role – which presumably is why humanity as a whole rejects it, our pride rebels against things we cannot understand and (by implication) control.

By faith, we depend upon God to be true to himself – the character revealed in creation, in scriptures and uniquely in Jesus himself. We do not and should not try to comprehend him, but rather recognise the wild, glorious goodness and power revealed in the Maker of this incredible world; who yet is also the crushed and bleeding man upon the cross.

In his Narnia books, CS Lewis cautions us against trying to fit God into our own image and understanding, as through the character of the great lion Aslan, he reveals one who is good, and yet not tame, one before whom we will rightly fall in trembling worship only to find ourselves utterly secure and safe in his presence.

When I am overwhelmed by the weight of the world’s troubles, tempted to doubt and despair, feeling helpless and ashamed that I cannot see God’s transforming work and have no answers to give to those who mock my faith – then I focus on two things. Firstly on the marvellous universe in which we live – God’s magnificent challenge to Job brings me such fierce joy as I share some of my Creator’s delight in the mysteries of the physical world. Secondly on the cross – the place where almighty power appeared in absolute weakness and conquered sin and death for ever, where the wild, unimagineable power of my God was fully revealed.

Let me be content to be mocked by more sophisticated minds, as I choose to make this God my foundation for life and hope. Let me be steadfast in reverent worship of the one who called the morning stars into being, and who has walked the recesses of the ocean! Lord, let me have total confidence in you; for although your ways are wild and strange to me, yet I believe in your goodness, because of Calvary. How I long for the day when  your name will be vindicated before all people; when your justice will be celebrated not derided and when faith will no longer be needed, for we shall see and live with you for ever….come Lord, come soon!

Cultivating wonder…

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.. and the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food..

(Gen 1.31: 2.9))

‘God is exalted in his power. Who is a teacher like him?..Remember to extol his work, which men have praised in song. All mankind has seen it…How great is God – beyond our understanding!..He draws up the drops of water..who can understand how he spreads out the clouds..? God’s voice thunders in marvellous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding’

(Job 36.22,24,26&27: 37.5)

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons…

(Romans 8.19-23)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away….And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them..”

(Rev 21.1&3)

After what feels like weeks of wind and rain, I walked this morning in a calm brightness, the sea unruffled and the distant mountains gleaming white in the sunshine. There was almost no sound at all in all the great amphitheatre of the loch, and the quiet chirruping of unseen birds carried far in the still air. Brightness, light, and saturated colours met my eye in every direction, and my soul rejoiced in my Creator, the great Artist and maker of all beauty.

I believe that God made everything good, in fact very good – not only useful, but beautiful. I exult in the magnitude of space – so far beyond my comprehension – and in the infinitesimal details of ecosystems and living beings – so far beyond my perception. I am glad to worship and yield myself to the hands of this God, whose power and infinite variety have expressed themselves in this incredible world which we perceive with all our senses.

We neglect our sense of wonder at our peril, because with it we lose a great source of encouragement and delight in our daily pilgrimage. Our glorious God has placed us in a world, a universe, which shouts his praises; and although the bible tells us that it is flawed and suffers the consequences of human rebellion, yet we also see that it remains truthful in reflecting God’s glory. We are also told that we were originally called to be faithful stewards of the garden – nurturing and tending for the benefit of all who live there – so that our fall from grace must have implications for our task as well as for ourselves.

Our garden is suffering because we are in rebellion against our maker, and ultimately that agony will only come to an end when Christ makes all things new – when our defiled and weary planet is transformed even as our mortal bodies will be transformed for immortality. This doesn’t mean we should abuse it further, but rather return with great energy to the task we were originally given, and seek to fulfill it as redeemed servants who believe in a glorious future. There is an added incentive to this labour, since we now know so much about the impact which human exploitation has had upon the whole earth’s systems – and in turn upon the creatures which depend upon it. God cares about his creation, as his children, we should care too. If by our labours now, we can create a healthier, fairer life for our poor neighbours, those affected by drought, floods, soil erosion, then let us do it – cultivating the garden for the benefit of all…

There is wonder in the coming of spring, as new life erupts in every plant, from the tiniest weed to the greatest trees; as buds swell and new leaves and flowers unfurl miraculously from tiny beginnings to extravagant displays of colour, shape and texture. There is wonder in the effortless gliding of seabirds as they ride the wind; in the ceaseless movement and energy of hedgerow birds as their tiny forms flit from thicket to tree and back to hedge. There is wonder in the the unfurling of an infant’s face and hands as they begin their journey of life. There is wonder in the soft skin of age, the strong and worn hands which have laboured and served, the patient and loving eyes which have wept, laughed and seen so much of life.

God made us to worship him, and not his creation. When I cultivate wonder, I am not worshipping the trees, the people, the sunset or the mountains, but I am reminding myself that I worship a magnificent God, who is utterly beyond my comprehension, and who yet has made all this so that I might live and know him.

Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. (Ps 95.6&7)

It’s real, more real than anything I have known yet!

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.

(Gen 1.1&31)

Creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed…the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God

(Rom 8.19&21)

When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed….so it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body…when the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

 (1Cor 15.37,42-44,53-54)

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God… I am making everything new!”

(Rev 21.1,3&5)

Our church does not regularly use spoken affirmations or statements of faith, which is perhaps why when I do speak out, I find it particularly moving. To hear my own voice confessing faith in God, in the incarnate and sacrificed Christ, and in the Spirit, is powerful, and strengthens my resolve to live for and with God. I have always been particularly glad to be able to say that ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting’, and this truth becomes ever more precious to me as years pass and loved ones go ahead of me into glory.

On a purely personal level, I long for the day when I will see God face to face without fear or shame – because all that remains of sin and weakness in me will have gone, and I will be perfect, fully alive for the first time and with all eternity in which to be and do for and with my Saviour and his people. I will not need to hold back, to be careful, to watch my thoughts and words, because I will no longer be in danger of sinning – can you imagine how wonderful that will be?!

I also believe that, since God has shown us in Christ what a resurrection body is like – a physical presence, like and yet utterly different from our own frail flesh – that we will inhabit a physical world, one where all that is currently wrong is righted.

But all of this is also part of a much greater picture, of the cosmic plan of redemption which God is completing around us even now – bringing everything back into harmonious submission to his sovereignty. In the new heavens and earth which God is making, He will finally realise his desire to dwell with his people – no intermediaries or priests will be needed – in a perfect sanctuary, and there will be no more divisions or barriers between us. His great vision is not to take a chosen people out of the world, but to make it possible for us all to be in it together

I love the place where I live, and I know that our globe is full of wonders and marvels, most of which I will not live to see….but I do not fret, because I believe that one day, not too far off, I will dwell in the new earth and have all eternity to appreciate its wonders, and share in its hymn of praise to the creator. There is much beyond my understanding, but I trust in the one who promises that he will make me new, that I will live with him and be part of that great symphony, that expression of beauty beyond the tongue or brush of any artist or writer. Today, I groan with all creation, in bondage to decay….but one day, I will shout and sing with joy in fitting praise; one day everything I do, think, and am will be perfect. I will BE!

Praise the Lord God, who has made and is remaking us for this, glory to his name…