Notice: I've taken a part-time job, and it's definitely affecting my blogging time. I'll continue to add content here as often as possible.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Hound of Heaven

Francis Thompson
Francis Thompson

This post isn't going to be for everyone. Not many people will have the fortitude to read this entire poem, I'm pretty sure. But I was raised on a lot of famous poetry, and some phrases of this poem have been "hounding" me this fall.

I've been trying to deal with a big disappointment, where I believe that I was seriously wronged. To the point where I have considered taking legal action if I thought I could prove anything. Of course, this isn't the kind of person I want to be. I'm just trying to convey how upset and angry I've been.

Although this poem was written with the idea of God chasing down someone who has turned away from Him, it still resonates. Every time I felt so angry, I also felt that God's principles- the ones I want to live by- have been chasing me. For example:
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
     But with unhurrying chase,
     And unperturbèd pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
     They beat--and a Voice beat
     More instant than the Feet--
     "All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."


And now my heart is a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
     From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
     Such is; what is to be?

So, I present to you the entire poem, The Hound of Heaven, by Francis Thompson, 1893. Read on, if you are brave:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
     Up vistaed hopes I sped;
     And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
     But with unhurrying chase,
     And unperturbèd pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
     They beat--and a Voice beat
     More instant than the Feet--
     "All things betray thee, who betrayest Me."

     I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
Trellised with intertwining charities
(For, though I knew His love Who followed,
     Yet was I sore adread
Lest having Him, I must have naught beside);
But if one little casement parted wide,
The gust of His approach would clash it to.
Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clanged bars;
     Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o' the moon.
I said to dawn, Be sudden; to eve, Be soon;
With thy young skyey blossoms heap me over
     From this tremendous Lover!
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
     But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
     The long savannahs of the blue;
     Or whether, Thunder-driven,
     They clanged his chariot 'thwart a heaven
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o' their feet--
     Still with unhurrying chase,
     And unperturbèd pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
     Came on the following Feet,
     And a Voice above their beat--
     "Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me."

I sought no more that after which I strayed
     In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children's eyes
     Seems something, something that replies;
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But, just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
     With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
"Come then, ye other children, Nature's--share
With me," said I, "your delicate fellowship;
     Let me greet you lip to lip,
     Let me twine with you caresses,
     With our Lady-Mother's vagrant tresses'
     With her in her wind-walled palace,
     Underneath her azured daïs,
     Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
     From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring."
     So it was done;
I in their delicate fellowship was one--
Drew the bolt of Nature's secrecies.
     I knew all the swift importings
     On the wilful face of skies;
     I knew how the clouds arise
     Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
     All that's born or dies
     Rose and drooped with--made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful or divine--
     With them joyed and was bereaven.
     I was heavy with the even,
     When she lit her glimmering tapers
     Round the day's dead sanctities.
     I laughed in the morning's eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
     Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine;
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
     I laid my own to beat,
     And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven's gray cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
     These things and I; in sound I speak--
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
     Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
     The breasts of her tenderness;
Never did any milk of hers once bless
     My thirsting mouth.
     Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
     With unperturbèd pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
     And past those noisèd Feet
     A voice comes yet more fleet--
"Lo naught contents thee, who content'st not Me."

Naked I wait Thy love's uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me,
     And smitten me to my knee;
     I am defenseless utterly.
     I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
     I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o' the mounded years--
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
     Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
     Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit amaranthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
     Ah! must--
     Designer infinite!--
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i' the dust;
And now my heart is a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
     From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
     Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mist confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsed turrets slowly wash again.
     But not ere him who summoneth
     I first have seen, enwound
With blooming robes, purpureal, cypress-crowned;
is name I know, and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man's heart or life it be which yields
     Thee harvest, must Thy harvest fields
     Be dunged with rotten death?

     Now of that long pursuit
     Comes on at hand the bruit;
     That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
      "And is thy earth so marred,
     Shattered in shard on shard?
     Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
     Strange, piteous, futile thing,
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught," He said,
"And human love needs human meriting,
     How hast thou merited--
Of all man's clotted clay rhe dingiest clot?
     Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee
     Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
     Not for thy harms.
But just that thou might'st seek it in my arms.
     All which thy child's mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home;
     Rise, clasp My hand, and come!"

Halts by me that footfall;
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstreched caressingly?
"Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lyrics- O Little Town of Bethlehem

Every Sunday the lyrics from some great piece of Christian music will be featured. It's not that I want worship to revert to using all hymns, it's just that many modern Christian songs don't SAY anything. I really miss some deeper meaning. So I'm going to remind us of some great words.

O Little Town of Bethlehem
Phill­ips Brooks, 1867

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!

How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy pray to the blessèd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

This is the first American Christmas Carol. Phillips Brooks was inspired to write the words as he visited the Holy Land, and was looking down on the village of Bethlehem. For more about it's origins, see The Most Famous American Christmas Carol. I chose a version sung by Nat King Cole- another classic American favorite.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Christmas Story- Geneva Bible

A few years ago I was able to find an inexpensive copy of the Geneva Bible, published in 1560. This is the translation that the Pilgrims brought with them to the New World. I like to read familiar passages from less familiar translations. This often makes me think more about the words and their meanings.

You won't find this much different from the King James Bible, but I like it anyway. This is also my first entry in an occasional video series of Bible readings.

So, from someone known to be an old Scrooge when it comes to Christmas fol-de-rol, I invite you to contemplate the reason for Christmas, the celebration of Christ, in the first place.

Answer to Laddergram

Since Jesus was born in a stable, two likely visitors were SHEEP and DOVES.

The words of the laddergram are:
3. AIR
6. SOT
9. TEN
11. EIRE
12. IRE
14. ELSE
15. EEL

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Fun - Laddergram

Are you familiar with Laddergrams? Answer the clues for each numbered space. Answer 2 is made from answer 1 with one letter removed, and the rest (usually) rearranged. Put the discarded letter in the left hand square. Answer 3 is made from answer 2 the same way. Put that discarded letter in the right hand square. Start over with clues 4-6, 7-9, etc. When you are done the discarded letters will vertically spell the answer to the puzzle.

Note that there is a clue that can help you solve the puzzle, too.

laddergram example

The clue for this puzzle is: Two likely visitors at Jesus' birth


You can right click and choose view image to see the puzzle larger.

Monday, December 13, 2010

An Unexpected Lesson from the Garden

Jesus prays in the Garden

I know it’s not the Easter season, but I just thought of this lesson this week. We always are reminded that Jesus actually won the battle in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he submitted to the will of God, no matter how painful. His personal suffering is often used as an example of his humanity.

So, it occurred to me that it also illustrates the point that acceptance of difficult, even hurtful situations in our lives is a process.

Jesus knew what his mission was on earth. He knew what was the right thing to do. He wanted to do the right thing– had planned all along to do the right thing. And yet, when the reality of facing the cross was imminent, even Jesus had to go through a process of acceptance. He was sorrowful and troubled, and he wanted people (James and John) to be near him and share his burden in a small way.

Jesus may have known all along that in the end he would accept the terrible events he had to face, but he, our perfect example, couldn’t arrive at that point instantly.

Perhaps there is some physiological reason that the human body can’t (usually) immediately take bad news and leap into positive acceptance of it, no matter how spiritual a person may be.

We’ve been taught to recognize the stages of grief. We need friends to talk to when troubling things happen. And yet, we sometimes say to suffering people, “Get over it!”

Jesus, our perfect example, spent the difficult time in prayer. And yet, it took even God in human form several hours to reach the point where he could hold up his head and say, “I’m ready to face this.”

Now, there are those who insist on lingering in their sorrow, or refuse to move along the process of recovery. Some people refuse to accept the truth, or God’s will. We do need to be moving toward acceptance. We need to be seeking God’s will for our lives. This can take a while, in the face of major changes in our situation. And none of us are facing such a serious crisis as Jesus was.

But, we need to have patience with ourselves and others when troubling situations arise.

Perhaps when Jesus told the disciples, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” he was speaking of his own flesh, as well as theirs.

Matthew 26

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Lyrics- Give Them All to Jesus

Every Sunday the lyrics from some great piece of Christian music will be featured. It's not that I want worship to revert to using all hymns, it's just that many modern Christian songs don't SAY anything. I really miss some deeper meaning. So I'm going to remind us of some great words.

Give Them All to Jesus
written by Phil Johnson and Bob Benson Sr., 1975

Are you tried of chasing pretty rainbows
Are you tired of spinning round and round
Wrap up all the shattered dreams of your life
And at the feet of Jesus lay them down

Give them all give them all give them all to Jesus
Shattered dreams wounded hearts broken toys
Give them all give them all give them all to Jesus
And He will turn your sorrow into joy

He never said you would only see sunshine
He never said there would be no rain
He only promised us a heart full of singing
At the very thing that once brought pain

There have been a number of times in my life when this song brought a lot of comfort to me. It was amazing how many terrible recordings of it are on YouTube. I found one with images that I thought really illustrated the song, but the vocal wasn't too good. I found a couple of professional voice recordings. But they really caused you to focus on the singer, and not the words. This one may too... but I appreciated the "real-ness" of this guy- this song is nothing if not real, where it hurts (and he can sing on key!).

Answers to Quiz Yourself

Answers to yesterday's matching game: You had to take the people from the first column and match them to a sibling in the second column.

1. Moses and Miriam: Miriam was Moses' older sister who watched his basket in the Nile river, and became a co-leader of the Israelites. Numbers 26:59

2. Martha and Lazarus: Martha (and Mary) were the sisters of Lazarus. He died, and was raised to life again by Jesus. John 11

3. Reuben and Dinah: These were two of the children of Jacob. Reuben was one of the twelve brothers who became the fathers of the twelve tribes. Dinah is noted because she was loved by a man of Shechem, and raped. The brothers avenged her. Genesis 34

4. David and Abinadab: Abinidab was the second oldest of Jesse's sons, and when Samuel came to choose the king of Israel, everyone was shocked that the elder sons were not chosen, but that the youngest (David) was. I Samuel 16

5. James and John: Two of Jesus' disciples, the sons of Zebedee. Matthew 4:21

6. Abraham and Sarah: Yes, they were husband and wife, but they were also half-siblings. When Abraham told Pharoah she was his sister, it wasn't exactly a lie, but it wasn't the whole truth either! Genesis 20:12

7. Rachel and Leah: These were the daughters of Laban, whom Jacob worked for 14 years to earn as his wives. Genesis 29

8. Shem and Japheth: These are two of the three sons of Noah. Genesis 5:32

9. Mahlon and Kilion: These are the two sons of Elimalek, who died, leaving their better-known wives, Ruth and Orphah with his wife, Naomi. Ruth 1

10. Jacob and Esau: certainly one of the most famous sets of twins in the world. Two nations struggling together in the womb. Genesis 25

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Fun- Quiz Yourself

Every Friday there will be a Bible game of some kind to play. The answers will be posted on Saturday morning. Today, it's a matching quiz. The theme is Siblings. Match the person in the first column with a sibling of theirs from the second column.

1. Moses

2. Martha

3. Reuben

4. David

5. James

6. Abraham

7. Rachel

8. Shem

9. Mahlon

10. Jacob

A. Esau

B. Sarah

C. Abinadab

D. John

E. Dinah

F. Kilion

G. Japheth

H. Miriam

I. Lazarus

J. Leah

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What is the Good God Has Promised?

the word GOOD

As an extension of what I wrote on Monday, there is the huge question of “what is good.” The verse, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose,” is quoted so often that I almost hate to bring it up. (Romans 8:28)

But this verse is central to the question of moving God to act on our behalf through faith. Consider the idea of receiving healing for a physical problem. Some people firmly believe that God wants perfect health for everyone here on earth, because that is good.

In fact, there is a currently popular Christian song which says, “You make all things work together for my good.” But is that what Romans 8:28, quoted above, says? No, it is not.

There can be a huge difference between what I would consider “my good,” and “absolute good.” Going back to the health example, if it is always good for me to be healthy, then I would have to conclude that if I have perfect faith, I will have perfect health until at some point when God says, “time’s up,” I would drop dead with a smile on my face. It would mean that babies would never be born with defects, and that handicapping injuries would never happen to those who have perfect faith. But life doesn’t work this way.

John Bunyan spent years starving in prison- probably not what he would have defined as “good,” and yet the world was given Pilgrim’s Progress. Joel Sonnenberg was burned over 85% of his body as a toddler (certainly not because of his lack of faith), and his parents triumphed in God’s sovereign goodness, and Joel is now a Christian motivational speaker. Amy Carmichael broke her ankle before she thought that her work in India was complete, and discovered that God was moving her to the ranks of the prayer warriors, rather than to continue as a “soldier” on the front lines of working with people. We like to remember the faith of the men thrown into the fiery furnace who were not burned, but what of those heroes of faith from Hebrews 11 who were "stoned, sawn asunder, and killed with the sword?" They had the faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who said that they didn't know if God would spare them, but he was able, whether he did or not. We are cheered by the physically saving faith of the men in the fire, but not so much by the faith of those who were sawn in two.

James 4:3 says, “You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that you may consume it upon your lusts.”

Sometimes, our definition of “goodness” is just another form of lust. We want to be healthy, sheltered in reasonable comfort, have loving family and friends around us, and feel God’s presence in our lives. We believe that God wants these things for us. Yet, sometimes God calls people to be ill, injured, cold and hungry, even alone. He wants us to trust him, whether we can feel that He is there or not. He wants us to stand with Job and say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.”

Our definition of good has to be aligned with God’s definition of good. This can be a difficult coordination problem, but this is the issue to which we should apply our faith.

Race For Life: The Joel Sonnenberg Story

Joel Sonnenberg's web site

Would You Dare?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Can Faith Accomplish Everything?

reflected candle

This week, I was in a discussion about faith with someone. Her church is studying a book that proposes that every lack in our lives is due to the fact that we don’t have enough faith. This includes the lack of money, being depressed, having poor health, etc.

I took issue with this idea. Two examples from Scripture just leapt to mind. Job was tested simply because he was the most righteous man on earth, and Satan challenged God that he could be broken. Job lost everything except his wife and his life. But was it because of his lack of faith? I don’t believe so. My friend, who really does believe that anything can be accomplished with enough faith, quoted Job 3:25, where Job says, “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” This verse supposedly indicates that Job’s faith wasn’t perfect, that he had fears. But, I think this begs the question of the chain of events as reported. It was more due to Job’s great faith that the “bad” things happened to him, rather than a lack of faith. In fact, he refused to give up on God. His wife advised him to “curse God and die,” yet Job was steadfast and said he would trust God even if God killed him.

Another good example is the man who was born blind. John 9 tells that Jesus healed him, and then the disciples asked, “Who sinned, this man, or his parents?” They believed that the lack of health had to be the result of sin. Jesus didn’t answer in riddles, for a change. He clearly said that no one sinned, but that the man was born blind simply so that the works of God could be displayed.

We don’t know how old this man was, but if it’s a fact that sufficient faith fixes everything, then for all the years before the man met Jesus he could have been accurately criticized for not having enough faith. The reality is that he had plenty of faith, because he was healed. However, the timing also had to be right.

The book the group is studying does pose the question, “Does the sovereignty of God take precedence over faith?” In other words, if God has some overriding plan, can he be forced to change that plan by someone who prays with enough faith?

One school of thought says, “Yes, God has to respond to a prayer of sufficient faith.”

I say that there are lots of examples throughout history of people who were asked to suffer physically, emotionally, or spiritually for various reasons having nothing to do with the amount of faith they had.

What do you think?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Lyrics- Work For the Night is Coming

Every Sunday the lyrics from some great piece of Christian music will be featured. It's not that I want worship to revert to using all hymns, it's just that many modern Christian songs don't SAY anything. I really miss some deeper meaning. So I'm going to remind us of some great words.

Work For the Night is Coming
Anna Coghill, 1854

Work, for the night is coming,
Work through the morning hours;
Work while the dew is sparkling,
Work ’mid springing flowers;
Work when the day grows brighter,
Work in the glowing sun;
Work, for the night is coming,
When man’s work is done.

Work, for the night is coming,
Work through the sunny noon;
Fill brightest hours with labor,
Rest comes sure and soon.
Give every flying minute,
Something to keep in store;
Work, for the night is coming,
When man works no more.

Work, for the night is coming,
Under the sunset skies;
While their bright tints are glowing,
Work, for daylight flies.
Work till the last beam fadeth,
Fadeth to shine no more;
Work, while the night is darkening,
When man’s work is o’er.

This past week, while there were no posts here, I was working for a friend. It was hard, physical labor, which can be very satisfying. This song reminds us of that wonderful aspect of being human, and also that our time here on earth is brief. We should work hard, both for the accomplishments, and for the kingdom ahead. I'm having a hard time finding a video I like for this song, so I made one!