‘He Formed the Mountains…’

On Wednesday, as I drove to Alamogordo for my latest balance therapy session, I listened to one of my favorite albums of music, John Michael Talbot’s “Troubadour of the Great King.” It was recorded early in JMT’s post-secular career, 1981, when the teachings of his Franciscan order were fresh in his mind. I had an incredible worship experience in my truck during the 75-minute drive.

R-3364066-1327467408.jpegThe album of songs explores themes familiar to those who study St. Francis of Assisi, such as the role of God in Creation, the brotherhood of Creation, the importance of Christian virtue, and the need for personal dedication to God. On it, you will find an assortment of Scriptures, writings of Francis, and original lyrics by Talbot. The first half of the 16-song album deals exclusively with the praise of God the Creator. And the songs are magnificent!

One of them, “The Pleiades and Orion,” is straight praise. (Both stellar features are referred to in the Old Testament by their Hebrew names, which I find to be really cool.) In the song, Talbot sings of the Lord’s works in Creation and then brings the kicker in:

“He formed the mountains and created the winds;
Through His Spirit declares His thoughts to men.”

God created everything we see: the mountains, the winds, the stars of the heavens! And yet He chooses to have a relationship with people. And it is not a master-slave relation… He declares His thoughts to men. His thoughts! While we may not know nearly all of the thoughts of the Lord, He has, through His Spirit-inspired word, shared many of His thoughts with us. How cool!

Here’s the official music video of the song, created probably on Betamax back in the early 1980s. It’s slow-moving and Talbot, who is now in his 60’s, was very young then (as most of us were). So sit back and let the words of the song minister to your heart. And be sure to praise the Great Creator, who through the Holy Spirit declares His thoughts to men.

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Just Some Photos…

This month has been an active one for my photography. Not only have I turned all “Nat Geo” when it comes to local birds but I managed to (finally) capture the Perseids meteor shower after years of trying. Here are a few of my snapshots — a really needed departure from theology, Bible study and breaking up hummingbird fistfights (err… wingwars? beakbattles?).

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Of Forest Fires, Sharp Wits & Verbal Mistakes

“…though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell (James 3:5-6).”

Goofing off with the axe and a tree that the forest service cut down along a fire line of the 2012 forest fire.

Goofing off with the axe and a tree that the forest service cut down along a fire line of the 2012 forest fire.

One of my most prized possessions is a beat-up, double-bladed axe. The axe itself has seen much better days, what with its smattering of rust, frayed duct tape handle and cracked plastic guard and all. It still cuts wood very well, which was the main reason I asked to keep it after working as a forest service campground host two years ago. You see, I found it in a closet at the campground among some other tools and it looked like one mean firewood cutting instrument, so I started using it for that purpose.

The axe has a story to tell, though, that fits in with James’ warning here. The tree-falling instrument was used on the front lines of fighting a massive forest fire in my neck of the woods three years ago. In 2012, the Little Bear Fire burned up 43,000 acres of wilderness, houses, vacation lodges and hiking trails. It wasn’t started by someone’s sharp tongue, however! Just a lightning strike on a remote mountain ridge that burned out of control for several days before fire crews were even able to start fighting. In fact, the fire came within 500 feet of my new property and the mountainsides around me are littered with charred trunks and a few destroyed foundations.

Forest fires are a major issue here in New Mexico, just as they are currently causing problems in the Pacific Northwest. It is dry here during the late spring and early summer and dry winds are strong, coming off of the desert and into the forested mountains. One out-of-control bonfire is all it takes to set thousands of acres on fire. Thankfully, the Ruidoso area, where I live, has seen a surplus of rain this year but, even still, locals look at haze on the mountains with a bit of dread. Is it water vapor or is it smoke?

I chose this passage in James because of a conversation I had recently with a friend. This unnamed person told me about how they used to be very sharp-tongued before they got serious about following Jesus. The friend said that they wouldn’t wait to respond to a tough situation or to a verbal slight. They would just fire away a quick, sharp response, and usually suffer the consequences. They’re getting better, they told me, but still have a tendency to fire with the tongue first before stopping to think through if they should.

angryI wish I could say that this person was the first I had encountered who didn’t think before they spoke but I cannot. I used to be that way and, when I’m truly angry, can still say stuff that I wish I hadn’t. I’ll never forget one time four years ago when I got in trouble for using a sharp tongue with my boss. I was showing him something on my computer — a problem that I could not fix and that he could not understand why not — when frustration boiled over (along with my blood temperature, I think) and I said something in haste, in frustration, and unkind. My boss just angrily got up and stormed out of my office. I was called into his a few minutes later…

The truth is that we humans can do a lot of damage by not thinking before we speak, especially when we are frustrated. Charles Swindoll, the famous Bible teacher and preacher, said in a Dallas Seminary chapel once that he has a quick checklist he goes through in his head before responding in frustration or anger. He asks himself, “Are these words necessary? Are they destructive? Are they constructive?” and then he responds. I’d imagine that if more people went through a similar checklist, we’d have a lot fewer responses!

I guess the bottom line is… if you have a tendency to speak without thinking when frustrated or angry, practicing self-control and, maybe, silence is far better than setting a forest of relationships ablaze. Most sharp-tongued people I know (if not all) have left charred human relationships in their past. I find it to be really sad. I’m currently a lot quieter than I have ever been in my life. A gentle answer or silent demeanor may not always calm wrath but it does usually prevent forest fires.

I like my forests (relationships). Do you like yours?

Be God’s.

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The Grace of God in Creation

As I sit here at my table, drinking tea and watching the neighborhood birds through the window, I wanted to drop a quick thought on the subject of grace and creation. In Genesis 2, God gave Adam (and eventually Eve) care over His other creatures — a cool vice-regency role that believers in God should still seek to fulfill today. In this role, we humans have an important role to play in giving God’s grace to the creatures around us.

You see, any time an undeserving thing receives blessing, that is grace. My feeding these birds? Grace. My chasing away the nosy next-door chickens so that a tiny Junco bird can eat? Grace. The bird didn’t earn protection and comfort but I provided it, gratis. You’re welcome, birds. (Btw… I also broke up a hummingbird bar fight this morning. It was getting ugly so I stepped in. Sugar and yeast don’t stay docile for very long… Yep. Drunk birds. I took the feeder down to change the juice and I swear I heard one of the tipsy little guys say, “Where’s the rum gone?” Again, you’re welcome…)

stockvault-greens169575smBut there is also a symbiotic function of grace in Creation. In Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve, ““I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. (1:29)” Here we see that nature gives back to humanity. People watch over nature, nature provides food for people. In a fallen world, where people are in rebellion against God, this is “common grace” to us.

Jesus talked about grace during His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. While talking about our right response to conflict, He says, “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (5:44-45).”

LL0000A504smWhat our Lord is referring to is what theologians call “common grace.” There is special grace, like grace to cover sin for those who believe in Jesus, and common grace — God’s blessings on all, believe or not. It rains on my neighbor’s yard and my yard at the same time. He gets rain, too. His flowers grow, even if he is still in open rebellion against God.

There is a line in St. Francis’ masterful “Canticle of the Sun” in which he captures this common grace in Creation. Gardeners will like this…

“Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”

Songwriter John Michael Talbot rephrases this in better language for my discussion:

“Colored flowers and healing herbs, heavenly grace flows through you…”

Talbot, a Catholic minister and monk, sees heavenly grace in herbs and flowers. Indeed, as one who grows both items, I love being able to go pick cilantro or parsley or basil and use them in my cooking. When I find edible plants in the wild (I love wild onions), I think of God’s grace. Just think of those survival TV shows. When the host is hungry and runs across “wild edibles,” is he or she very happy? Grace. Bear Grylls might recognize God’s grace (he’s an active believer). I’m not sure if the others do, though.

In this way, through the world God has made, His common grace comes to people. So, we give grace to other creatures, and living things like plants and weather systems give grace to us. Got it?

Be God’s.

* * * * * *

Oh, one other thing I was going to mention… God provides His grace to creatures through humans even when people have no idea it is happening. Like a water puddle. One time when I was living in Gainesville (TX) I drove down a street and saw a lot of splashing by the distant curb. As I got closer, I noticed that the local Wendy’s had a sprinkler problem and water was pooling up in the street by the curb.

spin.splash.birds_.iStock_000005865023XSmallTaking advantage of the situation was a flock of birds, who used the water to bathe, drink, and have fun splashing each other. I stopped my car and watched them, grinning the whole time, as I witnessed how human neglect (bad sprinklers) had provided for the birds of the air. This past Sunday I saw it again when I heard a lot of chirping and wing-flapping going on near my truck in the driveway. I looked outside and several birds were bathing in my saucer-like gold pan, which I had left on the ground outside the day before and it filled with rainwater.

God is an amazing Creator! He even provides for his creatures when mankind is being absent-minded…

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