Friday, August 9, 2013

The Fear of God in a Peach

Sunshine warming the floor and steam coming off the canner in billows, hair frizzed in the humid heat until it made to fly right out the window, sticky-sweet hands and the rich ripe perfume of peaches.  All of it so very sundry.

There is a danger in words...this strange power to almost thoughtlessly make poetic what is plain or trivialize what is transcendent.   The composer can do this too...write epic music without a real epic.  But there is more to the art of creativity than this, because there are real epics and real poems.  Sorting bright round peaches into jars can sort your brain.  They call tasks like these mindless...but I found that here, at least as much as at any other time, there is no room for mindlessness.  The Spirit has a way of using menial tasks that get your hands dirty to compel you to face the greater issues of life.  And when He presses we can face them without fear like Sarah or bend to the temptations of self-imposed martyrdom like Eve.  The daughters of men are especially susceptible to the latter temptation, I believe, so I had the great audacity to wish for a good conclusion on the matter that pressed while I steamed in the kitchen along with rosy golden fruit.  

What is the source of meaning and joy in a hot messy kitchen?  I knew that the knowledge of God is all the difference.  Taking thoughts captive grows into a habit of the mind and heart, a constant counterpoint to all the little melodies and great harmonies in life.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, His word says.  So ... the fear of the Lord is the hunger to know Him in everything, the insatiable desire to have the mind of Christ.  There is a greater power in this than in glorifying the trivial merely because poetry and music are tools that enable you to do it.  To some it is given to know the fear of the Lord among kings, to others, to know it among blades of grass.  Trivial, in fact, are all the issues of men, kings and grass alike are but small things.  Yet, wonder of wonders, neither are small issues in light of the kingdom of God.

Some take this merely as comfort.  But I was looking for more than comfort.  I didn't really need comfort, after all.  Comfort is the knowledge that one is spared the curse of death through the power of Christ's gospel.  Purpose is the working of that gospel into ever fiber of one's being like kneading leaven in a lump of dough.  There it was again, the mundane kneading of bread dough threads it's humble fibers through the master plan of the cosmos.  How does He do that?  How do the things that are small become great?  The knowledge of God again.  All at once I was overwhelmed by a sense of privilege...and shame.  What am I, mere dust of the earth, that He should stoop to give me pleasure in the greatness of the little threads of his plan.  Who am I to revel in the glory of a peach?

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away the judgments against you;
he has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah must have been wondering at it too, when his heart overflowed with the poetry of God's faithfulness. The comfort of salvation we love...but there is the wonder too..."let not your hands grow weak..."? He knows our weakness...our tendency to fear everything but Him, to forget the glory behind the song.
Is the Lord God in your midst...while you can peaches?  Yes!  Mighty to save calloused hearts as well as hands and give joy to long days on your feet and pour quiet into your hurried tasks and exultation into your solitary work.  The unseen is beautiful in its own right...because it is seen by Him. Is this about as cliche as it gets?  Here my brain was sorting backwards.  I don't suppose most who use that "cliche" even know what it means.  The fact is, I don't presume to suppose that anything needs to be seen apart from the fact that He sees it.

There are serendipities every day in our lives that God makes to touch the eternal right before our eyes.  And here I was, a very small thing that He should notice.  He stoops to give us joy in the flavor of a ripe peach.  He bends His greatness low to carry my heart out the window on the sound of a violin.  Of course I knew David was right to wonder that the Creator of the Universe is mindful of us, but everyday wonders are used by the Spirit to teach us more and more how much of a wonder it is.

I was a little girl the first time I saw the Teton Mountains.  We were driving towards them across the vast western plains when Daddy pointed out their distant peaks and the car was filled with little gasps of excitement: "Mountains!"  There was wonder then...true wonder.  But I felt like I was growing up just watching those mountains get closer.  I had never seen anything that big before.  They became higher and more terribly beautiful with every mile, until, when we finally started climbing the foothills, I could no longer see the tops.  My little-girl gasp at the first glance was forgotten in absolute awe.  The truth is, I hadn't even known what awe was when I first looked.

I was climbing those mountains of awe over the peach peelings those few short days ago.  At first I thought to myself that you couldn't expect to go can peaches and have an epiphany every day.  That would be another cliche, right?  But again I wondered, why not?  Every day, the Spirit of the Living God is living in us.  And while we walk about and classify every act as "normal" or mundane, He is working His perfect and awesome will.

So...Its not every day I climb spiritual mountains over the canner, but as the Lord enables, I will.  And all the while, I'll turn, again and again, in His merciful kindness and at His continual prompting to live in the light of the kingdom...where even a peach is epic.  This is the fear of God all the day long...the perpetual awareness of His presence.  The ever-turning of our hearts to Him...the seeking of His face continually.  A few will know what I mean when I say that "I am just stating the facts."  The more whimsical and intangible one's thoughts are, the more matter of fact one needs to be, as I am daily proving.  So here I have perhaps even trivialized the matter with my words... so that I will not forget and complain.
"...but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
Jeremiah 9:24

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Different Sort of Glorious

"There is a very important connection between the Church’s worldview and the Church’s hymns. If your  heart and mouth are filled with songs of victory, you will tend to have an eschatology of dominion; if, instead, your songs are fearful, expressing a longing for escape – or if they are weak, childish ditties – your worldview and expectations will be escapist and childish.
Historically, the basic hymnbook for the Church has been the Book of Psalms. The largest book of the Bible is the Book of Psalms, and God providentially placed it right in the middle of the Bible, so that we couldn’t miss it! Yet how many churches use the Psalms in musical worship? It is noteworthy that the Church’s abandonment of dominion eschatology coincided with the Church’s abandonment of the Psalms."

- David Chilton

Last week as we sang Psalm 63 in English metre to Thomas Tallis' familiar third mode melody, I was impressed not only by the nature of the music and its powerful words but also the nature of our assembly, gathered in a circle, singing ancient words of longing and praise for our Lord.

When I was little, Emily read a book aloud to me, parts of which I will never forget. The book is called St. Bartholomew's Eve (by G.A. Henty) and recounts the story of the French Huguenots, their mission and the persecution they endured throughout the 16th century. In the story, the hero hears singing in the woods and discovers a Huguenot church meeting. The Huguenots are singing hymns of praise to God and studying His word together at the risk of their own lives, since meeting outside of a state church was prohibited. The author paints such a vivid description of the scene I was convinced I had seen an illustration, even though, as far as I can tell no significant painting or drawing representing this aspect of history exists. The Huguenots are gathered in a circle, their faces uplifted, fearlessly singing. In the story, as was the case for most Huguenot gatherings historically, the city authorities discover their meeting and slaughtered them without respect for age or position. Only a few escape who were perhaps protected by men at arms or missed in the general uproar.

Generally, when we think of glorious music we imagine grand, state-sanctioned church productions of Handel’s Messiah or Kyrie Eleison or Saint Matthew’s Passion. Most American’s have grown accustomed to worship music productions so noisy they can’t even hear their own voice.

Perhaps we have forgotten a different sort of glorious, the kind that comes from impassioned believers producing imperfect but heartfelt music. Believers who have tasted persecution, counted the cost and embraced the trial before them, produce an entirely different sort of music. The average church attendee comparing our assembly last week to a grand church production complete with perfectly balanced sound and acoustic sensitivity would perhaps be dissatisfied.

But if you put on a different set of glasses you would see patriarchs earnestly seeking God’s truth with their families gathered around them, mothers holding babies in their arms who will change the world, sons and daughters embracing their family’s mission with joy and energy, families who love the kingdom of God, singing out of the conviction that the ability to worship God in sincerity and faithfulness to His Word is an immeasurable privilege. And it is glorious! The kind of glorious that relishes the battle and rejoices in the eternal victory of God.

O Lord, My God, Most Earnestly

Psalm 63

Thomas Tallis, 1567; alt.

Psalter, 1912
rev. Psalter Hymnal, 1987

O Lord, my God, most earnestly I seek Your holy face,
Within Your house again to see the glories of Your grace.
Apart from You I long and thirst and naught can satisfy;
I wander in a desert land where all the streams are dry.

The loving kindness of my God is more than life to me,
So I will praise You all my days and pray continually.
In You my soul is satisfied, my darkness turns to light,
and joyful meditations fill the watches of the night.

Beneath the shadow of Your wings I sing my joy and praise.
Your right hand is my strong support through troubled nights and days.
All those who seek my life will fall; my life is in Your hand.
God's king and people will rejoice; in victory they will stand.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day

For the last week, we have commemorated the 150th anniversary of that great tragedy the battle of Gettysburg and for me history has rarely been more alive. Today is Independence Day ... a day of thanksgiving ... though many have forgotten exactly what it is we are to be thankful for. We visited the Pennsylvania State Capitol building in Harrisburg this afternoon. The legislature is not in session and the effect of the deserted grounds was almost chilling.

The city of Harrisburg feels rather more weighted than distinguished by the emerald-domed edifice. Even with a crowd about it, that capitol seems dead. For a moment, with the sun baking my face and my neck kinking so my eyes could scale the summit and the gold image that crowns it, the architecture transported me to stand before the crumbling ruins of Rome and Athens. "Confidence of man in man is the fundamental sanction that upholds every secure title to wealth," one inscription read. Here man has made a name for himself...and here he tears himself down with his own hands.

"He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision."

Here rubbish littered the bottom of dry fountains and so "Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked." There we crossed the street before wide stone stairs scaling the height to great carved doors and in the shadow of imposing Corinthian columns and gleaming white statuary a shiftless character sprawled unconsciously across the crumbling steps of a tumbled-down shop. Now we read an inscription beneath the honorary statue of John Frederick Hartranft, the minion of tyrants, now a vague mention of knowledge as the seat of justice over some leaf-strewn bench.

Such strange ironies are scattered over the stone and wood of this thing made with man's hands. Here a lion spews water fiercely from a drain pipe across from a door carved with images of productivity and industry. There an eagle, that flagrant emblem of aggression and coercion, perches over a gate along with the face of the god-fearing William Penn, the father of this commonwealth that is his namesake.

"Let tyrants and slaves submissively tremble
And bow down their necks neath the juggernaut car"

The capitol's stark white walls glared wearily on the grimy streets and buildings before it, almost as if were tired of housing an empty shell. It is the Fourth of July...our Independence day...and yet while the white opulent structure, supposedly the seat of the defense of justice - the state - looks vacantly out of bared doors and window sashes sporting cobwebs, a rock concert shakes its foundation from two blocks away.

Last to be paused before is a complete replica of the Liberty Bell, bound by some pragmatist advocate of certain kinds of public silence to hang still and silent, yet with the ringing words of almighty God emblazoned on it nonetheless..."proclaim liberty throughout the land to all the inhabitant thereof." I can knock on it with my hand and its voice sings...muffled like the distant tolling of a lament, echoing over the public square. One day perhaps it will ring again once more...if it is allowed to endure until that time when all things are made new. When the last stones of man's dead works are shown to be what they always were and lie crumbling in the dust before the piercing glare of the living God, we will no longer need these sobering reminders to fear and obey Him.

"Down with the eagle and up with the cross!
...Shouting the battle cry of freedom!"

“Woe to him who builds a town with blood
and founds a city on iniquity!
Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts
that peoples labor merely for fire,
and nations weary themselves for nothing?
For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea."
~Habakkuk 2:12-14

The proclamation of true freedom is certainly a battle cry.  To what end do you build this Independence Day?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Peony

Kissed of the sun and damp with dew
Gauzy robes and lustrous hue
I met her...
Her blushing laughing gauzy face 
Toward heaven’s dawn drew mine apace
Breathed glory 
Glory glory a happy fragrant song.
And they danced, the exuberant throng,
In worship,
With Her sisters bent in the breeze together.
So gracious yet fleeting; while we forever
Blessed bend
In reverence and sing before a worthy Master
Who clothes us both, our heavenly Father
And Creator.
While she blooms bright and fades in time
We, in His luminous robes, kiss the Son sublime;
Bloom brighter
And look to a fuller light - His everlasting day.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Spring - God Visits the Earth

The lowering mottled gray of the sky broke at sunset last night and glory
spilled over the sullen landscape while the evening breeze, laden with the
scent of a late spring thunderstorm, swept the tree-tops with his sultry
breath.  The sky rained in purply gold and every drop was a living jewel,
every sundry puddle a limpid mirror that cast back the flame of the western
sun and every stretch of road was a paved highway of burnished gold.

Everything is green now... that deep livid green of summer.  The fields and
woods and hills are overflowing with it.  The world is all emeralds and
vermilions and deep olives and iridescent viridians and verdant glowing
yellow-green.  We dig and plant and till and weed, but there is only One who
can "make it come alive."

Psalm 65
Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall vows be performed.
O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.
When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!
By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas;
the one who by his strength established the mountains,
being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples,
so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide their grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Renovation Diary is on Hold...

Confederate gray wool and twill, delicate white sheers, buttery unbleached muslin, rich dark mauve linen and deep olive cotton scraps litter the floor.  
"...there is no more left over in snippets than will serve to make tippets for mice"
as Miss Potter's poor Tailor of Gloucester would say.
Zuave Jackets pulled from the pattern of a riding coat...

skirts turned and re-pleated...

and soldiers trousers with signature "mule-ear" pockets have taken over sewing scene.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Burma Expedition, Missionaries, and Elephants...

Our house is full of talk and planning for an exciting new opportunity our brothers have to work for Christ’s kingdom!  We are all up to our ears in books about Burma and Buddhism and elephants and the transformation of culture through the gospel.  The following is a letter Charlie and Ben are sharing with friends and family about their mission:

Charlie and I (Benjamin) trust this finds you well.  We want to let you know about an exciting opportunity we have this summer.  Last July, we attended a Hazardous Journey Boot camp in the mountains of Colorado, training for strenuous and enterprising expeditions to advance the gospel.

This year, the Hazardous Journeys Society is launching a ten-year mission, sending teams of men to each of the 190+ countries in the world in order to proclaim the glory of God through exploration and discovery. Our team leader, Kurtis Amundson, has been commissioned by the Hazardous Journeys Society to undertake an expedition to Burma this July.

For centuries, the orient has been a place of fascination for Christian explorers, adventurers, and missionaries.  In 1277, as an emissary to the Yuan Dynasty, the Christian explorer Marco Polo traveled to the kingdom of Mien—what today is Burma, or Myanmar. He described its capitol as a “gilded city alive with tinkling bells and the swishing sounds of monks’ robes.” The 19th Century saw British rule in the orient expand westward from India making formerly unnavigable foreign lands available as mission fields for Christian evangelism. In this newly discovered land,  Adoniram Judson arrived on July 13, 1813, and was ‘devoted for life’ to the spreading of the Gospel.

As our team returns to Burma on the 200th anniversary of Judson’s arrival, we will examine the legacy of exploration and evangelism in this land by focusing on his ministry, influence, and the impact of the gospel on the Burmese culture.  We hope to inspire others by reviving Judson’s legacy and proclaiming the culture-transforming power of the gospel.

In addition to chronicling the Christian influence in Burma, we want to present a proper and Biblical understanding of Buddhism.  Buddhism is practiced by 89% of the Burmese population. Burma is a nation steeped in idolatry. With thousands of pagodas, stupas, and statues scattered over the landscape, the nation is recognized as the most religious Buddhist country in the world in terms of the proportion of monks in the population and proportion of income spent on religion. Our team will seek to examine the comprehensive effect that Buddhism has on the Burmese culture, investigating how every realm of influence—familial, ecclesiastical, civil, and personal—is affected by their pagan and idolatrous worldview.

As a team, we will live in simple bamboo houses, and travel to the ruins of the ancient capital city of Bagan. We will travel throughout Burma and step foot into the Buddhist culture, learning first-hand the influences of the Buddhist religion on every sphere of life. We will listen to the monks speak of the Buddhist culture, see the Buddhist marble bible, and visit the garishly exorbitant Schwadegon Pagoda.  We will speak with the great-grandchildren of men and women who witnessed the transforming power of the gospel in the nation and we will interview local church leaders, some of them former Buddhist monks, to hear first-hand accounts of Judson’s legacy. Our purpose is to create a record for posterity of the providences of God in the land of Burma; to tell a story for our children and their children in a way it has never been told before.

At the conclusion of the expedition, the team will produce resources compiling the results of their work for the Christian community.  There is a cost to proclaiming the truth — the cost of criticism and the sacrifice of time and resources spent to research, formulate, and present the power of the gospel coherently. In recognition of the momentous nature of the task we have undertaken, we would welcome your financial support.

The Hazardous Journeys Society is a project of Vision Forum Ministries, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization so all gifts are tax-deductible. Donations can be made through the Vision Forum Ministries website for our Burma Expeditions by follow the link below.

Thank you for your support of this project.

Benjamin and Charlie Lenz

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