Monthly Archives: September 2013

Having Vibrant Souls

Our vegetable garden is starting to look pitiful. The beets have stopped growing OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAas have the carrots. The tomato plants are shriveling, the beans slowing their production, and even our prolific cucumbers are disappointing. In the flower garden, the perennials are fading.

Since everything has a season, all this is very natural. But what about me? I look down at my hand—and see liver spots! Ugly. My hair is thinning and greying. My sleep is often interrupted. My walking is curtailed. Should I take up a lament?

The Apostle Paul suggests; “We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day…so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16,18).

This ‘outward wastinaging handg’ is part of the human condition. Paul suggests that we not let this aging process discourage. Instead he urges us to focus on our inward selves, the unseen and eternal part of us which can be renewed day by day.

The Bible calls that inward, invisible part of us our soul or spirit. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”(Matt. 22:37). (Although some Christians believe that we are composed of three parts; body, soul, and spirit; my study of the Scriptures has led me to believe that soul, spirit, and heart are often used interchangeably. And thus, in my view we have two parts: one temporal—the body, and one eternal—the soul/spirit/heart.)

Our emotions, intellect, and will reside in our souls. So even though our bodies may deteriorate, our souls can thrive. While marketing gurus focus on beautifying our bodies and hiding our aging, we can please God by looking to Him to beautify our souls. How? Through attention to the Scriptures and a life of prayer.

Throughout its pages, the Bible urges all disciples to cultivate soul-health. “Blessed are the poor in spirit [humble],… those who mourn [are honest about themselves],… the meek,… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,… the merciful,… the pure in heart,…the peacemakers”(Matt. 5:3-9). We can ask the Holy Spirit to produce in us “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”(Gal. 5:22,23).

As we approach that time of life when our bodies fail, we can give more attentionOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA to the state of our soul. And isn’t that what the world needs anyway, more beautiful souls? People like Joni Earkson-Tada who has blessed so many disabled and others. People like Amy Carmichael who from a bed of illness rescued Indian temple prostitutes. People like Joy Ridderhof, also laid aside by illness, who conceived of recording the Gospel in all the world’s languages.

And so Lord, as my life becomes somewhat physically circumscribed, help me to give more and more attention to cultivating love in all its facets. Prepare my soul for eternity by using me until then to bless others.

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Savoring Beauty

Monarch butterflyThe flower vases sit empty; the faded and shriveled remnants of last week’s bouquets have been cast aside. “Can you cut some fresh flowers?” Mary Helen asks as I head outside for my morning check of the garden. We love to have vases of flowers beautifying every room.

Wherever we live I have to plant flowers. Even when we lived in a walled-in house in a dusty Pakistani town, I pulled up some of the courtyard bricks to plant flowers.

I believe God created us with an innate longing for beauty. It may be buried beneath stronger desires: security and self-assurance, love and community, power and wealth, food and drink. But somewhere it lies waiting to be recognized. I remember reading about a young child walking with its mother down a dirty alley in one of our cities. Suddenly the child stopped and pointed at a flowering Winterloghm, croppedweed growing in a crack of the potholed pavement. “Pretty,” she said.

As we gaze around our world and beyond, if we have eyes to see, beauty leaves us with our mouth hanging open. Fields full of daisies. A sky full of stars. Butterflies and goldfinch. The stark beauty of the desert or the arctic tundra. Snowflakes gently falling. The microscope diving us into the stunning beauty and diversity of sand granules, the symphony of life we find written in our DNA, the complexity of a cell, the harmony in a molecule. Or probing galaxies through telescopes. Wherever we go we discover in form and function astounding beauty often partnered with utility.

SunsetOf course, this is not surprising. With David who longed to spend his days gazing “upon the beauty of the Lord” (Psalm 27:4) we would expect the glorious Creator to leave his fingerprints everywhere. “He has made everything beautiful in its time”(Eccl. 3:11). The Jewish Tabernacle and later the Temple were made beautiful, constructed as they were according to God’s blueprint. Everything God touches becomes beautiful: salvation itself (Psalm 149:4), the holiness He inculcates in His children (Psalm 29:2; 99:9; 2 Chron. 20:21), the feet of those who proclaim the good news (Isaiah 52:7).

Can you imagine the beauty that awaits believers in Christ beyond the veil of death? Even the book of Revelation, limited as it is by human language, fails to Lupinsclosedescribe fully the heavenly Jerusalem. Paul quotes Isaiah. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”(1 Cor. 2:9).

In the meantime, we should be on the lookout for beauty because beautiful things reflect the glory of the Triune God who made them. Open my eyes, Lord, to really see?

 O my God, if Thy creations are so full of beauty, delight and joy,
how infinitely more full of beauty, delight and joy
art Thou, Thyself, Creator of all!
(Quoted by Ann Voskamp, p. 102, One Thousand Gifts, from Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain)

The Restless Sea Mirrors Our Restless Hearts

Ocean along Maine coastThe ocean is never still. Its tides rise and fall, its breakers crest and dissipate, and its waves roll on and on until they crash against a rocky shore or roll up on a sandy beach. Its waters collect and propel unto the world’s beaches all the flotsam and jetsam of the ocean world: broken shells, shattered boats, bottles, splintered trees and cast-off Styrofoam. The more agitated the ocean becomes, the more it stirs up the whole mix of broken shells and mud that in calmer times settles to the ocean floor. After storms shorelines are littered with mud and debris.

How appropriate that the prophet used this image to describe the condition of men and women who jettison moral standards in their struggle to find their personal nirvana. “‘The wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. There is no peace,’ says my God. ‘for the wicked'”(Isaiah 57:20,21).Shore of Lake Ontario near Brighton

We cannot expect a tranquil mind if our lives are a graveyard of broken promises, shattered morals, and shady practices. Instead, nefarious schemes will occupy our minds. Thoughts of past dealings with others will provoke bitterness, anger and thoughts of revenge. Unless we have denied the voice of our consciences long enough to dull their injured cries, we will be fretful, restless, and unhappy.

God has given everyone a conscience imprinted with a set of moral principles. But the more we listen to the siren song of our culture’s ‘new morality,’ the more our innate sense of right and wrong will be blunted and distorted. The result? Restlessness. Inability to find peace of heart. Broken relationships.

Paul writes, “My conscience is clear” (1 Cor. 4:4). Can you and I say that? If not, the only remedy is to bow to Jesus Christ, confessing our moral failures, and asking him to forgive us our sins and bring peace of heart. Jesus promised, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world Sunsetgives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid”(John 14:27).

When we confess our moral failures to Jesus Christ, He will forgive us and soothe our hearts. Then the Storm-calmer will reside in our hearts to calm the storms that sweep through our lives.