Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The great ocean of truth

This Pluto stuff amazes me!  Ever since I was a child I have been intrigued by our solar system and space itself.  I remember staring up into the sky wondering how big the universe was and debating whether it went on forever or had some end.  Neither option really made sense to me which just added to the wonder of it all.  So to see pictures of Pluto like we've never seen before has just been simply fascinating.

Pluto is far away.  The New Horizons space probe left Earth nine years ago and has traveled some three billion miles at a speed of about 36,000 miles per hour.  It takes about four and a half hours for radio signals from the probe to get back to earth.    That is a long way away, but in comparison to the size of the universe, it's not very far at all.

For instance, the nearest star to our solar system is over four light years away.  In other words, it takes light four years to travel from the nearest star to earth.  That translates into more than 25 trillion miles.  Comparatively, that makes Pluto right next door.  If the distance to the nearest star is compared to a road trip from New York City to Los Angeles (approximately 2800 miles), Pluto would be only 1/3 of a mile into the trip!  It took New Horizons nine years to get to Pluto.  At the same speed it would take the probe 75,600 years to get to the nearest star.  And that's the nearest star!

New Horizons has turned my eye back to the sky and whenever I do that I feel a sense of awe, and I am not alone.  Scripture urges us to look beyond our ten foot ceilings and artificial light and stare in wonder at the universe.  And when we do we echo the Psalms:
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars.
Creation has always inspired awe and worship, not arrogance and pride, and so should this recent jaunt to Pluto. 

The great physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton is regarded as one of mankind's most brilliant minds.   Yet, as  much as he discovered he realized that his knowledge was practically immeasurable compared to the vastness of truth.  He once said,  “I was like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

I appreciate all the science and technology that has allowed mankind to search space, but let's not think we have this all figured out.  Mankind has only scratched the surface.  So as we high-five our accomplishments let's also bend our knee in awe of the vastness of creation.   If, as our Bible claims, God created the heavens and the earth what a God He must be! 

Good to see you Pluto!  Welcome to the chorus of planets, moons, and stars that burst forth in praise of the One who spoke it all into existence.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The power of a symbol

There certainly has been a lot of discussion, debate, and diatribe concerning the Confederate flag recently, hasn't there?  I grew up in the north so I was more likely to see a Canadian flag than a Confederate one, and even though I have lived in Texas for quite some time I'm hardly the one to chime in on the issue.  So I'm not going to weigh in on that debate, but I will say that the whole discussion has served to remind me of the power of symbols. 

While nary one word is displayed on that flag it speaks volumes.  To some the voiceless emblem tells a story of a bygone era of a simpler and sweeter time.  To others the wordless banner tells a story of horror and oppression.  The flag, a mere symbol, evokes powerful emotions.  The very sight of it can call to mind memories both good and evil.  The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Perhaps a symbol is worth far more.     

One thing for sure we have learned is this:  never underestimate the power of a symbol.

Christianity has its fair share of symbols and perhaps those outside of the faith fail to grasp the significance of these emblems much like I failed to understand the significance of the Confederate flag.  Some may even scoff at our silly symbols and ridicule us for embracing with such love and devotion the seemingly irrelevant tokens of our faith.  Some may not agree with us, but certainly the powerful and provocative debate over a flag serves to remind even non-believers that these symbols are likewise powerful.

What may be of more concern, however, is that some believers (present company included) may have allowed these symbols to drift into irrelevance.   Could it be that we have become so familiar with the tokens of our faith that they have lost their power and their meaning?  The current debate has called me to consider that very question.

One of the most meaningful symbols of our faith was initiated by Jesus himself.  Shortly before his death, he gathered at a table with his group of twelve celebrating the Jewish Passover.  He interrupted the normal course of the meal and gave special significance to the bread and the wine.  "The bread is my body," he would say.  He followed that with, "The wine is my blood."  From that night on believers have gathered throughout the centuries - billions of us - and eaten bread and drunk wine and remembered.  These inanimate objects, normally too small to be of any real physical satisfaction, have fed believers in a way no feast could.  These voiceless tokens tell a story.  A story of sacrifice and of love.  A story of forgiveness and hope.  And as each believer eats and drinks who can say what emotions are evoked as the emblems pass through the confessing lips of Christians?

Sadly, these symbols of our faith can lose their power, but thanks to a provocative flag perhaps all who believe can recapture their meaning.   Shouldn't the symbols of our crucified Lord engender the same passion and fervor as a flag?  I suspect that's what Jesus had in mind.

Believer, never underestimate the power of the bread and the wine - potent symbols of an indescribable love.  

Friday, July 10, 2015

Small Church. Big Heart.

This summer while on vacation my family and I worshiped with a small congregation of about 50 people at Port Isabel, Texas.  We sang old songs out of song books, there were no video screens or projected presentations, the auditorium was small and showing signs of old age.  In many ways I was tempted to worship with a critical eye assured that this congregation was never going to be highlighted by church growth magazines.  It was not even close to cutting-edge and my fleshly side saw my attendance as more of an obligation rather than an opportunity to worship and learn and to grow.

Thankfully the Spirit got hold of me sometime in between the parking lot and the opening song (even though I must admit the Spirit himself must have been tempted to scram during the announcements), and even in the less-than-dynamic time of song, communion, and sermon I found myself being blessed; being edified; being fed.

It got me to think.  Maybe we make too much out of style.  Maybe we get distracted evaluating the "how" of worship and miss on out the "who" of worship.  Maybe worship can be cutting edge yet empty and meaningless and void.  It doesn’t have to be, but it could.

I'm reminded that worship really doesn’t find its power in songbooks or video projection.  Cutting edge doesn’t transform and new buildings don’t revive.  It really boils down to the Spirit and my heart.    I know the Spirit shows up every Sunday.  I guess the real question is has your heart come along with you?