Aug 29 2015

Praise for Creation and Providence

CA Kings Canyon NP sunsetLast Sunday evening I spent the night with my brother at his home in Frankfort, Kentucky. Richard is Minister of Music at First Baptist Church in Frankfort and during the course of our conversation he told me about the choral anthem his choir had sung that morning. I was not familiar with the song but he said that he thought I’d like it since the words focus on God’s Creation. Once I took a look at the words to this hymn penned by Isaac Watts I told him that I did, indeed, like it. The hymn is called I Sing the Mighty Power of God and, interestingly enough, was written for children to sing.

CA Julia Pffeifer SP waterfall (v)Here are the words to the song: “I sing the mighty power of God, that made the mountains rise, that spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.  I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day; the moon shines full at his command, and all the stars obey.  I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food, Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good. Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye, if I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky. There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes Thy glories known, and clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from Thy throne; while all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care; and everywhere that we can be, Thou, God art present there.”

_DSC8404When this hymn first appeared in 1715 it was entitled Praise for Creation and Providence. The song does, in fact, offer praise to God for His Creation and for the providence of God seen in it. Even though I can’t imagine this song being written for children it definitely conveys truths that can be grasped by young and old alike.  Watts reminds us that God’s power is abundantly evident in Creation. This power can be seen in towering mountains, the vast oceans and the skies above us. Watts declares that God’s wisdom is also apparent in Creation. For him evidence of this can be seen in God forming the sun to give us light during the day, the moon to reflect its light during the night, and in the stars that appear each evening giving us a sense of direction.

_DSC6720Through this hymn we are taught that God’s wonders are on display wherever we turn. These wonders are below and above us; they are everywhere we look. They can be found in the plants and flowers we see, observed in the clouds above or experienced in the winds that blow against our face. The wonders and majesty of God are to be found throughout Creation.  Another affirmation Watts makes, one that is important for us to grasp whether we be old or young, is all that God has made is ever in God’s care. The Maker of heaven and earth is not a distant God who has abandoned the work of His hands.  No, God sustains Creation to this very day, just as the apostle Paul declared in Colossians 1:17. Understanding this leads us to the final truth Watts’ hymn declares—everywhere that we can be God is present there.  Creation itself is a reminder of God’s constant presence with us.

I am very thankful for hymn writers like Isaac Watts. Through hymns like this one these writers are able to put into just a few words truths that it would take theologians volumes to discuss. Through hymns like this one we find great truths affirmed that can be both remembered and sung by young and old alike. Through hymns like this one we can offer God our praise for both Creation and God’s continued presence and care.

–Chuck

(I took the first image at Kings Canyon National Park, the second at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, the third at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A., and the fourth at Cuyahoga Valley National Park.)


Jan 26 2014

Are Natural Disasters “Acts of God?”

lightningI enjoy music.  I have a rather eclectic leaning, enjoying quite a variety of musical genres.  Still, because of my roots and faith I enjoy church music most.  I listen to both contemporary Christian music and hymns.  Each has a way of moving and inspiring me.  At times, however, I do get distracted by the words.  Part of this is due to my educational background; I spent ten years in graduate school studying theology.  For that reason I listen carefully to the words and sometimes find myself refuting them.  This happened recently when I was singing with a group at church Chris Tomlin’s song Indescribable.  I like Chris Tomlin and also this particular song.  I’ve even used it for one of my multi-media presentations.  But there is one line in the song that really bothers me.  It says God is the one “who has told every lightning bolt where it should go.”  When I sang those words the other night I couldn’t help but cringe for not all that long ago a beautiful and historic church in a nearby town was destroyed by lightning.  I asked the lady sitting next to me if she could imagine how the folks at that church might feel singing those words.  Does God actually aim lightning bolts at certain objects intentionally.  I prefer to think not.

Even in the wonderful hymn I wrote about in my last blog, Isaac Watts’ We Sing Your Mighty Power, O God, we read the words “clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from your throne.”  Are we to read into these words that when a huge arctic blast covers half of America that this storm was ordered from God’s throne?  Once again, I prefer to think not.

Paducah-storm-cloudsI remember even when I was young having problems with the idea that earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and hurricanes could be considered “acts of God” by insurance agents.  If something bad happened from one of these natural disasters to a person’s home or to a community God got the blame.  It was almost like we all needed insurance just in case God got mad at us and ordered a natural catastrophe.  Is God that fickle and ill-tempered that we must buy insurance to protect ourselves from His fury?  One more time, I prefer to think not.

Actually, in the end it isn’t that I prefer not to think any of these things, I refuse to.  It is in the Scriptures that we come to understand who God is and nowhere is this revelation clearer than when we focus on Jesus.  Jesus once said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9) implying that we are to understand who God is by looking at him.  Now according to the New Testament it was Christ who created the world (John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:15-16) and he is also the one who sustains it (Colossians 1:17).  If that is indeed true then we can also see that it is highly unlikely that God intentionally sends earthquakes, hurricanes or other natural disasters on innocent, or even not so innocent, people.  That is not something we see Jesus doing during his time on earth.

Bisti 444When we do look at Jesus’ actions we see that his intentions were always to help people, not hurt them.  Everything that Jesus did was based on love.  At one point he was asked by a pair of his disciples if he wanted them to send fire down on a village that had not welcomed him.   Luke tells us that Jesus rebuked them for even asking. (9:56)  That was not his style then.  It is not his style today.

Some have claimed that the various natural disasters I’ve mentioned are the result of evil and not God.  Personally, I have no problem affirming that even things like tornadoes and earthquakes were part of God’s original plan.  All of the “natural disasters” I wrote of earlier have helped form and shape Creation one way or another.  They are “natural wonders” that have served useful and good purposes throughout the ages.  It is just when they affect human life that we tend to see them as disasters.

Hopefully in our conversations and in our songs we can come to affirm both the goodness of God and His Creation while at the same time refraining from the implication that God is behind every lightning bolt that strikes and every storm that rages.  God does in fact rule the universe but it is a rule based first and foremost on love.  If it isn’t an act of love it is not an “act of God.”

–Chuck

(I took the top image near Page, AZ, the middle one in Paducah, KY, and the bottom on in the Bisti Wilderness of N.M.)


Jan 22 2014

Discovering a New Song

Winter Grand Canyon 2 (h) crThis past Sunday the opening hymn we sang was one I did not know.  As the introduction was played I noticed that it was written by Isaac Watts.  That is a name I have long been familiar with.  He has been referred to as the “Father of English Hymnody” and is thought to have penned approximately 750 hymns.  Watts died in 1748 but many of his hymns continue to be used on a regular basis in churches around the world.  A few of his best known ones include “Joy to the World!,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” and “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”

_DSC0400The hymn we sang on Sunday is called “We Sing Your Mighty Power, O God.”  I was not familiar with the tune so I found it hard to sing but I immediately fell in love with the words.  “We sing your mighty power, O God, that made the mountains rise, that spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.  We sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule by day.  The moon shines full at your command, and all the stars obey.  We sing your goodness, sovereign God, who filled the earth with food; you formed the creatures with your word, and then pronounced them good.  Oh! How your wonders are displayed, whereever we turn our eyes; if we survey the ground we tread, or gaze upon the skies.  There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes your glories known; and clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from your throne.  While all that borrows life from you is ever in your care, and everywhere that we can be, you, God, are present there.”

mountain laurelDoing some research on this particular hymn I discovered that it first appeared in Watts’ hymnal, Divine and Moral Songs for Children, around 1715.  I’m not sure how appealing this song is to children almost three hundred years later but the message of this hymn certainly needs to be conveyed to them (and the rest of us too).  Surely using Genesis 1 as his inspiration Watts stresses the power, wisdom and goodness of God found in Creation.  He makes sure to emphasize that God’s glory is revealed through the Creation, making specific reference to plants and flowers, clouds and tempests.   Watts also shows that God is the Source of all life and that all remains under His care.  Furthermore, he closes with the wonderful truth that “everywhere that we can be, you, God, are present there.”

Entire books have been written by theologians on each of these truths, not to mention a number of shorter blogs.  How delightful that a hymn writer three centuries ago could combine them all in a simple song that even children can sing!

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Grand Canyon National Park in AZ, the middle one in Henderson County, KY, and the bottom one at Pine Mountain State Park in KY.)