The Finite and the Infinite (Psalm 65)

God of Zion, to you even silence is praise.
    Promises made to you are kept—
    you listen to prayer—
    and all living things come to you.
When wrongdoings become too much for me,
    you forgive our sins.
How happy is the one you choose to bring close,
    the one who lives in your courtyards!
We are filled full by the goodness of your house,
    by the holiness of your temple.

In righteousness you answer us,
    by your awesome deeds,
    God of our salvation—
    you, who are the security
        of all the far edges of the earth,
        even the distant seas.
    You establish the mountains by your strength;
    you are dressed in raw power.
    You calm the roaring seas;
        calm the roaring waves,
        calm the noise of the nations.
Those who dwell on the far edges
        stand in awe of your acts.
    You make the gateways
        of morning and evening sing for joy.
You visit the earth and make it abundant,
    enriching it greatly
        by God’s stream, full of water.
You provide people with grain
    because that is what you’ve decided.
Drenching the earth’s furrows,
        leveling its ridges,
    you soften it with rain showers;
        you bless its growth.
You crown the year with your goodness;
    your paths overflow with rich food.
Even the desert pastures drip with it,
    and the hills are dressed in pure joy.
The meadowlands are covered with flocks,
    the valleys decked out in grain—
        they shout for joy;
        they break out in song! (Common English Bible)

The biblical psalms present God as sovereign over all creation. Today’s psalm extols the Lord of the universe as God of both temple and terra, of people and the earth.

God of the temple

Praise is the appropriate offering to God – because it is the Lord who listens, forgives, and chooses to fill persons with the holiness and goodness of God’s presence, exemplified in the temple.

Infinite righteousness cannot be fulfilled by finite beings. In other words, we need God.

The nineteenth century philosopher and theologian, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) insisted that the humans did not established themselves; therefore, no one can simply exercise their will toward better and brighter circumstances.

Kierkegaard argued that humanity, at its core, is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, the temporal and the eternal. A finite human is not a self; only when connected and aware of the infinite is someone a self. (The Sickness Unto Death)

Creatures can never lift themselves above anxiety, worry, distress, or hardship with only finite resources; we need infinite supplies and divine capital, to tap into the image of God within us, to realize that our true identity is inextricably dependent upon our Creator.

“Prayers” by Yoram Raanan

We are more than bodies and brain synapses; we are also souls. And as souls, we shall never realize our true selves through the temporary means of possessions, prestige, and power. A person cannot construct a self, by themselves, to bear the weight of who we really are. That’s because our real identity is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3)

Just as the temple in Jerusalem was much more than a physical structure, so we, as the people of God, are so much more than tangible beings.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16, NRSV)

Praise, prayer, and worship are practices designed to connect with the infinite God. Indeed, the kingdom of God is much nearer than we know.

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20-21, NRSV)

God of terra

We walk upon and inhabit this present terra firma, this earth. The earth, and all that is in it, belongs to the Lord. God is something of a cosmic farmer, taking care of the earth, watching over it, tending to its needs.

All that takes place on this celestial ball we live upon is under the gracious and loving eye of God. It is the Lord who brings the seasons and the rains, calming the storms of the seas, as well as the storms of our lives.

One of the reasons we find ourselves in such an impending climate debacle on this earth, is that we continue to utilize all the finite resources we can muster and fail to acknowledge and become aware of the grand infinite wherewithal we have with our Creator and Sustainer.

“I am the Lord, your savior;
I am the one who created you.
I am the Lord, the Creator of all things.
    I alone stretched out the heavens;
    when I made the earth, no one helped me. (Isaiah 44:24, GNT)

The earth is beautiful. Yet, in our insistence upon merely using the temporal and physical, ugliness has come upon the earth, obscuring the true nature of God’s good creation. Distancing ourselves from the Creator only builds bigger obstacles to solving the earth’s most significant issues.

Self-imposed and ensconced impediments need to be cleared away. The weeds have overtaken the garden; we can no longer see the good plants that are supposed to grow and produce a harvest. And yet, as any farmer or gardener knows, you cannot simply yank such weeds from the ground without also pulling up what you are trying to preserve.

The Lord will provide – but if we keep to our stubborn independence from God, the process of weeding the garden will take much longer to accomplish. Yet, God is patient, not wanting any to perish but all to come around to the infinite. (2 Peter 3:9)

Conclusion

Let us come to God in our neediness and failure. We must see ourselves as infinite souls with finite solutions who can cry out to the God who hears and forgives. We need to connect with the Lord who hears our prayers. It is imperative that we rely upon the infinite Creator who is concerned to cultivate justice and righteousness upon an earth which is full of plenty for everyone.

Praise, pray, give thanks, and be connected to the infinite One whom we need for life and godliness in this present, evil, and finite age.

Stay joined to me and I will stay joined to you. No branch can produce fruit alone. It must stay connected to the vine. It is the same with you. You cannot produce fruit alone. You must stay joined to me. (John 15:4, ERV)

Blessed God and Father of all, yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. To you belongs the heavens and the earth. It is you who made all that is – sun, moon, stars, rivers, forests, minerals, birds, animals, fish, and us – and pronounced it all “good.” We seek your divine mercy and help so that our work and our worship may curb the sin that so easily entangles and bring your intended shalom to the earth. Amen.

Psalm 124 – Help Is Here

If it had not been the Lord who was on our side
    —let Israel now say—
if it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
    when our enemies attacked us,
then they would have swallowed us up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against us;
then the flood would have swept us away;
    the torrent would have gone over us;
then over us would have gone
    the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,
    who has not given us
    as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird
    from the snare of the hunters;
the snare is broken,
    and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth. (New Revised Standard Version)

As a church pastor, many Sundays I begin the worship service with the ancient confession of faith that “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” It is a call to worship the God who is above all and sees all – and can do something about the adversity and trouble we face in the world. 

With each new day, our attention needs guidance toward the positive acknowledgment that the eternal and ever-present God is ready and vigilant to skillfully and lovingly direct us through our waking hours. 

There is no biblical reference anywhere in Holy Scripture that God helps those who help themselves. The Lord is indiscriminate in providing aid for all without prejudice. All we need do is ask for it. Whereas we can certainly make positive choices and advocate for ourselves with effective help, our supreme and ultimate help is in the Lord. 

Our fears about the future, our insecurities of what will happen, and our anxieties about all the upcoming stuff we must face can be transformed with the biblical perspective of acknowledging our great need for divine intervention. 

The Lord is our most prescient support. The virtual meeting you have been dreading; that conversation you have been avoiding; a deadline that has been looming over your head; the ongoing health issues which seem to never end; these, and all situations, can only find their proper perspective in light of the God who helps.

I am a believer in making daily affirmations of faith in God. Early in the morning, I deliberately affirm and profess my firm beliefs in the Lord, even if I don’t feel like it, each and every day so that some solid robust theology is at the forefront of my mind, and the attributes of God sink firmly into my heart. 

I rely on such rituals because faith does not simply come through checking-off a list of orthodox beliefs, then moving on as if those beliefs have no connection to daily life. Rather, faith arises as a response to the recognition that God is good – all the time – and that the Lord helps those who intentionally and constantly seek divine help and enablement.

There are a lot of things we do not know: What will happen tomorrow? How will that situation shake out in the end? Will this relationship flower or wither?… a million questions can weigh down our hearts with anxiety. Yet, there is a sure and certain truth we can count on right now and for every minute into the future: God is with us.

God’s ever-present help remains the constant ballast in a sea of changing circumstances.

“If God is on our side, can anyone be against us?… I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

Romans 8:31, 38-39, CEV

Not even the graveyard can limit God. With the Lord, death is defeated. Resurrection is a reality. The enemy is flat on his face. Evil’s power is weakened. We are only in danger if we let ourselves go near our old toothless foe. And even then, we have the shield of faith, the sword of the Spirit, and the shoes of peace.

The dangers of water and fire, traps and snares, enemy armies and spiritual foes are all undone by an almighty God. The maker of heaven and earth personally advocates for and helps us. Indeed, the Lord is on our side.

Creator God, you are the ever-present One who provides everything I need for life and godliness. I need your help today and everyday so that I can confidently do your will.  I stand with full assurance of faith because I serve the Lord Jesus, who is benevolent and always does what is right and just. Amen.

Psalm 104:24-35 – Listen to Creation

Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

O Lord, what a variety of things you have made!
    In wisdom you have made them all.
    The earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the ocean, vast and wide,
    teeming with life of every kind,
    both large and small.
See the ships sailing along,
    and Leviathan, which you made to play in the sea.

They all depend on you
    to give them food as they need it.
When you supply it, they gather it.
    You open your hand to feed them,
    and they are richly satisfied.
But if you turn away from them, they panic.
    When you take away their breath,
    they die and turn again to dust.
When you give them your breath, life is created,
    and you renew the face of the earth.

May the glory of the Lord continue forever!
    The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!
The earth trembles at his glance;
    the mountains smoke at his touch.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
    I will praise my God to my last breath!
May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
    for I rejoice in the Lord….

Let all that I am praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord! (New Living Translation)

The earth is a complex ecosystem, alive and teeming with all kinds of creatures and exuberant nature. All of creation knows and depends on its Creator. The earth bears its Creator’s fascination.

The world is wonderfully intricate, its vast natural systems working in sync to flourish across the earth. All creation lives with confidence in God’s sustaining grace. Humanity, along with the rest of creation, is to sing and praise the God who has made life possible by means of the powerful Spirit.

This same Spirit which worked in creation, animates all creatures, and has left the imprint of God’s likeness on humans, is the very same Spirit which came upon the little band of believers at Pentecost, as well as being the very same Spirit which is given to you and me as followers of Jesus. 

Just as we listen to the ancient voices of Holy Scripture lift up the name of Jesus; and, just as we listen for the Holy Spirit to guide us in the name of Jesus Christ, so we are to listen to the voice of creation praise God.

In a society expectant of all things fast – fast food, fast cars, fast service, fast everything – there is something profoundly spiritual about slowing down to listen to God’s Spirit speaking through God’s creation. Even though we, at times, encounter difficulties which limit us and slow us down, these very situations afford us the opportunity to listen.

Today, when you eat your meals, I invite you to take the time to chew slowly, thanking God in a rhythm of praise which is connected to the gratitude of each bite. Connect with the reality that eating comes from the earth’s generosity.

When walking the dog, do it slowly, listening to the sounds of creation around you. Hear the wind blowing, the trees swaying, the water rushing, the birds singing. They all give praise and adoration to the God who is pleased to fill creation with divine splendor.

The lack of listening, the refusal to truly hear, was at the core of Adam and Eve’s fall from paradise. Ever since, people have been tainted with spiritual deafness. We must, once again, learn the vital skill of listening well.

Opening to the sounds of creation can reopen us to our divine image, which has never been lost – perhaps just buried so deep within that we are many times not in touch with it. Listening to creation also enables us to hear how it groans under humanity’s poor stewardship of the earth.

The whole of creation is always singing; it is just a matter of whether we are listening, or not.

When spending time in nature, ask yourself:

How is God’s glory and love reflected in creation?

In what way is your hope renewed or your heart stirred in response?

How might I be a proper and faithful steward of this earth around me?

Do I feel a connection with the land? Why, or why not?

Every morning for generations, the Native American Iroquois people have greeted the dawn with thanksgiving.

“It is an honor to be a human being and to have been invited into the circle of Creation,” they say to the Creator. Beginning with the grass and the trees, the Iroquois express gratitude for the other plants, the water, the wind, the sun, the moon, and the stars.

I myself have also found a deep connection with God in the morning amongst nature. Greeting the Creator, as well as the oak trees and lilac bushes near my home, give me the ability to frame my upcoming day with awareness. As I am present and mindful to creation, so I find myself more present and aware to the people who need my focused attention.

Sadly, there are people who have never known the joy of walking barefoot through the grass; the wonder of staring into the night sky full of stars; and the sublime silence in which to hear the voice of God.

There are whole segments of our global family who have never had clean water or enough to eat. There are people who have lost their very identity because of exploitation of resources and greed. So, we need to connect with creation.

We must discern that our connection with created things fosters a stronger and deeper connection to our fellow humanity.

For when we observe the beauty in all things, we train ourselves to see the beauty in others. And where there is beauty, there is appreciation, gratefulness, and compassionate care. God speaks to us through creation. Nature is our teacher. Let’s make sure and treat her with the respect and care she deserves.

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, does all creation belong.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through Brother Sun,
bringing us the day and giving us light.
He is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Most High, he bears your likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water.
She is very useful, humble, precious, and pure.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night. He is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth.
She sustains us and governs us; she produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living person can escape.

Woe to those who die in sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy will,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Let all creation praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility. Amen.

–A Prayer from St. Francis of Assisi

Everyone Can Juggle

“Say, what?” you may protest. “I can’t juggle. I can’t learn that. I’m not coordinated, not rhythmic, not graceful, not _____.” (fill in the blank with your own negative)

I’m not buying it. I insist everyone can juggle, without exception. Yes, even the elderly, the young, those with severely arthritic hands and no hands, at all, can juggle. This is no mind game. It’s not playing with words.

Everyone can juggle because there is a juggler inside of every person.

God is Creator. People are creatures, created in the image and likeness of God. God is a juggler. And so are you and me.

It comes down to what kind of story we are telling ourselves.

For example, if there is a narrative rolling around in your head that you are stupid, even though you may be very intelligent, you will live up to the story of being unintelligent. The life you live will be as an incompetent nincompoop.

So, what is the story you are telling yourself about yourself?

Juggling takes practice. I can teach anyone to juggle in three minutes, or less. After that, it’s all about doing it – lots and lots of repetition and practice. It takes time, patience, and tenacity – the very qualities required to do just about anything.

Which you have done multiple times in your life, already. Sometimes we all need to remember when we did something well, when we committed to the time and effort of accomplishing an important task or project.

There is nothing glamorous about learning to juggle, and certainly not about becoming proficient at it. It is tedious, pedantic, and at times, frustrating work. It takes an overarching, “Why?”

If I want to juggle because it looks cool, and I’d like to impress friends, then I likely will not stick with it. If I believe it can be done in a relatively short amount of time, then I’ll probably become discouraged and drop out.

Yet, if I discover I really like to juggle, and I want to do it, that in the doing of this new thing I am finding out some things about myself I didn’t know before – or even that when I juggle, even imperfectly, I learn something about God – well, then, this is a “why” which has sustaining power.

Yes, indeed, everyone can juggle. There is a juggler inside each and every one of us. The real issue is whether we actually believe that is true, and whether we really have a solid internal reason for doing so.

So, let’s come back to that weird part about what I said above – that even people without an ability to lift their arms (or with no arms, at all) can juggle. It has to do with our definition of juggling. Here is the straight up dictionary definition of the words, “juggle,” “juggling,” and “juggler:”

To keep (several objects, as balls, plates, tenpins, or knives, etc.) in continuous motion in the air simultaneously by tossing and catching.

To perform feats of manual or bodily dexterity, as tossing up and keeping in continuous motion a number of balls, plates, knives, etc.

A person who performs juggling feats, as with balls or knives, etc.

One little word makes the difference here: etcetera. (etc.)

I’m actually not going to answer my own question or make explicit my point. I’ll let you fill it in yourself because I am confident you can do so. You are creative.

You’ll figure it out.

What we all really need is just enough direction to get our creative abilities going, without so much instruction that it becomes controlling (like a boss looking over your shoulder and just barking orders when you screw up).

Developing a skill or a craft is different than becoming a professional or doing a job. The real work is both internal and most often out of the limelight. It’s a commitment to a process, more than it is a means to an end goal. A process cannot be rushed; there must not be shortcuts. And, unless we learn to enjoy the process, we end up doing shoddy work.

The construction of a person’s soul is a lifelong project.

It requires becoming aware of one’s deep inward spirituality. Solitude, silence, and stillness are imperative to forming the soul.

I am a Christian. As such, I want to know Christ better. For that to happen, I need to pay attention to and care for my soul.

Throughout the history of Christianity, much attention has been given to the care of souls. Early church fathers (and mothers) such as Gregory the Great (540-604, C.E.) took great pains to describe ministerial work as offering moral and spiritual guidance to both the churched and unchurched, both Christian and non-Christian.

In 1656, Puritan preacher Richard Baxter wrote a book, The Reformed Pastor, which set the standard of pastoral care for generations. Baxter elaborated on seven functions of crafting souls (stated in my own words):

  1. Helping others connect with their spiritual selves;
  2. Giving sage spiritual direction;
  3. Building up people with careful and encouraging words;
  4. Attending to church, family, and group dynamics;
  5. Providing special focus to the needy, the sick, and the dying;
  6. Holding people accountable for their words and actions;
  7. Setting proper spiritual boundaries to keep harmful words and actions at bay within the community.

There is nothing sexy about any of these functions. It is humble nitty-gritty work which typically goes unnoticed by many because it is a slow process over time.

As a Christian who is concerned for the construction of souls, I take my cues from the Christian Bible. There are many references to “one another” in the New Testament which highlight the spiritual dynamics and proper environment needed for souls to thrive. Just a few of the most mentioned are: 

  • Encouragement
  • Mutual edification
  • Love
  • Forgiveness
  • Hospitality

Within the New Testament Gospels of Jesus, Christ modeled a life of spiritual practice which include healing, teaching, guiding, and mending damaged and broken souls. These were all a part of his mission to bring God’s benevolent kingdom to earth.

Like a proper garden, we need to continually tend to our soul, which requires the consistent spiritual farming of daily Scripture reading and prayer, practicing Sabbath rests, silence and solitude, fasting, and giving.

Our souls need careful shepherding. We are to be vigilant toward attending to our spiritual selves, as well as the souls of others – not because we must, but because we are willing.

You can do this. After all, you are a juggler!