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Earth's Crammed With Heaven

In his sermon on Psalm 8, Jim commented that he never noticed the sky was blue until he became a Christian. My story is similar, but different. When I was seventeen, two years before I became a Christian, I went on the most exciting duck hunt of my life. But it wasn't the duck hunt that was exciting. It was the boat ride to the duck blind.

We had to break ice to get our boat in the water. It was around four in the morning. My best friend was working the motor that day, so I was lying on my back, looking up into the dark delta sky. I'd looked into that same sky many times, but I'd never seen anything like this—a ticker tape parade of stars falling; dozens of them, shooting back and forth like laser beams in a video game. I thought the sky was falling. This might be the end of the world.

I later figured out that these weren't stars. Thanks to Google, I now know it was the Geminid Meteor Shower of December 1998. At its peak, it produced 600 meteors per hour. And, by chance, so to speak, I 'happened' to be out at four in the morning, in the middle of nowhere, without a cloud in the sky.

In my mind, this was the first time in my life I experienced a deep sense of awe. I knew nothing of God at that point. But I had a nagging sense that I needed to thank someone, though I didn't know who, for allowing me to see something so beautiful. I've been fascinated with the sky ever since.

Years later, as a believer, I read The Discarded Image by C.S. Lewis and Planet Narnia by Michael Ward. I learned that C.S. Lewis was more fascinated with the sky than I've ever been. When he looked at the heavens, he saw the gospel. I don't have the space to get into the subject in detail, but let me share a couple of Lewis' observations.

Lewis loved the planet Jupiter. In Greek mythology, Jupiter was the kingly planet, represented by Zeus. Lewis was struck by the fact that there is a large red spot on Jupiter's side. This red spot is nearly exactly the size of Earth. Our planet could fit into that spot like a golf ball into its hole. How fitting, Lewis thought, that the kingly planet bears a red mark on its side, reminiscent of the wound given to Christ by a Roman spear as He hung on the cross.

Lewis also pointed out that, twice in Scripture, Jesus is called the "Morning Star" (2 Peter 1:19, Rev. 22:16). The morning star is Venus, the planet that classically represented love. Venus is the first 'star' we see at night (the evening star) and the last 'star' we see in the morning (the morning star). How fitting, therefore, that Jesus should be described as the Morning Star. He is love incarnate. And He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last.

It feels like we're on a bumpy boat ride these days. I've found great comfort in the beautiful, Sahara-dust-inspired sunsets we've enjoyed before the recent rains. I've also found joy in watching fireflies with my daughters. In some weird way a group of fireflies along a tree line reminds me of that meteor shower years ago.

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, 

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote,

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.

The glory of the heavens and the glory of this world are meant to point us to the One who made them all. At seventeen I didn't know who to thank. Now I know the One I say thanks to as the wounded King, the descendant of David, the bright Morning Star, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We can say thanks to our Creator in many different ways. But the primary way He calls us to do so is by gathering on the Lord's Day. He set this day apart for us to celebrate and proclaim His resurrection. The wounded King didn't stay in the tomb. He rose like the morning star. And on Sundays we give our "amen" to that fact as we worship the triune God. We see His glory as we gather in His presence; and so, figuratively speaking, each Sunday, we take our shoes off instead of picking blackberries.

Posted by Heath Cross

Hanging On For the Ride

This past Sunday we sang one of my favorite hymns: Jesus Shall Reign Where'er the Sun. Isaac Watts wrote this hymn as a paraphrase of Psalm 72 with specific application to Jesus as the true King of Israel.

Years ago, I heard an atheist mocking this great hymn. He also mocked Psalm 19. Why? Because they picture the sun as "running." Psalm 19 speaks of the sun as an athlete running a race (v. 5), making its track the edge of the heavens (v. 6). That's quite a racetrack. This, the man said, is the view of a borderline Neanderthal–a geocentric view of the universe. The sun doesn't run. This would mean that the sun is orbiting the earth. And, of course, we modern folk know that's wrong. It's the earth that is running, not the sun. Right? In the words of Lee Corso, "not so fast, my friend." We need to consider the scientific discovery of "solar orbit."

Here's how it goes. The earth is orbiting the sun at about 67,000 mph. That's Mach 88 (and somehow, we're not even dizzy; think about that for a minute). And it gets more amazing. Do an internet search for the phrase "galactic year." Here's a summary of what you'll find. Scientists are now telling us that the sun is orbiting the center of the Milky Way at a speed almost eight times faster than the earth is orbiting the sun—514,000 mph. That's Mach 675. And the sun is "running" this race so fast, with so much mass and force, that it is dragging along the planetary system with it in perfect step. It's like a cosmic dance near the speed of light. It's a race that's hard to imagine. But we're living in it every day, not even sweating most of the time.

There is so much symbolism in the sun. Genesis 1 records God creating it: "And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness" (vv. 16-18). The sun is a servant-ruler. It rules the day. And in so doing it serves us by giving us light. Christ, the Son, is a servant-ruler. He is our King. But He comes not to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28).

As Jesus hung on the cross, paying the ransom for our sin, "there was darkness over the land" for about three hours (Mark 15:33). For light to shine on us, Jesus had to suffer in darkness. The glory of the Son of God had to be eclipsed by sin and the wrath of God so that we could appear in heaven "bright shining as the sun." On the cross, the sun set. In the resurrection a new morning dawned. We are living in that morning, knowing that Jesus shall reign where'er the sun doth it's successive journeys run.

The idea of solar orbit gives new dimension to how we imagine the reign of Christ. Abraham Kuyper said, "there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry 'Mine!' But Christ's reign goes even beyond the realm of human existence. Jesus isn't simply going to reign in the orbit of the earth. The sun's orbit is far beyond that. It extends to every inch of the Milky Way. It all belongs to Christ. And Jesus, like the sun drags the planets, is dragging us along in this great race of life by His power, calling us to center our orbit around Him and hang on for the ride.

Like much of our nation during the pandemic and present social unrest, you may be feeling some turbulence right now. Life's a bumpy ride. But I'm glad we have Jesus hanging on to us. And I'm glad we're hanging on to each other. 

Posted by Heath Cross

The Christian Life is a Musical

Jim and I have both made the point that Psalms is God's hymn book. God gives His people a hymn book because He ordained for them to be a musical people.

When Adam first saw his new bride, his response (in the Hebrew text) is poetic: "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man" (Gen 2:23). This is essentially the first love song. Our bent for poetry is as old as creation.

When Israel crossed the Red Sea, they sang a hymn of triumph (Ex. 15). Throughout Hebrew history, it was a tradition to sing when God gave them victory. They also sang when they suffered defeat.

King David became the sweet psalmist of Israel. Imagine a king who is also your nation's most prominent singer-songwriter. He also ordained musicians and choirs to perform his songs.

King David point us to King Jesus, who also was, and is, a singer. In Psalm 18, David thanks God for causing him to triumph in battle. He writes, "For this I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations, and sing to Your name" (v. 49). The Apostle Paul says that Christ's victory over sin fulfilled the words of David "in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy. As it is written, 'Therefore I will praise You among the Gentiles, and sing to Your name'" (Rom. 15:9). Christ's suffering and death, according to Paul, was a love song of praise performed in front of the nations. It's fitting, therefore, that Christ's final moments with the disciples on the night in which He was betrayed involved singing a hymn (Matt. 26:30). And He quoted a psalm with one of His dying breaths (Mark 15:34).

Paul tells us that the Spirit-filled life produces music. Christians are to be constantly "addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart" (Eph. 5:19). Singing and making melody are different. Singing is self-explanatory. But the making of melody is to be done "with" or "in" the heart. He means that our hearts have to provide the melody for our words. God wants to pluck our heart strings, not just our vocal cords.

Music is one of the most important things we do as a church. And it's something we should carry into our homes and work. It's an act of obedience. It's also a way of addressing the world. A while back I heard a story of a famous actor who became a Christian because his housekeeper was constantly singing hymns. After hearing these songs over and over, and being somewhat annoyed by them, he asked her, "Why do you keep singing these songs?" This was an open door for her to share the gospel. And the gospel changed his life.

I tell my daughters that the life of a Christian should be like a musical—a song could break out at any moment—even when it feels ridiculous. And the gospel should be the soundtrack of our lives. 

I look forward to hearing your voices this coming Lord's Day.

Posted by Heath Cross

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