Man and His Nature

This poem was presented at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during a student night. As it relates to our upcoming discussions concerning the Imago Dei (image of God) and the fall of man (Genesis 3), I have decided to post it here.

The poem is arranged in thirteen stanzas and follows the progress of a year starting in summer. The thirteenth stanza was added as a hopeful yearning for the next year. By adding the last stanza, the poem is not considered cyclical but progressing. This progression marks the change in season as a means of discussing the change from man’s perfection in the garden, to his fallen state in expulsion, and finally looking forward to a state of grace.

The poem follows Genesis 2:15-4:26. In order to understand the poem well, I suggest first reading or refreshing your understanding of Genesis  2-4.

Man and His Nature

Man deep in summer’s trance
Sleeping in God’s shadow.
Nature in an encore dance.
New life in beauty’s meadow.

The Potter turns a new form,
Yet not from dust of clay.
Her beauty he adorned
In flesh and bone the same.

God gives away Eden’s pride.
Her cynosure unmatched.
Within the bosom of his bride
Child doubt and death are latched.

Clothed in scales of gloom,
Split tongue dripping lye,
Eden in her ever-bloom
Shutters at the Serpent’s eye.

The tree appeals to the tongue.
Its wisdom calls for taste
Lost in the viper’s song
Dust’s kingdom she embrace.

The fallen emerald hands
of the Fig tree’s autumn hue
could not hide the reprimand
nor keep man from God’s view. 

Winter casts her soul’s shroud,
Over life’s green ribbon.
Her frost bitten thumb proud
And her chilled kiss smitten.

Man strides the millennia
with sweat upon his brow,
Alone in life’s aria
With thorns upon his crown.

Eden silences her song
At the bleeding of the lamb.
The first innocent wronged
Atones the sins of man.

Summon’d by each newborn’s cry
The Pale Rider and his hearse.
Be fruitful and multiply,
God’s blessing now earth’s curse.

The celestial wheels turn.
The solstices come and go.
Two infants in the world born.
Death waits for them to grow.

Where once man was able,
Embrace his hand the cane.  

His proud feet enfeebled.
His wrath the mark of shame.

Behold now man’s nature.
Sin’s way marks tragedy.
In God’s heart our suture;
In Adam total depravity.

Pitfalls in Pastoring

With our pastoral installation service coming up on February 11th, I’ve taken some time to reflect on my short tenure as pastor at Summerville First Baptist Church. Below I’ve listed four pitfalls which continue to tempt me in my work as pastor.

  1. Forgetting to pray prior to working in the office.

Lack of prayer, an insidious trap in ministry, tops my list. The issue isn’t praying in general. I would hope all Christians pray regularly. However, the issue is the morning routine. Getting up, getting ready, getting going, getting into the office – a normal daily routine. I find myself falling into the ritual of normalcy. I am often tempted to sit down at my desk and start hammering away at  emails, questions, and sermon work. Such a temptation (work before prayer), I believe, is normal to the average Christian. The temptation to start the humdrum of life without prayer, however, hides a deeper heart issue. I am tempted to think success in ministry relies on my own strength. Far better to ask God to guide the steps of my day. I am a creature. I am entirely needy. I need God to work through me, rather than compete in an arena of the mundane by myself. I am thankful for my professor Dr. Robert Caldwell’s example. In all my classes with him, he faithfully started each class with the Bible and prayer. His example helps remind me to stay in prayer.

Verses I meditate on: Hebrews 13:7, 1 Timothy 1:15, 1 Timothy 2:1

  1. Everything is willing to cut into sermon preparation.

Everything from emails to hospital visits wants to cut into sermon preparation time. I do feel the temptation to let sermon preparation take a back seat to “real ministry.” With members in the hospital, homebound, and generally in need of prayer, it’s easy to cash in an hour of study for an hour of visitation. However, preaching the word of God accurately takes a significant time commitment each week. I must lead the church to good and fruitful pastures. If I do not treat the preaching of the Word of God as a premier ministry, how can I expect my people to consider listening to the Word of God as worship?

Verses I meditate on: 2 Timothy 2:14-16, 2 Timothy 3:16

  1. The work is never finished, so take it home.

My family often goes to sleep before I do. I like to work in the evenings. I find music or a background TV show helps to make some of the more mundane tasks of late night administration go easier. However, I have also found myself thinking, “I wish I could get these boys in bed, so I can get to writing.” With PhD class work, writing, and administration, I always have something to do. I don’t think working in the evenings presents much of a problem. However, wanting to sacrifice family time in order to get more time with an email is wrong. Even worse, sacrificing my attitude of love to work. Elijah (4yo), my son, said, “Hey! You were at work all day, so now it’s time to play with me, okay?” Yes! He is right. He deserves my time in the evenings. But not only does he deserve my time, he deserves my positive and loving attitude.

Verses I meditate on: Malachi 2:13-16 (I named my second son Malachi to remind myself of this truth).

  1. Jealousy is crouching at your door.

I grew up reading biographies. Starting with my mother reading them to me and up till the president time, I love reading a biography of great men and women. Some of these men and women were doing ‘great’ things in their teenage years. Online someone asked, “who is a great up-and-coming young pastor?” The strangling cords of pride and jealousy made me want to throw up two thumbs and say, “this guy!” Oddly enough, no one even suggested my name. Go figure! I want to do great things for God (no one ever strives for being forgotten). However, the problem with my jealousy is my definition of ‘great’ things. If all I was ever able to do as pastor at SFBC was to faithfully take care of our senior and infirmed members for the sake of Jesus’s name, then such an action would be a ‘great’ thing. The great feats of mankind are not always what God sees as faithful ministry. God will forge his own Paul, Moses, and Elijah. In terms of authors of the New Testament, most pastors would want to be John, Paul, Luke, or Peter. But someone must be faithful Jude. I love how he puts it, “although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith.” Yes, I want to write theology like Paul’s letter to the Romans. But as a pastor, I find it necessary to sit by the ailing and help them to contend with their faith. I am far better off cheering the spirits of one forgotten saint in need of fellowship and convalescing than dreaming of the greatness for which God could possibly use me.

Verses I meditate on: Matthew 10:42, Matthew 11:11

Foggy Mirrors and Faith

              Ever try driving with a foggy windshield? For some reason, I still make the attempt. The windshield? Foggy. Visibility? About 25%. I’ll still say to myself, “You got this.” My bravado may put too much stock in faith and hope in these moments. When driving with a foggy or frosted mirror, I have to slow down and accept larger details may be missing from my view (was that a massive raccoon or a small deer?). Part of the problem we face as Christians, our mirror reflecting Christ remains foggy. Paul puts it this way, “for now we see in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12a).

              1 Corinthians 13 continues to reign as one of the most quoted chapters in the Bible. The chapter’s poetic descriptions rightfully earn itself the nickname ‘the love chapter.’ However, after verse seven (love bears all things…) many people do not get onto Paul’s larger point. He teaches us love never ends (verse 8). Yet, when it comes to very hard life questions, the why and how of life, Paul reminds us we don’t possess a crystal-clear reflection of God (verse 12).

              On our journey of sanctification, evil will position more than few potholes on the narrow road. For some of us, a wide chasm between God’s love and our understanding will threaten to stop us from running the Christian race. Naturally we will ask, “why would God allow this?” Beloved, understand such questions may never be answered. We cannot see God’s plan for us as clearly as we would like. We have to approach our Christian walk with a foggy mirror.

              We must come to accept the things of which we can be certain: faith, hope, and love. Faith and hope will fade away as we come to know Christ, not through written word but through a true close relationship in heaven. Love, however, will remain. When Paul writes, “love never ends,” he sharpens our focus as we peer through foggy glass. We may not know the why or the how, but we know when the glass warms up and the light of Christ shines through, love will still be the faithful companion walking with us on journey into eternity.

Surfboards, Angels, and Prayer

              No one asks a surfboard for surfing lessons. While the imagination chuckles to entertain such a notion, no asks of inanimate objects what can only be done by flesh and blood. Yet, when it comes to prayer and spiritual needs, we quickly turn to creation for answers.

              In Psalm 18 our psalmist deals with a rather pertinent issue, death. In vivid language the psalmist symbolically compares death to vines entangling him as a snare pulling the psalmist down to his death. “The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me,” he utters. When confronted with his own mortality, the psalmist thinks of only one source to snap the cord that binds him to hell. “In my distress,” he says, “I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.”

              The psalmists earnest plea does not fall upon deaf ears. God comes swiftly to his aid. I love how the psalmist pictures God’s arrival, “he rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.” God swoops in surfing on an angel. From above the mighty crest, the vast waters of the earth “canopy around him” and “the foundations of the world were laid bare.”

              From the position of creature snared by the mighty net of death, the psalmist does not ask nature, fellow Israelites, or angels for help. He doesn’t call on anything which God created. Why? You don’t ask a surfboard for surfing lessons. In the distress of our lives it is natural to want to turn to the familiar first. Nature provids us with many cures for our ills. Even some of us would want to pray to angels or saints for help. While the Christians of the past offer insight for our daily lives, while angels certainly are mighty beings in the Bible, while all of nature can amaze us, still all they encompass is creation.

              God wants us to call on him for help first. “I love you, O Lord, my strength” is the psalmist’s first remark. Prior to his need to call upon God, he recognizes where his help comes from, the Lord. He alone can calm the waves. In your distress and problems that are sure to arise this week, remember God’s creation can be a helpful resource, but all which God created answers to him. Therefore, put your trust and hope in God first.