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The HeavensIntimate Moments with Your Majestic God
By Kevin Hartnett
J CountrymanCopyright © 2011 Kevin Hartnett
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWonder & Worship
'Tis there, beyond the reach of Earth That ever draws my heart away ... To wonder at the universe; To think, to watch, To dream, to pray.
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There's nothing like gazing up into a dark, cloudless, star-filled sky to draw us into deeper communion with our Lord. He formed the universe in accordance with His greatness. It is unsearchably diverse, magnificently ordered, and astoundingly beautiful. On a journey begun years—even centuries—ago, starlight streams across the enormous expanse of space, revealing to us how the universe looked when it left its distant domain. There are strange and wonderful worlds out there: planets with impossibly high mountains, ring systems, and multiple moons; dense, colorful star clusters; and immense interstellar gas clouds. What new glories might we discover in these remote and mysterious havens!
But as beautiful and majestic as it is, the universe is groaning and longing—just as we are—for the completion of God's magnificent redemptive purpose in Christ (Romans 8:23). In towering grace, He plans to eradicate sin, reverse death, and create all things new. The new heavens and the new Earth will be even more glorious than what we see now. And our relationship with Him, who made all these things for His glory and our delight, will be one of endless, unhindered, joy-filled love.
Oh God, You are marvelous. No words can capture Your greatness. You are exalted in glory, yet intimate in care. Come back, Lord Jesus. Free us fully from the curse. Come back, Lord Jesus. Remove Your enemies and stretch time into eternity, as it cannot now contain the full measure of our praise. Come back, Lord Jesus. Set all things right, amen.
For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. Romans 8:22–23
Beautiful Saturn, Queen of the planets, revolves around the Sun outside the orbit of Jupiter, the planetary king of the solar system. Queen Saturn is the second largest planet. Its disk is about ten times the diameter of Earth. Though large, it is not as dense as Earth; rather, its density is less than that of water. If there were an ocean large enough to hold it, Saturn would float!
Stretching around the planet, however, is Saturn's most remarkable feature: a spectacular system of multibanded rings. Spectral analysis of the light reflected from these rings indicates that they are comprised primarily of bits of ice—millions of pieces that range in size from granules to house-sized chunks. The existence of the rings is somewhat of a mystery to astronomers; rings of this sort are usually unstable and will either collapse into the planet or disperse into space in a relatively short period of time. Yet Saturn's rings remain.
The simple but undeniable beauty of this lovely ringed orb points us to the ultimate source of all beauty, God Himself. We know about love because God is Love. We know about fatherhood because God is the Father. We know about beauty because God, the ultimate First Cause of everything, is also beautiful. As lovely as nature can be, its beauty is a distant and incomplete second to His. To the humble and worshipful of heart, every tiny jewel of creation brings to mind the magnificent Genius who fashioned it all. But no matter how dazzling, grand, or improbable, nothing in creation can compare to the infinite beauty of the Creator Himself. Praise Him for beauty as seen in all its forms, but worship Him alone as Beauty itself.
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Honor and majesty are before Him; Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Psalm 96:6
Beauty reaches through the eye, To light upon a humble soul, And teach this otherworldly truth: No second piece conveys the Whole.
Faith and Patience
Certain seasons leave the heavens bare; Others dazzle us with stars galore. Take the lean in gratitude aware: Times of deeper riches are in store.
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I love those who love me, And those who seek me diligently will find me. Proverbs 8:17
If you were to count the number of stars visible to the naked eye on a typical night during each season of the year, you'd find that the totals vary significantly. Our disc-shaped solar system, located within a much larger disc-shaped spiral galaxy, is tipped at an angle of about sixty degrees with respect to our galaxy. What this means is that during the winter and summer months, we look out along the plane (the longer side) of the galaxy where there are more and brighter stars to be seen. In these seasons, the skies are brighter than in the spring and autumn months, when our line of sight is oriented "out the side" of the galaxy. This is one reason why the winter skies appear so brilliant, especially when compared to the humid, barren spring sky. It naturally follows, however, that more external galaxies can be seen during the spring and autumn months. At those times, it's easier to look past all the stars, dust, and gas of our galaxy to see the faint but glorious systems outside it.
Just as the seasons of bright constellations vary, so do the seasons of our experience with God's Word. In some weeks, our souls see bright, plain truths, and we revel in the wonderful sense of God's nearness, love, and care. At other times, it just doesn't seem like there's as much to see, and the Word—like the spring sky—seems a bit dull. Don't be discouraged. Ask the Spirit to reveal Christ to you; He will answer this prayer. Like the faint but marvelous springtime galaxies, there are rich, deeper truths that wait for you to find them. Be patient in faith, with diligence for the Word to come alive to you in ways you haven't imagined.
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And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Hebrews 6:11–12
Jesus, the Cupbearer
Christ, the Humble, we adore You, Son Eternal, sent to save; Grasping not to heaven's glory; Prince of Life, placed in a grave! Well might brilliant angels marvel; Devils, too, not comprehend: Christ, Transcendent Praise of Heaven, Sacrificed for sinful men!
There are eighty-eight constellations universally recognized by today's astronomers. Among these, only twelve (actually thirteen the way the constellation lines are now drawn) ever contain the Sun, Moon, and planets. These are the twelve well-known zodiac constellations, a name derived from a root word meaning "zoo." In the zoo are some familiar animals: Cancer the crab, Taurus the bull, Capricorn the goat, Leo the lion, Scorpio the scorpion, and Pisces the fish. Also on this special list are Libra the scales, Sagittarius the Centaur archer (half horse, half man), and four humans—the Gemini twins, Virgo the maiden, and last of all Aquarius the water bearer, or cupbearer.
The constellation of Aquarius is amongst the oldest known, probably because the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year) took place when the Sun was in Aquarius during the Early Bronze Age (beginning around 3000 BC). Interestingly, the ancient Sumerians associated the water bearer with the story of a global flood. Today, though, the idea of a water bearer or cupbearer brings to mind a servant. And when we as Christians think of servants, our minds naturally turn to Jesus. In Philippians 2:6–7, we're told that "though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (ESV). He came, as He said himself, "not to be served but to serve" (Mark 10:45 ESV). We recall how He washed the apostles' feet at the Last Supper, stating clearly that they should follow His example of humility.
Though we can and should imitate Him as a servant water bearer, in God's mercy we need not follow Him as cupbearer. It was Jesus alone who took the cup of God's righteous wrath for sins and drained it to the dregs at Calvary. When we hold the communion cup, we solemnly but joyfully remember Jesus' words: "For this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28 ESV).
Thank You, Lord Jesus, for Your life and example of humility. Thank You for shedding Your blood for our sins. Fill me today with Your Spirit to be like You in humility and to serve others with my life. In Your name, for Your glory, I pray, amen.
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Mark 10:45
Named after its codiscoverers, Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp, the magnificent Comet Hale-Bopp was easy to see with the naked eye during the months of March and April in 1997. Comets are bodies of dirty ice and rock that travel around the Sun in long elliptically shaped orbits. Some, like Comet Halley, return with relative frequency. But most comets (like Hale-Bopp) take thousands of years to complete just one trip around the Sun. Based on its orbit, this celestial visitor was last seen around the era of the Old Testament Patriarchs (circa 2000 BC). Because of their unpredictable appearances and motions, comets have been viewed by many cultures throughout history as heralds of doom. The English word disaster literally means "bad star," from the Greek aster.
Has a dirty ice ball of unpredicted and unwelcomed events careened into your life? Do circumstances seem completely haphazard or out of control? Are you fearful of what tomorrow might bring? If so, then be comforted by the knowledge that God is sovereign over all. Nothing is haphazard in His universe or beyond His control. Try to imagine the magnificent mind of God, working every circumstance—even the horrible death of His own Son on the cross—for the good of His sons and daughters. His timing may be beyond our comprehension, but trust that He has a grand design for your life.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
Minister of mystery, The comet pierces history And lifts the head of mortal mind To contemplate the Grand Design.
When you fear you won't keep faith, Trust God, the Everlasting. When your weaknesses loom great, Trust God, the Everlasting. He spread out the heavens right, Working wisdom, knowledge, might; He will help you in your plight. Trust God, the Everlasting.
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Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines. Genesis 21:33–34 ESV
God has many names in His Word. The large number of them tells us that God delights in revealing Himself to us. Many of the Old Testament names are variations of Jehovah (meaning "I AM" or "pre-existent") or El (meaning "might," "strength," and "power"). Jehovah and El are often combined with other words to give us a greater understanding of the nature of our Lord.
One such combination is El Olam. Olam means "everlasting," so that together El Olam means "might everlasting," "strength everlasting," and "power everlasting." That is our God.
In Genesis 21:33, Abraham called upon El Olam to help him keep his commitments and to protect him from the dishonesty of others. In Isaiah 26:4, Isaiah encouraged his countrymen to trust in El Olam to keep and establish the nation of Judah. The prophet Jeremiah used the name to compare the unmatched power of the Lord who made the heavens to the impotency of man-made gods of wood and metal. "The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens. It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens" (Jeremiah 10:11–12 ESV).
The same power, wisdom, and understanding that established the heavens are available to you. Are you worrying over your ability to keep a commitment you have made? Or do you worry that someone else will not keep their end of a deal? El Olam would have you place your trust in Him today—not the man-made idols of earthly security. He who spread out the heavens can equally work His power, wisdom, and understanding to help you in the situations you face. Call upon the God Everlasting. Call upon Him now.
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You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. Trust in the LORD forever, For in YAH, the LORD, is everlasting strength. Isaiah 26:3–4
Honoring God & Giving Thanks
O God, what glories do I daily rob from You, Knowing it's created things that I pursue Rather than the One who caused all things to be? Today, my loving Lord—and for eternity— I choose to honor You and give You thanks.
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In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul lays out an amazing doctrinal and practical discourse. In it he covers a lot of theological ground. His topics include the spiritual history of man, man's relationship to the law of God, man's dire state of unrighteousness because of sin, God's gracious redemption through faith in Christ, and how a person made alive in Christ should think and act with other believers. Paul argues that creation itself teaches us that a Being with a divine nature and eternal power created all that we see. Nowhere is this more gloriously evident than in the heavens. There we begin to grasp what eternity means—as immense, majestic galaxies, each filled with billions of stars, are seen in such vast numbers and at such great distances that all meaningful numbering and measuring systems begin to break down.
Seeing these evidences of a Supreme Being, men are without excuse if they choose to dishonor Him by worshiping created things rather than the Creator Himself. But Scripture also indicts man on a second count. That is, upon seeing creation, we sin not only for failing to honor God but for failing to give Him thanks. Have you ever thanked the Lord for creation? Does not creation teach us about His nature? Does it not thrill our souls with its beauty and humble us in its inexhaustible diversity? Do not the Sun, Moon, and stars serve us by forming the daily rhythms of our lives; graciously given to us by God for "signs and seasons, and for days and years" (Genesis 1:14)?
Today, let us take time to give Him thanks. As the Scriptures make clear, He's not only interested in our worship, but also in our gratitude. Tell Him what part of nature you like the most. Tell Him how you enjoy sunsets, waterfalls, clouds, trees, the beach, and the night sky. Thank Him for giving us these things to enjoy and to draw us closer to Him. Thank Him, finally, for being not only powerful but also personal.
Excerpted from The Heavens by Kevin Hartnett Copyright © 2011 by Kevin Hartnett. Excerpted by permission of J Countryman. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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