Wednesday, April 23, 2014
But, once life is established, what then? By these standards, a bacteria or a strain of yeast is alive, but does it share the same measure of life as a flower, fish, a bird, a horse, or a man? On the face of it, the simple answer is 'no'. A lily, for instance, has fragrance and physical beauty that a strain of yeast does not. And a lion has size and ferocity and strength that a lily does not. A man, however, has intelligence and the capacity for spiritual connection that a lion does not. All life, then, does not example itself equally.
So what about the conditions for life? Once established, do they really define the living occupants of this world? It seems that life has established a hierarchy of itself. All life is not equal. It is not flat or static. Life is more than growth, than the multiplication and adaptation of cells. Yes, a bacteria is alive, but there is so much of life it cannot exhibit.
It's like life, once established, continually bursts its bounds into new territories of sight and taste and touch and emotional feel. Life, always simultaneously present in all its forms, tends to reach ever upward in escalating progression. From simple cells to the spreading universe, it constantly reminds us that whatever comprises the force of life goes beyond the physical limits that surround it. Life animates a cell, then an opening leaf, then breath, then flesh itself until it reaches, through human beings, beyond even those.
In the end, life itself points to its source. Life points to Spirit. Life itself makes us want to find God.
And that was exactly what God had in mind.
The animation of combined elements is still a mystery no science has unlocked. Able to copy it, science still has not been able to insert life into a pile of dead atoms and molecules. But the phenomenon continues to surround us. Seeds burst open with a green shoot. A star appears where none was before. A human being grows from the union of two cells. Every moment, God gives and takes away life and we have no idea how He does it.
But we shouldn't wonder at that.
Life is not a mechanism or a chemical reaction or the wave of a celestial magic wand.
Life is God imparting Himself into creation.
God is Life.
After all, He said so:
I AM the Resurrection and the Life.--John 11:25
I AM THE LIFE.
When God makes something alive, He puts Himself into it. We call it Spirit. When He withdraws that bit, that Spirit, the thing dies.
God is Life. Life is God.
That's the beauty of spring, of birth, of the creative act as a whole. It is our witness of and participation in God, in His Very Being. Gardening, painting, the bearing of children, the companionship of animals--all are parts of Life--all are parts of and experiences with God.
It is God saying, 'I not only made you. I am in you.'
Saturday, April 19, 2014
|Photo credit: www.southerncrossreview.org|
Oh, He's out there all right. He might even be in here, in my heart.
But I can't feel Him. I can't see Him, and I can't hear Him..
Where did He go?
Like Mary Magdalene, I wonder where they put my Lord.
They have taken my Lord away and I don't know where they have put Him.--John 20:13
Go and find Him, my friends tell me.
He's right here. All the time.
Pray. He'll come.
Ask and you shall receive.
Seek and you shall find.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
It's not working.
Still, I remember. He was here just the other day.. I can still smell Him. We put Him in this tomb with our own hands.
I left Him in this place. I know I did. And He's gone. Just plain gone.
I am beyond sad. It's like every light in the world has gone out.
Tenacity does not bring Him. Trying harder does not bring Him.
I must be looking in the wrong place.
Maybe I need to open my vision, to look in another place.
What was it that He said? Don't look for my dead body.
Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?--John 20:15-16
He is not here; He is risen, just as He said.--Matthew 28:6
I'm alive! He tells me.
No, you're not. I saw You. You were dead. Dead. And I felt like I was, too.
I still do.
Desolate. Alone. Back to the same place all my former sins consigned me. The same lonely darkness I started in.
Everything was wonderful while You were here, but now...what happened to the sweet, bright hope You brought us? When I can't find You, I can't find the hope anymore, either.
Then, there it was...that smell. Nard. Can it be?
I look up and see an stranger. No. Not You. A gardener.
"Where have they laid Him?" I want to take hold and shake the man.
But he can't help.
I might as well go home. You're not here. You've gone. Forever.
What? Where are You?
Do not touch me now...John 20:17
It's You. It is You. You've never gone, never.
It was me. I let you go. How could I ever have done that?
Never stop calling my name. I never want to lose you again. I don't need to touch You. I just need to trust You.
I will never leave you nor forsake you.--Deuteronomy 31:6
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
But the degree of pain that a sacrifice inflicts is not a good measure of its efficacy. Our sacrifice can hurt plenty, but still have little worth in the eyes of God.
I desire mercy, not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6), God tells us. In other words, sacrifice for its own sake or sacrifice with any other object or person in mind than God Himself is, in the end, futile, a chasing after wind (Ecclesiastes 1:14).
Our sacrifice cannot have any other object than to please God. Period.
That's what Jesus did.
I come to do the will of my Father.--John 6:38
It is a near-misnomer to say that Jesus came to save us.
He did save us, but that was not His main aim. His aim was to obey His Father. His Father wanted us saved, so Jesus saved us. But, had His father wanted Him to do something else, He would have done the other thing.
Jesus was more obedient than He was sympathetic. And we are to follow His example.
If we don't, our sacrifices become dependent on their results.
Think about it. We naturally want our sacrifices to bear fruit. We want our children to respond to us when we do something special for them. We want the money we donate to be well spent. We want the unbeliever we befriended to come to follow Christ. We want the person we took in to amend their life.
But often, they don't. And we feel drained, betrayed, taken advantage of.
That's the clue.
If, when we have done something for someone and they have not responded in the way we hope for, making us angry or disappointed or discouraged, we have done it for the wrong reason.
Remember Jesus. We often say that Jesus would have died for the sake of saving just one soul. That's true. but it's also true that He would have died for the salvation of no souls at all.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.--Romans 5:8
He died equally for those who repent and those who do not. He died for us all. And whether one or a thousand or a million souls or none come to Him as a result, He was successful in what He set out to do.He did His Father's will and it was enough.
When our Lord healed one sick person and not another, He was responding to what His Father asked of Him. When He raised some from the dead and not others, He did the same. When the rich young ruler asked how to be saved, He let the man walk away. He showed Himself to the Samaritan woman, but did not chase after her.
Christ did not consider the feelings of those He loved above those of His Father. He called Peter 'Satan' when Peter opposed Him. He rebuked the apostles for retaliation at Gethsemane. No one, not even those He loved, prevented His obedience. That way, He always stayed in a state of grace. That's how He never sinned.
People often get between us and our God. They don't mean to. And we, I'm convinced, don't mean to put them there. After all, God made them, just like He made us. Loving them is a privilege and one of the wonderful parts of this life.
But we can't confuse loving people with loving God. They are not the same thing.
Everybody's problem will not be ours to solve. We are not to bind up all wounds. We are to sacrifice ourselves to Him and only to Him. He owns us, no one else. We cannot elevate anyone's need above God's.
Sometimes, God does send us as Samaritans to bind up the wounds of someone on the Jericho road, but not always. Sometimes, that man is for someone else or for God Himself. That's why Jesus tells so emphatically to seek God. We have got to learn the difference, or we will add burdens to our lives we were never meant to have.
Any cross we pick up in this life has to be a cross God has given us.
The cross anyone else gives us will be too heavy to carry.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
Jesus Christ. Son of God. Son of Man.
The Bible tells us that He is both these things and simply by the exalted nature of them, these statements carry a lot of weight. I want to understand them, and understand well.
The idea that Jesus is the Son of God seems the easier of the two. After all, the Father Himself declares a number of times that Jesus is His Beloved Son. And I know what a son is. I have two of them. So, if God the Father has a Son, their relationship and shared common nature make sense.
Son of Man, not so much. If Christ is the Son of God, how could He be the son of men as well? And why? And yet, in the Bible, He declares that He is. Son of Man is Jesus' name for Himself.
What do men say that I, Son of Man, am?--Matthew 16:13
Well, it turns out that I'm not the only one who wanted to understand this better. Iraneus, the bishop of Lyons from 177-200 AD, had quite a bit to say about it.*
First, he observed, Jesus passed through every stage of human life. As Adam was made from untilled virgin earth never knowing rain, so did Christ begin His human life in the womb of a virgin. That was the beginning. Afterwards, He grew through common years like any man--preborn, infant, juvenile, adult, and even corpse--so that no man can say he has been left behind in his peculiar state. Christ became fellow of us all. He did not live outside human frailty at any time in his earthly life. Instead, He sanctified all stages and states of life by sharing them.
Christ, as Son of Man, was like me, no matter who I am.
Second, by the very act of taking on flesh, by participating in incarnation, Christ reunited man to God. The fact of His humanity made Him mediator between God and Man.
I think that this is kind of like forgiveness--it happens in stages. The first stage is that in which we forgive an unrepentant sinner to free our own spirit from bitterness and hatred, but in which the complete relationship is not yet restored. So did God come down to unrepentant, clueless man and present Himself, ready and waiting. The second stage, in which our relationship with the sinner is restored through repentance, Christ lived out in His own suffering and death. That freed all penitents to walk through the now-torn veil directly back to the Father.
Christ, as Son of Man, led the way for all men.
Third, Christ overcame Satan as only a man could have done. From the very beginning of His ministry, He exposed Satan's rebellion when He said,
It is written: Worship the Lord thy God and Him only shall you serve.--Luke 4:8
So man, through the Son of Man, nullifies the power of Satan that Adam admitted in Eden. By His own obedience and submission, Christ put Satan in his place.
Later, He goes even further by subjecting Himself to disgrace and physical suffering. Had He not done so, God would have asked men to endure the scourge and turning the other cheek, something He Himself had not endured, effectively elevating the servant above the master. This, He could not do.
And then, when He became the first man to die and rise again, He showed Himself to be the Author of Life, who goes before us all to show the way.
Christ as Son of Man shows me what He created man to be.
In the end, if Christ is not Son of Man, I have no way to understand either the nature of God nor the nature of Man. Only through Him can I understand what I am created to become. Only through His humanity do I understand my own.
*Iraneus, Against Heresies, III
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved...--Acts 16:31
All I have to do is to believe, to have faith in Christ and His saving work on the cross. I have to do nothing, bring nothing of myself to the party. I'm in.
Oh, but then, there's this:
Faith without works is dead.--James 2:26
Did I misunderstand? Maybe not.
Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.--Philippians 2:12
No, I didn't misunderstand. I need faith. I need to believe, and I need to do something about it. I need to work my faith out.
Is there anything else? Well, it turns out there is.
...this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God--1 Peter 3:21
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved...--Mark 16:16
So, I am to believe, and work, and be baptized.
I need to endure.
He who endures to the end will be saved.--Matthew 24:13
Whoever endures to the end will be saved--Matthew 10:22
Believe. Work. Be Baptized. Endure.
Well, which one is it?
Why does it have to be just one?
Why is the instruction to be baptized more important that the others? Or the requirement to believe? Can't they all go together? Don't they have to? And more importantly, why do we beat each other up about this? Is it really that important for us to be right so that we can make everyone else wrong?
You see, I think that the Bible is very deep. It's full of rich meaning and we could spend a lifetime unpeeling its layers of revelation, but it's also very simple. God never stutters. The simple answer is not to figure out which of these requirements for salvation apply, but to take them at face value, all of them, the plain way that God says them.
'Believe' is a verb, not just a mental exercise. Believing is not diminished by doing something about our belief.
Imagine a tightrope walker about to cross Niagra Falls. He asks the crowd, "Do you believe I can make it?" "We believe!" they answer and so he sets out. An hour later, he reaches the other side. Then he asks them, "Do you believe I can cross blindfolded?" "We believe!" they answer again. And again, he crosses successfully. The third time he asks the crowd, "Do you believe I can cross with a man on my back?" Again they answer, "We believe!" That's when he asks for a volunteer. The one not willing to go, of course, is the one who does not believe.
Belief and action go together. One is not better than the other. They all exist together. They have to.
Grammar. Semantics. We spend way too much time, as Christians, differentiating between ourselves, pointing fingers, so sure that we are right and the folks across the street are wrong. Christ died for us all. The least we can do is to show Him that we were worth it.
Belief lives not only in our brain or our emotions. It has arms and legs. It moves and testifies. It not only changes us. It helps change the world.
Saturday, April 5, 2014
God, however, does not forget. Not in the same sense that I do, anyway. He doesn't remember the way I do, either.
For me, remembering is a mental exercise, something I do in my head. For God, however, remembering is an action verb. God doesn't have a brain, after all. He's a spiritual being and doesn't have...well...parts. He's one thing. He can't forget, so He doesn't have to remember.
But the Bible says He does.
I will remember my covenant...--Genesis 9:15
So, when God promises to remember, what exactly does He mean?
When God remembered Noah in Genesis 8:1, He sent a great wind to dry off the earth.
When God remembered Abraham in Genesis 19:29, He rescued Lot from Sodom.
When God remembered Rachel in Genesis 30:22, He opened her womb.
When God remembered the Israelites in Exodus 6:5-6, He brought them out of Egypt.
What, then, is remembering to God?
When God remembers, He doesn't just slap His forehead saying, "Oh-that's where I left the Hebrews." When He remembers, He is acting. In every one of these examples, He is enacting rescue.
To God, remembering = doing something.
And the reverse is also true.
When God stops remembering, He does not forget in the same way we do. It's not only His memory that's affected. To God, not remembering means not acting.
And, for us, God's forgetting is good.
I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.--Isaiah 43:25
He remembers your sins no more.
This forgetting does not only describe an act of memory. It is God declining to act.
This is the Good News of Jesus and the cross.
Because of what Christ did on Calvary, God forgets. He will no longer mete out the punishment we earned for our sin. He no longer remembers. He chooses not to act.
Remembering is acting.
Forgetting is declining to act.
That's how God does it.
We can do it that way, too.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
But the bird loved Luke. He obeyed him and delicately took treats from his hands. He looked like he wanted to tear my head off, but at the very same time he showered affection on his trainer. He always seemed to me a study in contradictions, but now that I think of it, maybe not. Maybe he was simply an illustration.
The fact is that I am sometimes very much disturbed by the military imagery and examples in the Bible. I don't like them and don't want to study them. But they're there, and I can't ignore them.
God tells us that we are to put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:13), and that we are to take sides.
Whoever is not with me is against me.--Matthew 12:30
Our faith brings us into conflict:
If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.--John 15:18
It makes us choose:
Choose today whom you will serve-Joshua 24:15
It makes us find one way and one way only, leaving the rest behind.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a word behind you saying, "This is the way. Walk in it."--Isaiah 30:21
The Bible unveils so much battle, so much warring between good and evil. It just leaves me wanting a time of peace, but doesn't promise it any time soon.
They give assurance of peace when there is no peace.--Jeremiah 8:11
How is it possible, then, to wear the unfading beauty of a quiet and gentle spirit? (1Peter 3:4) How am I to learn to be calm and tender when I am also to be arming myself for war?
And then I remember Luke's hawk.
How he loved and nuzzled his owner.
I remember its eyes after Luke removed the hood that covered its head while they traveled--how it looked at me with cold challenge, sinister and dangerous.
He scared me, not because he intentionally wanted to, but because he could do nothing else. He was always armed for battle and it showed. His threat was always part of him. Even if he did nothing but sit on Luke's arm, wings folded back, talons tense on the gauntlet.
The hawk did not inspire gentleness or mercy. Instead, he inspired caution and warning. I didn't want to get anywhere near him.
But Luke did. Luke knew what the hawk would do, when he would do it, and to whom. He knew that the hawk, with all it's power to hurt, even to kill, could also sit quietly by his side, content to wait with him. To Luke, the hawk was indeed quiet and gentle.
When I think of a gentle bird, I think most readily of a dove--its soft, grey song, nearly a moan, and its soft round profile. A dove has almost no hard edges and it harms nothing. She is quiet. She is calm. She is gentle.
Not the hawk. Even while the hawk sits silent, it carries a mute threat.
So, who is gentler--the dove that cannot hurt, or the hawk that can but chooses to refrain? And which kind of gentleness does the Bible tell us to wear?
Me, I'd prefer to be like the dove--harmless and full of grace. But I don't think I'm given that option.
I am supposed to be a warrior, skilled in destruction, single minded in defense of the Truth. I am to arm myself for battle and be ready to attack when my master gives me direction. I am not allowed pacific helplessness. I am not allowed to let others fight a battle for which God instructs me to prepare and, when necessary, to fight.
God made doves, but He did not make us doves. Doves do not arm themselves, but I must.
I am told to be humble, but also not to faint when tested.
I am told to be charitible, but also to reject whoever rejects God.
I am told to be kind, forgiving, and meek, but to stand for the Lord.
I am told to be a hawk.
Quiet until the time for action comes.
Controlled and focused until I am released.
Peaceful until the day of battle arrives.
Put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground and,when you have done everything, to stand.--Ephesians 6:13