Wednesday, October 31, 2012
The Tomato that Ate Cleveland
It's that time of year again, when horror becomes the pastime du jour.
But most of what passes for horror is only silliness.
Want to see real horror?
Don't bother looking into the ridiculously manufactured faces of Jason or Frankenstein.
Try looking into the face of our holy God, knowing that you have offended Him and that He does not have to do more than think about your death to make it happen, and that His face turned away will be eternity in howling darkness.
Think about sin, your sin.
You will know when you get it, when the reality of it dawns on you.
You will know.
Why have these people turned away?..They cling to deceit;..no one repents of his wickedness, saying, "What have I done?--Jeremiah 8:5-6
"What have I done?"
The sadness, the devastating reality, the...repentance.
That is horror. Real horror.
Not the movies, not any fright fest, no trick or treating.
We have to go there, you know. And often.
Repentance is not a Sunday thing, not a just-before-church thing, not even a daily thing.
The best repentance comes right away, moment by moment, the same way we sin.
"What have I done?"
And when we know, and repent, Christ will show us again what He has done.
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Or a Buddhist, or a Mohammedan, or a Muslim.
I know that God exists.
He made me. His power drives the world.
Somewhere, from up high and far away, He influences my life.
I try to serve Him. I try to obey Him. I reach out to love Him, to draw near to Him, but He is too terrible, too far.
He speaks to men sometimes, but they don't benefit much from the conversation. They are too flawed themselves.
Such men have stood so near God as to hear His voice in thunder and whisper, to feel the heat of His fire, to witness His blinding brightness, but even then, they fail.
They smash His personally engraved tablets in a fit of anger.
They fear their king so deeply that they tell him their wife is their sister.
They sleep with their captain's wife, then kill him to cover it up.
No, these men, though they have spoken with God, do not help much at all.
And, because I am a Jew, there is no Jesus.
God shows no gentleness, little mercy, no offered fellowship, no shared humanity.
I long for God, but know that He will not share His heaven with the likes of me.
I can never know my God.
Then I remember Simeon:
Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of your people Israel.--Luke 2:29-32
He saw Jesus on the day of His presentation in the Temple.
One look. That's all it took to change an impossible contradiction into hope and a future.
Not a God far away, but God in my own skin.
Simeon, a faithful Jew, but as sad and impatient as the rest, had waited for the promise.
And it came.
It came to him in the same way that it comes to everyone--in one moment.
I look up and He is there.
My Savior lives.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Most of us aren't.
Or are we? I mean, rich compared to who?
We might not be rich compared to Bill Gates, but how about compared to someone living in the Middle Ages, who feared plague or walked in cow dung every day? Or in Renaissance Europe, when courtiers carried perfumed hankies because people and places stank so badly? Or modern Ethiopia, where starvation kills thousands of people every day?
We are, in fact, richer than we ordinarily think.
We live in a place and time of comfort and privilege. No one dies of starvation here. We do not wake to the sound of gunfire. Our lives are luxuriant beyond that of ancient kings.
But are very poor in one way. We can no longer see God.
We are the ones Jesus spoke of when He said,
Blessed are they who have not seen, yet believe.--John 20:29
We have not seen.
Moses, Abraham, and Noah have long ago died. The burning bush is extinguished. The voice on Sinai is silent. Jesus does not walk among us. We cannot, by word of mouth, learn of something He did just yesterday in the next town.
We need one thing those poorer people did not.
If we are to know God, we must have faith.
No earthly privilege will bring it.
No wealth can buy it.
We will not stumble upon it hanging on a cross in the town square.
Still, God made us for this time.
Faith is part of our intended destiny and, indeed, it is our privilege.
Because we cannot see, we must believe.
The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.--Psalm 145:18
Saturday, October 20, 2012
Sadness, loneliness, loss, physical pain, emotional hurt?
More often then not, this is the audio to that: "Me. Me. Me."
Even empathy for someone else transfers from our own remembered pain.
Our tears are almost always all about us.
I do it, too.
We begin at birth with a cry of outrage when life smacks us with cold and discomfort, and we wail at its first assaults.
And they keep coming.
And, when they seem too much, we cry.
Did Jesus cry at birth?
He felt the pain and cold, too, but did He cry?
He wept later, but in very specific circumstances--over the sins of His people, and again at Lazarus' grave. He wept for the death of people he loved. In no recorded instance did He cry over personal loneliness, insult, betrayal, or desertion.
Not like we do.
Jesus' flesh felt every body blow as deeply as our does, but He did not cry over them.
Think about Him at His weakest moment--in the garden, sweating blood in an agony of anticipated suffering.
"Let this cup pass", He begged, but it would not.
He had come to the end of His human resources, but He did not cry.
I cry because I do not master my flesh.
Jesus, Master of all things, did.
He felt every pain, every hurt, as deeply as I do, but He did not give in to them.
Why not? What was the difference?
He knew Himself.
He knew His Father.
He had already won.
I am supposed to know this, too, and in this knowledge, self-pity has no place.
Can I hold His kind of mastery over myself all the time? No.
But in this, like in all things, Christ says,
"My yoke is easy."
From the very first ones, all of my tears have been selfish.
Yes, tears sometimes come as a release, too, and I will still shed these, but I have no real reason to cry. Not ever. Not really.
My Savior lives. He loves and cares for me.
What could I possibly cry about in the face of that?
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Something has been bothering me for a long time.
Something about mission trips, and public ministry, and faith extravaganzas.
We plan them, we talk them up, we go to them.
And they look good. They bring God into public view and seem to honor Him. Some say that they change the lives of those who witness them, and maybe they do.
But is it possible that we are also hiding behind them?
Are we hiding our own inadequacies, our own distance from God?
For whom do we travel to a distant place, dance, or sing, or preach or perform streetcorner dramas? For unbelievers? Really?
And maybe we do it to drag our own sorry behinds back to God.
I know this:
We stay close to the ones we love, if not bodily, then in spirit.
If we want to connect with someone we care about, we do not have far to go--they will hear a sigh, a whisper. We will not need to shout. If we want to touch them, we need only lean in their direction. They are already near.
It is the same with Christ. We need to stay near Him, too.
My lover is mine and I am His.--Song of Solomon 2:16
If we care about our Savior, we will not need any spectacular display. We draw near to Him with little prayers and exclamations, with everyday favors and tender moment-by-moment murmurs because He is already close by.
And He is there because He is our dearest love, and the place we find the beauty of holiness.
Sunday, October 14, 2012
Why? Aren't they just shoes?
Yes, they are only shoes, but, oh, the feet that wore them! That's what folks pay for.
Like the guitar John Lennon played, or a pen that signed the Declaration of Independence, an object can be elevated beyond its intrinsic value by its user.
Ok, you get that.
Now, pinch yourself.
You are made of flesh and blood. We each occupy our own body and most of us are nothing special, pretty much like one another in composition and appearance.
But what if God put on identical flesh and blood, pulled on our own skin, and age, and pain? What if He laced up a human body as His version of a pink football shoe? How would that flesh change?
Well, He did it, of course.
God did take on flawed flesh and wore it in His own game.
He wore it every moment...all the way into the end zone.
And when He did that, He changed the flesh, the game, everything.
Aaron Rodgers' pink shoes are still just pink shoes, though, just like before he put them on.
When God took on our humanity, our sickness and death became something else.
He not only made us part of Him, but He put part of Himself in us.
And the one body, the one He wore, He eventually put aside, perpetually undefiled, because it was His.
When Jesus put on flesh, He declared that He wants us to be like Him--not in exaltation, but in sacrifice and humility.
"Be holy," He says, not as men made to be Gods, but like God made man.
Who, being in very nature God...made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness..." --Philippians 2:6-7
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only...--John 1:14
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
He wants me to go into a quiet place, to shut the door, and to concentrate on Him alone.
No distractions, no interruptions.
When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.--Matthew 6:6
And then He sends me life.
A thousand details.
Like toddlers banging on the bathroom door they come, crying, "Me, me, me..."
Make beds. Do dishes. Change diapers. Check off lists. Make appointments. Drive someone to practice. Return phone calls. Kiss an owie. Pack a lunch. Dust.
And He sends all this stuff on purpose.
He does it to teach me to love Him.
He knows that love is born in details.
When I do something big, something significant for God, I learn to love the act, not Him, or love the result or, worse yet, myself.
"Thank you for this opportunity to serve you, God and, by the way, look at the cool thing I did. Didn't I do a good job?"
On the other hand, a temporarily dry bottom or the top of a refrigerator finally wiped clean or a prayer said on the way to the grocery never inspires such obvious congratulation.
In small works of devotion, the ones invisible to all but God Himself, we encounter Him alone.
He sent me these responsibilities. He put them in my path. They come from Him as gifts for communion.
And they make me more like Him.
Small, insignificant tasks become, if I let them, the prayers I say without ceasing.
Whatever you do, whether word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through Him.--Colossians 3:17
Saturday, October 6, 2012
It's everywhere, sticking up in all directions--bunched up, knotted.
And one of the first things you do is to run a brush through the mess.
Bet you didn't know it was like the Spirit giving love.
Let's start here:
The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.--Galatians 5:21
Not fruits. One thing.
Love IS joy, IS peace, IS patience, and all the rest.
All connected, all imparted at the same time from the Spirit.
And it all comes from love.
God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Whom He has given us.--Romans 5:5
The Spirit is the one Source from which we example all the ways that changed who we once were into someone God now recognizes as His own, remade in His image.
Obedient divine love transforms the tangled mess of our life into the reflection of God Himself.
When God sends His Spirit, He gives us the one thing, the only thing, that tames our wild disarray of sin.
We slept in sin, and in the process made a mess of our life, but when morning came, the Spirit greeted us with the light of new life and love.
Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.--Ephesians 5:14
...only one thing is needed, and it will not be taken away from her.--Luke 10:42
We should see, when we look in the mirror, not the disheveled head of sin, but the beautifully adorned image of our God.
And that is a good hair day indeed.
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
And, boy, do they look good.
All of them.
Start a Bible study. Go on a retreat. Take Aunt Mabel shopping. Write a book.
They take me in all kinds of directions.--first one way, then another.
I work, and work, and sometimes very little gets done.
It feels like I'm sniffing my way around, looking for the right scent.
I feel frustrated, scattered, wasted.
Is anything getting accomplished? Do my efforts produce anything of value?
Satan provides inspiration, too, and he doesn't worry about how many ideas or "inspirations" we have, or how many plans we make, as long as nothing gets done.
God's way looks different.
Whether you turn to the right and to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, This is the way. Walk in it.--Isaiah 30:21
God always tells us the way to go. Are we listening?
How often do I forsake a smaller, obvious good in favor of a vague future that looks better but never comes to pass?
God's vision doesn't ever look like ours.
It often looks smaller, less ambitious, than the ones we sniff at so ardently, but it is, in the end, straighter.
Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the Spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went.--Ezekiel 1:12
A dog smells his way and, in the process, gets constantly distracted.
We are to watch and listen for God to go before us, then follow not our nose, but Him.