Monday, October 31, 2011

Regaining the Image

God made us, He says, in His own image. What does that mean, exactly? I know that, when I look in the mirror, I see an image of myself, but applying that same logic to God confuses me. I know that I don't look like God but, on some level, He tells me that I do or was meant to.

Sounds like there is some work to do. God agrees:

Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and act according to His good purpose.--Philippians 2:13

Work has to happen on both sides.

God works in us, but He does not work in us to make us better people. He works to change us to be so much like Him that we will, or want, the same things that He does.

Then, we work out what He has worked in. Once we turn our eyes on God, this is our only job, and we fear and tremble at the magnanimity of it.

God works Himself into us until our wills change, letting the salvation He wrought work itself into actions. He does not stop until we see only His own face.

We become better people in the process, but not primarily in our relationships with other men, but in our relationship with Him.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Striking the Perfect Note

At a symphony, when the conductor raises his hands and the music begins, its beauty comes less from each individual instrument than from the whole of them...their magnificence is in their union. Even the meaning of the word "concert" includes an understanding of beauty arising from what happens when individual components work together.

Prayer is like this. God does not answer every prayer, only those within His will and His will, like the symphony, has one intended direction. As when violins, one by one, join with the composer's will for them to make something beautiful, so it is with prayer.

Perfect harmony is the power of both music and prayer.

We tend to measure the efficacy of our prayers by those God grants, but fulfilled prayer says much less about us than it does about Him because we tend to forget its dependence on His will.

When God grants our prayers, He is telling us that we are on the right road, that we have found at least one single point where we have properly cast our lot with Him. God gives us what we want when it is the same thing He wants.

Granted prayer testifies to the glory of one clear note of communion.

This, then, is how you ought to pray: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. --Matthew 6:9-10

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Glory of Dirt

Work. God gave Adam work to do in Eden and He gives it to us, too. Every day. We have jobs to do at home and outside, for our families and for others. We even have to take care of ourselves, and that is work, too.

God tells us to do work for His glory, so I try to sort through the jobs He brings for the glory they hold, but it's often hard to find. I rarely see glory in mowing the lawn or doing dishes. It's hard to see any glory in doing homework or mediating arguments or in listening to someone bemoan their own troubles for the umpteenth time. I want to see God in these, but He doesn't show up and I just end up tired with dirty hands.

And yet, these are the jobs God has brought. Am I looking at this the wrong way? Is it possible that I cannot choose what brings God glory, but that He chooses it by bringing it to me? Does God mean to teach me about what He wants by laying it at my feet and asking me to pick it up and do something with it? Does it really matter how the job looks from my point of view?

Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Who has ever given to God that God should repay Him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.--Romans 11:34-36

Come to think of it, the work Jesus did on the cross didn't look very glorious at the time, either. In the end, it is for God, not me, to choose the work that brings Him glory. And He shows it to me every day by laying it at my feet. I don't have to choose it; in fact, with my limited view, I can't. But He can, and does.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wake Up, Sleeper!

Every night, we look forward to sinking peacefully into sleep, drifting off with relief, unafraid and grateful, expecting to wake with refreshment and renewal. Sleep is a little death, and as we wake from it, we know a daily rising, a triumphant new life.

God made us to need sleep and He did it for a reason. In making daily dying and rising a necessary part of our lives, He teaches something about Himself: for every death, large and small, a waking follows.

Unconsciously, we let go of our life every night when we close our eyes in full expectation that we will open them again. Sleep rarely brings stress or rebellion--it relieves them, but the sleeping and waking pattern God established is harder to apply to other situations in which He also tells us to let go.

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.--Galatians 5:24 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, and God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.--Ephesians 2:1,6

As we die daily in sleep, so are we to die daily to sin and, eventually, die physically. He has already established the pattern: a waking follows each one, a waking with Him.

As I lay myself down every night to a relieved sleep, confident that I will wake up in the morning renewed, so must I lay down a used-up sinful life to be reborn in Christ and look forward to a final physical death from which I will finally wake up where the sun never sets.

Photo courtesy of Kristen W, Writers' Alley

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How Beautiful...

Grapes on the vine crowd one another, lush and full of juice, but if they continue to hang there, serve no purpose. To make wine, they must be crushed, and the crushing is our job. It makes a mess, to be sure, but the beauty of the resulting slurry, or must, lies in its promise. From this, along with an expert winemaker's intervention, will come a beverage not only beautiful, but full of goodness.

And so the gospel. When we employ the Word of God and its power in our lives, we stir things up. Things get messier before they straighten out, both in our own lives and in those around us. But oh, what a beautiful result!

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!--Romans 10:15

Photo credit:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Only One Job Left...

Every morning, the day spreads before us full of tasks and obligations, each of them clear and each commensurate with our station in life: go to work, feed a baby, tend an invalid, shop, wash, repair, plant. We know what we have to do. We keep a list of it.

You, God, have put us in this life's place and intend it for our good. If we accomplish the tasks you set us, we stand good and obedient before You. Like a child who makes his bed or ties his shoes, then raises his eyes to be praised, we do what you ask of us.

You want more than practical work, however. You want repentance, goodness, self-control, perseverance, godliness, kindness, love, discipleship, fellowship, the breaking of bread, prayer. These rise before us, too--our spiritual to-do list.

The same to-do lists that frame our days, however, also separate us from you. Their objects, the people and tasks they involve, so easily block our view of You, who are their real purpose. We forget we do not live to do jobs for you, jobs you could more easily do Yourself. Instead, we live to find You.

You want us to want you and have woven tasks into our constant yearning. You are found within the tasks you give, and the tasks exist only as framework or venue. They are not You. We are not to achieve tasks. We are to achieve communion. Even if we check everything off, if we do our jobs well, both earthly and spiritual, we could still have left our most important task undone.

In the end, we have only one item on our list: to know You.

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as silver and search for it as hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.--Proverbs 2:1-5

I will go before you and level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I AM the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.--Isaiah 45:2-3

You give me jobs so that I can find You in the context of a life You created and embellished for one purpose. My job is not to complete all the tasks to find You; it is to know You every moment while I do them. The work itself is prayer. The work is worship. It is obedience. It is where I reach out and You meet me.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pilate's Good Question

The Ten Commandments look so easy. Short and sweet...Thou shalt...Thou shalt not. They state their instructions simply and clearly, like number nine:

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.--Exodus 20:16

Don't lie. Simple and straightforward. Tell the truth, all the time. Like when a witness puts his hand on the Bible in court--"I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." Not three things, but one. The truth with nothing added and nothing left out.

But the commandment raises another question, a much harder one:

Jesus answered..."Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."
"What is truth?" Pilate asked. --John 18:38

Good question. I want to tell the truth and to act on it, but what is it? How can I tell that what I believe is real? It takes work.

I am not only responsible to believe, but to verify.
If I hear something on CNN, don't repeat it before I verify it.
If Aunt Mabel tells me something about someone, don't believe it, verify it.
If my pastor preaches a sermon, check it out before I take it in.
Even the Bible begs verification--through history, through science, through nature, through my own experience.

Truth is not what I am told, but what I know because I have investigated and learned. Truth is what reality and facts support. Truth is what IS.

The Lord God calls Himself the I AM for a reason. He exists in one way and one way only. He can never be what He is not, no matter what I believe.

God made only one truth and I have to find it. The truth originates in Him, not in my feelings or my lofty imagination. I can care about people and listen to what they say, but God requires ruthlessness on this point: if what people say does not agree with what He says through the many ways He has said it, I cannot believe it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Real Will Power

Our bodies house tremendous power. Our hearts beat relentlessly, pushing blood through miles of vessels. Muscles move on command and electrical impulses carry communication from our brains to extremities in an instant. It's possible to chart how these systems work, but not all of what makes up a human being responds to a doctor's measurement. Medicine can prod a brain, but not a mind. A textbook can illustrate a muscle, but not the will.

Something incorporeal drives our physical systems, something not made from cells. Thought and desire do this, and we call them our will.

The will has power, too. Anyone who has seen the movie "Green Lantern" will recognize this--the hero has a ring that projects his thoughts, his will, on anything at which he points it. This ring, the one that harnesses his will, gives him power over everything around him, and he likes that power.

Who doesn't? When I make something happen, I feel good, too. The movie misses something important, though. I can will something destructive as easily as I can will help or rescue, and my limited vision doesn't always know the difference. Jesus knew this too, and offered a simple solution:

I seek not to please myself, but Him who sent me.--John 5:30

I don't have a ring bringing intergalactic power, but I do have a strong will, one that can indeed change the world around me. I can use it for good, like the Green Lantern, but only if I subject it to another will upon which I can completely rely.

May Your will be done--Matthew 26:42

My will is easy to spot. It starts with the thought, "I want...." This is the place where I have to catch myself and redirect my view beyond me to You.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Drawing up the Nectar

Even now, when autumn has taken firm hold, butterflies frequent my backyard garden. They float delicately on the last of the season's warm breezes, flapping a little, but mostly gliding from one flower to the next, sipping on each one. They don't live long, but look beautiful for a while, lay eggs, then die.

I know people like them. They are beautiful and smile a lot. They move easy, and shift readily to find places where a benevolent sun shines. They wave lightly and settle in for as long as it lasts, until a challenging puff of wind unseats them and they look for another tranquil spot. Their fragile wings do not bear mistreatment.

A bee's lot is different. He is sturdy because he has work to do. He buzzes a warning, but stings interruption. An ungainly lump, he flies with purpose and stays at a flower only long enough to gather what he must transfer elsewhere. He builds for other purposes than his own.

It's a matter of motive, I think. Each creature, butterfly and bee, become what they must for their specific purpose. As in uninvolved onlooker, I prefer the beauty of the butterflies, but farmers don't agree. For farmers, bees pollinate crops and bring fruit forth from flowers. Butterflies produce nothing but more butterflies.

Of course, neither insect chooses their what purpose to serve, but we do. For men as for insects, actions follow purpose. What we do is a consequence of what we most value, what we build a result of what we believe.

Don't you know that when your offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey--whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?--Romans 6:16

I am going to follow something, to obey someone's call, and my actions will fall in line with that call. I will live, I will drink from the flower, and I can do it as a butterfly, that is to nourish only myself, or as bee, to build up for something more, for an almighty motive. In either case, I give my life, become a slave, to what I live for.

Thought for today: Whose purpose drives your actions?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Coloring Inside the Lines

Sometime before 1508, Leonardo da Vinci took up a pencil and began to sketch. He knew what men were meant to be--the image and likeness of God--and he intended to remind them in a place where they would have to look toward heaven to see it--on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. He drew boldly, a muscular Adam, naked and vulnerable in his first moments of life, but his first strokes bore only a shadow of what da Vinci saw in his head.

His first sketches incorporated no color, no texture, no life. Only black and white, they carried the image, but shared no likeness with the finished product. They didn't yet breathe.

We share the same incomplete state. God created us in His image but intends for us His likeness, and as we live and let Him do His work in us, He fills in the empty places, transferring with His own finger an eternal glory only He can confer.

We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is Spirit.--2Corinthians 3:13,16,18

We begin as an outline, a vague echo of our Creator, and as we live and daily approach Him with sincere humility and reverence and repentant acknowledgement of sin, He fills in all the empty places with His own life, His own blood. One by one, all the small details bring dimension and make us more real, not only more like what God made us in His head, but like the first Adam, perfectly complete, who walked in Eden by God's side in the cool of every day. We take on life, and what began as a poor shell assumes heavenly glory.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Math of Name and Word: 3 + 2 = Infinity

You told Abraham to leave Ur for Canaan. Your voice burned through a bush in Sinai. You called to Samuel in his sleep. You gave gentle revelation to the crowds on a grassy plain at the foot of Hermon. You ate chatty dinners with your friends. You whisper in my secret thoughts. You know my name. I want to say Yours.

You have made Yourself known from three different faces: as the Father who spoke in fire and smoke to the patriarchs, as the Son who scuffed His sandals beside created men in humble dust, and as the Spirit who remains accessible even now when I look for You. You have spoken to us, and, for the times when we speak back, You have ordained a special place for Your Name.

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His Name; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.--Psalm 29:2
I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your Name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your Name and your Word.--Psalm 138:2

You are known as three, through contact with three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. But how is that contact achieved? I can't touch You any more. The bush no longer burns. The mountain at Sinai rises stern and silent. But other contact points remain--Your Name and Your Word. This is where You speak today, where I can still discover You in Your dwelling place.

You made men with a desire to touch You; it is natural for men to call upon You. But Your Name isn't a label for You, it IS You, like Your Word IS You. They stand as holy gateways through which I can find everything You are.

You command me to treat your Name with reverence because when I handle Your Name, I touch Your Person. You command me to follow what You reveal in Your Word, because when I do, I approach Your throne. The only way to do these things is with reverence and awe. Anything else is blasphemy. Your Hebrew name, still unpronounceable, reminds me. When I say "God", or any of its derivative versions, a glimpse of eternity settles into this poor world.

Thought for today: How do you use the Name of God?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Looking into the Bush

Days in the sheepfold stretched out long and peaceful. Moses listened to shy wind in the trees, watched mild sheep graze in long fields. Birds sang and, though his ears always rose attentive for the wolf, he brought his animals in and out in satisfaction. His wife waited at home with a hot meal and his children wrapped their arms around his legs in greeting when he walked through the door. He worshiped God in those days, and lived in as much harmony with Him as exile allowed. God gave him a good life and he lived it in gratitude.

Now, Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the flames of fire from within the bush. God called to him from within the bush, "Moses, Moses!" Then He said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.--Exodus 3:1,2,4,6

The bush burned, but did not burn up. The flames crackled and their heat drove Moses back in fear. Their light hurt his eyes. And it did not extinguish. It lit the desert before him, illuminated Horeb as a backdrop. What moments before had been an ordinary day burned with glory that left him barefoot and shaking. He found no comfort here.

That day, You called Moses to more--more than shepherding, more than father and family, more than content Hebrew exile. You set him on a road that would eventually shred his old life, but one on which he would see you face-to-face.

You do the same for us. The leap we make when we initially set out eyes on Your road and start walking is only the first. At some point, You ordain a second. Some day, while we are peacefully attending our flock, faithfully seeing to the life You have given, studying, worshiping, serving, You call our name and beckon us to more. You set a bush aflame before us, rise up in new glory, and say "Here I AM!"

That day, You call us to worship only You--not an image of You, not an idea of You, not the motion of worship, not a reflection of You. You intend to shred our life, too, and fill the void with Yourself. That is the second moment of decision, and we face it in fear, because You have unmasked Yourself before us.

Thought for today: In what ways is God calling you to more than a well-managed life with Him? Where do you feel the fear of abandoning your life to Him?