Monday, February 27, 2012

Going Out to Fish

Like you probably do, I start each day with a fair idea of what I am going to do in it.  Even when I don't make a list, I usually know whether I will go to work or the grocery store or to lunch with a friend.

But God switches life up sometimes. 

Like a couple of weeks ago, when I started the afternoon visiting with a young mom and finished it in the emergency room.  Once the dust settles, you just kind of look around, shake your head a little, and wonder, "Now what?"

I think that Jesus' disciples  felt the same way during the weeks following the resurrection.  They'd been traveling with Jesus for years.  They knew what He wanted them to do every day.  "Follow me," He told them and they did.

But now they couldn't. Overnight, their life and mission evaporated.  They couldn't follow Jesus where He was going.  Most of the time, they didn't even know where He had gone.  The heck with it, they thought.

"I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you."  So they went our and got into the boat...--John 21:3

Why not?  They didn't have anything else constructive to do.  Jesus hadn't given them any other direction.  Might as well go back to the one thing they knew they were good at.

Jesus had told them once that He would make them fishers of men, but without Him, they didn't know how to begin.   Jesus had already accomplished salvation.  His work was done.  Was theirs done, too?

Then, just as suddenly as their work looked over, Jesus again lit their way.  Before the night was out, they had a boat full of fish and they were having breakfast with Christ again.  Even better, by the time they were done eating, He had begun to explain what they were to do.

Feed my sheep.--John 21:17

Peter and the gang were off and running again.  And it works the same way for us.

Sometimes, God shifts our gears and in the pause between, we feel at bit at a loss, somewhat out of focus.  But it won't last.  Just wait a bit.  At some point, He'll tell you what to do. 

And, in the meantime, you might as well go fishing.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Getting Close, Getting Dirty

Life's not fair.  Most of us think we have already figured that out, but I'm not so sure.

We know that strangers may not be kind, that politicians and businessmen may not act honorably, and that employers may put their own interests before ours, but we surely expect spouses to love well, friends to be there when we need them, and church people to practice what they preach.

But they don't.  And, unlike strangers, the ones we care about hurt us when they don't.  Sometimes a lot. When they do, it's important to remember something.

We are all cut from the same cloth--dirty rags.  There is no one on this earth for us to love but other sinners.

I do not like suffering for someone else's sin, but if my son is an addict, I will.  If my best friend cheats on her husband, I feel the grime of it.  If my pastor steals from the church treasury, I know the sting of his defamation.  The more we invest in a relationship, the closer we get to someone, the more we rub up on their dirt, and they on ours. 

There is an upside to  this, though.  When we bear with each other's faults, we stay together to enjoy the triumphs. 

After the suffering of His soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied.--Isaiah 53:11
God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.--2Corinthians 5:21

We, who are already dirty, further foul one another.  It's a dirty world.  But Christ, who knew no corruption, assumed all of ours and in doing so, He makes us all clean.

Sin hurts those closest to the sinner. The closer we get to one another, the more we risk. A hug transfers more mud than a handshake.  But that's OK.  We'll all get clean clothes later.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Outside the Gate

At the creation of the world, God made our bodies in His own image.  He pronounced them very good and indeed they are, but He made them good, not holy.  Our bodies require sanctification. We look like Him, but we do not bear His perfection.   

We might come eventually to wear His glory, but we must endure the fire to do so.

The High Priest carries the blood of animals to the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp--Hebrews 13:11
God told His people to separate the useful parts of a sacrificial animal from the bad; meat, fat, and blood came into the holy parts of the temple for dedication.  They separated hair, and skin, and entrails for burning at a place away from God's presence.

The rest of the bull he must take outside the camp to a place ceremonially clean where the ashes are thrown and burn it on an a wood fire on an ash heap.--Leviticus 4:12

God's people, to honor Him, separated what belonged to God from what did not, then sacrificed the first to Him and burned the rest.

God taught us to subject ourselves to the fire, to spend our own bodies in His service.

In fact, He did this Himself.  He demonstrated how to separate what we must spend from what He will save when He walked away from the temple out of the gate, up the hill, and stepped up onto His cross.

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood.--Hebrews 13:12  

Our body houses a perfection God placed in it, a perfection He distills until it can stand beside His own.  This is why we endure the separation and intermittent burning away of what He cannot own.  This is why we bear our sufferings patiently because, as we follow His footsteps up the hill, we come to resemble Him.  And, in the process, He makes us beautiful.

Let us, then, go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore.--Hebrews 13:13

Friday, February 17, 2012

Walk This Way

Jesus told us to follow Him, but it occurs to me that we rarely consider the length or duration of the trip.

When we think to follow, we think to embark on missions or in good works.  Sometimes, we might remember that Christ expects us to follow Him in sacrifice and death.  In other situations, we know that we must follow Him in obedience and love and compassion.  But Jesus' footsteps went much farther.

Jesus began His walk before the creation of the world and it took Him through cool Eden, across desert and drained riverbed, into a cleansing Jordan, up Calvary, through hell's smouldering cinders, and back into His Father's throne room.

From before His declaration that all was good, He already knew the plan, the cross, and the victory.  He calls us to meet Him in all these places.

Our own trip must go as far as His. We, by the grace of creation in God's image, began in promise. Then, by general fall and by personal failure, sank into sin.  The trip is not over, however, until we triumph in reflected righteousness.

We must meet Christ at every point, sacrificed for one another because He went first, then glorified together, walking away hand in hand from the folded grave clothes.

Christ is risen from the dead and become the first fruits of them that slept.  For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection from the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.--1Corinthians 6:20-22
Likewise reckon yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ.--Romans 6:11

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Forgetting to Blush

Our pastor says that we have spiritual lockjaw.  When an opportunity comes to speak about the things of God in a non-church setting, we clam up.  I was thinking about this the other day when, predictably, the phone rang.  And I did it.  I stopped short of what I might have said had I been in church or with a believing friend.  I measured my words so that they became palatable.  When it came time to show my love for Christ, I took a step back, lowered my head, and blushed.

And I remembered...

Mary took a pint of nard and poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair.  And the house was filled with the fragrance of perfume.--John 12:3

Mary did not measure the perfume she used.  She did not stop short of extravagant love in wiping Jesus' feet.  She didn't think first of what the others present in that room might think or how they would receive her actions.  Neither did she do it to poke them, to remind them of their own failings.

She simply loved her Lord.  She could do nothing less.

We are taught how to talk to people about Christ.  We are given phrases, even whole scripts with proofs and logical argument.  We are told to prepare our testimony so that we will know what to say when we have an opportunity.

I am beginning to think that we have got it backward.  Spiritual lockjaw is not an obstacle to be overcome.  It is the result of shallow love. 

I know this because of my love for my husband.  When we walk into a room, I am proud to walk visibly beside him, to hold his hand, to praise him, even to embrace him if the opportunity presents itself.  I do not think twice about this.  It is pure joy. I never measure its cost.

When I measure the cost of my love for Christ, I do so because my love for Him love lacks depth.

I say that Jesus is my Lord, my life, my deepest love.  I really do say this.  But, in the clinch, I don't act like it.

I must come to Christ without artifice, just loving Him out of the richness of our intimacy, an intimacy even deeper than that I share with my husband.  If this love, this intimacy, exists in private, I will not measure it in public.  Its fragrance will fill every room I enter, every situation He brings.  

In the end, I lack not the courage to testify about my God.  I lack a love true enough and deep enough to banish the idea that expressing love for my God takes any courage at all.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Those Who Can't Do

Familiarity breeds contempt.  Hmm.  Some old sayings have merit don't they?  I never considered that this one might have application in the kingdom of God, though.

His Law.  His Word. They become very familiar after awhile.

Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.--Matthew 5:20
I desire to do your will, Oh God.  Your Law is within my heart.--Psalm 40:8

God wants us to keep His Law deep inside, to make it a very part of us: to live it, breathe it, and speak it before we even have to think.  But didn't the Pharisees do that, too?  They spent their days in the Law.  They studied it, interpreted it, taught it.  They wore it, for heaven's sake.  What went wrong?

The Law became familiar, so familiar that it made them contemptible.  

God made the Law as a bulwark, a stronghold to run to.  The Law is God in that it describes the boundlessness of His love and the limits of His pardon.  If we want to find Him on earth, we have only to run to His Law and rest in His Word.

But if we take the law unto ourselves, begin to administrate it from our own flesh, we become Pharisees.

God's law resides only in God.

God proclaims it, God administrates it, God reveals its meaning and the way it is to be understood in practice.  The Law must live in our hearts, but its origin remains in God's.

If we had remained sinless, the Law would have been enough--even one law, the one by which we were not to taste the knowledge of good and evil.  But it didn't work out that way.  God had to expand on the Law so that we could finally begin to understand it.  And then when we still didn't understand, the old teachers expanded it wider and wider, thinking that at some point, they would find the sweet spot between strict enough and good enough that would make the law theirs.  They didn't.

God's Law and His Word remain forever His sovereign property.  We share them only by grace.

The Pharisees did not understand this.  In fact, they, as teachers, may have benefited from another old saying:  Those who can't do, teach.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Transfer by Touch

Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory!"--Exodus 33:18.

Moses had a lot of nerve.  If God showed His face, Moses knew he would die, but he didn't care.  He wanted to see God.  He REALLY wanted to see Him.

And God showed Himself.

God shows Himself to us, too.

We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth--John 1:14

Sometimes, I lose sight of God's plan.  He wants us to see Him.  He wants to transfer His glory to us, to make our face glow with His splendor.  Moses asked for it and got it.  Why don't we?

Like God's relationship with Moses, our relationship with Christ is one of gradually assuming His glory.  Moses knew this.  God Himself tells us that He wants this for us.

Father, I want those you have given Me to be where I am and to see My glory, the glory you gave me because you loved me before the creation of the world.--John 17:24.
We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory...--2Cor 3:18

Christ intended that we share the same glory He got from His Father and He knows how to transfer it.  He passes it on by touch.  We share God's glory by proximity to Christ.  He wants to make us glow with it.  He wants to give us a beautiful piece of Him, His reflection, His likeness.

God is love, but He looks like glory.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Where His Treasure Is

When my mother passed away, she left me her pearl necklace. Heavy, creamy, and perfectly matched, it is beautiful and valuable. It's value, however, does not come from its fine quality or luxurious feel. 

Mother always intended for me to have this necklace; she saved it especially for me, but she didn't particularly want me to think of the pearls when I wear it.  She wanted me to remember her.  The necklace serves as an appropriate inheritance because it served her first as her treasured possession.

God has a treasured possession, too.  God's treasured possession is us.

They will be mine, says the Lord Almighty, on the day when I make up my treasured possession.--Malachi 3:17

In the same way that Mother wanted me to wear and make known what she most valued, God says we are what He most values, and He wants us to be known as His for all the ages.  We are what the Creator of the universe passes down through the generations.  We belong to Him, and He wants to show us off and share us.

Like Mother's pearls, God has worn us next to His very skin.  Some of Him has rubbed off on us and He shows us to the world.  "These," He says, "are mine."

 As God is our pearl of great price, so are we His.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Here is the Church

"Oh, she's a work in progress..."
"God isn't finished with me yet..."
How often have we used familiar words so casually?  They're true enough, but what are we really thinking?

Building evokes grand plans for the future, and God uses them as images for lives of faith intentionally. Putting brick on brick brings hope.  Nailing together fresh 2x4's reminds us that we believe both in beginnings and in completions.  

You will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise.--Isaiah 60:18

Yes, God builds in us something corporeal and firm, something that He expects to stand forever.  We are His temple, and He says we are to be known as Salvation and Praise.  We do not stand as just any common building.  We rise forth as His temple.

You, also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.--1 Peter 2:4-5

God provides both the blueprint and the building materials: faith, love, forgiveness, redemption...all of it.  He places his wood and brick in us one on another over the foundation of His Son and He expects us to stand.

Remember what goes on in a temple:  repentance, restoration, prayer, praise, sacrifice.  This is what is supposed to go on in us.

Remember that childhood game..."Here's the church, here's the steeple..."?  You and I are the church that stands as God's landmark.  You and I are the steeple that calls people to prayer and worship.  You and I welcome the people that throng to our gates. 

God builds on us through His own perfect will and for His own glory.  Unlock the doors, fling them open.  God lives in us.  Work in progress, indeed.