Saturday, March 31, 2012

Glorified Sticks

At this season, a grapevine looks like a dead stick.  The vineyard keeper has ordered all last year's growth cut off, everything that flourished and brought last year's beauty removed.  What he has left stretches plain and unadorned, sad and without promise.  At least to my eyes.

But He looks at things differently.
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will bear much fruit.--John 15:2

Much of what grows in me does not honor God, and He cuts it off because it is useless for His purpose.  He has other plans.  He intends to grow good grapes, and then turn them into wine, into His glory.  Everything whose end does not produce glory goes on the scrap heap.

This is my prayer...that you may be filled...with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.--Philippians 1:11

And, once the vineyard leafs out and begins to produce, God intends to join me in it.  He responds when I grow in Him:

Let my Lover come into His garden and taste its choice fruits.
"I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride."--Song of Solomon 4:16-5:1

This is His promise to be held close and loved as valuable, to live with Him as His bride.  A time will come when pruning is long done.  The sun will shine and the grapes will hang full and ripe.  I will call to Him and He will answer me.  But until then, I am satisfied to be a beloved barren stick waiting for summer.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Light Reflected

A full moon changes the night.  Under its influence, darkness flies away and stars fade against its silver glow.  The glow captures imagination and spawns fables.  Mysterious and fleeting, a full moon makes even radiant sunlight seem common.

But the moon is, and will always be, the lesser light.  In fact, the moon is only a pale mirror, a thief of light from a greater source.

There will be no night here; they will need no candle, neither the light of the sun, for the Lord gives them light and they shall reign forever and ever.--Revelation 22:5

The Lord GIVES THEM LIGHT.  It comes from Him, not them.

I doesn't matter how wise I sound, how good I look, or how cleverly I achieve something.   I, too, am a thief of light. God's light.  This thievery has another name--pride.

Any time I think that something of worth begins with me or belongs to me, I steal credit for what came from God.  And worse, those stolen goods become a roadblock in my life with Him.

Jesus knew this and gave directions regarding what I should do with these stolen goods:
If you will be perfect, go and sell what you have and give it to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.--Matthew 19:21

I only possess what God possessed first, then in grace passed on to me.  What I most value never belonged to me in the first place.  I cannot love God, I cannot worship Him, I certainly cannot reach the heights of relationship He wants for me unless I get this down to my bones. 

I must acknowledge God as the source of all.  Everything depends on this.

What is most precious to me?  My dignity? My talents? My family? My work?  I don't own it.  At best, I get to use them for awhile.  At worst, they own me. 

My light may look pretty cool on a dark night, but that light, that pride, give no warmth, promote no growth.  My light is not mine.  It all comes from God and until I acknowledge Him as Source, I will walk away dejected like the rich young man of Matthew 19--fists clenched and empty.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fighting with Myself

I don't know about you but when I got up this morning, I brushed my teeth, washed my face, got on the scale, took my vitamins, and picked out my clothes for the day.  I paid attention to any new aches, stretched my muscles and got ready to go to the gym.  I may have registered a new wrinkle or blemish.  I paid a lot of attention to my flesh and blood body.  Then I remembered.

While we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened because we do not wish to be unclothed, but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling so that what is mortal will be swallowed up in life.--2 Corinthians 5:4

This body will not last.  It does not house my life. My life comes from God.
In fact, my body ties me to sin.  

God has redeemed my soul.  He lives in me.  So my body, which is still corrupt, still dying, exists as a constant opponent to what lasts forever--my Life, my God.

Because my body does not bring me real life, I walk day after day in uneasy communion, frustration, and war. Until God redeems and restores my physical body as He has done for my soul, I will continue to do this.

My body is mortal--belonging to death.  God is Life. 

The Spirit of God lives in me and, as such, glorifies God.  It can do nothing else.  While I yet live in a body, my job is to remember that His Spirit can and must overcome my  body.  His Spirit is stronger because it came from Him and what life I have comes from that Spirit.

While I live, body and Spirit war constantly, but the Spirit conquers whatever indulgence I am tempted to grant the body.  This is the root and purpose of self-control.  I train my body, which dwindles to eventual dust, to obey my Spirit, which lives forever.

So I still brush my teeth, and try to stay fit, but remember that I cannot become more beautiful or more comfortable.  I will become less so the longer I live.  Not only will my body continue to decline, but as my Spirit becomes stronger, the tension between them will continue to build.  The war between them doesn't end while I live, but escalates as my body demands more and my Spirit grows in God.

We groan inwardly as we wait for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved.  Who hopes for what he already has?...If we hope for what we do not have, we wait for it patiently.--Romans 8:23-25

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Two Elizabeths and Me

I wonder what Queen Elizabeth thinks about being queen.  She has known all her life that she would reign in privilege.  It is part of who she is, but she didn't earn it.  She walked into it, inevitably, with every step, every breath.  All she had to do to be queen is to live.  No one ever expected her to do anything else.

And how about Elizabeth Taylor?

She had to have been strikingly beautiful from birth, her famous eyes causing gasps from the minute she opened them.  When did she discover that she had been given talent as well as beauty?  She did nothing to deserve either, but lived in the grace of them all her life.

When am I going to understand that I am no less privileged, no less blessed than either of them?  In fact, I am more.

I was chosen by the living God to be His own.

You did not choose me, but I chose you...John 15:16

God saved me and I worship Him.  God knows me and I know Him.  God loves me and I love Him.  He grants me this as a sublime privilege in this world.

After all, at the end of time, everyone will know and recognize God.  No one will be able to deny Him.  Now, however, He does not grant that vision to everyone.  He grants that vision, that knowledge, that salvation, to whom He chooses by His goodness alone, and by it we see Him while still in this world.

I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.--Psalm 27:13

You have saved me so that I can worship you.  I do not get to worship without salvation because with salvation comes knowledge and knowledge of God inevitably drives me to my knees.  If I truly worship, I am truly saved.  If I am truly saved, I truly worship.

I am either all in or all out.

I live, like the Elizabeths, as beauty and queen completely or not at all.  If God has granted His favor, I do not need to hide it and pretend that I am like those to whom He has not.  I need to grab all of it or reject it all.  I cannot say that I know and love God and live in condemnation.  I must be all God's or be nothing.

God designated me for this from the beginning of time.  I need to take hold of it.

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.--Philippians 3:12b 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

What Love is Not

Faith in Christ.  Living the Christian life. Loving God and being loved by Him. How does anyone sum it up in a short sentence?  So often, we use John 3:16.  We see it everywhere--car bumpers, tee shirts, placards at football games.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.--John 3:16

And so He did.

We think of our own children, of how we could possibly care enough for anyone or anything to give our children over to death for them.  We cannot conceive of it.  We love our children.  We hold them in our arms. We know their smell, their feel.  Their smiles bring us joy.

But it was not that kind of love that motivated God the Father to hand over Jesus to His executioners.  I am increasingly convinced that God does not act according to emotion.  Ever.

God feels emotion.  Jesus wept, after all, but God's feelings do not drive Him.  God knows that what He feels, and by extension what we feel, is not true love.

We tend to look at John 3:16 from our human perspective of sacrificing our own children's lives, of making them suffer for someone else's benefit, and it's true that God did that.  But a divine transaction also took place on Calvary.

God did not appoint Jesus for the cross, and Jesus did not climb onto that wood or accept the nails out of emotional love for us.  Emotional love is the way we most often try to understand Christ's sacrifice, but emotional love did not drive it.

Something else drives God, an eternal motivator determined from His own character and designated before time began.  God does what He does because His actions emerge from His character, His very Self, His holiness.  

Christ died not because God felt sorry for us but because God is God: righteous, powerful, sovereign, just.

God says He is love.  God's love is God's own Self, not feelings--not pleasure or displeasure, not likes or dislikes, not happiness or sadness.

God's love is determination to work out who He is.  He does what He does because He must.  He made His plan before the creation of the world.  "I will do this," He said, and does.

We can learn to do this, too.  In fact, He commands us to.  We have to, however, shift our eyes from our emotional heart to God's heart.  I love my husband not so much when we kiss or when I feel the rush of emotion but when I enact God's righteous plan for me as a wife.  I love my children more when I set my eyes on God than when I bake their favorite cookies.  I become a godly friend or employee when I look for God's unemotional, righteous heart in all situations and act accordingly.

I have to learn to unpack my idea of love from how I feel.  When we emotionally love, we are looking at one another.  Eternal love is seeking and finding God. 

This is love: not that we love God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Since God loved us, we also ought to love one another.--1John 4:10-11

Try reading the above passage like this:
This is love: not that we (feel emotion for) God, but that He (righteously acts toward) us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Since God (acts righteously toward) us, we also ought to (righteously act toward) one another.

And we can do this by fixing our eyes on Jesus and keeping them unwaveringly there.  This is true love.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


Sometimes, shapes are just perfect.  Take the rainbow.  God made the rainbow with intent, following a pattern, encircling the world with an arc already encircling Him.

Rainbows call to mind the unbroken line that runs from the covenant that God made with the great patriarchs, extending through Jesus directly to us and beyond into eternity.  

The rainbow we see in the sky today is the same one Noah and Abraham and Moses and David saw; that rainbow a delicate echo of the rainbow encircling God's throne in heaven.

Whenever a rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures.--Genesis 9:16
And the one they saw had the appearance of jasper and carnelian.  A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.--Revelation 4:3

We are connected to God both to ages past and to eternity by bonds even He cannot break.

What He says He will do, He does.  This is why we can know security.

He has made us sons and daughters and will keep us. His promises last forever.  He has drawn an unbroken line in the sky to show us . He has given us the rainbow, a vanishing wisp, to remind both us and Himself of a connection that lasts forever.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Why the News is Good

Every Sunday, we sing about how God forgave our sins. Adam and Eve sinned.  I sin.  But Jesus came, sweet Jesus, and died for me.   

Jesus died because God wants us to live.  This is the good news, isn't it?  Knowing this, don't we have something to rejoice over, something wonderful to sing about?

Yes, we do.  But if that is as far as we go, we are missing the point. Jesus says He stands at the door. He stands at it crucified, risen, and waiting. But, the door to what?

He told us.  He showed us.  At the moment of His death on Calvary, the curtain of the temple split.  He opened the door to what lay beyond it...Himself. 

 The body of Jesus hung on the cross, but His nature, the holiness He shares with His Father and His Holy Spirit, had been confined to the darkness of the Holy of Holies behind an impenetrable curtain.  Our forgiveness through His death lets us in.

It's Him.  He is the Good News. 

Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way opened for us through the curtains, that is His body...--Hebrews 10:19-20 (emphasis mine)

Jesus admits us to His own presence.  He tells us to follow Him to Himself.

This is why we sing.  He ushers us in, and there is no other way.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Trying to Kill Obi Wan

He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you..."--2 Corinthinians 12:9a
 My grace is sufficient for you, says the Lord.

No, I say, it's not.

I don't like getting free stuff.  What I get for free doesn't belong to me. I didn't earn it.  Let me DO something for this, I tell God.  I can't accept this gift.

In saying this, in listening to my heart, I know that I am ruled by pride.

Again and again, the duel between pride and grace stymies my Christian life. They thrust and parry constantly.  I just can't let grace win.

But life provides lots of good examples of why my attitude is wrong, why pride deceives, why it directs me to destruction.  Do you remember when Darth Vader tried to kill Obi Wan Kenobi?  They fought for awhile, then Obi Wan just smiled a little, lifted his light saber, crossed his arms, and stepped back and let Darth deal the killing blow.  He fell into a pile of wrinkled robes and we thought him dead. But he wasn't.  He became transcendent, even more powerful.

That's grace.  It will let pride toy with it, but it will hang around and hang around until, finally, when I finally give in, give up, grace wins.  Every time.  Like the good guys.  Like Kenobi.

He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."--2 Corinthians 12:9

Gotta love a happy ending.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Growing Up Together

I want justice and I want it now.  I can't tolerate hucksters who get rich.  I don't want criminals to go free.  I cry out against liars who gain a following.  I revolt at thieves peacefully enjoying their spoils.  Surely God can stop these people, but He doesn't always do it.  Why not?

Why do the wicked prosper?  Why do the faithless live at ease?--Jeremiah 12:1

Because I am looking at their situation from my perspective, of course.  I keep forgetting that God loves them.  Yes, He does.  He loves the thieves, the murderers, the liars, the cheaters.  He made them, after all, just the same as He made me.  Then I remember:

He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.--Matthew 5:45
I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.--Exodus 33:19

While we live, we all experience God's mercy according to His perfect will, not according to our limited, prejudicial vision. 

Maybe, for those not chosen for His everlasting company in heaven, the mercy He extends is even greater. For those who will not share God's eternal pleasure, it will be the only ease they will ever know.  Perhaps God is loving them the only way He can given the circumstances.

Let both (weeds and wheat) grow together until the harvest.  At that time, I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barns.--Matthew 13:30

The world looks backwards when we consider only the world.  It makes more sense when we include the concerns of a loving and benevolent God.  He knows already who He will save.   Those who He will not, He may, when He chooses, give rest and comfort here.  They will know none later.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Company I Keep

We know that our life is a journey and that Jesus promised to show us the way to go.  It occurs to me, though, that there are different ways to travel.

Christ wants to be my companion.  He does not want to find me lingering on the path so that He has to walk ahead and urge me to get moving.  He does not want me to be preoccupied with my other companions so that I lose focus.  He wants me to stay close so that I can hear Him.

I need to pay attention.
God will tell me where to go, but the voice I hear should come from behind me.
Whether you turn to the right or left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, "This is the way.  Walk in it."--Isaiah 30:21

Every day, I choose where to go and with whom.  I look down the various paths to see on which one Christ waits for me, but I err in this.  My Jesus should be constantly near so that He gives only a gentle nudge from beside or behind, not down some far off road calling, hoping I have ears to hear.

The journey we take with our God is not supposed to involve slowing down or catching up or pulling at a lead or lingering behind.  He wants us close enough so that we can know His arm around our shoulder and expect a  sweet whisper in our ear. 

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.  I will counsel you and watch over you.  Do not be like the horse or mule which has no understanding but must be controlled by a bridle or they will not come to you.--Psalm 32: 8-9

We make this journey not as master and servant, but with Father, Brother, Friend.  We make it with the sweetest of companions.