Saturday, September 28, 2013

Living in Debt

Bills. I don't like them. You probably don't either. And I have too many.
House. Car. Heat. Lights. Food. Clothes. School. And on and on.
I owe so much, and those are just the practical debts--the ones I can pay with money.
I have others, too.

I also have debts I can't pay. These are the hardest ones to live with.
I owe my parents, who gave without expectation for my nurture and training.
I owe soldiers, who gave their lives for my freedom.
I owe teachers, who gave more than anyone asked for my education.
I owe my family, who suffered my sins and returned forgiveness.

I can never pay them back, any of them.
Worse yet, I take them for granted.
I've lived so long in the luxury of what they gave that I no longer notice it's even there.

'Thank you' is not enough. Ever.
But what else is there?

And then there's God.
What does God want for all He gives?
For life. A world to live it in. Salvation and the promise of heaven.
How can I pay Him back?

I can't.
Not God. Not my parents, my family, not anyone who sacrificed for me.
I will owe them forever.

So if I can't pay them back, what, then, do I do?
What do those I to whom I owe so much want from me if it is not recompense?
I know what God wants because He says so:
And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.--Micah 6:8

That's what God wants. Just action. Merciful love. A humble walk toward Him.
In one word, God wants appreciation.
And I imagine they all do.
They don't want repayment. They want love.

I will always be in debt.
Now, if I can only love...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Return to Me

God made man.
He made us good--very good.
God made us to know Him, to share with Him, to walk with Him on a common ground.
But we don't.
After the catastrophe in Eden, a basic flaw keeps us apart.
He is perfect. We are not.

God knows this, of course, so He set out to fix the situation.
Come home, He says. 

Return to me, declares the Lord Almighty, and I will return to you.--Zechariah 1:3

Did you hear that?
Come to me. Return to me.
He wants to have us back, to remake us into the very good human beings He made originally.
But He will not change Himself to do it.
He will not become like us.
We have to become like Him.

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the LORD, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the LORD, the Spirit.--2Corinthians 3:18

Our way back to God is laid, and it is through the cross.
Jesus opened the door, but we have to walk through it, and keep on walking.

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.--John 8:12

The light of life...what God is, and what He wants us to be again.
The seed is within each of us still. God knows it, and wants us to know, too.
He spoke His own identity over us in creation:
Then God said, Let us make man in our image, in our likeness--Genesis 1:26

What He spoke in an instant, we will spend our lifetime answering.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Walking on What Remains
I'm old enough now to know that I will not do everything I planned to do. 

But I am not alone in this. It happened to King David, too.
He was coming to the end of his life and he hadn't built a temple to God, a place to worship, a place for Israel to meet the magnificent King of Heaven who had kept David company all of his life.
And he would never do it. God denied it to him because, although he was a man after God's own heart, he was also a man whose life had covered his hands in blood, too much blood to make them suitable for the job he so wanted to do.
And David, like the rest of us, did not get life do-overs. 

But this is his lesson and mine--we are not always given the work we expect, but we are always given work under God.
For David, the temple preparation became his work, and he set to it with all his might.
And so it is with me, and maybe with you, too.
There are some things not permitted me because of some of the sinful paths I've chosen. However, not all ways are sealed. Some remain.

Though much is taken, much abides.
And though we are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven,
that which we are, we are...*

Although we are often unfaithful, God is not.
With age, our life's stage shrinks, but until we die, it does not disappear.
My stage is no longer as broad as it once was, but I can still walk on what remains.
God still gives life in generous handfuls, and means for me, for all of us, to live it.
And, when the end does come, that living will allow me to echo David's joy:
I can sing this song every day without exception. No day lacks the beauty of God. My time will never run out. It is in Your hands.--Psalm 104: 23,24,31,3,34

*Tennyson, "Ulysses"

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Altar in Our Heart

What are they made of?
Satiny polished marble. Smooth glowing wood.
Or random piled-up sticks. Or rocks.
We put candles on them, and pictures, and carved images to remind us of God.

But altars have less importance as objects than as places of activity.
Altars are places of sacrifice and worship.
They accommodate joy and pain, celebration and death.
God's people kill in their shadow, then raise the slaughtered lamb in offering.

Ancient priests did it.
Roman soldiers did it.
And every time we raise the knife to our own selfishness, we do it, too.
Mount Moriah. The Jerusalem temple. Calvary.
Altars, all.
And the altar at which we worship today does not reside in our church's sanctuary. We have built it, every one of us, in our own hearts.This is where we know the joy and pain of real sacrifice and, when the sacrifice is complete, the peace.

Make an altar of earth for Me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and cattle. Wherever I cause My Name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you.--Exodus 20:24

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Is Anybody Home?
The Tent of Meeting.
That's where You met Moses, Lord.
Before the tabernacle.
Before the temple.
Moses put up a tent and whoever wanted to talk to You went there.
Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the Tent of Meeting. Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp.--Exodus33:7

Moses used to carry this tent around with him. It didn't stay in one place. The tent went with him wherever he went.
I'm thinking, Lord, that if Moses could do this, why can't I?
And, if I can, what does it look like?
Where do I meet you? Where do you come to me?

Can it be in the red glow of a summer sunset?
Can it be in my baby's smile?
Can it be in the smell of fresh bread?
Or a candle's glow? Or the morning sun through stained glass? Or that small circle of bread held above a cup of wine as Your body and blood?
You are there, in all these and more, if I have the wit to see you.

I need to find my Tent of Meeting, the place where You show yourself.
And then I can say, like Moses did:
Now show me Your Glory!--Exodus 33:18

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Not-So-Great Commission

The Great Commission? Honestly, I'm not always a fan.
At least not the way I normally see it done.
Yes, Christ told us to take His gospel into the world.
In only one place in the Bible does He give us these instructions:
Go and make disciples of all nations...teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.--Matthew 28:19-20

But He didn't say HOW.
He didn't say TELL them.

Why can't we teach by showing them?
Why can't God speak up for Himself?
The Bible seems to think He can.

Are you going to plead Baal's cause? If Baal is really a god, he can defend himself...--Judges 6:31

Baal couldn't, of course, but the God of Israel can and does:
No plan of Yours can be thwarted.--Job 42:2
Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.--Psalm 115:3

God does not need us to preach.
In preaching to unbelievers we too often look and sound exactly like those with whom we disagree--with atheists, for instance. An atheist believes as fervently as I do, and he or she wants the same thing I do. He wants to convince me he's right.
"Agree with me," he says. "Admit I'm right, or you will pay the price of your folly."
That, my friend, is preaching boiled down to its simplest component.
And we, trying to fulfill what we think Christ commanded, often do exactly the same.

Better, I think, to do what Christ told us to do not once, but many times:
Believe. Obey. Follow. Love. Forgive. Serve.
In doing these, we will not only speak the Gospel. We will BECOME the Gospel.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Swatting the Gnats

We all stumble in many ways...--James 3:2
That's for sure.

Temptations surround us all. And some of them are pretty obvious. Ten Commandment stuff.
Lying, cheating, stealing, wanting what is not ours, hating....we know them, and we know they end in sin.
But reading and studying the Bible?
Stumbling over the Word of God?
Are you kidding?

No, actually.
Even deep, careful study of the Bible has its snares.
We miss the mark when we revere the words more than their Author.
You strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel.--Matthew 23:24

We pick, and poke, memorize and philosophize, the words themselves. But where is God in all of that?
The Lord says, These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me.--Isaiah 29:13

There is a heart to the Word of God, a heart we must wear before one memorized verse will have any effect at all.
God gave us His Word not to first to memorize it or pick it apart in study, but so that we can know, believe, and follow Him.
We have to know God, not just His Words.
Gnats, after all, hover because something attractive has called them. They do not bring anything of value at all.
The words of the Word of God are small, too, and serve as indicators, as warnings, as signs, of a much greater Presence.
The power does not belong to them, but they point to it. 
Look beyond them, or they will trip you up.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bless You? Are You Sure?

There seems to be a disagreement regarding blessings.
God wants to bless His children--we know that. But how, exactly, does He do it?
We think we know what some blessings look like--good health, wealth, food, safety, family, friends, love, faith. All good gifts from Him.
But, it's funny.
He seems to look at blessings in another way.

Blessed are the poor in spirit...
Blessed are those who mourn...
Blessed are the meek...
Blessed are those who hunger and search for righteousness...
Blessed are the merciful...--Matthew 5:4-7

Those kinds of blessings don't look as pleasant. In fact, are they blessings at all?
Well, He thinks they are and when I think about it, I think I know why.
These blessings are more about God than about me.
These bless the spirit, not the flesh.
These bring me closer to God and, as such, require strength. They don't bring ease.
These blessings are not God reaching down and scooping up more transformed dirt and giving it to me as bits of His own creation.
These blessings are God reaching down and giving me, giving all of us, bits of Himself.