Saturday, November 30, 2013

I Made This...

God made us.
He made us good and clean and in perfect, uninterrupted communion with Himself.
He made us like Himself, with a desire to create.
And, with all that beauty and heritage of glory, what did we make?

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good, and pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.--Genesis 3:6

We made a whole new human being, one who had not existed before.
We made a sinner.

Since then, our entire journey in this life is making our way back again, abandoning what we made and finding what we left behind, what God made.
No wonder it's so hard.
No wonder it feels like I'm ripping off parts of me and discarding them reluctantly along the way.
No wonder it feels like I'm leaving unprotected flesh exposed, stinging all the while with the pain of it.
It feels that way because that's exactly what's happening.

What mankind has built through long centuries, what every voice other than God's tells me is right, what Satan lays on at every opportunity--this is the person God did not make.
My first creation.

But God is still in me. I know He is. Somewhere.
I still bear His Spirit--and the woman He made in Eden, before she asked,
Did God really say....?--(Genesis 3:3)
--before she reached out her hand for that bitter fruit.

I can find that woman again, the one God made, because He wants me to.
...put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.--Ephesians 3:24

The new me...really the old me after all.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What I Am Not Thankful For

I know what to do on Thanksgiving.
Count my blessings.
And it's not hard at all.
Life. Faith. Health. Family. Safety...So, so much.
Thank You, God.  Thank You so much.

Wait, God says. 
You are thanking me for the wrong things. 
Try looking at blessings from my point of view.
My blessing isn't comfort and confidence.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.--Matthew 5:3
My blessing isn't happiness.
Blessed are those who mourn--Matthew 5:4
My blessing isn't ability and confidence.
Blessed are the meek.--Matthew 5:5
My blessing isn't plenty and a full belly.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.--Matthew 5:6
My blessing isn't safety and the comfort of friends.
Blessed are those who are persecuted or my sake. --Matthew 5:10

Of course, good things, things I like, come from God, too.
But those things I call good, the comfortable, happy circumstances of my life, look like goodness from my point of view, not God's.
God sees a very different view and, if I truly want to be more like Christ, I need to look at blessings that way, too.
I don't want to be thankful for poverty, hunger, or persecution, but God is. 

So tomorrow, when we bow our heads at a table groaning with plenty, I need to be thankful not only for what is before me, but for what in my life is denied, is sad, is painful.
Thank you God. Thank you for it all.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Before the Tablets

Most of us know that God gave Moses the tablets of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.
But that wasn't the only thing God did there.
In fact, it wasn't even the first thing.

Before God gave Moses the Commandments, He gave Moses something to tell the Israelites.
God told Moses to tell His people what He expected of them.
And characteristically, His instructions were short and to the point:
Now, if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.--Exodus 19:5

He told them two things:
Obey me.
Keep your promise to me.
If they did these two things, God would open up the very heavens to them. He would make them His treasured possession. He would make them His. He would make them Holy.

Sure, He gave them the Commandments, but only as exposition of what He'd already said--words that exposed His heart of love and desire for His people.
God doesn't just want us to follow a bunch of rules. 
God wants us to want Him. 
That's the importance of the Commandments.  
 The Commandments are signposts to the heart of God.
And His heart is where He wants us to remain.

God offered to the Israelites a look at His own heart.
And God's offer to the Israelites is made to us, too--through Jesus, who said,
"Come to me...."--Matthew 11:28

That is the offer at the heart of the commandments.
Come to me.
God's commandments, first etched in stone, then the same message written in Scripture and preserved for all ages, are not rules. They are His very arms opened wide in invitation.
Come to me.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

What Scars Have to Say

I still have them. 
Painful reminders of my hurts. Throbbing echoes of hurts I caused.
And they don't go away.

Heal me, I plead.
And God hears.
The bleeding stops, the wound closes--
But the scar remains.
Evidence of the hurt. Proof of the guilt.
Why doesn't it all go away?
I ask God: Why doesn't healing come with forgetting?

And God says: This is who you are.
Every hit you've taken, every blow you've given. They are part of you now.
Remember, He says. Remember your nature. Remember your origin:
From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness--only wounds and welts and open sores.--Isaiah 1:6
My scars. Who I am. What I have done. What has been done to me.

Nobody gets to leave them behind his side of heaven. Nobody.
Even Christ wore His scars.
He stood in that room with His best friends, bright in His resurrected body. Alive again. Clean, victorious, and healed.
But those hands. That side.
Put your finger here. See my hands.--John 20:27
Still there. All the places of His own mortal wounding. Not smoothed over, not vanished beyond memory. Not comfortable.
But visible, both to Him and anyone who looked close enough.
His wounds, like ours, remained with Him.
Not for re-opening, but as witness. 

Christ's wounds bore witness to His perfection, His godhead.
My wounds bear witness to Christ in me.
My scars still stand ready to accuse, but they can also proclaim victory. 
Look at me, they say.
I have healed. I stand. I live.
I have known pain. I have inflicted it. See this ugliness? This is what it looks like.
Don't look away. You have them, too.

But this is the difference.
Because of Christ, I will not die from them. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Got Hunger?

How many times have we heard it?
"I'm starving. When do we eat?"
More than we can count.
And we've said it ourselves, plenty of times.
"I'm hungry."
Like it's something bad.

Actually, God likes hunger, and wants us hungry.
He does.

But I don't. I prefer satisfaction. I like the easy, comfy feeling of being full.
But, there's a problem with that.
When I'm not hungry, I'm not looking for anything other than what I've already got.
I'm complacent.

Hunger, on the other hand, is uncomfortable.
It makes me feel weak and incomplete.
And I don't like that.

In God's book, however, weakness and discomfort can be good things because they mean we know we need Him.
When I am full, I need nothing and no one.
Hunger, however, is a tool, a gift our bodies bring so that, rather than satisfying ourselves, we can find our satisfaction in God.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled--Matthew 5:6

Next time you have a meal, push away from the table before you're full.
See what it feels like to remain constantly unsatisfied.
See how long it takes before you look around for more.
And then...look to God.
Stay hungry, my friend.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

But Did He WANT To?

Jesus saved us.
It's true, and most of us already know that.
But He was not just God--He was man, too, and I don't know about you, but I don't always want to do what I'm supposed to do.
It occurs to me today that maybe He didn't either.

I will not reject anyone who comes to me because I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me and this is the will of the one who sent me--that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it in the last day.--John 6:37-38

Is it possible that Jesus, as  man, was not always crazy about saving us?
That He did not always want to have mercy on the impenitent, on the ungrateful, on the clueless?
That unwillingness was one of the temptations to which He was subjected when He took on flesh?

Was Jesus sometimes tempted to let us have exactly what we deserve rather than to do as He was commanded? Did He sometimes have to grit His teeth to heal another ungrateful petitioner? To preach to yet another unhearing crowd?
And if He did, is it any wonder that I often feel the same?

I do not always want to love, want to forgive, want to extend my hand in kind patience. Today, I find solace in the possibility that Jesus, human like me, might sometimes have felt the same way. Jesus may have saved us, not because He always wanted to, but simply because His Father commanded Him to.

There is glory in this obedience, I think--to do what we do not want to do, what may not even make sense, simply because our Father in heaven has commanded it.
And, in the process, know that even Jesus did the same.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Don't Try to Pray

Do you have trouble with it?
Don't. It's simple.
That's right. Groan.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered.--Romans 8:26

If we are to pray, we have to want God.
This is not a casual relationship. It's like the desire we have when we first fall in love, when we think we will die every instant, like what we feel will not fit inside our skin.

Reading a book about it won't work.
Have you ever read a book about how to fall in love? And why not?
Because it's not necessary. Love lands on us like a ton of bricks.
No book can explain it.
No lesson can teach it.
It's the same with prayer. We pray because we can't help it, because we can't face a life without God, because He matters more than what we are doing, who we are seeing, and whatever else we are thinking.
That is prayer--the groanings and glories of love.

If you can't pray, don't ask someone to teach you.
Go and find your God.
He will draw you in so close that you won't be able to help it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Believing It Will Rain

Noah. Almost everybody knows his story.
God told him to build a boat and, in it, put all the animals two by two because He planned to flood the earth. And Noah did.
It wasn't an easy job, though. The boat had to be one and a half football fields long. It took Noah 100 years to finish the job. His neighbors made fun of him, of course, but he remained faithful to the task.
I always thought Noah was an example of perseverance, but I was wrong.
Noah is an example of faith.

By faith, Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith.--Hebrews 11:7

Remember, faith is believing in what we have never seen. So what was Noah's leap of faith?
He had never seen rain.
In his experience, water had never fallen from the sky.
Now, that gives the whole boat building thing a new twist. How could he explain to anyone--his wife, his kids, everyone he knew--what he was doing? There was no way. It would make more practical sense for me to build a rocket ship in my backyard. At least I'd be able to point to the sky and the stars and say, "See? I'm going there!"  Not Noah.

So that begs the question, if Noah is an example of faith, what is my ark? Where is my promise of rain?
That is easier.
A God I can't see. A heaven I can't touch. An inner knowledge I can't explain.
My ark. My rain. My faith.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Why Do They Get all the Good Miracles?

A pastor in Libya is rescued from a firing squad.
A child in Zambia is healed overnight from tuberculosis.
Christ appears to a man in an Egyptian jail who comes to believe.
Here, my sweet, believing friend dies from cancer.
Here, my father dies before acknowledging the truth of the gospel.

Why do they get the miracles and we don't?

Hm... maybe because we don't need them in the same way.

After all, God gave us, here in the U.S., different stuff.
We have relative safety.
We have abundant wealth.
We have good health care.

The people in Libya and Zambia and Egypt don't. They have active war, and famine, and poverty, and rampant disease. I don't know why, but it's true.
So when they look for God, where do they find Him? In the places they need Him most.
And He shows up there.

And how about us? Where do we need God most?
It's not in the same places.
My friend who died got excellent medical care because God made that possible. And she didn't die in a fly-blown grass hut, alone and in excruciating pain. She died in a nursing home surrounded by caring nurses and loving family.
My father did not grow up in a Muslim nation that executed Christians, but in a place where the truth of Christ poured out all around him from nearly every member of his family, and by which he was consequently well-loved his whole adult life.
My friend and my father did not need the same kind of miracles.
And they didn't get them.

So where do our miracles come? 
Where do we most need God to intervene?

Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, or be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.--Luke 12: 27, 29, 32

God gives us what we do not already have because there we will be most likely to see Him and His kingdom.
Only when we come to the end of our own resources will God make a miracle.
He has already given us gifts and expects us to use them.

Looking for a miracle?
Look to that place where gifts end, where strength fails.
Look to that place where only hope remains.
There is the stage set for a miracle.