Life Evidenced in the Light of All Mankind

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Phil. 4:8

I grew up in a time where “being southern” seemed like an important value akin to protecting small animals and babies or being trustworthy and kind.  As with any new law by which to measure one’s acceptability, it came with extensive additional requirements to clarify and meet the originally intended standard, such as how one’s house is kept, how one entertains guests, manages children, dresses for certain occasions and so on.  A “properly set table” was narrowly defined, as in fact were most aspects of an approved individual.  “A true lady never/always…” began many of these ancillary rules.  Being a lady or a gentleman somehow took on monstrous importance to many of the grown-ups in  generations past.   My muscles tighten even as I reflect on these unquestioned assumptions about how we were all rightly judged by one another and ourselves.

I had to go to court last week because I had failed to appear for a court date that I didn’t realize I’d been assigned.  As I sat there, I saw all manner of hairdos and attire and found my first reaction was to judge the individuals by their choices in these matters.  My critique revealed a heart that still holds to the notion that there is an inherently superior way to dress/speak/decorate/host/and even dream.  In this equation, word choices devalue an individual (the “f” bomb heard uttered in all parts of speech walking down the streets in New York or doctorate level vocabulary which is very exacting in nature) as do certain social choices such as musical taste, dating behaviors or parenting styles.

I interpreted the invitation to gravitate toward the beautiful and praiseworthy as a directive toward man made customs and accouterments rather than the person and work of Jesus.  In so doing, as with any new law, I have actually missed the glory of Jesus in countless people, moments and places because I was focused on a product rather than a Living Person.  (for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.Phil 2:13)  Once again, I replaced the source of righteousness which is the completed and fulfilled Law in Jesus with custom/accouterment righteousness instead.   I’ve assumed value where it does not exist inherently and ignored the only value ever possible in humanity – the dignity and holiness of the One Who began and has promised to complete every good work that He begins in His creation.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  There was a man sent from God whose name was John.  He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.  The true light  that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  John 1:1-11

Even tomorrow, which is Thanksgiving day, may I not miss the Light because I am looking for it in table settings, attire or vocabulary.  Instead, may I recognize Him in the signs of life around me, both that indicated in laughter and good reports and that indicated by soul wrestling, unmet longings and even exhaustion, because He is there.

I See You and I Hear You

My God, whom I praise,
    do not remain silent,  Psalm 109:1

There are times when my faith is challenged by what feels like God’s silence.  All the the things I believe about Him, in those times, require confidence that I am not simply living by my own constructed narrative.  Beyond just those doubts about His activity and even reality, there comes the thought that if all those things are in fact true, He has chosen to ignore my e-mails, so to speak.  Much like asking someone out on a date or reaching out to someone with whom I don’t yet really have a relationship, those people are justified and quite reasonable in saying “no”.  While a non-response feels a little rude, and simply a response of “Thanks but I have to decline” would at least feel more respectful, I know I’m not entitled to a personalized celebrity response.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  Matt. 7:9-11

Ellie really wants a bunny for Christmas.  I really want her to always have what she wants because in some ways, she doesn’t really doesn’t ask for much.  But we’re not getting a bunny.  We don’t even pay enough attention to our dog.  We don’t have space for a rabbit nor time and resources for even the basic care of another creature in our home.  So, I have tried to be as straight forward with Ellie as possible to let her know she isn’t getting one, as much as I want to be enthusiastic about the things that excite her, I don’t want her to be expecting that on Christmas and feel misled in her hopes.  If I then, “though I am evil, know how to give good gifts” to my children, in this case by being clear with her about the no answer, I lately have wished God could steward my hopes by simply telling me “Thanks so much for asking but I have to decline at this time.”  The silence, often, diminishes my dignity more than the “no”.

Why is that?  It certainly has to be true for the homeless beggars who people avoid acknowledging rather than just saying  no.  And perhaps even without a specific request being made, being seen acknowledges not only dignity but substance and sometimes worthwhile complexity.  Being looked right through or ignored altogether dehumanizes.  I see that in my neighborhood, or probably more so with my neighbors as they navigate other neighborhoods and public places.  Even the show Parenthood used, “I see you and I hear you” as the focus of one episode as a necessary tool to creating a healthy relationship.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by everyone, despised by the people.  All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.  “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,“let the Lord rescue him.  Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”  Psalm 22:1-8

And then I am reminded that the very One about whom God said, “This is my beloved Son, with Him I am well pleased”, felt the silence of the Father and the shame of His own temporary position.  Yet glory was at work even then, redemption was in full action, restoration was imminent.  The truth of the moment was not evident, but was true nonetheless.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deut. 31:8

Grace to Worship Properly

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.  Rom. 1:21-23

What might it look like for me to be more consumed with the power, authority, control, beauty and majesty of God than with my own lust for power, authority, control, beauty and majesty?  This deep inclination in the fabric of my heart, which gained the seemingly unstoppable momentum of an addict after Adam and Eve acted upon it, sets my most natural disposition at enmity with God in favor of my own fame and rule.  Were it not for His restraining grace, I would be totally enslaved by my own ego.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Rom. 5:6-8

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.  What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. Rom. 6:20-22

Grace powers through not only my powerlessness, but even my total antipathy toward submission of my rights, honor and praise for the praise, glory and adoration of another.  Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved.  It is the person and work of Jesus, necessary in the present tense both now and in the future on this earth, that inclines my heart to sing His praise, and that is good.

Praise the Lord.

How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him!

The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the exiles of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.
The Lord sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with grateful praise; make music to our God on the harp.

He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills.
He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.  Psalm 147:1-11

I cannot heal the brokenhearted nor can I attempt to bind the wounds of the soul.  I can’t remember the names of people who live down the street from me, least to say know, cherish and remember the number of stars in the heavens.  My understanding is limited and I tend to want to cast the humble to the ground in my own battle for the survival of the fittest.  Oh that I could one day be unwavering in my hope in his unfailing love.  What would my whole countenance look like if that were so?  How would I interact with others if my hope rested in His unfailing love rather than their particular responses to me or my ideas?  How pleasant and fitting it is to sing praises to Him indeed, how sensible and enduring that object of affection beyond any other.  One Day it will be so permanently, but may I taste of it in greater measure even now.

Under Authority

As I’ve watched Ellie navigate  a new world of authority figures this year, both at school and at soccer, there have been some that just are who they are and don’t phase her and some whose critical natures effectively shut her down.  I am exactly the same way and I really can’t figure out what the common theme is in each of these cases.  Why is it that some people who hold different views from mine and whose standards I clearly don’t meet don’t seem to impact me and others have the power to totally disorient me?  While I know I bring my fear of man and own self-interest into each of these interactions and while I also know that their sin and self-interest bring static to the line of our communication, my desire is to be able to interact with all manner of personalities and all variety of particular sin patterns as Jesus does – loving because of His orderly and reliable goodness, righteousness, compassion, patience and so on and not in response to the other person’s chaos or order in that moment.  I just don’t know how to navigate this one.

That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”  Luke 7:7-9

The matter of being under authority is a tough one.  None of us since Adam and Eve care for it much.  I’d like to be my own authority at all time and in all things.  If you’ve read my thoughts on this blog very often, you won’t be surprised to learn that I’d like to be your authority too, and really have basic mind control over the whole world.  The bit about One God, One Lord, One King and Ruler of all isn’t superficial or superfluous in its inclusion throughout Scripture because our wandering, self-seeking hearts prefer to mute that reality in favor of being our own gods and deciding for ourselves what is right and what is wrong and ruling over others as well.

This powerful commander recognized that he too was under God’s authority, despite the fact that many people submitted themselves to his human rule.  And then he recognized Jesus’ authority came from the Father.  Selfish ambition and vain conceit combine in my most natural mode of interacting with others.  That is why I need for the person and work of Jesus to interrupt, disrupt, derail and redirect my natural man into a reflection of Him.  In humility, not shame, He took on a servant’s nature, not a master’s one.  And perhaps we’re getting to the heart of my issue now.

When I interact with someone who presents their viewpoint with authority over all other perspectives, it both exposes the need in my heart to defend my own position of authority (my sin and need to win “king of the mountain”) and sets them up, in that moment, as my authority rather than God (their sin, and I suppose mine for fearing them more than God).

But what about Grace in this battle for authority?

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.  This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 1 Tim 2:1-5

The Good News is that those people that effectively spin me around or shut me down are not my mediator to God and I am not theirs AND our true mediator wants all of us to come to a knowledge of the truth…not some of us more than others.  I can freely thank God for those He has set in official capacities of authority over me as the tools He has chosen to point me toward Him (sometimes by their light and sometimes by their darkness increasing my need for His light) and I can trust where we disagree, He will unify His body completely when the time comes.  In the meantime, I am only accountable to and unalterably cherished by the only One whose authority has any validity.

For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.  1 Cor. 8:5-6