Letting You In

Why is it so difficult to allow people to come in close?
Letting you in
I enjoy having friends, of course, but I still want to keep everyone at just a bit of distance.
Even my husband and my children. I will let them in closer than any others, but there is still a part of myself that I hold in reserve.
family
You too?
Why do we do this? Why is it so hard to be completely vulnerable with anyone?
Fear, I think, is the most simple answer.
We know how ugly our hearts can be. For myself, I know the arrogance and rage that can live inside and I want people to still like me.
I want you to like me
We want everyone else to think well of us, so we let them in enough to show that we are human, but not far enough in to let them see how very human we really are.
We don’t want to see the shock and revulsion on their faces were they to hear the thoughts that go through our minds. We want others to like us.
I want everyone to like me
It is often even hard to let God in.
Logically, I know that He already sees the deepest, most ugly bits of me, but I still have the desire to make everything look pretty before I show it to Him. You see, I want God to like me too.
I want God to like me
Not just love me. Like me.
Love seems to be a choice, a way of treating someone. Liking, though, seems more enjoyable.
Love is what I do even when it is hard. Liking is what comes naturally when I enjoy spending time with someone.
Liking each other
Yet God went to extraordinary lengths to be with us. He tells us that He wants to sit with us over meals, that He sings over us and He wants to wipe away our tears. He calls us friends.
Such amazing grace this is.
If only I could believe it completely, I would have no trouble at all in letting others in.
God, help my unbelief.

Art credit: Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt

The Goodness of Creation

There is a sneaking suspicion that lurks in the back of most of our minds.
A suspicion that colors the way we look at ourselves as well as the world around us.
Goodness of Creation
It is the suspicion that sin has completely undone the goodness of Creation.
adam and eve by benjamin west
It is the suspicion that sin has broken our world and our bodies so thoroughly that there is nothing left to it but the ugly.
And if we view Creation through these dark lenses, we will treat it with contempt and shame. Even more, we will increasingly view the world, including our own bodies, as though they have nothing at all to do with God.
We will fall in line with our culture’s idea that we can live perfectly well in this world without ever thinking about how to consider with our lives the glorious reality of God’s Creation.
Glory of Creation
Without beginning our salvation story with Creation itself, without including in the gospel the amazingness of God-in-flesh, we are left with a hollow salvation, one that does the bare minimum to get us through the gates rather than one that accomplishes abundance upon abundance of redemption.
When God the Son died and resurrected, He redeemed not just our souls, but our physical bodies and the entire material world around us as well.
Redemption of Creation
The stuff of creation is what God the Son redeems through his becoming flesh, bearing our sin, enduring death, and rising to life. When we have a truncated doctrine of creation, we have a truncated understanding of salvation. ~ Jonathan Wilson, theologian and author of God’s Good World
Romans 8 speaks of creation in the same terms it uses to speak of men. It speaks of creation as waiting to be redeemed, as yearning to be set free from bondage, as groaning as it waits in the exact same way that we groan as we wait for our own redemption.
Yearning of Creation
We groan indeed. We groan as we labor through the pain of childbirth, we groan as we struggle to live life well and fail over and over to obey, we groan as we age and approach death.
We are a part of Creation and we groan and wait and hope right along with all of this material world for the return of Christ and for the redemption and perfection of all that we know.
And we would be a bit more successful in living our lives more beautifully if we would continue to consider the ways in which Creation should guide us toward or away from different patterns of life.
Guidance of Creation
The glories of Creation and the ways in which God continues to interact with Creation have the possibility of helping us to understand how a “well-ordered life in the body presents opportunities for glorifying God and enjoying Him forever by participating more fully in the glorious giftedness of Creation”. (Ken Meyers of Mars Hill Audio Journal)
There is not room in a blog to explore such huge ideas in any depth at all. I only hope to spur on thought and seeking and exploring. Share with me what God shows you?

Art credit: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise by Benjamin West

Why?

Why?
It is a cry that explodes from a pain-filled heart. It is a cry that whimpers from a lonely soul.
It is a cry that propels its way out of all who hurt in one way or another.
Why did my twenty-six year old sister-in-law have to die in such a horrible way?
Kristina
Why did my Papa labor in pain to leave this earth on the very same day that that I labored in pain to bear my daughter into it?
Papa
Why do my friends suffer illness and miscarriage and even death while we still are young?
Stephanie
Why?
And yet I have to wonder: what would we get if we got an answer to our questions of why?
Would we gain satisfaction? Would it really change anything if God sat down in front of us and explained everything to our face?
We would still have to face the empty chairs. We would still be faced with the memories of pain.
Job asked why. He didn’t just ask, he demanded the chance to ask God why. He shouted for the opportunity to plead his case before God.
And God came.
He came not with reasons but with glory.
God didn’t reveal His ultimate plan, He revealed Himself.
God didn’t show the reasons for what happened, He showed His face.
And Job?
Even covered with sores and ashes, he looks oddly like a man who has asked for a crust and been given the whole loaf. ~ Frederick Buechner
In answer to all of our questions, may God be gracious enough to give us Himself.

God’s Idea of New

Due to holidays, sick children, a bad cold in my own head, and being eight months pregnant, I’m diving into the archives this week. May God grant you deeper knowledge of Him and deeper love for Him during this new year.
What is it about the word “new” that makes us so excited?
New life, new try, new baby, new piano.
I’m not big on resolutions, but there’s something about the start of a new year that makes me hopeful.
Some of you have had a really difficult year, full of sorrow and pain.
Others of you have had a wonderful year, full of laughter and beauty.
Either way, most of us are ready for new.
A new year. A new start. A new attempt.
There is much in His Word about what is God’s idea of new.
One of the biggest ideas is the new covenant.
I’ve always been struck by the ridiculousness of the idea that God would make any sort of a promise with us, that He would uphold His side of the covenant even when we fail to keep our own promise. It is a beautiful thing of grace that God would be faithful to His own covenant FOR us through Christ.
‘The time is coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers…because they broke my covenant…’ declares the LORD. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the LORD. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ ~ Jeremiah 31.31-33
What is the new covenant that God makes with us, the covenant that is different from the one that we broke?
In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’ ~ Luke 22.20
Jesus. That birth we just finished celebrating leads to the new covenant drenched in His blood.
Hebrews 8 and 9 works through all of the fascinating details of the old covenant and how it foreshadows the new covenant. Towards the end, after explaining the system of sacrificing goats and bulls and using their blood to take away the sins of the people, the author of Hebrews says this:
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ…cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
Gratitude swells for this new covenant that cost so much.  This new covenant leads us around to another use of the word “new”: in Christ, we are a new person, a new creation.
Back in the Old Testament, God promises in Ezekiel 36:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you, I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
The fulfillment of that promise?
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! ~ II Corinthians 5.17
And this:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. ~ Ephesians 4.22-24
Praise God!!! What mercy! What grace!
Again, gratitude swells, the beauty of it grows.
Because God was willing to make a new covenant with us when we broke the original one, because Christ was willing to spill His blood to seal this covenant, we are now a new creation in Christ, created to be like God!
And just think…think of the new that is still ahead of us!
Isaiah prophecies this beautiful thing in Isaiah 65:
Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind…I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more. Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years…my chosen ones will long enjoy the works of their hands.
We are given a beautiful glimpse of the future fulfillment of all of this in Revelation 21:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then He said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’
It sounds as though God Himself gets excited about the word “new”.
Perhaps our own excitement over new things in this world is there for a reason, is placed deep inside of us by Him in Whose image we were created, is given to us to point us toward the most beautiful new thing of all.

Art credits: Last Supper by Da Vinci; cross and winter sky by Davenport; cross and sunset by vivekchugh; Golden City

Christmas

Merry Christmas! May God grant you joy and peace no matter what else is going on around you this week.

 

 

 

Waiting

It is a time of waiting.
Waiting
It is a time of waiting in darkness, of waiting in grief, of waiting in loneliness.
Darkness
We are a people living in a land of darkness, in a land of the shadow of death, and as much as we would wish to skip the waiting and rush straight into the glorious light of Christmas, we are still living in Advent.
Living in waiting
It is same as our desire to skip over the ugly of Good Friday and rush straight into the beauties of Easter Sunday. Yet we cannot get to the power of Easter without first living through the pain of Friday.
And we cannot get to the light and wonder of Christmas without first living through the darkness and tenuous hope of Advent.
Living in Advent
Even our Christmas hymns hint at this. They speak of a longing for deliverance, a yearning for Immanuel, God with us.
O come, o come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here.
No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground.
It is a time to linger with the deepest longing of our heart:  the longing for God to come, the longing for God to make our world and our hearts right again.
Our world was a land of darkness with only the whisper of a light to come that anyone was able to hold on to.
Whisper of light
And then.
And then the end of the story broke gloriously into the middle of the story. The Christ, the Messiah, the end of our story came bursting through with light and stars, with angels and worship.
End of the story
The light came and shone upon the people living in a land of great darkness. The light arrived and we saw that the darkness was not the final word.
Light
We still live in a land of darkness, but now we have more than a whisper. Now we have a glimpse of the Light Himself to hold on to. We have seen the breaking dawn and we know the end of the story.
It is still a time of waiting for yet another Advent.
It is still a time of waiting in the darkness. If we cannot linger through the darkness of our world’s need for the light, if we cannot dwell long in our own need for the darkness of our hearts to be banished, then we cannot ever reach the hope and joy of Christmas.
The deepness of the darkness is what shows us the glory of the light.
So wait. Linger in your waiting.
And then, when Advent is over, when Christmas Day finally arrives, you will be able to revel in the joy and hope of the light that came and that promises to come again.
Light for all time
This time to banish all darkness for good.

Art credit: The Adoration of the Shepherds by Charles Le Brun

Embodied Souls

What does it mean to be human?
March-July10 056
It is a question asked by many.  Perhaps asked by all in the way that they live and learn if not with words from the mouth.
It is a question that was recently asked by the Chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, William “Bro” Adams. He is exploring how the study of the humanities can answer questions about life, how we should live, and the values by which we should live.
adams_headshot
Adams desires for us as a nation to explore how the study of philosophy and humanities can help us to understand what it means to be human.
There is nothing new in this. Throughout the ages philosophers and psychologists alike have tried to figure out what it means to be human, what a human really is. They have laid out theory after theory, description after description about humanity.
We as Christians and theologians then take those theories and descriptions and use them to figure out Christ’s humanity. Hear that again: we use our own selves to figure out the piece of Jesus that is human.
Correggio_004
Does that seem backward to anyone else?
Karl Barth, one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, wondered how we could possibly know what it means to be human if all we know about being human comes from a messed up, broken state of humanity due to our unnatural state of sin. Christ’s humanity therefore shows us what it means to be human rather than the other way around.
Jesus was an embodied soul, an ensouled body, to use a phrase from Karl Barth. For Jesus, being human was always being a soul and a body. Even after the resurrection He made it a point to eat and drink to show us that even after our own resurrection we will still be embodied souls.
Caravaggio_Liebfrauenkirche_Abendmahl_in_Emmaus
We have always been body and soul, and of a finite nature. Before The Fall, we were finite in body and soul but were allowed to continue living by way of the Tree of Life. When Adam and Eve sinned, we were still finite, still formed from the dust of the earth, but now we were subject to death and decay because we were cut off from the Tree of Life.
Then the LORD God said, “…Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever –” therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden…
Our bodies are part of what constitutes our identity, as important as our thoughts, our feelings, our will.
Is this important? Does it really matter whether we view our bodies as important or as inconvenient?
This is where this post could grow to become book-long, but I will try to only brush up against potential ramifications rather than expanding on each one.
If our bodies are just as important as our souls, then we should spend time caring for our bodies in our daily lives. We should take the time to think about how we care for our babies’ bodies even while in the womb and whether things such as prenatal testing is more helpful or harmful in this regard. We should take the time to consider the end of life and how much should be done to keep our bodies alive.
IMG_6282
The idea that our bodies matter a great deal affects the ethics of medicine, of medical research and technology. If we begin to think of our bodies as unimportant or, worse, as impediments to a good life, then our decision making about the health of those bodies begins to become skewed.
It is as important to the decisions we make every day as it is to the decisions that we will make at the end of our lives or at the beginning of our children’s lives.
Perhaps thinking deeply about what it means to be human, about the nature of our own selves, about the importance of our souls and our bodies, is something that is too important to be left to philosophers and psychologists alone.
Perhaps it is something that is meant to be pondered by all of us.
Pondered and prayed over.

Art credits: Nativity by Antonio da Correggio; Supper at Emmaus by Michelangelo da Caravaggio

Coming

It is a waiting.
A breathless hope that is sometimes too fragile to look at straight on.
Will He come?
Waiting
He came once before and has promised to come at the end.
But will He come now?
We don’t want to be disappointed and so we hide our deepest waiting with the waiting for other things.
Different kind of waiting
We wait for chaotic colors and shiny sounds.
Shiny
We wait for hustling and bustling and we fill up our days with old and new memories to avoid peering hard into hearts.
Shopping
We wait for silver bells and for sugar plums so that we don’t have to feel our desperate waiting for Him.
Bright paper packages
Will He come? Will He show up at this time and in this season?
In Advent is waiting and in Advent is coming and if we wait, will He come in a way that brings the peace and joy we crave?
Stop.
Stop
Breathe.
Breathe
Close your eyes.
Close your eyes
Listen.
Listen
He is here.
He has come and He will come and He will continue to come for as long as we are here, which is for always and forever.
He gives breath to your hope and whispers into your waiting that He loves you and He delights in you.
It is a waiting.
A waiting that bears the fruit of His greatest gift of all.
His greatest gift
He has come.
Himself

Art credit: photos of Christmas color by R.K. Sewell Photography

Seeking Knowledge

Children have control over so little in their lives.
We grownups like to think that we have control over our lives, but perhaps that is only illusion.
Daddies and Mommies tell them when to get up and when to lie down, when to eat and when to play, what to wear and where to go.  Children will often grasp at anything that will give them more power over their lives.
One of the things I’ve noticed that children use to gain a little control is knowing what name to call things, especially when that thing frightens them a little.  When she was smaller, my eldest daughter’s constant response to a loud noise was That was? That was?  Now that she is a little older, she asks What was that? That noise?  Knowing the name of something gives her power over it, makes it seem a little less scary.
She seeks to know.
Perhaps she is not very different from many adults.
Scientists, medical researchers, geneticists, stay-at-home moms who like to learn…people want to know what name to call things, want to know about things, because that gives them power over those things, those ideas.  If we know how something was put together or how something works or even just what to call it, we feel as though we have power over our world.
We seek to know.
A long time ago, in a land far away, around the beginning of the Christian Church (perhaps even earlier), there lived a group of people we call Gnostics who believed (among other things) that matter, the material universe, was bad and that deliverance from our material form could only come through special knowledge.
Not long ago at all, in a land not at all far away, there lived a group of people who believed that their minds were all-powerful, that the dying of their flesh was bad, that through knowledge they could overcome all physical limitations.  They could eat poorly and take vitamin supplements.  They could ignore their children and send them to therapists.  They could extend life and choose the sort of life that they procreated through the technology they created.  They believed that saving our natural resources wasn’t important because their minds, human ingenuity in the form of science and technology, could surely take care of that problem as well.
There is nothing new under the sun…
In C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man (in 1943!), he said that mankind’s power to do exactly what it wants seems to be growing all the time through humanity’s so-called “con­quest of Nature” – the progress of applied science.  However, “each new power won by man is a power over man as well.”  We can throw bombs from airplanes but can also be bombed ourselves; a race of birth-controllers is a race whose own birth has been controlled.
We seek to know.  We seek to control.
Why do we feel that Nature is bad, that the material world needs to be conquered?  Even as Christ-followers we seek knowledge because we fear.  We want to know and to name so that we can control that which is uncontrollable.
Is the pursuit of knowledge wrong?  Not at all.
Paul says in Philippians:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. ~Philippians 1.9-11 (Italics mine)
Paul seeks to know.
Paul also said this:
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength. ~Philippians 4.12-13
Paul is definitely not in control, nor does he seek to be.
Is this a Faustian-like power, this power of knowledge?  A power that gives away everything good that God created in order to gain power and control over His creation?
It can be.
As Christ-followers, do we seek knowledge because we are fearful of the future and wish to wrest control of His creation from the One Who set it all in motion?
Sometimes I do.
Perhaps instead we can seek knowledge in order to praise God with our minds.  Perhaps we can seek knowledge in gratitude for our imagination and intelligence, in gratitude for the complexity of His creation.
I suppose that, as with most that God has created, the goodness or evil of the pursuit of knowledge depends upon the heart of His creation.
May our hearts and minds seek to know out of thanksgiving rather than out of fear.

*etching is “Faust” by Rembrandt

*edited from the archives

Famine in the Land

Word
Bread
 Light
Amos, the herdsman turned prophet.
The visionary with the visions of things he kept talking God out of doing.
Too much! he would say, and God would agree.
Locusts forming up to devour the land.
Too much! And they were turned away.
Fire consuming the deep places in his country.
Too much! And they were put out.
Amos looked around at the men lounging around eating their fill of the richest of foods and throwing the rest to the hounds.  He looked around at the women dressed in the finest of cloth and adorned with the choicest of jewels.  He looked around at the leaders and their wives lying on beds of the softest linens and dabbing themselves with the sweetest perfumes.
Amos also looked at the men and women who fought with the rats for the stalest of bread, who froze when the wind whipped through the largest of holes in their shirts, who slept with the cockroaches on the hardest of stone.
He said there would be famine.  A famine and a thirst and a loss of the sun in the middle of the day.  But not a famine of bread or a thirst of water.
No, this famine would be far worse.  It is a shortage of the words of God.  It is a loss of the light of His face.
The rich and the lovely would be doomed to run from sea to shining sea, searching and thirsting for the Word of Life.
It is a loss of light, a loss of life.  It is the loss of God himself.
Towards the end, God will make himself so scarce that the world won’t even know what it’s starving to death for. ~ Frederick Buechner in Peculiar Treasures
Too much!
May God have mercy and not abandon us to our own selves and desires.
Lord, we would have more of You.