Temptation

Temptation.
It swirls around me like a hurricane
sending my intentions spinning into the blackened sky.

 

I hear the voice of God
I hear Him tell me what is good
Why can I not obey?
My consistency is that I fail to listen
My constant is that I continue to fall.

 

The ugly truth?
I don’t believe God.
I don’t believe Him when He tells me what is best.
If I believed, I would obey.
If I trusted in God’s goodness, His love, I would always do what He asks.

 

I would choose love instead of anger.
I would choose compassion rather than bitterness.
I would forgive instead of clinging to my grudge.
I would assume the best rather than enjoying my irritation.
I would think of others and forget about myself.

 

How can I obey,
how can I root out this ugliness that is deep inside my heart?
I cannot listen when I will not trust.

 

And yet I remember.
God is mercy and God is grace.
He changes hearts and He captures our gaze.
He is faithful if we ask;
His wisdom He delights to give.

 

Christ stayed in the wilderness
He faced down our sin
He trusted in God
Trusted God’s love and goodness
Christ conquered to make me a conqueror.

 

Grace.
It captures my heart and teaches me to trust
changing my nature so that I am now able to believe what God says
And obey.

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The Day God is Dead

Holy Saturday.
2048px-Vittore_Carpaccio_-_Preparation_of_Christ's_Tomb_-_Google_Art_Project
The day God is dead.
The day we lose God Himself.
Don’t miss this.  Don’t rush through it.  On the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, God is dead.
Belgium
One part of the Trinity, yes, but God nonetheless.
The Word of God is gone.  We can no longer hear Him.
Linger in this day.  Does the earth feel different?  Somehow vacant?
Elmendorf
There is, for this day, no possible way to reach God.
And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
No Most Holy Place where the high priest could meet with God.
It is finished.
He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
No Word of God in whom we can see the Father.
No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
Garden Tomb Side
Remain in this day as long as you can.  I don’t understand how, but somehow this day exists on which we are completely isolated from God.
Breathe in the horror of this day.  God is dead.  He is, for this day, unattainable.  Can you catch even a glimpse?
The disciples did.  They lived it for what must have felt like an eternity.
We’d rather skip past this day, this Saturday that contains Christ’s body in the tomb.  Yet we must linger if we are to grasp the power of Easter Sunday.  We must dwell here awhile if we are to be allowed to hold the joy of Easter Sunday.
When the Son, the Word of the Father is dead, then no one can see God, hear of Him or attain Him.  And this day exists, when the Son is dead, and the Father, accordingly, inaccessible. ~ Hans Urs Von Balthasar (theologian and author)
Can you feel the terror of it?  Do you sense the incomprehensible void that stretches before us on this day?  What does it even mean?
Do not rush too quickly past this Holy Saturday on your way to the miracle.  You may miss the deepest part of the gratitude and joy that are to come.
Garden Tomb
The deepest gratitude and joy that come only when you understand what was absent, and understand that it was only for a day.

 

Art credits: Preparation of Christ’s Tomb by Vittore Carpaccio; Tomb of knight Philip Keerman in Flanders, Belgium; 1912 photograph of Jerusalem Garden Tomb by Dwight Lathrop Elmendorf; Side view of Garden Tomb by Deror Avi; Jerusalem Garden Tomb by Berthold Werner

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Living Generous

It is often difficult to be generous.  It is hard to give freely of our time, our resources, our hearts.
Giving Freely
It is often difficult to trust.  It is hard to open ourselves to others, leaving ourselves vulnerable to betrayal.
Staying Vulnerable
It is often difficult to see the abundance that is in God, and perhaps this is why it is so difficult to give it all away.
The Widow's Mite
The widow whom Jesus noticed giving up her last coins in the temple could see this abundance.  She saw how beautiful and full living in God’s life could be.  She saw what we must open our own eyes to see: that we can only be generous and trust God with our lives when we see that our life in God, this kingdom of God here on earth, is abounding in life and love and joy.
Yes, we live in a broken, fallen world, but we don’t have to wait for the end of all things for God’s rule on earth to begin.  Something occurred in creation when Jesus was raised from the dead.  Something began at the resurrection that begins to bring God’s new life to this earth here and now.  Paul speaks of us, among other things, as a new creation in Christ.  I am not a theologian, so I do not pretend to understand how this happens or even exactly what is occurring.
Live Generously
Yet perhaps part of what this means is that we are called to bear witness to the perfect life in God, the perfect life of Genesis 1 & 2 and Revelation 21 & 22.  We are called to live life in a way that bears witness to the perfection that we as well as all of creation will become, and perhaps simply living a witness kind of life is the way in which we are right now bringing God’s kingdom to fruition in our world.
When we act, as followers of Jesus Christ in the world, as if the limitations of this world set the boundaries for how we can act, then we are…failing in our witness to the cosmic redemption that has been accomplished in Jesus Christ ~ Jonathan Wilson, author of God’s Good World: Reclaiming the Doctrine of Creation
So let us live lives full of generosity and trust, opening our eyes to the abundance of life around us.  The very same abundance that is ours in a witness life in Christ.

Art Credit: The Widow’s Mite by James Tissot

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I Cannot

I hate admitting that I cannot do something.  I have experienced quite a few tragedies that occurred because I was unable to swallow that thing inside of me that rises up and prevents me from asking for help.
clenched fist
The one notable exception is raising children.  I am all about seeking out advice when it comes to my children (which is its own problem because too much advice leads to indecision which invariably leads to paralysis).  This is not by any particular virtue of my own, rather it is because I am completely terrified of irreversibly messing up another human being.
Messing up my own life, however, is fine, because whatever the thing is, I can do it.
Even if I cannot.
This causes a definite problem, however, when it comes to my faith.  I want to be able to be good enough, to make myself righteous enough, to climb up the ladder and reach God all on my own.
Tower of Babel
I would have done well in Babel.
I want to do it myself so that I can then take credit.  I want to be proud of my own accomplishments.  I want, in short, to seek and worship myself.
Worshiping Self
God, however, is quite clear.  We can never rise up to Him, so He, in His infinite mercy, came down to us.  
Coming Down
This is folly and this is scandal.  It cannot be understood by our own reason and intelligence.  This is offensive.  It offends our pride to know that there is nothing for us to do.
God is too high and holy and our sin is too deep and depraved for us to be able to reach God.
Our souls become crippled and cramped by trying to rise to the highest height.  The end is despair, or a self-righteousness that leaves room neither for love of God nor for love of others. ~ Emil Brunner
It hurts as a crucifixion always does, but I must crucify myself and admit that I cannot reach God.  I cannot be good enough and I cannot make myself righteous.
So God descends to us at Christmas and finishes His descent on Good Friday.  What is His goal and where does He end His descent?  He ends where we belong.  In Hell.  Our rightful place is separation from God, which is hell, and God descends down to hell.
Fires
Jesus experiences our separation from God and despairs of loneliness from God so that we can be free of it.  He descends all the way down so that He can lift us out and reconcile us to God.  It is the only way.
Reconciliation
If the only way to receive God’s Spirit and nevermore to be separate from Him is to admit that I cannot do it, I will crucify my pride every single day and bow my head to the ground in worship and thanksgiving.
I will confess: I cannot.

Art Credits: Construction of the Tower of Babel painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younger; The Three Crosses by Rembrandt

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Breathe

He knelt down, leaned in close, and
breathed into the dust.
Dust became man and man
breathed in His image and life.

 

He breathed His Word and
Word gained skin and
breathed life into twelve who then
breathed that life into more.

 

Spirit became fire and
breathed mighty wind into
hearts and minds which then
breathed change into the world.

 

We breathe a human breath then
slip under the waters where
all breath stops and when
we come up we now have His
breath in our souls.

 

One day our lungs will
breathe last breath and we fall
asleep but when we wake we
find Him leaning close and He
breathes into us perfect life.
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The Dangerous Grace of Lent

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I am only beginning to explore this journey that is Lent.  This season was not a part of my faith tradition growing up, but it seems to be growing more popular among evangelicals these days.
Lent
This long season of Lent is not a frivolous sort of giving up as it appeared to a fairly oblivious teenage self (fasting from M&M’s anyone?) but a giving up for the purpose of giving away.  It is a period of self-denial in order to become more unified with the Spirit of Christ.
It is a difficult thing to be unified with Jesus.  Gazing into the eyes of Christ for too long has frightening consequences.  When you stare at the cross, you find yourself looking at your own death, at your sin and its just consequence.  You come face to face with all of the spiritual deformities that are in your own soul and find yourself tempted to turn away from the harsh reflection.
Crucified with Christ
When you gaze at Christ crucified for these forty days that are Lent, you are pulled close to the grace and forgiveness of your death finished for you.  But it is a dangerous grace.  This grace is one that does not leave you unfinished.  It is a grace that purges and renews.
The purpose of Lent is to awaken in you a sense of your own sin, your guilt for your sin, and your sorrow over your sin.  The purpose of Lent is to awaken “the sense of gratitude for the forgiveness of sins.  To (awaken) or to motivate the works of love and the work for justice that one does out of the gratitude for the forgiveness of one’s sins.” (Edna Hong in Bread and Wine) 
Awakening
This grace can only be approached at the end of Lent.  It is a long journey, these forty days.  It is a necessary journey, one that fights the apathy and smugness of this world in which we often find it easy to spot deformities in the souls of others and find it also easy to turn away from the crippled places of our own souls.
Yet we do not travel this path of Lent alone.  God’s Spirit Himself travels with us, maneuvering us down this steep path that ends at the foot of the cross.  As we stand at the foot of the cross, stripped of our illusions about ourselves, we gaze at the battered and broken body of the One who came to rescue us.  This body of Jesus that is our grace.  This grace that brings fire.  This fire that purges and cleanses and does not consume but instead resurrects us into a new self.
Gaze at the Cross
It is beautiful, this amazing and dangerous grace.
Dangerous Grace
When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie
My grace all sufficient shall be your supply.
The flame shall not hurt you, my only design
Your dross to consume and your gold to refine.
~ How Firm a Foundation

Credit to Edna Hong and Walter Wangerin in Bread and Wine for many of the ideas in this post.

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Reason and Revelation

Those who follow Jesus are, I fear, often suspicious of reason.
Learning
Some believe that the spiritual is far above intellect and cannot be discerned by the mind.  Some are simply afraid that those who are deemed intellectual will produce proof after proof to debunk their cherished beliefs.
We are commanded to love God with all of our mind.  And we are told that we cannot know God unless He reveals Himself to us.
Their eyes were opened
It seems a paradox that we can know God by reason and we can know God only by revelation.
Yet our faith is full of paradoxes: the last will be first; the King came as a servant; you live by dying; you gain by giving away.  It is one of the things I love about this Christ-filled life.  One can never get bored; there will never be a dearth of things to discover.
Discovering
I love a good mystery novel.  I adore following the clues and trying to figure out the solution.  The best mystery authors are the ones who can lead you on, doling out all of the necessary clues and handing you a surprise twist at the end, a twist that you never saw coming but one that perfectly fulfills all of the clues that came before.
Beautiful Books
This is our faith.  The Old Testament prophets gave all of the necessary clues to finding the Messiah yet when He finally arrived, the way in which He perfectly agreed with their descriptions was a complete surprise.
I imagine that this is how it will be at the end of our own times.  The final revelation of God will perfectly complete all that we have reasoned out, yet in a beautifully surprising way.
Our Creator gave us reason, gave us intellect, gave us curiosity for a purpose.  I suspect that He delights in surprising us, in crafting intricate puzzles that lead us on ever new adventures of discovery.
Near Discovery
Far Discovery
Wouldn’t that be just like Him?

Art Credits: Road to Emmaus by Robert Zund; photos of space by NASA

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Our Purpose

It is a question as old as humanity: Why are we on earth and what are we supposed to do while we are here? 

Working the Land

Even the ancients spent time on this.  The Bible tells us from the very beginning in Genesis about many who searched for and discovered their purposes: Jabal discovered how to raise livestock, Jubal developed different types of music, Tubal-Cain mastered metalworking. 
These ancients figured out what to do while here on earth, but what about us?  What is our role?  Many answers can be found by gazing into the moment we were created. 

Out of the Dirt

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”
We have a dual role, we humans.  A dual purpose, given to us by God Himself.  Let us make.  We are created, a part of God’s creation.  In our image.  We are God’s unique counterpart, His representatives here on earth.
Being made in God’s image brings with it certain responsibilities.  The second part of Genesis 1.26 says that God decided we were to rule, to have dominion over, all living creatures.

Dominion

David echoes this in Psalm 8 when he says that God crowned us with honor and made us rulers of all that God created.
This has, unfortunately, been used too often as an excuse to plunder the earth and destroy it.  Instead, “as God’s image bearers…we are to be wise stewards of the earth, caring for it and protecting it in a way that reflects and embodies God’s rule over his creation.”  ~ Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie
As God’s representatives, His image bearers, we also are to spread the knowledge of God and His love to the rest of the world.  We are to work to speed up God’s future goal for creation, to bring healing, restoration, hope and peace to the world around us.
Israel was supposed to be a picture of this.  Israel was called to be God’s people, accomplishing God’s purposes for humanity in and for the world.  They had experienced God’s rescuing power and love and were intended to be His way of giving that love to the rest of the world.
Does that sound familiar, as though it were, perhaps, something we are supposed to do?  I wonder what would have happened if Israel had obeyed.  What would our world look like if they had acted as God’s representatives?  This is a painful question because Israel’s purposes were but a shadow of our own.
What would our world look like if we were truly acting as God’s representative?  What would our neighborhood, our community look like if we were caring for and protecting our world, if we were sharing God’s rescuing love with the people around us?  Different? 

Neighborhoods

Things have gone wrong and many live in alienation from one another and in purposeless and destructive living.  We should want to be different.  We should be reflecting the image of God to the piece of creation in which He has placed us.
Our second role from that moment of creation is our very creatureliness.  “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” 

Created

We are created by God.  Along with the trees, mountains, birds and sun, we ARE God’s creation.  We humans, however, have a unique role that was given to us on behalf of all of creation.  A role that only we can fulfill.
We are (as far as we know!) the only creatures who can love God in return.  We are the only part of creation who can give voice to the wordless praise of all creation. 

The Trees Shout

In the human being, creation finds a conscious answering voice, a mortal from the dust of the earth who can know and respond to God’s love as a creature, love God in return, and as a part of this response, voice creation’s praise. ~ Resounding Truth by Jeremy Begbie
This is a beautiful picture and a beautiful role.  What grace that God entrusted this to us!  And yet what tragedy that our role as worshiper in creation has twisted into worshiper of creation.  Including worshiper of self.  Just as we have twisted our role as God’s representative, we have twisted our role of offering worship on behalf of all creation.

Worshipping

However.  (What a beautiful word is however!)  God gave us grace through Christ.
Jesus.  Man.  God.  A man who gave complete and un-distracted praise to God.  A man who perfectly acted out God’s wise rule in the world.

Perfect Man

He is creation’s worship to God ~ perfect praise from us to God, creation’s perfect voice.  He is the image of God to us ~ perfect representation of God, being a wise steward of the earth He brought healing, restoration, hope and peace from God to earth.
Jesus helped and healed many people, like this. He made blind people see. He made deaf people hear. He made lame people walk. Jesus was making the sad things come untrue. He was mending God’s broken world.  ~ Jesus Storybook Bible
The most exciting part of this news about Jesus?  We are invited to join Him.  What joy and grace!  What a gift!  By reflecting God’s image to the world around us, to the tiny piece of creation (human and non-human) in which God has placed us, we are voicing the praise of creation back to God.
What a beautiful circle.  What beautiful purpose.

Art Credits: photo of bird in hand by SP Veres; Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Johannes Vermeer

reworked and much edited from the archives

it’s a little funny to me that this blog is old enough to have archives

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Our Jealous God

The Bible is the Word of God.  It is God speaking to us, revealing Himself to us so that we can know Him, know how much He loves us and so that we can learn how to love Him in return.
Word of God
This Bible of ours is a beautiful book of love.  And there are parts of the Bible that are downright disturbing, parts that don’t adhere to our black and white notions of God.  We like to gloss over these, to skim over them so that we don’t have to think about them, but they just won’t go away.  There are parts of God’s Word that don’t fit the image we have of God.  They don’t fit the sort of God we want God to be.  Even God the Son does and says some absurd and strange things.  Like the cursing of the fig tree.  Who, for the love of God, would curse a tree because it is not bearing fruit in the winter?  How could that action possibly have been done for the love of God?
Another of these disturbing pieces is God as a jealous God.  We tend to think of jealousy as weak, as petty, as fear.  We think of it as wishing that we were and had what we are not and do not.  But God is in everything and by Him everything lives and moves and has its being.  How can both of these be true?
Unfocused
We don’t always get a resolution of the images of God that don’t fit, these pieces of God we can’t make sense of.  This one, though, has become clearer lately through reading Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris.  She speaks of the jealousy of God as mother love, as a lion or tiger protecting her young with passion and fierceness.  This jealousy of God is the kind of jealousy that protects her vulnerable children from all that would hurt them, from all that would steal their joy.
Ten Commandments
It makes sense, then, that one of the times this image of God is given to us is in the first of the Ten Commandments.  These commandments were meant to show us how much we need God, to teach us how life works and the way we will be most happy.  So if God is jealous to keep false gods away from us, it is the jealousy that wants to protect us from all that would harm our souls.
God’s jealousy allows us to trust Him.
Who, after all, would trust a God, a parent, spouse, or lover, who said to us, “I really love you, but I don’t care at all what you do or who you become.”?  ~  Kathleen Norris
It is resolutions like this, resolutions that show that what seems disturbing is all somehow out of love and holiness, resolutions that help us trust for the unknown, disquieting pieces.  They help us trust that God is holy and is love and is working to make all of us and all of this world into what it was created to be.
Perfect World
Resolutions like this help us trust that God is a jealous God, “who loves us enough to care when we stray.  And who has given us commandments to help us find the way home.”  ~ Kathleen Norris

Art Credit: Moses Smashing the Tablet of the Law by Rembrandt

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Is Grace Worth It?

I am always yearning for perfection.  I long for this battle to be done, for the result of a war won to become more evident.  I want my internal battle to be finished as well as the battle over this world of ours.  I get tired, you see, of fighting.  I want to love perfectly, to obey perfectly, to forgive perfectly.
Here I Fight
 I want our world to be able to quit fighting.
Fighting for Life
 I want all of us to love perfectly, to love in a way that results in bodies getting fed, animals feeling safe, hearts being healed, trees growing tall.
I’m ready for the lion and the lamb to lie down together.
Yet if I had been born into perfection, I would never have experienced the gift that is grace.  This grace-gift of being loved at my most unlovable, of being shaped into perfection at my most imperfect.  Is it worth it?  A hard question.
If I had been perfect from the start, I wouldn’t know battle and I wouldn’t know mercy.  I would, perhaps, trust more in myself than in the One who made me.  Are heights of joy made richer by the depths carved by sorrow?
Sorrow Carves Deep
Grace is having a commitment to – or at least an acceptance of – being ineffective and foolish.  ~ Anne Lamott
I don’t know why this is so.  I don’t know why we can only experience grace while being ineffective and foolish.  I don’t know why we must experience battle in order to grasp this gift full of beauty.  I wish it were not this way.
I do know that God does nothing by accident.  I do know that God created with a purpose of love and I do know that someday His will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.
God Fighting for Us
Is grace worth all of this?
There is much that I don’t know.  And there are a few things I do.

Art credit: Illustration from Luther Bible 1769

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