Logs piled high with fire bright to keep
away pain of deep freeze snow night;
Brilliant sun rises on even a dark day reminding
that peace our despair will allay;
Fears faced with soft laughter and voices
loud that flit high toward rafter;
These are gift
Hand offered up to tightly hold while heart
searches hard to discover it is bold;
One timid smile offered slow on a troubled
day that conspires to bring heart low;
Tiny dimpled fingers tightly wrap around
a thumb with paper skin deep in nap;
These are gift
One who spoke earth and star is found
wrapped in small by those traveling far;
He who is Creator’s song takes on
all our discord, killed for our wrong;
Promise of freedom from fear, of healing
our broken, of wiped away tear;
These are gift
for which we give thanks
We all live in a tension between seeming opposites, sliding between one extreme and the other as though we were children sliding back and forth across the kitchen floor in our footie pajamas.
We want to accomplish much during our day, and we wish we could curl up on the couch with a book or the remote.
We plead with a good god for help when things fall apart, and we wonder how any god but the cruelest sort could watch while life disintegrates.
We would die for our children, and we feel a strong urge to toss them out any nearby window.
We long to dream big and serve those who are suffering and downtrodden, and we despair that anything we could do could possibly make any difference.
We desire to follow after Christ with all that we are, and we secretly speculate whether He even exists.
Emotions are fickle and are often the source of these tensions that send us skidding back and forth in an attempt to live well. Even on our best days when we yearn to serve God with all of our heart, we feel unsure of what that really means.
One day we think that perhaps we should sell our home and move to the inner city. The next we think that perhaps God wishes for us to love our right-now neighbor whose cat has just dug up our roses.
One day we think that we should create something beautiful that will point millions to God. The next we think that we should write a letter to our uncle who needs to hear about love.
One day we think that God asks us to sacrifice much and preach gospel to those who despair. The next we think that God asks us to be obedient in small ways with the family and friends He has placed around us.
What do we do with these tensions? What do we do with these competing wishes and desires? Does God ask for big dreams and risky sacrifices or does He smile upon small acts of faithfulness and childlike demonstrations of obedience?
I am learning that He gives varying numbers of talents to different people, even varying tasks to the same people in different stages of their lives.
I am learning that He asks us to wait patiently for His call, to take one step of faith at a time, to carry out one obedient act that may lead to more. I am learning that He asks us to continue living in tension, knowing that those who get comfortable are not as easy to move, knowing that those who feel most at home in this world are not readying themselves or anyone else for a perfect home.
I am learning that just living in peace with this tension, taking each next step as He guides, is what we are meant to do, even when it doesn’t feel like quite enough.
I’ve written about it before in this space, but since I will never act perfectly until the day I see my Lord face to face, I will just have to continue to write about it in hopes that this act of writing will somehow help me. Perhaps it will help someone else as well.
I want so desperately to follow Jesus without having to fight against myself; I want to do the right thing at the right time without a raging internal struggle; I just want it to be easier for me to obey. Will you join me over at Embracing Grace to talk about the grace God gives us even when we can’t give that grace to ourselves? I’d love to meet you over there.
Formulas are nice when you want to control your results.
Living creatively is risky.
Yet the first thing that we are told about this God in whose image we are created is that He Himself is creative. He is a creator.
You can never tell what will come of living creatively. Even many who are courageous enough to practice an art form and share it with the world would prefer to live more formulaically.
Many of our choices in this life can be directly guided by what God says through His Scriptures. Am I angry with someone? I should not kill them. Do I see something I like in a store window? I should not steal it.
Yet there are so many other areas in our lives where we are asked to live as courageously as artists, to be riskily creative with our choices. We ask God where we should live, where we should go to school, whom we should marry, what sort of career we should pursue, how exactly we should parent our children, and we are dissatisfied with the answer that God can use us wherever we are and on whatever path we choose.
There are other, more specific situations, in which we long with all of our being to do the right thing, to obey God, to be like Jesus, yet that right thing is far from clear. This is where we yearn for a formula. We desperately want to be able to turn to a page, a verse, and get a specific answer for a specific issue.
We tell ourselves it is because we want to obey, yet perhaps it is often closer to the truth that we simply do not trust God’s Spirit in us. We do not trust that the Holy Spirit can guide us in the way that honors God. We are too fearful to take the risk of living like an artist.
I have been in the middle of just such a situation this week and have found myself searching anxiously for a formula to tell me what to do. I was attacked by a dog, a dog that is owned by a neighbor with a history of keeping dogs who have to be put down for attacking people.
Whether or not my neighbor knows God, I am not aware. What an amazing opportunity to make God known to her! And I live in a neighborhood filled with children. God asks us to protect the weak, to care for those who cannot care for themselves.
How can I do both of these things? How can I glorify God to my neighbor and protect the children of our neighborhood at the same time? Certainly an eternal soul is more important than any physical harm, yet God also calls us to work toward justice and the defense of the weak.
Part of the trouble that I (and most of you, I would wager!) like to know my path several steps in advance. Preferably enough steps in advance to allow me to see the end. I do not like walking forward when I can only see the space where my foot will land next.
I knew my next step. I knew that God was asking me to meet with the owner of the dog and just speak with her, but that wasn’t enough. I wanted to know what would happen after that. I wanted to see all the way to the end, to know how I would both protect the children and make God known to my neighbor.
God did not ask me to plan out all of my steps to the end. He did not tell me the formula I should use to accomplish both of these goals. He did not give me the task of making certain that everything was ordered perfectly in order to reach His aims.
He only asked me to do the first thing and to trust Him with the rest, to live creatively and allow the Spirit to guide me one step at a time.
So I did. I met with the dog’s owner without knowing what would come next. I took the risk of starting down this path, trusting that God will shine His light ahead when the time is right. I don’t yet know the ending to this story. I don’t know how God will work things out.
So I live like an artist, taking the risk to wait for His light without planning all of my steps to completion, knowing that God is far more able to control the ending than any number of formulas that I might follow.
Even though I still like formulas.
Art credits: God Creating the Sun, the Moon and the Stars by Jan Breughel; Paint-by-numbers photo by Isabelle Bart; Christ with the Children by Carl Bloch; Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Henryk Siemiradzki
I was listening to my Mars Hill Audio Journal recently when I heard one of the guests claim that the current question about faith for the younger generation (ages 18-35) has moved from Is Christianity true? to Is Christianity good?
I am on the upper end of this demographic and this claim at first struck me as false. After all, much of my youth, especially in high school and college, was spent learning apologetics, learning how to prove to everyone around me that Christianity was true.
(This book not particularly recommended!)
We’ll ignore the fact that most people turn to Jesus because of a friend who lived Jesus rather than because of a stranger who argued Jesus. I was taught all of the classic defenses and I read all of the classic books: Mere Christianity, A Case for Christ, etc.
None of this is bad. It is wise to know whether or not your faith is true, to know whether it is intellectually probable. It would be foolish to “believe” solely because you were raised that way. The question of whether or not Christianity is good simply never occurred to me.
Yet the more I thought about it, the more I think that perhaps this claim is, after all, true, at least to some degree. Even beyond the question of whether Jesus is necessary (if you persist in believing that you are not “that bad” then you will not believe that you need such an ultimate sacrifice as the cross), if you believe that human dignity and human good are based on human freedom, and if you believe that freedom is synonymous with autonomy, than Christianity is emphatically not good.
Christianity speaks much about submission, about losing your life, about obedience, and these words sound oppressive in light of what most believe about personal freedom. Yet any thoughtful person knows when it is articulated clearly that limits are good, that complete autonomy for every individual leads to unsustainable living conditions.
After all, limits provide constraints, but they also provide direction and therefore opportunities. Leon Kass, an American physician, scientist, and educator, pointed out that gravity is a form of limit but without it we could not dance.
Many of us who follow Christ try to retool the Bible to fit what modern culture has taught us is good. We want to make Jesus less about submission and more about social justice.
I think most of us do doubt at times whether Christianity is truly good, wondering whether freedom might be a better path. After all, our culture has taught us that the ability to make all of our own choices is more important than the quality of any of those choices. Our own Supreme Court has stated that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life”. (Planned Parenthood vs Casey, 1992)
If we can pause for a moment, however, and remember that freedom is not the same as autonomy, then the gospel begins again to become good news rather than being burdensome and dictatorial.
If we can remember that freedom means being who we truly are, being who we were created to be, even being allowed to participate in the Being of our Triune God, than God’s way of submission becomes the way of love rather than the way of oppression. God’s path of obedience becomes the path to becoming our true selves, free from all of the appetites and desires that threaten to enslave us.
Thus the answer to the question “Is Christianity good?” is an emphatic yes. But only if we step back from our culture’s definition of freedom and move back to a truer definition. A definition that replaces our autonomy with our very truest selves.
I know which one I would rather have.
What have you found in your relationships? Do people care more about whether Christianity is true or whether it is good?
Art Credits: Creation of Adam by Michelangelo Buonarroti; photo of chains by Javier Gonzalez; photo of Christ by Asta Rastauskiene
We were made to do meaningful work well.
What, then, do we do with a category of work that has no significance or importance beyond providing employment?
I would love to hear what you think about this topic as I write about it over at Embracing Grace (http://embracinggrace.net/2013/10/good-work/). Will you join me?
I have wondered before in this space, wondered why science and our faith seem always to be at such odds. I have lamented the idea that fear is driving the Christian’s response to science and therefore is driving many intelligent people away from our faith and our churches.
What I did not address in my previous musings is how it seems that every time there is a new scientific discovery, a new theory about our world and our universe, both sides seem to leap upon the premise as proof of their point of view.
Whether we speak of the observation that the earth revolves around the sun or the theory of big bang cosmology, every new discovery or theory is at the first seized upon to carry wide-reaching theological and philosophical consequences.
Those who do not believe in our God grasp at the new discovery to be used as a new attack against Christianity. Those who do believe either dismiss it out-of-hand as patently false, a conspiracy of scientists who twist the facts to suit their own purposes, or else (perhaps more embarrassingly) try to use it as the basis for a new defense for proving their beliefs to the world.
Yet each time this occurs, when “the popular hubbub has subsided and the novelty has been chewed over by real theologians, real scientists and real philosophers, both sides find themselves pretty much where they were before.” ~ C.S. Lewis
One would think that we, as humanity, would learn. I suppose, though, that what was true in the third century, BC, is still true today. There is nothing new under the sun.
We would do well, I think, to remember that the purpose of science is to try to figure out how things work. Science does not give ultimate explanation for the origin and existence of the universe or answer questions concerning the purpose of the universe or of our existence.
Perhaps our role as believers is not, after all, to prove our faith beyond a shadow of a doubt. Perhaps this attempt is what leads us to seize upon science as either a hoax or a tool without really knowing the first thing about the particular theory or discovery we are discussing. This, I think, leads to the valid complaint among unbelievers that we tend to speak hotly about things we do not understand.
Perhaps, instead, we should remember that faith is something that can be pointed to, that can be supported by evidence and can be intelligently concluded to be true, but is not something that can be proved in a way that people cannot help but believe.
When our faith can be proved in such a manner, that, I believe, is the day we will call Judgement.
What we believe always remains intellectually possible; it never becomes intellectually compulsive. I have an idea that when this ceases to be so, the world will be ending. We have been warned that all but conclusive evidence against Christianity, evidence that would deceive (if it were possible) the very elect, will appear with Antichrist. And after that there will be wholly conclusive evidence on the other side.
But not, I fancy, till then on either side. ~ C.S. Lewis
Arms raised to the sky
Music swirls around
Voices reach to the heavens
Heaven reaches back down.
Hands cleaning and scrubbing
Words of kindness reach out
Placing others before you
Giving to all those without.
Fingers clenching the blanket
Tears slip to the ground
Head bowed in anguish
Whispers of praise still resound.
All this and more
Is Creation’s purpose
Let all life be filled
With this splendid worship.
Much of the time it doesn’t work out this way because this world is so broken and can be so dark, but every once in a while you are allowed to be a part of, or at least catch a glimpse of, something that points toward something more, something bigger, something so sacred that you want to cup it gently in your hands, speak of it only in whispers, breathe soft so as not to disturb it.
There is a boy. A boy who grows up. A boy who falls in love with and marries a girl. A girl who discovers she is pregnant with a son and fast on the heels of that revelation discovers that she is dying. There is a boy. A boy who sinks down. A boy who clings to his son in order to keep his face above the waves that are drowning him. A boy who continues to seek God even though most of the time he is not convinced that such a God exists and all of the time feels an anger toward Him that threatens to burn his heart into ashes.
There is a God. A God who longs to be found, who deals gently and softly with those who are wounded. A God who slowly soothes and cleanses and heals the heart of a boy using, in part, the heart of a girl.
There is a girl. A girl who has lost the mother she loves yet chooses to cling to the God who gifted her such a mother in the first place. A girl who loved a boy yet was willing to give the boy up to God to be sure that his newly healed heart belonged to God alone.
There is a boy and there is a girl and, most of all, there is a God. A God who is using a story and a wedding and a marriage to tell me and to tell you that there is hope and there is truth and above all there is love. A God who wants you to know as you sit in the dark, hiding or weeping or perhaps both at the same time, that there is light in this dark.
Perhaps it seems like just a candle flame in the dark, flickering uncertainly as though a whisper might extinguish it, but I saw this weekend in the beauty of a wedding that this tiny flame will spread and will pierce the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.
What I saw this weekend in the crazy-loud joy, in the riotous music and lights, in the feasting and laughing and wide-open grins made me want to jump up with my arms flung out and shout Silence! Listen to the small voice, to the message so sacred and precious, so unbelievable and so true that it makes you stand rooted to the spot with Thomas and whisper My Lord and my God.
Christ is risen. Hold it gently in all of its holiness. He is risen, and because He is risen, His love never fails. In your darkness, in your brokenness, in your fears and doubts and loneliness and amidst all of the shattered pieces that might never get put back together in this life, He loves you and His love never fails.
Much of the time it doesn’t work this way, but this weekend I was a part of something that points toward something bigger and brighter and truer. It is precious and it is holy, so lean close and hear me proclaim in a whisper this thing that is unbelievable and so true. Christ is risen. He is risen and His love never fails you and even though we never fully emerge from the darkness in this life, one day there will be nothing but crazy-loud joy and riotous music and feasting and laughing and light, such bright and brilliant light that the darkness will flee in terror to the deepest of the depths.
So take heart. Be brave and strong and true, and let Him shape your hearts into hearts that are beautiful, hearts that bear to each other that precious, flickering holy flame of love. Take heart.
May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and give you support from Zion!
May he remember all your offerings
and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah
May he grant you your heart’s desire
and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!
Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.