How can Jesus be with us while also in Heaven?

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He says I am with you always and then disappears from sight.
Ascension
He promises never to leave us, yet we cannot touch His hands and feet.
It can seem like a painful hoax sometimes, this promise of Jesus to remain, especially in those times when we would give up everything just to have Him hold us in His arms.
Yet if we trust that He is not a liar, not given to cruel jokes, there must be some way in which this is true.
If God is three-in-one, if three are God and God is three, then when the Holy Spirit comes to take up residence within, it is, in some mysterious way, also Jesus Himself living in our hearts.
God in us
Jesus speaks interchangeably about Himself and the Spirit in John.
You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.
Jesus is God and the Spirit is God and God abides in us for eternity.
Yet I think there are more layers to this.
heaven and earth
The Bible seems to teach that heaven is right here, separated from earth only by a veil just as the Garden of Eden was separated from the temple of the universe, just as the Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of Solomon’s temple.
Jesus is in heaven and Jesus is right here with us. It is just that we cannot see Him until that day, that beautiful, glorious day, when heaven and earth will be one again, when the veil will be lifted and He who is our very life will appear.
And we shall be made like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.
May it be so. May we trust that it is so. Amen and Amen.

Art credit: All photographs this week are by Kirk Sewell

Layers of Meaning in Scripture

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

I am often astonished at the beauty of Scripture.
Word
Not only astonished at the beauty of individual books or passages, although that happens too.
What often takes me aback is the elegance of how the entire Bible fits seamlessly together, flowing in and out of itself like a river flowing into the sea.
The Old Testament points toward the New Testament, while the New Testament points back to the Old as well as forward into the future.
There are layers of meaning to everything – the personal inside the theological inside the historical – and every layer is truth.
Everything that Jesus said and did points back to what God did for Israel and forward to what He was going to do for all the nations.
Exquisite.
Beauty
Look at the Crucifixion.
It was certainly historical and political. It happened to one man in one place on earth at one particular time, a man caught between two powers struggling for supremacy.
It was theological. When Jesus died, He took upon Himself the sins of the world to atone for them once and for all.
It was personal. Jesus paying the penalty for your own sins is about as personal as it can get.
Light
Look at the meeting between Jesus and the disciples after the resurrection. The one after the disciples had been out fishing and Jesus called them to shore for breakfast.
Jesus spoke to Peter and told him, If you love Me, then feed My sheep. That is a very personal calling.
A calling which is nestled inside of the layer of Jesus as the Passover Lamb and all of the theological meanings implied therein.
The theological meanings that are nestled inside the first Passover and Israel overthrowing Egypt in their escape through the Red Sea and all the historical and political pieces of those events.
Personal meaning burrowed inside theological meaning burrowed inside historical meaning.
Truth
You see? Go look for it. Find it everywhere and be astonished.
See the Word as beautiful.

Your Spirit

You have said that You will pour out Your Spirit.
You have said that You will pour out Your Spirit on us.
Have I ever experienced an outpouring?

 

I know that Your Spirit dwells in me.
I know that Your Spirit speaks to and dwells in me.
Do I have any idea what that truly means?

 

When You pour out Your Spirit, we will prophesy.
When You pour out Your Spirit, we will prophesy and have visions.
Am I missing out or is this promise for a later time?

 

If the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in me,
If the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in me and gives me power,
Then why do I fail so often?

 

If You have given Your Spirit to all who belong to Christ,
If You have given Your Spirit to all who follow and belong to Christ,
Please teach me what it truly means to live by Your Spirit and not by my flesh, because I do not understand.

 

Amen.

When It Is Hard to Believe

I am wrestling with the difficulty of believing God.
God's Words
I suppose it would be more accurate and honest to admit that really I am wrestling with why I don’t believe God much of the time.
This struggle to believe manifests itself in different ways at various times and seasons in my life, but currently I am noticing it in two particular ways.
Trusting Him with my girls
One struggle I have is in believing that God truly loves my children.
I know.
When I say it like that, it seems ludicrous.  We are talking, after all, about the same God who gave up His only Son so that my children could be with Him forever.
Trusting His plans for them
Yet I worry about my babies.  I worry about their safety, about whether they will survive to adulthood (although sometimes I think that it might be me who causes them not to survive), about whether they will suffer some horrible trauma along the way.  I worry about whether they will learn to love God most of all and whether they will love people.  I worry about my children…which means that I am not believing God.
God has promised that He loves my children even more than I do.  He has promised that He will do what is best for them and that He will give them what they need.  But I still worry.  Why?
Part of the trouble is that I don’t trust in what God’s best is.  I know that sometimes His best is painful and even when I can trust in that for myself, I often want to protect them.  It is truly ridiculous that I would want to protect my children from God, but there it is.  Deep down inside, I sometimes believe that I know better than God, that my goals for my children are more important than God’s goals for them.
I don’t know why I wrestle with this.  When I state it so plainly, even I can see the foolishness of it.  It should be easy to believe.  Yet it is not.
Holy Spirit
The other struggle I currently have is in believing that God’s Spirit will truly guide me through life.  I have trouble believing that God is interested in all areas of life.  Can I really trust the Holy Spirit to guide me in my parenting?  Can I really trust the Holy Spirit to show me the best way to train, disciple, even educate my children?  Does God’s Spirit care about a business, a household, a career?
Method Books
I don’t believe it and so I want to rely on books, on methods, on other people to tell me how to raise and teach my babies.  Yet if Jesus is before all things, if all things hold together in Him, and if Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to us to guide us and teach us Jesus’ truth, then He truly is interested in showing me how best to live my life.  All aspects of it.
Why is that so difficult to believe, so hard to rely on?  It seems like it should be simple.  God has never broken a promise; He has proved over and over that His way and His love is best, that His Spirit is faithful to show us truth.  I am foolish to doubt the faithfulness of such a God.
The Israelites Doubting
Yet I do.  I am like the Israelites who refused to believe that God would provide enough manna on the sixth day to provide for the seventh or that He would provide enough harvest bounty in the sixth year to provide for the seventh year of Jubilee.  I doubt and I worry.  Yet even through the doubt and worry I still keep plodding forward, step by painful step, begging for God to help me trust Him, desperate for more of His Spirit.
I trust that He will.  “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Art Credit: The Golden Calf by Esteban March

To Interpret with Love

I have written recently about the difficulty of agreeing on Biblical interpretation.  It is easy to draw lines in the sand and difficult to discern between what is cultural and what is truth that transcends place and time.  It is easy to vilify those with whom we disagree and difficult to extend the grace of believing that they, too, are doing their best to follow Christ.
The ease of which I find myself speaking in terms of “us” and “them” while speaking of how we interpret the Bible forces me to search more deeply into how I see the Bible.
God's Words
Do I view the Bible as a way to live my own life or do I look into its pages to search out ways of making me right and them wrong?  Of even more eternal import, do I place the Bible as an idol above God?  Do I view the Bible or Jesus as the Word of God?
The Word
Words
It is Christ Himself, not the Bible, who is the true word of God.  The Bible, read in the right spirit and with the guidance of good teachers, will bring us to Him.  When it becomes really necessary (i.e. for our spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity) to know whether a particular passage is rightly translated or is myth (but of course myth specially chosen by God from among countless myths to carry a spiritual truth) or history, we shall no doubt be guided to the right answer.  But we must not use the Bible (our fathers too often did) as a sort of Encyclopedia out of which texts (isolated from their context and not read with attention to the whole nature and purport of the books in which they occur) can be taken for use as weapons.  ~ C.S. Lewis in a letter to a lady
When it does become necessary to know how to interpret a certain passage (only, as Lewis said, for my own spiritual life, not for controversy or curiosity), to know whether it was only written to one particular culture or whether it should be obeyed in all times and places, I am learning that love should be my standard.   It seems obvious when you think about what Jesus mandated as the most important of all the commands, but it is a standard for interpretation that I had never thought about before.  Love is to be the standard for deciding which passages are cultural and which are universal.
Paul says in Romans that whatever commandment there may be, it can be summed up in the rule “love your neighbor as yourself”.  He is, of course, writing of the Greek word agape when speaking of love.  Agape is a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional sort of love.  It is the kind of love that seeks out the best for others before it seeks for the good of itself.  I think what Paul means, what Jesus means by “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” is that if we are truly living out God’s kind of love for others, we will always be led to do the right thing.
Picking Corn
Breaking the Sabbath
Even Jesus seems to apply the same principle to the Jewish Scriptures when He heals on the Sabbath or picks and eats grain on the Sabbath.  Rather than defending Himself by saying that He is not technically breaking the Sabbath, in each case He argues that sometimes violating the letter of the law is necessary in order to act in love and fulfill the spirit of the law instead.
I have a lot more praying and studying to do about this, but this idea feels incredibly freeing.  Rather than having to be a Bible scholar and know the ancient languages by heart, I can apply this standard of agape love and let God’s Spirit lead me to the best answer of whether a passage is cultural or for always.  Paul speaks of slaves obeying their masters, but agape love demands their freedom.  Paul’s rules about hair length and head coverings were good in his time and place, but they have no current relation to loving God or our neighbors.
Scripture
We have been set free from the Law.  We no longer live under the supervision of the Law but under grace.  “What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?”  Paul speaks to this many times, saying that we are not to use our freedom to indulge our own selfish impulses but that we are to use our freedom to serve each other in love.  Love, agape love, is to be our standard, our way of deciding what is right and what is wrong, both in our deeds and in God’s Word.
After all, as we see in the story of the judgement in Matthew 25, Christ knows us by our actions as we serve the outcasts, the hungry, the sick, the poor, and the imprisoned.
But Jesus provides no list of beliefs at all.  People are judged not on what they believe but on how they have loved. ~ Kathleen Norris in Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

How We Love

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.

Living by Formula

Formulas are nice when you want to control your results.

Formula

Living creatively is risky.
creative architecture
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.
God Creating
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.
paint by number
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.
Looking for answers
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.
children playing
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.
Loving the Children
Loving our 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.
Lighting One Step at a Time
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

A Precarious Perch

I sit at my kitchen table and stare out the window.

Out my kitchen window

I am weary.

I see a robin settle on the tippy-est top of a tree.

Robin perched

The wind is blowing him fiercely as he desperately tries to keep his perch.

Robin on the edge

I feel a sudden kinship with this robin.

I, too, feel as though I live perched at the top of a tree, fighting to keep my place, leaning this way and that, re-balancing with a flap of my wings as people and circumstances gust all around me.

Trying to fix all the pieces of my husband that don’t quite suit me.

Robin plus one

Trying to make my kids love God above all else.

Robin plus two

Trying to force my heart to desire God more than anything else.

 

I offer “suggestions” to my husband that will help him to be more like I want him to be.

I plan activities galore to train my girls’ hearts toward God and their minds toward brilliance.

I read book after book to help me understand how to make my heart like God’s.

And I read this:

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh,

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

It shouldn’t be a startling conclusion. I am NOT the Holy Spirit. Neither are you.

Yet we so very often try to do His work for Him.

Rather, we must step aside and allow the Spirit to do His job. In His own timing.

I open my heart wide to His gentle teaching and reminding and, at least for this moment, give up my striving and balancing, allowing the Holy Spirit to surround me and give me rest and peace. Peace in knowing that He loves my family even more than I do.

Robin trust

He alone will heal and change our hearts.

Creative Spirit

I am an artist.
Music and Roses
Writing and Reading
There is a piece inside of me that is most fulfilled when I am creating.
I love watching my girls create. They are so happy when they are creating something with their own hands.
Fingerpainting
All people are creative. Do you believe that? The older I get and the more people I meet, the more I believe it. All people are creative…read the rest here!

Join me over at Embracing Grace (EmbracingGrace.net) today!

In Which I Hate

IMG_5375
I see bombs going off, clouds of fire rising over a town, and I hate the brokenness of this world.  
I see women devalued and shamed, children murdered, and I hate the pain of life that can so easily be weighed down with darkness.
I see a sermon topic of parenting after divorce and I hate this sin-disease infecting all hearts which leads to the necessity of such a lesson.
I see my girls’ faces after I have yelled ugliness and I hate the struggle that wars inside of me.
IMG_5373
I want this all to end. I want our world and our hearts to be healed and made perfect.
Yet I think about Joseph and about Daniel, stories that tell about ugly, horrible things that turn out to be part of God’s overarching, glorious plan.
IMG_5377
If I could, I would convince God that He should come back right now and make everything right again.
Yet deep down, I know that God does have purposes and He does have plans, and I trust what He is about.
IMG_5380
Sometimes, though, it is difficult to raise my eyes above the fray. I hate this sin that has broken our hearts and our world with such passion that it is difficult to look away.
My heart is divided between hope and despair.
IMG_5382
What do I do?
IMG_5383
I could sit and fix my eyes on the ugly squalor of the sin and brokenness and fall quickly into despondency.
Or.
I could stand and fix my eyes on Him who has already begun the healing by His blood.
IMG_5372
I could raise my hands in awe of One who could change all with a word and yet allows us, instead, to help in the restoration.
I could ask God’s Spirit to show me ways to hasten the healing of our world.
IMG_5369
So I open my arms and hold my family close. I roll up my sleeves and look for ways to work.
IMG_5367
Just as these did:
 
(click on the photograph to read about some who responded to horror with courageous mercy)