Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Touched by God

In a famous picture painted by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel in Rome there is a depiction of God reaching out His finger to touch the reclining form of Adam. The first man also holds his hand outstretched towards God. It is a famous picture and for many it is a powerful representation of God's creative and connecting power with humanity. The picture is quite dramatic, but does God always touch us in this fashion.

In describing the power of God's touch Jesus says "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:8 This is a more subtle representation of God's touch. But it is no less powerful. In fact the creative power demonstrated by God's restorative power in reclaiming the life of the soul is just as much a testimony to his omnipotence. But it is perhaps this method of interaction that speaks more to God's desire to love each member of his creation.

The true touch of God will not leave a life unchanged. Just as the finger of God in Michelangelo's painting gave physical life to Adam, so too the touch of the Holy Spirit gives life to the souls of Adam's descendants. Perhaps the next time we seek God's touch we can be open to the touch of the heart that He so longs to provide.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Forgotten Stories

We stand on the shoulders of giants, but we forget to kneel in the shadow of humble servants. How many of us have forgotten the lowly and humble of heart in our lives? There have always been people that walk the earth with modesty. Do we know these people? Do we strive to emulate the simple stories that are woven through our lives and the history of God's people.

Growing up I was often attracted to characters in the bible like Moses, Samson and David. Their gallant leadership or their amazing abilities spoke to my childlike wonder. But I am afraid that I did not see their true greatness. Moses was called the meekest man on earth. Samson, while proud in the prime of his life surrendered himself ultimately in humility. David was a conqueror of giants and tens of thousands of Philistine enemies, yet God calls him a man after his own heart. In retrospection perhaps David was given this title because of his compassion and humility as he sought not to elevate his own interests, but wait until the God raised him above the former "Lord's anointed."

I think this is why we should look closer at the lesser known stories of the bible. Maybe we can learn something from people like Obadiah and Amos in the Old Testament and John Mark and Timothy in the New Testament. As I write these examples I am struck by my inability to recall the more insignificant stories.

David understood the significance of the lesser known when he sought out Johnathan's posterity: Mephibosheth. Finding the soul remaining heir of the now desolated Benjamite kingdom he elevated the crippled Mephibosheth, bestowing upon him blessing after blessing. Maybe it's time that we focused on the forgotten stories so that we can see how God remembers ours.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Standing Alone

For those of us who actually attempt to let go of worldly interests there is often an attempt to stand alone amongst life's difficulties. However we do not have the power alone to resist the devil. Our constant source of strength must be the Lord.

In the same way that Christ did not rely on his own strength but surrendered to the Father so too we must make a complete surrender to Christ. It is his choices to do right that will enable us to overcome. Literally the old self must die and the new creation born of God must be allowed to live without the fetters of the habits that we have nourished. God gives us a new nature when we surrender to him, but the habits formed in our old life are still there.

God does not take away the tendency to sin, because in this life he cannot. Yet we can resist sin through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. By allowing the Holy Spirit to keep alive the new nature that was given to us when we first believed we can put to death the habits that are left over from our old nature. These habits are the result of the character that we built in our previous life. If we will continue to surrender to God each day He will help us to cultivate new habits that will strengthen our characters.

Many people attempt to crucify self by living an austere and ascetic life. However that is not possible. Love is the only principle that can change the soul and love does not exist in the vacuum of isolation. Countless monks throughout the ages have thought themselves wise by removing themselves from the world. Their decision only removed the mechanism by which they might be truly changed. In a dynamic world loving those whom we can see is a tool of God to develop love for what we cannot see. 1 John 4:20

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Cup Runneth Over

David's words are so filled with spiritual meaning that they seem to spill into the open mind. Yet how often do we misinterpret the meaning of those often perused words? In the 23 Psalm David reminds us of the dependency we all have on God. He says "the Lord is my shepherd. This is fitting metaphor enough but David continues to expand upon this theme stating that God leads him by quiet waters, green pastures and stays with him through the valley of the shadow of death. When we get to the words "my cup runneth over" we should be able to see the constant theme of provision that comes from the Lord. This is not a material provision.

It is true that God wants us to taste and see that he is good and enjoy the creative fruits of his labor on this earth. In this case however David is speaking to a more basic need. He is pronouncing the blessing of God's presence in our lives. Aptly he uses the metaphor of having your cup filled up beyond it's capacity to the point that it overflows. Could Jesus have been thinking of this analogy when he spoke to the woman at the well and said "But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." John 4:14

God does not want us to thirst, but He more importantly does not want us to be cut off from His presence. So the next time you read the familiar words of Psalm 23 ask yourself does your cup run over? Your material prospects and even your social prospects may be low, but if you are abiding in Christ you can confidently say that His presence and ulitimately His life is overflowing out of your heart.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Garden

In contemplating the Garden of Gethsemane I am struck by the inherent contradictions that set the setting of our savior's greatest struggle. As Jesus made his way onto the Mount of Olives he must have walked past the Olive trees that give the mountain it's name. I can only think that as Jesus walked he saw flowering plants as he made his way with heavy steps to his resting place. This solemn place was removed if only a short distance from the walls of Jerusalem with all of the man-made problems that persisted there and yet God had provided a solution to those problems in this Garden of Gethsemane.

Here nature, while marred by the decay of sin, still testified to God's creative power. There was life in that hill that night: there was possibility. But the night had enveloped more than just the countryside. Jesus' own heart was shadowed and beyond the reach of that light that had been his constant companion.

Perhaps he felt the darkness amplified his disconnection from his Father. The garden was filled God's presence, but this presence could no more be seen or felt than the sun when it has set behind a distant horizon. Jesus called out in that dark place longing for a way out. But none was provided.

Crumpled up like a trampled rose Christ offered up his sacrifice as a sweet smell before the Lord. Surrendering his heart he drank the fruit of the cup that we were to drink. But he did not just drink your cup or mine, he drank the fruit of every garden that ever grew in this sinful plot of land that we call home. He drained it to it's dregs so that when we walk in the Garden we can walk there in the light of the Son.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Transmission of Truth

Hosea 4:6 says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." Jesus states "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." John 17:3 Obviously we need to know things. More importantly we need to know the Lord. However this knowledge of God is a tricky thing because it cannot be given to us in just any way. In fact without a relationship their is no transmission of truth. At the very least we need a relationship with God.

Perhaps this is why Solomon said, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge."Proverbs 1:7 In relationship with God we can receive divine truths that could not be given to humans in any other way. Therefore it is wise for us to realize that not only can we not receive truth without a relationship with God we cannot impart truths to others without a relationship with God.

As we seek to give what is been given to us we need to also remember that we cannot transmit truth to others unless we and they are both in personal relationships with God. Through a relationship with God we can receive truth directly from Him. This is also true of others that continue to submit themselves to their savior. But while each person can receive truth from God through a walk with Him, in order to impart what we have learned to others, who are in a relationship with God, we must also be in relationship with that person. There is no other way around this concept.

In today's society the mental condition of autism often precludes an autistic person from learning through relationships depending upon the severity of the condition. Studies have shown that autistic people have difficulty interacting socially. As a result they have difficulty receiving information that is transmitted socially. Do we as Christians behave in a spiritually autistic manner when we approach God or others? Perhaps we simply try to take a shortcut with God and others. Whatever it is we cannot avoid the spiritual concept that truth is transmitted through relationships.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Come Now

God says quiet succinctly in His word, "Come now, let us reason together."Isaiah 1:18 These words have always appealed to me. However I am starting to believe that I misunderstood their intent. We often try to use the word of God as a tool to prove our belief system to others. In doing so we pull texts from here and there or if we have a little more academic acumen we might stay within the biblical pericope or passage to drive home our point.

While arguments should certainly be constructed to defend our beliefs: the bible say "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." 1 Timothy 2:15 We need to be careful not to miss the import of these words in Isaiah to reason.

God wants us to do well with whatever we find to do with our hands and heart but we should focus the priority of our reasoning powers on understanding the truths of salvation as they work out in our own lives. God wants us to approach each situation and examine our possible course of action with reason and intelligence. The word "reason" is in all essence being contrasted with "feeling." God does not begin with our emotions because our emotions are the fruit and not the source of our decisions. Our emotions have become corrupted by our twisted patterns of thinking. God wants us to submit our will to Him and allow Him to teach us the thought processes of Christ.

Perhaps an example would be enlightening. If a particular man has just been harshly criticized by someone he may feel the need to retaliate. This is where God asks us to reason. While we may feel the need to wound the other person God asks us to consider the consequences of this action. Does a response in kind teach the other person anything more about God? If the criticism had any merit at all do we miss the opportunity for growth? There are countless ways that this issue of reason in the context of our salvation can be illustrated. The important thing to remember is that God wants us to approach Him because of a reasoned response to the demonstration of His love and logic.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Christ's Righteousness

I am reading the book "His Robe or Mine" by Frank Phillips. The book explains how salvation works out in the life of the Christian. While the ideas are not new their presentation is powerful. The author shares a quote from the book "Thoughts on the Mount of Blessing" that I would like to share here. Let me set up the quote. The author of the passage, Ellen White is describing Jesus' trial with all the physical and emotional abuse that he endured. She says:

"'The Father's presence encircled Christ, and nothing befell Him but that which infinite love permitted for the blessing of the world. Here was His source of comfort, and it is for us. He who is imbued with the Spirit of Christ abides in Christ. The blow that is aimed at him falls upon the Saviour, who surrounds him with His presence. Whatever comes to him comes from Christ. He has no need to resist evil, for Christ is his defense. Nothing can touch him except by our Lord's permission, and "all things" that are permitted "work together for good to them that love God.'" Romans 8:28.

These words are powerful. It is difficult to imagine how Jesus was able to take comfort in the strikes and blows he received, being spat upon, being ridiculed and mocked and being treated as we deserve. Yet he took comfort in the fact that his father was permitting these things to happen.

I believe the application of these words to our lives offers the greatest opportunity for insight. In Jesus' story we can see that these acts were part of the sacrifice that Jesus offered to the world. Yet when we look at our own misfortune, poor relationships, financial trouble, daily uncertainty, and illness or death, we label these as unnecessary for our development. We say with our false wisdom that these things are the results of sin: others' sin, my sin. We think to ourselves if I made better choices or surrounded myself with Godly people these things would be minimized.

While there is truth to this I believe in thinking this way we miss the greater truth. God permits our trials for our blessing. No God is not the originator of death and evil, but He in His wisdom acts as sieve through which the sands of destruction are poured for our purification. This is why James can say "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." James 1:2-4

Amen, Amen, Amen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Living in the Light

So much of what goes on in our culture involves darkness. People seem to associate darker movies, shows, books and ideas as essentially more real than their lighter counterparts. Whatever happened to the days when people wanted to live in the light. The bible says "the people who walk in darkness Will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them"(Isaiah 9:2).

Ancient Israel lived in the shadow of their decisions, but when Jesus came into the world he was the light of the world. He is and always was the light of the world. Many of us think that light comes from the sun or from some other celestial body. However these lights can only illuminate the outside world. The world within remains in darkness apart from Christ. Jesus says "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life."

With Halloween approaching many people will celebrate the darkness in this world when they celebrate a holiday that corresponds with Samhain the Celtic holiday of the harvest. In ancient Celtic culture Samhain marked the beginning of what many saw as the start of the dark part of the year, a time when the world between the living and the dead merged and spirits walked the earth.

As we approach All Hallows Eve perhaps we should think about how Christ came into this world so that world of the dead would melt away as the light of life illuminates the hearts and minds of his people.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Waiting on the Lord

Waiting on the Lord is not a passive process. In Isaiah 40:31 it says that if we wait on the Lord He will give us wings like eagles. For many people this means that they must stop and sit down on the stoop of their life as a child does that is waiting for his father to come home after work. However this is not the implication of the biblical writer. The word in Isaiah in Hebrew is "qavah." This word carries the connotation of expectant and eager anticipation of an event. Little children and adults I might add look forward to the holidays. The holidays in the United States start with Thanksgiving and end with New Years. Anyone who actually looks forward to these holidays will make some preparation for the these anticipated events. A family might make travel arrangements, save up money, or prepare festive decorations as the time approaches.

In any case there are visible signs of their anticipation. This is even more true of the Christian that surrenders their life and plans to the Lord and prepares their lives in accordance with the will of God for His providence and His soon return.