Echoes of Eden | 11.14.16

Have you ever had the sense of something so much bigger than yourself, maybe catching a glimpse of something so beautiful, something strange or exciting, and yet peaceful? Like, that overwhelming feeling of awe at the birth of your child, or the lump that comes into your throat at a poignant moment in a movie; a piece of music that taps into something deep inside, a warm sense of “rightness” when you give of yourself sacrificially, or that sense of deep mystery and beauty watching a sunset over the ocean. NT Wright describes this as “echoes of a voice that points beyond itself.”

So what are these echoes pointing to?

For years, I didn’t really get how the Bible stories from centuries ago had anything to do with my life now, or what the long litany of the people of Israel had to do with Jesus. But, slowly I’ve begun to understand that the Bible is telling an on-going epic story that isn’t over yet – a drama that we are now experiencing. This story is full of adventure, romance, danger, and betrayal, with a hero/lover and a evil villain. Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that we have eternity written in our hearts, planted there by God – a Story (with a capital “S”) that we just can’t escape; somehow we just know there has to be more to our existence.

The Bible stories of the people of Israel are not just random stories, but are pieces of the saga that tell of God’s long-term plan to rescue and redeem the hearts of people and restore things back to the way they were meant to be – before evil entered the Story. The circumstances of your life are not just random events, but are interactive scenes in which you have an important role to play – one full of adventure, intrigue, sacrifice, danger, love, regret, and hope.

I believe the echoes are whispers from the One who loves us and will do whatever it takes to win our hearts back to Him. The voice is calling to us of a world set right again, a foretaste of what living life with God at the center will be like, pointing to the ending of the Story – which has already been written. Like all great stories, the villain is disposed of, the hero rescues the heroine, and they all live happily ever after – the kind of ending our hearts long for.

“There is far more going on around us than meets the eye. We live in a world with two halves, one part that we can see and another part that we cannot. We must live as though the unseen world (the rest of reality) is more weighty and more real and more dangerous than the part of reality we can see.” ~John Eldredge, Epic

How would you live differently if you believed this Story to be true?

Not About Me | 9.12.16

 

Following Jesus as his apprentice means that you have entered into a lifelong process of conforming to the image of Christ for the sake of others, I am thinking today about that last phrase – for the sake of others.  For some reason, recently this has jumped out at me, like I’ve never noticed it before.

In Christian circles, we hear a lot about a personal relationship with God. True, we do have that, but somewhere along the way, I wonder if we have come to believe that our spiritual life is a private thing just between God and us, and is somehow separate from our real life? Sometimes I think we view relationships with others as secondary and only tangential to our primary relationship with God. It’s almost like we believe that all we have to do is learn Bible stuff, clean ourselves up a bit, and do the right kinds of religious activities.

What if it turns out that my relationship with God isn’t just all about me? The truth is that the process of being conformed to the image of Christ actually takes place right in the middle of the daily messy stuff of our relationships with others, not apart from them. Those frustrating people and circumstances are actually the intersection at which the Holy Spirit transforms us, where we become more like Jesus, more conformed to His image.

Our Lord’s teaching was always anti-self-realization. His purpose is not the development of a person – His purpose is to make a person exactly like Himself, and the Son of God is characterized by self-expenditure.

~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest

Think for a minute about what Jesus did. He is the One who gave himself totally, completely, unconditionally for others. He hung out with the non-religious types and rather than looking down his nose judgmentally at them, actually seemed to enjoy their company. It makes sense that being conformed to His image will happen as we love, value and serve people the way Jesus did. Not just when we feel great, not just when it’s convenient, not just with people we like, who think like us or make us look or feel good.

Oswald goes on to say: If we believe in Jesus, it is not what we gain but what He pours through us that really counts. God’s purpose is not simply to make us beautiful, plump grapes, but to make us grapes so that he may squeeze the sweetness out of us.

A helpful question might be to ask yourself if you are willing to be conformed to the image of Jesus, primarily for the sake of others? Just imagine what the world would be like if all those who say they follow Jesus were to actually surrender themselves to this purpose.

Hard Times | 6.5.16

 

Noticing and enjoying the presence of God is sometimes easier when things are going well. But what about those harder times, when you have just hit the bottom, and it’s all you can do just to get through the day, consumed with worry, fear, insecurity, guilt, physical or emotional pain?

The brokenness inside us and of the world we live in can’t be denied by happy talk or bland optimism. Nobody gets to escape the darkness, suffering, and injustice in our own lives and in the world around us. That’s often when God seems to be silent, uncaring and so very far away.

But, remember that God can only be experienced in the reality of the present moment. So, this must include good AND bad, sunshine OR rain. We have a default tendency to think that God is loving and blessing us only when we are happy, healthy, successful, and perfectly behaved – and forget that His unconditional love never stops. His mercies are new every morning. His compassion never fails. He weeps with those who weep. His grace covers every sin. He has promised to never leave us alone, that He knows the bigger story and is working everything toward a good ending.

Christian faith is based on hope and confidence in the grace of God and in His power to save us, not in having everything go our way. Light in darkness, hope in despair, life in death; this is the reality of faith in good times and in bad. We wait in hope for the morning light because we know it is coming. And many who have walked through intense suffering will tell you that it was inside their pain, with nowhere else to turn, that they most deeply experienced the presence of Christ and peace that wasn’t dependent on their external circumstances. C.S. Lewis says this in his book, The Problem With Pain:

We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

There is not a single circumstance that He isn’t right there, waiting for you to notice Him, to see Him loving you in the middle of it all. He may not resolve the circumstance or pain in the way you would prefer, but you can choose to interpret your story in light of God’s story, trusting in all that He is, all He has done, and all that He will do.

Seeing God | 5.29.16

At the center of the Gospel is the good news that rather than being a disinterested and unapproachable deity, God is with us, present in our place and time, and involved in our day-to-day reality. Yes, we believe this – at least in our head – and we are hungry for transformational experiences of God in our lives,
but as one friend of mine asked, “Why does it seem so hard? Shouldn’t it be easier?” I have asked the same questions.

I know that part of my problem is that sometimes I don’t actually live in the present moment. Far too often I’m busy worrying over a thousand possibilities for what the future might hold, or obsessing about something in the past. I was convicted by something I came across in my reading; Awaken Your Senses, by J.Brent Bill and Beth Booram:

We can’t experience God while thinking of the past or planning the future. Neither exists right now. God can only be experienced in the reality of the present moment.

How do we come to see Him in the here and now? There are miracles all around us, but maybe we just don’t see them because they are hidden from us by their very ordinariness. Remember that all of life is spiritual; God can be found everywhere, if we have the eyes to see.

I like what theologian Belden Lane suggests as two things that are needed in order to experience the presence of God in the daily routines of life – attention and love. The first step is to pay attention: what do you see, smell, hear, taste, and feel? But then, to experience God in that moment we must combine paying attention with love. What does this mean? Here’s some examples I came up with:

  • That annoying co-worker: notice his or her unique distinctiveness; begin to appreciate how he or she has been made in God’s image.
  • A stream of sunlight coming down the hall to illuminate a single chair: a work of art by creator God, just for you in that moment.
  • That child, intent on telling you something so very important while you are in the middle of making dinner: a sweet and transient moment, if you stop to notice with love.
  • The smooth, beautiful curves of the wood of a grand piano: gratitude and appreciation for the God-given talent, and for skills of an unknown craftsman.
  • A story in the evening news of a community coming together to find a lost child: my unexpected tears and a sudden lump in the throat speak of something right and beautiful.
  • Family gathered around the bedside of a dying parent: feel the love, pain, sadness, and beauty of shared hope that one day all tears will be wiped away.

Can you see God in all of it? He is very much present, filling the moment with love, and waiting for you to notice.