Monday, October 26, 2009

Markers, Milestones, & Memories: a Walk in the Woods

Sam and I went hiking today in the woods. We followed some trails and had a real good time exploring on our adventure. As we went, we periodically arranged pine cones in the shape of an arrow along the path to point our way back out of the woods and to help us remember which way to go when the path forked.

When it was time to turn around and head back, it was very comforting and reassuring to see our markers that we'd left to help us find our way out.

As we worked our way along the path, I told him the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who built altars or piles of stones to record milesones on their journey with God. I described how comforting it must have been for them to come back across one of their markers and be reminded of the promises of God and to recall what they were doing at the time they constructed it.

It was one of the those unplanned moments where a spontaneous devotional just came out and it blessed both of us.

In the future, I think I can have fun with this devotional as I expand on the idea and help prepare Sam for a lifetime journey with our God.

What a joy it was to remember along the way ...

Heavenly Father, I pray that you make today's field trip a marker in Sam's mind that he will remember all his life and that he will frequently put down markers to help him recall and recount his journey with you.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Living God

The Living God – an essay

One morning I was reading in 2 Corinthians, chapter 6, verse 16, “For we are the temple of the living God.” My mind got caught on the word “living” and I’ve been chewing on that word since that morning. Since I was a young boy I’ve heard or read the words living God many times and have glossed over the meaning. Essentially I think I regarded living to mean real as opposed to fake. Additionally, I think it held connotations of activity as opposed to the stone gods that were passive. In reality, I don’t believe I gave it much thought at all.

As I considered the word that morning, I considered that perhaps I had fallen short by not contemplating the meaning more diligently.

Historically there have been worshiped:

· Fire gods

· War gods

· Fertility gods

· Nature gods

But in the scripture God is revealed over and over again as the living God.

If the fire god[1] is known as the authority, source, and controller of fire, and the war god is known as the authority, source, and controller of war, and the fertility god is known as the authority, source, and controller of fertility, is the title, “living God” an acknowledgement that God is the authority, source, and controller of all of life and living (how to live) – how to experience life?

The more I thought of this, the more it seemed that it was a valid line of thought. Jesus himself said, “I am come that they might have life, and they might have it more abundantly.” John 10:10. And in John 3:16 I read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Life seems to be the point. Living seems to be the point.

I wonder how often “living” is the thing we think of when we consider our faith. When I listen to our hymns at church, it seems that the verses that get the most emphasis have to do with later, after the second coming or after death. The verses of hymns most often skipped over (since we love to do the first and last verses of hymns if we sing them at all) are the verses having to do with the Christian life. We seem to be focused on getting people saved and then waiting until heaven, just like in the hymns, skipping over the Christian life. Even our favorite opening witnessing line is, “if you were to die today, do you know where you’d spend eternity?” as if “out there” is the sole focus of our faith.

When Jesus was confronted by the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection, He challenged them for focusing so much on the “after we die” discussion when it was apparent from God’s declarations about Himself that He is the God of the Living.

But what does this all mean? Does it matter to make this distinction?

As we met with my family for the holidays, Glenn (my son who is about to deployed to a war zone again) was there with us for a short time. It was heavy on my mind that we should gather around him, as a family, and pray for God’s protection and watch care over him as he goes off to war. But we didn’t. We only made small talk and discussed things of relatively little importance. No prayer. A few days later, after he had returned to his base (perhaps signaling the last time we’d see him for 15 months), the rest of us met again for the Christmas dinner and of course we prayed before the meal. It occurred to me that we spent more time praying over the meal than we did over Glenn … and I think we (especially Glenn) missed out on something of the life of God because I didn’t press for the prayer time over Glenn.

It occurs to me that it is in those opportunities to believe God and respond to Him (exercise faith) that life exists and is either common or holy, is either mundane or exciting, is either fleeting or eternal. Perhaps the title Living God has something to do with our relationship to Him as we live (touch life).

Heavenly Father, help us to invite you into each of our living experiences. I pray that you infuse each of our interactions, and thoughts, and attitudes, and expressions of life with your Life.

[1] It is not my intent to compare the living God with any false gods, but rather to review how the terms are used and to consider if there is any merit in looking at the words through a slightly different lens. Sometimes the exercise of dissecting a phrase can yield fresh, rich new insights. There is, of course, no real comparison between the false gods referred to above and the Living God of the Bible.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rhyming Back to God

What follows is merely an observation, not necessarily biblical, but I feel fairly certain that it is not unbiblical, if that makes any sense.

God said, “Let us make man in our image …” and there are many opinions on what the image means.

One of my favorite opinions says that image means imprint, that God put His imprint on us when He created us and that only He can fill the spot that is left by the imprint. We try to find things to fill that spot, but it is reserved for God and anything less than God will be unfulfilling and unsatisfying. I don’t know why for certain, but I like that one.

Another opinion is that the image is God’s reflection in us that is to reflect back to God – the way we glorify Him. In other words, the more we are like him – contain and reflect his image – the more we glorify Him.

I get the sense of an echo when I think of the second opinion above. God’s character and nature reflected back to God like an echo. Another analogy might be a rhyme. The idea that we can rhyme back to God in the melody of creation and life is attractive to the poet in me. It seems more than just a coincidence that David, the song writer and poet (a man who made rhymes), was called a man after God’s own heart.

Okay that is the setup; what follows is the observation that I feel is interesting and challenging, but which I don’t necessarily feel is strictly biblical.

In Hebrew poetry, there is no rhyme. Or is there? (More on that shortly) In Hebrew poetry, the second phrase repeats the thought or sentiment of the first using different words.

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;

He heard my cry for mercy. Ps. 116:1

another example:

The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? Ps. 27:1

Both sentences of the phrase say the same thing, they just use different words. The rhyme is not in what it sounds like, but in what it means. (Is that spiritual rhyming?)

I love that. Just like we are to echo back to God his character in us, the man who was called the man after God’s own heart, wrote poetry that echoed back the first thought in the second. What a testimony! I wonder if a man after God’s own heart might mean that his life rhymed back God’s character to God.

In Western poetry, the second phrase repeats a word or phrase that sounds like a word or phrase of the first. It merely has to sound like the first. The words or phrase can have an entirely opposite meaning, but as long as they sound similar, they satisfy the rhyme.

Oh, how much that represents contemporary spirituality and ideas of faith. As long as our lives approximate or sound like they are on track, it is okay. Instead of echoing back the real thing, trying to reflect the glory of God, we are content to be only an echo that sort-of, sounds like the original.

In the past few years, our song rhyming has gotten even sloppier in that words no longer have to have the same sound at all – they can just be close (and sometimes not so close).

I find that to be very convicting because I find it to be very true about me.

Father in heaven, help me to rhyme back to you the real thing. I pray my life redounds to your glory by magnifying Christ in my life and not something that merely, sort-of, sounds like Christ. I want it to be the real thing.

Because of who Jesus is … Amen.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Eyes to See (repeat)

Sensitive to the eternal – “… with the Lord, every day is packed with eternity and eternity is impacted every day.” II Pet. 3:8 (dgw)

In the biblical account of Jacob’s ladder, Jacob exclaims, “Surely the Lord is present in this place and I did not know it!” or perhaps, and at least, “There is much more going on here than I supposed!” Gen. 28:16 (dgw)

Here is an example from my experience:

The American Indian would express a fear of photographs that we often casually dismiss: “The camera will steal my soul,” he said. I would very insensitively imagine that he could think that the camera actually captured something of his and transferred it to a piece of paper. “How silly,” I would think.

God forgive me.

Consider that what he meant is that the camera will somehow rob him of the mystery that is every individual – that he will somehow be diminished after having been photographed. Prior to being photographed, he can be unique, feared and respected, perhaps even legendary; a photograph, however, would emphasize his similarities to everyone else and he could then lose (at least some of) the distinction (the mystery) that was previously his.

A photograph would presuppose that he always is as he appeared at that moment – and he knows that his complex dimensions can never be captured in one or even one million photographs. He knows that to be human means to change. He knows that tomorrow, he will not be the same – but the photograph will be the same; and others’ image of him will be locked in that photograph, i.e. who he was, and not in the dynamic of who he is.

Indeed, is that not “stealing his soul?”

Have we not also stolen his (our) soul by reducing such a rich, thoughtful, and complex concept to a mere caricature?

The above illustration is representative of the way I feel that I respond to all of life and faith: superficially accepting or dismissing items that have far more meaning than easily or commonly understood.

Terms like eternal life, kingdom of heaven, salvation, judgment, and repentance have far more (and sometimes less) meaning than commonly understood. These terms have obtained a super-definition that we all assume is universally understood. We then use these terms as if we all understand them and then shallow, lifeless communication is all that follows.

Father, forgive me for so carelessly and callously handling your words (and Word.) Teach me to carefully and tenderly regard other’s ideas and opinions and to be open to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and teaching. I pray that I never assume that I know the meaning of a term and then dismiss what I can learn from careful scrutiny. In the Spirit of your Word: Jesus, amen.