Posted in Christian Living, Faith

With God, Simple Things Can Mean A Lot

God makes even simple things into something magnificent, according to His purpose

I am very good at making things more complicated than they have to be. Pick almost any area in life, and I have figured out a way to look at the issue that gives it many more twists and turns than really exist.

Take salvation, for example. All I have to do is believe in Christ and His purpose and profess that belief, and yet I make that simple act of faith into something much more complicated. I tell myself I have more responsibility in this act of living my faith than God ever said I had.

For example, I think that it is somehow up to me to make other people believe about God and the Bible the way that I do. I get frustrated when people disagree with me, even angry when I think they are saying something wrong about the word of God according to the way that I understand that word.

God has led me to a focus shift this week, one that should help me quit taking on responsibilities that are not my own. Through my Bible reading and conversations with other believers, I have been reminded that God is the One who holds the responsibility for what others ultimately believe. He alone is Judge.

I must not apply my usual habit of shoulds in life to my plan for living my faith. A to-do list is not what being a Christian is about. Instead, we are asked to live through love.

In the Old Testament, we learn an important lesson about the simplicity of our salvation when we truly hand over the responsibility for that salvation to our Holy God. Naaman, the commander of King Aram’s army, goes to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy. When Elisha tells him all he has to do is go dip himself in the Jordan seven times, instead of being thankful such a simple task is all that is required, Naaman gets frustrated. He doesn’t understand how the solution could be so simple. Why wouldn’t a body of water in his home country be even more likely to heal him, if that is all it would take, Naaman wonders?

In fact, Naaman feels affronted that Elisha’s solution does not require more of him, as if his station deserves to be recognized by the level of responsibility required for healing. Naaman would have wandered through the rest of his proud life, full of responsibility and covered in his skin disease, if not for his servants, who asked the obvious but profound question:

“If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you ‘ wash and be cleansed?'” (2 Kings 5:13)

Luckily for him, Naaman realizes the truth to this statement and proceeds to follow Elisha’s instructions from God. In the end, Naaman walks out of the Jordan with skin as whole as if he had just been born. More importantly, he learns the profound truth that in even the smallest of ways, God can do great things.

As I was settling into the truth of these verses during the week, I was offered another important lesson when it comes to how God works in our lives, which is the comfort that comes when we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to do good things in this world that is full of evil.

In this season of my life, I have as much reason as anyone to see the world in general and the act of living in particular as a losing struggle against forces that are gunning for my ultimate destruction. Beginning in 2014, in the span of some fourteen months, my grandmother died, my husband’s father and oldest brother lost their battles with cancer within a few weeks of each other, and my dear mama was diagnosed with ALS.

If I didn’t believe that the only way God can offer us the free will to choose Him is to allow for both evil and good to exist in this life, then I would have given up on the idea of a loving God a long time ago. But, in acknowledging the truth of the need for evil to exist in a fallen world, I realize that I have somehow lost the even stronger truth that God controls everything, even, somehow, the process of letting us tumble into His always waiting, open hands.

God’s control negates my need to be responsible for outcomes. Notice, I did not say actions. Free will means I am inherently responsible for everything I say and do. But, when what I say and do is in alignment with the life of Christ and His teachings, I can trust the outcome will be according to the will of God, even when things look farthest from that conclusion. His Holy Spirit can so easily bring to fruition whatever seeds my Christ-like words and actions may plant. But, I have to live like I believe that, even in simple ways, mostly in simple ways.

What a powerful realization this working of the Holy Spirit in our lives is for those who believe. When we forget about His power or try to usurp it by manipulating situations toward our own desired outcomes, we do a disservice to our faith. We also overlook the little, simple things that God can make truly great, like the mustard seed that grows into a mighty tree.

God is always able

 

Just like Naaman, I am guilty of wanting something more difficult than the simple truths of God’s promises. He wants me to know that He has things under control in accordance to His Master Plan, a plan my human mind is incapable of fully understanding. When I contain myself by worrying about only my actions and words instead of putting myself in the role of judge over others, I give myself the light burden and peace that Christ promised as the gift of believing in Him. I grasp God’s simple solution to life’s complex problems.

In Sunday school, we reached the point in Romans where Paul asks why we think we have the right to judge those who serve God. We are not their masters, after all. But for those who allow God to be master, the promise is clear:

To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:4)

The Lord is able to bring about our success in walking by faith. Not long after Naaman discovered that God’s truths can be powerful even in simplicity, the prophet Elisha faces a dangerous situation that further underscores God’s ability. When the King of Aram sends an army to harm the prophet, God provides His own, conquering army to protect the servant of our heavenly King:

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them. And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:13-17)

When I profess my faith, when I show love in the face of hate, when I turn the other cheek, God is able. He is surrounding me with His angels, looking out for my ultimate good. If I live each day knowing this truth, I will simplify my walk with Christ. I will be free to love other people in full knowledge that the paths of their lives and their ultimate judgment are in God’s hands, not my own.

Christianity is simple. We humans are the ones who tend to complicate things, forgetting despite all His promises, that God is able.

Posted in Christianity, Faith

This Easter, Learn the Difference When You Live What You Believe

He is risen indeed

One of the discount department stores is running an ad about their sales for the weekend, emphasizing great prices on dresses and dress clothes for the annual Easter Sunday church visit.

I wonder about those of us who only see the inside of church on these special occasions. We put on the cloak of Christianity like a garment we can choose to wear or discard as the feelings move us. We call out to God in times of distress as if He should overlook all the times He hasn’t heard from us, not even a simple thank you for our daily kindnesses and blessings.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate the greatest gift God ever gave us—the potential to return to a healed relationship with Him through the salvation provided by Christ’s sacrifice for us when He died on the cross despite being blameless so that our many sins will not condemn us. But, we can’t maintain a healthy relationship that allows us to grasp the full potential of God’s blessings if we only work on that relationship every once-in-a-while.

Sometimes, I wonder if people who condemn those of us who believe in our mighty God really understand what it is they are rejecting. What seems like a fairy tale of a by-gone age to them is to me the spiritual and logical conclusion of a series of events that go back to the beginning of time.

God made a perfect world. He populated it with flora and fauna. He even made man in His own image to enjoy the fruits of His labor. Man, setting the example of a pattern of behavior that dominates to this day , didn’t waste much time ruining the gift of the paradise God created for them. Walking with God without shame, conversing with Him as if He were the kind neighbor from down the street and not the Creator of all things, just wasn’t enough for Adam and Eve. They wanted to know what God knows. They grasped the knowledge of good and evil as if the human heart, though made in the image of God, could yet somehow be god-like.

But, humans who know evil and good will inevitably sink to the level of evil because the human heart is not to be trusted. It cannot know evil without falling victim to the weakness of giving in to that evil. And when we commit sin, we cannot go forward in a relationship with the God-head as if nothing bad has happened. So, God gave man instructions on the kinds of sacrifices He required to bring a person back into relationship with Him whenever a person stumbles.

Why most sacrifices require the shedding of blood can be a hard concept to grasp if you have grown up in a world where you get trophies just for participating, where everybody is a winner. But, for me at least, the idea that I only truly understand the depth of my sin if I see the extent of the sacrifice to make me right again with God seems to be perfectly logical. I can’t trust my heart to tell me when I am in the wrong. My heart is quick to make excuses for me and an expert at giving me the benefit of the doubt. But the blood on the altar of an animal that had nothing to do with my sin is a definite wake up call for my need to straighten up my act. Having in me the genetic memory of first man’s close contact with our sovereign God, I long to return to that place of perfect peace where we walk in the garden, and I am not afraid.

No troubled hearts for those who believe

Do you like the humanist stand on morality better than the strict guidelines that unconditional love requires? I wonder why. If God does not exist, as the humanists proclaim, then what is the point of these randomly sequenced molecules that are the only explanation left in a world where no master Creator spoke the world into being? The closest thing I can find to one is Darwin’s idea of the survival of the fittest. And if that is our point, to be the strongest, the one to survive so that our genes continue to thrive, then what happens to kindness or thoughtfulness or love? We humans have proven how quickly and deeply we can fall into the depths of darkness.  We torture and maim, watch as children starve,  enslave each other. Auschwitz. Hiroshima. The human heart never leans toward the light, not when it does not acknowledge a God exists who has the power and desire to fill that heart with love and light.

When Christ sacrificed Himself, spilled His own blood because of my sin—He had no sin of His own—He tore the curtain that separated the unholy from the Holiest once and for all. When I believe Christ died for me, when I bow my head and acknowledge my own sinfulness, my wicked heart, and say, You are my savior, I invite the light and love of God into my heart. I allow Him to transform the heart from that which is only able to look out for number one to a loving light that knows the power of Christ’s gift of grace and can’t help but find ways to share the good news about that love with others.

In this world God created, those who survive best are often the weakest, the most humble. Survival is defined by staying in close relationship with God, in taking steps to love other people like we want to be loved. We walk in the perfect garden and are not afraid.

I like a world that is more concerned about what I am becoming for the next life than concentrating on making the most of this world because it is the only one we’ve got. When you celebrate Easter this Sunday, do it in full knowledge of the enormity of the gift Christ gave when He put your salvation before His survival.  You are no longer condemned, but bathed in the Spirit of Truth that will compel you to live according to what pleases God instead of trying to please other people or yourself.

I am so thankful God tore away the barrier that separated His holiness from my humanness. When I call, He hears me. When I make choices based on His teachings, I know peace.

And isn’t that what I am really seeking when I put on that new Spring dress Easter Sunday, my curls pulled back with a bright bow, and step into the sanctuary where the voices of those who believe swell in the still air like even the angels are singing?

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Finding His Strength in My Weakness: this Broken Road

My grandmother’s life of hardship offers lessons about learning to lean on God’s mercy and power.

We fickle humans do not thrive in abundance. Sitting in my fancy easy chair typing these words, I have more in my possession today than past generations of my ancestors ever hoped to possess. And yet, I daily struggle with doubts and fears, pride and anger that are incongruent with my economic “wealth.”

I have fallen victim despite the roots of my practical raising to the dream of finding happiness in a world where evil dwells. Even though I know that God’s reason for me has nothing to do with my happiness in this life, I still keep trying to find it.  Even when I embrace the idea of seeking to thrive despite the pitfalls of living in a fallen world and I strive toward becoming what God needs of me for my eternal home, I too quickly fall back into the mind traps of the transient peace that happiness offers.

I don’t think it takes a scientific analysis or Gallup poll to figure out that those who face the most challenges tend to be the most at ease with themselves and the God they worship. My grandparents didn’t have time to contemplate their mental states on a regular basis. They were too busy scratching out a living on unforgiving soil, stitching up clothing well beyond its use-by date, laboring with hands cracked by years of exposure to sun and wind, doing without when crops failed, stealing pecans from the pack rats’ nests to sell to the grocer for thread.

When a bath takes more work to make happen than the pleasure being clean subsequently brings, tell me of your repugnance to the smell of those who adhere to the once-a-week bathing regimen. When the only light you can afford is the billowing, blackening heat of a kerosene lamp, you’ll understand the wisdom of a sun-up to sun-down mentality.

Living in a world where abundance is hard to come by makes you appreciate and recognize blessings. You’ll walk miles in bad weather to catch the matinee on Saturday. You’ll eat bar-b-que you didn’t have to make off of strips of brown, butcher paper as if you were dining in an elegant restaurant with linen tablecloths instead of the planked, rough boards where strangers sit elbow to elbow, dripping sweet, savory sauce from puffy lips.

God understands the importance of our weakness to make use of His strength. He offered abundance to His people as they wandered in the desert. For forty years, He gave them sufficient food for each day, food they did not have to labor for or worry about. In this abundance, His people forgot about Him over and over again. They worshiped false gods even though the proof of the One, True God descended upon them in harvest every morning. They married outside of their own faith despite His warnings to the contrary.

We read about the wanderings in the desert with a little contempt today, but are we any different? Even the poorest among us in this country have more than most of the rest of the world and instead of thanking God for our abundance, we shun His very existence. We let others mock His power and forgiveness. We put up with those who would silence us when we want to call out His name.

When I am weak, He is strong. When I am most aware of my human frailty, I am most likely to feel gratitude to a God that saves me from even greater evils than those I face. In weakness, I will understand the satisfaction of a life lived as testimony as opposed to a life lived for my pleasure, the difference between a broken road and a road that will break you.

I asked my grandmother once about the invention of such time-saving household tools as the vacuum cleaner. My textbook said women loved these things because it gave them more leisure time, after all.

Grandmother had lived in houses whose floors were hard-packed dirt. She had worn clothes made from flour sacking and been the cook and cleaner and clothes washer and butter churner and quilter and more in her childhood family of three brothers and her dad since her mother passed away when my grandma was a toddler. She had cooked over campfires and seined coal from the river, walked miles to the mill where gathered grain could be ground for flour and plucked chickens she had slaughtered for the evening supper table. She worked seven days a week from the time the sun rose to the time the sun set in a world where all the people around her were eking out the same kind of existence.

These were the greatest generation, those who fought for the freedoms of people a world away, sacrificing life, limb, and the little things at home to make sure the world was a safer place. People planted gardens, learned to like margarine, rationed everything, saved even the dirty grease from the stove to donate to the factories for the cause of making rubber. The Depression had taught them how to make an onion and some parsnips last to a week’s worth of suppers, inspired the pickled mesquite bark in their cupboards and the repurposing of everything so that years later, my grandfather saw nothing wrong with using the same pan for his famous popcorn as the family also utilized for upchucks.

So, did Grandma think the vacuum cleaner was a gift sent from God? Definitely not. This abundance just meant she had more work to do. Standards of cleanliness rose along with our ability to clean until she was left with even more work than she had experienced before.

God’s enough is defined by our weakness turned toward His strength, which manifests itself in our love for Him and His Word, and the resulting love we then have for ourselves and others. If I can concentrate on being thankful instead of on the electronics I have surrounding me or the pretty clothes or the nice car, perhaps I will finally find that core of strength that is woven in my DNA from those who lived when abundance was only found in weakness. I appreciate the lessons they taught me by merely surviving amidst untold hardship and tragedy. I appreciate even more that they survived in full knowing of the gratitude they owed the Divine for every victory He allowed them, even in the midst of sandstorms and rain, of brown, crispy harvests and loved ones laid much too soon into the hard, cold ground.

Despite a lifetime of hardship and loss, my grandmother never gave up on her belief in God. She treasured the large print Bible I gave her on her 90th birthday because it gave her the ability to read more of the Bible daily than her cataract-challenged eyes had otherwise afforded her.

The capacity to find God’s strength in our own weakness might be summed up in a photograph I found among my grandmother’s belongings, a color snapshot of a chihuahua, my grandmother’s long-time house dog long-since passed, sitting on a plaid blanket, with these words written on the back in a steady hand:

A small brown dog with big, beautiful eyes that wanders through the halls of my memory.  Helen

If she, who had lost mother and husband and son and father and brothers, and yet never lost her faith in God, could find sweetness in the memory of loss, then what other proof of the value of accepting my weakness do I need?

I will try to recognize my abundance and its concurrent enemies of seeking happiness and fulfillment for what they are, which are obstacles to my ability to know and give the love God so freely offers to all who believe in Him, especially to those who allow Him to show His strength through the very weakness we usually fight to keep away. As I heard Rick Atchley preach just recently, we cannot ask God to make us stronger Christians and also ask Him to make everything all right. Only through the suffering that weakness brings can God truly do His work in us.

My grandparents’ generation proved the truth of this theology. More importantly, Christ sealed the truth of it when He willingly died in weakness on the Cross so that all humanity might be saved through faith by the love of the Almighty. That’s the strength I lean on. Won’t you join me?

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

No Plot Twists Too Great for the Greatest Storyteller

We cannot know what God does

In the classic satire, Princess Bride, a very young Fred Savage plays a little boy listening to his grandfather tell him a fantastic story with so many twists and turns that Fred interrupts him at one point to exclaim in exasperation, “Gee, Grandpa, what are you telling me this story for?”

So often as I study my Bible, I find myself empathizing with little Fred. I am so engrossed in the action and emotions of the story that I am reading, that I often do a double-take when the narrative shoots off at a wild angle, completely different from anything I might have predicted or expected. In those moments, I find myself asking God, “Why are you telling me this?”

A case in point is the wonderful exposition of the life of King Solomon. David’s son begins with the greatest of intentions. He asks God for the wisdom to properly rule the kingdom of Israel. This wisdom is something much more than being a walking encyclopedia. Instead, the type of wisdom Solomon asks for and receives is the discernment to “read” the world from a holy perspective. It’s the kind of wisdom that allows him to know that the true mother of a child would rather see that baby given away than cut in two. It’s a wisdom that allows Solomon to amass a fortune and demand a level of respect around the world heretofore unknown in the Jewish experience.

And yet, even with all this wisdom going for him, we read that Solomon acted not so wisely as well. He married women, so many women, even those outside his Jewish religion, despite God’s express command against such unions, a command that included the warning in no uncertain terms that such unions would lead to the nation’s downfall. At one point, we are told, Solomon had some 700 wives and 300 concubines!  Especially in his old age, these women from foreign lands were easily able to lead Solomon into worship of other gods—gods the scripture defines as detestable to the Lord.

So we come to my why are you telling me this moment involving Solomon. As I read for the umpteenth time this morning the story of Solomon’s lack of judgment which ultimately led to the splitting of the kingdom of Israel and its eventual downfall, a lesson from Solomon’s folly came to me that I had not quite considered before.

My “God messages” and “Holy Spirit lessons” have been coming to me lately involving the themes of grace and becoming. I am saved because I believe in Jesus as my savior. I spend the rest of my grace-covered life becoming what God has pre-determined I need to be for that heavenly home that lasts forever and makes this earthly existence look like the blink of an eye. But, nothing I do in the process of becoming has anything to do with the promise of my salvation. The two processes are locked together and yet intricately separate. And, if I can get this truth clear in my emotional as well as logical response to people and situations, I feel that I will be so much better at loving the world around me instead of judging it.

From Solomon’s folly, I am reminded that no matter how smart I think I am, my brain is an unreliable vessel for my salvation. I cannot stay in relationship of good standing with my Creator unless I go through His son, Jesus, and that process involves my faith, not my wisdom. Despite a mind gifted with discernment known far and wide and across time, Solomon’s choice to move out of relationship with God by turning to other idols cost him dearly.

grace is God wanting to be in relationship with us, no matter what

Even with discerning wisdom, look how quickly Solomon fell into the trap of thinking he could manage his own relationship with God. What other explanation would there be for a man so wise to ignore the clear rules God had laid out for His people? Don’t marry the women who are native to the land you are entering, lest you fall into the trap of worshiping their gods, He told the wandering Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. Despite being wise, Solomon allowed the temptation of his attraction for these foreign women to over-rule the knowledge he had of God’s law.

This leaning on one’s own understanding by acting outside of the dictates of an omnipotent God is a kind of arrogance in one’s own knowledge that makes me think about the modern world in which we live, where scientists are sure they have explained the unexplainable and intellectuals flick the ashes from their cigarettes and disdain the quaint belief systems they see as naïve at best and evil conservatism at worst.

If we really want to be wise, we would concentrate our whole selves on the goal of loving God and appreciating the close relationship we have with Him because Jesus died on the Cross for us. Anything that gets in the way of that love should be cast to the side so that we do not fall victim, like Solomon, to letting the ways of this world get in the way of our much more important connection to the next.

The “twist” in Solomon’s wisdom story isn’t so much a twist, then, as it is the wisest thing we might learn from a king famous for his mind. Seek discernment on your path toward righteous living, yes, but lean on the grace of Jesus’ gift of salvation if you expect to remain in a right relationship with your Creator, especially throughout a long life full of the pitfalls that can trap a man, or woman, bent on thinking his or her way out of the scrapes that ensue when we start listening to our own hearts instead of the heart of our ever-present and oh-so-loving God.

In Christ,
Ramona

 

Posted in Christianity, Faith, Love

The Greatest Love Story Almost Never Told

love-story

In a burial scene during the latest X-Men movies, one of the characters picks up the cross at the head of a newly dug grave and turns it before placing the two sticks back into the ground so that an X now stands at the head of the grave.

It’s supposed to be a simple statement about the person buried in the ground,  but I couldn’t help myself from seeing something deeper behind the symbolic gesture. It seemed to me that by taking down the cross in this way, the movie had literally “X-ed” out God.

But, should I really give in to the righteous outrage this degradation of my God stirred in my chest? If I look really hard at the way we Christians try, and mostly fail, to reflect why Christ’s message is good news, how can I really blame the secular world for its obsession in breaking down the things they perceive that I stand for?

I recently listened to one of N.T. Wright’s speeches at a Pepperdine Bible Lecture series. In it, he claimed that the story the world at large has learned from us when it comes to Christ is one in which God’s hatred of us led to the need for the sacrifice of His Son to save mankind instead of the truth of the absolute love story the gospel really is.

For God so loved the world. Growing up listening to too many sermons where I was reminded, like Jonathon Edwards’ congregation of the 18th century, that I might be likened to a spider dangling above the open flame of God’s wrath, I easily supplanted His overwhelming love in my fear of His inevitable judgment.

In a world where you are reminded of your failings, the love you feel from God too easily becomes understood as conditional. You have to earn His love for you, just as you earn the respect of your peers. Considering how often we stumble, I can only imagine how much He rightfully hates me. Looking at life through these conditional lenses, I can’t help but hate myself.

It’s easy enough to fall into this trap of doing to earn God’s love and salvation. We live in a world where we delineate winners and losers. We judge others according to their accomplishments. We study a Bible in which we struggle to match the Old Testament God of Wrath with the New Testament God on a Cross.

We Christians are not immune from failing to fully accept that our belief alone in Christ and His teaching is what saves us, even though nothing else we do adds anything to our actual salvation. Too often, we make these unconscious checklists of the things we should be doing to ensure what is already ours through faith, things like never missing church on Sunday or never passing a person wanting a handout without giving him something. These to-do lists are commendable goals for a grateful heart that wants to live for God, but making them a requirement for salvation proves we have fallen victim to rendering conditional a relationship that is actually unlimited.

If Christians are unclear on the absolutely unconditional love of God for humanity, how much more so will those who do not believe fall victim to our seemingly confused theology? We make it so much easier for a secular world to X out the one good thing it has going for it because the light we shine is shrouded in this confusion over the height and depth and breadth of God’s love.

The good news is that the story of Christ is not a story of sinners in the hands of an angry God, but a true love story, the truest love story, about a God who made us in love, in His own image, and has never stopped loving us unconditionally, even when we turn our backs on Him.

If you need examples of man’s inability to break the bonds of God’s love for us, the Bible is replete with them. How many times did the Jews turn from the ways of a God Who only wanted them to love Him first and foremost? And, every time, He waited patiently for the stiff necks to turn in true worship to Him once more.

The parable of the Prodigal Son is another example of God’s capacity to feel love, only love, even when we deserve His disgust.  When the prodigal wastes his inheritance, returning to his home only after he has led the most ignoble of lifestyles, the father doesn’t tell him that he got exactly what he deserved. The father greets him in love, with mighty hugs, tears of joy, and a grand feast. When one lost lamb returns to the herd, the Shepherd who loves beyond human understanding rejoices.

Perhaps the most powerful example of the love story that is Christ’s sacrifice for our salvation is the assurance that we who believe are no longer condemned. There is now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, Paul assures us in his letter to the Romans (8:1), one of the New Testament’s most powerful treatises on the gift of Grace.

We’re human. We’re still going to stumble and fall. But, no matter how hard we hit the pavement, God refuses to condemn a saved soul. That doesn’t mean He won’t want better from us next time. It doesn’t mean we should go through life without thinking about our actions or trying to be a better person. It just means we can free ourselves from the burden of judgment that has been lifted. The yoke of our Mighty God is truly light. It is a yoke held up by the truest love there is.

You want to argue politics or stand on your moral high ground about hot-topic issues? Maybe there is a time and place for all of those things. But today, in this divided country we live in, I think it is much more important to make the Christian job description conducive to spreading the love story of our Awesome God.

If you want to change the world, start by making sure the world knows just how much God loves it. He put a piece of Himself on that rough wood and gave up all the power of the universe so that His children, which includes all of us, could be in relationship with Him again in a heavenly home where love conquers all.

That’s a love story of the ages, for the ages. And it always has a happily ever after.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christianity, Faith

Crafted Glory: A Lesson From Solomon’s Temple

 

talent-1

The temple was magnificent, clothed in precious metals, high above the city, the very best that man could create in honor of an immortal, all-mighty God. Imagine the morning sun rising to its zenith, glinting off the gold and silver and bronze that had been hammered and polished until it gleamed. In a city that had known nothing except rebellion and blood shed, the uncertainty of a hostile world despite their powerful King David, how different it must have been to face each day with this overpowering symbol of God’s sovereignty, an ever-present promise of the peace and prosperity that marked the reign of the wisest king the world had ever known.

Reading the story of King Solomon’s completion of the temple this morning, I was struck by the challenges to human nature the building of the temple must have presented to its many craftsman. So many people had to be employed to contribute to the work that it took 3600 foremen just to oversee all the builders hand-working stones in the quarry to be carted to the building site. The temple itself rose from the ground in a kind of reverent silence.

Hiram the bronze worker made an 11,000-gallon bowl they called a Sea. Statues of bulls served as the pillars to hold it up. He crafted pomegranates to give ornament to the temple. He must have worked from the first light of each day until he could no longer see even by candlelight each night, and yet his work, as well as the others, was not completed for seven long years.

When your God gives you the skill to create that which will be worthy of representing Him to your peers, how do you not at first quake at the fear of failing Him and later, as you see the beauty of what He enables you to create, keep yourself from feeling a surge of pride bordering on obsession to perfect what glorifies Him and at the same time shines a reflective light on yourself as well?

cutaway-solomons-temple

I admire the humility of these craftsman who must have kept in perspective the absolute need for God’s backing to their success despite the very real temptation to stand back at the end of a long work day and admire one’s handiwork. Their success in completing the temple and the subsequent worship that God blessed there for many years to come tells us that they were grateful, obedient servants to His word, rather than those who might fall victim to pride, mistaking the beauty of what they had created as a thing glorified rather than realizing it only symbolized the glory of a God we mere humans can only begin to imagine.

The beauty of this building cast in precious metals would have meant nothing if it did not represent a living, loving God.  I think it also represents God’s understanding of our very human natures. He who defined light and shadow needs no building from which to rule or be exalted. But we humans, especially those living in a time where all kinds of gods were worshipped in elaborate venues, seem more inclined to understand our worship when it has some kind of physical representation.  Not only did Solomon’s Temple represent the quantitative wealth of the nation of Israel, it also represented the greatest wealth Israel would ever have—the honor of being the chosen people of the one and only God.

When I use the talent God gives me to glorify His name, I can only pray that I too give full credit to the One from Whom it comes. The moment I become more concerned with how well something I have done represents or reflects on me rather than God, I have put my trust in earth’s treasures instead of those which are in heaven. And I so want to have a chest full of heavenly treasures when this race of mine is done.

God is good all the time, and any work that strives to shine His goodness in a world cast in shadow is work that is worthy of our sweat and tears and devotion, whether that work takes seven years of hard labor to complete or a lifetime.

It may not be the lesson God intended in telling us how Solomon built the Lord’s Temple, but it’s a lesson I need to hear in my life, especially when I am tempted to think that my limited skills have anything to do with me instead of everything to do with God.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Live In Full Knowledge Of Your Becoming: God’s Perspective On A Life Lived Well

God is interested in my becoming, not my being

I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.

Poet Theodore Roethke sums up life in this refrain to his famous poem. A life fully lived takes the most advantage of every waking moment, squeezing out of every experience as much learning and joy, love and hope as is possible.

God longs for us to live this way, in constant communion with Him. He wants us to seek Him on our best days, our worst days and every day in-between. He promises that if we concentrate on Him, on His blessings in our life, on His dreams for us, on the kind of actions that bring Him glory, we will know a kind of peace that supersedes any challenges this troubled life may offer.

How unfortunate it is that when bad things happen, we flawed human beings tend to rationalize our way out of our relationship with God. We wonder how a good God could let such bad things happen to us, especially when we have spent our lives worshipping Him, studying His word, praying.  Some, like seed planted in thorny ground, give up on knowing God at the first sign of real hardship. Others continue reluctantly in the path of righteousness, maintaining a wary contact, wondering what is left for us in this world if even the worst of things can happen to people who believe.

But these reactions are in antithesis to how God is really acting in our lives. For God, the point of us lies not in our being but in our becoming. When I first had that said to me in a Sunday school class on Romans, I jotted it down in my notes and then promptly went on with the busy-ness of living. Then, I read a similar sentiment in the devotional, Jesus Calling, and something inside me clicked. So, let me say it again:

For God, the point of us lies not in our being, but in our becoming.

My limited perspective wants to settle into the being part of living. It wants to wallow in self-pity when things get rough, give in to pain, and sometimes just give up. But, if I faced a problem knowing that God can use each situation to help me become the kind of soul He needs for His kingdom, imagine how my concentration shifts from why me, to how might I grow.

I don’t believe God causes pain. Pain is a natural part of our fallen, evil-exposed world. But, I do believe God feels my pain, and that He approaches my pain from the perspective of what the sum total of my experiences will eventually make of me. No wonder Paul assures us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Realizing that God is always working in my life to make something of me that only He knows the full ramification of and need for puts tragedy and pain into a completely different, mind-blowing paradigm for me.

Romans 8:28--God works for the good, always

Our being, our pursuit to stay in the moment of being us is where our limited human brains stay most of the time. When we set goals, they tend to reflect our most limited human perspective: we want to exercise more, eat better, follow God’s commands by being more loving toward others or increasing our volunteer time or giving, reading the Bible more consistently. It’s not that these goals are unworthy or should be cast aside. It’s not even that these goals won’t also teach the perseverance that leads to stronger character.

Even from our limited human perspective we know that a life lived without challenges is a life that is hard-pressed to grow. God, who has His heart set on what we are becoming, is the only One who grasps the full picture. He is the One who tells the oceans they can only come so far. He is the One who underscores our limited-ness by always giving us just enough. We have exactly what we need to know about Him and our reason for becoming in His Word and through our open communication with Him through prayer.

God cares about my becoming. And I only go through becoming like experiencing the pains of childbirth. I cannot think my way into another person. I must experience joy and pain, triumph and tragedy in order to change.

No wonder His word admonishes me to seek Him with a grateful heart, casting each need in the light of the thankfulness I owe my benevolent Creator. If my mind is set on being thankful and loving, my becoming will remain in the all-important arms of the One who knew where my becoming would end even before I was born.

I wake to sleep and take my becoming through the grace of my loving God. Next time you are tempted to wonder why bad things happen to good people, wonder instead at the mystery of your becoming in the arms of a God so loving that He knows all your flaws and yet willingly died for you anyway.

In Christ,
Ramona