Friday, July 31, 2009
This week we looked at John's description of the throne room of God, and at Isaiah's experience to standing in that same holy Presence. I'm no Bible scholar, and I certainly can't describe God to you or make you realize how great He truly is. But I still hope you caught a fleeting glimpse of His hugeness and holiness.
(I'm borrowing this phrase from a friend. She uses it a lot. It's a good one.)
So maybe you just received some insight into this God you worship.
What are you going to do with it?
Don't let this become another "oh, that was nice" lesson, only to turn your back and walk away. Do something with it.
This is the LORD we're talking about.
Thoughts of this post were coming together for me as I was getting ready for church on Sunday. I was thinking about the things I just wrote above when suddenly that same question came back to hit me between the eyes.
What am I going to do with it? How is everything I just learned about the greatness of God going to change the way I do church in a couple of hours?
Church is a routine. Show up, sing a few songs, pass the plate, listen to a sermon, sing a closing hymn, shake some hands, go find some lunch. It's nice. Friendly. Comfortable.
But we forget why we're even there in the first place.
Church isn't for doing our weekly Christian duty. Church is about a relationship. Worshipping God corporately.
I imagine the throne room of God. Huge. Scary by human terms (flying six-winged creatures...massive earthquakes...oh my!). But the very heart of Holiness. The Reason we exist. The elders and creatures bowing down at the feet of this LORD day and night.
Then I imagine our church service being held in that very room. What would that look like?
If we were aware of where we were, would we do things the same? Would we smile and shake hands with each other, swap stories about the week? Would we methodically stand to sing the songs, politely sit while the pastor speaks? Would we ritualistically bow our heads to listen to the pastor pray?
I doubt it. In fact, I will say with 100% certainty that we would not be doing any of those things at all.
No, we would fall flat on our faces at the feet of Him Who sits on the throne. We would wail and mourn our sinfulness exposed by perfect holiness. We would cry tears of joy and dance before Him. We would sing and shout His praises.
Unorganized, unhindered, unashamed.
We would see that He is all that matters.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Man number two: Isaiah. Here's his firsthand account of standing before the LORD's throne:
I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. . . . At the sound of [the seraphs'] voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. -Isaiah 6:1,4
Notice Isaiah doesn't provide us with as much detail as John in regards to what he saw. But what he does record sounds quite parallel to John's description.
The train of his robe filled the temple.
Does this start to tell you how huge our God is? Imagine an earthly king sitting on his royal chair inside of his huge royal palace. He's got his fancy robe on that drags behind him when he walks. Now imagine the dragging train of his robe taking all available floor space inside of his palace. Seems pretty absurd, this man wearing enough fabric to clothe his entire country. He'd drown in that much robing.
Now let's bring this image up to God-scale (we're pretending we're able to do this, remember?). How huge God's temple must be! I mean, seriously, this is the same God Who created not just the moon and stars, but our entire galaxy, and billions of other galaxies to boot. There's a mighty big universe out there. And our God is bigger than that. How could a temple possibly hold Him?
Isaiah says the train of his robe filled the temple. I can't imagine God choosing to wear an oversized robe just for the fun of it. He's going to wear one that fits, and just the draggy part of His robe is big enough to fill His massive temple. How much greater and bigger is the One Who wears it!
As if that's not enough to comprehend, suddenly the very foundations around Isaiah begin to shake. Smoke (or something similar) rolls in. Isaiah must have felt like Jack did after climbing the beanstalk up to the giant's house. In the presence of a huge God, surely everything surrounding Isaiah was massive. And then an earthquake hits. Not just your average California 8.0 earthquake. This is an earthquake of God-sized proportions.
What a terrible and awesome sight to behold! I can't even imagine what my response would be, so I am in no place to judge Isaiah's reaction. Yet I can't help but wonder why he said the words he did:
Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty. -Isaiah 6:5
This declaration stumped me. In the very presence of the LORD, why would Isaiah be immediately concerned about his unclean lips? Personally, I can think of a few other things that would seem a little more devastating.
I still don't know the answer for sure. Isaiah was a prophet. His life was devoted to speaking the words of God to the lost people of the day. Maybe in the presence of God, Isaiah realized how unworthy and unacceptable was his tool used for God's purposes.
Standing before a perfectly holy God will do that. His holiness and purity shines the spotlight on the deepest sin hiding in our hearts. His eternal perfection brings us to ruin. We cannot expect to stand before the LORD and not be brought to our knees.
Praise be to God our Father for sending Jesus! Because of Him, our "guilt is taken away and our sin atoned for" (Isaiah 6:7). Jesus stands in front of that spotlight, and thus we are allowed to stand in the presence of God without condemnation.
Monday, July 27, 2009
The more I'm learning lately, the more convinced of this I'm becoming. This isn't to say that the characters He has revealed to us while we grow in Him are wrong. More to say that who we conceive Him to be falls flat. Flatter than taking a running leap to jump across the Grand Canyon. We are more likely to make it over that great ravine in a single bound than we are to understand God.
We just can't.
And this is the God we worship. How does that make you feel?
Let's for a moment pretend that we know more than we think we do. There are two men who actually stood before His throne (out-of-body experience or physically present - I doubt even they could say for sure) and lived to tell.
Man number one: John. Here's what he saw:
There before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. . . . From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. -Revelation 4:2-3, 5
You know what? I don't think even John himself knew how to describe what he was seeing. You see, God is so eternal and holy and perfect and beyond us that human words cannot describe Him. We are fallen creatures; sin clouds our view of the eternal. To see complete holiness and perfection is to see a realm in another dimension, above and beyond man.
But we're pretending here. God's appearance was that of jasper and carnelian.
What in blazes are those?
Gemstones. Take a look:
A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne.
Did you know rainbows make full circles? Usually we only see half. Not the best visuals, but...
Do you see why John would have so much trouble finding words to describe what he saw?
From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder.
I don't even know how to touch that one, other than to point out Exodus 19. The LORD descended on a mountain before the Israelites, and there was thunder, lightning, and what sounded like a loud trumpet blast. Apparently part of the presence of God involves what we know how to describe only as a great thunderstorm (minus the rain).
This was John's experience...but only in part. I left out the 24 elders and the 4 creatures covered in eyes who continually cry out praises to the One on the throne. Check out Revelation 4 and try to picture yourself witnessing these sights. Does that change your image of the God you worship?
Friday, July 24, 2009
About three months ago a woman came to our nursing home after having a stroke. She had absolutely no use of her left arm or leg. Despite her elderly age, she had been living at home and was very active in her community. Her favorite activity was attending the local girls' basketball games.
The stroke also affected her speech and hearing, but not her mind. Didn't touch her mind at all. She was completely aware of everything going on around her from day one.
For the past three months, this woman has been receiving physical, occupational, and speech therapies. She has been motivated from the beginning, and we've been working her as hard as we know how. But for three months, we've struggled.
Progress has been slow. She just wasn't getting any use of her arm or leg back. An occasional muscle contraction here or there, but not enough to help us help her. We've even thought about discharging her, because we weren't sure she was going to make any further improvements.
Not only was therapy slow going, but this woman has had to travel a road to recovery that I can only imagine has been most unpleasant. She has had to depend on everyone else to take care of her. Multiple people to dress, bathe, and take her to the bathroom. After several weeks of difficult transfers, the nurses switched to the bedpan instead of the toilet. Then she got a roommate who, though they were friends prior to living in the nursing home, has been rather...trying. The roommate has enough presence of mind to know what's going on, but enough dementia to be rather confused. She took it upon herself to take our patient under her wing and look after her, which included a constant presence and frequent disturbances of sleep at night.
Remember how I said her hearing was affected? She has a hard time hearing anyone speaking to her. For some reason, she especially cannot hear me, even when I am shouting inches from her ear. This is hard for her, because she either responds incorrectly or has to resort to nodding her head and pretending she heard.
But this lady never complains. Never says anything negative. Her focus is to work hard to improve. And she has a rather funny sense of humor. (After struggling to put a glove on her lifeless hand, she said to me, "Aren't you glad I'm not an octopus?")
Finally, on Monday, after months of doing the same exercises over and over again, and standing in the parallel bars day after day, her hard work paid off.
On Monday, she walked for the first time.
With the walker in front, the physical therapist assistant on one side, me on the other, and the occupational therapist assistant cheering her on, she walked all the way across the room.
When she sat down, she pointed at each one of us and said, "You girls are such an inspiration."
To which we replied, "No, pretty sure you're the inspiration."
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
God is all that matters.
We've conditioned ourselves to hear messages without responding. Sermons have become Christian entertainment. We go to church to hear a well-developed sermon and a convicting thought. We've trained ourselves to believe that if we're convicted, our job is done. If you're just hearing the Word and not actually doing something with it, you're deceiving yourself.*
How many times does this happen? We feel convicted and know what we should change. But none of us ever get around to doing anything about it.
We are complacent.
Lovers of money.
We are Pharisees. We think we are doing right. We go to church, even worship, pray, and learn. We seek more truth. We strive to be good.
But we totally miss the point.
God doesn't call us to be comfortable and blessed. He doesn't call us to meet together weekly in our fully-furnished buildings, to sing certain songs or shake hands with our fellow believers.
Are those wrong? No way. God has given all of those things to us. He has blessed us richly.
But that's not the crux of what He's called us to do.
He's called us to be generous.
To place others first.
To give all we have to the poor.
To share with God's people in need.
To reach out to someone outside our walls.
To love the unloveable.
To teach the unteachable.
To pray without ceasing.
He asks us to be like Jesus. We think we are. We are kind and gentle. We keep our mouths clean. We pray for others.
But we only do the easy stuff. The comfortable. The things that fit nicely into our Sunday mornings at church.
Then it's off for six and a half more days to ourselves.
We completely miss the point.
God is the point.
God is all that matters.
Teach us to be like You.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
But until the other day, I don't know that I've ever read something and felt like it was written for me only, as if the author had read the questions of my heart and personally penned an answer. This happened as I was reading about heaven.
You will experience love like you never dared imagine. This is good news for people who have never been "the most important person" in anyone's life. All shall have as much love as they desire . . . as much as they can bear. . . *
This book was published twelve years ago. How did the author know that's the phrase I would throw around nearly a decade later?
I've never been the most important person to anyone.
God has blessed me with family and many friends. Very dear friends. But at this point in my life, most of my friends are now married. Many have multiple children. Our friendships are dominated by other relationships. Those that belong first to husbands and children.
I don't get to be anyone's most important person.
If I had a husband, I could be the center of his world. Everything we did would revolve around us, because our relationship comes before any other. I could be his priority. Hanging out wouldn't have to wait for a night without ball games, meetings, or the flu.
Now don't get me wrong. I am certainly not lamenting my singleness, for in it is a blessing that can never belong to those who are married. I recognize the responsibility and hardships that come with marriage. I quite enjoy the freedom I have to be able to run my own schedule rather than being tied down to someone else's. If God has a husband in my future, so be it. But I'm not making a point of seeking him out.
Still, living as a single in a world full of couples makes me painfully aware of my position of non-priority. Sometimes that's where lonliness enters. Even if they wanted to, my friends don't have a place for me at the top of their list. They can pencil me in only after everyone else is taken care of.
I belong to no one.
I am not naive enough to believe that married people never struggle with loneliness. I know many wives who live each day alone - the young farmer's wife with young children and no girlfriends nearby, the grandmother who sacrifices her own friendships to help raise her grandchildren, and the list could go on. Even happily married couples feel loneliness at times, though I must admit this seems a mystery to me.
When I feel all alone, I remember that living the life of the married won't necessarily fix that. I remember that no matter who or what or where I am in life, I will never be completely fulfilled. We were created by God, for God. Ingrained in each soul is a gap that only God can fill. Even those who pursue Jesus the hardest will still find themselves lacking.
In this life, we will never achieve complete fulfillment. We will always be found without, even in the best of circumstances. Our sin is just as ingrained in us as our God-shaped hole. As long as we are alive in our flesh, our longing for God will never be completely satisfied. Our sin separates us from God, no matter how holy our lives might seem.
But one day our sinful nature will be removed entirely and eternally. One day our flesh will die, and we will no longer be restricted and held back. One day God will make us complete and whole in Him. And we will be fulfilled. At long last, we will find complete contentment.
Until then, I remain in my flesh, riding up and down on the waves of singleness. I belong to no one. And sometimes, that knowledge is more than I know what to do with. But I hold on - weakly as my grasp might be - to the hope that my complete wholeness is yet to come. We will not find that in this life.
We were made for something greater.
Friday, July 17, 2009
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. -Ephesians 6:13
This is a verse that has always stumped me. It's redundant, and the redundancy doesn't make sense to me. Too many "to stands" in there. Since it's a passage that's talking about going to battle, I took it to mean something like this:
Put on the armor so that when you're fighting you can stand your ground and fight back, and once it's over, be left standing. Not laying on the ground having been beaten to a bloody pulp.
That's the best I could come up with. But you know, the longer I sit in a passage, the more things there are that jump out at me.
Recently, I've been praying these verses over a friend of mine. As I was thinking about her battles and praying through this passage, a new interpretation came to me. In my Bible is a written note about this particular verse: "To stand" - to get ready for battle; the Lord will rescue and save me because He's already won!
I replaced "to stand" with "to get ready for battle," and here's what I got:
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to get ready for battle, and after you have done everything [and fought], to get ready for battle.
Maybe Paul wasn't saying so much that we need to come out of the battle still standing on our feet. Maybe he was saying that our battle against evil is continual. Once we come out of the battle we're in now, we immediately prepare ourselves for the next.
After all, our fight is spiritual and we can't always see it coming. We don't get to call the shots and decide when we're ready to step onto the battlefield. The enemy is going to bombard us from all possible sides, especially when we're at our weakest.
And so we must get ready.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
Let me know if you have any questions.
Friday, July 10, 2009
In reference to this topic, I recently heard the phrase "throwing God a bone with some meat left on it."
First I chuckled. Throwing God a bone? As if He were a dog looking for a treat. But then in my mind I saw an image of me feasting at a table. The table of life where God has served me all kinds of blessings. He stands nearby, watching me enjoy my feast.
I feast on, forgetting the very Hand that served me this wealthy table.
When I'm finished I glance up, see Him still standing there, and toss Him a bone that I was chewing on. Because after taking care of myself, that's all I have left to offer Him.
Then I saw how it should be. Instead of offering God my leftovers, I should be the one preparing the meal. I should be planning a four-course gourmet meal fit for a King. Then I should serve it to Him and watch Him enjoy the best of my offerings, knowing that while I can never offer anything good enough, He still takes pleasure in receiving the best I am able to give.
And because that is enough for Him, that becomes my feast.
Because He is all that matters.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The serious planning began a couple months ago. I mapped out in my head what I wanted to do, who I wanted to invite, what food and supplies to buy, how to set up, and so forth. My party became official when I submitted an invitation to be included in the church bulletin.
Thursday night was when all the action started. I made a list of things that needed to be done and started tidying up the house a little (can't have people see how I actually live when they're not around). Friday was spent (with a little help from a few friends) mowing, trimming, sweeping, hosing out the garage, moving tables and coolers, and shopping for food and drink. Saturday morning was spent setting up the garage, doing laundry, cleaning the bathroom, sweeping and Swiffering, and making potato salad.
By the time 1:30 rolled around I was just about ready to go...and I was completely exhausted.
So I took a nap.
Then I got up and went back to work, finishing up the last details and making myself presentable. Finally, people started to show up and the party started. We sat and chatted, grilled, drank soda, laughed, roasted some marshmallows, and watched the kids run around the yard with sparklers. It was a good time with beautiful weather and wonderful people.
Couldn't help but parallel this with our spiritual lives. This was the first time I've entertained since I moved into my house nearly eight months ago, so as far as I was concerned, this was THE party. As I lay down to sneak my nap in that afternoon, it occurred to me how much time and effort had gone into the preparation. The more I poured into it, the greater my expectations became.
Christ-followers are preparing for the ULTIMATE party. We don't even know what to begin to expect at this Gathering, but we do know how to prepare.
Now, we can receive our tickets to get in and just bide time until that day arrives.
Or we can spend every day of our earthly lives preparing for the best Celebration ever. It's hard work, don't get me wrong. There's a lot of time, prayer, study, sacrifice, and even money involved. Sometimes we may even have to stop and rest for a spell, but then we get up and keep right on going. Some jobs require quiet mental preparation while others demand hard physical labor. Whatever the task, it is important to the final outcome.
And when our preparations are finished, we will find it was all worth it.
After all, the more of ourselves we pour into the Party, the greater our expectations will be.
And we will not be disappointed.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Today's drive home was filled with fluffy white clouds again. I followed one particular cluster into town. This one had a rainbow.
Rainbows are cool. Scientifically, they can be explained by light refracting off water molecules in the air and something about color spectrums, which is boring and unexciting. That's not what I think of when I see rainbows in the sky.
And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." -Genesis 9:12-16
As I was watching this rainbow, God was looking at it and remembering this conversation He had with Noah...the Noah...thousands of years ago.
That's why rainbows are so cool.
They're a physical and visible sign of God's promise in action.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Friday, July 3, 2009
"Eh," I think to myself, "I don't want to. Maybe in the morning. No one would be able to notice anyway."
But it's important to keep yourself beautiful.
"There aren't any guys around here to keep myself beautiful for. Besides, I've been laying around all weekend sweats and may do it again tomorrow. That's not beautiful."
The bride always makes herself beautiful for her groom.
You are my bride.
I value your beauty.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
These words have often been at the back of my mind, peeking out to provide some prompting now and again when I'm making decisions about my tithing. Paul is writing these words to a free-spirited Corinthian church, instructing them on the basics of Christian living. He is encouraging them to pool their money as a gift to other believers in other churches.
This time, as I read these words, a new dawning occurred.
My sowing isn't limited to the money I give.
I know that giving and serving come in a multitude of forms. But I have never applied these specific verses to that particular knowledge.
Whatever [time, relationships, acts of service] I sow sparingly I will also reap sparingly. Or generously, if I sow generously. I should give of my time, talents, abilities, and invest in relationships according to what I feel in my heart is right to give. Because this is what pleases the Lord.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Perhaps you have already seen this video of a massive dance that broke out in a train station in Belgium:
I don't know all the stats that went into making this dance happen. One resource told me there were around 200 dancers involved. Regardless of the numbers, it obviously took some time and coordination to make it work.
What if you had been there, merely a tourist passing through to catch a train? Suddenly, loud and random songs start playing, and people all around you begin dancing in unison. What would you have done?
I heard someone talking about this video on the radio, asking listeners if they had joined in the dance of salvation with Jesus. That's a good way to look at it. Are you a dancer who has actively put his trust in Christ? Or simply a bystander who watches all the Christians go by without become involved in the single greatest thing ever to happen to man?
Let me take this view one step further. I want to bring it inside the Church itself. What are you doing as a member of the body of Christ?
Perhaps this resonates with me because I've spent most of my life attending small rural churches. Ones that are structured heavily around tradition. Maybe you attend such a church. Or maybe you have grown up in one and as a result your views and expectations are strongly influenced by this structure and tradition.
Is this a bad thing? No. Not necessarily.
But I have seen many times how this structure and tradition gets in the way of the freedom and power of Christ. Whether it relates to the style of music, the order of Suday morning service, or a person's behavior and language, tradition can snuff out the work of the Spirit. Hymns have always been sung, and there's no place for contemporary Christian songs. Only the piano and organ have ever played, and the guitar and drums are too radical to be in a sanctuary. This has always been the order of service, and to be spontaneous would be inappropriate. No one raises their hands in worship or shouts amen - to do so would be weird and rude. Dancing leads to other things, and it is no way to express worship. Wear your best clothes to church, because jeans are unacceptable.
These are the things I grew up with. Legalistic. And sadly, I'm not sure most of the people in these churches even recognize it.
Now, I'm not talking down tradition. Not by any means. There is a lot to be gained from it. I love the old hymns and find deep soulful truths in them. I'm not much of a dancer and usually prefer to stand still. I enjoy dressing up for God (but also enjoy the freedom to wear jeans once in a while). But when the focus turns to keeping order and not to God and His grace, we totally miss the point of why we gather in the first place.
What kinds of wild and crazy things are happening in your church? Community? Family? (They aren't just for the youth groups, you know.)
What kind of participant are you? Do you walk on by and pretend like you can't hear the music or see the dancers? Do you stand and watch in horror and dismay that perfectly normal people would do such things? Do you laugh and point and whisper to your friend?
Do you get excited and take pictures to share later? Do you clap uncomfortably because everyone else is but keep looking around to see who's watching because you feel like an idiot? Do you wave your hands and groove freely off to the side, encouraging those who are dancing?
Or do you cast aside your dignity and with reckless abandon join in and become a member of the Dance?