Sunday, February 26, 2012

Terror by Night

He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
(Psalm 91:4-6, NIV)

A friend posted a question on a social network thread that asked, “What are your demons and what images do they bring to mind?”  It was a good question that spurred quite the conversation.  Many answered with their particular “demons” first and then some followed later with word pictures that helped express their thoughts.  Near the end of the thread, I told the story of the image in my mind based on my brother’s loss of his son Michael just before he was to be born.  It’s a mixed image of despair, a broken world, and a hope for the future.  And it is very vivid indeed even some thirteen years later.  All this got me thinking that a blog post was in order, so, here we are.

How do we express the images of the things that grip our souls, both good and bad?  How do we process those fears, those demons that would try to claw at us, pull us down, and tell us we aren’t worth the effort?  Where can we turn when our common case of “terminal humanity” rears its ugly head and tries to tell us lies about our self-worth?  With these questions (and many others) swirling about my head, God brought to my mind this passage by the Psalmist.  And that little phrase of encouragement - “You will not fear the terror of the night” - seemed to jump out at me.

Our fears of inadequacy, our self-doubt, and the destructive self-talk that so often comes over us do not have to define who we are.  As a member of the Community of the Redeemed, this little promise God makes that is recorded in the 91st Psalm is there for us as well.  We have been granted shelter in God’s arms and He will protect us from the “terror of night” and all the other dark things that haunt us.  We may not have them completely eliminated from our minds, but we do have a place of retreat that promises protection.

The Crooked Path passes through some pretty shadowy places.  When it does, and that dark terror tries to grip me, I can rest assured that my Father is watching and will welcome me into His resting place so that I can deal with the terror and defeat it - all because He has already defeated the source of the terror for me.  That’s a pretty comforting thought.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Somebody Different

It’s that time of year again when Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are playing on my drive to and from work (and other times when I choose to “torture” my girls if we take my vehicle).  I’ve been thinking again about the way God set down the Law, the plans He gave for the Tabernacle, and all that was associated with that time of transition for the Children of Israel.  And two words seem to keep coming up over and over … set apart.

It dawns on my that God wanted the Israelites to be somebody different, somebody special.  They were coming from slavery in Egypt and had been promised a land that could be theirs for the taking (provided they agreed to the whole Theocracy model - but that’s a different topic entirely).  And, as part of it all, God laid out some pretty strict standards for them for their diets, health, governance, and worship.  All of it, at least as I read it, was designed to differentiate them from the current inhabitants of Canaan and their pagan practices.  God called them His people and He wanted them to “look and act” the part.  It wasn’t so they would just appear like a bunch of nomadic oddballs, though.  It was all part of His master design to continue His story of Redemption that shows His Power in its ultimate form.

So, how does this really apply to us several thousand years later?  We’re not living under those laws and regulations (thank God for that!)  We are a people who have seen the completion of that Redemption, right?  Well, that’s all true.  Yet Christ, setting the example, lived as Somebody radically different.  He fulfilled all the Law so we don’t have to (that’s the legal/transactional part of the Redemption) and He laid the framework for us to live as a people distinct and unique because of that Redemption.  He initiated the process of Restoration and invited us into Relationship with Him.  And, if we truly hang around Him enough, we’re going to become somebody different ourselves.

The Crooked Path is crooked for a reason.  It is different for all of us who travel it.  But the One who ordains it lays out a common call to each of us … God asks us to live, think, act, and become different because of what He has done.  He gives us Jesus as The Example and sets us all up for what He has in store ahead.  I’m thinking that’s the kind of “different” I can embrace.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

God's House?

Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.  Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.  (Exodus 25:8-9, NIV)

I had another one of those flashback moments while driving this week.  And before anybody gets the wrong idea, this was a good type of flashback.  Listening to Exodus, my mind was transported back about four decades to a scale model of the Tabernacle that could be found in the hall closets of a couple houses we lived in.  It was (I just found out) created by some of my siblings and their friends during a vacation Bible school “back in the dark ages”.  My father used it in a sermon series as an illustration.  I distinctly recall him doing it twice and I can easily picture this fairly large piece on its plywood backing.

But it wasn’t just my past memory that was jogged.  It also dawned on me that this was the only time in recorded Biblical history that God Himself called a structure His house and gave direction on building it.  Sure, He allowed David and Solomon to build the Temple.  And Jesus called the Temple “My house” when He drove away the merchants (though I really think that was more about the attitude being displayed than the actual building).  But the Tabernacle stands alone as I read it as the single structure God designed and specifically requested.

So that thinking about that lead, as it often does, to thinking about other aspects of what we so often call “God’s house”.  Given what I read and what we know about the state of the Temple veil immediately after the Resurrection, I think we’ve applied the term incorrectly all these years.  Those church building are no more “God’s house” than any other building.  They are places of worship, fellowship, healing, and communion to be sure - but they only become “God’s house” when we, the people whom God indwells by His Spirit come into them.  That’s the nature of the change God enacted when He completed that part of the Redemption.  And even that pales in comparison with what is still to come.

Revelation 21:3-5 tells us:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

It’s quite the picture of God’s final act and the way He intends to make His house with us and in us.  And I don’t say this to bash churches, but rather to put the focus on where it really ought to be.  It’s a communal, relational thing and the sooner we embrace that, the better off we will be.

As I travel the Crooked Path, I need to remember that I carry the image of God within me … I am His house!  He is pleased to dwell with and in me and He has something far greater still in mind for the future - both mine and yours.  The buildings and gathering places are great, but they aren’t His house.  He had one built for him a long time ago … and it was a transient tent that was meant to be a picture of what He was doing.  He was, as He is now, redeeming His people to Himself.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Three R's

The obvious impossibility of carrying out such a moral program should make it plain that no one can sustain a relationship with God that way. The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you. Habakkuk had it right: "The person who believes God, is set right by God—and that's the real life." Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith, but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping, a fact observed in Scripture: "The one who does these things [rule-keeping] continues to live by them."  Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into himself. Do you remember the Scripture that says, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree"? That is what happened when Jesus was nailed to the cross: He became a curse, and at the same time dissolved the curse. And now, because of that, the air is cleared and we can see that Abraham's blessing is present and available for non-Jews, too. We are all able to receive God's life, his Spirit, in and with us by believing—just the way Abraham received it. (Galatians 3:11-14, The Message)

The whole of the Gospel can be summed up in three words - Rescue, Redemption, and Restoration.  Each is a distinct and important part of the equation and should not be overlooked.  And, pondering this, I find it to be a wonderful, mind-blowing concept.

The rescue is because of our terminal human condition.  I’ve written before about how it isn’t just about our individual or collective sins but about the base sin condition.  There is, at the heart of it, separation and with that separation comes peril.  In response to this peril and separation, God Himself enacts a plan to rescue us.  Now, it is prudent to understand that the very nature of a rescue means the rescuer must place him/herself in the midst of that peril at the risk of not being rescued.  We see examples of this in our world where soldiers, police officers, or fire fighters do their jobs, so we certainly aren’t unfamiliar with the entire concept of a rescue.  But, getting back to God’s rescue, we find that it goes so much deeper.  He literally sacrificed a part of Himself on our behalf.  He, in the person of Jesus, came to our rescue and paved the way for the next step … redemption!

That redemption is a crucial element.  It meant paying the price in total.  It was a legal and binding transaction on God Himself whereby He would declare out accounts “swept clean” based on the action and qualifications of the Rescuer.  And we must not overlook that aspect of Jesus’ qualifications.  Were He merely a great man or wise teacher, He certainly could have come to our rescue, but our redemption would not have been complete.  The very fact that in His full humanity he lived, breathed, walked, and talked just like we did and yet when presented with temptation was able to resist made Him uniquely qualified to be not only the Rescuer, but also the Redeemer.  Now, the work of rescue and redemption having been completed, the plan moves forward into a grand restoration.

That restoration is happening right at this moment on this Earth and also in our future Home for all eternity.  We have access to that “connection” even in this state.  That is illustrated most clearly by the feast the father throws in Luke 15 upon the return of the once-dead younger son.  It is a grand celebration and yet it pales in comparison to what is being prepared and going on in the “Big Dance”.  Those of us who have sent loved ones ahead need to know that they are at a party and God is sitting at the head of the table.  And while we have a vision of that now, that is only a shadow of our seat at the one to come.  Then, when God’s watch finally says it is time, He will call a “time out” and start it all over again.  Having done this - having made all things new - the restoration will be complete.

A Rescue providing the path to a Redemption all leading up to a Restoration … what a powerful concept.  My steps on the Crooked Path do lead somewhere after all.  May the light in my soul that reflects this wonder from God draw others in as we all travel together.  We are a people Rescued by God, Redeemed through Christ, and pitched toward a Restoration both now and yet to come.