State the Obvious

One of my five-year-old’s favorite things to do is tell me what I already know:

“Mommy is older, but Daddy is bigger.”

“There are two boys in the family and two girls.”

If I was sarcastic, I might remark, “Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

But I realize what is really at work here. My little girl is learning to process. Her reasoning skills are revved like an engine in full throttle. She’s amazing herself with comparison, logic, and opposites. She can’t help but speak out all the calculations her brain is making.

As adults we are amused by the simplicity of children. We put up with it, but if we’re honest, it can be tiring. Not only do they state the obvious, they question and question and questions and…you get the point. And the questions of a five-year-old don’t lead to eye-opening philosophical discussions. As adults we may introduce philosophical concepts by nature of the question (How old is God?), but such dialogue will not be reciprocated. The questions of little children are repetitive, and they will not accept that you answered the same question ten minutes ago. They need to hear again that they will not get a shot at the doctor, or that Daddy’s day off is not tomorrow but the next day.

Current favorite questions in our house include:

“How many days until we go to Colorado?” and “Can I get my haircut?”

And my two-year-old’s favorite, which applies in all situations, “Me, mom?”

What are our children trying to teach us? What does Jesus mean when he says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:14-15).

“Like a little child” – inquisitive, stating the obvious, being repetitive and creative, honestly asking for gifts.

Is my mind working over the things of God so that my mouth cannot help but state the obvious? When our hearts meditate on the elemental aspects of faith, those obvious truths percolate and brew new understanding. Truths such as,

Lamentations 3:22-23: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Romans 10:9: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Ephesians 1:3: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Oftentimes it’s the obvious that we need to focus on. It’s old hat, you say! Been there, done that. Aren’t we supposed to graduate from milk to meat? I still drink milk. Milk is still healthy. It’s just not sufficient on its own. That’s faith. We add to our diet, we don’t abandon the foundation.

Back to basics is not just a Christina Aguilera album or a catch phrase for returning to simpler living. The basics is where faith simmers, like soup garners flavor by  stewing a few hours on the stove.

What’s simmering in your heart today?

Might you just state the obvious today?

How negative emotions can be good for you

I hardly live a day without some sort of frustration (or other negative emotion). It could be a hang nail that sets me off. Or it could be a harsh word from someone I love. Or it could be spilled milk, like yesterday at dinner time when I pulled out the tray of the high chair, not slightly as I intended, but all the way, and dinner and milk succumbed to gravity’s irresistible pull.

I must admit I’m feeling worn out from my daily confrontations with frustration, anger, discouragement, fear, doubt, worry, or impatience. It seems I am always battling something. It’s like mastering juggling, trying to deal with one blow after another without letting life crash down around you.

Enter perspective. What if instead of viewing these negative emotions as inconveniences to our happiness (at best) or enemies of our souls (at worst) we “turn the tables”. If frustration and impatience pop up quicker than weeds in a carrot patch, why not use them for our good? Why not make trials of the spirit work hard, like the irritants that drive the formation of a pearl?Where we see a struggle with fear as harassment from the enemy (which it may be) God sees a useful tool for character development.

That’s the goodness of God, constantly reworking the yuck of sin for his glory and our betterment. I think this is what is meant by Paul’s oft quoted warm-fuzzy verse, “We know that God works all things together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

All things are not good. All things are not fun. All emotions are not hip-hip hooray. And the previous verses of Romans eight confirm this. The same verse that pronounces us children and heirs of God, also names us co-sufferers with Christ (17). There is and waiting by creation and believers (21-23). There is weakness and confusion in prayer (26).

But, as verse 28 states, “God works.” He is at work, through his Spirit. Consider the “work” listed in verses 29 and 30. He knew us. He predestined us to be like his Son. He called us. He justified us. He glorified us. That’s a lot of work, and none of it is done by us.

And if that is not enough, chapter eight ends with several promises. First, “He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” All things can work for good because God did not spare his son. The gracious giving of all things is not that I get whatever I want (that would not be fulfillment of verse 28) but that all things are delivered to us for our good. Even the unpleasant things of life, though painful and sometimes appalling, must yield to God’s redeeming work.

Second, “…neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I think frustration, anger, doubt, fear, and worry would be included in that list. Not only will they not separate us from God’s love, but they will be worked for our good. They will be worked to turn our characters from lackluster to shiny pearl. That’s a promise we can live by.

What are you Waiting for?

What are you waiting for?

Some of the things we wait for are certain to pass. We wait for spring to come around again. We wait for our children to be potty trained. These waits are based on life seasons or temporary situations, and although the waiting may stretch us, an end does come.

But there are other waitings in our lives. We wait for prodigal children to return to the Lord. We wait for special relationships. We wait for justice. We wait for answers from God. And these waitings go on, ignoring the personal deadlines we’ve set, passing again and again the limits of our endurance.

What if waiting is less about filling up the space of time until we get what we want and more about hope?

Psalm 130:1-8

Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD; O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy. If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

The place of waiting is often full of desperation. The Psalmist, crying from the depths, is desperate, but he is not uncertain. He is full of hope. He puts his heart on guard. The watchmen knows the arrival of morning is sure. The Psalmist knows, even more so, that waiting on the Lord will result in forgiveness, unfailing love, and redemption.

Place yourself in this Psalm. Can you say, “My soul waits for the Lord”? Can you say with resolution, “In his word I put my hope”? Can you say and believe, “He himself will redeem me from all my sin”? How can we not hope when we consider the things that are ours through redemption?

What are you waiting for? It’s time to hope.

Monday Gifts: Fellowship Offerings

When Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and I will give you rest,” I think he had in mind the ministry-mom walking in the door after church. It’s early to church for me on Sundays, stay for two services, home at (a late) lunch time. One child wants to tell me about Sunday school, the other child just wants me, and we are all hungry for lunch. They fight to hug me first. I fight to wash hands and sit down. My husband has entered Sunday afternoon “time-off”, after all, he’s just done the whole single-dad church routine all morning.

Hours of people interaction on Sundays turn into moments of people desecration on Monday (i.e. snapping at children nearly the minute the get up). It’s not that I want to scream, it’s that I do scream. They reach for cookies at breakfast, after I said, “No cookies.” I scream. They color on toys. I scream. They pull all my pillows off the bed and refuse to pick them up. I scream.

Please show me the screaming moms in scripture. They must be there somewhere between the crazy pigs and the talking donkey.

Actually, I think Jesus was a screaming mom. Remember the time he was preaching on the shore when the crowd pushed and pushed so hard that Jesus backed straight into the water (which probably felt good to his dusty feet)? He had to escape into a boat and back away from shore. He had to go home to twelve “children”. Twelve men, infants of faith, constantly with him, constantly confused. I know he must have screamed some. Although the difference between him and me? He was without sin.

My Monday goal? To scream without sinning. I think that’s only possible by changing the direction of my frustration: aim it away from my children. Or better yet, burn that frustration on the altar.

And while we’re talking of sacrifices, how about this verse?

Deuteronomy 27:6-7, “Build the altar of the LORD your God with fieldstones and offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God. Sacrifice fellowship offerings there, eating them and rejoicing in the presence of the LORD your God.”

Burnt offerings are for sin, and Jesus’s sacrifices covers that. But I think I understand fellowship offerings.

My new Monday goal? To view meal time as fellowship time, not only with each other, but in the presence of the Lord. It can be a sacrifice to set aside tiredness and impatience to enjoy meal time together as a family. However, if I am truly grateful for my daily bread, then I can view the partaking of it as a gift. A gift of nourishment, not just that of food and body, but of fellowship and spirit.

 

A Weighty Lifting

Psalm 3:3 “You, O Lord, are a shield about me, My Glory, the one who lifts my head.”

What is glory?

A byproduct of victory, that feeling of being on top of the world, admired and valued? Consider that final scene in Hoosiers when the underdogs triumph and the crowd is electric with celebration. That’s glory.

Maybe you consider glory to be the renown of your achievements or a sense of honor others bestow on you. We can all pinpoint moments of such glory in our lives. For me, those moments have been as varied as giving the valedictorian speech at my highschool graduation, scoring loads of points in a basketball game, or in seventh grade, receiving the “Future Surgeon” award, because I had so meticulously sliced that earthworm from “head to toe” in science class. But those are in the past, and as much as those memories are fun, they don’t give me a solid foundation on which to build my future.

These are all examples of horizontal glory, that is, glory found on the plain of human relationships and experiences.

However, nothing is ever purely horizontal, and glory, in its truest and deepest nature, is first of all vertical, that is, on the plain of the divine-human relationship. After all, glory originates not with humans, but with the creator of the universe.

So, what is glory? Glory is the radiance and splendor of God. It’s the byproduct of his character, the heat from his very existence.

God’s glory dominates the Biblical narrative. In the Old Testament, God’s glory was synonymous with His presence (as seen in the filling of the tabernacle). God’s glory is the prominent factor in every theophany. When God shows up, like face to face with Moses or on the mountain above Israel, His glory bathes the moment. Again, when Jesus transfigures before the disciples, His glory is wildly on display. The problem of sin is that we rob God of his glory and in turn, are kept from experiencing it. The solution of the cross is that Christ lays down his glory so that we may have a way back into that glory-presence of God. And finally, the book of Revelation is full of the glory of heaven.

Glory is overwhelming, meaning that its magnificence cannot be ignored. Its splendor and majesty obtrudes upon our earthly existence bringing increased Yahweh-awareness. We realize that what’s really real is not the visible or earthly, but the invisible, heavenly, and eternal.

The Hebrew root of the word glory means “weight, burden” and truly, when we experience God’s presence, we feel a heaviness, not like that of depression, but like that of unveiled goodness. When Isaiah falls to the ground in the manifest presence of God and says, “Woe is me!” his falling is not a deliberate bowing. It’s a buckling under God’s glory. It’s a reaction to a reality greater than himself.

Now to Psalm 3: 3 and the beauty of converging realities:

“You, O Lord, are a shield about me, My Glory, the one who lifts my head.”

David calls God his glory, his true splendor, the deepest reality in his life. But also, God is the lifter of his head. Heaviness and lightness in the same God. The one whose very presence weighs on us, is the only one who can lift us up above sin and death. The beautiful presence that is more real than the chair you sit on, is the one who shields you.

There’s no other way to be lifted up than by the heavy glory of God.

Why is History Important?

History is the result of living bound within time. The experiences which we create and live soon become the past. But rather than being passive, those experiences dynamically shape the future. In that sense, we are the past. The law of cause and effect powerfully ties past to future.

On the spiritual level, we value history because Yahweh himself entered into our time-bound existence as the incarnate Jesus Christ. This man, the Son of God clothed in flesh, was limited to one lifetime, one historical era, living only a handful of years within our time-bound physical world. Yet, his life provides a skeleton upon which all events of history hang upon and find their shape and significance.

Going even deeper, history is important because of Yahweh’s active remembrance of the past.

The intersection of history and faith is contained in the concept of covenant. Covenant is simply the relationship God initiates and provides for between him and his people. God promises, then he remembers that promise. Remembering and promise-keeping are a good couple, and they sustain covenant. You can’t fulfill a promise unless you attend to it in your mind, plan for it, and act on it. Remembrance is the first step. And God’s remembrance is as good as his action. God’s words after the flood concerning the rainbow are a prime example, “I will remember my covenant which is between me and you.”

Subsequently, he calls us to remember his covenant. The command to remember is built into the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Repeatedly Moses’s cry to the people is that they do not forget the work of the Lord after they enter the Promised Land. That is, when things are good, do not forget the Lord’s covenant-making actions when you were in despair. In the time of the Judges the problem was that no one remembered the Lord, everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Israel had careless memories and it eventually drove them into exile. When they finally returned and discovered the book of the law which had been lost and forgotten, the people wept and recommitted themselves to the covenant (read about this is Ezra and Nehemiah).

When we fail to remember what God did in the past, we lose hope for the future. Worship of the Lord is based upon our experiential knowledge of who he is, and that experience is both recorded for us in scripture and lived in our own lives. How can we worship that which we do not know? And knowledge is built through experience and experience chronicled through memory.

So let us make a habit of intentionally recalling this God who we worship. Let us recall by reading His Story. Let us recall by writing down his goodness in our own lives. And by doing this, let us give value to the past and increase our expectation for the future.