I remember pretty vividly the day we brought our first born home. It’s not every day that you walk into an office building with an empty baby carrier and walk out with a baby. But here we were, at Bethany Christian Services, signing adoption paper work in order to become a mom and a dad for the first time. We walked in and we were ushered into a small meeting room and we signed so much paper work that it seemed like we were finalizing a mortgage. Then our case worker said those words that are forever written on my heart, “would you like to see your son”. We then walked into the room next door and met Jonas for the first time. We were in awe of how tiny he was and we even had to have help loading him into the baby carrier for the first time. I even remembered how slow I drove back to Donelson that day…and it had nothing to do with the traffic. And the one thought that kept repeating through my mind was, “man, I hope I don’t mess this up.”
It’s something that anyone that is a parent has said at one point or another. All of a sudden we find ourselves responsible for another human being and it is absolutely terrifying. It’s funny, but I think there is a verse in the Psalms that expresses this well, but is rarely used for this insight. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” – Psalm 139:13-14 We often pause to reflect on the wonderful part, but rarely give said due to the fearful part. The word in Hebrew is yare’ and is most often translated as ‘actual fear’. The psalmist praises God because he is made wonderfully and this is easy to see. We are incredibly complex beings. But the psalmist also praises God because he is made fearfully. What does it mean for God to make us fearfully…?
I think it might be a bit like that feeling all parents get when we realize we are responsible for another human life. There is a fear, a reverence, a holy trepidation that the actions we take and the way we care for another influences who they become. As parents of teens and children, this can sometimes become overwhelming as we seek to trust God as he guides us into this responsibility. And the crazy thing about all of this…God made us all this way. Even more astounding is the fact that as the church we have been given the charge to engage all of creation with this same reverence and responsibility. We are God’s plan for redemption of all creation. And sometimes I look at the church and the world and think to myself, “Man, I hope we don’t mess this up.” And yet, the beauty in all of this is that God created us all this way. With freewill that often leads to things that could be considered scary and terrifying, or beautiful and lovely. So today, let us praise God. For you and I and all creation have been fearfully and wonderfully made and we have a mission before us. May all those we come into contact with realize that they too are fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving God who trusts all of us with each other.
I remember before my wife and I became parents we would often talk about how we would never tell our kids, “because I said so”. We both had always felt like this was a parental cop-out and were therefore determined to be able to help our children understand the reasoning and the logic behind every request that we placed upon them. As of today however, the running tally of how many times we have said, “because I said so” is roughly about 4,607,322…not that anyone is keeping track. Because sometimes you look at your amazingly beautiful, precious child and the amount of frustration boils up as your patience continues to wear thin and you just want them to understand your request but you really have nothing left and “because I said so” becomes that very necessary trump card.
Strangely enough though, I see a bit of Divine resonance in the phrase, “because I said so”. But I think it is all about where the emphasis is placed (did you see my hint?). There is a Psalm that kind of helped me to understand this a little more recently and it is probably familiar to many of you. Psalm 19 begins this way, “The heavens declare the glory of God…” It then goes through an incredible description of God’s glory and majesty and all that He has created and then it interjects with the following phrase, “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” Psalm 19:7 It goes from all the splendor and glory of creation to a description of the law…huh? But what I see the Psalmist presenting before us is a case for God being able to say, “because I said so” So often we see the law of God and we simply see it as a list of what not to do and what to avoid and how we will get punished if we step out of line. But for the Psalmist the law was born out of the love that God, the God who made everything, had for us.
Now think about that love for a minute. God gave us stars and planets and nebulas and quasars and all of these amazing things to display His glory. God gave us cells and synapses and electrons and mitochondria and DNA to amaze and grab our attention. And God gave us His law, His instruction because He is the same God who created all those things and He may know a little about how life works best. So His law is not a limitation of life…it is an amplification of how life works best. Often times this is how I feel when I am trying to convey to my children why I want them to do something. I’ve been around longer, I’ve seen more life than you and I know how this all plays out. I don’t want you to do something because I am mean or conniving, but rather the opposite. “Because I said so” is a reflection of my love for you, because it’s me…and I know how I feel about You. May we come to feel the same way about the law of the Lord so that we can reflect alongside the Psalmist in the concluding verse of Psalm 19, “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
This last Sunday morning I was up with my coffee early and I was reading a blog post about pastors. One of the concluding lines in the post suggested that pastors should get thirty minutes of exercise a few hours before they engage with their congregation…so I went for a run. It was a nice muggy hot morning in Odessa, but the thing that struck me the most was the moon. It was a fingernail sliver of a moon and as I turned a corner it completely disappeared. I had to do a double take, because I was pretty sure moon phases don’t happen that quickly. I then realized some clouds had simply passed in front and it soon returned to its normal phase and I returned to sweating early on a Sunday morning.
The moon has always been fascinating to me. I can’t imagine what it was like for ancient people to look up and see this light in the sky that at the end of the day wasn’t even a light at all. We of course know that the moon itself is not a source of light, but a source of reflection. Even on those nights when the full moon seems to light up everything you see, it still is only reflecting the light it receives from the sun. But the ancient Hebrews described it this way in the Genesis creation poem, “God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.” – Genesis 1:16 They saw the moon as a light itself, which would be one’s perception, but its role seems to be the more important facet. The moon was present to govern the night. The word in Hebrew is memshalah and can be translated as the power to rule or govern. The moon was thought of as the light to have power to rule over the night.
Now here is where it gets fun. ‘The moon is only a reflection’ you might say, and yet the better it reflects, the brighter it is. And the brighter the moon, the lesser the night/darkness. In some ways our lives themselves reflect the moon. We are called to reflect the light of Christ to the world around us. The darkness or the storm clouds or whatever may come our way shouldn’t diminish our reflection because we have been granted the “power to rule” over the darkness. 1 John 4:4 puts it this way, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” The power of Christ in you…the power to reflect the light of Christ is greater than all the other powers combined. Sometimes I hear people complain about the darkness around them or the storms that seem to move in on them and I wonder…how will their reflection be affected? In his book Velvet Elvis Rob bell poses the following, “Why blame the dark for being dark? It is far more helpful to ask why the light isn’t as bright as it could be.” Maybe that is the question to ask ourselves today. Is our light governing the night? Are we reflecting all the Jesus we should to the world? Perhaps we may someday find our reflective light shining so bright that people can’t see where Christ ends and we begin.
Come closer…just for a second. I want to tell you something..
God loves you.
That may not seem like the most earth shattering thing you will hear today, but I want to contend that perhaps it should be.
God. The infinite source of all life. The space in which space takes shape. The ever expanding reality from which galaxies spin into existence. The creative spark that gave birth to light, sound and energy itself. The imagination that hewed mountains and rivers and planets and stars. The same God who intimately looked into our world and gave life to flowers, trees, animals and man. The mind that dreamed into existence all that is. This same God loves you.
The God who understands the fathomless depths to which all knowledge can go. Who holds together the smallest atoms, cells and ultimately the universe itself. The God who takes delight in the quirkiness of platypus’s (sp?) and tarsiers, yet engineers a world that delivers breathtaking sunsets and sunrises. The God who can comprehend everything that is instantaneously without sleeping or slumbering or even batting an eye. This same God loves you.
How do I know this? It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery that this same God would choose to love us in our brokenness and ineptitude. It’s a mystery that this same God would choose to enter into our situation; being born like us, growing up like us and even dying at our hands. It’s a mystery that this is the limitless bounds to which God’s love would go. That God, the infinite, incomprehensible reality loves you and I so much that he would move death and hell itself to restore relationship with us. Paul made it known in this way, “…the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” – Colossians 1:27
So what does it mean to say that God loves you? Does it mean that all your problems will magically vanish in this reality? On the contrary…God’s love doesn’t magically change the brokenness of this present age; that part is on us. It rains on both the righteous and the wicked. But God’s love does promise this…if I live into and out of the grace that God extended through His love, then the story does not end here. There is a promise attached to that love. One day, “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…[God is] making everything new!”- Revelation 21:4-5 So while we may not be promised riches or fame or power (it would probably be best if we avoided these) we are promised a mystery beyond this life that makes no sense.
So maybe hear these words again and allow them to flow through you today in a new way…
God Loves You.
I’m tired…and it’s only Thursday (feel free to substitute any day of the week except Friday).
How many times do we find that this becomes part of our vernacular? We have become a people whose god is busyness. There was even a recent commercial released during the Olympics that praised Americans ability to achieve out of said busyness and encouraged us to be even more busy.* But the schedules and the to-do lists and the accomplishments and the appointments and the events and the practices and the rehearsals and the whatever is next never seems to stop. Is this how it is supposed to be? We almost seem to think that it is an accomplishment just to make it to the next day. Something has to give because we cannot keep going like this and have healthy lives, families, relationships, etc.
Fortunately for you my friend, this is not how you were designed nor is this how you are intended to live. The Hebrew scriptures were penned in such a way as to help us see that our lives are intended to be ordered in a more unique fashion. Way back in the very beginning we see that God himself built a rhythm into creation and we are intended to follow said rhythm. It looks a bit like this, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” – Genesis 2:2-3. The word for rest in the passage above is shabath from which we get Sabbath and it literally means “STOP”. After six days, God stops…and does nothing. Isn’t that beautiful? There is built into the very fabric of creation a day of nothing…no schedules, no appointments, no errands, nothing.
And yet, we are too busy to honor the very fulfillment of creation itself. If we don’t go here, if we don’t do this, we won’t have this or we won’t get that done; STOP! As Jesus is coming to the end of His time with His disciples he reminds them of this is John 15, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you” – John 15:4. Jesus, knowing the rhythm that is built into creation reminds us to stay, pause, remain, stop and dwell with Him. Does that mean that God isn’t present in our busyness and goings and comings throughout the week? By no means. But perhaps we need to take a day to be aware of His presence by stopping and finding ourselves renewed for a moment. After all, we are only human.
So my challenge to you and to me this week? In the midst of renewed schedules and life rhythms that come with the fall, find some time, preferably a day, to stop; to shabath. You need it. God made you and creation itself for it. And as you do may you find yourself renewed in The Spirit that gave life and breath to creation itself and then stopped.
* I do love this commercial though: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfUhExdNjK8
Yesterday marked fourteen years of marital bliss with my bride. And so last night one of our amazing ladies here at the church made a cake for us and we had a mini-celebration of sorts with those who were a part of our Bible study. I was struck in conversation later by the words of another one of our parishioners who wished me a Happy Anniversary and then made the comment, “You two are becoming more the exception than the rule”. Wow. Yet I look around me and I know it’s the case. Marriages ending after a few years, after ten years, sometimes even after decades of being together and I wonder where we are missing the mark. Why isn’t our society, or the church, producing healthier marriages? Where did we go so wrong?
Honestly, I think many people enter into marriage with the wrong motivation. We see marriage as an opportunity for someone else to make us happy, complete, whole, fulfilled, satisfied, etc. and in the church we base this out of a wrong concept of marriage that we pull from the very beginning. In the book of Genesis there are two accounts of the creation of man. In Genesis 1, we read of God creating mankind in His image, both male and female. In Genesis 2 we read about the more intimate account of God forming man from the dust of the ground and then realizing that something was missing. Man’s loneliness did not reflect the divine image that we read about in Genesis 1 and so God attempts to fix this condition with different animals. After this doesn’t work He causes the man to fall into a deep sleep, removes an intimate piece of him and forms the woman. We then read this response, “The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” – Genesis 2:23-24. We often read this and think about how the woman is the fulfillment of man’s loneliness or his desire in some way, but what if both the man and the woman form a more pivotal role in each others lives as reflections of the divine image?
The phrase “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” is very much based in the physical realm and yet it speaks of this reflective imagery between the man and the woman. She is a reflection of him and he is a reflection of her. But in the previous account in chapter one, both male and female are created as image bearers (made in the image) of God. So regardless of the conditions we sometimes base on our partner or spouse, what we should be calling out is not a means of satisfying my needs or desires, but rather creating space for the other to become the greatest image bearer of God they can be. In other words, in my relationships, in my marriage am I making space for my partner to reflect God to me and to the world or am I just trying to see how this makes me feel? And likewise, is this person creating space for me to be the best image bearer of God that I can be?
Maybe if we began here instead we might have a lot less divorce, discord and hurt and we just might reflect our maker more and perhaps longevity in marriages would again become the norm versus the exception.