Thursday, March 26, 2009

I Smiled at An Umbrella

I smiled at an umbrella today. I didn't really mean to.

My heart's desire is to be a friendly person, waving and smiling at my neighbors as I pass by. So when I took my morning constitutional today and saw something resting on my neighbor's carport bench, I smiled a congenial smile and continued on my way. At this point I should probably point out how incredibly near-sighted I am, and how I generally go walking without wearing my contacts or glasses. In truth, I can't see past the end of my elbow.

As I squinted into the distance, it crossed my mind that the mass didn't really look like a person - that's why I chose to merely smile and not wave, too. Nevertheless, I made my way home smugly confident in my friendly behavior.

I felt that way right up to the time I left the house to go to work. Passing by that same carport, this time with contacts installed, I realized the object was not a person, not even an animal; it was an umbrella, leaning against a bench and waving in the wind. I'd proudly smiled at a stinkin' umbrella. I'd chosen to believe my assumptions in my blind, unseeing state, rather than going a little closer (OK, a LOT closer) to investigate the truth. Furthermore, with vanity, I'd celebrated my behavior as worthwhile, even praise-worthy!

How many times a week - a day - do I blindly observe the world around me, smiling at umbrellas and feeling proud of myself for it? How much of what I believe to be truth is my assumed perception? How frequently am I willing to take extra steps to get a little closer, delve a little deeper for the realities of the situations and people whom I encounter? Even more importantly, how dedicated am I to "know[ing] Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death" (Philippians 3:10)?

Maybe if I'd quit smiling at umbrellas, I'd have time for a little more exploration and learning.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Judo We I Lo" Loves "A Wind Door"

My friend Alison recently posted a site on her blog I've thoroughly enjoyed and wanted to share. If you like letters and words, you'll get a kick out of typing in the names of family and friends just to see what comes up.

Here's the deal: Anagrams, rearranging the letters of a word to make another word, may sometimes reveal more about the nature or character of the word than you'd imagine. So, to save you the trouble of pulling out pencil and paper, here's a website that will do it for you. Go ahead, type in your name and see what comes up! Alison was looking to see if any of her results reflected her personality. Since I know nothing about Judo and even less about physics, that didn't work out for me.

My five piddly results were:
Id Joule Ow
Judo Lie Ow
Judo Lei Ow
Judo We Oil
Judo We I Lo

Darin's were much more fun; he had 290. My favorites were:
Android Ow
Radio Down
A Wind Door
A Wind Odor
Dad Wino Or
Dado I Worn

As to whether or not these fit his character, I'll let somebody else decide.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Goodness and the Greatness

Steven Curtis Chapman's 1994 song Still Listening has been rolling through my head off and on for months. In it, he explores prayers such as "God is great; God is good...," and "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep," expressing a desire for a simple childlike faith. "God is great and God is good, and He is love," he sings.

I've always been convinced of the greatness of God. Just look at the intricacies and grandeur of creation. That's power, bigness, wonder, amazing stuff. In a quick review of scripture, I counted no less than 40 references to God's greatness in the Bible. I'm pretty settled on this issue.

And while I'm cognitive of the goodness of God through personal blessings and answered prayers, there's a part of me that struggles to be assured of that goodness because of the "unanswered"/"no" prayers I've seen. Oddly enough, I found only six verses that directly spoke to God's goodness. Is that because he's more great than he is good? Maybe, but I doubt it.

Here's what I found:
"...may your saints rejoice in your goodness" (2 Chronicles 6:41).
"Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart" (Psalm 73:1).
"Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground" (Psalm 143:10).
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good—except God alone" (Mark 10:18 and Luke 18:19).
"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3).

So what do I do with these few small verses? Do I build a whole theology of the goodness of God around so little? Do I base my belief in his goodness around my experiences alone? Even now, I'm begging God to help me be firmly and finally convinced of the goodness of his character. I know mine isn't perfectly good. I'm human. I have reasons and motivations for my thoughts and behaviors. (Not that he doesn't have purposes behind what he does. He's not a willy-nilly, chaotic God.) It's just that to comprehend perfect goodness without any shade of manipulation or impurity is more than I can even imagine. Jesus said it himself, "No one is good - except God alone."

As much as I want to start by defining "good," has 41 definitions, and that's just for the adjective usage! Furthermore, can I realistically impose human understandings of goodness upon a holy God? I don't think to do so is even reasonable; they're so flawed. Just think about interviews on the news after a murderer is caught. Every neighbor always says, "We're so surprised. He/She was such a good person." By what standard?!? Notice, too, the goodness becomes past tense. In each of the verses above, however, God's goodness is ever present-tense.

Nevertheless, human experiences, understandings and definitions are all I have to go on. I have seen his goodness through blessings and answered prayers. I have to mark them down (because I have a bad memory about such things) and combine them with those six scriptures of truth above. Then, I have to look for evidences of the goodness of God (as they relate to human definitions) in the pages of the Bible.

Since Jesus came to show us God in the flesh, I guess for me, Mark 4:35-41 holds one of the best pictures of the goodness and greatness of God combined. Asleep in the back of a boat, the Disciples wake Jesus, asking him if he cares that they're going to drown. Now, first of all, isn't that a stupid question? Does Jesus care? At this point they've seen him heal all manner of sickness, help the demon-possessed and hang out with tax-collectors. I think he's safely established a compassionate nature! Secondly, what do they expect him to do after they wake him? Apparently not calm the wind and sea, because when he does, they are terrified and ask, "Who is this man...even the wind and waves obey him!" (I'm thinking, if you didn't believe Jesus could fix the problem, why didn't you let the poor guy sleep?! But that's just me.)

Yet here's where we see God's goodness and greatness in tandem. While a great God can control and overpower a storm, only a good God would do so ( definition #12: reliable, dependable, responsible). While a great God can cast out illness and demons, only a good God would (def. #6: kind, beneficent, or friendly). While a great God can meet our needs of shelter, food, and clothing, only a good God would (def. #2: satisfactory in quality, quantity, or degree). While a great God impresses us with power, only a good God deserves our worship (def. #7: honorable or worthy). While a great God amazes us with holiness, only a good God would desire and make a way for intimate personal relationship with imperfect creations (def. #1: morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious).

God knew I (and maybe you, too) would struggle to believe in his goodness; that I'd doubt the truth of his good character when things didn't go the way I'd hoped or expected. I guess that's why over and over in his Word he assures us of his love (I counted 97 times). Clearly, I'm never going to understand his perception of goodness, so I'll have take it on faith. Just like I did salvation itself.
I will never understand
How the words of mortal man
Can reach the ears of One so pure
And touch His heart, but they do I'm sure
For God is great, and God is good
And He is love
Lord, Your "divine power has given [me] everything [I] need for life and godliness through [my] knowledge of [Christ] who called [me] by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3). Help me to believe this every moment of every day.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Lord is [My?] Peace

Something I read in Judges 6 made me go "hmmm" this morning. An angel of God comes to Gideon (who's hiding while he tries to work) with instructions to lead the Israelites in battle against the Midianites, promising help in the task and complete victory. Wanting to be sure this isn't just a dream or fit of insanity, Gideon asks the angel to stay put while he runs to the house to prepare an offering.

He returns ASAP with a cooked young goat, baked bread and a pot of broth. Presenting them to the angel, he is instructed to place the meat and bread on a rock and pour the broth over them. So Gideon does as he is told. "The the angel of the Lord touched the meat and bread with the tip of the staff in his hand, and fire flamed up from the rock and consumed all he had brought. And the angel of the Lord disappeared" (vs. 21).

Now, at this point, Gideon had the same reaction I would have: he freaked. "Lord, I'm doomed!" he says. Suddenly, God speaks to him (remember, the angel's gone, so where's this voice coming from?) saying, "It's all right. Don't be afraid. You won't die." But, here's where my path and Gideon's diverge. At this point, the place where all this has occurred could be name, "the Lord watched Julie run away really fast." But, Gideon, so struck with calm and assurance, builds an altar there and names it "the Lord is peace."

PEACE??? PEACE??? Let's recap: He's hiding from enemies, met an angel, worked hard on a offering, watched fire come out of a rock and consume his hard work, seen the angel disappear, and heard a voice from out of nowhere talk to him. And he can name the place PEACE???

I can't begin to imagine how soothing the voice of God must have sounded. Whether or not it was audible, we don't know, but it was a million times more consoling than a parent calming an anxious child. God's words must have enveloped him like an embrace around his soul. God's voice encircled him, strangling the fear within and shrouding him with security. Serenity. Tranquility.

And that same voice speaks to me every day. Though inaudible, it speaks. In every struggle, in every miracle, in every moment I am willing to listen. In the midst of consuming fire or after it has passed, I want to confidently say with Gideon, "the Lord is [my] peace." No question marks.

This is the message of Good News--that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all (Acts 10:36).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Journey Toward Easter

I'm really excited about Easter this year. I don't know why this year more than others, but something deep within my spirit yearns for the Resurrection in a way I've never sensed before. It's still more than a month away, and although I'm observing Lent, it's not self-denial that's crying out; I honestly don't know what it is. So, I've decided to take a spiritual journey through several aspects of Christianity and Biblical study to see if I can grasp hold of whatever is within me, toward a greater understanding and passion for Christ.

My love for History is a natural beginning point for me. I've always been drawn to etymological studies and histories of symbols, so I thought I'd investigate some Christian symbols. These aren't comprehensive studies, but enough to satiate my curiosity.

The Fish: One of the most important symbols to early Christians, the fish, with its unblinking eyes reminded Believers of God's ever-watchful guard over them. Jesus told Peter he (and thereby, we) would be "fishers of men." Additionally, it serves as a reminder of Jesus' miracle of the loaves and fishes. He is ever-faithful to provide for those who trust in him.

Ichthus/Icthus: No, this is not my tattoo! But it's not a bad one to have. Closely related to the fish symbol above, you often see them combined. That's because these are the Greek letters which spell the word "fish," pronounced Ichthus. Early Christians used the letters of "Ichthus" to form an acrostic of their confession of faith. І-Jesus, Χ-Christ, Θ-God, Υ-Son, Σ-Savior.

Chi Rho: This is one of my favorites because its history is so rich with excitement! Chi and Rho are the first two letters (ΧΡ) of "Christ" in Greek ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Christos). The story goes that in 312 AD, Constantine was about to lead his army into battle with his enemy Maxentius near Rome, with the winner becoming emperor of the whole empire. Originally a pagan, Constantine was worried about the coming battle, so he prayed to the "Supreme God" for help. That night in a dream he said he saw Jesus telling him to "conquer by this," using the chi-rho sign "as a safeguard in all battles." Constantine ordered it to be put on his soldier's shields -- and won the battle.

The Anchor: Because of the dangers of being a Christian, early Believers would disguise the symbols of their faith, even on graves. (If you were seen visiting a Christian's tomb, you may presumably be a Christian as well.) The anchor was already seen by the culture of that day as a symbol of hope, stability and security, so when Christians used it, they deepened its message by affirming hope is found in Christ alone. Notice the vertical and horizontal lines create a cross! Now, we too "have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure (Hebrews 6:17)."

Although I looked in other places too, my primary source for this info was from this website. It's the ministry of an evangelical Christian with degrees from Fuller, so I think he's probably trustworthy. Feel free to do your own exploration; I barely scratched the surface!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Being a Hearer of the Word

If you're like me, you haven't been keeping up with the rest of our church reading the New Testament through until Easter (Ok, I hadn't read any at all), but I found a great way to connect with God's Word and still meet the goal: audio Bible. My friend Heather sent me this link, and I made it halfway through Matthew today while baking a cake and finishing some other projects! What I like about this one is not having to download anything onto my hard drive. Just click and listen! It is in King James, so even though I've trudged through the "begats," "privilys," "verilys" and "beholdests," I've tried to listen for the poetry of the Word. I mean, it's the life of Christ, his teachings and actions, but it's also the Living and Active, Double-Edged Sword that pierces the heart. So I'm trying to let it do that job, regardless of the language used. Some people put more effort in understanding the confusing verbage of Shakespeare than in comprehending the Word of Holy God. I don't want to be one of those people (but I'm really glad I have a Bible I can understand on a regular basis!)

Most importantly, I've got remember to not merely be a "hearer" of the Word, but a "doer" too!