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Archive for November, 2011

Always Something Better

As regularly happens, this morning my son Ryan said, “Hey Dad, did you see what the iPhone weather app does?” – and proceeded to show me something cool that I hadn’t known about the interface.

He’s always showing me something more that I did not dig into, something better.

And that’s why I love my iPhone, and the Apple design philosophy – you keep discovering, the more you dig, something even better, even cooler. Unlike many products, where more and more flaws show up over time.

Yesterday, splitting a pile of wood, I found myself marveling at the creativity of God. The different grains and textures in various types of trees, the smells, the fact that this lovely stuff hiding behind its marvelous tree-bark cloak can be used to make furniture, construct houses, build fires…and that it makes a growlingly manly splitting sound when you apply force to turn it from log to cord wood.

Just a moment ago I glanced over at my Facebook stream, and there one of my crafty friends had uploaded a picture of a beautiful desk that he had just made for his daughter. That was a tree not long ago. Now it’s an heirloom. Something glorious was hidden in that tree, waiting to be released.

From another friend’s Facebook post:

“All the beauty to be found throughout the whole creation is…the reflection of the diffused beams of that being [God] who hath an infinite fullness of brightness and glory” (Jonathan Edwards, True Virtue).

It is a slander to think that knowing God – seeing His handiwork – leads to narrowness and misery and dullness and hate. A truly opened pair of eyes is always discovering something better, something more. We go from treasure room to treasure room, even in the simple act at gazing at the grain of wood or studying a fallen autumn leaf.

And, in God’s inexhaustible wisdom and creativity, there will always be something even better!

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Not Very Promising

In the first book of the Bible (Genesis) chapter 11, we have an extensive genealogy leading up to the famous figure of the man Abram (later re-named Abraham).

Abraham was destined to be the father of many nations. He would be the paragon of faith, the progenitor of a line that would bring revelation and blessing to the entire world.

However – it wasn’t a promising start.

“The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai…and Sarai was barren; she had no child.” (Genesis 11:29-30).

For those keeping score, it is awfully difficult to become the father of anything when you cannot have children.

This condition went on for decades, as Abram followed God’s leading and believed His promises, despite the evident lack of fulfillment.

If you read on, you discover how God miraculously brings about the birth of Isaac, and the fascinating history of the patriarchs continues on from there. Abraham does indeed become the father of nations. God does indeed fulfill His promises, and, as is His wont, does so in such a way that no-one can claim it was mere human instrumentality.

That’s history now, but it still informs the present. It speaks to you and me.

We all find ourselves in not-very-promising conditions. If we don’t experience literal barrenness of the womb, we can point to a host of other barren and broken aspects of our lives and seriously wonder, “Can God make anything out of this mess?”

God allows inauspicious beginnings in order to show His glory. Whether it’s an enslaved nation in Egypt, a shepherd boy with a sling, a poor virgin in a dusty town named Bethlehem, or a demon-possessed madman raving among the tombs, God shows His power when all we have to offer is a broken, barren (even dead) – starting point.

I’m thinking of friends with broken families, wondering what marvelous futures the children may have. I’m thinking of godly people who live obscure lives of faithfulness, who may, with one unplanned act of faithfulness, set in motion a nation-altering chain of events.

I wonder about my own grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, if we are allowed the privilege. Could it be that the biggest impact of my life will be, in God’s inscrutable plan, 95 years downstream, through a descendant I never meet, when I am long gone and forgotten? Can God take my not-very-promising here and now and make something far greater than anyone can imagine?

Every chapter and book of the Bible says He can. This seems to be His modus operandi, in fact! What I see around and in me may not look very promising, but that is utterly overshadowed by a promise-making and promise-keeping God!

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A Covenant of Patience

I often wonder at God’s patience. Whether it’s when walking down the streets of NYC, or seeing the detritus on TV, or simply looking at the ugliness of my own heart, I marvel that God doesn’t sweep the whole mess out the door and be done with it. Me included.

And this flood of sin and self-indulgence goes on day by day, in city after city, house by house, generation after generation.

If you read the early chapter of Genesis, you see that God DID sweep it all away once – except for a favored few in the Ark. And it is understandable that Noah and his descendants might live in cringing fear from that point forward – will we provoke God to do it again?

So God made a covenant, with the remaining creatures (including humans and animals) never to wipe out life again with a worldwide flood. And He left a permanent, enduring sign of the covenant – in the midst of the threatening clouds and rain, a colorful bow was the signature of His promise that He would not again bring such a universal judgment of destruction by water.

It was, and is, a covenant of patience.

Many, of course, scoff at the idea of a flood of such magnitude, just as they scoff at a God who could create it with the snap of His anthropomorphized fingers. But even if you have difficulties with biblical history, consider one aspect of this covenant this is breathtaking and marvelous.

It is unilateral.

We often think of covenants as agreements between two parties, with promised actions, conditions, and consequences on both sides (your mortgage is a covenant with the bank, for instance). Yet, if you are a parent, gazing in wonder at your newborn in the crib, silently mouthing the words, “I will love you forever, no matter what…” – well, you know about unilateral promises.

And so this passage gets to the heart of a biblical covenant – a promise backed by an oath – which, in this case, is strictly one-way. We, and all creatures, are recipients – but God makes the promise and gives the sign unconditionally.

It is as if He said, “I will exercise patience in the face of human sin, right to the day of final judgment.”

This is jaw-dropping stuff. Think of all the public, national, private, individual acts of rebellion and disobedience to God’s law – think of all the worship NOT given, the selfishness indulged, the independence of spirit that refuses to have our own Creator rule over us – and we can well wonder why there isn’t a universal flood every day. If we grate our teeth at the merest slight given by another human being – what kind of patience does God exercise daily with full knowledge of all things in the heavens and on earth?

Rainbows are beautiful. But they are meant to evoke in us more than a wonder at the ephemeral display of color. They are to make us consider the enduring display of patience that gives us another day, another breath – another chance to turn our foot from a self-directed path and turn back to our Creator and Lord and Savior who invites us to taste immeasurable grace instead of well-deserved judgment.

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Without Measure

As do many parents, we have a particular spot where our boys periodically want to measure their height – yes, we have the pencil marks and names and measurements laddering up the door frame (and it’s rapidly getting to the point where I’m looking in a downward direction at only ONE of them!).

‘Tis human to measure.

I have been stable at 5’10” for many years now, and I guess that may change in the years ahead in a direction that kinda bums me out a bit. But while I have no real reason to measure physical height anymore, I do find that I continually compare myself to spiritual measures. Only, in this case, one must use a “milestick” instead of a yardstick. God is holy. I am….not.

If my standing with God, in this life in the next, depends on my measuring up the mile-high standard of holiness, then I’m in big trouble!

But then I read how Christ’s love is “without measure” – that is, it is so vast, and given so freely, that even my sin is carried away before it, like a driftwood seawall before a tsunami. His immeasurable fulfillment of the Law, His perfect satisfaction of the Father’s justice, means that I am loved without measure. Christ measured up, because it was impossible for me to do so.

So should I keep looking at my broken life next to the measuring rod, or at the ocean of grace that is without measure? Shall I keep asking, “how am I doing?” – or meditate deeply on what He has done?

To ask the question is to answer it…now, for grace to turn my gaze daily to immeasurable love!

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