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Archive for December, 2011

The Second Inaugural Address

“‘Woe unto the world because of offences! For it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.’

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove and that He gives to both north and south this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?”

By the time of the second inaugural address the country was torn asunder by war.  Lincoln had been re-elected, but it was a tough fight and his reward was another term of gut-wrenching presidency.  In the beginning of the war, his chief concern was preserving the Union, whether that meant ending slavery or not.  The issue of slavery was secondary.  But as the war advanced he became more convinced of the evil and more public about abolishing it.  His second inaugural address is transcendent in its grasp of the core struggles of mankind.  Perhaps this is why it is the one engraved next to the Gettysburg Address in the Lincoln Memorial.

In the first line of the excerpt you will likely see that he is quoting Jesus.  We can believe that Jesus was well aware of the reality of the broken state of humanity.  Offences will come.  There will be pain and wrong doing, it is inevitable in a world of sin-stained free will, but woe to the one who does it.  We still, after all, have a choice and a responsibility and each one of us, without exception will give an account for our behavior.  Lincoln, too, saw the reality of our nature. Divisiveness and prejudice were not new.  Neither was greed.  He was clear-headed and precise in his connection between the sin and the consequence.  What astounds me about his conclusion, however, is that he also justifies God’s nature in the punishment.  This is the bone on which most of humanity chokes.  We find it much easier to make God the bad guy.

And not only does Lincoln justify God, he clearly states that it takes nothing away from the divine attributes we ascribe to Him, the inference being that God is being as majestically Himself here as anywhere else.  And when we think of God as the Just Ruler of the Universe, it makes sense.  But when we are the ones being judged, especially if we are caught in a corporate judgement, it’s not a facet of His nature we like to think about.

As I ponder this dynamic it leads me to the issue of parenting.  God takes great risk by leaving us options.  Do you think He likes to watch us blow each other up or destroy His beloved creation?  Yet, He has not turned us into puppets.  He is a Father, not  Mr. Stromboli.  He puts us into situations where we have to make choices.  A parent may give their teenager the keys to the car with instructions of how to get to the library, but when the car leaves the driveway, the teen has a choice. Library or … ?  The parent doesn’t remove the option to fail, but if the kid messes up, he or she will get punished.  It’s an essential part of growing up.  When faced with a crossroad, which branch will you take?

God does this with us, only on a larger scale and with much more at stake.  Will we be a slave or a son?  What will we do with the options we have?  How will our decisions impact our lives, our communities, our nations?  As adults we have a whole lot more power than a set of keys and a few bucks in our pockets.  The Civil War didn’t happen overnight.  Individual men and women made a lot of bad choices, many of which were part of an accepted lifestyle.

So, while we must recognize the righteousness of God in punishment, we must also remember His wisdom in parenting.  Think about the options He has given you and what does it look like to be a son?  Let not the offence come through you!

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Lukewarm Coffee

Here is an ad you will never see at Starbucks:

“Try our new Lukewarm Cappuccino!  Thin, watery, and forgettable!”

Bleah.

I’m a Coke fan myself, and even I know there’s only two ways to drink coffee – hot or cold.  I shudder instinctively at anything in between.  Those of you who do own stock in Starbucks can, therefore, appreciate even more the emotions of Christ as He describes the church at Laodicea.  “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold or hot.  I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16)  About the only use for lukewarm is milk for babies.

Out of the blue the other day, these verses popped into my head, and I had a couple of thoughts I’d like to share.  First, the Redemptive Gifts.  Using the structure of the sevens, we understand that the Laodicean church parallels the gift of Mercy.  I share one perspective on the passage in a teaching called “Where the Living Treasure Lies“, which is about the gift of Mercy and their relationship to time and reality.  The lukewarm part has always struck me as being about courage in the face of opposition.  The Mercy doesn’t like conflict, and you surely will run into scuffles if you wax either hot or cold.  The Mercy likes to be liked and what is more comfortable than a temperate climate, right?

It is interesting, however, that the next verse goes on to talk about how the people think they are rich and healthy when they really are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.  Ouch.  Those are harsh words, Apostle John.  So why is this thought immediately following the blast about being lukewarm?

I wonder if it has to do with status quo.

You see, one of the areas of the Mercy’s greatest strength is also their potential downfall.  The Mercy craves a safe, healthy, vibrant, beautiful, nurturing environment.  Really, hanging around with a healthy Mercy isn’t half bad for that reason.  But once that environment is created the temptation is to stop.  Dead flat, screeching halt and don’t rock the boat, thank you very much.  The Mercy has achieved their ecosystem and now they can relax and live in the wonderful bubble they have created.  Status quo sets in.  Motivation drops to maintenance.  The world is a happy place, never mind that it has shrunk to the size of your life.  Have you ever known a status quo to burn hot?

By my experience, this is a deceptively easy trap to fall into.  The Mercy reaches a place of equilibrium, everything is balanced, or as balanced as it can be, and he or she settles in and feels comfortable, safe, and healthy.  It would be so easy to stay there, and not have to start the process all over again somewhere else.  Lukewarm is nice.  Tepid word for a tepid life!

You see, it means embracing more challenges to be anything but lukewarm, or to continually upset the status quo.  You have to tackle another problem, embrace another chaotic scene or throw your arms around another prickly pear.  All of this takes the Mercy out of his or her carefully crafted ecosystem.  Do you really think the ecosystem you have now is the biggest and best possible that God could ever create through you?  I sure hope not!  I think what really frustrates our King is that we stop growing and our sphere of influence and capacity to change the world stops growing with us.

We are made to create ecosystems and environments, but I think not to build a castle on them.  Those are castles in the air.  The truly immovable structure must be inside of us, the ecosystem of our heart.  This is where we cast our anchor deep into the Rock, so that our stability can carry us forth into the next disruption of the status quo.

So, give yourself a shake.  See if you are settling into your castle that doesn’t exist.  Really take a good look at you life.  It sneaks up on you.  And I would welcome any feedback or thoughts on what you see or experience.

www.GoBeyondtheHorizon.com

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Rings

“The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.

“Welcome, child,” he said.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
–Excerpt from “Prince Caspian” CS Lewis

Many people use the illustration of an onion to describe how you can peel back layer after layer and eventually reach the core of the person or matter. Most of the time I think it gets used to explain someone who may have more brokenness and compensations than wholesome complexity, but I suppose that’s a matter for another time. I’d like to take that picture and work it exactly backwards, from the inside out.

Let’s start at the smallest part of the onion, the core, and suppose that it is your view of God at present. You can see that much of Who He is, how He interacts with the world, and what He has done with your life. It’s all you see right now. Then God takes you through a season of growth or reveals a particular insight, and suddenly you see that there is a layer OUTSIDE of the one you knew. The onion is bigger! This ring is a whole new experience. You see something about God you didn’t see before. You see the world through a new lens. God just got bigger to you. He was really that size all the time, but some part of Him that was invisible became visible, just as you moved outside of the center of the onion and saw there was another ring.

It is a marvel to me to think that when I look at the world around me, as I walk through my day, there are rings upon rings of the onion that I haven’t seen yet. There are facets of God’s character that are invisible to me now, but they are there. They are around me. He is functioning entirely true to Himself, whether I am big enough to see Him or not.

I love the picture as Lewis paints it with Aslan. The lion did not grow, but because Lucy did, he seemed bigger to her. Our God will never lose that capacity to grow bigger every time we do. It is an amazing thing.

May you NEVER lose the hunger to see the ring outside the one you know.

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The Four Loves

The Four Loves

“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”  –C.S. Lewis

We all go through times when the wringing and breaking happen. The temptation to bury our love in our hobbies and interests is especially strong at those moments of pain. Boy, there are days when I look across the room at my stained glass table and think “you know, I’d be very happy to lose myself in my stained glass work and forget that people even exist.” I imagine you’ve had a day or two like that yourself … or maybe a whole lifetime??

Then I think about the vulnerability of the love of Christ. Not just His death on the cross, but the fact that He ever walked the earth in the first place. He left the realm where the angels worshipped day and night to spend 30 odd years in a broken world where He was loved one minute and reviled the next. Just the incarnation alone was a magnificent statement of His willingness to be vulnerable in His love. He is the King of Kings. Why on earth would He subject Himself to such a humiliating pilgrimage, to die the death of a thief? It was a characteristic of His love to make Himself vulnerable at a level we can’t even comprehend. That’s the same love that we are made the carry, the one that will grow stale and unbendable if we, in our pain, suffocate the life out of it. We will not know, perhaps, until we reach heaven what it will be like to be vulnerable in love without pain. Probably our entire understanding of love will be transformed. But we do know, that here, on earth, Christ demonstrated this important characteristic of love.

So, when that urge comes to bury your love in your hobbies, or work, or whatever else, remember that you are burying it in a coffin. Take the pain to Christ instead and let Him show you how to breathe life into it once again.

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Creativity

She was staring straight at me. She had come out of nowhere, really, so I wasn’t quite prepared for the encounter. I expected she would join the rest who were busy eating. But apparently her curiousity got the best of her and she had to come check me out. Have you ever been interrogated by four ounces of fluff with a beak? It was a bit intimidating, actually.

I love the irony. I get oodles of Mourning Doves in my back patio. I enjoy them very much, though occasionally I have to break up their backroom brawls. They outweigh a hummingbird by some outrageous proportion, yet they are considerably more skiddish. If I make hardly a movement inside my house they whir away in a panic. And they aren’t particularly good drivers, either. I have more Mourning Dove sillouettes on my windows than anything else (a problem I am in the process of fixing). But those hummingbirds are something else entirely. This morning after I accidentally scared everyone away I decided I might as well do some watering. The hummingbirds had been zooming in and out, so I wondered if they would come back, even with me there. And sure enough, they did! As long as I wasn’t spraying the hose right next to the feeder, they kept right on eating. So, either they hadn’t eaten in three days or they are just plain gutsy.

Based on my encounter with Ms. Ruby, my guess is the latter.

I was away from the feeder a bit, with my back turned to it, when she came. So, she had to come AROUND me, in the opposite direction of the food! I was a bit lost in my own world, watching their shadows on the pavement, when the buzzing (like the light sabers in Star Wars) was suddenly much louder. I looked up and there she was. Right on eye level with me and looking me square in the face. We locked eyes for a few seconds and then off she buzzed. I’m not sure if she went back to the feeder or off to tell her friends about this very strange flower she found. She might be used to staring humans in the face, but I must say it was an experience I don’t often have!

God must have had so much fun making birds. Just in the handful of birds that frequent my backyard there are so many different personalities, some of them, like the Mourning Doves and Hummingbirds, are humorous in their differences. Others just make me smile because I can SO imagine what that bird would be like if he was a person. I LOVE the fact that God created such variety and vibrancy in His birds. An exotic parrot of the Amazon or a little brown sparrow alike would be boring if that’s all we had to see. But no! Our God is exquisitely creative in all He has made, even down to Ms. Ruby herself!

It makes me wonder what it would have been like for Moses, or Job, or even David as they wrote about the wonders of creation. What was it like for Moses to have dictated to him the creation story? Was his spirit able to comprehend even more than he was instructed to write? Did God tell him anything about what it was like creating the birds, and the fish, and the animals? Or Job, who was given countless illustrations of God’s immensity through the pictures of nature? Or David who spoke such beautiful poetry about the universe? How they must have marveled at His creative genius!

While I may (or may not!) wait until heaven to have such an encounter as they did, I celebrate with great joy the creativity of my God and will ever smile at my introduction to Ms. Ruby!

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Chain of Events

There is an old kid’s movie called “Bethoveen”. It’s about a family who manage to adopt (or he adopts them!) a gigantic St. Bernard. He immediately begins to terrorize their house and lives, but finds his way into their hearts too. Well, one thing about a super-sized dog is they also come with super-sized slobber. In one of the scenes, Bethoveen slimes the Dad just as he is leaving for work. With a dramatic sigh, he heads up the stairs to make a complete change of wardrobe. His wife calls up to him to just change his pants. He replies, “but if I change my pants, then I have to change my shirt, and if I change my shirt I have to change my belt, and if I change my belt, I have to change my shoes, and if I change my shoes, I have to change my socks..” and on he goes.

This movie scene came back quite vividly this week as I have been rearranging my entire office in order to accomodate a new laptop. I am beginning to fear that the chain reaction will extend outside the office doorway and I will have to overhaul my bathroom, living room, and kitchen too. All for a new laptop!

It has been a frustrating ordeal. However, I am learning patience, or at least recognizing the potential to learn patience. I am also becoming very familiar with the Best Buy near my house. That may have Kingdom value someday. But what has struck me is this chain reaction I find myself caught in, as one problem solved causes another three to surface. It’s like that wack-a-mole game, and just as irritating.

So, I look at myself in my humanity and bumbling attempts to solve the problems I am creating, and I can’t help but stand in awe of God. He is continually disrupting the status quo and never is caught in a chain reaction He can’t control. He is always one step ahead of the events that are happening, never do the events get the drop on Him. Powerlessness is simply not in His dictionary. I marvel at the scale on which He does this. We are talking about all of creation, at any moment, all the time! Goodness. I can’t hardly keep my office from overtaking my whole apartment! God masterfully plans and crafts and shapes the process, and knows exactly which piece He can pull or manipulate to create exactly the chain reaction He wishes to.

Wow.

He’s my hero!

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