Olympic swinging, and why my effort isn’t enough

I had a lot of problems getting friends as a teenager, but as a kid I had a system.

It was called impressing them.

My friends and I played a game called “Olympic swinging”.  We would grade the form of the swinger, the landing of the swinger, and–most of all–the height from which the swinger jumped off said swing to stick the landing.

I was no good at form.  And I was no good at landing.

But I was good at jumping high.

I got automatic tens from almost all my friends because of my bravery.  I would leap from where they would not, over and over and over.  The one time I had a friend jump from the same height I had, I immediately broke my old jumping record and became more daring than ever.

I had almost no fear.  I was so excited to know I would get another perfect ten, I would leap from great heights, heights so high that I couldn’t possibly land on my feet (well, that and my coordination).

I loved this game.  I loved it until my mother looked out the window one day and saw my Olympic jumping.  We had a long discussion about Olympic jumping, in which I gave a moving argument for why taking away Olympic jumping would basically shatter my dreams, ruin my career, and destroy my life, in a nutshell.  We agreed to compromise.  I would still jump from a bit higher than my friends, but no more extreme jumps.

I have to grin thinking back on those days, because I revealed something very real about my personality through my Olympic swing jumping.  I knew I wasn’t coordinated.  I knew I wasn’t graceful.  I knew I wasn’t athletic.  But I knew I could be brave (or fool-hearty, depending on how you look at it).  I was willing to take risks with myself that others weren’t, and they paid off.

In other words, I could earn 10’s for myself with sheer effort.

It was this very thinking that caused God and me to have problems, right from the start.

I knew I couldn’t keep the Ten Commandments.  I knew I couldn’t even get close.  But I thought that maybe I could make an appeal to God that was so perfect that He would forgive me.

Sometimes tens or maybe even hundreds of times a day, I would pray for salvation.  I would pray and pray.  I kept trying to form a prayer that was good enough that I could earn a perfect 10 and be saved.

But I always ended up with less.

And not just less, but less and less.  My prayers seemed to be getting worse.  I went from an 8.0 to a 7.6 to a 7.9 to a 6.5 to a 6.8 to a 5.4 to a 5.9 to a 7.0 to a 3.2 to a 4.6 to a 4.4 to a 3.9 to a 4.1 to a 3.8 to a 3.4 to a 1.5 to a 2.5 to a 3.1 to a 2.6 to a 1.2 to a 2.5 to a 2.1 to a 1.9 to a 1.7 to a 1.8 to a 1.7 to a 1.4 to a .5.  And pretty soon, my prayers didn’t seem to be counting at all.  I didn’t seem to be making any scores.

I think I made a pretty common mistake when it comes to understanding salvation.  I was so focused on my effort in asking for salvation that I forgot nearly all about God’s grace in saving me.  This has to be a little like applying on Extreme Makeover for a free house and being so intent on your appeal that you forget the power is in the hands of the management team at E.M.

Still, though, that’s a deceptive analogy, because the better your plea, the more likely it is you’ll get chosen by the E.M. team.  But with God, salvation is a free gift, and not one that is limited in its availability (i.e., E.M. only usually fixes one house a week on their series, and this is not even every week in a year).  Salvation is also not based on merit (or assigning value to how much effort is put forth in the asking).  Jesus makes it astonishingly clear that everyone who asks will receive.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8, NIV)

With the management team of God, God, and God alone, decides who receives salvation and who doesn’t.  As much as most of my friends were impressed by my high jumps, God is not impressed by our boldness in trying to please Him.  God does want people to be bold in seeking Him, but the problem is, boldness or bravery or daring just isn’t going to come close to being enough for salvation.  That’s something like saying a brave heart surgeon is enough to insure the success of the surgery.

If the surgeon knows nothing about hearts, or always messes up when (s)he tries to operate on hearts, no amount of bravery is going to save the operation.  In the same way, no amount of bravery alone is going to save us from our sins.  We need a perfect sacrifice.  We must count on Christ.  Not only is Christ able, but He is the most brave person ever, and He was willing to die for us.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

Earlier I said that God and me had problems because of my Olympic swinging.  That is a very startling way to talk about the God of the galaxies.  There is no irreverence meant here, instead a very astonishing discovery I have made about God[1]: He wants to help us.

But I discovered something I found rather challenging about God.  He does not compromise.  I have not been able to convince Him that salvation should be at least 90% my effort, or 50%, or even 10%–and I’m so glad.  Because if I had, I would never be saved.

Because even if it was just 1%, I’d never get the perfect 10 in asking for salvation.  I’d never have the perfect heart to do so.  That would be like being able to bake a cake without any ingredients.  I have to have a perfect heart before my effort can even count, and I can’t have a perfect heart without the 100% mercy of Jesus Christ.

“I will be merciful to the person I want to be merciful to, and I will be kind to the person I want to be kind to.” Therefore, God’s choice does not de­pend on a person’s will or effort, but on God himself, who shows mercy. (Romans 9:15b-16)

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[1] Yes, it’s true that others have made this discovery before me, such as Eve, Noah, Samson, David, and Daniel.

Photo by Quinn Anya (Quinn Dombrowski), profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/quinnanya/

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

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Published in: on March 25, 2012 at 5:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What is Easter? What, really, is Easter?

For some people, Easter is about wearing the best outfit to church.  For others, it’s about going to church, annually, or maybe Christmas, too, and paying homage to a nice man who died because He was nice.  For others, it’s about giving up a certain kind of food.  For others, it’s hunting for brightly colored plastic eggs that hide candy.  Still others try to combine all this together and make it a religious holiday with secular benefits.  Maybe filling Easter eggs with mostly candy, but putting crosses in a few.

Bunnies?  Chicks?  Tulips?  Baskets?  Chocolates?  Easter eggs?  ‘Sunday best’ clothes?  An hour in a church?

Or a Man on a cross?

Which one doesn’t belong?  Bunnies, chicks, candies, new clothes, even a trip to church—it could all be a spring holiday.  But there is no way to force into that story a Man on a cross.  He does not, and cannot, belong with the others.  You can turn from the cross, you can move away from it, but you cannot put bunnies or brightly colored eggs around its foot.  There is only blood and forgiveness there.

I have to ask myself a hard question.  A question I can’t answer without digging down past what I think, what I feel, and uncovering my very soul.

What does Easter mean to me?

At my heart, is Easter about new blades of grass growing, birds chirping, rabbits hopping?  Is it about new dresses, new jewelry, new shoes?  Is it about singing a few songs about a nice man?

Or is Easter the linchpin of my life?  Is it the ground on which I walk, the breath in my lungs, the beat in my heart, the rhythm in my pulse, the spine in my back?  Is it everything I have ever needed to know who I am and who God is?  Is Easter my escape, my plan with no fallbacks, my sword, my shield, my fortress, my island, my Heaven, and the nailed palm that carries my soul?

Not if Easter is about anything except the Man on the cross.

Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:38-39, ESV)

Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42, ESV)

he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. (Matthew 26:44b, ESV)

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. (John 19:16b-18, ESV)

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30, ESV)

If I can have your attention, please.

Stopped at a stoplight, I had my mind off listening to Beautiful, Beautiful by Francesca Battistelli when I began to notice the passenger in the van next to me.  It was hard not to notice him.  He was rocking out to music.

I didn’t think he would appreciate being watched, so I returned to staring ahead.  However, it was hard not to pay attention.  He began head banging.  I wondered what exactly was going on.  Was he trying to get my attention, or just being really silly?  I turned to see.  He wasn’t looking my direction, and I went back to staring ahead, convinced (with relief) he was simply rocking out.

But as the stoplight unceasingly stayed red, I became convinced this was not the case.  He stopped whacking his head around long enough to–I thought–gauge if I was looking.  Then he continued.

I decided to give one last look.  This time, when I looked at him, he stopped head banging and looked straight at me.  He was probably a teenager, or in his early twenties.  He gave me this cocky look of Aha, you noticed me, which, as I gazed at him, turned quickly to realization that I was, actually, looking at him.  He hadn’t planned to this point and the smile faded as his eyes widened, understanding for the first time that he had just set himself up for an extreme crash and burn if I was not amused.

I realized that my look of nonamusement (which was really just me trying to figure out what on earth was going on) was about one second away from extremely embarrassing him.  I smiled in an attempt to look sage, kind, and a tad bit motherly.

He appreciated it.  He seemed very proud of himself.  And, as (at last) the light changed and both our vehicles moved forward (mine intentionally slower), he stuck his arms out the window and began headbanging again.

It might be easy to make fun of him, but I don’t want to.  He was just a kid, trying to get attention.  I remember going through a stage where I would wave at random people to see if they would wave back.  Loneliness, wanting attention–I get it.

Instead, I prayed for this attention-hungry kid.  And almost immediately, God brought something else to my mind: how very much all of us are like this boy.

We may not all throw our heads around to get attention, but we all want attention desperately.  And who do we want it from more than anything else?  God.

And we do some pretty unusual things to try to get it from Him.

Some people throw themselves into a rebellion against God to try to get His attention.  Others scream at Him.  Others make fun of Him.  Others try to do good stuff to please Him.  And still others just give up.

But is it really this hard to get God’s attention?  Is He really not very interested in us?  Does He leave His cell phone off most of the time?  Does He block our calls?

God gives us incredibly interesting analogies for Himself that I would never pick if I was God.  One is a Father.  A Father?   Sometimes we don’t think too much about it, but it’s only because we’re not thinking from a heavenly perspective!  The best I can come to understanding how strange this must seem to the angels is something like this:

Suppose that a President walked into a maximum security prison and said, “Who would like to come with me and be my child?”  Would that make headlines?  Might he be removed from office?

One of the many good newses about God is that there is no one higher than Him, and He doesn’t take votes, so nobody can remove Him from office.  But if they could, I guarantee you they would.  The Pharisees would have first dibs.  God’s love seemed crazy to them–that God would want to adopt sinners?  They were angry enough to plot to kill Him.

Here’s another mind-blogging analogy about God.  He describes Himself as a Shepherd.  Have you ever had the opportunity to take care of squirrels?  I haven’t.  But I can kinda imagine what it would be like.  Would you volunteer for the job of overseeing a thousand squirrels–free squirrels who are not caged?  I wouldn’t dare.

But God dares to oversee us.  Not only does He oversee us, but He gives us free choice to follow Him or not.  Sometimes when I think of a Shepherd, I think of quiet sheep grazing on pasture hills.  But is this really how we are?  No way.  We are like wild squirrels running hither and thither.  Only by God’s great love do we have the chance to be shepherded.  It wasn’t a job anybody else wanted to take on–accept for Satan, who wanted to devour us whole.  God steps up as Shepherd–Shepherd!–to lead the way to Heaven for us.  Incredible.

And then there’s when God describes Himself as the Bridegroom of the church.  Just like a man becomes vulnerable to win the heart of a woman, so Jesus became vulnerable to win our hearts [1].

A man might become vulnerable to win the heart of a woman he loves–but would he become vulnerable for a woman of no regard with nothing to offer who has sold herself to anyone who would buy her?  But this is the story of God, revealed through the Old and New Testament.

With a God like this, it doesn’t seem like it would be hard to get His attention.  So why does it seem like it’s so hard?

Why doesn’t God write messages in the sky for us?  Why doesn’t He usually talk to people in an audible voice?  Why doesn’t He create youtube videos from Heaven to send to us, so that we might know we have His attention?

The problem with this is, though, it supposes that God hasn’t tried to get our attention in the most powerful way possible–and He has.

I am convinced that if the death of God on a cross and His resurrection from the grave won’t get people’s attention, then nothing will . . except for eternal judgment, at which point it is too late to believe [2].

God has let us know–unmistakably, irrevocably–that He cares about us.  But He has not violated our opportunity to have faith.  If He gave us all the proofs we ask for, we would have no faith.  By Biblical definition:

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. (Hebrews 11:1, NIV)

And the Bible makes it clear: the way to God is through faith in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us on the cross.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB)

So, while we’re trying to get God’s attention, we’re missing the fact that God has taken the greatest possible effort to get our attention.

There’s one last name God uses to describe Himself that we’ll talk about here: Advocate.

Jesus is described as our Advocate.

My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. (1 John 2:1, NLT)

I know people who have tried to get me into trouble, but rarely people who have tried to get me out of trouble.  Those are true friends.  But people who can actually pay for my trouble?  I don’t have any friends like that, except one.  That’s Jesus.

There is no one in all the world who could ever make themselves as  approachable as Jesus.  Jesus opens His arms to us at the cross.  We never need to be attention-seeking again.  We have all the love we could possibly need–and more–in our Advocate, Jesus Christ.  He died so we could receive the attention we desperately seek from God, rather than permanent separation.

We don’t have to do crazy things or try to be worthy to get God’s attention.

God is trying to get ours.

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.” (Psalm 27:8, NLT)

[1] Concept from Wild at Heart by John Eldridge and other authors who have described this phenomena.

[2] Inspired by a powerful statement my pastor made in a sermon.

Published in: on March 24, 2012 at 8:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A goodbye

Goodbye, mostly everything I learned from Hollywood.

For what does a man have if he gets all the world and loses his own soul? What can a man give to buy back his soul? (Matthew 16:26, NLV)

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Photograph by Striatic (Hobvias Sudoneighm), profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/striatic/, website http://striatic.net/

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

What great inconvience

What great inconvenience we are to God!  To take us back, He had to live in our broken world and die for us . . . and still He must call us before we will come!

It makes me wonder what inconvenience I am willing to take for the people He died for.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34, NASB)

A Tale of Two Jerkies

My parents ran the college group at my church growing up.  I got to chill out with them.  As a six-year-old, that’s a big deal.  That went on my kindergarten resume, I’ll have you know.  🙂

One time, at a get together at my parents’ house, everybody brought potluck.  Well, almost everybody.  Two brothers brought jerky.  I never thought of jerky as potluck, but they were two single guys who I’d never seen cook.

“Do you like it?” the brothers asked.

“Well . . there’s something wrong with this jerky,” Dad said.

I was immediately interested.  Dad was the unpickiest eater I knew.  I was even more interested because of the embarrassment this caused my mother.

“Oh, I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with it,” Mom said, picking up a piece to demonstrate just this.  She took a bite.

“It’s good,” she said, a bit uncertainly, I thought.

But the brothers were proud of it.  They kept urging everybody to try it.  And everybody who ate said it was good, too.

Now I was really interested.  I’d probably never tried jerky before.  So I pulled out one of the sticks and took a bite.

It had a weird chemical taste to it, like the beef had been sprayed down with pesticides before drying.

“It’s good,” I said loudly.

Mom, gauging my reaction, quickly scooted me away from the two guys so she could pitch the rest of my jerky stick in the trash.

“Mom,” I whispered, “it tastes bad.”

“I know,” she whispered.  But she ate her jerky.  So did everybody else.

About the time everybody had gotten theirs at least partway down, the two guys burst out into hysterical, very noisy laughter.

Nobody knew why.

Well, everybody was getting pretty suspicious.

Turned out, they had brought jerky all right, but not beef jerky.

Dog jerky.

I don’t know what is in dog jerky.  But I can tell you it just goes to show you dogs will eat just about everything.  The fact that they want to come back for more probably does prove, once and for all, as much as I hate to admit it, that cats are smarter than dogs.

I was able to overlook their joke for two reasons.  One was because Mom had saved me from eating more than one bite.  The other was because the two guys later bought me a stuffed Grover when I was in the hospital.

Dad really had no big upset, either.  He’d only taken a bite, stated how he felt, and moved on to the potato casserole.

Everybody else on the other hand . . well, had a little more to get over.

It was like a retelling of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.  Everybody in the room wanted to be polite and say nice things, except my dad.  He just told the truth.

I love how real my dad was.  I love that he was honest enough to not make himself eat jerky made for dogs, or pretend that he was eating it when he wasn’t.

I wonder, though.  Am I that honest?

I don’t have to wonder for long.  I’m not.

I want to be, but I am still so afraid of what people will think.  It’s easier to go along with an objectionable comment, or at least pretend to go along with it, than to say it isn’t right.

I don’t mean I want to be in people’s faces confronting them.  But when I know something is wrong, and someone asks to hear my voice, why am I so reluctant to say what I know is real?

Is Satan making a fool out of me because I am trying to be polite and nice . . when what I really need to share is the Truth?

Truthful words stand the test of time,

but lies are soon exposed. (Proverbs 12:19, NLT)

 

 

“There’s an app for that.”

I don’t know who started the phrase, but it’s come to express what has become a growing reality: whatever you need, there is an app on your iphone made just for it.

Need to find out how many calories were in the meal you just ate?  There’s an app for that.  Need to flip a coin to see who pays for the meal?  There’s an app for that, too.  Need to calculate the tip for your waiter?  There’s an app for that.   Want to write a review of the restaurant?  There’s an app for that.  Want to throw birds at pigs while you wait for your receipt?

There’s an app for that.

With all the things there are apps for, it seems like technology’s self-sufficiency at meeting our needs (and wants) keeps climbing, until one day we might be able to carry around only an iphone and receive everything we want.

But that’s not really going to happen.  Maybe one day we’ll be able to do all our daily business from our phones, and feed all our entertainment desires, but we’ll never find an app for everything.

Because our greatest needs can’t be apped.

I can’t find forgiveness through an app.  I can find distraction from my guilt–but no forgiveness.

I can’t find courage through an app.  I can find games that make me seem brave–but no courage.

I can’t find joy through an app.  I can find ways to make my life more efficient or easier–but no joy.

I can’t find the love I’m searching for through an app.  I can find people through social networking apps, but it is only by their communication–and not technology–that I can feel any love from them at all.  And even then, even if I have thousands of fans and dozens of friends. . I’m not going to find the everlasting love or the self-sacrificing love that I’m looking for.

There’s not an app for that.

As useful as apps can be to navigate through the day, they are completely helpless to aid the longings or condition of the soul.  For that, we must find a personal God, who has the power to forgive us, love us, and fill us.

There’s no app that can find God for us.

But,

Just like a bookshelf can hold a Bible, there are electronic bookshelves that hold the Bible.  A bookshelf can’t lead you to God . . . but God’s Word that is on the shelf can.

That’s just downright awesome.

All right, for my app lovers out there, this one’s for you:

Where can I find an electronic bookshelf holding the Word of the one and only God?

There’s an app for that.

The word of the Lord spread throughout the whole region. (Acts 13:49, GW)

Angel food cake

Have you ever seen those little hearts cartoonists draw around somebody showing love?  If you drew an angel food cake, and my mom, there would definitely be little floating hearts.

When I started baking, I didn’t even have to give a second thought to whether or not I’d try to make an angel food cake.

Angel food cake is hard to make (from scratch).

My first batch, I thought “all these extra directions are foo-foo nonsense.” Real bakers surely didn’t pay attention to the rules.  I’d seen cooks on TV.  They just added a dash of this, dollop of that and, wa-la!  Dinner.

The difference, I found, between “dinner” and “dessert” (cooking and baking) is like the difference between painting and wallpapering.

What I pulled from the oven was not angelic looking.  Instead of making a tower of fluffy cloud, I made a basement of squishy insulation.  (That analogy goes back to my days of watching my family put insulation in the houses we were building.  The cake I made was remarkably similar in texture to insulation.  And just as tasty, too.)

Next time, I paid a lot of attention to the extra directions.

Yep.

Rather than stir the meringue like cement, turning it into lovely insulation material, the meringue became a pool for the graceful swan of my spatula to dive through and lift up, dive and lift up.

Angel food cakes are a lot of work.  I have just learned how to separate yolks from eggs (please, please come to my house some time so I can show you and you can clap).  The egg whites need to be room temperature.  The directions say that and it’s very important to wait.

Then I put the egg yolks, cream of tartar, vanilla, and almond extract in my blender.  The directions say to beat the meringue until it is stiff and that’s no joke.  I pour in little bits of sugar and the directions say to do that slowly and not like a dump truck and it is no good to do it the dump truck way.

The flour and sugar mixture is sifted like gently falling snow over the meringue and that’s when the spatula does its fancy swan dive.

At last, it’s time to pour the mix from bowl to angel food cake pan.  Once the spatula has smoothed the foamy batter, I place the soon-to-be cake in the already hot oven for a half an hour of angelizing.

When the cake has angelized, I lift it out of the oven in mismatched potholders and flip it over on a funnel.  (The cake would probably taste even better if I could ever find potholders that matched.)

Then the cake has to stay upside-down until cool so it will not defluff.

The last angel food cake I made, I was in the part that stresses me out most: transferring the delicate meringue from the bowl to the cake pan.  It makes me nervous, but if I actually had anybody who liked angel food cake watching me, they could have a nervous breakdown.  I am self-described as having the coordination of an agile gazelle who thinks it’s an elephant.

As I was trying to not slop batter over every square inch of the kitchen, a thought came to my mind:

What if I stopped here?

I mean, this is my least favorite part of angel food cake making, this and getting the pan in the oven without holding it by the bottom and having the two pieces of the pan come apart.

When I was thinking this question, it was only speculative.  I would never stop here.  As unfun as it is to me to move the batter from A to B, I would never crack 9 or so large eggs, leave the egg whites out for an hour and a half, borrow cream of tartar from the neighbor, sift sugar and flour, and do the swan “dive and swoop” (that stresses me out, as I am not very swanly) . . and then stop.

But what came to my mind is, how many times do we stop, or are we tempted to stop–right in the middle of what God has for us?

I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:27, NLT)

No matter how tired I was, I wouldn’t leave a batter of angel food cake to deflate and ruin on the counter.  I would take the time to pour it into the cake pan.

But would I despair and give up that there could be any great work from God for the rest of my life?

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9, ESV)

Published in: on March 20, 2012 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dress up

I’m sure there are little girls who don’t like to play dress up, but I wasn’t one of them.

In my trunk of dress up–that was usually a pile around the trunk except when we had company–I had like three 70’s suits contributed by my father, brown yarn braids, gigantic glasses, a blue princess skirt, a pig nose, sunglasses, many ties my mother found she could get out of my father’s wardrobe by donating them to me, maracas, a dog nose, a plastic gun, a scarf, and a sombrero.  There was more than that, that I have no memory of, but I’d have known them back then.  I probably mixed and matched just about everything in that wardrobe at one time or another–tasteful or not so tasteful.  (I never had much of a sense of style, even back then.)

Anytime I had friends over, and they saw my dress up box, they always wanted to try stuff on.  Sometimes we spent so much time dressing up, we didn’t even have time to play anything once we got into costume.

The idea of dress up thrills me, even now.  The idea of trying on a new identity.  Being someone else.  Someone less complicated.  Or more mysterious.  Or more rebellious.  Or better behaved.  Or smarter.  Or more popular.  Or funnier.  Or more beautiful.  Or clever.  Or ridiculous.  Or powerful.

Just–someone else.

Why?  Why do so many of us want so badly to be someone else?  With all the self-esteem training of the 21st Century, the focus on accepting yourself for who you are and telling yourself you deserve whatever you want . . . why do we still find it so uncomfortable to be who we are?

We’re told our discomfort is just an illusion, a product of our environment.  There’s nothing better, or it’s all subjective, or nobody should be judging us, or we’ll be all right in the end somehow.  But we still want to dress up.  We still want to escape into the identity of someone else, hide from the consequences we’re afraid will catch up to us if we look into the mirror for too long.

But I don’t want to hear how beautiful I am, how the inner me is awesome, how I can sing songs and dance and everything I’ve ever done to ruin my life is going to pop into butterflies or evaporate in thin air or just not matter anymore.  I want to hear the truth.

We think we can’t handle the truth, that if we stripped ourselves bare we would see  more than we can possibly deal with.  And so we scramble from disguise to disguise, trying to fool everyone but ourselves into believing we are really nice, we are really important, we are really not broken, black-hearted, and beyond hope.

If that was the whole truth, we would be better off to throw on any costume we could.  But that’s only part of the truth.  It’s an unfriendly truth.  It’s a humiliating truth.  It’s a devastating truth.  But until I get my mind to here, at least in part, I can’t get my mind to the rest of the truth.

God is here.

“Shekinah glory”.

The shekinah glory was the Presence of God in the Holy of Holies in the Old Testament.  Shekinah glory filled the temple where God was worshiped.  That temple became the most holy place on earth, and the most secret room of the temple, where God’s very Presence dwelled, was so holy that only one priest could go in once a year to offer a sacrifice.  This secret room was the “Holy of Holies”–the place of God’s greatest glory on earth.

The priest had to wear a special wardrobe to go to the Holy of Holies.  He had to dress with the greatest care to be in the same room as the very Presence of God.  The holiness of this room was fearful beyond fearful.  There is a tradition that says the priest who entered the room wore bells on his garment and a rope around his foot so that, if he fell dead because he sinned in the Presence of God, the priests outside would stop hearing the bells and he could be pulled out.

Never in the wildest imagination of the priests of the Old Testament could they have guessed that, one day, God’s shekinah glory would be not in a manmade temple, but in the souls of humans.

One day, born in a little manger, the God of all shekinah glory came as a baby that had to be wrapped in swaddling clothes (a blanky).  This same God would one day be stripped of all His clothes and hung on a cross.

If He had only chosen, all the world could in that instant have seen His shekinah glory and fallen to their faces in terror.  Every evil soldier, every mocking bully, every cowardly deserter, every mindless rioter could have been struck dead by the atmosphere of His glory that has clothed God before time began and will clothe Him still after time ends.

But rather than reveal His shekinah glory for all to see, the God of all shekinah glory lays it down so He can open His arms to receive the sins of the world.

Incredible.  Unthinkable in the sinner’s mind.  Impossible in the sinner’s heart.   Yet God thought of this.  God chose this in His heart.

God’s righteousness was naked before the world, and the world did everything in its power to disfigure it.  The Bible says that Jesus was so gruesome from all the torture He had gone through, that at the end He could not even be recognized as a human to those who hadn’t been watching the disfiguration.

Satan knew the power of God’s shekinah glory.  Satan had been an angel once, in Heaven once.  He knew the glory of the Presence of God.  I think that Satan thought God, if stripped of His glory, could be defeated.

What Satan underestimated was the power of righteousness.

God, unveiled from His glory, revealed in that moment the incredible beauty of God.

The perfect, infinite, everlasting, absolutely pure, utterly potent righteousness of God was exposed for all the world to see, a righteousness that had, until then, been hidden from the eyes of sinful man, for no fallen man can look at God’s glory and live.

But every fallen man that day saw God’s righteousness.

And that is why there is no need for dress up, anymore.

Jesus unwrapped Himself from His shekinah glory to show us He is everything we are not.  God is righteous, through and through.

We are evil, through and through.  And no amount of costuming will ever change who we are on the inside.

But–

Jesus’ righteousness can dwell in us.  His righteousness can pierce through even the hardest evil of our souls, bleed out all our impurities, and empty us of who we were so that Jesus’ shekinah glory can fill our souls.  Clothed in His righteousness, we can have confidence that some day we will see the face of God.

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. (Romans 3:22, NLT)

Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. (Ephesians 3:12, NLT)

Published in: on March 19, 2012 at 8:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The marvelous unveiling of the women who follow God

If you’ve never watched Fireproof, please watch that first so I don’t give away the surprise ending.  It is way better to see it in the movie than hear it from me.

Fireproof really compares two kinds of women.  The first woman is the kind who demands her rights, withholds her love for those who displease her, and gangs up with other girls to secretly gossip about the men she hates.  This woman is represented in the character of ready-to-divorce-her-husband Catherine.

The second woman is not revealed until the end of the movie.  We see only a hint of her throughout the story, Cheryl, Caleb’s mother.  She is mostly quiet around him, because he has a clear dislike for her.  We don’t get the full backstory, but we can infer she was pretty much like his wife Catherine when he was growing up: bossy and angry.

The few times Cheryl does try to give Caleb advice, he scorns her.  Rather than spewing bitterness or even standing up for herself, she quietly withdraws.  She seems to be pretty powerless and pathetic.

The only parent Caleb will ever listen to is his wise father.  It turns out, his father and mother were going through a very similar breakdown in their marriage a few years back.  His father begins to give him advice about loyalty, faithfulness, love in marriage, and, in the greater picture, God’s loyalty, faithfulness, and love to us.  His father even gives him a journal of wise words that encourages him to seek after the Lord.

Caleb’s life is changed through his father’s wisdom.  Over time, he begins to see God for who He is, and, in a moment of clarity about the patient love of God, his father leads him to Christ.

At the end of the story, Caleb’s marriage is saved because of the new incredible loyalty he has towards his wife that the Lord has blessed him with and Catherine’s change of heart.  Caleb is indebted to his father and is closer to him than ever before.  Caleb and Catherine decide to renew their wedding vows.

And then there’s the shocker.

Caleb’s father, walking with him through the woods as they have done so many times before, reveals a secret: it was Caleb’s mother, Cheryl, who saved their own marriage from failure–not his father.  And it was Caleb’s mother who wrote the journal, but asked her husband to copy it in his handwriting so Caleb would be open to receiving it.  And it was Caleb’s mother who quietly withdrew from his life so that his father could have the opportunity to reach him.

My favorite part is when Caleb runs back to the house to find his mother and says something like, “I’m so sorry, Mom.”

She answers with something like, “Oh, it’s ok.”

Nonchalant.  No biggie.

Because this was never about her rights, her glory, or her “winning”.  This was about the salvation she longed for her son to experience.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:22, NIV)

These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God. (Titus 2:4-5, NLT)

Indeed, just as the church is submissive to the Messiah, so wives must be submissive to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:2, ISV)

My Sunday school teacher told me that one of the words for “submit” in the Bible is “lower rower”.  The idea being, there were two decks of rowers on the ship.  The upper rowers got to breathe the fresh sea air.  This was the key spot.  This was where you wanted to be.

The lower rowers had to go below and work in the filthy, dark atmosphere of the lower deck.  This was a slave’s job.

Submit means, Biblically, to take the lower deck.

Wow, am I trying to make a woman’s role sound bad or what?

Ah, but wait.  There’s a surprise in all of this.

The rowers on the lower deck actually had control of where the boat moved.  It may not have looked that way, but it was reality.  The lower deck rowers determined the course of the ship.  In battle, the lower rowers could cause the ship to sink or skillfully weave the ship out of harm’s way.

In Fireproof, Cheryl is the lower rower.  She hasn’t been forced into this role–her husband is reluctant to even let his son think he deserves the credit.  But she is insistent to submit for the sake of her son.

A woman isn’t the only one in the Scriptures who submits.

To those under spiritual authority:

Continue to obey your  leaders and to be submissive to them, for they watch over your souls as those who will have to give a word of explanation. By doing this, you will be letting them carry out their duties joyfully, and not with grief, for that would be harmful for you. (Hebrews 13:17, ISV)

To those under physical or national authority:

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. (1 Peter 2:18, NASB)

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right. For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men. Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:13-17, NASB)

To all Christians:

Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? (Hebrews 12:9, NIV)

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17, NIV)

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7, NIV)

And then there’s the shocker:

And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. (Luke 2:48-51, ESV)

Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality. Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross. This is why God has given him an exceptional honor- the name honored above all other names- so that at the name of Jesus everyone in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will kneel and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.(Philippians 2:6-11, GW)

Jesus is revealed as submissive to His Father.  He chooses–eagerly–to be the lower rower.  The Bible is clear about this: God the Father didn’t shove Jesus out of Heaven to serve us.  Jesus willingly, joyfully chose to take the humble form of a man for our salvation.

After Jesus had washed their feet, he put his outer garment back on and returned to his place at the table.
         Do you understand what I have just done to you? he asked.
         You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. I, your Lord and Teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you.I am telling you the truth: no slaves are greater than their master, and no messengers are greater than the one who sent them. Now that you know this truth, how happy you will be if you put it into practice! (John 13:12-17, GNT)

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” (John 10:18, NLT)

He died out of love–what we could even call obligated love, love so zealous and motivated is was obligated by the nature of who He was–and not at all out of loveless obligation.

Can you think of anyone who made Himself more least than Jesus?  I, for all the world, cannot.

What if everything we think about submission is flipped on its head?  What if women have a greater opportunity for honor because they have the privilege to be more submissive?

What if Satan knows this great secret, this unexpected twist in the plot, and he does everything in his power to prevent it from happening?

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Satan incites women against submission to try to knock them out of the greatest honor they can receive: to be an imitator of the greatest “lower rower” of all time, the Lord Jesus Christ?

“But many who are now first will be last, and many who are now last will be first.” (Matthew 19:3, Weymouth NT)

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Photograph by Anthony Clearn, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/antphoto/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.