There’s either idolatry or the Incarnation

We desperately want God to be here, to hold onto Him.

–from one of my pastor’s sermons

I remember as a kid loving miniature.

I had a handheld pink case that opened up to reveal a retractable Ferris wheel and little tiny animals to play on it just how I wanted them to.

I loved MacDonald’s toys because they could fit in my hand and they were easy to command.

My dad convinced me one day to eat peas by saying we could pretend they were watermelons and we were giants.  I liked the idea of towering over the ground.

Miniature things made me feel like a giant, mighty, in charge.

It is easy–very, very easy–to want a miniature god.

Sometimes I have felt like I would like a small god who is in charge of some things and does most things my way and always explains everything to me when I asked.  Sometimes God seems too big.  Too scary.  Too hard to understand.  Too far away.

Sometimes I want God to act on the plan I have in mind and forget about parts of His plan.  Sometimes I want God to share His power with me.  Sometimes I want God to compromise.  Sometimes I want God to tell me what I want to hear.

More than anything, though, I want a God who’s big enough to save me.  A God who stays in control when I have clearly lost control.  A God who can pick me up when I fall and can carry me when I can’t even crawl.  A God who knows what’s going to happen and plans to protect me from the eternal ramifications of the mess I’ve made.

We’ve worshiped idols since the time of the Fall.  Our ancestors picked everything from a gold calf to a wood statue.

We’ve tried to miniaturize God.

But we can’t.  And we don’t need to.

He came to us, in our form.

So why don’t most of us listen to what He says?

Most of us don’t want a God who’s incarnate.

We want a god who’s wood.

We want god under our command.

But what we don’t understand is, that’s not God.

That’s timber.

And it can’t save us.

Ever.

Then the wood-carver measures a block of wood

and draws a pattern on it.

He works with chisel and plane

and carves it into a human figure.

He gives it human beauty

and puts it in a little shrine.

He cuts down cedars;

he selects the cypress and the oak;

he plants the pine in the forest

to be nourished by the rain.

Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire.

With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.

Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it

and makes himself a god to worship!

He makes an idol

and bows down in front of it!

He burns part of the tree to roast his meat

and to keep himself warm.

He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”

Then he takes what’s left

and makes his god: a carved idol!

He falls down in front of it,

worshiping and praying to it.

“Rescue me!” he says.

“You are my god!” (Isaiah 44:13-17, NLT)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:1-5, NIV)

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:10-14, NIV)

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See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

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Pixie Sticks, A Bench, & Good Friends

Summertime in Oklahoma has to be right up there with sliced bread.

Sitting on the porch, downing Pixie Sticks, showing off dyed tongues, making mud pies, playing an 80’s space shooter computer game, watching the commercial of the doll head with Play-Doh hair that you could really cut, and climbing a perfect climbing tree are some of my favorite memories in Oklahoma.

But they’re not my favorite.

My favorite started out rather nefariously.  (I love the word nefarious, and I just about never get the chance to use it.  Thanks for letting me use it here, even if it doesn’t really work with the story.  It sounds like it should.)

My mom and I were at our friends’ house, and me and the two sisters were hanging out.  They were both younger than me, one by not much, the other by a lot.  We were clowning around and we schemed a plot to make everybody in the house upset with us.

Yeah.  Real smart.  But what can I say?  I was 7.

We decided we were going to put a blue dyed flimsy little rubber scorpion that wouldn’t fool, well, probably even a rubber worm, on the floor and pretend it was real.

We commenced to do this, with much dramatic screaming.

My mom told us to stop.

I don’t know what it is about sin nature that makes you want to do something over and over that you know you’re not supposed to do, but it is not exclusive to adulthood.

We really weren’t trying to be disobedient.  We were just so caught up in the whole scaring-everybody-with-the-scorpion thing.

So we tried it again–

My mom was not happy.  She told me to cease and desist.

–And, uh,

again.

The third time my mom was really mad.  At me.  Go figure.  She made me sit on a bench and stalked into the other room (all right, in my imagination she was stalking, maybe she was just walking normally).

Well, you might be wondering why on earth this is one of my favorite memories.  True, it could have been because she didn’t beat the living daylights out of me for being so annoying . . but that wasn’t why.  Actually, I felt somewhat slighted and deeply “misunderstood”.  I kinda knew it was really my fault, but didn’t want to admit it.  Mostly I was embarrassed in front of my friends.  So far, this memory couldn’t be even remotely pleasant (other than laughter at my stupidity, of course) . . much less top the Pixie sticks or  80’s space shoot out (in color!).  No, it was something else.

The reason this is my favorite memory of Oklahoma is because of what happened next.  It so profoundly astonished me that, 21 years later, I still remember it.  Vividly.

Without a sound, the older sister sat down beside me.  Her younger sister, as if on cue, sat down beside her.

We did not say a word.

In about 15 minutes, my mom came back and released me back into society.  Without a word, my friends got up, too.

I never forgot those 15 minutes.  They were a silence of sweetness . . and they were so special to me that the whole thought of punishment drained away.

It was like going into a prison and finding out once you got inside it’s really a little countryside chapel.

We played after that, I think.  I don’t really remember.  But I loved those girls.  How I loved them.  And I never forgot.

I’ve been around 28 years now, and in all that time, I have never had any experience like that, any but one.

Knowing Jesus.

A long time ago, there was a man who took my place.  Now, most of us have heard this story before, some of us many times.  But the reality never changes:

Christ sat on the bench for us.

And He sits on the bench with us.  Jesus stays with us through our hardships, stupidities, and really dark times.

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b, NIV)

Sitting on the porch swing pouring Pixie stick powder on our tongues . . comparing colors . . forming mud pies in the backyard for our imaginary culinary institute . . demolishing alien bats in a rainbow of colors . . sitting on the carpet in front of the TV wishing we had a doll with Play-Doh hair to cut . . reclining in a tree on top of Oklahoma green grass . . telling each other secrets we knew we were good for keeping . . . . . everything was a thousand times sweeter knowing they had sat on the bench with me.

That’s the way it’s going to be with Jesus, when we spend eternity with Him.

He suffered and endured

great pain for us,

but we thought his suffering

was punishment from God. (Isaiah 53:4, CEV)

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Photograph by Rupert Ganzer, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/loop_oh/

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Overruled

Anger feels like a roller-coaster getting started inside me.  And once the ride starts, it feels just about impossible to stop.  After all, who stops a roller-coaster that’s flying down a track at 40 mph, or one that’s dropping at 80 mph?  And even when the roller-coaster is chugging uphill, cranking and cranking and cranking, it’s hard to stop it even then.  The process seems mechanized–perfect, really.  I think that if I blow up when I’m angry, it will be exactly what I want.

But it never really is.  Not 10 minutes later, or 4 hours later if I’m really flaming, I regret it.  Suddenly, I can think calmly and rationally–usually right after I’ve said something irretractable.  The fury that was as thick as concrete dissolves like fog and I wonder what I thought I was thinking at all . . and why I didn’t overrule it.

Why is bad anger so tempting?  I’m not talking about the kind of anger that right feels about wrong–that anger seems hard to have–but I’m talking about the other flavors of anger . . self righteous . . . jealous  . . spiteful . . . daydreaming . . unforgiving . . . hurt-loving anger.

Why is it so easy to be a bad kind of angry?  And why is it so hard to pull back from bad anger . . like a coiling snake deciding not to strike or two cars heading full-speed towards each other trying to slam on the brakes?

I’ve come to accept that I don’t have it within me to overrule my anger.  Hate is a powerful ruler and a mighty lord–more powerful and mighty than me.  Satan has got my number.  He has figured out long ago that I am not strong enough to withstand his efforts to heap evil feelings in my life.  He can dump loads of anger–but why stop there?  He can pour all manner of other ungodly emotions in my life, too.  And I, I am powerless to stop him.

I have tried the self-help way.

The self-help way stinks.

Count to ten.  Hold your breath.  Think of happy times.  Exercise.  Eat onions.  I mean, whatever it is, it just doesn’t work–not for long.  I can fool myself into holding back from bad feelings for a little while, but it’s like a balloon holding onto its particles for dear life as Satan keeps pumping anger into my heart.  It’s not gonna last.

Because no amount of self-restraint can work.  It would be like an insane person trying to put on a straight jacket.  It doesn’t work.  Of course, an outside authority can “help”–and often that does happen with people who can’t control their emotions.  I’m happy to say I, like most people, am not in that category, but the way I control my emotions, like most people, is by venting them in viciously harmful, but socially acceptable ways.

Telling someone off, gossiping, daydreaming bad things that could happen to someone I’m mad at, cruel insinuations, turning the anger in on myself, or planning out hate speeches in my head I never plan on actually saying . . are not solutions.  Sure, I am not punching someone or saying the meanest of mean things, but that’s like saying it’s okay to smoke because it’s better than meth. There’s still lung cancer to contend with.  And even socially acceptable ways of exhibiting bad anger . . . are spiritually destructive.

So what am I to do?  Keep reading self-help books?  Settle for more popular, but eternally evil, ways of expressing my feelings?  Take drugs?  Give up?

I could.

Or, I could say,

Here’s my bad anger, Jesus.  Please take it away.

If that sounds childishly simple to you, I’ve been there.  I’ve thought there had to be some complex, incredibly me-centered solution to my problems.  But the more I know Jesus, the more I realize that my complex, incredibly me-centered solutions . . are really dumb.  And the more I realize that everything in my life that is wrong is about a deficiency in my trust.

If I really believe God is good–if I really believe it–I won’t have a problem giving God my anger, because I’ll believe He is able to do with it whatever is right.  If I trust God, then I can hand my anger to God in clenched fists with no worries that He might not be strong enough to get it out of my hands.  And if God chooses to throw my anger into the trash can–which, of course, will happen if it’s bad anger–I can trust Him enough to bow my head and say, You are the one who knows right.

It’s simple.

A child can do it.

Because it’s all about trust.

Get me outta my mind and into Your heart
It’s not about me, it’s not about me
So I’m gonna start playin’ my part in Your design
Now is the time
Get me outta my mind
Outta my mind

–Anthem Lights, “Outta My Mind”

Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. (Ephesians 4:31, NLT)

Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper–it only leads to harm. (Psalm 37:8, NLT)

But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. (Colossians 3:8, NLT)

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:1, KJ2000)

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Photograph by Peter Shanks, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/botheredbybees/  (What is it?  It’s a bluetongue lizard.)

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.