The reach

One of the most intense scenes in Lord of the Rings comes when Frodo has fallen off the edge of Mount Doom, and is holding on by one hand[1].  The one ring has just fallen into the lake of molten lava, and Frodo has nearly been destroyed by its fall.  So bound is he to the ring that he goes over the edge with it and almost, almost ends his life in the same fire of its demise.

Mount Doom has began to rumble, the ring is beginning to melt, and Sam is down on his hands and knees at the edge of the cliff.  In one of the most moving scenes in the movie, despite Frodo’s betrayal of him and all that he has done wrong and his complete failure to destroy the ring of his own will, Sam reaches for his hand.

“Give me your hand,” Sam says. [1]

But Frodo doesn’t.  His reaching hand is bloody from the finger Golum bit off in his earlier struggle with, and defeat by, evil.

“Take my hand,” Sam commands.

Frodo brokenheartedly, lackadaisically reaches up to take his hand, and misses.  He nearly falls into the destruction below him.

As the mountain quakes, Sam strains even more, reaches even farther.  “Don’t you let go!” he shouts, as Frodo nearly gives up and lets himself drop.  “Don’t let go!  Reach!” Sam commands, and now Frodo strains with everything has.  This time, the two hands meet.

.                     .                     .                     .                     .

“When you notice Michelangelo’s painting of God reaching out to Adam, you see how outstretched God’s arm is.  Every muscle on His face is contorted, and the hand is reaching as far as possible to make contact.  By contrast, Adam lackadaisically lets a limpish hand dangle with apathy in an attitude that seems to say, ‘If it meets it meets.’  That reflects the contrasting inclinations of the heart very well.” – Ravi Zacharias

.                     .                     .                     .                     .

When you think of your relationship with God, is He reaching for you?  Are you reaching for Him?

Are your hands struggling to meet?

Do you think of your hand as straining its hardest, but falling short?

Do you think of God’s hand as withdrawn, never allowing you to reach it?

Or have your two hands already met?

The scene between Sam and Frodo on Mount Doom is moving.  Most of us want to believe that God is like Sam, reaching for our hand.  Some of us believe that God, like Sam, is commanding us to reach His hand.  Those of us who are desperately trying to reach God want to believe He is still reaching for us, that He hasn’t turned away and withdrawn from us.  But we can never seem to catch His hand.

It may surprise you that, in actuality, the scene of Frodo and Sam at Mount Doom has very little to represent about God’s hand, or ours.  As beautiful as the scene is, it is not nearly as beautiful, or as humbling, as what God’s reach for us looks like.

If the Lord of the Rings scene were to play out in a way that would represent what God has done for us, it would look very different.

We would still be off the edge of Mount Doom.  But this time, it would not be our hand holding onto the edge of the cliff as we dangle in mid-air.  It would be God’s hand holding us.  You may have never thought about it, but we are not held on this world by our own strength or ability.  It is God who has given us the breath of life and who keeps our lungs inflating and our heart beating.  None of us can hold ourselves to this earth.  We are all completely reliant on God for that.  Colossians 1:17 (NLT) says about Jesus,

He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.

God’s first reach holds us into existence.  His second reach is to hold us into eternity with Him.

This is a reach that is very different than the reach to keep us in existence.  The first reach is the expected reach of a good Creator to His creation.  He must reach for us if we are to be and survive.  But the second reach is very unexpected.  It is the reach of the holy God to His rebellious humans (us). 

Sam reached for Frodo even though he had betrayed him, refused to listen to him, and gone against his directions in the most critical moment (which was to let go of the ring).  In a much bigger way, God loves us even though we have betrayed Him, refused to listen to Him, and gone against His directions in the most critical moment [which was when He told us (represented by Adam) in the Garden not to eat of the Tree of Good and Evil; and which was when He commands us (you, I, and everyone) to follow Him so that we may be saved despite our disobedience and we still refuse].

God’s reach spans a chasm we cannot possibly bridge.  For us to reach God in spite of our sin would be like trying to walk off one side of the Grand Canyon to reach the other side.  When we rebelled, we broke alliance with God (see Genesis 3, Romans 6:20).  We cannot go back to who He created us to be any more than Gollum can go back to looking like a hobbit after his corruption by the ring[2].  It cannot happen.

Reach, Creative Commons Use

Sculpture by Kenneth Armitage, his last work, “Reach for the Stars”.
I wonder if the stars were what he really wanted to reach for . .
Photograph by Thunderchild7

Some of us don’t try.  We are like Frodo at first, believing we’re too far gone to even try to reach.  Or maybe we like our sin too much to leave it behind, even if it means falling into its burning destruction.

Others of us do try.  We reach out like Frodo with a broken-heart, trying to earn our way back to God.  But we can never reach that far.  Our sin separates us further and further from God.  We are moving away from Him, not towards Him.  The more we try to reach, the more discouraged, disheartened, and embittered we become.  There is no way for us to reach God.  We cannot be like Frodo, who, if he only tried hard enough, could meet the hand of Sam.  We cannot meet the hand of God no matter what or how hard we try.

This is where God’s second reach comes in to change everything.

Frodo’s hand was bloody from his battle with Gollum, a battle Sam couldn’t fight for him.  But Jesus’ hand is bloody from his battle with Satan, a battle He could and did fight for us.

We, like Frodo, always lose the battle with evil.  Just as Frodo couldn’t win the battle over the evil persuasion of the ring, we can’t win the battle over the evil persuasion of sin in our lives.  Scripture tells us that evil holds us captive and we are slaves to it.

Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. (2 Timothy 2:25-26, NLT)

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from allegiance to righteousness. (Romans 6:20, HCSB)

Our hand is so burdened by guilt, ignorance, and evil, that we cannot even lift it a millimeter up to God’s hand.  If our salvation depended in any part on our effort, the way that Frodo’s salvation depended in part on his own effort, we would be doomed.  We cannot reach for God.  Romans 3:10b-12 (NLT) says,

“There is no one righteous, not even one;

there is no one who understands;

there is no one who seeks God.

All have turned away,

they have together become worthless;

there is no one who does good,

not even one. (Romans 3:10b-12, NIV)

Did you catch that?

there is no one who seeks God.

We cannot reach for Him.  He must reach for us.  Not only has He created us and keeps us alive, but He must be the one to pull us up from the edge of the cliff.  He alone can do this.

If we were to reenact the Mount Doom scene with what God did for us, we would be held up first by His arm of sustaining power, the only thing separating us from a free fall into Hell.

And then Jesus would pull us back from the edge, dragging us inch by inch away from the lava of our choices and up to the cliff of redemption that stands as an isle of escape from the devastation below.

His brow is matted in sweat and blood; through the agony of His suffering He pulls us up.  Every moment is excruciating, and every moment we are totally helpless, totally reliant that He will keep pulling and not turn away out of either disgust of our sin or the grueling exhaustion of saving us.

The cliff is quaking, and all Hell is breaking loose below Christ, but He keeps pulling us, keeps pulling us, keeps pulling us until He has pulled us to the ground above the shaking volcano.

Though we betrayed Him, though we lost our war with evil, though we disobeyed every command He ever gave us, though we totally failed to listen to Him, He reached for us still.

This is what Jesus did for every single person when He died on the cross.

He pulled all of us from the edge of Mount Doom, and He saved each of us from the Hell below us.

Wait a minute, you say.  Wait a minute.  But I thought not everyone is saved.

That’s right.  But that’s not because Jesus has not dragged everyone up from the cliff.  It is because many people will choose to scorn His safety and refuse to follow Him out of the cavern.

After Sam pulled Frodo up from the edge, the two ran together out of the mouth of the cavern and to a rock to the side of the mountain, where they were safe from the catastrophic flow of lava down the mountainside.  Eagles rescued them and carried them away.

Frodo chose to follow Sam and escape, but many people will refuse to follow Christ and escape.  They will stay on that cliff inside that cavern of death as Mount Doom collapses around them and they are swallowed up into the lava below.  Many people will reject the redemption reached for them by Christ.  As my pastor says often:

People do not go to Hell because they are bad and people do not go to Heaven because they are good.  They go to Hell because they have not believed in Jesus or Heaven because they have.[3]

We do not go to Hell because we are bad, but because we have rejected the redemptive reach of Christ.  Christ has saved us from our sin.  We will either become guilty of rejecting that salvation, or we will run out of the cavern following Him in faith that He has rescued us.

If you or I find ourselves in Hell, it is not because of our sin.  It is because we turned away from the rescue that Christ Jesus, and only Christ Jesus, has given us.

Jesus is holding us in existence (e.g., see Acts 17:28, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3).  And He has already dragged us up from the Hell we would have fallen into the moment we die (e.g., see John 1:4, John 3:16-18, John 3:36, John 6:40, John 11:25-26, John 12:47, Romans 5:8, Ephesians 2:4-5).

The question is, will you follow Him away from Mount Doom, or will you turn away from Him and find out how terrible the consequences are that He pulled you up from by His death on the cross?

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. (1 Peter 2:24, NLT)

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[1] Lord of the Rings: return of the king, extended edition script, New Line Cinema.  Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson.  Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, Lord of the Rings: The return of the king.

[2] See, Hobbits: Was Gollum a Hobbit? by William D.B. Loos, http://tolkien.cro.net/hobbits/gollum.html

[3] Paraphrase from my pastor, John Marshall

Photograph by Thunderchild7, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/thunderchild5/

Photographs under Creative Commons License.

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The Miracle of God

Why are we here?

Whatever our worldview, we wonder.

Why is there the miracle of us?

A father holds his newborn daughter close for the first time, and he recognizes her worth.  He is not satisfied to hold her once and never see her again; rather he wants to spend the rest of his life learning who she is.  He wants to hear her first laugh.  He wants to see her roll over for the first time.  He wants to teach her how to ride her bike without training wheels.  He doesn’t want to miss a single goal she scores at her soccer games.  He can’t wait to come home from work and catch her in his arms as she runs to him.  He wants to teach her how to drive.  He wants to to be the first she tells when she has fallen in love.  He wants to talk with her over breakfast at the McDonald’s near her college dorm.  He wants to be on the front row when she graduates.  He wants to help her move over the weekend.  He wants to visits where she works and see how she’s doing.  Throughout her life, he seeks her out.  He sees the miracle of who she is.  He can never learn enough about the miracle of his daughter.  And he instinctively seeks to protect the miracle of who she is for as long as he lives.

We know the miracle of us–and not just us collectively, but as the irreplaceable identities of those we love most.  You don’t have to be “religious” to believe in miracles.  Anyone who has ever loved a parent, bonded with a sibling, found a best friend, fallen in love, raised a child, or met a new grandchild knows the miracle of us.

We know the miracle of us.

But we miss the miracle of GOD.

Either because we don’t want Him to exist, or because we’re troubled by His existence, or because we take His existence for granted, we miss the miracle of GOD.

Why is GOD here?

Why is it that God is?  Why is it that He has always been and always will be?

Why isn’t there only the emptiness of unimaginable nothing?

What if God wasn’t?  What if He didn’t exist?

No Creator.  But far more would be lost than the Heavens and the earth.

No Redeemer.  But far more would be lost than our souls.

Without GOD, it isn’t only that redemption, and then creation rewinds.  It isn’t even only that there is no possibility for redemption or creation.  Go further back, deeper still, and you see that you would not want to be created and you would not even know what redemption is if GOD was gone.

The worst possible loss if GOD did not exist is not the loss of Heaven, nor our world, nor those we most love, nor ourselves.  The most unbearable, most unfathomable loss is the loss of the nature of GOD.

It is not just that the existence of me has value only because of the nature of GOD.  Though that’s true, I have just scratched the surface of what the loss of the nature of GOD would be like.

If God were to depart, His nature departs–the one and only nature that loves without causation.

The one and only nature that loves without causation.

I cannot love without causation.  Look again at the father who loves the daughter he holds close to his chest.  He loves her because she is born to him.  He loves her because she is beautiful.  He loves her because of who she will become.  He does not; he cannot love her without cause.

Only GOD can love without cause.

He created us because He loved us without cause.  He brought us into existence without any reason we could give Him to do so and without any need within Himself needing to be filled, or even any desire awaiting fulfillment.

We love each other because we know each other.  God loved us when we were not (we did not exist).

We love each other because we need each other.  God loved us without need (nothing in His nature required Him to create us).

We love each other most of all because we desire each other.  A father longs for a little daughter to hold in his arms.  A teenage girl longs for a lover to hold her through the night.  A stooped-over feeble woman in a nursing home longs for a nurse to smile at her and say her name. But God does not desire us because of anything He is lacking.  He loves us without any “filling” or “fulfilling” of Himself.

I am getting in deep, deeper than my little brain can handle.  I ask myself, Can I imagine creating something I had no need, no hunger to create simply for the benefit of the creation?

Could I paint a picture not for who I would give the picture to, or for what I would get out of making the picture or of seeing the finished product . . but could I paint a picture simply for the joy of the painting’s joy?  Could I paint a picture for the sake of the painting?  Could I paint a picture so the painting itself could see itself as in existence, beautiful, and loved?

Certainly I can’t do that, because I can’t create a painting that has consciousness.

eye creative commons use

But that is how God created me.

He did not know Teej.  I did not appear to Him in eternity past and plead for Him to create me.  I was not.  There was nothing in me that could advocate for my existence for there was no me.

He did not need Teej.  Not for one breath of my existence has He needed me.  When I was still a thought to Him, before He began the work of knitting me, crocheting my tiny feet and hands and deep green eyes, He did not need me even in imagination.  I had nothing to offer that would make His existence better or more enjoyable.  My worship of Him was always irrelevant to His fulfillment.  He was always fulfilled.  He never needed me.

He did not even have an unfulfilled desire for Teej.  Had He not made me, had He never even imagined me, He would have been as perfectly complete as He is now, with no less peace or joy or love.  He had every bit of everything He wanted without me.  The Trinity itself is the complete perfection of peace, joy, and love.  Not one person could be added to God’s life to make Him more delighted or more radiant or more glorified.

GOD did not have one internal reason to create me EXCEPT HIS INTERNAL NATURE OF WANTING TO GIVE EXTERNAL LOVE, NOT FOR HIS SAKE, BUT FOR MINE.

When I do something good, I get a feeling from it.  I think of how God will be proud of me, or how happy someone will be with me.  But it isn’t like this with God.  God is already living in the perfection of good.  He did not get a feeling from creating me that He couldn’t have had if He hadn’t created me.  He was 100% already, it was me He was thinking about.

It was me He was thinking about.

He thought me up for me.

He gave me my first little breath for me, not for Him.

It is the miracle of GOD.

God did not create me to glorify Him for His Sake.  He created me to glorify Him for my sake.

He knew that I am GOD-created and He is GOD.  He knew that I must need Him; I must desire Him to be fulfilled.  He knew that without Him, it was me who could not fill my need, me who could not fulfill my desire, me who would struggle forever with the Hell of not knowing Him.

So He created me to live by Him.

He did not create me to be off by myself.  When He woke my first mother, Eve, from the rib of Adam, He did not vanish before she came into consciousness.  The First Being who Eve knew was GOD.  It was GOD who walked her to Adam, like a father walks his daughter down the aisle.  It was GOD who visited every day in the Garden.  It was GOD who always watched her from above, who knew every strand of her hair that blew in the wind and every blade of grass that touched her toes.

But now, now is the part where I do not know how to begin.

The creation . . yes.  I can almost try to pretend I understand that kind of love, though I’ve never loved anyone without wanting or needing something back for myself.

But the redemption . . no.  How can I even try to write about this?  It’s like a toddler trying to write a book on calculus.  I will explain what little I can only by the grace of God.

We turned from God.  And if you’re a believer, you understand that God did not have to get us back; He did not need us.  But here is the part even believers can miss: He did not want us back for His own sake, either.

Plant, Creative Commons UseIt is not that God wanted us for His glory.  This is a misconception, I think.  We are made for His glory–it is the only possible state we can be what we are meant to be.  It would be like supposing a plant could have a purpose without the sun.  Without glorifying Him, we have no purpose.  And our existence is as grave and morbid as that of a plant without the sun.  Have you ever put a plant in a closet for a few days?  Go back and look at it.  The result is horrifying.  In the same way, if we cut ourselves off from worshiping God, we are horrifying.  We are made for God’s glory.

But God does not require us or even desire us to fulfill worship of Him.  Do you realize that, when we fell, God did not seek to fulfill some “glory deficiency” by redeeming us?  If the sun were to seek out a plant that was in a closet, and bring it back out, it would not be for the sake of the sun.  The plant would need the sun, and its purpose would once again be fulfilled once it was out of the closet.  But the sun has just as much purpose whether that little plant is rotting away in the closet or out thriving in the soil.

God does not need beings to worship Him.  Beings need to worship Him.  Let us stop to look at the difference here, and try to understand it.  We are like the plant; we cannot survive without the sun.  He is like the sun; He will be who He is, He will do as He does with or without us, and what happens to us is of no significance to who He is or what He can do.  In other words, He can be everything He is meant to be and do everything He wants to do and He is completely fulfilled without us.

It is the nature of GOD.

But, because of HIS INTERNAL NATURE OF WANTING TO GIVE LOVE, NOT FOR HIS SAKE, BUT FOR MINE, He sought to redeem me.

If creating without need or even fulfillment of desire is incredible, what is redemption?

Mind-blowing.

The miracle of GOD!

I wish I knew how to say this in a way that would show how magnificent, how marvelous, how mega-terrific GOD is!  GOD chose to create us, knowing we would sin, knowing He would have to die for us, not to fulfill something within Himself, BUT TO FULFILL US, WE WHO DID NOT EVEN YET BEGIN TO EXIST!

DO YOU SEE THE LOVE OF GOD HERE??

Look back over your life, every sin.  Whatever bad you have ever done, do you realize that God has allowed you to live, to do this bad, FOR THE SAKE OF SALVATION?  That is, every sin God has ever allowed me to do in this life–and I have done many, and many of them very grave–He has allowed me to do out of the graciousness of His nature because He wants me, and all the people who I influence (good or bad) to come to Him, FOR MY SAKE.

In the same way, every bad thing that has ever been done to me–whether it was partially my fault or not whatsoever my fault directly (though, indirectly, my participation in humanity’s sin nature contributes to everyone’s sin)–every bad thing that has ever been done to me was allowed by God because He has chosen for ME to have existence and He has chosen for every person who has harmed me to have existence!  (If I feel angry about this, I am not remembering that God has given me existence despite all the harm I have done to others who He has given existence.)

God has not allowed the bad things that happen in my life to happen because they somehow improve His existence.  Rather, He has allowed them to happen because my existence is more important to God than my sin!

MY EXISTENCE IS MORE IMPORTANT TO GOD THAN MY SIN, not because of His desire for me, but His desire for me to have Him!!

We need to realize that God has graciously chosen to give us existence despite every horrible thing He knew that we would ever do.  And He has graciously chosen for those to exist who have hurt us, despite every horrible thing He knew that they would do to us.  He has done this so that we could know Him and live with Him forever for our sakes!

Even as believers, when we do things for the sake of our Father, Lord, King, and Master Jesus Christ, do you realize that the things we do for Him reflect back to us because we are using the mirror of His love?  In other words, we do things for Jesus because He gave Himself for us.  So anything we do for Him is a reaction of His love for us and is actually an outflow of His love for us!  So whenever we act in love for Him, it is really an example of Him loving us!

The miracle of GOD.

The miracle of GOD.

The miracle of GOD.

You are living in the miracle of GOD.

Hand Creative Commons UseYou are living right now because of the miracle of GOD.  He brought you into existence.

And you can live forever in the Presence of GOD, face to face with GOD!!, despite the evil within you, because of the miracle of GOD.

He seeks to redeem you.

“. . the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”

(Jesus, quoted from Luke 19:10, NLT, see the story Luke 19:1-10)

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Photograph of father and daughter by Carly Lesser and Art Drauglis

Photograph of eye by Stella Dauer

Photograph of plant by Anasararojas

Photograph of hand in the light by Yorkville

Photographs under Creative Commons License.

Ayden

I now know the real Ayden.

But in May of ’98, when Quest for Camelot debuted in theaters, I only knew I wished I could be a part of that kind of story–even if it was ‘only a fairy tale’.

In Quest, Garrett is a hardhearted, demonstratively cynical, deeply pained, and radically withdrawn hermit who lives in the Forbidden Forest.

When a strange girl, Kayley, stumbles into his world with news that Excalibur has been lost in this very forest, he accepts the quest–minus Kayley.  Since she wants to go on the quest with him, he tries to lose her in the Forbidden Forest (not a very kind thing considering she could have been eaten alive by the monstrous plants that grow there).

He seek to push her out of his life with a warning song about the Forbidden Forest, a ballad, of the self-pitying sort.  He is in love with forbiddeness–reminding me of a girl I know who felt the same way in the summer of ’98, and for many, many months that followed.

. . . I embrace what others fear,
For you were not to roam
in this forgotten place,
Just the likes of me
are welcome here.

I’ve seen your world
with these very eyes,
Don’t come any closer,
don’t even try,
I’ve felt all the pain
and heard all the lies,
But in my world
there’s no compromise!
Like every tree stands on its own,
Reaching for the sky
I stand alone,
I share my world
with no one else . .
All by myself
I stand alone.

–from I Stand Alone, written by Carole Bayer-Sager, David Foster, and Steve Perry

Garrett is not merely alone.  He desires to be alone.  He works to stay alone.

As a child, Garrett wanted nothing more than to become a knight.  Not likely for a stable boy . . but possible.

But when a horse wounded him and he was blinded . . his dreams of knighthood slipped through his fingers.

Believing he would never be anything but a burden, he abandoned Camelot to live his ‘worthless’ life brooding in a dark wood.

He built his own world encapsulated inside a forbidden forest where no one else is allowed to come, a world guarded against future wounds–and any hint of risk-taking.  He is unapproachable, arrogant, and filled with contempt for anyone and anything that would try to broach his world.

It is the story of anyone who has been so embittered or so enraged that they wish to be disturbed no more–not even by love.

Garrett is almost hopeless.

Almost is an important word.

There is but one passage into the fortress he has built from the outside world.  That passage is–did you guess it?–Ayden.

Ayden is a beautiful, mysterious falcon.

Ayden is a beautiful, mysterious falcon who came to Garrett.

Ayden came to Garrett through the treacherous, uninhabitable wood.  He came and could not be persuaded to forsake the blind hermit.

Garrett named the falcon Ayden, clueless that this falcon he thinks of as ‘his’ is Silver Wings, Merlin’s own mighty bird, sent out for the very purpose of loving the unlovable Garrett.

Over time, Ayden has become Garrett’s trusted eyes.  Through Ayden’s warning cries from overhead an enemy, Garrett can identify the direction of danger and protect himself.  Ayden is deeply faithful to him through the long years of isolation, even though Garrett has nothing to give to the falcon, no reason to stay with him.

Why does Ayden stay?

You could say because it’s a fairy tale, and everyone knows that fairy tales aren’t true . . or you could say it’s because our fairy tales are often like shards of a mirror that reflect what we know, or long to know, about God.

Ayden opens Garrett’s world.  Garrett permits Kaylee’s unwelcome presence on the quest only because Ayden insists.  Ayden never leaves Garrett unprotected.  At all times, the mighty falcon–worth far more to the Kingdom than Garrett even if Garrett were a mighty knight and not a reclusive failure–is willing to give his life for Garrett’s.

Even when Garrett betrays the quest, refuses to leave the boundary of the Forbidden Forest, and turns back to his life of nothingness, Ayden follows, once again his one and only friend.  When even Kayley, who dearly loves Garrett, has given up on him, Ayden does not.  Ayden loves him even more.

Is this story recognizable to you?

Long before Ayden was first sketched on a story board, long before the tales of Camelot were first woven, infinitely long before even the first bird had taken flight, GOD was.

GOD had a plan.  He had a plan to make a world of the sort more beautiful than fairy tales can ever reach, even if they stand on their tippy toes.

The world GOD planned was so effuse with the beauty our eyes ache to see, so filled with the wonder our hearts scream for, so packed with the adventure our spirits ache to find, so engineered by the mystery we long to behold, so founded on the purpose we spend our who lives seeking, and so saturated with the love we desire at the core of our souls . . that the words Happily ever after could not possibly do it justice.

But, though this world started with Once upon a time, it would not end with happily ever after–not on its own.  The beauty, the wonder, the adventure, the mystery, the purpose, and the love were all bound to GOD.

But we broke with Him.

The remnants of beauty, wonder, adventure, mystery, purpose, and love He left for us in His mercy were warped, gnarled, ruined, and devoured by the monster of Sin that Adam and Eve let in our world through war against GOD.  By concession to evil (Adam) and deception of what evil really was (Eve), humanity fell.  And what tragedy would follow.

God could have thrown His cursed world into Hell and started anew.  He bore no fault, no responsibility, and no identification with our sin.  He could have righteously shook His head in shame at our failure and left us to our condemnation.  He could have created new creatures who would live in His love and not bring such unimaginable pain to Him.  He could have closed our story right then, threw it in the fire, and written another story, one with a people who would choose to make a different choice and refuse to betray Him.  No one could have blamed GOD if He’d done this.

But this He did not do.

Instead, He sent His Son–His one Son, His only Son into our forbidden world.  We would not recognize Him as the one Son of GOD.  He would be ‘only’ Jesus to us–a man from Galilee, a carpenter from Nazareth, a strange Rabbi.  But in courage He would stay with us until we killed Him.  In love He would give Himself up to be betrayed by us. And in tenderness He would come back from the grave where we put Him, not to strike vengeance on us, but to offer redemption to us.  And since that very day He has been giving us the gift of time–time to turn to Him, time to come up out of the Forbidden Forest and live in His Mighty Kingdom.

Every good and righteous thing we have ever tried to make-up in fairy tales points to the true story of Jesus Christ, Son of GOD.

Jesus is the real Ayden.

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

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

Jesus’ Prayer

The hour was dark.  Time, slipping away.  Jesus would soon be betrayed by one of His own friends, abandoned by all His followers.  But rather than pray for vindication, He prayed for light.

Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you. For you have given him authority over everyone. He gives eternal life to each one you have given him. And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth. (John 17:1b-3, NLT)

Jesus is incredible.

Father, the hour has come.

  • He knows He is going to give His life for our sins.

Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you.

  • He will be glorified and His Father will be brought glory because of His priceless gift to humanity.

For you have given him authority over everyone.

  • Jesus has the right to forgive sins.  He has total power to give eternal life to who He wishes.

And this is the way to have eternal life

  • Jesus could have created an exclusive club.  In fact, He had every right to do so.  He is the one who paid for our sins.  He can choose who is saved.  But here’s one of the most astonishing things about Jesus: He doesn’t hide the invitation to eternal life.

And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.

  • These two things that we must know to have eternal life are not separate, but as seamless as two drops of water.  We must know

the only true God

  • Because if we serve any other god, we are merely idolaters.  All other gods, whether the wooden kind, or the kind that thirst for money or swell with pride or resist admitting to sin, are plain old horrible trash that will one day be burned.

and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.

  • There is no access point to the Father except Jesus Christ.  We can by no other way have knowledge of Him or experience the eternal life that would follow.  Jesus’ Father is by nature so holy that to see Him in our sinner’s state would be to die.  Only because Jesus came to us as a human without glory were we able to look upon God’s holiness without perishing.  (At the Transfiguration, Jesus’ closest disciples got a glimpse of the glory Jesus gave up for us.  Now He has been given glory upon glory in Heaven, as He will be revealed in the Second Coming.)

At His worst time, knowing He was very soon going to be abandoned, alone and tortured, Jesus still wasn’t distracted from loving us, revealing Himself to us, and rescuing us.

Not even for a moment.

This is the prayer of Christ: out of His own suffering, He builds for us a stairway to Heaven.

There can be nothing so awe-inspiring as the love of God.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,

he did not think of equality with God

as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

he took the humble position of a slave

and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form,

he humbled himself in obedience to God

and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor

and gave him the name above all other names,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:3-11, NLT)

This is Jesus.

In His teaching, He destroys all human hierarchies, all caste systems, all power trips.  He turns over the tables of hypocrisy and heals the helpless.  He comes to embrace each of us with a one-on-one love.  The divine hug of grace is found in the manger that first Christmas night; the greatest kiss of mercy is found at the cross.  He lowers Himself from Heaven to fallen earth to lonely grave.  He buys us for the most terrible price, He saves us with the most painful rescue, He frees us with a love so epic that not even the greatest fiction writing can touch it.

This is Jesus.

He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death—
his death on the cross.

(Philippians 2:8, GNT)

Published in: on October 30, 2012 at 8:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The LION and The LAMB

I serve a God who is the LION.

     Then I saw in the right hand of the one who sits on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the outside, sealed with seven seals. I also saw a powerful angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” No one in heaven, on earth, or under the earth could open the scroll or look inside it. I began to cry bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or look inside it.

     Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop crying. Look! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered. He can open the scroll and its seven seals.” (Revelation 5:1-5, ISV)

I serve a God who is the LAMB.

     Then I saw a lamb standing in the middle of the throne, the four living creatures, and the elders. He looked like he had been slaughtered. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who sits on the throne.

     When the lamb had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders bowed down in front of him. Each held a harp and a gold bowl full of incense, the prayers of the saints. They sang a new song:

     “You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals,

          because you were slaughtered.

      With your blood you purchased people for God

          from every tribe, language, people, and nation.

     You made them a kingdom and priests for our God,

          and they will reign on the earth.”

     Then I looked, and I heard the voices of many angels, the living creatures, and the elders surrounding the throne. They numbered 10,000’s times 10,000 and thousands times thousands. They sang with a loud voice,

     “Worthy is the lamb who was slaughtered

          to receive power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor,

          glory, and praise!”

     I heard every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and on the sea, and everything that is in them, saying,

    “To the one who sits on the throne and to the lamb

          be praise, honor, glory, and power forever and

          ever!”

     Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!”, and the elders bowed down and worshiped.

(Revelation 5:6-14, ISV)

Published in: on June 4, 2012 at 5:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Who’s lacking?

Peter was a follower of a man named Jesus.  Jesus represented everything Peter hoped for in the Messiah.  Jesus performed miracles, He spoke with great power, He revealed the hidden nature of people, and He loved people with a love no one had seen before . . . except there was one thing more Peter hoped for in a Messiah: kingship.  Peter thought Jesus lacked one thing: taking back their nation from the oppressive, radically immoral, foreign-nation government.

And because Peter thought Jesus was lacking in something, he failed to see God’s plan.  And because he failed to see God’s plan, he abandoned Jesus when He needed friends the most.

Jesus proved that He could live without sin without any friends.

The question is, can we live without Jesus?

Without the intervention of Jesus in prayer and the words He gave Peter before Peter abandoned Him, I think Peter would have committed suicide.

When we think Jesus is lacking, we are the ones who go without.  We lose touch that He is God, and He is the Upholder, not us.

He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us safe into the kingdom of his dear Son, by whom we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven.

Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God. He is the first-born Son, superior to all created things. For through him God created everything in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen things, including spiritual powers, lords, rulers, and authorities. God created the whole universe through him and for him. Christ existed before all things, and in union with him all things have their proper place. He is the head of his body, the church; he is the source of the body’s life. He is the first-born Son, who was raised from death, in order that he alone might have the first place in all things. For it was by God’s own decision that the Son has in himself the full nature of God.Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. God made peace through his Son’s blood on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven. (Colossians 1:13-20, GNT)

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See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Good News Translation: Scripture taken from the Good News Translation in Today’s English Version- Second Edition Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

Caged

I got a profound reminder today about the responsibility of

freedom.

A friend of mine has a pet rabbit.  I love, love, love rabbits.  So I was eager to hold this rabbit in my arms and give him a chance to breathe free from his cage.

All his life, I guess, he has lived in a cage that’s probably about three feet wide by two feet tall.  There is no way he can do much jumping or any real running.  He shares his small space with a food dish and a habitat hideaway that’s knocked over.  I guess he doesn’t think he needs to hide.  There’s nothing to hide from in his two-foot-by-three-foot cage.  And besides, the little fake cove could never hide him from view.  It’s more like a cute hideaway for people to admire than for an animal to actually enjoy.  It’s not really any rest from prying eyes.

He has plenty of food, though–all the food he could ever want.  And it’s all right there on the ground for him to pick out.  It’s the same ground he has to poop on, of course, but he’s gotten well used to that.

I thought that I could make a bit of difference in his life by taking him out of the cage, if only for a few minutes.  I thought he’d like to see what life was like on the outside.  I thought he’d want to be free.

I turned out to be wrong about that, and I have a rabbit-sized scratch on my hand to prove it.  He became frantic when I tried to carry him through the latch door.  He wouldn’t let me catch him and he made frightened squeaking noises.  I tried to befriend him.  I pet him.  I loved on him.  I hoped this would coax him out.  I even waited, with the door open, for him to decide he might want to take a peek at the outside world.

It was a no go.

Finally, I tried one last effort to carry him through the door.  When he got right to the threshold of the door, when his very face was sticking out right into the wonderful outside world of freedom, he thrashed with absolute willful determination, hit his head on the bar (but did not really hurt himself), and threw himself backwards away from the open door.

I did not bother him with trying to go back outside after that.  It was clear he had made his choice.  But I felt very sad for him.  And I thought about all the years he would probably spend eating off the cage floor, lethargically rabbitting his way from one side of the cage to the other . . . until he eventually passed away, frozen and immobile, inside a cage that no longer needed to restrain him from anything.

.          .          .           .          .          .          .           .          .          .          .

Satan had us in a cage.  All of us.

And then Christ did something impossible.

He opened the door.

Through His blood–the blood of God–He opened the door.

Now Satan is pulling his greatest trick of all.

Convincing people to stay inside when the door is wide open.

I hope he doesn’t win his game with you.

We have a profound responsibility of freedom.

Christ has given us the choice: He can lift us out of Hell, or we can scratch Him and kick frantically and stay right where we are.

The question isn’t whether or not He’ll rescue us.  The question is, will we let Him?

As I let myself be vulnerable to that rabbit–letting it scratch me when I could so easily have killed it– God allows Himself to be vulnerable to us.

He allows us to reject His rescue.

What kind of rescue would it be to bring a terrified and angry rabbit to a freedom it wanted no part of?

And what kind of rescue would it be to drag a person out of Hell and into Heaven to spend eternity with a God (s)he is terrified of and hates?

This life is God’s waiting time, God’s “vulnerable” time.

And this life is either our rescue time, or our rejecting time.

–And Satan knows all this.

No matter how dark, or how barbed, or how padlocked we think our cage is, Jesus has burst open the door.

And God is reaching into our cage.

He promised to rescue us from our enemies’ power so that we could serve him without fear

by being holy and honorable as long as we live.

“You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High. You will go ahead of the Lord to prepare his way.

You will make his people know that they can be saved through the forgiveness of their sins.

A new day will dawn on us from above because our God is loving and merciful.

He will give light to those who live in the dark and in death’s shadow. He will guide us into the way of peace.” (prophesy about Jesus shortly after His birth, Luke 1:74-79, GW)

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Somehow the grave has captured me . . .
Just when I feel my breath is running out

The earth moves and You find me, alive but unworthy
Broken and empty, but You don’t care
‘Cause you are my rapture, You are my Savior
When all my hope is gone, I reach for you
You are my rescue.
You are my rescue!

–from “Rescue” by the Seabirds

See Dan Steven’s video, “The Cell”.

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Photograph by Stephane Tougard, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/unices/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

How many

How many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?
Only one did that for me.

–“How Many Kings”, DOWNHERE

“This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12, NASB)

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Check DOWNHERE out.

Photograph by Ariaski (Roberto Arias), profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/roberto8080/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.