Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Have faith in...what?

"It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned." - Hebrews 11:29

I'm going to try to make a statement here; I hope it's not too muddled. Notice in this verse that the writer says the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea by faith. God wanted them to cross the Red Sea. In fact, He backed them into a proverbial corner, surrounded by their enemies. If it had been a sci fi story, he would have opened a freaky portal in the space-time continuum and said, "Step into the glowing goo!" The people obeyed that voice. They had faith in the call of God, that he wasn't doing something that would harm them, but rather calling them to freedom. Sure, the path looked a little strange, but they weren't called to use their earthly eyes. They were called to have faith in a God they couldn't see, who was calling them to adventure and obedience.

But notice that the Egyptians had faith too. They had faith that they could also cross the Red Sea. They watched all of Israel walk between walls of water, on a dry river bed. "If they can do it, why can't we?" the commander might have shouted. They were trusting with their eyes. They died, doing the exact same thing that God's people did only moments before them.

Hebrews 11:6 says, "And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him" (New Living Translation). The Hebrews believed two things: that God was real, and that He was good. The Egyptians did not have the same faith. They had faith in what they could see. It didn't make sense to them, people walking through the sea, but they chose to believe it. Their faith was not saving faith.

Be careful as a believer that your faith is in God. Believe he exists; believe he is good. Follow his voice. Having faith that you can do X or you can do Y is simply looking at circumstances and making up your own mind. Have faith in God.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Invoking the cross

Yesterday afternoon, my husband was on the phone with his mom when the soup was ready, and we sat down to eat while he was still talking. We normally pray before we eat, but since he was on the phone, we simply made eye contact & I crossed myself. The nice thing about being married for almost twenty years is that some communication becomes easier.

However, when Johnny and I were sharing our silent prayer moment, I noticed that I crossed myself with my left hand. I have asked my best friend, who is Catholic, to help me know how to cross myself properly, because I do not want to disrespect what is predominantly a Catholic tradition. Hollywood does enough damage in that area, and I do not want to make a sacred gesture common. She can comment on this blog to correct me, if necessary, but I think you are supposed to cross yourself with your dominant hand, and maybe it's supposed to be your right. As soon as I crossed myself with my left hand, I noticed a tendency: don't we often add Jesus on to whatever we're doing? Can't be bothered to stop our right hand from its work, so we offer a swift prayer with the left and keep going. I noticed, in that quick moment at lunch, that I am accustomed to making the sign of the cross with my left hand. I must do it more casually than I thought. I must make the sign more often when I can't be quite bothered to stop what I'm doing.

I am not Catholic, but I love the symbolism of crossing myself. I love touching my mind, my heart, and my shoulders (my strength) with the simple sign of the cross. It is such a kinetic prayer, and there is never a time I do it without thinking of how much I need the cross to cover me, no matter what moment I am in. I love sign language in the same way, the silent voice that takes my body and makes it speak. There is something holy and meditative about speaking without words. In the sign of the cross, I ask Jesus to cover me, to extend His mercy to me. I remind myself that His blood is sufficient for my weakness, my sin, and my fears. I praise Him for the sacrifice He made for me. I acknowledge His humility and meekness, and cry out for the same in my life.

When my husband is alone, he still prays before eating. He bows his head and is silent for a few moments. When I am alone, if I do pray, I usually pray while munching my first few bites. After all, my Jesus, who wears blue jeans, is perfectly comfortable sitting with me through the whole meal, so there's really no need to get all formal.

God made us to be relational, and part of that relational equation involves showing proper respect. He is holy; He is the Creator of all heaven and earth. As much as I know I am adored by Him, I think I would do well to STOP, and invoke His cross with a still heart. He will still sit and eat with me; He doesn't NEED me to give Him honor. But in my pausing and my stillness, maybe I am magnifying His greatness to all the unseen world that might be watching my dining room table.

Friday, April 17, 2009

From a place of pain to...something else

I bought a few cd's from a 2007 arts conference at Willowcreek when Jennifer and I went to Chicago. One of the speakers talked to artists about how easily they are wounded by the world, and how they often create from these wounds, from their brokenness. I know this. I first began writing poetry as an adult when I dropped out of graduate school, and I was angry and hurt and confused, and therefore a poet.

The speaker said that we have to move beyond our pain in order to continue being creative. The lead singer of Relient K once wrote a song about this (Devastation and Reform), and talked about how it's like he has to get hurt or do something stupid and let God help him, and then he can write a song. It's not the healthiest cycle. Coming honestly across pain happens to us all, and it's great to turn that into something creative, but we also must be able to create from a place of praise and power, a place where we are walking with God in a blameless life. Otherwise, there's too much value in sin. God created us to be creators, in His image. His original plan doesn't even have sin in it, so there must be another way for this to work.

I think this principle of finding a place of operation apart from our sin applies to more than just how creative people work. Our whole relationship with God certainly includes a lot of messing up and Him rescuing us, but does it also end there? He is a faithful help in time of trouble, but He is also powerful and beautiful and worth knowing in other ways than just the neighborhood police officer.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

If I were mature

"Refuse to make a habit of complaining to God. It's a joy killer." - from Alex Himaya's sermon, 4/5/09, The Church at BattleCreek

I have been asking myself lately, "What if I responded to this situation as if I were a mature Christian?" If I can imagine an honest response, one that I consider mature, I try to act it out. Why not? Terry Maxwell has a chapter from one of her homeschooling books called "Hard Work and Dying to Self." I have reached several points in life where just this title was useful to me. Maxwell struggled with depression for years and years, and one of her pieces of advice was to smile, put on a good face for your family, even when you don't feel like it. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Blink, cites research that concludes that the way you hold your face can determine your emotion. Researchers, in trying to catalog facial expressions, found that days spent making sad or angry faces actually produced those emotions in them, no matter how they were feeling when they began. There is real value to acting out what you know, instead of acting out what you feel.

So if I am making myself up as I go along, I think I'll try for a happier me, a more mature me...a me that I respect. I am rather attached to whining and complaining, but hey, if this new spin doesn't work, I'm sure whining and complaining will still be available to me. Has anyone ever forgotten how to wield those two?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Make a pile and worship

The other day, while driving, I made the comment to God that if I could only get all of the pieces of me, all my fragmented parts, put together, I could serve Him better. In my mind, I could see all my broken pieces coming together into this wonderful marble statue—and then the Lord interrupted me. He wants me to bring my broken self to Him and pile all the pieces in a heap. From that offering, He will raise up a new creation, His own child ready to serve Him and bring Him glory.

Exodus 20:25 says, “If you use stones to build my altar, use only natural, uncut stones. Do not shape the stones with a tool, for that would make the altar unfit for holy use” (NLT). We offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1), and He does not want us to shape ourselves before we come to Him. Our own effort does not make us acceptable to Him; no tool of ours will make our lives pleasing.

However, He is delighted when we bring our lives to Him and pile them in a heap and then worship Him. This is the picture of every altar in the Old Testament, and from the New we know that altar is a picture of ourselves. The service and praise that arises from a heaped altar is pure and holy, set apart by God Himself, and not hewn by our own hand.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Graham Cooke made the statement that we are made to magnify; it is in our DNA. If we are not magnifying God, we will magnify something.

People are rational creatures with complex emotions. The majority of animals simply react to situations, go about peacefully seeking their own welfare, and do what they must to survive. People bring all sorts of feelings to their circumstances, and their reactions are much more complex than survival.

When bad traffic happens, a group of ants would muddle along. They know they must go forward, but they can't because of the bunches of ants around them, so they push and wait. People, however, interpret their traffic. They decide the gods are against them, or they complain about the problem (thus magnifying it). Or they enjoy the time to be in a quiet car, or listen to talk radio or music or some kind of tapes. Because people do not merely react to their circumstances (like ants), they add something to it. Very often, we magnify the problems around us. We magnify the negative.

Ironically, it is tricky to "magnify" the positive in a situation. We all know people with a Pollyanna disposition, but this eventually grows wearisome. You cannot continually put a positive spin on circumstances, because some of them are simply lousy. However, what you can magnify, in any situation, is God. In any situation, if you look to him, you make him BIGGER in those circumstances. You can magnify his goodness, his faithfulness, his presence, his can magnify his Name.

It has been useful for me, when reacting to situations, to ask, "What am I magnifying?" I thought you might like to think about it, too.