Thursday, November 24, 2011

Beautiful Mystery

You’re a mystery
like poetry
like a parable
a rhyme or a riddle

You’re a mystery
wrapped in clouds
shouting so loud
just waiting to be discovered

You’re a mystery
so intriguing
You’re a mystery
so inviting

You saved Yourself for the weak
the humble and the meek
Only the hungry dine
only the thirsty drink deep

You saved Yourself for the needy
You saved Yourself for me

I want to waste my life to search You out
search You out…

(Mystery, words and music by Misty Edwards, ©2007 Misty Edwards/Forerunner Music)

It is Thanksgiving night, and I have much for which to be thankful. But at the end of the day, I have this song stuck in my head and I am right now just so thankful for the mystery: God Himself.

I am glad God is mysterious, glad He’s so immense I can’t see the whole picture, happy to be left wondering and finding answers only to discover that I now have a whole new set of questions. He’s The Mystery and The Answer.

I didn’t initiate my search for Him – He did that. He tucked clues and hints all around us, into every crevice of Creation. He gave us mystery so that we would discover Him. We want to know how gravity works. We want to know where the edge of the universe can be found and really…what does make magnets work? And whatever science may or may not discover about the mechanics of all those forces at work around us, the real answer is, “Because He said so.” Gravity works because He told it to. The edge of the universe – expanding or not – lies where it lies because that was the boundary He gave it. Magnets attract because God said, “Magnetic attraction, be!” When we go looking for the truth, we find God.

It’s just that simple…and it’s not simple at all. God doesn’t always explain Himself and He's not afraid of being misunderstood. He called Himself “I AM”. Who does that?

When God sent Moses to tell the Israelites that He was about to rescue them from their life of slavery in Egypt, Moses asked who he should say sent him if the people wanted a name. God answered, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” (See Exodus 3 for the story.)

And when that same Moses asked God, “Please. Let me see your Glory.

GOD said, ‘I will make my Goodness pass right in front of you; I’ll call out the name, GOD, right before you…

…But you may not see my face. No one can see me and live…

…Look, here is a place right beside me. Put yourself on this rock. When my Glory passes by, I’ll put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by. Then I’ll take my hand away and you’ll see my back. But you won’t see my face.” (Excerpted from Exodus 33, The Message.)

By the way, the original language for, “I’ll call out the name, GOD…” is a reference to that earlier conversation between God and Moses regarding His name. That name, that beginning of mystery, is something like “The One Who Exists” or “The One Who Is”, “The One Who Abides, Remains, Continues”.

His name and His face are shrouded in mist and mystery, but not His heart. The One Who Exists in mysterious clouds and flashes of light has made Himself known to every man, woman and child who cares to know. He gave us just enough information so that anyone with an ounce of curiosity surviving from childhood will at some point go looking for Him. And anyone who goes looking won’t be disappointed.

He hid His face, but He laid open His heart from the day He left off speaking things into existence and instead used His very hands to sculpt a human being and His very breath to give that human life. His heart was laid open when the Son left the Father and crowded His larger-than-the-universe self into a helpless baby-body. His heart was laid open for all to see when that Son laid down and died so the handmade-mud-man could someday stand again and look the Beautiful Mystery in the face, call His name and finally live what was in God’s heart all along.

You’re a mystery
wrapped in clouds
shouting so loud
just waiting to be discovered

I love the mystery. Thank You for the mystery, God-Who-Was-and-Is-and-Continues-Forever.

Ambushed at the river by the I AM WHO I AM,

Hello, Lord. I thought that was you just ahead in the cold mist. I see the back of your Glory. I see what Moses saw covered by your hand with eyes peeking through trembling fingers. The earth knew this moment in its own natal glory when Heaven kissed the sunset.

(Caption by Kathy LaMantia, photo of sunset and rising mist on the Kenai River, titled "Sunset at the Confluence")

Monday, November 21, 2011

Risky Business

A friend who very graciously let me ease into writing for public consumption posted this on her blog a while back. It started as an email between friends and became something more. I wrote it in the passion of the moment the first time, and when I re-read it now, I feel the same breathless wonder. I've tweaked a sentence here or there, but the thought and my amazement remain. If you read this and find yourself wanting to hear more about a God who is beyond comparison, head over to Calling, "Shotgun!" and you won't be disappointed.

Every once in a while, I'm struck by the thought that what God did to rescue us was more significant than we can ever imagine. We know it was sacrificial. We’re told it was painful. But it was also risky.

We think of risk as what we do. We take the risk to forgive, to love, to trust, to believe…
But God took the first and greatest risk (which, by the way, makes all the risks we think we take for Him quite safe). The Son left Heaven and His Father's side and was born. The “One Who Always Was” was born - a baby.

Babies don't know anything. A newborn baby doesn't know that He is the Son of God, come to rescue all of mankind. Jesus left Heaven knowing that at conception He would forget (I’m not sure exactly how that all worked, but you get the idea). God (Father, Son and Spirit) had to trust that Jesus would find His way. Yes, I know, God is all-knowing. But Jesus came to us having willingly emptied Himself. He came to us as a man, and a baby-man at that.

"He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion." (Excerpted from Philippians 2:5-8, The Message)

It was a great risk: Would He remain sinless? Would he grow up to know His real Father? Would He listen to the Holy Spirit and discover who He really was? Would He rediscover the Plan that He had helped to formulate and carry it through? Because He did have a choice, after all. Choices. Just like the choices Adam and Eve had – and we all know how that turned out. The whole plan of redemption - the very Trinity! - rested on a baby!

What a brave, risky thing God did! Father, Son and Spirit risked it all! For us! God risked His Son, Himself, the relationship of the Trinity, and all of creation, just to rescue us. And Jesus was forever altered. For all of eternity past, the Son was perfect. From the cross forward, He is scarred. Because

These are the thoughts about Jesus that leave me breathless. So this was on my mind today, and tonight I listened to a recording of Jackie Pullinger (missionary to the Walled City, Hong Kong; she wrote "Chasing the Dragon") speaking at a church somewhere in the English-speaking world, and here is what she said (emphasis and bracketed insert mine, but taken from the context of the recording):

“As there's no more pain and crime [in Heaven], as there's no more death, no more sickness, we are perfect because of Him, and we're washed clean because of Him. The only one scarred in the whole of Heaven is Him. For that book, called The Revelation, tells us there's a Lamb, looking as though it's been slain. How strange that for eternity, we are perfected in the presence of a scarred Lamb.”

The only one scarred in the whole of Heaven is Him.

I think of Him as standing out among the whole of Heaven in beauty, in flashes of light, in power and victory. I have not – until now – thought of Him as standing out in all of Heaven as the only one who is scarred. He bears eternal scars so that we can be free of ours eternally. I’m overwhelmed.

What to do with a God like that?

That is the question, isn’t it?

What to do with Jesus?

Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ's sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought.

Even though it has only lately - at the end of the ages - become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It's because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.

(1 Peter 1:18-21, The Message)

Ambushed by the God who gave it all up for me (and you),

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Moonlight, Shine!

For all the ones I know and love – moons, revealing God’s glory in the night.

And for my new nephew, just born – may you become all that He dreamed in His heart for you, that you will reveal to all of us something of Him we never knew before.

I’ve been sleepless lately. The gibbous moon has been so bright on all that new, white snow out there. It shines through the gap between my drawn curtains and calls me out of bed. I just know I’ll miss something glorious if I don’t get up and go look out the window. If I do go, I’ll see those long, lovely shadows leaning out from the spruce and aspen to pattern the yard, or there might be a snowshoe hare in a brave dash across the open spaces between the trees, or I could glimpse an owl swooping low in his midnight hunt. You just never know what you might see when you stand at the window alone in the still night hours and the moon is near-full.

I was looking at that silver moon the other night and thinking about the source of moonlight – the sun. My thoughts turned to The Son and how the Christ is the source of any light that shines out of me, or you, or that stranger in the store who somehow knew just the thing to say to soften a hard day. The Book of The Beginning (Genesis) tells us we were made in God’s image, revealing Him in the earth. And the whole rest of the Bible goes on to tell us that we are so loved and so much wonder has been placed in human skin that if we embrace Him, we will be moons reflecting the light of The Son into any dark place we dare to walk. That Son Himself said, 

…You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” (excerpted from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5, The Message)

People are amazing…because God is amazing.

There was a man who walked through one of the darker places in this earth. He gathered truth there, saved it like the precious treasure it is, and then he shone for all he was worth – with his pen. His name was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and during his eight years in the Russian gulag as a political prisoner, he interviewed 227 fellow prisoners and crafted their stories into verse so he could commit them to memory – some 200,000 lines. Years later in “internal exile” in Kazakhstan, he dredged up that raw poetry and wrote it down on small slips of paper. He rolled the papers up tightly and slipped them into a champagne bottle that he kept buried in his garden.

Night after night, he dug up that bottle, dug up the memories and put pen to paper so the world would know those hidden and forgotten men, know their stories. The world had something to learn and those men’s lives had it to teach. It was Solzhenitsyn’s to tell. “You’re here to be light…”

The finished work, The Gulag Archipelago, had to be smuggled out of the Soviet Union for publication. After its release, it became impossible for the rest of the world to pretend ignorance or remain in the dark about what was going on in the Soviet gulag. Solzhenitsyn had embraced God in those work camps, reflected truth in a dark place, and changed the world.

I’m no Solzhenitsyn. I don’t have 227 men’s stories in my ears and heart to tell the world “what really happened”. But I do have a few stories of my own, and a few stories of the people I’ve known. I have a few years of discovering truth and embracing God. Yes, I have a few stories to tell and some light to shine, too. I didn’t think I had the time  maybe when my kids are older, maybe when life is different, maybe… And then I heard the story of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and The Gulag Archipelago. He was a prisoner. He wasn’t allowed even a pencil or paper to call his own. He had to memorize what he wanted to say and save it for years, finally writing in secret and in hiding and in fear for his life, for crying out loud. So, was I really going to whine that I was busy with laundry and diapers?

I can’t help but think of Paul and Silas, beaten and in leg irons, singing about God at midnight in the prison (Acts 16). They were bright, full moons, indeed! Harvest moons! Beaten up, locked up, and still, their God-light-reflecting-songs caused the earth to quake and a jailer to come to Jesus with his whole family in tow. “God is not a secret to be kept…”

Every one of us has something to offer, some color in the Son’s spectrum to reflect. What do you have? If it’s got life in it, it’s needed. If it’s true, we’re all desperate for it. Is there any grace in your life? The whole world is searching for it, so please share. Yes, maybe someone out there is already doing it. But they’re not doing it the way you do it. No one can do whatever it is you do the way you do it.

If you write, write the words that tell us the truth.

If you sing – or if you can make an instrument sing – sing the song God put in you.

If you paint, draw, take photographs, design greeting cards, or chalk up the sidewalks with beauty, please don’t stop. Show us the beauty and it will point us to The Beautiful One.

If you bake, fill the world with breads and cakes and bless us all to taste and see that the Lord is good.

If you run, run like the wind and we’ll all marvel at the God who designed your fast feet.

If you preach, if you teach, if you recite, if you declare, then open your mouth and let the truth come out and we’ll all take it in because there’s no glut of truth in the air waves these days.

If you garden, then sow and cultivate and know that what you do is exactly what God had in mind for Adam and Eve.

If you dance, show off the grace He gave your limbs and we will slow down and take a deep breath and just be for a moment.

If you are one of those precious treasures who can sit, then sit. Sit and grieve with the grieving so they don’t cry alone. Sit and laugh with the rejoicing because it’s better to celebrate together.

If you love numbers, show us the wonder hidden there. You’re in good company – God loves them, too. He loves pi and fractals and the Fibonacci Sequence and I’m just sure He hid some of the best clues about Himself there.

If you know about the stars, oh please, please, please tell us how long ago they sent that light this way, and what does it sound like when the morning stars sing together? We want to glimpse our Creator.

No one got it all. You have something to reflect – some color, some facet, some favorite part of God. The rest of us want in on it, too.

Who knows what darkness you can tear down if you give what you’ve got? Who knows what night you can dispel if you’ll just shine?

Yes, people are amazing…because God is amazing.

Listen, Heavens, I have something to tell you. Attention, Earth, I've got a mouth full of words. My teaching, let it fall like a gentle rain, my words arrive like morning dew,
Like a sprinkling rain on new grass, like spring showers on the garden.
For it's God's Name I'm preaching— respond to the greatness of our God!
The Rock: His works are perfect, and the way he works is fair and just;
A God you can depend upon, no exceptions, a straight-arrow God.

(-Moses, Deuteronomy 32:1-5, The Message)

Ambushed by the God who made the sun and moon and all the stars,

Saturday, November 5, 2011

You Can't Tame the Wind

A still moment
The wind has been raging and then stewing in turn for days here. We’ve had trees downed, power outages and blowing snow. At the moment, we are in a “stewing” phase. My wind chimes – which had been knocking themselves silly against each other – are right now singing pleasantly. But every once in a while, they are stirred up into cacophony again for a few moments. That wind – it’s unpredictable.

I was listening to those chimes today and thinking about a passage from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. (I’ll assume you know the story. If you don’t, it’s one of The Great Reads and you really should find a copy ASAP.) In the passage I’m thinking of, the children have just recently made it all together into Narnia and three of the four are hearing about Aslan for the first time:

“…Asland is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe?”

“…if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe? ...Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

No one ever said anything about God being safe. He’s kind of like the wind – unpredictable. He’s powerful. He’s even dangerous. But He’s good.

The wind can carry the delicate dandelion seed without injury and it can carve holes in mountains. It can lift the little swallows as they leave the nest outside my front windows and it can lift an 875,000 lb., fully loaded 747 off the runway. And just like the wind, God can kiss me with the gentlest of breezes on my cheek or He can completely demolish whatever walls I’ve put up thinking they’ll keep me safe. The problem is, that kind of safe – the kind I build myself – is only about as safe as a prison. Sure, you can’t fall off a mountainside cliff in prison, but falling off a cliff really isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a person. I did it once (fell off a cliff) and let me tell you, there are worse things – like missing out on real life.

Real life – life with the One who thought up life – is really dangerous. God doesn’t play by our rules and He isn’t afraid. Of anything. At all. He’s not even afraid of my sin. Or yours. He has NO FEAR.

Fear makes a person predictable. If you know what someone fears, you can pretty much maneuver and manipulate him into any position you want. But God has NO FEAR. You can’t “manage” Him. You can take Him or leave Him, but you don’t get to tame Him.

I like that about Him. He’s full of surprises. He likes to catch me off guard. He often doesn’t do what I think He'll do (I’ll bet the guy who got Jesus’ spit-n-mud-in-the-eye treatment didn’t see that one coming!). You just never know when He’s got the surprise of your life waiting right around the very next corner. You just never know when He’s about to pounce on you with all His wonderfulness! And sometimes life with Him just might kill you (in a dozen different ways), but what you get in return is always better than what you had. Life with God is exciting!

A scarf turns in the wind (another windy
day, some other windy place)

Nope, you just can’t predict God. And do you want to know something else I think is really exciting? I’m just like Him! Jesus Himself said,

So don't be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be 'born from above'—out of this world, so to speak. You know well enough how the wind blows this way and that. You hear it rustling through the trees, but you have no idea where it comes from or where it's headed next. That's the way it is with everyone 'born from above' by the wind of God, the Spirit of God." (John 3:7-8, The Message)

You can’t tame the wind. You can’t tame God. You don’t get to tame me, either. (I’m smiling.)

No one else could ever make me a better offer.

Ambushed by the God who moves the windchimes, the trees and my heart,