Friday, February 23, 2007

A Rock and a Hard Place

One would think that at my chronological and [supposed] spiritual age that I would be quite sage and insightful in God’s word. After all, He crafted every single amazing word, and nothing in it should surprise us… I mean GOD wrote it! And, over the last uhm… few years, I’ve had the opportunity to read the whole thing… several times… and in several ways…. Some parts, many times. Some of it, I’ve managed to capture “deep in my heart,” and some of it… say the “begats” I’ve struggled through, and honestly, maybe haven’t ‘savored’ as much.

But it seems that no matter how often we read and study God’s word, no matter how fascinated (or not!) we are by Scripture… He still manages to astound us with not only the incredible truth put forward, but with the intricate and well, awesome way that the warp and weft of the text is woven.

I tread lightly when commenting on Scripture, as it truly is “Holy ground.” My friend Ryan Paterson quotes someone when he cautions, “And God spoke — the rest is just commentary.” Commentary, taken in the appropriate vein however can often open new perspectives, and bring us to a point at once alternative to our own and of deeper understanding.

Having read and been excited and influenced by the writings of John Eldredge (clearly not one of the Bible’s authors!). I was at once struck with his position about the human heart: he says that once we have accepted Christ, that we’re given a new and a good heart:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26).

Eldredge’s commentary on this concept is a source of serious and ongoing debate between his detractor/critics, and his followers. The Ezekiel passage is often contrasted and compared with the prophecy of his contemporary Jeremiah: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Prayer, meditation, and contemplation on the idea lead me to believe that God has indeed done a work in my heart. Yet, being human, and not choosing/able to walk continually in the Kingdom of God, I fall short of His Glory, of His standard of perfection. (No great revelation to any who know me!). But clearly, God is at work! I guess this has left me in a quandary of “spiritual anatomy…”

If the heart is good, where is the ‘residual evil?’ Paul says in Romans that it’s resident in our flesh. (And it’s important to distinguish between the “flesh” of which Ezekiel speaks… and to which John the Apostle refers (John 1:14), and Paul’s reference to our flesh, our “sin nature.”).

Now at this point, I think I come down on the side of a good heart… my heart couldn’t hold the message or love of Christ if it wasn’t a “good” place for him to write… Paul tells the Corinthians that:

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3)

Some insist that the new ‘core’ of our heart is good, but that there is still residual “stuff” there as well. Again, a question of Spiritual anatomy… but back in Ezekiel, we’re told, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them;” and we’re told, “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19). “An undivided heart…” a whole heart, containing a new spirit… a heart of flesh… “And the word became flesh.” (John 1:14). I am not a good man, but within me is a new heart, crafted by God, indwelt by Jesus.

And here’s where God’s Word just blows me away… all this talk of hearts of flesh and stone… Go back to Exodus for a minute… after God led His people out of Egypt, out of bondage and captivity, he explained to their leader Moses, what he planned to do with them, how he wanted to continue in relationship… he made a contract, a covenant if you will, with them:

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6)

Soon thereafter, God called Moses up to meet with him on Mt. Sinai, and gave Moses the Laws that would govern God’s people under His covenant:

“Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.” (Exodus 32:15-16)

The Law, which God engraved on… stone. The repository for God’s Law under His covenant with His people was… stone.

And when God established a New Covenant with His People, he wrote his Law on flesh… (Remember? “The Word became flesh… and made His dwelling among us.” – John 1:14).

Somehow, I always knew and understood the connection with Jesus in the New Testament and the “heart of flesh” in Ezekiel’s Old Testament prophecy… but I’d never made the connection backward between the Mosaic Law (carved into stone), and the heart that God told Ezekiel that He would remove from us. Right there, in the middle of the Holy Book… a waypoint, a sign post that “connects the dots” for us…

God just blows me away sometimes!
(or... maybe I'm just a little slow! -- I'm indebted to John Coe for the connection with "Heart of Stone.")

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sunset as a .sig line

I am a sucker for a sunset. Whether its an amazingly colorful display of yellows, golds, pinks, reds, and violets, or a simple golden orb dropping through the Pacific... I am struck by the idea that each time I see the sun go down, it's a one-off. There will never be another just like it... it is indeed an ephemeral masterpiece, painted by the Master Artist, unique to this time and this place... It occurs to me that, usually, I'm the only one there and then to enjoy that unique and specific perspective.

I'd like to believe that He planned it that way... that the panorama I see before me is a message, specifically from my Creator to me.

Not long ago, I spent the weekend up in Tahoe. Returning to our lodgings on the east shore of the lake at the end of the day, I was treated to one of the best, one of the most breathtaking... OK, one of the most spectacular displays it's been my privilege to share with my God in... well, I guess most of my life. It wasn't blazing like the picture above, it was delicate and carefully crafted, shades of pink and red, skillfully woven into the deepening blue field behind. A blend of pale oranges and purples, gently wafting among the incredible pastels of pale blue and aquamarine. Now, normally, I'm a prettty bold-color kind-of-guy. But this... this unspeakably beautiful and gentle tapestry literally took my breath away.

And as I stood there, mouth gaping, eyes dancing, and heart leaping, my Father came to me, gently, and whispered in my ear...

"You see, Beloved Son, I love you. This is how I see you, how I hold you, how I love you... with a caress at once soft, beautiful, and unique. I'm glad you enjoyed our day."

And with such a close to the day, God signed his name in the sky... once again.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Make Room For Daddy

It gets harder.

Having discussed the place of the human father in his young son's life... the place that belongs to God, it's clear that the human dad becomes faced with some interesting challenges as his son grows and matures. As the boy reaches adolescence, manhood in the Jewish tradition, his relationships begin to evolve and to change...

The sweet boy who kissed his dad goodbye when dropped off at school, now would just as soon have dad "drop me off a couple blocks from school." There are mood swings, awkwardness, and... hair(!) as hormones begin to kick in; and junior is no longer firmly rooted and attached to his family and the individual members thereof. In fact, one of the major challenges a youth faces during this tempestuous time is separating himself from his family and establishing an independent identity of his own. As his peer relationships become the most important in his life, the residual members of his family feel literally pushed away. For a mom and dad who've always been close to their beloved offspring, this can be challenging at best, and very painful at worst (depending on how hard junior pushes). All parties concerned often feel that the others "just don't understand." And to some degree, that is true.

It's just impossible for someone who has not raised a son or daughter to really know the depth of the bond of love that often grows... after all, this bond was created and is modeled by God (Matthew 3:17); to feel that bond being pulled apart can indeed be traumatic, and the "new man," at age thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen has no context to really comprehend the impact of his independence or even rebellion. Likewise, although almost all parents survived their own adolescence, their experience and the context in which they grew up is often not really analogous to that of their offspring... they may well not be capable of understanding the son's difficulty and/or angst either. And the trust, often painstakingly established over the course of childhood is often eroded through misunderstanding, and poorly defined and enforced boundaries... and the separation between family and child, between father and son is... hard.

The point here is not to suggest that it can be easy (oh, sure, miracles DO happen on occasion), but that as our sons grow and seek to establish an identity apart from the family, that both parties-- son AND father have important and key roles and responsibilities. As the son grows and 'pushes back,' the father's role does not diminish... it evolves. As the son is establishing himself as an individual, as a man, the boy still has a critical need for validation, and, although he may not recognize it, guidance and support as he makes choices. This process is not instantaneous; great insight and sensitivity is required from both the son and the father if their contributions to it are to be truly complementary. And dad, what your son needs is solid advice and supportive reasoning, not evaluations, or worse, condemnation. Caveat: of course there must be boundaries, and the possibililty exists for poor choices. The need for damage control will arise, in some form or another... and both of you... both of you will need to recognize that of youreselves, you can do nothing (John 15:5). There's another player... a key player: the Heavenly Father that created you both.

Which, after a lengthy introductory discussion brings me to the point... it does get harder. It gets harder because one of the most important tasks a human father needs to accomplish is to evict himself (perhaps over time) from his occupation of the role of God in his son's life -- in order to make room for the son to establish a real and lasting relationship with his Heavenly Father. Done well, the human father's tennancy in this role has shown the boy what love, and justice, and compassion, and understanding look like, maybe not in perfection, but in honest faithfulness to our Heavenly Father. Done, not so well, the son will have perhaps, a somewhat skewed vision of his Lord. The really good news is that once the link between Father God and His beloved son is forged, and no matter how severely it is strained and tested, God won't let go. And with prayer from human father and son, the new 'adult' relationship between the young man and his Father will grow and will flourish... over the course of a lifetime.

The boy's human father continues to hold a key place and a key role in his son's life. He must still provide advice and counsel. He needs to get out of God's place, yet he must still set an example through his own relationship with God. He must still cover his own beloved son in prayer as the young man matures in life and in Christ. How does he go about doing all that? Perhaps another chapter...

Friday, February 9, 2007

In Loco Deus...

In our men's group, we're holding a study called "The Masculine Journey." Not particularly original, nor unique, yet timely, and somehow, needed. It's a chronological series, following the stages of life for men from birth through 'elderliness.' We're up to adolescence now.

An of course, as you teach, you learn...

This past week, we discussed the role that a father has in his son's life. At the outset, a human father acts in the place of God to his young son. He is, from an earthly perspective, the boy's (co)creator, the giver of the law, the provider of sustenance, the ultimate authority, and the supreme protector. It's pretty easy for a boy to see God in his dad. Now bear in mind, I'm certainly not asserting that dad is God, but rather that that is often and easily the boy's perception. And consider that much of what we know of God early in life comes to us through the teaching, example, and life that our earthly fathers set before us. For better or for worse, to the boy, dad looks like God.

In my thinking, I explored the possibility that maybe a human father acts as a sort of an old testament ‘high priest,’ acting between the son and God… but I don’t really think that fits the real perception that the son has… Dad really seems to be God, especially to a young boy. Oh, sure, if the lad goes to church or Sunday school, he hears about God, but if he really gives it any thought (or more likely if he doesn’t really think about it), in a boy’s perception, his human father occupies the role of God for him.

This can be sobering for a dad, should he choose to recognize the phenomenon... especially a dad who follows Jesus Christ. In humility, the tendency might be to deny the role, but the simple fact is that the boy's perception will not change... to him, dad still looks like, acts like, and feels like God. There will come a time to 'set the record straight,' but in the interim, denying appearances may not be wise. Oh... be sure, dad, not to believe your own press! (You are NOT God for the boy, but you ARE acting in His stead... that's part of the charge He gives you when you assume the role and title of 'father.' But during that interim, dads have special and significant responsibilities. The book of Proverbs overflows with guidance in how to discharge those responsibilities. A good friend pointed me to a song by written by Dan Dean and Joy Becker (performed by Craig and Dean Phillips), called “I Want to Be Just Like You,” which is a father’s prayer to Christ to mold, shape and guide him, because the man’s son wants to be just like his dad… a significant responsibility.

So we dads press on, as Dean and Becker's song says:
“Got to admit I've got so far to go
Make so many mistakes and I'm sure that You know
Sometimes it seems no matter how hard I try
With all the pressures in life I just can't get it all right.”


…knowing that we’re not perfect, and lamenting (and repenting of) or mistakes, seeking after Christ, and leading our son toward Him by our example, words, and attitudes. It’s a hard job.

And then, it gets harder!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Genesis

I confess to being seriously intrigued by the whole concept of blogs. An open, public forum that is accessible by and for anyone in the world. When I first read Card's Ender series, the idea of world opinion being swayed accross the "nets" seemed pretty far fetched to me... and now, here we are.

Well, what an adventure!