Tuesday, October 27, 2009


The Lovely Joanne and I have spent parts of our day off, the last couple of weeks, raking leaves. (It's that time of year!) We only have a few medium-sized trees in our yard, but the lady down the street has this enormous maple that has shed about 20 bags so far and still going strong.

So who cares about leaves? I mean, won't they just decompose and add to the soil? That's what they do in the forest, right? We could all save a lot of effort. True, but surburbia isn't a forest. We have this thing about green grass, and lots of it; and lawns that look like the top of a billiard table don't grow in the middle of a forest. Those take lots of water, fertilizer and sunlight, which means keeping the leaves off. Besides that, there are sidewalks and mail carriers and neighbors to consider. Wet leaves get slippery, and there's no sense getting your ankle twisted when there's all that snow to shovel this winter.

Those who have followed this series for long know there's a spiritual point in here somewhere. And you'd be right! The scriptures show that we should 'be careful where we walk' (Psa. 119:59, Prov. 14:15, etc). They also show that God directs our steps (Prov. 15:9, 20:24) and that we should also follow the example of Jesus himself (1 Pet. 2:21) and 'walk as he walked' (1 John 1:6-7). So one could argue that keeping 'spiritual slippery leaves off the sidewalk' would be a good course of action. Watching out for sin, and actively putting God's word into our minds would help us avoid the buildup of sin.

And keeping an eye out for the dead leaves of sin or wasteful habits building up in our lives would be helpful too. Consider a similar thought in Mark 4:18-19 in the parable of the Sower: "The seed that fell among the thorns represents others who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life, the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things, so no fruit is produced."

Make no mistake: our best efforts to understand and follow God in his word do not create or maintain our salvation. But the mind of Christ, the person of the Holy Spirit
in us, helps us be aware of what's coming into our minds, and what's coming out of our mouths and in our actions. We ought to be responsive to that Spirit. We can have a truly fruitful spiritual life, and a happy one, or we can get lazy and let the leaves build up all over the place -- using leaves as the analogy for sin and unhealthy spiritual habits -- which leads to problems in our lives instead of the fruit God would have us bear.

God will sometimes get out the leaf rake of discipline (Heb 12:5-11) to help us see where we've slacked off in following Jesus. That just clears the way for more growth, even though at the time it's painful. If you want to meditate on that whole idea while you rake some leaves, I have a rake you can borrow.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

God, in His Own Words

Who is God? What is he like? We can speculate on and on, or we can read what God said about himself. Hmmm...what might work better?

In Exodus 3, God has confronted Moses from the burning bush, and says about himself "I am who I am" (verse 14, NIV). On first glance that might not tell us much. But let's think about it: "I am who I am" was a self-revealing statement of a God who had been pretty mysterious for the last several hundred years, but who was now determined to open up his chosen peoples' understanding of him. So what might it mean? It means, among other things:
--God is self-existent; he doesn't depend on anything
--God himself determines who he is and how he relates to us; he isn't bound by our preconceptions
--God is eternal; the verb here implies past, present and future tenses rolled into one
--Since God IS, it might be helpful for us to get to know him as he is.

This isn't the only place God reveals himself to Moses and to us. In chapter 34, God tells us something fundamental about himself: "Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, 7 maintaining faithful love to a thousand [generations], forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave [the guilty] unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers' wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation."

These descriptions (compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, rich in truth, etc) all show important aspects of who God is. God has freely chosen -- without being obligated to us by anything we have done -- to be compassionate and merciful to us. He is 'rich in faithful love' which has to do with his decision to be loyal, dependable, reliable and dedicated to his people. In spite of themselves.

This self-description is a good place for us to start in getting to know God. This explains why, for instance, he continued to pursue his chosen people Israel in spite of their constant rebellion, why he never gave up on them. And why, in expanding that relationship of unsolicited love (see Romans 5:8-10) to all humanity, he sent his Son into the world to save us pitiful creatures (John 3:16-17, 1 John 3:16).

There are lots of other points to discuss in this passage, like why God says he is compassionate and merciful, yet punishing sin. But for today, why not meditate on these words that describe the gracious God who created the universe and made you to be his child?