Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Haley, our little stripey cat, watched in fascination as The Lovely Joanne swept the kitchen floor.  The motion of the broom against the floor seemed to hold Haley's attention, but I wouldn't bet two cents on her understanding the process.  And when the vacuum cleaner started up, she headed for the hills in fear!

Sometimes life seems that way, doesn't it?  Things go on around us that are impossible to understand, or that frighten us.  We aren't the first ones to see that, though.  The writers of the Bible expressed some of the same sense of mystery with God's working.  In a fascinating passage about God's offer of grace, Isaiah expressed the thoughts of the LORD in 55:9 by saying "For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts."  David expressed in Psalm 139 how much greater God's thoughts and power are than humanity's.  Our ability to comprehend God's eternal purposes, his absolute wisdom and the intricacy of how he works in human affairs, is narrowed by our own limited perspective.

My life has been like that.  My mother died when I was 19, and because she still had two young daughters at home, I was sure God would heal her of cancer and keep her around.  He didn't, and I miss her to this day.  But life has gone on; my stepmom is a wonderful woman who has been a great life partner for my dad, and I've learned to thank God she is around.  Twenty years ago, my denomination started a radical re-thinking of all our teachings, leading to throwing out a large number of un-biblical ideas and embracing what we once called error.  It frightened and unsettled me, and many of my friends headed for the hills when it happened -- some I have not been able to contact since.  It has taken me all this time to begin to understand the true splendor of the perspective we have now, and that I am privileged to pass on to others.  I am awed daily by the beauty of God's grace, whereas 25 years ago, I was sure 'grace' was just an excuse for those who didn't try hard enough to obey God. 

It's been a tough journey, and there were some days I didn't want to go on.  I still don't know why God allowed some of it to happen the way it did, and at the time I doubted I ever would come out of it at all, let alone have anything to be glad or thankful for. In 1 Peter 1:6-8 we're told, in part, "There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while." I'm learning, gradually, to trust that promise even when the joy isn't clear yet. 

Isaiah, in 64:7-9 writes "we are the clay, you are the potter" as a reminder of how much greater God's purpose is than we, mere clay by comparison, could understand.  Likewise, Haley has no more chance of understanding The Noisy Vacuum Monster than I do of truly knowing what God is doing. But when these difficult things happen in my life, I pray I can hold on until the pain eases and I can breathe again, and that I will get another glimpse of the love and glory and wisdom of God somewhere along the way. 

I pray the same for you.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Macular Degeneration and Clear Vision

My father-in-law suffers from macular degeneration, a condition where the center portion of the retina (the light receptor at the rear of the eyeball) deteriorates.  The result is a fuzzy spot at the center of what the person is looking at; so to see someone's face, you have to look to one side and then use peripheral vision instead. It sounds difficult, and it is.  The condition often spreads from one eye to the other, and although the progression can be slowed or even halted, the damage cannot be reversed.

In the spiritual context, loss of vision is even more serious; but the good news is it can be completely cured.  Paul refers to this as a "veil" in 2 Cor. 3, mixing the metaphor of the veil with the discussion of glory. Paul tells of Moses, who received the Old Covenant law from God, and saw God's glory, with the result that his face became radiant, shining with a reflection of God's own glory (see Exodus 34 for the whole story). Surely, we would think, this was a great experience; surely this law is honorable and great.  Yes, it was, says Paul, but that covenant's glory is totally overwhelmed by the glory of what he offers us in Christ (2 Cor. 3:9-10):  "If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God! In fact, that first glory was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new way."

The Old Covenant brought death as the penalty of breaking its laws, but the New Covenant in Christ brings life (verses 6-8) so the greater glory is in the new.  The old way of the written law has been replaced (verse 11) with a much more glorious new way in Christ!  And though Moses had to cover his face, shining with the reflection of God's radiance, Paul says that we can be very bold (verse 12) in letting the reflection of God's glory shine from us, and that we should be growing in reflecting his glorious image (verse 18). 

Paul goes on to use the veil metaphor in a different way:  to refer to those who continued to read the law of Moses instead of facing Christ, in verse 15:  "Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand."  He insists that "this veil can be removed only by believing in Christ...whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away" (verses 14 and 16). This last statement is a shout of triumph, of the victory of the gospel of Christ over the Old Covenant that could not bring life, and of the glory of Christ himself who is revealed to anyone who turns to him in faith, trusting him alone for salvation.

Moses and the prophets saw God's grace only vaguely.  Our spiritual vision comes into sharp focus as we turn to Christ, and see in him everything the Father has for us, fulfilled and offered freely.  In Christ, we see all the metaphors of the Old Covenant teaching fulfilled, expanded and given deeper and more glorious meaning. We focus on Christ because in him we have life; and in him we see the perfect representative of the Father (John 14:9, Hebrews 1:1-3, etc).

There is no medical cure to reverse macular degeneration in the human eye.  But the glorious news is, perfect spiritual vision is available to us!  A revelation of God's grace, given by God's grace, cures the blindness, as Paul says in verse 18:  "all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord."  So let us continue to focus on Jesus Christ, and let the glory of God be reflected in us!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Jesus, the Good Samaritan

I'm preparing to speak this week from Luke 10.  The story there of the 'Good' Samaritan (the word 'good' is not in the text) keeps amazing me with its depth and breadth of meaning.  You'll find the exchange between Jesus and the lawyer, and the parable, in verses 25-37

One of many interesting points here is Jesus' description of the person who rescued the wounded traveler.  This man was a Samaritan, a member of a group hated by all Jews because of their history as foreigners imported by the Assyrians after the deportation of many of the northern Israelite tribes.  The Samaritans had more than likely intermarried with Israelites left in the land, and claimed to follow the true religion (see John 4:19-20 for a brief comment on this) which just made things worse of course.

But look at what the man, this half-breed who was rejected by the Jews, was like:
  • He went out of his way to help another human being in trouble
  • He risked his own safety due to the bandits in the area
  • He used oil and wine to heal the man's wounds
  • He paid for the man's care at the inn
  • He promised to return and settle accounts
All these are just as well descriptions of Jesus himself.  He was of suspicious parentage, and was of mixed heritage, being both God and man; he greatly inconvenienced himself by becoming flesh (see Philippians 2:6-8) and was at risk throughout his ministry even before the Cross; he brought rescue and healing to humanity; he paid the price for our recovery; and promised to return for us.

So as a background to everything else going on in this parable, the true character of Jesus is brought out as the outstanding example of 'being a neighbor.'  Then he tells the lawyer, "go and do likewise."  What a challenge for all of us:  to selflessly give, going out of our way to serve others, including pointing them to the One who came to serve us rather than be served.  In what way can we "go and do likewise" today?  Who will we choose to serve as Jesus served us?