Saturday, June 9, 2018

Lost in Translation

As I write this, I am waiting at Newark Airport to board a flight to Minneapolis, en route to a small town in Iowa, where two of our grandchildren live.  Our grandson is four and a half years old; he knows us well, and he is eagerly awaiting our arrival.  His little sister is a year and a half; she doesn’t know us as well as her big brother, and it is unlikely that she understands that we are coming to see her. More to the point in my mind is whether she will recognize me and be ready for the hug I am longing to offer.

Our grandchildren’s parents are generous in sharing their children with us via FaceTime.  We eat dinner with them once or twice a week, and I have a stack of books in our kitchen, ready to read with our grandson. And while our granddaughter is always glad to see me, the question remains whether she will be able to translate the two-dimensional figure on the screen to the real-life “Grammy” who walks through the door.

As Christians, we have a similar challenge: we must translate what we learn about our Lord from His Word and His creation.  And while He has given us His Holy Spirit to work His redemptive will in us, it nonetheless remains difficult to accurately conceptualize God Almighty in all of His dimensions when we are finite human beings.

C.S. Lewis helps us to catch a glimpse of this dilemma in his Narnia book, Prince Caspian.  In it, Aslan, the Christ figure, appears to the Pevensie children as they hike through a much-changed Narnian landscape. But only Lucy sees Him.  Later when Lucy’s brother asks her why he couldn’t see Aslan, she replies that maybe he—Peter—wasn’t looking for Him—Aslan. At the end of the book Aslan explains to the two older Pevensie children that they will not be able to return to the magical Narnia; it is time for them to know him in their own world.  In other words, they need to learn to recognize Christ as they live their lives in post-World War II Britain.  And in his essay “Transposition,” Lewis compares the use of pencil drawings to represent the real world to our conceptualizations of heaven: 

            Our natural experiences (sensory, emotional, imaginative) are only like the drawing, like
            pencilled lines on flat paper.  If they disappear in the risen life, they will vanish only as
            pencilled lines vanish from the real landscape, not as a candle flame that is put out but
            as a candle flame which becomes invisible because someone has pulled up the blinds,
            thrown open the shutters, and let in the blaze of the risen sun.

In our world, it is not always easy to see our Lord at work in our lives.  We know him in a two-dimensional way through His Word, and we can catch glimpses of Him in our brothers and sisters as we worship and serve together.  Even Christ’s disciples and followers, when confronted with the resurrected Christ in the flesh, did not always recognize Him.  Mary Magdalene figured it out by His voice; John figured it out when Jesus asked him and his companions about their catch of fish after spending the night fishing on the Sea of Galilee.  

My first encounter with our granddaughter was wonderful but not entirely satisfying.  Her face lit up when she saw me, and she came running toward me with a grin.  And then…she stopped.  Her expression changed from delight to uncertainty.  She recognized me but was nevertheless cautious when she couldn’t quite translate her experience with the screen Grammy to the flesh and blood Grammy. It did not take long, though, for her to merge the two images, and we had a grand weekend together.

The fact is that it is sometimes harder than we would like to recognize Christ as His resident Holy Spirit guides and directs us, as He remains very much engaged in His glorious but fallen world, and as He manifests His glory in others.  As the Apostle Paul observed in his letters to the Corinthians, we see in a mirror dimly.  We are busy, and distracted.  We impose our preconceived notions on the Lord and often miss Him.  But there is nothing more important than training our eyes, ears, and hearts to be tuned to the frequency of our Lord.  In John 10, the Apostle records Jesus’s observation that His sheep hear His voice, and follow Him.  The more we consciously abide under the care of the Great Shepherd, the more we direct our eyes and ears toward our Master, the better able we will be to see Him as He is and live in His joy, both now and for eternity.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Birds of the Air

Like many of my counseling clients, I struggle to overcome the negative influences of my family of origin.  My history of shame and invalidation often manifests itself in anxiety.  And like many of my clients, I am quite familiar with Matthew 6:25-33, Christ’s antidote for anxiety:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  26Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28And why are you anxious about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you,even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’  or ‘What shall we drink?’  or ‘What shall we wear?’  32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  33But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

And so I’ve done what I can to build my faith— worship, Bible study, prayer, and moving beyond my comfort zone when He leads me to do so.  And of course, I consciously and conscientiously seek the Lord’s kingdom as a matter of priority.  

And I worry. 

I do the best I can, the best I know to do, and it is never good enough.  And therein lies the problem.  It is very easy for me to make my faith an issue of spiritual performance: to do, do, do in order to please a Father, who, if He is like my earthly father, can never be pleased.  In the counseling world, it is called transference: I transfer my experience with my earthly father to my heavenly Father.  And while recognition of this issue is an important step toward denying the lie and embracing truth and moving toward healing, and growth, it is an obstacle that is difficult to overcome.  It takes time.

But I have also missed something critically important.  Jesus asks me to look at the birds of the air and to think about the Father caring for them even though they are of less value to Him than I am.  Central to Jesus’s message is the Father’s care of me and for me, because I have great value to Him.  While it is easy for me to believe that my value to God is based on how well I obey Him, how well I serve Him, that is not what Scripture teaches. God knit me together in my mother’s womb; He created me in His image to partake in His nature and participate in His glorious, eternal purposes.  He takes delight in me.  And so I need to take another look at this passage, to see not performance but relationship.  God values me!  And from that platform I can depend on His care and provision, and then obey Him and serve Him out of joy in our relationship.

In William P. Young’s The Shack, God admonishes Mackenzie to learn to “live loved.”  While Mackenzie is concerned about meeting (and not meeting) God’s expectations, God wants Mackenzie to feel His love.  In a similar manner, I believe that Jesus’s words recorded in Matthew teach us that the Lord wants us to learn to live valued.  

For people like me with a history of needing to “earn my keep,” this is difficult. And we all have inherited Adam and Eve’s spiritual DNA which encourages us to want to be like God, to do life ourselves.  Our pride is fed by our culture which values performance and success above all else. We can help one another by cultivating a body attitude of genuine love and respect, for everyone.  We may prefer to work with some rather than others; we may find some easier to love and respect than others; without doubt we will be more comfortable with some than others.  But the degree to which we can offer love and acceptance to each individual member of the body of Christ and treat everyone as having the highest value is the degree to which we will experience and manifest the love of Christ. This is a high calling, indeed.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Thought For The Day

"I more fear what is within me than what comes from without."

                                                                     Martin Luther

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Resistance Movement

"Saruman believes that it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I've found.  I've found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay, simple acts of kindness and love."
                                                                          The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
                                                                          J. R. R. Tolkien

Sunday, April 1, 2018

For The Joy Set Before Him

I maintain a commitment to regular exercise: six days a week, every week.  This commitment started over 30 years ago when I wanted to reclaim my body after our second son was born; it grew stronger as I began to appreciate the broader benefits of exercise—increased energy, positive mood, deeper and more efficient sleep, and a boosted immune system.  But even with this history, it is more common than not that when I get up in the morning, I don’t feel like exercising.  I am tired, and I would prefer to sit at my computer with a cat in my lap and check the morning news.  And, sometimes I do.  But then, invariably, I put my running shoes on and get the dog ready for a jog, or I get the kettle bells out of the closet.  I still don’t feel like exercising.  My choice to do it anyway doesn’t deny my feelings; rather, it represents my understanding that exercise is the most effective way to resolve my feelings of fatigue and lethargy.
As we move from the season of Lent through Good Friday, and into Easter, it is a good time to consider Jesus.  His prayer to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane reveals that He didn’t feel like going to the cross.  Those feelings were far from unreasonable: bearing the sins of the whole world for all time, compounded by the tortured death of crucifixion, was not something anyone would feel like doing.  But Jesus went beyond His emotions and made a determined choice to go to the cross for the joy set before Him (Hebrews 12:2).  He wanted a reconciled and restored relationship with us so truly and so deeply that He accepted the emotional and physical agony necessary to get there.
So what do we do with this?  First and foremost, the Easter season is an ideal opportunity to meditate on and praise God for His sacrifice for us.  We can thank Jesus for moving beyond His feelings and making the choice to die for us.  We can gratefully marvel that God loves and values us so much that He sent His son to die to restore our relationship with Him.  As we internalize this glorious truth, we, too, can follow Jesus as our Savior, Lord, and Model.  We, too, can choose to accept sacrifice as we are called to participate in God’s work of redemption, of calling people to Himself.  Is my daily choice to exercise equivalent to Christ’s emotional agony?  Of course not.  But it is a most helpful reminder to not take Jesus’s choice for granted, but rather to walk in grateful wonder before Him.

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Thought For Good Friday

"I may not be perfect but Jesus thinks I'm to die for."

                                                    Author Unknown

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Reward For Perseverance

"Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations."

                                                              Author Unknown