All I See Is Rocks

11 June 2013

This post is part of the June Synchroblog.

Much is made of having the courage to be authentic these days. This got me to thinking about how we discuss talking to God honestly. The article is on the subject of whether God gives us trials we can’t handle, and I think Mr. Pyle is right — of course God gives us trials we can’t handle — that’s why we flee to God for refuge. He closes the article this way:

I believe expectant waiting can only happen when we exchange our feeble platitudes for an authentic faith that engages God with the full brunt of our emotion and pain. Only then can salvation been seen.

But that exchange takes courage.

My first reaction was, “No it doesn’t.” I proceeded to write a curmudgeonly little essay on the contemporary cult of authenticity and why honest prayer is not a matter of courage — which has been deleted and will never see the light of day, God be thanked. Upon further reflection, though, I believe the gap between my experience and Mr. Pyle’s offers an occasion for reflecting on different forms of courage, and how they relate to one another.

In order to do that, permit me a few paragraphs of autobiographical reflection on how I learned to give up my platitudes and speak honestly to God. Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t easy for me either. But for me, it was all about being honest and obedient. God began by challenging me to engage the Psalms more fully — all of them. He called me to learn them, sing them, chant them, be saturated with them. (It’s a project I’m still working on.) Saturating myself in the Psalms became a graduate course in prayer, in learning to meet God where I really am, rather than asking Him to meet me where I pretend to be. It was language class — I learned to talk all over again, with an expanded vocabulary that contained theologically “questionable” things like “Why have You forgotten me?” and “How long will You ignore me?” For me, saying these things wasn’t courageous; it was merely obedient. God told me to sing the Psalms (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16), and the Psalms told me to talk to God like that. If David and the Holy Spirit thought it was a good idea, who was I to argue?

Courage is about risk, and there’s no risk here. When I engage God “with the full brunt of my emotion and pain,” I am not Jerzy Popieluszko speaking truth to thugs in power, nor even a kid confronting his abusive alcoholic dad. I am not staging a Tiananmen Square protest in the courts of heaven. The specter of the gulag or the wide leather belt does not hang over the exchange. I am coming into the heavenly Tabernacle with the prayers of the Tabernacle. I am speaking to the Father of fathers, who made me and loves me, and I am speaking to Him in the way that He taught me to speak. Finally.

Far from facing danger, I am fleeing the dangers of disobedience and lying for the refuge of obedience and truth. I am escaping the perils of keeping the true state of my soul to myself. I am escaping the hazard of growing more and more isolated as I refuse to admit what’s really in my heart to God, others, or even myself. I am escaping the endless futility of trying to get God to meet me where I pretend to be, rather than where I really am.

Where’s the risk? He isn’t going to hurt me; He’s going to help me. If I cry out for bread, will He give me a stone? Of course not. So I have two choices. I can try to choke down some gravel and pretend that it’s nourishing and I’m grateful, or I can pray, “Look, You said You’d feed me, and all I see around here is rocks!” Which is the dangerous course, and which is the safe one? Crying out for God to save is, well, safe. He loves to do that.

Unfortunately, many of us who were raised in the evangelical world simply did not learn that. We were raised with a god composed of equal parts Victorian Santa Claus — doing nice things for nice people — and somebody’s tight-shoed maiden aunt. Dealing with anguish was just not his department, and heaven knows what he might do if your prayers strayed outside the polite boundaries of country club luncheon conversation. Confronting that querulous godling with “the full brunt of our emotion and pain” must feel risky as Hell. So to speak.

Not knowing Mr. Pyle, I don’t know whether this is his background or not, but many of my friends have come from that background, and they too felt like praying in Psalm-like ways required enormous courage. “I can’t say that!” has been a common refrain.

“David did,” I say.

“I’m not sure God likes me as much as David,” they say.

So yeah, there’s a sense of risk, and therefore genuine courage. It is vital that we celebrate that courage for what it is without taking it for what it is not. This is not the courage of David confronting Goliath, with his spear haft like a weaver’s beam; it is the courage of an agoraphobe going to the end of the sidewalk to get the morning paper. It is the small deliverance that opens the door to much greater salvation still. Yahweh is not that petty godling we imagine; He will not take vengeance on us for being honest with Him. The danger we feel so keenly is illusory — but we do feel it, and having to face our fears requires courage nonetheless.

I believe there is a progression here, for if we cannot face imagined risks, how will we face real ones? The little boy must learn not to be afraid of the imagined monsters in the dark before he can learn not to be afraid of the real monster in the Valley of Elah. The courage that slays giants tomorrow grows from the courage that slays illusions today.

Or at least it will, if we can maintain both proper celebratory gratitude and a sense of proportion. The act of courage that shreds a long-held illusion is a gift from God, and we ought to celebrate it for all it’s worth. At the same time, we need to remember that being honest with God and others — what we now call authenticity — is not an end in itself, but a beginning, a foundation on which much greater things are built. Let us be grateful for where we are, and look forward beyond authenticity to transformation, salvation, and yes, maybe even thrilling heroics.

***

Other entries in the June Synchroblog include:

This Is Courage by Jen Bradbury

Being Vulnerable by Phil Lancaster

Everyday Bravery: Overcoming the Fear of Being Wrong by Jessica

Moving Forward Takes Courage by Paul W. Meier

How to Become a Flasher by Glenn Hager

Ordinary Courage by Elaine Hansen

Courage, Hope, Generosity by Carol Kuniholm

The Courage to Fail by Wendy McCaig

The Greatest Act of Courage by Jeremy Myers

Sharing One’s Heart by K. W. Leslie

All I See Is Rocks by Tim Nichols

I Wonder What Would Happen by Liz Dyer

What is Ordinary Courage? by Jennifer Stahl

Loving Courageously by Doreen A. Mannion

Heart Cry: The Courage to Confess by Elizabeth Chapin

The Act to the Miraculous by VisionHub

the spiritual practice of showing up & telling the truth by Kathy Escobar

It’s What We Teach by Margaret Boelman

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What He Told the Hometown Crowd

14 May 2013

This post is a part of the May Synchroblog.

A lot of folks have opinions about what Jesus was about. You’ve heard them all before — good moral teacher, revealing the Christ consciousness in all of us, whatever. In the ecclesiastical tribe I grew up in, we thought Jesus was all about dying for sinners so we could go to heaven when we die.

But what did Jesus Himself say?

Well, Jesus said quite a lot, and I’m not going to try to give it an exhaustive treatment. But there’s one particular venue that I think sheds a special light on who Jesus is and what He came to do. Jesus grew up in Nazareth — lived there until He was 30 or so. Then He began His ministry, but He didn’t begin by ministering just down the block from His childhood home. His first miracle was in Cana, and He was already traveling and teaching with a few disciples at that point. He continued His life as an itinerant teacher, but eventually, His circuit of the Galillean cities did bring him back to His hometown.

Luke 4 tells us the story. Jesus is in town for the Sabbath, so of course he goes to the synagogue like any visiting rabbi would do. Asked to read and comment on the Scriptures, he steps up and reads this from the scroll of Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

And then He goes and sits down, and everybody stares at him. Any good commentator can help you fill in the cultural gaps here: the rabbis would stand to read the Scriptures, and then sit down to teach, so Jesus was following the accepted pattern in that regard, but He stopped reading in the middle of a sentence. The sentence finishes “…and the day of the vengeance of our God,” and of course everybody present knew it, having heard this passage read countless times throughout their lives. The omission is significant, but we’ll save that conversation for another day.

Right now I want to focus on what happens next. Remember, Jesus had grown up in this town, and lived there as a single man until He was 30. He played there as a child, worked there as a builder, worshipped in this very synagogue for most of his life. The people sitting around Him at this moment are his aunts and uncles, childhood friends, teachers, suppliers, subcontractors, bosses, clients. They know him. They know that he left town to do heaven-knows-what, and that he has been wandering about the countryside as an itinerant teacher, preaching and gathering disciples. They have heard stories of how he’s healed the sick and cast out demons. And they know, better than anybody, that he’s not a rabbi’s son, not some up-and-coming revivalist. He’s a construction worker, for crying out loud, not an exorcist.

And now here he is in the synagogue for the first time since all this weirdness started, and the first thing he does is screw up the Bible reading. What is going on? What is he all about?

Jesus tells them: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Wow. So he means it like this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted….” “Me,” he says. “I’m the one.”

He continues to speak, and they are amazed at His message, but they can’t reconcile what they are now hearing with the Jesus that they know — Joseph’s boy, the construction worker. It’s hard to take. Jesus sees the problem and calls it out, and all hell — literally — breaks loose as Nazareth becomes the first Jewish city to try to murder her Messiah. But again, that’s a discussion for another time.

For now, let’s focus on what Jesus said. When He was in front of the hometown crowd that wanted to know what He was about, He summed up His calling in a few bullet points from Isaiah, and one of them was this: He came to heal the brokenhearted.

***

This is significant to me because I didn’t believe it for most of my life. I literally do not remember a time when I was not a Christian, but receiving comfort from God was simply not part of my experience. I didn’t believe that He cared. God had a plan, sure, and it would all be gloriously worth it on the other side, I had no doubt. But “you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs,” as the man said, and God was making the biggest omelette of them all.

I didn’t just harbor these thoughts in those angst-filled teenaged moments when I was writing bad poetry, either. This was my day-to-day experience. The God I knew called for sacrifice and obedience, for pulling yourself together and getting the job done, for a stiff upper lip. God was M, as played by Dame Judi Dench. For those of you who saw Skyfall, “Take the bloody shot!” about sums it up. I knew He would burn me out, use me up in a heartbeat if it would help Him further the Grand Plan, whatever it was, and leave me a scarred husk of a human being. I knew it.

What made me so sure? That’s what was actually happening to me. Outwardly my life was proceeding well, but my inner life was withering away. The breastplate of righteousness (as I understood it) had become a straitjacket. My heart had been broken since I was a kid. I literally couldn’t remember a time when I felt whole, when I felt like being me was okay. I spent a big chunk of my formative years surrounded by people who hated me, and that didn’t help me any, either.

In my teenage years, I had learned to forgive — and that was huge for me — but I had been raised to believe that if I forgave people, that was it. Actual healing wasn’t even a category we talked about. To the extent that it was even considered, healing was assumed to happen automatically over time. It just wasn’t true, and I was unable to really love other people well as I labored under the weight of my own accrued injuries. I had been hurt and hollow for so long I didn’t know it was possible to feel any different. I didn’t even have the vocabulary for what was wrong with me.

Other people could see it — or some of it, anyway — and would say things like “God won’t ever give us something we can’t handle.” Of course it wasn’t true.

***

There’s no checklist for helping someone in that situation, but I can tell you what helped me. The first thing was that God did give me things I couldn’t handle. A lot of them, until the accumulated weight of them was crushing me. Until I finally admitted I couldn’t carry the load without Him.

By God’s providence, I found myself in a community of people who were open to supernatural ministry. Beyond their relational wisdom, grasp of Scripture, and (in some cases) clinical skills, they were willing to have God show up and do…whatever. Whatever needed to be done. I found that when we gathered, the Spirit was active. The lies I had believed about God began to surface — some of them shown to me directly by the Spirit during our times of worship, others spotted by a wise friend, and some called out prophetically by gifted brothers and sisters.

Two particular incidents stand out in my mind. In one of them, God showed me in the middle of a worship service that I did not really believe He had my good in mind. As I struggled with that — because I really didn’t believe it, and admitting it out loud didn’t change that — two prophets sat with me and began to speak — how God saw me, what He envisioned for me. It was one of the first times I experienced being comforted by God.

The other incident that springs to mind was an occasion when we were dividing up responsibilities for a service we were planning. Now, I’ve been a pastor for some years, a solo church planter, and a lot of other things, and there really wasn’t anything on the list that I couldn’t do. So when they asked me what I wanted to do, I said “Just tell me what you need me to do, and I’ll do it.” The whole room went quiet. Into the awkward silence, the pastor gently said, “I know that. But what do you want to do?” I knew what I wanted to do. I had known as soon as we laid out what needed to be done. But even among people who loved me well, people I trusted, it didn’t occur to me to say it out loud, until someone specifically asked for it. Among these dear brothers and sisters, I began to learn that God had made me to be something in particular, and leaning into the desires He gave me was the path to growth.

A little later, I met a group of people who practice and teach healing prayer, and through their ministry to me and beside me, I came to know Jesus as the Great Physician of my soul. The experiences I had there are a little too close for me to write about yet, and would take too long to explain for this post anyway. Suffice it to say, it was not a matter of doctrine or of guided imagery or any other such human manipulation. These dear brothers and sisters simply trusted Christ to be present to heal even when I did not believe that He wanted to, and asked Him to reveal Himself to me.

He did, and I love Him because He first loved me. Tangibly.

***

Paul said to “comfort one another with the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted,” and I finally know what that means. It’s not actually that complicated — “Freely you have received,” Jesus said. “Freely give.”

I can only give what I have been given. The comfort Jesus gave me was not doctrine, although it can be described doctrinally. It was Himself. That’s all I really have to offer. When I sit with someone in pain, Jesus is there, sitting next to us. He has something to contribute. Mostly, all I do is ask what it is.

***

This post is a part of the May 2013 Synchroblog. Other posts on the same topic are below:


How Would Life Be Different If Jesus Did Not Rise?

9 April 2012

This post is part of April’s Synchroblog.

What if Christ did not rise?

The stock answer, of course, is straight out of 1 Corinthians 15: in that case, our faith is futile and we are of all men most to be pitied.  Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.

I have no difficulty with Paul’s answer there.  It is born of Paul’s long reflection on Jesus and what He means, and there is deep wisdom in it.  However, for many conservative evangelicals, quoting Paul’s answer is not an indication of deep wisdom and reflection.  It has become a stock answer, a thing we can say that prevents us from thinking about the topic any further.   It’s like looking up the answer to an equation in the back of a math book: you can know x=3.5 without being any good at algebra.  However accurate the answer may be, though, just parroting it without thought is not the path to wisdom.

The path to wisdom is working through the problem yourself.

***

If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then He is not alive now.  The last people to see Him before He died were the last people to see Him, ever; the thing He said before He died was the last thing He said, ever.  He did not appear to the eleven.  Not only did He not appear to various people in Judea and Galilee in the weeks following the crucifixion, He also did not appear to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road.  Saul remained, to the end of his days, a devotee of Gamaliel in the school of Hillel.  As he grew older, Saul wrote, of course, as brilliant rabbis are wont to do, and some of his works are preserved in the Jewish community to this day.

If Jesus is not presently alive, then He did not make His presence known to, for example, Anthony Bloom.  Bloom recounts his conversion experience:

I asked my mother whether she had a book of the Gospel, because I wanted to know whether the Gospel would support the monstrous impression I had derived from this talk. I expected nothing good from my reading, so I counted the chapters of the four Gospels to be sure that I read the shortest, not to waste time unnecessarily. And thus it was the Gospel according to St Mark which I began to read.

I do not know how to tell you of what happened. I will put it quite simply and those of you who have gone through a similar experience will know what came to pass. While I was reading the beginning of St Mark’s gospel, before I reached the third chapter, I became aware of a presence. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. It was no hallucination. It was a simple certainty that the Lord was standing there and that I was in the presence of him whose life I had begun to read with such revulsion and such ill-will.

This was my basic and essential meeting with the Lord. From then I knew that Christ did exist. I knew that he was thou, in other words that he was the Risen Christ. I met with the core of the Christian message, that message which St Paul formulated so sharply and clearly when he said, ‘If Christ is not risen we are the most miserable of all men’. Christ was the Risen Christ for me, because if the One Who had died nearly 2000 years before was there alive, he was the Risen Christ. I discovered then something absolutely essential to the Christian message — that the Resurrection is the only event of the Gospel which belongs to history not only past but also present. Christ rose again, twenty centuries ago, but he is the Risen Christ as long as history continues. Only in the light of the Resurrection did everything else make sense to me. Because Christ was alive and I had been in his presence I could say with certainty that what the Gospel said about the Crucifixion of the prophet of Galilee was true, and the centurion was right when he said, ‘Truly he is the Son of God’. It was in the light of the Resurrection that I could read with certainty the story of the Gospel, knowing that everything was true in it because the impossible event of the Resurrection was to me more certain than any event of history.

But if Jesus is not alive, that didn’t happen.  Bloom remained an angry young Marxist, and as angry young Marxists tend to, he found some problem or another in the Gospel of Mark and discarded it.

Of course, if Jesus is not alive, the last Mark ever saw of Jesus, soldiers were surrounding Him, and Mark was fleeing naked for his life.  He never wrote the Gospel of Mark — what could he use for an ending?

If Jesus did not rise, He did not ascend to the Father, and if He did not ascend to the Father, He did not send the Holy Spirit.  Pentecost never happened, and the signs Mark promised would follow those who believe did not happen, and we, today, do not hear God’s voice through the Holy Spirit or look to Him for intervention either.

If Jesus did not rise, biblical prophecy and proclamation is dead.  Micah predicted the place, Daniel predicted the time, Isaiah predicted the manner of His coming.  Jesus fulfilled every expectation…and then died prematurely, never to rise.  The God Jesus called Father set the whole thing up, but then He couldn’t, or wouldn’t, get it done.  Of course the gospels and epistles were never written.  Why would God let the whole thing collapse like that?  Maybe He ran out of power.  Maybe He just lost interest in us — who knows?

Of course, this would not necessarily stop us from choosing to live by the principles of the Scriptures, such as they would be.  We could still live our lives by a biblical moral code — or try to.  We might have to gloss over some of the tougher bits, but that’s easy enough to do, isn’t it?  We could still have church services with music and teaching about the content of the Bible, just like we do now. We would not be the Body of Christ, of course, because He is not alive.  But we could still operate organizations and churches; there would just be no underlying unity that holds us all together.  We could still give money to support pastors and missionaries.  We could still have seminaries and Bible colleges.  What would we study?  What would we talk about?  Plenty.

We could still talk about the great miracles of the past: creation, the Red Sea, the raising of Lazarus.  We could still talk about how God spoke to great men in the past like Moses, giving him powerful principles for living well, or Samuel, helping him to lead Israel to victory over the Philistines.  Once upon a time, God was really something; He really did act in the affairs of men.  When He spoke, the fates of nations hung in the balance.  Once upon a time.

But that was before He hung Jesus out to dry.  That one failure changes everything.  After that, how do you trust God to intervene in your life today?  Why would you even want Him to speak to you today?  After He set us up to expect the Messiah, and sent Jesus, in every way fulfilling our expectations, and then allowed Him to die prematurely and descend into the grave forever — well, if He could betray His own prophets, His own people, His own Messiah in that way, then we certainly couldn’t trust Him with our lives.

So we wouldn’t.  With no Pentecost and no Holy Spirit, we wouldn’t even expect Him to show up, much less to do or say anything to us. We could not expect God to speak to us.  We would not expect to feel His presence — or value it if we did.  He wrote a book, once upon a time, and that’s as good as it’s going to get.  We’d just go on living by the principles.  Disagreements about the principles, of course, would balloon into huge fights — without the Body of Christ and the Holy Spirit, what have we got, besides agreement on some common principles?  So we’d huddle up with some folks we agree with on the principles, and hope that as we grow in wisdom over time, we’ll get better at living them out, and that would be it.

But it would take God betraying us to make us live like that…right?

***

And the Synchroblog link list:


Artist-Priests in God’s Poetic World

8 February 2011

This post is part of February’s Synchroblog.

Metaphor is already intrinsic to the Trinity.  Jesus is not the Father.  And then again, He is indwelt by the Father, and He in turn indwells the Father.  “He who has seen Me,” Jesus said, “has seen the Father.”  This fundamental is/is not relationship is the relationship of metaphor.  A world created by the Triune God, to express Himself, will perforce be a world of metaphor.

It all starts with creation.  On the fourth day God made the sun “to rule the day” and the lesser lights “to rule the night,” and from Genesis 1 right on through the Bible, the heavenly bodies symbolize ruling powers.  Jacob, limping, blessed, and for the first time master of his own household, crosses over Penuel as the sun rises on him.  This symbolism is not simply a literary motif; the Bible is God’s spoken word, as is the world.  One would expect a correspondence, and there is.  The sun rises, and we rise to work; it sets, and we go to bed.  When it is weak, we are cold, and stay indoors; when it is temperate, we go out.  If it is too strong, we seek shelter again — a celestial case for limited government in a sin-sick world.  But in the end, the Sun of Righteousness rises with healing in His wings, and in His new heavens and new earth, there is no more night.  Nor, for that matter, is there a sun, because when the ultimate fulfillment has come, the sign is no longer required.  Until then, we see the sign used over and over; symbols are multivalent.

God tells Noah that He will set his bow in the sky as a sign that He will never again destroy the earth with water.  People often fail to notice this for some reason, but the bow is a weapon.  God hangs up His weapon as a sign of peace with men.  God didn’t choose this particular sign haphazardly.  The glory of God around His throne is a rainbow, according to St. John the Evangelist.  God’s glory is a weapon, and the saints of old knew it; Isaiah was afraid for his life then he saw God’s glory with his own eyes.  But when He makes peace with man, He hangs His glory-weapon in the sky for a sign, and this is what a rainbow means, not just in Scripture, but in the sky.

God made vegetation “for the service of man,” and gave it to us for food.  With it, we make bread and wine, processed foods in which we join our work with God’s.  Chase these symbols through Scripture, and you’ll find that bread means sustenance, God’s provision for us.  Wine means — among other things — rest.  This is, again, not just a motif in the word God spoke, but also in the world God spoke. The loaf of bread on your kitchen counter is sustenance and provision, God’s answer to your prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”  The glass of shiraz you will drink this evening — it has shalom in it, and when it seeps into your body from your stomach, you will relax, and rest.  Christ in turn gives us bread and wine at His table, sustenance and rest, and we long for the day when He partakes of it with us in His kingdom.  This bread and wine is His body and blood, and we are what we eat: Christ’s Body.  We who feed on Him will live because of him, and we who have believed enter into His rest.

Since we live in a world of metaphor, we ought to live in a particular way, a way consonant with the story the metaphors tell, which is the true story of the world.  We are priests, and priests are dramatists, responsible for presenting true pictures of how God deals with men.  Under the Old Covenant, God Himself kindled the fire on the Tabernacle altar.  When Nadab and Abihu brought strange fire before the Lord, fire He did not kindle, He killed them.  We bring God what He supplies; fire from another source ruins the picture.  We read that account today and think, “Thank God we don’t live under the Old Covenant.”  But the Corinthians, priests after the order of Melchizedek like their Brother and Captain, likewise died when they profaned the Lord’s Table, making it a picture of division when Christ had made it a picture of unity.  God continues to take priesthood seriously.

Pinch-minded folk take this as deterrent to artistry and creativity.  For fear of a misstep, they fear to do anything at all, but that is just burying one’s talent in the earth instead of investing it.  These people do not know God very well, or they wouldn’t think He wants such a thing.  He sent His Son that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.

Even under the Old Covenant, there was demand for creativity.  When Israel crossed the Red Sea, they sang a song of praise composed for the occasion.  Suppose some tidy-minded fundamentalist had said to them, “Don’t do that; you might offend God by saying something wrong!”  Can you imagine them listening to him?  Me neither.

The Tabernacle was beautiful, carefully crafted from top to bottom by artists and artisans, all of it inspire d by the vision Moses saw on the mountain.  The entire Tabernacle service was silent, except for the occasional trumpet blast, but David created an entire service of song to go with it.  The musical service was performed before the Ark of the Covenant on Mount Zion until Solomon’s Temple, and then was integrated with the animal sacrifices there — and again, the Temple was itself a work of art.  We who sing David’s songs (as Paul and James commanded us to do) must find music to match the lyrics.  And if we are obedient to the lyrics, we will also dance, and sing to the Lord new songs, which means that we must keep writing them.  The early Lutheran church knew this, and spent a lot of money to get world-class obedience (Pachelbel, Handel, the Bach family, etc.)  How far we have fallen!

Hosea had life-as-performance-art going long before any postmodern art theorist dreamt it up.  God used him to teach Israel — and us — a valuable lesson.  Jesus told story after story, creative tales to reveal to some, and conceal from others, the truth about Himself, themselves, and His coming kingdom.  How can we, called to teach the nations all that He taught us, do any less?

Nor is our artistry restricted to worship and teaching.  Like the river of life that flows from under the throne of God, priestly artistry flows out into the world. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a simple enough command, but what does it mean today?  Depends; who is your neighbor today, and what is his life like today?  Does he need help shoveling snow off his walk?  A bag of groceries?  Comfort after the death of his mother?  A set of jumper cables?  Chicken soup?  Wise love discerns the need, and discerns a means of meeting it. Done well, the provision is not just meeting a need; it is a symbol of our love, and through us, of God’s love too.

Marriage is about love and making babies, but it’s also a picture of Christ and the church.  God requires righteousness from all marriages, but God requires a Christian marriage in particular to be a good picture of Christ and the church.  An abusive husband is lying about how Christ treats the church; a rebellious wife is presenting a picture that helps to legitimize a rebellious church and make it seem normal.  But as you know if you’re married, good marriage is an art.  There’s no formula, no cookbook recipe for a great marriage.  There are some guidelines — thou shalt not commit adultery, for example — that will keep you from having a terrible marriage if you follow them.  But the key principles — husbands must sacrificially love their wives as Christ loved the church; wives must respect and submit to their husbands as to Christ — these require great artistry to apply well.  Calling those principles “a recipe for a happy marriage” is like saying “throw all the balls up in the air, and don’t drop any” is a recipe for juggling, or “hit him and don’t let him hit you” is a recipe for a winning boxing match.  Sure, but how?

Therein lies the art, and it will make good use of all the creativity you can muster.

 

______

You can find other Synchroblog posts at the links below: