Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Dirty Windows

It seems to me that I grow more aware of my own sinfulness the more I seek to know God better. Just a few years ago, I felt quite content in my "goodness," but now, it feels like I am constantly recognizing how inadequate I am. Yet this recognition is not a "beat yourself up" kind of recognition, just the realization that I have far to go in the process of living into the image of God.

I move between sadness over my propensity to fall short and rejoicing that God is showing me more of myself, warts and all. I really like the way Brian McLaren describes it in Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices. In describing the ancient threefold way of purgation, illumination and unification, he uses an example I can understand. He talks about entering an abandoned and boarded-up house. First you have to remove the boards and clean up the windows. Once you do, you realize how dirty the place really is.

So I rejoice that the boards and grime are off the windows to my soul, because that was a big job in itself, and if I'm not attentive, the grime will once again prevent me from seeing the next part of the clean-up process. In acknowledging the filth within, I have made some progress in overcoming pride, so I am now better able to see how I really am on the inside. But just as the windows of my house need regular cleaning, I have to be vigilant against allowing pride to gunk up the view into my soul. And, just as cleaning the windows of my house leaves me with sore muscles, there is pain involved in recognizing just how much pride has blinded me to seeing my true nature. I am grateful that God doesn't leave me dirty!

Purify my from my sins, and I will be clean;
   wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
                                                  Psalm 51:7

Monday, July 19, 2010

Ripe Fruit

My garden is reminding me that fruitfulness is a process, one with stages that must happen in a particular order. Jim and I have looked for weeks for some fruitfulness from our tomato plants. We started them from seeds, and they have grown into nice plants, with lots of blooms, but no tomatoes. We finally spotted some marble-sized green tomatoes last week.

As a Christian, I am called to bear fruit. Paul even describes some of the fruit I am to bear in Galatians 5. Yet, just like the fruit in my garden, there is a progression that is necessary for me to be fruitful. First of all, the seed of God’s word must land in the right soil. In other words, I must be receptive. I have to want to hear God’s word for me. Seeds must get the right amounts of water and sunlight and have the right temperature to grow in. Likewise, I have to be watered and nourished by regular and daily Bible reading and devotional time. I have to be around others who encourage my growth as they are growing themselves. I need to be in worship regularly and in an attitude of expectancy and attentiveness. If I do these things with discipline and regularity, fruit will begin to appear.

The fruit I’ve seen on my tomato plants is not yet ready to eat. If I picked the tomatoes now, they would be hard and sour. If I go out to serve before God has prepared me, I will also be hard and sour. I will resent serving, viewing it as an obligation rather than a gift of love. There have been times when my attitude while serving was like my green tomatoes. I served, but I did not exhibit any love, joy or gentleness! I was self-focused and more interested in my own self-promotion than in serving Christ. I needed more time to grow and I needed to receive my nourishment from the body of Christ.

When my tomatoes are ripe, three things can happen to them. I can pick them and eat them. They can fall off the plant and the seeds can make more plants. Or they can remain attached to the plant until they rot. The least desirable option for a tomato is to cling to the plant until it is completely useless. If it falls to the ground, at least it will produce seed, which will produce more plants for a greater harvest. If it is picked and eaten, it provides sustenance and strength to the one who eats it.

It is here that the comparison of my spiritual life with a tomato makes me uncomfortable. For me to be fruitful, I can’t just stay ensconced in the church. If I do that, I will eventually rot and be useless fruit. Fruitfulness for me as a Christian involves letting go and surrendering to God’s will for me. His will could be that I remain close to the plant while producing seeds. Or his will could be that I am consumed for the sake of others. Both require my surrender, my obedience. God chooses the nature and type of service. My role is to be spiritually ready and joyfully obedient—ripe, juicy and sweet for God!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Loving God's Image

All that God creates is holy--set apart for him, to bring glory to him, to point to him. I often fail to see it, and to live up to my own holiness, but that does not change God's intent. How would my thoughts change if I were to view all that God created as holy--not just trees and sky and oceans but also mosquitoes and pigeons and skunks--and people, all people. For we, above all created things, are created in the image of God.

Before I let that go to my head, I must ask myself--does it show? When others look at me, do they see God's image? I expect it is much less visible than I would like it to be. I wonder if others would be better able to see God's image in me if I were able to see his image in each person I encounter, not just the ones I like, who treat me with kindness, but those who are rude, who don't believe what I believe, who break laws, who don't speak my language, who don't have the same moral values that I have. My personal opinions and biases must be overcome by the Christ in me if I am to see the Christ in others.

Where is it hardest for me to see the image of God in another? Is it in the poor, the rich, the illegal immigrant, the Muslim, the Christian, the liberal, the conservative, the persecuted, the persecutor? I am reading To Pray and To Love by Roberta Bondi. She examines the writings of the early monastics on prayer. She relates that the early monastics believed that being made in the image of God meant that we cannot see anyone or anything else as it truly is without seeing as God sees, which is through the lens of love.

She makes the point that we tend to separate reason from emotion, as though reason implies objectivity and truth, while emotion implies subjectivity and bias that are not reflective of truth. Emotion takes into account the individual circumstances of a situation, while reason does not allow for nonconforming reality.

Yet, if God is love, and God is Truth, then love is also Truth, and thus, we cannot know the truth without seeing the person and the situation through eyes of love. Reasoning would have stoned the woman caught in adultery, but love gave her another chance. Reason would have healed only the leper who was grateful, but love healed the ungrateful nine as well. Reason would have condemned those who killed, but love advocated for them to be forgiven.

Is there room for love, for seeing each other in God's image, in the political structures of our land? In the midst of campaign season, can we see God's image in every candidate? Heck, is there room for love, for seeing each other in God's image, in our churches? Or are we so consumed with reason that we have forgotten how to love?

Sunday, July 4, 2010


"To want nothing is the only possible freedom." -- Matthew Fox

As a child I learned this sentence from the Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. These rights and others are important to us as Americans.

We are, all of us, loved by God, not because of anything we have done, or not done, but simply because he created us. He shows his love for us in many ways, but the ultimate way he showed his love for us, for all humanity, was when he came to earth as one of us to live among us and die for us. As a Christian, I am free because Jesus gave himself for me, using his freedom to secure mine. 

If it really is true that I have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, how I choose to exercise those rights says a lot about who is lord of my life. If I exercise my right to live, be at liberty (not subject to anything or anyone), and pursue my own happiness, I am lord of my own life, a very American point of view. But my own self-absorption means I am not really free after all, for I am subject to my own drive for self-preservation and self-promotion. My attention is focused on securing my own safety and health, on guarding my rights so that no one takes advantage of me, and on pursuing my own happiness. The more tightly I cling to my rights, the less free I am. I am shackled to my obsession with myself.

True freedom is the freedom to be and to have nothing myself, clinging only to God and finding all my sustenance in him who created me. It is the freedom to give myself completely and totally to others because I love so much the One who created them and me. For me to be truly free, I put my need for my rights aside for the sake of others. I seek those rights for others by laying them aside for myself. Then I can live lightly, unencumbered by the need to preserve myself. When it no longer matters if I have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for myself, then I am truly free.

"Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus
who though he was by nature God
did not consider being equal to God
   a thing to be clung to,
but emptied himself
taking the nature of a slave
and became as humans are
and being as all humans are
he was humbler yet
even to accepting death
death on a cross."       Philippians 2:5