20 July 2010

Yes, I Am Sure It Is A Sign (Three Signs, Actually)

I own three old wall-signs. None of them is particularly beautiful (they are ugly) but each of them has a message that speaks to me as a kind of “spiritual flashcard.”
I got the first one from my mother-in-law. I asked if I could have the sign that had hung in their dining room for decades and chripped out its blunt but truthful reminder to me at every Sunday dinner. It is just a small piece of pine board with a decoupage flower, about 45 years old. Why did I ask for it? It reminds me of God's continual goodness to me and my inattention to this truth. It says (not very delicately):
“Home is where you’re treated the best and grumble the most.”
The second sign I begged off my grandmother, and it is even humbler--it is probably close to 65 years old. This is also a small piece of wood, but is blackened by grease, cigarette smoke and age. On it is a painting of a man in a fancy top hat and a woman in a fur stole and pearl necklace. Behind them is the old skyline of New York City. Its message to me is a reminder of the difference between money and wealth. It reads:
“We don’t want to be rich. Just live like them.”
We think that rich people are happy but it's not true. What you see is the fleeting smile of self-satisfaction (and comfortable new shoes). People who can give away are the happy ones; to be wealthy is to be able to give. It is possible to be rich, or middle-class, or poor and also to be poor-at-heart and greedy, and tightfisted (which translates into their relationships). Only the wealthy can afford give, and give. I know I am wealthy because I can give—if only of my time and attention. Life can be one continual Grand Give-Away because I have a Benefactor who is a Provider. Not only that, this Provider cares for me and always has my best interests at heart. Oh, of course, He is also only the Keeper and Owner of the Universe. My well-being is bound up in His wealth. It’s as simple as that.

The third sign I bought 34 years ago as a newlywed. It is the only thing that I own that has lasted though 22 house moves, including three moves overseas and back again. It is a white piece of fiberboard and has a bible verse on it. This scripture is for me key to spiritual soundness in a distracting, dizzying and always confusing world:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the first and greatest commandment.
And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.
All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.”
- Jesus Christ
Matthew 22:37-40
God does not call to me as someone in a collective. No, He calls me by name. And this little sign, I take as His word to me today--not as a piece of information to pass along, or to pass by as if for someone else.
 Indeed, if this little sign is all I pay attention to in one day, then I have accomplished much. And all for His Glory.

14 July 2010

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Is there any word more misunderstood, or behavior more powerful than that which is motivated by the biblical New Testament word “love” – which is translated “charity?” C. S. Lewis (in The Four Loves) described charity [Greek word agape] as the love Jesus Christ lived and spoke of...  in contrast to other “loves” 
In the Bible, the Apostle Paul declares over and over that this kind of love,charity (agape) is so unique that it is not merely superior to all the other loves, but also it is so desirable that it is to be sought for more than anything-->more desirable than anything you would or could ask God for, including any kind of spiritual gift.
That’s a big claim: if you are experiencing agape love, this “spiritual experience” exceeds that of working a miracle, seeing a vision, or any other kind of wonder that would qualify as a “WOW!” moment.
If you know the Bible you realize that this makes sense. At its root, agape is love which originates in the Father God, through Christ’s perfect sacrifice, and comes to a Christian via the Holy Spirit. Love is from God, and yes, the other kinds of love originate in God (since all good things ultimately come from God), but this love comes specifically and directly from God. This kind of love is not faked, and it’s not a feeling, yet it is real.
The works that Jesus Christ did found their source in this love. All Christ's miracles were done to show people the heart of God, who is love.
Eventually, Jesus Christ called on and empowered His followers to do His works--I'm pretty certain He meant do the work of God through loving (agape).
And when Jesus said of his followers that the world would recognize the by their love, he was actually pointing back towards his own life and the evidence of God’s hand all over his own words and works.
This year I met a man, a foreigner, who has found asylum in the USA from an Islamic country. Although he has seen several heads of state in his home country in his lifetime, for the past few decades they’ve become increasingly strict about their religion. Prior to coming to the USA this man was a Muslim, but while here at some point, he became a Christian.
He shared with me that from his youth he recalls looking for love. As the sect which runs his country increasingly harsh towards people, yet his hunger for love did not diminish but his heart grew sadder and he began to despair. However, since becoming a Christian he has been walking on air because he now knows agape, and he is empowered and also freed to love people.
Although he is poor and unknown here (quite the opposite of his life in his home country), he’s happier than he’s ever been. His heart is full, which makes him a wealthy man. His story moves me as it reminds me how special and absolutely priceless is the gift that the love of God, agape, is to people who have experienced it.
When I think of it, I feel like a millionaire.

04 July 2010

But It Doesn't Seem Like Good News....

And all the time it was God near her that was making her unhappy. For as the Son of Man came not to send peace on earth but a sword, so the first visit of God to the human soul is generally in a cloud of fear and doubt, rising from the soul itself at His approach.
The sun is the cloud dispeller, yet often he must look through a fog if he would visit the earth at all.
  • George MacDonald, "365 Readings of George MacDonald" by CS Lewis

Real Wealth

"Did you ever think the origin of the word avarice?" "No." "It comes, at least it seems to me to come, from the same root as the verb have. It is the desire to call things ours. We call the holding in the hand, or the house, or the pocket, or the power, [as] having:
but things so held cannot really be had; having is but an illusion in regard to things.
It is only what we can be with that we really possess--what is of our kind, from God to the lowest animal partaking of humanity.
  • George MacDonald, "365 Readings of George MacDonald" by CS Lewis.

The Potency of a Good Story: True to its Character and to the Boundaries

“God will be chary of indulging in irrelevant miracle(s)...
He will not…convert without preparing the way for conversion, and His interferences with space-time will be conditioned by some kind of relationship of power between will and matter.
Faith is the condition for the removal of mountains; Lear is converted but not Iago.
Consequences cannot be separated from their causes without a loss of power;
how much power would be left in the story of the crucifixion, as a story, if Christ had come down from the cross[?]
That would have been an irrelevant miracle, whereas the story of the resurrection is relevant, leaving the consequences of action and character still in logical connection with their causes.
[The willing sacrifice, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ] is, in fact, an outstanding example of the development [of the proper story].
[It illustrates] the leading of the story back, by the new and more powerful way of grace, to the issue demanded by the way of judgment, so that the law of nature is not destroyed, but fulfilled.”
  • Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, “Free Will and Miracle”

Freedom and the Creator's Secret Will

“God created man in his own image and likeness, i.e. made him a creator too, calling him to free spontaneous activity and not to formal obedience to His power. Free creativeness is the creature’s answer to the great call of its creator. Man’s creative work is the fulfillment of the Creator’s secret will.
  • Berdyaev, The Destiny of Man