Maybe you’ve noticed this trend in Praise and Worship music over the last several years.
About a decade ago, Matt Redman writes about how the hymnal is a treasure trove of song ideas and powerful lyrics. Then everyone’s changing old favorites to accommodate guitar rhythms and incorporate new choruses. (Truth be told, I’m sure others had the same idea, not just Matt, and I’m sure it was happening from time to time before he wrote it.)
The first one I really remember is Todd Agnew’s remake of Amazing Grace, titled “Grace Like Rain.” He puts the hymn in a minor key, and adds a chorus in between each verse talking about how our sinful stains are washed away in the rain of God’s grace. It works.
My wife and I love to play a duet on that. She has a great violin accompaniment and I have a special riff I like on the piano for the third verse.
Then I recall “The Wonderful Cross” with Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin from Passion: One Day 2003 (maybe). “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is combined with a driving beat and a powerful chorus that borrows from Bonhoeffer:
“When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
There are others. “Jesus Paid It All” is on a recent Passion album, with a powerful buildup and a passionate cry for us to “Praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead.”
Chris Tomlin put out a version of Amazing Grace called “My Chains are Gone” with a chorus that sounds like the heartcry of a man released from his cell after years of imprisonment. “My God, my Savior has ransomed me… and like a flood, His mercy rains unending love, amazing grace.”
David Crowder Band has a version of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” that starts with a soft minor key chorus about singing to the passionate God who rejoices over us… before the drums kick in and guitars scream in between the verses of the familiar hymn.
Sometimes the bandwagon gets it right.
Who am I to argue?
The hymn, “My Savior’s Love” was a theme song for one of the conferences my wife and I attended several years ago on Okinawa. It seemed like we were constantly being told “Go into My Savior’s Love and let’s just stay there for a while.” (We had pretty flexible worship musicians, so we could be told, “Do this song for a bit” and it all worked out.)
Years later, I was looking at a hymnal and found the song. I remembered how much I loved the emphasis on the marvel of God’s love…
Here in the present as “I stand amazed” and “wonder how He could love me.”
In the past as I think of how “He bore the burden to Calvary and suffered and died alone.”
In the future as “through the ages” I will “sing of His love for me.”
I also like the minor key – which to me speaks of reflection and wonder – that leads to the major key – which calls celebration and joy to mind.
Here’s a link to the song: My Savior’s Love… (I fear my singing is a bit pitchy in parts.)
And here’s the lyrics –
1 I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, And wonder how He could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean.
How marvelous! how wonderful! and my song shall ever be: How marvelous! how wonderful! Is my Savior’s love for me!
2 He took my sins and my sorrows, He made them His very own; He bore the burden to Calvary, And suffered and died alone.
3 When with the ransomed in glory His face I at last shall see, ’Twill be my joy through the ages To sing of His love for me.
Sing a song of praise to God above So amazing to think of How wonderful, how marvelous is our Savior’s love
How marvelous! how wonderful! And my song shall ever be: How marvelous! how wonderful! is my Savior’s love for me!
Ever thought of a piggy-back ride from the Creator of the Universe?
There’s a verse in Psalms that talks about God’s gentleness and humility making us successful. There’s something powerful about the thought of Him lowering Himself in order to pick us up and bring us up to a new level. That’s not pride speaking; it’s not saying, “Look at me, I’m awesome, I’m important, God is lifting me up.”
God is the One choosing to do the lifting. Not me.
It’s not about my merit; it’s about His grace.
“You protect me with your saving shield,
You support me with your right hand, You have stooped to make me great.” Psalm 18:35 NCV
I wrote a song based on that last phrase, called You Stoop Down. The link brings up a SoundCloud window with the music.
In March of 1998 I found a wallet on a street in Bellevue, Nebraska.
That moment led by twists and turns to this Sunday morning’s service, where I have the opportunity to play for the Bellevue Christian Center worship team. I am nervous, but my fears are overwhelmed by excitement at the prospect of being a part of this.
I was at Offutt AFB for a short training TDY from my home station, and we were staying in a beat up little hotel room on Fort Crook Road. I had never been here before, and this is long before the days of Google maps. So I tried my navigational skills by using the map in the telephone book to figure out where the nearest shopping center might be. And I started walking up the road to see if I could find it.
Not far into my stroll, I was crossing a street and found a wallet laying in the middle of the road.
Full disclosure, my first thought was maybe there’s money in it!
Thankfully, that thought was quickly replaced with maybe I can return it–with any money still inside–to be a witness of the love of Christ to whoever lost their wallet.
So I gingerly opened the wallet to see whose it might be.
The first form of identification I found was a card certifying ordination as a pastor in the Assemblies of God.
So much for witnessing. I think this guy’s good to go.
This was special for me. I grew up in an AoG church, and I had been across the States or overseas, far away from home, for a few years now.
I took the wallet and continued on my way. When I got back to the hotel, I sought out a pay phone (remember those? We all didn’t have cell phones back then) and called Pastor Petey Tellez to let him know I’d found his wallet.
Pastor Tellez was of course very grateful. He came out to meet me and treated me to a breakfast. We chatted for a bit, and I told him my thought process when I found the wallet. We had a good laugh.
He told me, “Hey, do you have a car or anything? Do you need a ride to church? Or anywhere else?”
And so that Sunday, during the short one-and-a-half weeks we were at Offutt, I got to attend the church where Pastor Tellez served as an associate pastor of some position or other that I honestly can’t remember.
I walked into Bellevue Christian Center and was surprised by the size right off the bat. I’d never been in a church that could fit more than about 200 people.
The service was great. The speaker was dynamic, but he didn’t just present a pretty sermon that barely touched on Scripture. He also performed an object lesson that sticks out in my mind to this day… climbing a tall ladder probably 15 feet into the air.
(The point, if I recall correctly, was that no one just goes to the peaks and the best of circumstances in life or in personal holiness without taking one step after another to climb there. You have to keep working at it, and suddenly you find yourself looking from a much different perspective.)
What I loved most was the worship team. I was just starting to play piano for my local church, and I was just starting to write songs for worship. I paid close attention to how they were ministering, and I was impressed. It wasn’t a show about them or a performance to command attention.
They were pointing a huge sanctuary full of people to God, and they were getting out of the way.
I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be up there… not because I’m so important or special, but because what they were doing resonates with my heart.
But we were leaving in a few days.
I came back on another TDY to Offutt in 2005, and attended one service. And then I was gone again.
In 2008, I was sent here for yet another training course, and I knew I’d be here for anywhere from six weeks to six months. I showed up at BCC and hung out after the service to ask if they had a need for a pianist, since I had not much else to do while I was there.
The leaders pointed me in the direction of Pastor Herbie Thompson, who was running the young adult ministry Pergo Deus. I showed up to the Friday night Pergo meeting and was surprised at the genuine welcome and sincere care I felt from the young adults there.
You know the way greetings sometimes go in church. There’s the head-nodding conversation that says “I really don’t care what you’re saying, but I want to welcome you for your first time here… so I’ll keep listening and muttering an ‘mm-hmm’ now and then.”
That’s not what I experienced.
Pergo was the real deal.
I know this, because the same people were happy to see me the next week. And they remembered my name. And they remembered the concerns I’d mentioned.
Pastor Gary Hoyt, the lead pastor at BCC, is the same way.
I chatted with him briefly one Sunday after the service in 2008. Then I left, because (Surprise!) I only had to stay for the six week TDY, not six months.
I came back for training in 2009 about a year and a half later. Pastor Gary remembered my face, my home station, my family, our previous conversation, and several aspects of my job in the military. (He did need confirmation of my name, because he didn’t want to call me “Brother” or “Hey you” or something random. All in all, I was impressed.)
Once again, I started playing for Pergo as often as they’d have me, and I attended Sunday mornings. Just like Pastor Gary’s Sunday messages, Pastor Herbie’s sermons on Friday night were clear, powerful, and heartfelt.
But the worship team on Sundays didn’t seem to need a piano player, so I never thought to ask.
Turns out, when you have a large church, you usually have a lot of musicians… enough to allow people to rotate on the schedule and not play every single week. That’s something I’ve always wanted to see happen where I’ve led worship in the past, but it was never an option.
I realized later I probably should have asked about playing long ago.
So when we finally moved to Offutt AFB as a family early in 2012, I did not want to miss the opportunity. Once we knew that BCC was the right place not just for me but for my whole family–and thankfully that did not take long!–Jami and I approached the Worship Pastor and asked about joining in the ministry.
It’s not some great achievement to be a part of a worship team, I know. People do that all the time. But it matters a lot to me that I get to be a part of this one, finally, after all this time of being blessed by their ministry.
The ladder lesson is right. Our spirituality and our ministry takes time. It requires taking one step after another. You don’t just walk up and jump up to the top to see what’s up there.
But once you reach the goal at the top of the ladder — in this case, looking out as a room full of people are abandoning themselves to give praise and honor to the God that you’re abandoning yourself in music to praise and honor —
Have you ever seen a child hiding behind a parent when the child is in trouble?
Have you ever been that child? (Don’t answer!)
It can be scary to own up to failures and mistakes, especially when we’re facing someone we have wronged. As little children, hiding behind Mom or Dad was a place of refuge, knowing that they were going before us and could protect us if someone was really upset.
About twelve years ago, Jami and I were discussing how sometimes as Christians, when we go to God, we sort of hide behind Jesus the way that small child hides behind a parent. We know how screwed up we are, and we know all the ways we’ve blown it. Surely we can’t just come to God. We need to take cover, so that when He looks, all He sees is Jesus.
Jesus is the righteous one, not us. Jesus is the accepted one, not us. Jesus can come to God without fear… not us.
Or so goes the logic.
That logic is wrong.
We are called to come boldly before the throne of grace (Heb 4:14-16). We are declared redeemed, cleansed, purified, made holy (1 Pet 2:9-11). We have become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5:21).
God paid a great price to get you, because you are part of the special treasure and precious possession He wishes to set on display for His glory. Jesus Christ’s righteous life and sinless blood are the payment by which God has purchased us.
Think of it this way.
A young man saves up money and puts forth effort to purchase a beautiful engagement ring.
He finds the perfect moment, gets down on one knee, reveals the surprise, and proposes marriage to the woman he loves. She gets excited and says yes.
And from then on, whenever he looks at her, she holds up the receipt for the ring.
“Don’t look at me. Look at what you paid to get me. I’m not good enough. I don’t deserve your attention. But remember the price you paid for this, so that you can stand to be around me.”
What sort of relationship would that be?
Come boldly. He said you could. Come stand before Him as the object of His affection… not because of any merit on our part or any sort of pride that says we deserved this.
You can’t go around hoping that most people have sterling moral characters. The most you can hope for is that people will pretend that they do. – Fran Lebowitz
We all know the logic of “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Our initial impressions of a thing may be way off once we look closer. That’s never more true than when dealing with the complexities of people.
But what if you could tell a person’s character at a glance?
What if you could know with near certainty?
That’s the idea that sparked my plan for how the Divine interacts with the populace of the Bordermarches.
This is the fifth in a series about the fantasy setting of the book I am writing. So far, I’ve introduced the world in general, the views of its people about science, the way magic works, and the various Aspects of the Divine.
Story is about people, not the pantheon of gods.
To be fair, stories about the gods, like Greek mythology, are more about exaggerations of people than about the Divine. The gods are like us writ larger than life, and their squabbles mirror those common to humanity. (My atheist friends would gently remind me that they see this as true about all faith.)
Even without a pantheon, even in a setting with only one God (or none at all), there are certain values or ideals that receive greater attention from one person than another. Where those values differ, there is room for conflict and story between characters.
Still, explaining the Divine in the Bordermarches serves to better explain how characters are empowered by their faith. Divine power is a common element of fantasy, just like magic. And just like my thoughts about a magic system, I do not want a Divine power system that boils down to “I can do these things because miracles!”
In my post on magic, I referred to Brandon Sanderson’s thoughts on explaining magic systems in a story. Here’s the link to the First Law, which I find very useful.
My thought process is this: If magic and Divine empowerment are commonplace experiences in this world and have been for all of recorded history, there has to be some knowledge in place about it. People would develop common terms for important parts of the system.
There may still be some mysteries, but there’s a generally understood “way things work.”
For the power of the Divine in the Bordermarches, that “way” is called the Gracemark.
The Gracemark is a symbol on the back of the individual’s dominant hand that normally looks like a tattoo about the size of an apple. There are seven marks, one for each pair of Aspects of the Divine. Individuals usually only have one mark, based on their primary passion or desire.
This mark glows electric blue when the power granted by the Aspect of the Divine is in use.
There are two types of Gracemarks, depending on the source:
1. Gracebrands are granted by the appropriate religious order upon a successful selection process. The nominee is examined and questioned and approved (or not) based on their known character and their perceived merit. The religious orders have devices that can track or sense the use of Divine power through a Gracebrand. This gives them some oversight of those individuals who do good or evil in the name of an Aspect.
At any given time, about forty percent of the populace of the Bordermarches has a Gracebrand.
2. Gracemarks appear spontaneously on approximately ten percent of the population. There is no definite trigger, but Gracemarked individuals in every case show an unwavering passion and zeal for something related to the Aspect whose mark they receive. Usually these individuals have been overlooked or rejected by the religious order’s selection process. The methods the orders employ to track and sense Gracebrands do not work on Gracemarks.
The commonly accepted explanation (of course unproven) is that Gracemarks come directly from the Aspects of the Divine.
The big question is, what do these Gracemarks actually do?
I borrowed from the words of Jesus, when asked “what is the greatest commandment?” His answer is that the first great commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Gracemark powers fit into one of those four categories.
Heart: This usage is called a Pulse. It releases Divine power externally, inspiring or strengthening a target other than the Gracemarked individual. Perhaps it might promote loyalty (Love/Beauty), or cure a person suffering from poison or disease (Nature/Growth). It can inspire others toward purity (Light/Truth) or against evil (Justice/Order). It can even heal (Eternity/Life).
Soul: This usage is called a Glimpse. The soul is the seat of emotion and will, and Glimpsing provides the Gracemarked individual with an emotional internal sense about a given thing. This is more an impression than an analysis of data. For example, one could sense the resolve or unwavering nature of another (Strength/Passion), or get an overall impression of another’s moral purity (Light/Truth). A Gracemarked person might have a sudden revelation about what is taking place in another person or in the world around them (Knowledge/Creativity). They may get a generalized idea of the past or future state of a thing (Eternity/Life). In every case, it is a non-empirical and vague intuition based on the particular Aspect for which the individual is marked.
Mind: This usage is called a Gaze. It is another internal revelation power. But the difference between this and a Glimpse is that the information provided by a Gaze is like empirical data to be analyzed. This enables special tracking skill, as the Gracemarked individual sees evidence of their quarry’s passing (Nature/Growth). It can enable an internal “compass” that points to someone the Gracemarked individual is bound to (Love/Beauty), like a spouse and children, or perhaps subordinates in a military unit. This enables detection of evil (Justice/Order), or simply detection of life (Eternity/Life). It also enables a Divine sort of lie detector test (Light/Truth). It may even be used to get clairvoyance or prophecy (Knowledge/Creativity).
Strength: This usage is called a Strain. In almost all cases, it is an internal boost, an imbuement of Divine power that strengthens the Gracemarked individual. The Gracemarked person may exhibit superhuman strength (Strength/Passion), which is no surprise. They may heal themselves by setting their bodies and wounds back to the way they should be (Justice/Order). They may receive special knowledge about how to do a particular thing they’ve never been trained for (Knowledge/Creativity). They can seem to slow time by dramatically increasing their reaction and movement speed for a brief period (Eternity/Life).
The exception to the internal rule is the Gracemark of Light/Truth, which enables single-target healing. These individuals use their strength of devotion to Strain on behalf of another in need.
Each Gracebrand has two powers associated with it, depending on the particular Aspect. Those with Light/Truth can Gaze as lie detectors and can Strain to heal others. Those with Nature/Growth can Gaze to track a target and Pulse to cure poison or disease.
Gracemarks enjoy access to all four types of powers associated with their particular Aspect. This, coupled with the fact that they cannot be tracked by and do not conform to the religious orders, makes their bearers persons of interest among the political and religious elite. Having a Gracemark in the Bordermarches means having a target on your head.
When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus surprised His questioners by providing two. He followed the first by saying, “And the second is like it:”
Love your neighbor as yourself.
What happens if a Gracemarked individual violates their personal morality or their religious order’s commands?
Is a Gracebrand or Gracemark license to do whatever you want with Divine power?
Gracebrands can be deactivated by the religious order. The specifics are not commonly known, but the religious orders police their own and punish those who violate the accepted teachings of their Aspect. The process leaves a scar in the place of the brand. This clearly identifies that the individual once held favor with the Divine or the religious orders but was stripped of their access to that power.
Gracemarks have at times been known to vanish as well. However, the religious orders do not have control over these marks, and the individuals who bear them are usually unwavering in their commitment to the ideals represented by their Aspect.
If a Gracemark vanishes, it leaves a scar just like a Gracebrand.
That captures most of the details of how the power of the Aspects of the Divine fits into the Bordermarches.
Of course, what would a fantasy setting be without evil? And what self-respecting evil power would not corrupt the good into their own twisted service? Next, I’ll cover the seven Daemons and the empowering Curses they bestow on those who follow their ways.
I saw this article and wondered what in the world we Christians are doing sometimes.
Seriously. “In the world, what are we doing?”
We live such neat little Christian lives, where we only listen to Christian radio or read from Christian media sources. Our Christian leaders in church and on Christian websites tell us what to think about all the stuff going on in the world. We can get together at our Christian coffee shop in the Christian version of Borders and compare Christian notes about the best-selling Christian fiction or self-help books. We’ll have Christian sports nights where we get together with all our Christian buddies and throw a football around. Maybe we’ll have Christian movie night, while the kidlets are in the back room watching VeggieTales (the good Christian ones from the old days with the Bible verses).
On the weekend, we’ll have Christian services (the good folks go to morning and evening service if available). And there’s the Wednesday night groups with good Christian activities for the kids. Don’t forget the Women’s Bible Study on Thursday morning and the Men’s Prayer Breakfast on Saturdays. Oh, and I can’t hang out Thursday night… Christian band practice, so we can jam to Christian music at Sunday’s service. But don’t miss the Friday night meeting where we talk about Christian politics and saving America and how candidates measure up in their support of Christian policies. (We won’t tell you how to vote. We’ll just tell you how they voted, and you can decide for yourselves at that point.)
Ok, I honestly don’t think any of those things, taken by themselves, are bad… even the political aspect. I’m no fan of the “Christian nation” idea, but if people are actually learning some of what is going on in the political realm, I think there’s a net gain. If people are being mis-informed to support a particular agenda, then that gets back to my point with all this.
Someone will ask, with the best intentions, “What about holiness?”
We are absolutely called to be holy. We can’t ignore that. But we’re also told to be “in the world yet not of it.”
Too often we solve the “not of it” by being “not in it.”
The Christian brands of everything are not going to make us “in the world yet not of it.” Though they may even be good competitive products, buying them doesn’t do anything for my spirituality.
If we mirror the culture around us–if we do almost everything people outside the church do, except we call our activities “Christian,” then I think we’re missing something important.
We can build up a fort to keep out the world.
We can isolate ourselves from everyone not us and insulate ourselves with Christian everything. We can hunker down like a family in the basement during a storm, trying to hang on in a culture some feel is steering farther and farther from traditional values. “Don’t go outside… it’s dangerous out there. In here, it’s safe. It’s Christian.”
Or we can build a home that welcomes the weary and refreshes their souls.
We could open our doors and our hearts. We could make our churches, our homes, and our very lives into places of refuge, where people can unload their burdens and find compassionate support.
We could show people we care less about cultural or political or religious views that divide us, and more about the person who has the views.
Instead of judging the person in trouble, we could extend a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on. We could roll up our sleeves and get dirty while meeting practical needs… not as some outreach program where we wash your car or give you a meal after we preach the gospel to you,
We could give someone a meal because they’re hungry, they need it, and we care about them more than the number of converts or new visitors our church gets this month.
Are we going to find out some ugly things about the world and life? Yes.
Are we going to deal with difficult situations where there are no real easy answers, no clear-cut Scripture verses we can parrot at the person? Yes.
Are our beliefs and our views going to be challenged? Absolutely. We might see a whole new side of the people we thought were against us. We might learn a completely different side of a political or cultural issue. We could be exposed to new thoughts we haven’t had before.
Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Everyone knows how dangerous thoughts can be.
I need someone to tell me which are the Christian ones I’m allowed to have.
I was playing Hide and Seek with my kids the other day. They’re quite talented, but I excel at cheating. While I was counting, I kept messing up… skipping numbers, counting past the agreed upon number, forgetting what number I was on.
That way, I got them to talk and tell me I was doing it wrong.
And them talking told me roughly where they were hiding.
Jonathan is the sneakiest of the bunch. Deborah and Justin do pretty good at hiding, but Jonathan–it’s like he can fold himself up into a little cube and hide anywhere. He’s a ninja.
True story: When he was seven years old, we had the following conversation:
“Dad, I think I want to be a scientist who studies rocks when I grow up. …or maybe a ninja.”
“Jonathan, that’s really neat. But being a ninja is hard.”
“I think I’d make a great ninja.”
“Really? Why is that?”
“Well… Ninjas have to be good at climbing, and I’m great at climbing. I climb the trees around our house better than any of the other kids.”
I knew this to be true.
“And ninjas have to be good at sneaking, and I’m great at sneaking. I was hiding in the bushes right next to my friend, and he didn’t even know I was there!”
He thinks for a moment.
“Ninjas have to be good at martial arts, too. I have to work on that.”
Back to Hide and Seek… Jonathan lurks in a cabinet. Jonathan climbs up on the shelves above the refrigerator. Jonathan squeezes himself into a small cabinet at the bottom of our entertainment center. It’s ridiculous how easily he hides anywhere he wants.
Then it’s my turn to hide, and I decide to have some fun. Justin (our seven year old) is now the “seeker,” so I make it easier on him. I try stuffing myself into the cabinet where Jonathan hid. Sadly, I’m a little pudgy compared to him, and so try as I might, I can’t quite fit in there. My head is sticking out.
But the point of Hide and Seek is to be found. That’s part of the fun.
In his book, God Chasers, Tommy Tenney writes about hide and seek with his daughters (if memory serves). And he equates the game of hide and seek to our relationship with God.
There are times when we seek God but He seems hidden, far removed, silent. Tenney talks about how he stays hidden while his daughters are enjoying the game, but there comes a point where they become desperate. Maybe Daddy has really left. Maybe he’s not here anymore. Maybe I’m all alone.
Their tears start to flow and their laughter turns to crying. And the heart of the father is stirred to make himself known, to burst out of hiding and rush to the child, to catch them up in his arms and reassure them that “I have been here all along. I would never leave you nor forsake you.”
Tenney talks about that cry of desperate need and how it catches the Father’s heart and, in a way, commands His attention.
Can you imagine God that way? Can you see the loving Father who sometimes hides His face? Can you picture the tug on His heart when we become desperate and cry out for Him? Can you see the “Hider” turning into the “Seeker” as He rushes to scoop us up and reassure us that all will work out, everything will be fine? Can you hear Him whisper, “It’s okay, I am here. I never left you, even though you didn’t know where I was.”
Hosea 10:12 was a theme verse for our church back in 2001 (if memory serves). We really focused on the thought that God is out there just waiting to be found, and as we live out righteousness and experience His lovingkindness and mercy, as we break up the hard ground of our hearts in our desperation for Him, we can trust that He will turn and respond to our cries. He will come and rain down His righteousness upon us.
“Draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you.”
“Seek the Lord while He may be found.”
“It is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness upon you.”
We seek God, calling out to Him… until we discover He is coming toward us — the father running out to meet the prodigal child — ready to embrace us and pour out His love on us again.
I always want to surrender to that love. I always want the “ground” of my heart to be broken up, softened, ready for His work. I always want Him to come and pour out the rain of His Spirit over me.
We are each a display case for God’s glory. We are meant to be a visible image of the invisible God.
This leads to two questions for personal reflection:
1) What sort of case am I?
I always make the mistake of going to the store hungry. I go with five or ten things in mind and leave with a basket full of everything that looked good. I have one dinner plan figured out and intend to buy what I need to make it, but suddenly I have a week of meals planned (and not a few snacks).
Most of the time, I hesitate to try new things. I know what I like and I stick with it.
My wife is a bit more brave.
She’ll come home with a new product and open the package, ready to give it a chance.
And immediately she gets upset.
“Are you kidding me? They needed this huge bag for that little bit? Half the bag is empty! And look at this box! It has three inches of empty space at the top! What did I spend my money on?!”
The outside doesn’t always reflect what’s within.
The gimmick of false advertising is true in other areas of life. Things aren’t always what they seem.
The display case isn’t there to attract attention. It’s meant to reveal what’s inside. But sometimes our ‘displays’ can be calculated to look good, drawing the eyes of the audience to us instead of to God.
Imagine going to a museum for a once-in-a-lifetime exhibit. You pay your money, get your tickets in hand, and head inside. When you get to the viewing room, you’re treated to a series of gold-layered, jewel-encrusted, ornately crafted cases. They’re so extravagantly decorated that you can’t even see the contents. Sure, they look great, but what’s the point?
Jesus spoke of the hypocritical Pharisees as whitewashed tombs made to look pretty but full of death and uncleanness. They were cups washed on the outside to look useful but full of spiritual dirt and grime. They did their good deeds for people to see, so that everyone knew how holy they supposedly were.
Sure, they looked great, but they missed the point.
The case can attract attention in another way.
A few years back, we heard about a zoo on Okinawa, and we were excited to take the kids to see the variety of animals. Our kids had not been to any stateside zoos yet, so this was a unique experience for them. We arrived and started the tour through all the various pens and cages, and they were delighted to see living animals they had previously only read about.
But my wife and I were shocked.
The cages were dirty. Most of the animals seemed miserable. The grounds appeared untended. Our kids didn’t know any better, but we had seen well-kept zoos before.
We couldn’t enjoy the sights because the poor condition of the displays stole our attention from the animals we came to see.
Paul wrote about vessels and containers in a house. He said some were made for honor and some for dishonor. Paul encouraged his protégé to live a godly life and thus be recognized as a vessel of honor.
A friend of mine modernized this analogy by talking about porcelain.
“A Lladro figurine is made of porcelain, and so is the toilet. Which would you aspire to be compared to?”
If the display case is covered with filth, or if it’s covered with dust from lack of attention, no one will see what’s within. Inside, there may be great treasure or beauty, but the ugliness on the outside keeps people away.
I think of the many times I have seen people pushed away from the gospel by the hatred, pride, or condescension of the messengers. Similarly, one grave mistake or angry word can ruin our reputation and close the door of opportunity to share the good news.
Sometimes we need to dust off that display case!
We don’t want fake “picture perfect” lives or public good deeds to become a misleading distraction. But we also don’t want people to refuse to look closer based on the mess they see on the outside.
That leads to the second question:
2) What is on display in my life?
Military veterans are often presented a “shadow box” upon retirement. The design and contents of the shadow box tell the whole story of a military career. All the awards and medals the individual won will be displayed. Rank insignia occupy a prominent spot. Unit patches may be shown, and various emblems or badges that identify specialties will also be featured. A folded flag is often the centerpiece.
Imagine a beautiful hand-carved wooden case with a rich varnish that shines in the light. There’s an engraved golden plate on the bottom with rank, name, date of enlistment, and date of retirement. Underneath that is a funny quote selected by friends and peers. The pristine glass window reveals a lush navy blue velvet interior.
And it’s empty.
Or worse yet, the few medals and stripes leave more navy blue empty space than they cover up.
What achievements are in my shadow box, I wonder.
Are they all based on what I used to be long ago? “I used to lead worship… I went on that missions trip one time… I led a Bible study for a few months…”
Are the contents of my display case even worthy of public viewing?
Think of the peril of public ministry. Far too often, we see the decline and fall of some notable preacher as the secret doors of their ‘display case’ are opened for all to see. It’s easy for me to point a finger and judge. My life isn’t in the public eye.
Yet the world around me is walking past the exhibition of my life every single day. Is there something in that case that tugs at their attention? Is there anything of value, anything of interest? Or do they only see what they’ve seen before?
The display case isn’t made just to hold stuff from years past. It’s not made for great achievements I will do “someday.” And there’s no secret compartment that is completely hidden from the eyes of others.
What sort of case am I setting out for the world to see?
What have I put within it?
I was made to be a visible image of God, an exhibition for the eyes of the world to see His glory.
My daughter’s neighborhood friend asked me this on the way home from church. She recently declared her faith–or perhaps her desire to go everywhere with my daughter, based on other experiences dealing with her.
I’m skeptical about this decision she made. I’d like to know more about what exactly she “accepted” and what she understands.
I’m not overly fond of “Yay, I made a decision and prayed a prayer, now I’m saved forever from hell and I live however I want because Jesus!”
But the question was a good one, regardless of how deep or sincere the faith may be that asked it.
It’s also a trick question, at least as far as Christianity is concerned.
There are a few passages that try to paint an image of God.
And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. – Daniel 7:9 NASB
2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. 3 And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. – Revelation 4:2-3 NASB
So God is like white snow and surrounded by something like flames giving off light… He is like this gemstone… but like that one… but there’s this rainbow like a different gemstone all around… light and brightness and radiance and…
That’s not very helpful if I wanted to draw a picture of Him.
From the beginning of Scripture, God’s people are routinely commanded that they should make no idol or graven image.
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” Exodus 20:4-5 NASB
23 So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the Lord your God has commanded you. – Deuteronomy 4:23 NASB
Other nations had representations of their various gods. They could point to a statue and say, “That’s what Dagon looks like, see how powerful he is?”
The only thing Israel can point to is a testimony of what God has done for them.
They can point to a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud that led them out of Egypt. They can point to signs and wonders performed by Moses. They can point back to provision and blessing through Joseph, through Jacob, through Isaac, through Abraham.
But they can’t point to a picture or an image or a statue and say, “Here’s what God looks like.”
Neither can I when I answer this young lady.
I know why I can’t point to a statue, but I leave it out of my answer to her.
My friends who are not Christians often point to God’s jealousy about idols and ask, “What kind of petty God has to be jealous? Is that really the God you serve?”
The writings of the Prophets in the Old Testament of the Bible often reveal God’s sarcasm and loathing of idols. They help explain a bit of why God is so jealous about this issue.
“I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.”
Isaiah 42:8 NASB
Later, Isaiah writes about the folly of idols. A man works and toils to fashion an image made of metal, and sets it up in his house. Then he falls down to worship the thing he just made, crying out to it for deliverance. Another man cuts down a tree and takes half the log for daily needs – a fire for warmth and for cooking. Then he takes the other half, carves an image, and says, “You are my god!”
That is what frustrates God: taking the created thing and making it into a god that competes for the glory due the Creator.
That’s nice to know, but it doesn’t answer the question of what God looks like.
For thousands of years, Israel goes on believing in a God that they cannot describe in a picture or represent in a figure. They can only point back to acts of God in their history, or moments where they believe God showed up in storming clouds over Mount Sinai, or in a fire from heaven, or in a powerful glory that filled the Most Holy Place in the Temple.
Then along comes Jesus, who says things like:
“I and the Father are one.” John 10:30
“He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” John 14:9 NASB
More than that, Jesus makes it clear that the reason behind His statement is because the people see Jesus doing what the Father directs Him to do. Again, seeing what God looks like is not about the physical representation, but about a testimony of what God did.
So the answer to the young lady’s question becomes, “Jesus!”
Typically, in Sunday School as a child, if you didn’t know the answer to a question, ‘Jesus’ was a safe bet.
Colossians 1:15 bears this out. “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God.”
John 1:18 adds, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He [Jesus] has explained Him.”
Sweet, so now we know that God looks like Jesus.
Problem: where do I find Jesus?
Seriously, if Jesus is what God looks like, that still doesn’t give me a present-day answer to the question. It’s not like He’s walking around today in Jerusalem. In fact, if you DO hear that He’s walking around offering Kool-Aid or inviting you to His church in Waco, Texas, run away.
We assume we can find Him in the Scriptures; we can learn what He said and read about what He did. In so doing, we get something of a picture for ourselves of what God looks like.
Jesus attests to this in His rebuke of the Pharisees:
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. – John 5:39-40 NASB
But that’s very personal. That’s an internal concept of what God looks like.
What do we point to if someone else wants to see God?
For that, I would say:
Look in the mirror.
If Christ is in you, then you are-practically speaking-the visible image of the invisible God.
I have to caveat that in multiple ways, because religion leaves so much room for mis-communication. I’m not suggesting that everyone automatically reflects Christ. I’m not suggesting that every Christian automatically reflects Christ. I’m not downplaying the evil men do in the name of religion, nor am I attributing the blame for the terrible choices of men to a holy and just God.
Consider what these verses have to say:
No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
1John 4:12 NASB
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NASB
6 For God, who said, “ Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NASB
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 NASB
The ideal, the intended result of your salvation is that you become a display case. You become a “vessel of honor” that is designed not for its own glory but to carry something worthy of worship.
You have been called, chosen, redeemed at a great price.
This was done for a purpose.
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9
If ever you doubt your value, go look in the mirror and remember that God chose and crafted you and sent His Son to die for you, so that you could be His visible image for the world today.
15 And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” (Acts 19:13,15 NASB)
There’s this whole “Wawagate” thing going on in the news lately…
Well, in some news outlets, I guess.
A reporter on MSNBC showed a video of Mitt Romney giving a speech. In it, he talked about this “amazing” experience of going to a restaurant, tapping a few buttons on a touch screen, and like magic, your sandwich is being made. The video was very reminiscent of the old story of President George H. W. Bush seeming to express surprise at a checkout cashier’s scanner in a grocery store. The implication the reporter made was similar. “Mitt Romney is out of touch. He’s a wealthy politician who is far removed from the average person’s experience.”
Turns out the video was heavily edited, going from about three minutes to about 30 seconds.
In the unedited video, the candidate makes a completely different point. He’s not talking about how amazing it is to order food off a touch screen. He’s comparing the technological efficiency of the private sector to the paperwork bureaucracy and inefficiency of government.
It’s quite a different video if you don’t cut out 80 percent of it.
Some of my co-workers and friends like to discuss religion, and one of those discussions prompted a few questions that need answers.
Did Jesus really command obedience to the 613 rules found in the Law of Moses?
Did Jesus mean it when He said our righteousness had to exceed that of the Pharisees in order to get to Heaven?
Was Paul completely wrong about all he wrote concerning the Law and the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Does modern Christianity claim the writings of Paul trump the teachings of our Savior?
I’ve been addressing some of the differences and similarities between Paul and Jesus in this series, and now I’d like to answer the remaining questions from the introduction:
Are we terrible Christians who don’t even follow the faith we claim? Aren’t we failing to obey God, and thus damning ourselves to hell?
And aren’t we simply picking and choosing parts of the Bible we like while ignoring parts we don’t?
“Paul isn’t Jesus, so if Jesus says one thing and Paul another, Paul loses.”
I was not impressed by MSNBC’s video editing skills. I admit, the video looked pretty clear-cut. It was all in order, and the way it was edited, the story made sense.
But it was still a gross misrepresentation of what actually happened.
That’s why I don’t like the way these questions view Paul and Jesus.
The Apostle Paul stood before the Twelve in Acts 14 and explained what he had been teaching to the Gentiles. Paul ran his ministry by the guys who had spent three years in direct contact with Jesus Christ. He did this to ensure that his teaching lined up with the Apostles, and to make sure they knew exactly what God was doing in and through him.
No, Paul wasn’t Jesus. But using that as an excuse to ignore everything Paul wrote is the same as editing away 80 percent of a video and calling it accurate news reporting.
Paul’s epistles have been a part of Christianity ever since the first century. His teaching was foundational in the early church. His opinions and doctrine were evaluated by those who knew best what sounded like Jesus and what didn’t measure up.
And if you have faith, Paul’s understanding came from revelation given directly by God.
What sort of Christians would we be if we blew all of that off simply because Paul wasn’t Jesus?
As best as we understand it, Jesus didn’t write down His teaching in a neat and tidy Gospel for us. (Well, again, unless you have faith to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, Jesus didn’t do this.)
So what we have in the Gospels are accounts written by witnesses or by writers interviewing witnesses. I suppose since Luke and John aren’t Jesus, we should also throw out anything they have to say, by the same logic as what’s been presented to me.
I find that faulty.
Throwing Paul out is unnecessary. As I’ve tried to point out in the previous posts, it’s better to understand how his teachings and the words of Jesus align. They’re saying essentially the same core message. It’s just that the timing and audiences require two vastly different approaches.
Despite what my friends might think, we are not horrible Christians as a result of our adherence to the whole Bible and our willingness to reconcile the different messages. On the contrary, we would be horrible Christians if we ignored what Paul wrote. His teachings are central to the Christian faith, tying the Old Testament promises to the New Testament fulfillment and making all of the work of Christ abundantly clear.
And since it is also clear that Jesus didn’t really mean for us to follow the example of the Pharisees, or to follow a Law that He came to fulfill, we are not damning ourselves to hell by supposedly ignoring our Savior’s words on the subject.
And neither do we pick and choose which words of Jesus apply, whether they come from one of the Gospel writers or from Paul’s letters.
Jesus says a lot that we would do well to pay attention to.
We do not have license to sin wherever, however, whenever we want. Jesus reminds those to whom He ministers, “Go and sin no more.” More than that, His parables show us how we ought to live. He tells us that we’ll be known by what we do, no matter how much we say “Lord, Lord!” And He reminds us that what matters most is how we treat “the least of these,” those who most need love and care.
Paul likewise argues with those who would claim we have freedom to do whatever we please. He wrote that we should use our freedom to go do good, and not to return to a bondage to sin. Paul encourages us to set aside all the best the world has to offer and to ignore the worst the world throws at us, all for the purpose of knowing Christ. “Everything is permissible, but I will not be mastered by anything. Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.”
You can have recording and editing software. Just be sure to use it in support of the truth, not to cut something up and make it what it was never intended to be.
Paul vs. Jesus is a contrived conflict; it’s the edited video missing most of the important parts. It sells well to a particular crowd, sure. You can watch and believe it, if that’s the reality if you want.
Just don’t call it accurate.
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.