Tuesday, October 25, 2005

more than words

Saying I love you
Is not the words I want to hear from you
It's not that I want you
Not to say, but if you only knew
How easy it would be to show me how you feel
More than words is all you have to do to make it real
Then you wouldn't have to say that you love me
’Cause I'd already know
What would you do if my heart was torn in two?
More than words to show you feel
That your love for me is real
What would you say if I took those words away?
Then you couldn't make things new
Just by saying I love you
More than words
Now I've tried to talk to you and make you understand
All you have to do is close your eyes
And just reach out your hands and touch me
Hold me close don't ever let me go
More than words is all I ever needed you to show
Then you wouldn't have to say that you love me
’Cause I'd already know
What would you do if my heart was torn in two?
More than words to show you feel
That your love for me is real
What would you say if I took those words away?
Then you couldn't make things new
Just by saying I love you
More than words

More than Words
by Extreme, 1990

It goes like this:

Long ago in many ways and at many times God's prophets spoke his message to our ancestors. But now at last, God sent his Son to bring his message to us. God created the universe by his Son, and everything will someday belong to the Son.

Hebrews 1:1-2, Contemporary English Version

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:16-17, New International Version

Monday, October 24, 2005

moonshine

The one use of the Bible is to make us look at Jesus, that through Him we might know His Father and our Father, His God and our God. Till we thus know Him, let us hold the Bible dear as the moon of our darkness, by which we travel towards the east; not dear as the sun whence her light cometh, and towards which we haste, that, walking in the sun Himself, we may no more need the mirror that reflects His absent brightness.

- George MacDonald,
Unspoken Sermons Series One, The Higher Faith,
London: Alexander Strahan, 1867

Sunday, October 23, 2005

no tears in heaven

I have trouble imagining heaven, for I have trouble imagining a place with no tears and no sadness. What's more I don't want to imagine a heaven with no tears, for it is by the tears and the sadness that I have come to truly know Jesus. Even the melancholy melodies I believe to be the very echoes of the heavenly chorus beckon to me of a place of passion, a place where I can still be moved. And still cry.

Friday, October 14, 2005

the ass and his shadow

A TRAVELER hired an Ass to convey him to a distant place. The day being intensely hot, and the sun shining in its strength, the Traveler stopped to rest, and sought shelter from the heat under the Shadow of the Ass. As this afforded only protection for one, and as the Traveler and the Owner of the Ass both claimed it, a violent dispute arose between them as to which of them had the right to the Shadow. The Owner maintained that he had let the Ass only, and not his Shadow. The Traveler asserted that he had, with the hire of the Ass, hired his Shadow also. The quarrel proceeded from words to blows, and while the men fought, the Ass galloped off.

And the moral to the story is: In quarreling about the shadow we often lose the substance.

So says ÆSOP. But I could come up with a completely different moral: Contracts should be well defined, even written, to avoid disputes arising from ambiguity. Or again: Don't travel on a hot day unless you have a particularly large Ass. Or again: Never count on your Ass to provide you with shade. Or again: Never rent, always own.

And which is right? Which is the meaning? We could take up sides and argue over the absolute meaning or even the shades of it. But, ironically, we will have lost the substance (that is, if there ever was a substance), for this is the trouble with extracting a point or a moral from a story: we bring a bias to a story if we think that there is a point to it. Our bias is our proviso that the author writes the story to make a point.

But modern men love ÆSOP because he tells you the point right there at the end of the story. And ultimately, isn't that the right answer? My points are nice, but wrong. The author is right because the author is the authority. We like that. But this betrays something about us. We think that story exists to make point, that morality is the father of episode. Surely ÆSOP saw it that way. We think that the way everything should work is this: Author has point to make. Needs way to make it. Tells story. If good author, tells point in end to avoid quarrels and wars among hearers.

And that's what we don't like about God. He is the Author. He had a point to make. He needed a way to make it. He told this Story that is recorded in the Bible. But he's not a very good author by our definition, because he didn't tell us the point at the end. Consequently we war and quarrel and probably miss the substance for the shadow. Just look at all the interpretations and divisions. In fact by this definition, God is beyond being a lousy author—he is an evil author, for

He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts,
So they can neither see with their eyes,
Nor understand with their hearts,
Nor turn—and I would heal them.

John 12:40

He even obscured the point by speaking in parables so that some would not understand, and would be afflicted in sickness and confusion. But we are betrayed, not by God, but by the poison apple we have swallowed: God as the Great Pointer.

I think we've feasted on a philosophy for who knows how long that led us to believe that the purpose of our existence is to implement enough of God's points to make Him happy. Or another variation: that because God loves us he has pointed out for us the things that will make us happy. And if we don't get the point, we're not trying hard enough, or we're sinful or something. There are other variations, too, but you get the point: God intends something for us, so He told us a story or a series of stories in order that we would get the point. So we argue over what is the point of the Story. Is it obedience? Discipline? Authority? Forgiveness? Righteousness? Justice? Mercy? Redemption? Restoration? Love? Or are those all valid points? No matter what our final destination is, we are still traveling over trails through the kingdom of the Great Pointer.

My children and I wanted to show how much we loved a certain person, for who she is and for the good she does. So for the formal launch of her ministry we put on a play. I wrote the script. Each child had a part. I recorded it as they acted it out. Everyone inside and outside the play thoroughly enjoyed it. There were some stellar performances and some goof ups. There was no moral to the story. The story was not the shadow but the substance. The story itself conveyed our love and respect for one person, allowed us to enjoy doing something together, and pulled in the others who were witnessing it, so they too could share in the joy.

To me this is more like God. The Father wants to tell a story, so he recruits kids to play different roles. Some are heroes, some are villains. Some walk in the light, some are confused. Some are not who they seem, as the story reveals in its unfolding. His Story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Some parts make you laugh, some make you cry. Some parts are encouraging, others disappointing. Some things seem to have gone rather badly, but end in glory and beauty. Some things seem glorious and grand all along but end suddenly and bitterly. And each part of the story will be as rich with meaning as the Writer, and will affect each person observing it or living it in some unique way.

In my case I took into account the players before I wrote the script, but I don't know if God does that or not. Maybe He thinks of the roles first and then auditions players for the parts, or maybe He thinks of the characters first and then thinks of how the story should flow. Maybe it's a mixture. Or maybe He's just so smart that it doesn't matter which way He does it, and it will work out to please Him in the end. I'll leave that to paid professionals. I resolve not to know the answer to that, but I resolve to know beyond the shadow of an Ass that the story is the point. When all is said and done, we will all have to give an account for how we played our role, not how we understood the story. We are travelers, not arguers.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

if God had a diary, how would it read?

If God had a diary, how would it read? What would he record? Where would he keep it so it wouldn’t get lost? Who would he trust with its secrets?

Part of the trouble with the Bible is that we try to make it something it's not. The bible doesn't read like a theology textbook or a handbook on church government. It's not presented that way. No, if you want to use it like that, you have to add an index. There's a book called Nave's Topical Bible, that organizes the Bible by topic so that you can look up love or forgiveness or mercy or anger or leadership, for example, and then you thumb through the entire Bible picking up bits and pieces. Nothing against Nave's, but it shows how different the bible is from a topical handbook.

Whether God ever intended us to pull out propositional truth from the bible or not, to find out "What the Bible says about..." must be gleaned. And that can be a lot of work. That keeps ordained ministers, priests, apologists, preachers, and professors busy, although with computers and a little creativity many tools have been developed today that make that a much more efficient pursuit. Nothing against preachers and other workers who will spend their lives diving for hidden treasures and sharing them with us, but it again shows how different the bible is from an encyclopedia.

This is not to say that the bible doesn't record specific and clear commands from God or that it has no authority. It does. But the Bible reads less like an owner's manual, text book, encyclopedia, rule book, or even a letter than it does a journal. There are letters in there. And there are instructions like you would find in a Final Will and Testament. And occasionally there are discussions of topics like you would find in a textbook. But as a whole, the bible is way too patchy to be called any of these things.

The Lord said to Abraham, 'Leave your country...'

After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, 'Send me back to my own homeland...'

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.

Moses answered, 'What if they do not believe me?'...Then the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?"

These were the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan Aram...

Then the LORD said to Cain, 'Where is your brother Abel?'
'I don’t know,' he replied. 'Am I my brother’s keeper?'
The LORD said, 'What have you done?...'

The person to be cleansed must wash his clothes, shave off all his hair and bathe with water; then he will be ceremonially clean...On the seventh day he must shave off all his hair; he must shave his head, his beard, his eyebrows and the rest of his hair.

Do not steal.
Do not lie.
Do not deceive one another.
Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God.
I am the LORD.
Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him.
Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.
Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God.
I am the LORD.
Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
Do not go about spreading slander among your people.
Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life.
I am the LORD.
Do not hate your brother in your heart.
Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.
Keep my decrees.
Do not mate different kinds of animals.
Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.

Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

A farmer went out to sow his seed...

Jesus said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Love must be sincere.
Hate what is evil.
Cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.
Honor one another above yourselves.

I hope you will put up with a little of my foolishness; but you are already doing that.

I got a book for my birthday by Howard Garrett about Texas Trees. It's beautifully illustrated and organized like I would expect to find a book with ready information for nurturing and growing trees in Texas. Well, then. If the Bible is a reference book loaded with tips and quotes and formulas for nurturing and growing successful Christians, why isn't it organized anything like that at all?! It's a real patchwork collection like...like a journal...a diary. To me, this doesn't diminish it at all! To me this just reinforces what Jesus told me: God is a person who wants to know and be known by me. He's not the Great Prime Mover or The Ultimate Cause. And that's why he gave me a journal, not a policy manual.

The Bible records for us things that happen as men and women walk with God. Some things they say and do and think are added to the journal. Some things God says and does and thinks are added to the journal. Some things are profound and jump off the page, causing a riot in the heart - "Let My people go!" - but some things seem trivial and superfluous, "...from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud; from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur; from Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni; from Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai; from Asher, Pagiel son of Ocran; from Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel; from Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan..." Surely everything David or Abraham did is not in the bible. Surely everything God thought is not in the bible. How could they be? What is in there is what God thought would be good to add to His journal, just like what is in my journal is what I thought would be good to add to it.

So where would God keep his journal so it wouldn't get lost? I was amazed with the durability of the bible through the ages when I read Josh McDowell's Evidence that Demands a Veredict. Of course I didn't think that proved the bible was right just because it outlasted conquerors, kings, generations, revolutions, fires, floods, famines, and even the dark ages (and it certainly didn't make me want to worship it). But the fact that it is the most reliable of any ancient text by any modern standard does send a chill up my spine and make me think maybe God chose a safe spot to keep His own journal so that it could finish serving its purposes. (And I admit that I didn't read much more of Josh's book after the part about the bible being durable--that was back when he was too long winded, and he put me to sleep).

Finally, who would God trust with his secrets? Somewhere in God's journal he says that he won't do anything without revealing it to his prophets. You only share your journal with your most intimate friends. I mean, an enemy may discover it, and may even figure out how to use your own journal against you, but there are just some mysterious things in there that only a friend would understand, and maybe some things that even a friend wouldn't understand at first, but would after going through some stuff together. "Abraham trusted God...and he was called God's friend." When it comes right down to it, only the person who believes you, who believes in you, who trusts you gets to be your friend and share the secrets of your journal.

The more I think about it the more I'm convinced that the bible is God's very own journal, at least it's the one he shares with the inhabitants of the earth. Whether He has another one or not I don't know. Maybe somewhere up above He's keeping one and adding new entries right now. I have heard of people in the past and even the present who He whispers things to, and reveals even more of His thoughts, and I am interested to know if He ever intends to write those down as well.

Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!
I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!

-Job

Job hoped that God would journal the words of his life, and it worked out for him. Maybe it will work out for me, too. For now, I love the thought that God trusted me to read his journal, and I even understand some of it. I hope it becomes even more precious to me as we go through more stuff together. From what I've seen so far, I think it will.