The Great UP-cycler

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photo from MarthaStewart.com

So there’s a notion that’s been bouncing around evangelical Christianity for a while that God is into recycling. I’m not talking cardboard here, I’m talking pasts. The idea is that God is able to redeem and use our pasts for His purposes when we put our trust in Him. While that is spot on, the idea of the “recycling” metaphor has always bothered me. ¬†You see, when something is recycled, it’s generally destroyed. Paper is pulped. Plastics and metals are melted down. Though it’s always remade into something, the original item is lost. For example, I have a t-shirt that was made from plastic bottles. It looks like a regular cotton t-shirt, nary a bottle in sight. ūüôā It’s a nice shirt, but what constitutes the shirt is completely lost. And, in this case, that’s okay. (Can’t imagine walking around sporting a 6-pack of Dasani.) But the point is that at the end of the day, when something is recycled, it ceases to exist on its own in its original form.

In my experience, the same cannot be said for my past. God hasn’t pulped it. He has pulped the sinful part, if you will–the part that created the chasm between He and I that only Christ could bridge. Absolutely. And it won’t be recycled or reconstituted. It’s gone. But the rest of the experience is still there. The lessons learned. The memories. All there. Not pulped. Not reconstituted. In short, NOT recycled. However, they have been UP-cycled.

Up-cycling is taking something and making it better. Sometimes it is used for a different purpose, sometimes it is used for the original purpose but is more beautiful or more efficient. For example, a recycled jar will be crushed, melted down and made into some other glass object. An UP-cycled jar will become a candle holder you hang from a tree in your back yard to offer light on a cool summer evening. (Especially if you happen to be Martha Stewart.) A broken plate becomes jewelry, a cardboard box becomes a desk organizer or even a mini scrapbook album.  Yet, whatever the items become, they are never completely destroyed. Instead, what they were becomes integral to what they become.

When I think back over my life, there are many parts that make me wince a bit. Foolish choices. Dumb decisions. Words I can’t take back. Comments I can’t “un-hear.” There are parts, too, that I’d like to call back and celebrate a little more. It’s all there. And it’s all me. Every experience, good or bad, has shaped me and made me who I am. Now, who I am is not who I am becoming. But I don’t think God has any intention of recycling my past, because He has no intention of losing the “me” that’s been created and shaped through all those experiences. What He has done, and what He continues to do, is upcyle me. He’s making me into something better and more beautiful than I am. He’s taking those experiences and reframing them–it’s not about the sin anymore, that’s gone; it’s about the lesson learned. He’s allowing me to become both a student and a teacher. There are lessons I’m still learning and lessons I can now teach because I have learned them. He adds His fingerprints, His Spirit, His righteousness and takes me from being a jar containing garbage to a jar-turned-candle-holder giving off His light. The “me” at the core is still very much there, integral to the “me” I’m becoming. It’s upcycling. And He’s the greatest Upcycler in history. Just ask Joseph from the Old Testament or Paul from the New Testament. Ask Augustine of Hippo, or Martin Luther. Ask John Newton or GK Chesterton. Or hey, just ask me. I’m not as brilliant as those fellows, but I’m alive….and I’m being upcycled by the Great Upcycler.

Just a little something to ponder….

Cheers!

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Life Lessons from My Dog

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So let me start by stating outright that I have an extremely quirky dog. She fits in very well around here and we wouldn’t trade her for anything. But, there are times when she makes me shake my head and wonder about her (and my) sanity. Today, however, as I was shaking my head, a little voice whispered, “you know, there’s a lesson in this….”

Let me explain.

Toni (that’s her call name) loves to follow me around. She wants to be in any room I happen to be in. ¬†Her favorite room, by far, is the craft room. (Clearly, she’s my dog….) She loves to follow me in there because she knows that she’ll get several hours of uninterrupted sleep in safety and security. That’s why she follows me around. I’m her pack leader and protector. (Basenjis live in matriarchal packs. My poor husband is merely the guy that takes her for a walk.) ūüėČ So this is the way it goes, she’s my shadow…until I go Downstairs.

The first floor of our house is a light-filled, airy environment. I spend quite a bit of time down there photographing projects, eating meals, chatting with friends, ¬†playing games with the family, and just living life in general. It’s the hub of our home. It is also the scariest place in the world for Toni. ¬†Downstairs is full of unusual sounds like dishwashers and refrigerators and garage doors. It’s home to the scary smells of strangers and dogs who used to live here and foods that aren’t so tasty in the Basenji’s book. So, Toni will follow me anywhere as long as it doesn’t involve going Downstairs.

When I head down the stairs, Toni follows me to the top of the stairs and then sits down and observes. She peeks around the bannister to see if I’m eating, or what I’m doing. ¬†Sometimes she’ll even come down the stairs about halfway on her own. But if I want her to come down all the way (say to eat breakfast or dinner), I have to start in with the coaxing and calling. My son suggested that we put her food and water bowls at the bottom of the stairs, so that she can eat and run if you will. My response: “No son, she has to learn to trust me.” (Do you see where this is going?)

It’s a pretty obvious lesson really, but how often do I relate to God like Toni relates to me? I’m willing to follow Him as long as He goes to places that I want to go. I’ll follow Him into those places that bring feelings of security. I’m happy to just sit and bask in His presence as long as I feel safe. BUT, when He starts going to those scary places–places full of hard lessons, strange sights, scary sounds–well, then I would rather just sit and wait until He comes back to where I am.

When Toni comes down the stairs, she gets fed. She gets to lay in the sunshine (one of her all time favorite activities). She gets treats. Coming Downstairs is a good thing. When I follow God into the places that are scary and stretching, He gives me good things, too. I learn to trust Him. He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. I get to find Him, to lean on Him, to grow in Him. He protects me and keeps me safe. And yet, while I know all of these things, I would too often rather sit at the top of the stairs and observe. But, you know what? He’s not going to bring my food bowls to me. I have to learn to trust Him. Unlike me, God is infinitely patient. Where I eventually get frustrated with all the calling and coaxing to get Toni to come and eat, God patiently calls me. He knows that when I get hungry enough, I’ll come down. He knows that my deepest desire is to be where He is. Sometimes He picks me up and carries me, and other times He just keeps calling until I finally come down on my own.

But it all comes down to this: either I trust Him or I don’t. Today, I’ve decided to go Downstairs. (I’m hoping that Toni will decide that, too. But if she doesn’t, there’s always tomorrow!)

Knowledge of the Holy: part 11

One last thought on Tozer before moving on to Grace:

Acquaint thyself with God.

That is all.

Knowledge of the Holy: part 7

“In this world where men forget us, change their attitude toward us as their private interests dictate, and revise their opinion of us for the slightest cause, is it not a sources of wondrous strength to know that the God with whom we have to do changes not? ¬†That His attitude toward us now is the same as it was in eternity past and will be in eternity to come?” (53)

A friend of mine often speaks about the “toxic atmosphere” of Washington, DC. ¬†He, of course, is not referencing our smog and impure water. ¬†Rather he is speaking of the inordinate ambition, the break-neck pace, the language of deceit that has become the deadly ocean in which we who live here now swim–or maybe have always swum.

Washington is undeniably the city of power. ¬†In her book on Washington, Meg Greenfield wrote that DC is much like high school where popularity and power drives everything we do. ¬†Indeed, she notes with irony, you probably can’t find a higher concentration of high school and class presidents anywhere else in the world. ¬†For some of us, high school represented one of the most insecure times in our lives. ¬†Not only were we changing physically, but everything around us–our environment, our culture, our norms–were changing as well. ¬†In short, life was a roller coaster. ¬†Yet the inherent excitement of such rapid change was more often than not overshadowed by the fear that maybe life wasn’t a roller coaster so much as a ship lost at sea, no moorings, no bearings, no captain. ¬†Life in Washington often resurfaces and does little to quell this fear.

Enter the Immutable, Self-sufficient, Self-sustaining God. ¬†Tozer says that immutability is one of the easier attributes of God for us to grasp. ¬†It is certainly one that God plainly proclaims from Genesis to Revelation. ¬†Still, I think while we may grasp the concept of immutability in theory, in reality we rarely live as if it were true of God. ¬†Like Job, we wonder where God has gone. ¬†When a prayer isn’t answered or life seems out of control, we begin to wonder if perhaps God is not as interested in us as He used to be, or maybe we’ve angered Him and so He loves us less. ¬†After all, how often do we treat others that way–withholding grace or forgiveness because we’re a bit ticked off at the moment. ¬†Again, we confuse the Creator with His creature.

Yet God cannot change. ¬†In fact, the concept of change is absolutely antithetical to the attributes, the essence of God. ¬†If we cannot find God, it is not He who has moved. It is ironic that, even within the Christian church, people often contrast the “God of the Old Testament” with the “God of the New Testament.” ¬†Think about it. ¬†The way we often discuss God is completely absurd. ¬†The God who loves us enough to die for us is the same God who allowed entire peoples to be wiped from the planet, or allowed nations to conquer and enslave His own chosen ones. ¬†These aren’t two different gods. ¬†This is not a god who, over time, somehow grew in love and diminished in wrath and vengeance. ¬†He is the immutable, self-sufficient, eternal, infinite, Creator God. ¬†He loved perfectly then, as He loves now. ¬†He hated sin thoroughly then, as He does now.

In the toxic atmosphere in which we live, it is the immutable God who constantly provides us the rarified air we need to survive.  He is our pole star, our true north.  Like the waves of the sea on which Peter walked, the vicissitudes of this life will always be around to throw us off-balance.  But when we grab the hand of God, which is always extended, the changes become less like overwhelming waves and more like ripples that make the surface of life a little more interesting, a little more beautiful.

Thought: how does knowing God’s immutability affect the way you think about and react to the craziness in your own life?

Knowledge of the Holy: part 6

“God never hurries. ¬†There are no deadlines against which He must work….For those out of Christ, time is a devouring beast; before the sons of the new creation time crouches and purrs and licks their hands” (47).

Tozer has taken great pains to emphasize the boundless nature of God.  He is not bounded by time, he is eternal. He is not bounded by space, he is infinite.  I think we often give a nod to this boundlessness, but without thinking through its implications.

We talk about the “boundless” universe, when all we really mean is “big.” ¬†Or to use one of Tozer’s examples, we speak of a person showing “infinite” patience, when what we really mean is that the person has more patience than I would in that given situation.¬†And I think somehow we impute these very bounded ideas of “boundless” to God–who truly is infinite and boundless. ¬†Unlike the universe, with God there is no end (or beginning), not even speculatively.

Tozer takes us through the implication of God’s infinitude in terms of our time. ¬†Though we are not God, nor the stuff of God, he has put eternity into our hearts. ¬†When we are in Christ we, too, live in unbounded time. ¬†How stressed I get trying to cram everything I can into these 80 or so years I’ve been given to live on this globe. ¬†Yet what Tozer says is that ultimately because God has created us for eternity, we don’t have to cram everything in. We are not bounded by time.

Think about it! ¬†We have eternity to explore who we are in God. ¬†We needn’t rush through it here. ¬†We can “taste and see that God is good” because we really aren’t going to miss out on something else. ¬†How often do we swallow life without savoring it? ¬†How often do we rush through moments where the God the Holy Spirit is trying to commune with us and reveal himself to us, ¬†all so that we can get on with the “weightier” matters of the day? ¬†How convicting, but how liberating. ¬†We don’t have to live a life of hurry and worry.

Thought:  how would you do life differently if you had all the time in the world?  (Because, guess what, you do!)

Life Isn't Easy

I’m reading through the Book of Job right now. ¬†I’ve read it several times before, but I think this time I’m coming to it a little more objectively–that is, without any agenda. ¬†I find myself identifying with Job a lot more now than I have when I’ve been going through difficult times. ¬†I mean really, has anyone ever had a day as bad as Job? ¬†All of my tragedy I’ve faced in life put together could not rival what Job faced in a single day.

My identification doesn’t lie so much in experience as it does in reason. ¬†From the beginning Job is pronounced righteous–by God, by the narrator, by Job himself. ¬†He has, to the best of his finite abilities, followed God’s path. ¬†He has been faithful. ¬†Yet suddenly he has no health, no family, no wealth, nothing to depend on except three condemning “friends” and a nagging wife, and his concept of God. ¬†But God has blown that concept out of the water. ¬†In short, God is more than Job ever imagined, for all his righteousness.

Throughout his speeches you hear Job struggle with maintaining what he knows to be true of God while at the same time judging his situation–and by extension, God Himself–to be supremely unfair. ¬†It is this tension with which I so readily identify, and it was brought into stark relief as I was reading chapters 23 and 24. ¬†He begins his speech with this incredible statement of trust in God and His Justice: “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come through as gold” (23:10). ¬†In essence Job is saying, “I have no idea where God is at any moment or what he is doing, but I know that he knows where I am and what I am doing, and in the end he will justify me.” ¬†That is such a huge statement of faith.

And still, chapter 24 is a litany of injustice that Job has witnessed around him, and in verse 12, he charges God with neglect. ¬†“The groans of the dying rise from the city,¬†and the souls of the wounded cry out for help.¬†But God charges no one with wrongdoing.” ¬†In short, Job is saying, “You see all this and yet you hold no one accountable! ¬†What is that?!” ¬†But he doesn’t end there. ¬†Job once again affirms what he knows to be true of God, that, in the words of Francis Schaeffer, “He is there and He is not silent!” ¬†Towards the end of chapter 24, Job says, “He may let them [the wicked] rest in a feeling of security,¬†but his eyes are on their ways.” ¬†The implication: the wicked and corrupt may feel at ease right now, but their time of judgement is coming.

I guess I find Job encouraging because often I am in the same dialogue. ¬†I find myself angry and confused with what I see happening around me. ¬†Life is hard and seems so unfair. ¬†And yet at the same time, my faith in God’s nature really doesn’t waiver. ¬†I know he is love and justice, he is mercy and grace. ¬†More importantly, I know that I am finite and he is not. ¬†Like Job, I implicitly bring God before the bar of my judgement–that is, my understanding of justice or mercy–and judge his actions thereby. ¬†And I do this while holding in tension my faith that he is infinite and therefore not subject to my judgement or anyone else’s. ¬†And in those moments where he allows my finitude a brush with his infinitude, like Job, I sit in silence with my hand over my mouth, overwhelmed with the mere glimpse I have of his glory.

Ultimately, Job teaches me that God is big enough to absorb my tantrums and remind me of who he really is. ¬†Too often, I think, the little god that we create to worship, like us in whose image he was created, cannot stand to be questioned and argued with. ¬†But aren’t there times when we let our own children lash out at us in confusion while we just quietly hold them, assuring them by our presence that we are still there and still love them? ¬†If that is true, how can the creature be greater than the Creator?

Knowledge of the Holy: part 5

“Probably the hardest thought for our natural egotism to entertain is that God does not need our help” (34).

God is completely self-sufficient.  As creatures, we need a Creator.  As Creator, He needs nothing.  We were created at His pleasure, not out of need.  How difficult it is for us to consider that, when all is said and done, we can add nothing to God, that His existence does not depend on our proofs.  Quite simply: HE IS.

There have been times in church history, when God’s self-sufficiency has been used as an excuse to neglect our duties as his creatures, to neglect the Great Commission and the Great Commandments. ¬†However, the fact that God does not need us, does not preclude his desire for us, or his desire to work with us. ¬†In a limited way, it is much like the father who allows his son to help him in the workshop. ¬†He doesn’t need his son’s help, indeed in some cases that “help” is actually a hinderance. Yet he desires to be with his son, to teach his son how to build and create things with his own hands.

The major limit of this analogy, though, is the desired end.  As a parent, we teach our children in order to promote their independence from us.  God the Father, however, would seem to allow us to work with him, to teach us his ways, precisely to promote our dependence upon him.  As he begins to reveal to us his thoughts and plans, we come to realize that we cannot begin to execute them on our own.

The self-sufficiency of God does not diminish our importance to him. ¬†Rather, it should teach us something about what we value as important. ¬†Too often we define importance in a utilitarian manner. ¬†What is important is useful. ¬†Consequently if something is not useful, it cannot be important. ¬†Yet God the Son died a heinous death for each of us, knowing that we could offer nothing of real use in return. ¬†We are important to God because we are his. ¬†We are valuable to God because he made us, because he loves us. ¬†In this, we should find comfort and relief. ¬†We needn’t strive to be “useful” to God the Father, but rather to be with him, to be in his workshop learning all that he desires to teach us.

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