by the Night Writer

The other night someone’s comment made me pause, as I do around this time of the year, to reflect on the Christmas message of a Savior coming amongst us. Readers familiar with my annual “Christmas Special” will recall that the first benefit of faith (and grace) is not in getting what we deserve, but in not getting what we deserve. So, anyway, the other night I thought, “God, I just wanted to get off the hook.”

And then the thought appeared in my mind, “You misunderstand. You are the hook.”

Then on Sunday my pastor stated that our vision for the coming year is to “join and knit” as a community. When he said that I remembered “the hook” and then, instead of thinking of a sharp fish hook, or a big shepherd’s crook, I thought of crocheting hooks and how they work: reaching out, hooking the yarn, pulling it close and wrapping it with another piece of yarn. The finished product is something snug and warm and when you look at it you cannot tell which piece of yarn submitted to the other because all you see is the union. As in a marriage. As in a community. As in a fellowship.

The thing is, to join and knit you need someone willing to reach and someone willing to be reached. And not just reached, but pulled into something bigger and better and that is a hard thing. You can organize several skeins of yarn and lay them close together and admire the color and texture of each individually and imagine what the sweater or afghan might look like, but if each keeps to itself you have lovely yarn and not much else.

A friend of mine has chosen the word Discipline as her theme for the year. It’s a good word, and a useful ideal. I choose a variation of the word, however: Disciple. I resolve to continue to let myself be discipled, and to be willing to disciple others.

Hate is impatient, hate is unkind

by the Night Writer

1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 7, in reverse

Hate is impatient and unkind; hate envies and boasts; it is arrogant and rude. It insists on its own way; it is irritable and resentful; it rejoices at wrongdoing, and does not rejoice with the truth. Hate bears nothing, believes nothing, hopes for nothing, endures nothing.

Lumpy, part 2

by the Night Writer

A short time ago I wrote a brief post about Romans 12:2, comparing our lives to a lump of clay either conformed by the world or transformed by God; either squeezed or pressed into a mold or filled and expanded as if by a hand reaching inside us as we spin to bow us into a bowl or vase or some useful vessel.

One thing I didn’t note at the time is that in both cases, the lump of clay has very little say in what it gets turned into. Conformity is a matter of channeling our thinking, while transformation is a matter of renewing our mind (or having it renewed) so that those channels are overflowed. We might go along with either activity but once we submit to either we don’t know just how it will turn out.

Not that we don’t try, especially when it comes to the transforming/expanding touch of God the Father. Having spent our lives conformed, we almost can’t help ourselves from repeating the process as we are being transformed. At first we are in awe of what God has done and is doing, especially when we are aware of the quality of the material that He’s working with. All too soon, however, it seems we can’t resist trying to shape God into something that suits our purpose instead of the other way around.

A little bit of revelation, or a transcendant, even miraculous, experience can seem like our destination rather than just a signpost on our way. When God wants to continue to work in our life we’ll still instinctively hunker down, even with (or because) of our new understanding, and decide that “God obviously can do this, but there’s no way He’d do that.” It’s as if he just put up a frame and a roof on our new house, but we don’t think he’s qualified to do the plumbing as well; especially if we’ve always handled the plumbing ourselves.

Conforming is easier because we have a sense of when we look like the other items on the shelf; transforming is harder because we’re continually changing as the Master Potter spins, shapes and elongates, perhaps even adds a handle. Yet in effect we’ll say, “No, please, I’ll just stay a salad bowl. I never thought I could even be a salad bowl, but please don’t turn me into an urn.” Ceasing to conform and beginning to transform usually means throwing out some old thought or doctrine we had in favor of a new revelation; but it’s as if we think that there was only one or two thoughts or doctrines that needed to change.

It’s amazing how quickly we become expert theologians, even as the potter says, “You ain’t seen nothing yet, Lumpy.”

Picture this: Yo, Lumpy

by the Night Writer

“Take me, mold me,
Use me, fill me,
I give my life into the Potter’s hand…”

Singing this song always makes me think of Romans 12:2: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

If you take a lump of clay into your hands your tendency is to squeeze it and roll it, perhaps making a little face out of it as you kind of doodle with your fingers. If you picture our lives as a lump of clay introduced into the world we can quickly see how all the outside forces in our lives try to shape and conform us to some image, squeezing and pressing us with things as diverse as fashion or politics or family expectations, or TV commercials, or our schooling. Everything, it seems, seeks to conform us to some earthly standard of what is acceptable, whether it’s your friends, your job, your gang, your political party — even your church. How the pressure is applied determines the shape our conformation takes on.

But there’s another way to shape clay. A potter can place a lump on a wheel and get the wheel spinning and in doing so begins to bring smoothness and balance to our lump and then, rather than conform, something transforming happens as the potter reaches into the spinning clay and cups his fingers outward, causing the little ball of clay to suddenly bloom outward and expand, displacing clay with air. Depending on the potter’s vision, the transformed lump could become a bowl, a pot, a vase or an urn.

Similarly, when our thinking is conformed to the world we are squeezed into something smaller and denser, our minds grooved and compressed by repetition. When we are transformed by allowing our minds to be renewed — to begin to grasp what has previously been beyond our imagination — however, we get bigger and can hold things; rather than being something to look at we become something useful.

The song above describes God as the Potter, and in my analogy you can see God reaching into us, increasing our capacity, making us fit for bigger, better things. Of course, we still have to be fired in the kiln, the trial bringing out our colors while making our final shape stronger (seeking to pull out of the fire too soon, however, and you’re left with a fragile, untrustworthy object).

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.
— 2 Corinthians 4:7

Picture this: Surrender, Dorothy

by the Night Writer

We’re not in Kansas any more. Actually, I’ve never lived in Kansas but I thought about Kansas today during praise & worship at church. Well, what I was thinking about was “the rock” of my foundation and how important it is to build my house on the rock instead of shifting sand. So how does Kansas enter into this? Bear with me a moment.

In my last post I referenced Jesus’ parable of the man who builds his house on the solid rock vs. the man who builds on shifting sand and how these homes fare when the rains, floods and winds come along. As an analogy I described the rain as being the economy (dampening everything), the floods as what washes away our job or business and the winds as the stresses that come along in the storm that and batter us (perhaps in our relationships, or health), adding to the destruction. Jesus suggested we “build” our homes — or lives — on something that can’t be shaken and I’ve tried to renew my thinking over the years in order to do that. And that’s when I thought of Kansas.

You see, in “The Wizard of Oz”, when the twister appears on the Kansas horizon, Auntie Em and the others don’t have a basement in the farmhouse to run to. Instead they have a detached root or storm cellar for emergencies. When that picture appeared in my mind it made me realize that there are probably areas in my life where I’ve built near my foundation but not actually upon it; things that look solid and even Biblical and may even be good, but are not built on that key foundation. “Doctrines of man” might be an example of this. Meanwhile, we take for granted the thing with the solid foundation, perhaps using it for storage or our convenience, almost forgetting what it’s there for.

The thing is, when the storms and the wind come, the things I’ve built near the foundation — good, bad or indifferent — will blow away. The question I have to answer, then, is whether or not I’ll chase after those things that are blowing down the road (after all, I’ve likely put a lot of time and effort into these) or if I’ll look for people still out in the storm and try to wave them over into shelter.

What would you do?

Picture this: getting out of the way

Great testimony from King David over at The Far Wright today. It reminded me of a song we sang in church yesterday that goes, in part, “God will make a way, where there seems to be no way.”

What I saw in that song is that when there seems to be no way it really means that there seems to be no way to me. God always knows and sees the way — and usually I’m bogged down right smack in the middle of it (the way, that is).

We all have had the experience of trying to do things “our way” (thanks, Frank), the “worldly” way. If we’re blessed, or not too stubborn, we get hooked up with a good church and start to see God move and do things in our lives (He was doing them all along but we usually didn’t recognize them for what they were). We get a new idea of God’s power and mercy and we believe it and experience … yet we get comfortable or when a new challenge comes we still put ourselves in the position of saying or deciding what God can, or cannot, do. Even though we’ve seen that there were things we didn’t know before that have since changed our lives, we may yet assume that now we know it all …

“Oh yeah, God will do that, but He wouldn’t do this” or …

“If I do this, then God will do that, …

or the reverse, “God can’t do this because I didn’t do that…”

“God no longer speaks to us…or heals…or delivers…or opens doors that no man can close…”

Maybe it’s because our fear trumps our faith; we fear our faith is not even as big as a mustard seed, or we’re afraid that God won’t come through, or we’re afraid we somehow haven’t “earned” His grace — even if we’ve had hours, years, even decades of sound teaching that tells us His grace is a gift that no one can earn…

We cling to our doctrines and our own understanding, lovingly polished over the years, and fail to see or remember the underlying Word that they were based on. We’re afraid to just let go and put it in His hands, as if His plan isn’t sufficient for our needs, as if our senses are the sole arbiter of what makes sense.

God still speaks. He still heals. He still provides. If you don’t believe me, go talk to King David.

Picture this: Yes

Saturday morning we had our Inside Outfitters men’s meeting with men from a couple of other churches and a large contingent from Minnesota Teen Challenge. During the worship part of the meeting we sang with an abridged version of the song “Yes” by Shekinah Glory.

Will your heart and soul say “yes”?
Will your spirit say yes?
If I told you what I really mean,
would your heart and soul say “yes”?

It’s a song that moves slowly and deeply, giving one a chance to either sing along or meditate on the words as they minister.

There is more that I require of of you,
Will your spirit still say, “yes”?

For such a long time in my life my answer was always “No.”

Later I came around to where I said, “I don’t know.”

Eventually, in many areas of my life I said, “Yes” — to great effect.

Why then, in too many other areas, do I say, “Yes……but”?

Picture this: What the heart sees

Here’s some of what we were singing today:

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord
open the eyes of my heart,
I want to see you; I want to see you…

See you high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory,
Pour out your power and love as we sing holy, holy, holy!

What caught my attention was the reference to the “eyes of my heart” as opposed to my eyes themselves, and being able to see Jesus. Just what are the eyes of my heart, and what do they “see”? And it occurred to me that sometimes we sing about seeing God and Jesus glorified in the world, or think that the songs are about them being glorified in the world around us, when the change in the world begins with a change in our own hearts.

After all, will the way I go out into the world and go about my business change once I’ve truly seen Jesus high and lifted up and shining in the light of His glory in my own heart? What power and love might pour out as I sing, “Holy, holy, holy”?

Picture this: Light

A little while back our pastor said during a service that we shouldn’t just sing the words during Praise & Worship time, but be sensitive to the Spirit and open to insights that would come. I remember thinking at the time that that sounded like a reasonable approach but I didn’t give it another thought as the week, maybe even two weeks, went on. Then it just started happening: we would be singing and one or two lines in a song would just seem to come alive within me, painting a picture or creating a deeper understanding.

The first time it was kind of neat. The next week it happened with another song, which in turn reminded me of the week before. Then another week, another song, another picture. It kept happening, and sometimes I would share these pictures or revelations with the congregation and other times I’d keep it to myself and ponder it. What I also found happening, however, is that these images would fade as the week went on unless something specifically reminded me of them. Even then it could be just the sketchiest recollection; I’d remember the general sense of what I’d seen but not the quickening I felt when it first coalesced in my mind, kind of like having a dream and then trying to describe the next day over lunch.

What I’ve decided to do, then, is to try and write these down as soon as I can and since I’m doing that I might as well post them here for whatever it’s worth. Frankly, I don’t know if this will help me remember or apply what I’ve seen, or if it will bring the whole thing to a halt. Or maybe it’s what I’ve supposed to have been doing all along.

Today in church we did something very different and didn’t sing, but last week I had made special note of what I’d received and wrote it down and held onto it while I decided whether to start sharing these pictures. Here goes.

“He wraps himself in light,
and darkness tries to hide…”

The song had many more lines than that but these two were what stopped me. I pictured what happens when a light is turned on in an empty room; immediately the darkness clears out, looking for a place to hide. It can only exist where there’s something that blocks the light, so it goes to the corners as if trying to find a narrow space. If the room has boxes or furniture in it, though, it will “hide” on the other side of these, appearing as a shadow.

Then I saw that the “room” is our lives and Jesus is the light that comes in, and the darkness tries to hide from Him. Great parts of the room are illuminated, but the shadows still exist behind the stuff in the room. Some of that stuff in my room are things that I’ve carried in there, and some are things that others might have deposited. Regardless, there are things in my life — things where my mind hasn’t been completely renewed, things where I still prefer to lean toward my own understanding or my own plans — that come between me and Jesus. Though the room is lit and much brighter than before, and the shadows aren’t as dark as the dark itself was, certain things in my life have a dark side that doesn’t want the light to come in.

So. Can I let the light shine on me in these areas? The light is all around, it wants to be where I am. But it’s cool in the shade and sometimes the light hurts my eyes so that I don’t want to look at it. What do I do? If it’s something I’ve brought in — some comfy furniture, for example, or abstract art that I thought made me look sophisticated — I should just carry it outside. If it’s baggage that someone else has dropped I should carry that out like garbage as well, or if it’s too heavy, at least step out from behind it rather than using it as an excuse. Perhaps I am like a chastened puppy, hiding under the couch that just needs to come out and let restoration and transformation begin.

Can I, will I, crawl out?

Psalm 89:15 “Blessed [is] the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk, O LORD, in the light of thy countenance.”

John 8:12 “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

Ephesians 5:8 “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now [are ye] light in the Lord: walk as children of light…”

Picture this: Joy to the world, indeed

We were singing “Joy to the World” in church the other day. I’ve always like that Christmas carol, but as with many familiar songs, I sometimes gloss over the words without thinking about them.

So anyway, we started rollicking through the part about “the glories of His righteousness…” and I suddenly had the thought: “Just what are the glories of His righteousness?” Certainly his righteousness would have to appear pretty darn glorious when stood up next to my righteousness since mine, when left to my own devices, is a pretty rickety framework with a veneer-thin coating not big enough to cover all the gaps I’d like to hide so I have to keep shifting it from place to place as the wind blows.

And then the revelation returned to me that MY righteousness is worthless, but the righteousness of the sinless Christ is so great and glorious that it covers me and makes me righteous in God’s sight, and not because of anything I did but because of what Jesus did. In fact, because of what Jesus came to do.

Then I thought of the next line in the song: “…and wonders of His love, and wonders of His love…” for it is a wonder that God’s love is so all encompassing that He would send His son, and the son’s love would be so great that He would endure all for me.

And I sang with a great, sounding Joy.