Left Vacant

I know that for the right practice of [the Presence of God] the heart must be empty of all other things, because God will possess the heart alone; and as He cannot possess it alone without emptying it of all besides, so neither can He act there, and do in it what He pleases, unless it be left vacant to Him. — Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, Fifth Letter.

In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:33

 

Image, Open Window by Keith Ellwood https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=open%20window%20keith%20ellwood

God’s Proposal

Paul is saying here that all things work for the good of those who have been called according to God’s proposal, God’s intention. But what, I wondered, is God’s proposal or intention?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (prothesis). For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:28-29 (NIV)

I have always read this verse and stopped at the comfort of its promise: that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. This time I thought I would go through it carefully, word by word, and study it. When I got to the word translated “purpose” I was stopped in my tracks at the amazing depth and fullness and loving message hidden there.

The Greek word is prothesis. It means “a setting forth of a thing,” figuratively, a proposal or intention. Paul is saying here that all things work for the good of those who have been called according to God’s proposal, God’s intention. But what, I wondered, is God’s proposal or intention? The word prothesis also contains the answer to that question.

Prothesis also means a setting forth of the shewbread in the Temple, as exposed before God. The shewbread, or showbread, was the Bread of the Presence, which God commanded to be always before him.

Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times. Exodus 25:30 (NIV)

Prothesis is the same word that Jesus used in Matthew:

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread (shewbread, loaves of presentation)—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Matthew 12:3-4 (NIV)

The noun prothesis comes from the verb protithemai, which means to place before, to set forth to be looked at, expose to public view. It was used of the bodies of the dead that were let lie in state. In ancient Greek it referred to the laying out of a dead body during the funeral (exposing the body for viewing), also called lying in repose. The laying out, or exposing of, the shewbread in the temple was like the lying in repose of the body of Christ. It was the exposing of God’s intention, his Grand Proposal to save the world.

God’s purpose, his proposal, his intention, that, Jesus, the Bread of Life, the Bread of the Presence, Immanuel, God with us, would die for us.

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:48-51 (NIV)

This was always God’s intent, but there is more in Romans 8:28-29: For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. He wants us to be like Jesus. To lay our lives down too. To help bring this life, this Bread, to the world. To share the good news of God’s grand proposal: that Jesus died and rose again from the dead to save us from our sins.

Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ephesians 3:7-11 (NIV)

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body. Matthew 26:26 (NIV)

 

Rise up and help us; redeem us because of (for the sake of, for the purpose of, to the intent of, on account of) your unfailing love. Psalm 44:26 (NIV)

 

Image by Heartlight https://www.heartlight.org/articles/201703/20170304_worthy.html

The Subversive Act of Worship

Even before his death on the cross Jesus had chosen to be an outsider; he had already chosen disgrace.

So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Hebrews 13:13-14 (NLT)

For some reason I always read this verse, “let us go out with him,” as in “let us go with him carrying our cross.” And we are supposed to take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). But this verse says, “let us go out to him.” And with that little change there is a different message, a different focus. Let us go out to where he is – outside the camp. He has always been outside the camp.

Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. Exodus 33:7 (NASB)

“Our permanent home,” mentioned in the above verse, is the place we meno. The Greek word meno means to stay, abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand. It is not this temporary world-camp where we are to abide. Meno is the word used in John 15.

Remain (meno) in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains (meno) in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:4-5 (NIV)

This world is not our meno-home. Jesus is our meno-home, and where he is, there we are to be – plugged into the Vine. And Jesus is outside the camp because He chose the cross.

Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. So let’s go out to him … Hebrews 13:11-13 (NLT)

To the people of Jesus’ day death on a cross was worse than a disgrace. Cicero said that it should not even be in the thoughts of a Roman citizen; it should not even be mentioned in connection with a citizen.[i] Yet, this is where Jesus willingly chose to go. Outside the city gates. Outside the temporary camp. Outside the culture of the day. Outside the religious systems. Outside the politics and governments of the day. Outside the traditions and popular beliefs. Outside of all the hopes and dreams for this life. James V. Brownson says it better than I can:

The cross collides with the values and assumptions that shape the world around us. It shocks us out of the status quo, out of the norms and assumptions that surround us, and calls us to an alternative vision … “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The “foolishness” Paul is writing of here is not a certain theological axiom about the cross of Jesus; it is the blatant offensiveness of the cross, both to Jews and to Gentiles. The point of the divine foolishness is simply this: If God has raised from the dead someone who was crucified, if we worship someone who was crucified, we can no longer hold on to the common values of respectability that are characteristic of normal human society. All our assumptions about what constitutes right and wrong, about what is worthwhile, about what really matters – all that has to be revised and reversed, if you engage in the subversive act of worshiping someone who was crucified. In other words, if you are going to worship someone who was crucified, you have to undergo radical conversion.[ii]

Even before his death on the cross Jesus had chosen to be an outsider; he had already chosen disgrace. He had already chosen to be identified with the lowly and meek, the poor and unclean and diseased and despised. If we engage in the subversive act of worshiping our crucified Lord, we need to identify there too. Let us go out to him. Let us meno there.

 

For more on “meno” see The Art of Remaining Present

Image: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry the Cross, by Darren Barefoot https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=jesus%20cross

[i] Hengel, Martin Hengel. Crucifixion. 1977

[ii] Brownson, James V. Holiness and Hermeneutics. 1999.

With Tears

I have this picture in my head of my grandmother packing away in the few trunks they could bring beautifully sewn coverlets and lace curtains, along with all her dreams of hanging those curtains in the windows of that cute little starter cottage.

As I get older, I have become interested in genealogy. I especially like to explore the less-trod histories of the “Grammas.” In doing so I recently dug up a real hidden treasure. The story starts with my great-grandfather, Nathan Douglas. According to the History of Oakland County Michigan, my grandfather, as a young man, accompanied his father, the Rev. Caleb Douglas and the pastor of their church, Rev. Elon Galusha on a mission trip from Whitesboro, New York to the wilderness of Michigan in the fall of 1822. There, they preached to the scattered pioneer families and founded the first Baptist church near Pontiac. In June of the following year Nathan came back to Michigan in the company of his father “who preached and broke bread to the church.”[i]

Exhilarated with the success of the missions and, I’m sure, loving the beautiful Michigan wilderness, the young man, who would later come to be called “Deacon Nathan,” went home determined to return. Apparently, as the story goes, my great-grandmother was not so thrilled with the idea. But, in 1824, the Deacon and his bride of six months, Frances, packed up all their belongings into an oxen-drawn wagon and started the 570-mile trek to, what is now, Troy, Michigan. The History of Macomb County Michigan relates that they “located in the primal wilderness, cleared a space and built a log home, in which they lived four weeks before doors and windows could be procured.  The time was made interesting by the screeching of owls and howling of wolves.”[ii]

I have this picture in my head of Gramma Frances packing away in the few trunks they could bring beautifully sewn coverlets[iii] and lace curtains, along with all her dreams of hanging those curtains in the windows of that cute little starter cottage with the white picket fence and flower arbor and perhaps a secluded rose garden retreat in the back.

The story continues with the bride walking ahead of the slow-moving oxen, weeping as she went, and sometimes sitting down on a fallen log to have a good cry, “of homesickness and dread of the trials of pioneer life.”[iv]

Yup. That would be me – the one being dragged kicking and screaming. I wonder if it is genetic.

I think Jesus understood the feeling. With grace and mercy, he told a parable of two brothers.

 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered. Matthew 21:28-31 (NIV)

So, what was Jesus saying here? That the son, who at first, kicking and screaming, wailed, “I don’t wanna!” but who went anyway, was the one who did the will of the Father, the one who pleased God. It’s part of that picking up your cross daily decision, “dying to the flesh,” getting out of your comfort zone, leaving your cozy little cottage and trekking into the wilderness where there are wolves and mosquitoes and hard work. It’s about perseverance and endurance. It’s about how you end, not so much how you start out.

My grandmother raised eight children, six sons and two daughters. Four sons were dentists and one was a minister, and the rest of the children sturdy farmers. Deacon Nathan and Frances celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1874. They continued on working in the church that whole time. It is said that grandmother “sang in the church choir a great many years, having a fine contralto voice.”[v]

But I think I will remember her mostly walking and weeping, putting one foot in front of the other. Persevering. Anyway. Yet.

I hope that is genetic too.

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him. Psalm 126:5-6 (NIV)

Passing through the Valley of Weeping (Baca), they make it a place of springs; The early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength [increasing in victorious power]; Each of them appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:6-7 (Amplified Bible)

Photograph is of my grandmother, Mrs. Nathan Douglas (née Frances B. Smith), which has been passed down in the family.

[i] Durant, Samuel W. History of Oakland County, Michigan, p. 96.

[ii] Leeson, Michael A. History of Macomb County Michigan, pp. 653-654.

[iii] My grandmother was a talented sewer. A sampler and two coverlets made from cloth that she spun herself now reside in the Romeo Historical Society Museum, Romeo, Michigan.

[iv] From James H. Downie and Elizabeth Clark Douglas’s scrapbook. Transcribed by great-granddaughter Aug. 2010.

[v] Ibid.

Am I Hostile to God?

Beyond all the chaos and failure and despair is a Truth, truer than what I see in the flesh.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Romans 8:5-7 (NIV)

Did you ever think that when you are crabby and despairing, unthankful and complaining, angry and resentful, that your mind is set on the flesh and that you are being hostile toward God? I woke up being all of those things the other day and read this verse in my daily devotions. I was shocked when the Spirit showed me I was hostile to God and his purposes. Why? Because what God desires, what God is all about is love and life, healing and redemption, peace and hope. God is always focused outward. But, my mind, set on the flesh, was focused inward, full of hopelessness and death. Death for me and death for those around me.

In Psalm 73 David complains that the wicked don’t seem to have any problems. Everything goes right for them. He concludes, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.” In other words, what’s the point? But then David realizes, “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed your children (dealt deceitfully, treacherously, unfaithfully).” He would have been hostile to God and God’s children.

But David turned himself around. He went back and repented in the Presence and there was able to set his mind not on the flesh, but on God. And then he was able to see as God sees. And he cried out one of my favorite verses in the Bible, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.”  Yet! My life may be falling apart; the whole world may be crumbling, but yet (!) God is with me!

This is the mind governed by the Spirit. This is the mind of life and peace. For faith is knowing for sure that what we DON’T see is what’s real and true. That beyond all the chaos and failure and despair is a Truth, truer than what I see in the flesh. God is with me! God is always doing life and reconciliation and redemption, and I have a place beside him doing those things too if I keep my mind set on what the Spirit desires. If I “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Lord, help me to keep turning myself around, to keep coming back to your Presence. Help me to be focused outward toward your love, not inward. I don’t have the strength to do it myself, but You are with me. Help me to keep setting my mind on You. Help me say worthy not Worthless Words. Help me to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus.

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach— if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. Colossians 1:21-23 (NASB)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV)

Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. Luke 9:23 (NIV)

 

Image in the Public Domain

Nothing Wasted

Did you ever feel or had others tell you that you were wasting your life being a Christian?

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” John 6:12 (NIV)

I have been studying the accounts recently about the miracle of the loaves and fishes (see I Am the Good News ). In the above verse in John, after everyone had eaten, Jesus admonished the disciples to “Let nothing be wasted.” This made me pause. I wondered why Jesus would care about food getting wasted when he could just make some more. He just took a couple of loaves and few fish and fed thousands, didn’t he? But then I saw that he wasn’t talking about the physical bread and fish fragments being wasted.

Let nothing be wasted.

Did you ever feel or had others tell you that you were wasting your life being a Christian? Wasting your musical talent on worshiping God, wasting your money or yourself on missions, wasting your time serving and befriending certain people?

The word translated “wasted” in John 12 is apollumi and means to perish, to be lost, ruined, destroyed. Jesus had a lot to say using this word:

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose (apollumi) none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. John 6:39 (NIV)

All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish (apollumi). Luke 21:17-18 (NIV)

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish (apollumi); no one can snatch them out of my hand. John 10:28 (NIV)

Let nothing be wasted.

It is also the same word as Mark 8:35:

If you insist on saving your life, you will lose (apollumi) it. Only those who throw away (apollumi) their lives for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will ever know what it means to really live. (Living Bible)

Throwing your life away sure sounds like wasting it. At least that is the way the world sees it. Even Jesus’ own family thought he was wasting his life. They thought he should be pursuing fame, reputation, power. Instead, he was wandering around with a bunch of losers, touching lepers and sticking up for prostitutes (John 7:4, Mark 3:21).

But Jesus saw it all in the eternal light of the Father’s perfect plan. Whether small or big, everything that was done for him was noted and appreciated – from the widow giving her pitiful coins (Luke 12:41-44), to the nameless children praising him in the temple courts (Matthew 21:15). God even saves our tears in his bottle; records them in his scroll (Psalm 56:8).

From his prison cell Paul described this “throwing away” of his life as being like a drink offering.

But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. Philippians 2:17 (NASB)

A drink offering was poured out at the altar or on the ground (1 Chronicles 11:18), completely “wasted.” You couldn’t even pick up the scraps. To the world Paul’s descent to the prison cell was a waste – from a highly respected Pharisee and disciple of the great rabbi Gamaliel, to a criminal waiting for execution in a Roman jail cell. Even Paul seemed tempted to fear it had been a waste as he exhorted the Philippians to hold fast “so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”

He needn’t have worried. Here we are two thousand years later still being encouraged and fed by his words and sacrifice. The seed that dies produces much fruit. God multiplies every effort. As my smart sister says, “His kingdom is about multiplication and addition, not division and subtraction.” God sees, he knows, he doesn’t forget. Nothing is insignificant. Let nothing be wasted.

As the hands and the body of Christ on the earth let us not be afraid to pour out our lives and substance. Let us not be afraid to “waste” ourselves as broken bread and fish. For nothing we do or give or spend for Him will be wasted.

She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.  Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste?” … “I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Mark 14: 3-4, 9 (NIV)

“We are here to submit to His will so that He may work through us what He wants. Once we realize this, He will make us broken bread and poured-out wine with which to feed and nourish others.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.

“Life is not fame. It’s love. Life is not power. It’s generosity. Life is not selfish. It’s giving myself away … Life is having a gift inside of you that you give to the world and use it well for the glory of God.” Gary Wilkerson

I Am the Good News

Jesus is the bread of life given for the life of the world. I understood that metaphor. But what/who are the fish?

Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. Matthew 15:36 (NIV)

This account of the miraculous feeding of thousands with a few loaves of bread and fish is repeated in all four gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke explain that Jesus himself did not hand out the bread and the fish; he gave them to the disciples to hand out.

As I was recently looking again at this witness the Lord showed me something I had never seen before. I hope I can communicate it for you. But it is so much that it will take two blogs, so I will finish next week. I think Jesus was demonstrating something far more important than the miracle of multiplication that day. Something that the disciples, and we, would only understand much later. He was demonstrating what the Church would be like after he was gone back to the Father.

I think Jesus was training the disciples to be the Church, to be the hands and body of the Lord. They were the Church-in-training. That’s why he had them distribute the food. Jesus also did not himself baptize people, but had the disciples baptize (John 4:2). Jesus did not go with them when he sent them out two by two (Mark 6:7).

So, the disciples were learning how to be Jesus here on earth. They were distributing the physical bread that day but would later hand out the Bread of Life.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” John 6:51 (NIV)

Jesus is the bread of life given for the life of the world. I understood that metaphor. But what/who are the fish? In a couple of places Jesus talked about people as fish.

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.” Matthew 13:47 (NIV)

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (NIV)

The disciples were also fishers-of-men-in-training. But they weren’t just learning to fish for men that day as they were handing out the fish, they were also learning to hand out themselves. They were fish that had been caught in the Savior’s loving net whose lives in turn would be broken and given in self-denying service.

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:24-26 (NIV)

Just as Jesus was broken and given for the life of the world, so we are to be broken – die to self, be crucified with Christ – so we can give ourselves. We are to be the hands and the body of the Lord here on earth handing out His love. And, because he is in us, we also become the bread and the fish that is given. J.D. Walt has written, “Because Jesus is good news and Jesus is in me, I am good news.” [i]

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:13, 14).  Jesus blesses us and graces us and strengthens us, but he also breaks us as he broke the bread and the fish that day. Like Gideon’s torches in jars, the light that is in us cannot be seen unless the jars are broken (Judges 7:15-21). And as Gideon’s jars were empty save for the light, we must empty ourselves of all self-seeking, self-righteousness, self-sins.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27 (NIV)

And the church is his body; it is filled by Christ, who fills everything everywhere with his presence. Ephesians 1:23 (NLT)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:11 (NIV)

 

Image, by Mira66 https://www.flickr.com/photos/21804434@N02/4739074036/

“Loaves and Fishes is set into the wall of the Brighthelm Church and Community Centre, North Road, Brighton, Sussex.”

 

[i] J.D. Walt, “The Sower’s Creed,” in This is How We Know, p. 132.

 

The Lord Looked

This verse has always struck me with such sorrow. What an opportunity lost! To be known fully and (yet!) loved by God – but walk away.

And he [Andrew] brought him [Peter] to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).  John 1:42 (NIV)

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.  Mark 10:21 (NIV)

In both of the above verses Jesus “looked.” The Greek word is emblepo and means to look upon, observe fixedly or absolutely, to discern clearly, behold, consider. Jesus looked at these two men and saw into their hearts, discerning them clearly. He saw Peter’s full commitment, leaving all behind, flinging himself into the sea, stepping out of the boat. Knowing all the missteps and mess-ups that would come along the way, Jesus said, “Yes, this is the one. I’ll build my church here – on a heart that will give up all and follow.”

Emblepo is also the word used in Luke 22:61 when Peter denied he knew Jesus three times. “Jesus turned and looked at Peter” (see The Lord Turned). Jesus looked past Peter’s weakness and sin and saw his heart.

He also saw the heart of the other man (Luke calls him a ruler) and loved him. He saw the earnestness to follow God’s laws, to be holy and righteous, to please God. But, Jesus also saw his idol, the thing that entangled him, the slave-chains that pulled him away – materialism and greed, “He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” This is why Jesus warned against greed so much (Luke 12:15, 32-33).

This verse has always struck me with such sorrow. What an opportunity lost! To be known fully and (yet!) loved by God – but walk away. To turn and walk away from that pure love and fierce passion in the Face of God. How grievous that “stuff” – or anything else – would keep us from that zealous, longing love and life-giving presence. And he does love and long for us. Job declared:

You will call and I will answer you; you will long for (pine after, desire, be greedy for) the creature your hands have made.  Job 14:15 (NIV)

God is greedy for us! He desires for us to love and long for him the same way. To, yes, be greedy, but greedy for God and for him only. To be willing to throw down everything that would keep us from him – and follow.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders (every burden, weight, bulging load, encumbrance) and the sin that so easily entangles (skillfully surrounds, clings so closely, besets, thwarts) and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Whether we follow or not, he sees us, he knows everything about us – our sins, our idols, our weakness and doubts. And yet! Yet, yet, yet (hallelujah!) he loves us. Let’s love him back, wholly, undivided. Let’s be greedy for Him – and follow!

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts! See if there is any offensive way (idol) in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)

Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. Psalm 86:11 (NIV)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27 (NIV)

 

Image, detail from For He Had Great Possessions, by George Frederick Watts, 1894. Photograph by Martin Beek https://www.flickr.com/photos/oxfordshire_church_photos/413448324

 

 

 

Being Centrifugal

God is centrifugal. God is a giver, and he wants us to be like him.

Black holes have been in the news a lot lately with the new images captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). I have thought a lot about black holes the past few years, and how they are a picture of what we can end up like if we are not careful. Black holes are a kind of centripetal force. Sucking everything within, completely focused inward. According to NASA, “Centripetal means ‘center seeking.’”

Center seeking. Isn’t that what we are encouraged to be in our culture?

People can be black holes, completely focused on themselves; completely center seeking. Self-pity, pride, ungratefulness, crabbiness, resentment, self-righteousness, jealousy, selfishness, greed, lust, even fear is centripetal. NASA defines a black hole as “an area of such immense gravity that nothing—not even light—can escape from it.” [i]

The new images from the EHT are spectacular (see https://www.space.com/black-hole-event-horizon-images-einstein.html). These new images confirm Einstein’s theory about an “event horizon,” a point of no return before being sucked in. “The event horizon is the ultimate prison wall — one can get in but never get out.” [ii]

The images shown recently of black holes do show a very dark place surrounded by a ring of dying light –  the event horizon, the place of the death of light.

“The image offered a final, ringing affirmation of an idea so disturbing that even Einstein, from whose equations black holes emerged, was loath to accept it. If too much matter is crammed into one place, the cumulative force of gravity becomes overwhelming, and the place becomes an eternal trap.” [iii]

Too much me, me, me and I lose my way on a darker and darker path. Not only am I no longer a light, but I suck others into my darkness. I can’t find my way to turn around. I am stuck in the eternal trap, behind the ultimate prison wall. I think we have all known people who seem to have gone past that point of no return. You can sense they don’t want to be the way they are, that they hate the words they say even as they come out of their mouths. But they are trapped. I think we are all, by nature, centripetal.

For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Romans 7:19 (NIV)

Love, however, is centrifugal – the opposite of centripetal – flinging outward, scattering seed, sowing life. Shining light. Encouragement, love, faith, hope, mercy, grace, praise, worship, forgiveness, thanksgiving, repentance, humility, service – these are all outward-looking, life-giving, centrifugal. God is centrifugal. God is a giver, and he wants us to be like him.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV)

The gospel is centrifugal, or it was meant to be – a light on a lamp stand, bread and fish multiplied and given away. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8 NIV). Centrifugal has always been God’s intent for his people, his Temple, his Church.

“Interestingly, the Temple should have been a place where the poor and the oppressed found refuge. Instead, [in Jesus’ time and now too?] they found themselves pushed to the very margins of the society … God intended the Temple to be a place of centrifugal blessing—spinning outward the grace and mercy of God. The religious establishment had turned it into a place of centripetal privilege—pulling inward worldly status, wealth, and privilege. The exact opposite of what God intended had happened. Jesus, the one greater than the Temple, turns it inside-out and upside-down in his mission to turn everything around.” J.D. Walt, Invite Jesus to Church and Prepare Yourself

Jesus, the ultimate centrifugal force, turns everything around. He is the only one who can set us free from the eternal trap, the prison of self. Even if you feel you have gone past the point of no return, Jesus can give you the grace and strength to break free. Fling yourself out at his feet.

What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:22-25 (NIV)

“To the extent that egocentrism is proclaimed as both the route and the destination of life’s journey, the biblical message of service is extraordinarily countercultural. Christ relinquished divinity to become a slave. The last will be first; get down on your knees and wash someone’s feet.”  -Gail Ramshaw, Treasures Old and New: Images in the Lectionary

 

[i] NASA. Space Place in a Snap: What Is a Black Hole?  https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/learn/video/space-place-in-a-snap-what-is-a-black-hole/

[ii] Avi Loeb, chair of astronomy at Harvard University. Quoted in What Exactly Is a Black Hole Event Horizon (and What Happens There)? by Charles Q. Choi https://www.space.com/black-holes-event-horizon-explained.html

[iii] Dennis Overbye. New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/10/science/black-hole-picture.html?module=inline

 

Image By Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration – https://www.eso.org/public/images/eso1907a/; JPG saved from full size TIFF and converted with maximum quality level 12 in Photoshop 2019., CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77916527