Thursday, August 26, 2010

God's Love: Part II, "Creation's Story"

A new friend said to me in a written message the other day, referring to my blog, “I will keep reading…and getting to know you even better.” It is true that we can learn a lot about an author through the stories he tells. In much the same way, we are also able to learn about God from the story He is telling through creation.

Continuing our topic from last week on God’s love, what is it, exactly, that creation reveals about His love? First, we must take a fresh look at how it all unfolds. We must think as an artist thinks.

I was an art major in college. As soon as I was old enough to hold a crayon, I was drawing. When I have a new canvas in front of me, it is blank, empty, and void of anything. So God began with a “blank canvas.”

     Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:2)

As I begin a painting, I start with large sweeps across the canvas. Light and dark colors give a general shape to whatever I’m creating. Much the same as what God did first.

     “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good,
and God separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1:3-4)

Smaller shapes made with the brush bring more definition. The painting becomes a bit more interesting, just like God’s creation when He separated the waters with an expanse He called “sky.” Then He gathered all the waters into one place, and made dry land appear. (Genesis 1:9-10) Ah, you can see the scene coming together now.

I am what you would call a “realist artist,” who creates realistic artwork. That involves attention to detail—and I crave detail! With what unfolds next in the creation story, it is an understatement to say our God is a god of detail! He proceeds to call forth all forms of vegetation on the earth. Imagine the succulence as “mangoes laden the branches of their trees, blackberries burst forth on the bushes, cabernet grapes drip from the vine, fields of sun-flowers stand upright, their happy faces to the new sun.” (John Eldredge, Epic, 43)

Notice how His gift of vegetation appeals to all our senses. From the vast textures of all the different fruits, and of course their mouth-watering flavors, to the stunning colors and intricate detail of the wide array of flowers. I love the sweet and tangy aroma of gardenias sneaking through my back porch. Tree branches sway in the mighty forces of the wind, rustling their leaves, while coconuts land with a thud on the hard ground.

As if that weren’t enough, God is not done yet! Fish of every color, imagined and unimagined, some even glowing, begin to jump and swim in the seas. Some are smaller than your finger, others larger than a house! Is there no limit to our God’s creativity? Eagles soar on their wings as songbirds boast their melodies from the trees below. Pink flamingos take their stance on a mud flat, while ostriches race across the African savannah.

There is still more. Land animals appear next. From man’s best friend (I have one myself!), to the king of cats; from cows that provide sustenance, to polar bears exploring the icy waters. You can see the complexity of God’s work increasing with each day. The delicate, silky hot-pink roses that color my yard’s landscape do not hold a candle to the wild Mustang roaming the fields of Montana.

But wait, it gets even better. Even better?! Just to think on what comes next, with the deep awe of all that has been created up until now fresh in my mind’s eye…I am moved to tears. Satisfied with all He’s made so far, God determines something different is needed. Something, or someone, with whom He can share all the love and intimacy and adventure with.

     “Now we will make humans, and they will be like us…” (Genesis 1:27 CEV)

Man and woman are created in the very image of God, to be just like Him. And to rule over every living creature. He creates humans, and sets them right down in the middle of all this wonder and adventure.

Through all of this, it is obvious God is creative, but creativity is not His point. He was not merely showing off. Why would God go to such great lengths to create a world as stunning and mesmerizing as this for us to enjoy and rule over? What is creation’s story telling us about our God’s intent? There can only be one answer.


God uses his creation to woo us. We have become stale, and consumed with our busy lives. We hardly notice the beauty around us, if at all. Many days I’m so impatient to get home after a long day. All I think as I hurry toward the west side of town is how I can’t get there fast enough. When all of sudden, I am awakened; a colorful, vivid sunset with hues I’ve forgotten seizes my attention.

And I am undone. I remember I was created in a world made for romance. A world created by love, in love, and for love. This is what creation’s story is telling us about God’s love.

Some ideas adapted from John Eldredge's book Epic)

Friday, August 20, 2010

God's Love: Part I, "The Creator..."

“In the beginning…” Universally, we know what to expect when we read or hear those words. A story is about to unfold. Instantly we know there is more to follow. It is also true that we must hear and grasp the beginning of a story in order to fully comprehend its middle and end.
For the next few weeks, we will explore God’s love from beginning to end, from before time, to the end of time. Given the title above, you may be thinking, “So what does creation, or God as the Creator, have to do with God’s love?”

Most every translation of the Bible begins with the phrase, “In the beginning.” We tend to think of that as the start of everything, even God Himself. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Obviously God already existed, but was He alone?

You may have heard of God as three persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus), and God the Holy Spirit. When God created the first man, he referred to Himself as more than one when He said, “Let us make man in our image, to be like us.” (Genesis 1:26a NLT). Colossians chapter one also refers to Jesus’ existence with God at the time of Creation. Before the heavens and the earth, or anything else we know of were created, a fellowship with a shared mission already existed.

Picture the opening scene of The Last of the Mohicans. A deep forest is quiet, when all of a sudden a man comes racing through the scene. Then another man appears, followed by yet another. They run through thickets, zig-zagging around trees and jumping over streams. Not a word is spoken, nor are words required. It is understood they share a great intimacy and are on a shared mission; and that something mysterious and very important is going on. (John Eldredge, Epic 19-20)

It is out of this kind of fellowship that we were created, in His image. We are invited up into His larger story as His most precious allies and friends. By design, our creation reveals that we have been asked to play a part in the greatest love story of all time.

To be continued...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What's in the Name?

Let’s face it, for most of us, life is busy. I've heard it said that busyness is a sickness. Whoever said that may not be far off base! We stock-pile our schedules with just about everything we can think of, convincing ourselves it is all valid and necessary.

Have you ever stopped to notice the way most of us “attack life?" We even attack vacations! Cramming in as many activities as possible…to the point we need a vacation from our vacations!

Interestingly enough, many modern day churches in the Western world also "attack" ministry. Most busy it's faithful members to the point of exhaustion. All in the name of Jesus.

In the midst of all our busyness, we're often fraught with hardships and heartbreaks. What is our reaction most of the time? To busy ourselves with more activities. Or at the least, busy our minds with any one of the many technological devices at our disposal. Anything to drown out the pain.

When do we take the time to breathe?

On the contrary, God invites us to come to Him, and rest. Why is rest a foreign word, or worse, nonexistent in our vocabulary? In Matthew 11:28, Jesus tells us to come to Him when we are weary and over-burdened. The Message reads, "'Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.'" (verses 28-30)

What might this rest look like?

A recent trouble and hurt in my own life had me reeling in pain and consumed with questions. I tried busying  myself for a while, but it didn’t work. So, I decided to bombard God with my questions. I was busy in a different way, striving hard for answers. I could not rest for lack of them.

While still bent on my own way, I attended a Ladies' Retreat. Thankfully, God seized my attention through a song that Saturday morning… “Come away, come away. My beloved, come away. Come away…My beloved.” “I am waiting for you,” another portion said.

That afternoon, I found a place on a hill where I could sit alone. In the silence I heard, “stop striving,” over and over. Every time I began with another question to God, I heard the words again. So I laid quiet on a bench for while.

Laughter from other ladies riding nearby on a golf cart broke the silence. Their fun enticed me to take a walk into the woods—where I knew horses were often grazing. To my delight, they were in the stables, and happy to see someone coming to greet them! I was elated because I love horses, and usually they are out in the field and won’t come near. They neighed and whinnied, and shook their heads while I stroked their noses and talked to them.

Satisfied with my findings there, I moved on to an obstacle course hidden deeper in the woods. I danced on the balance beam, and did a few cartwheels, glancing around to be SURE no one was watching! Further still was a rope swing, tied high up in the trees. Feeling a bit lighter and more confident (still w/no one around :o)), I grabbed hold of the rope, and placed one foot on the huge knot at the end. Off I jumped from the platform!

I threw my head back as I jumped again and again, enjoying the breeze and freedom it brought. I felt like a little girl again. I smiled to myself, sensing that God was enjoying this moment as much as I was, knowing it was just me and Him together. As if that was not enough, He provided another surprise on the way back. I spied a pile of hay on the other side of the stable. And wouldn’t you know, the horses were starving!

What in the world does this have to do with rest, you ask?

God knows us through and through, and He knows the things we enjoy. Through the simplest things that day—a song, horses, a balance beam, and a rope swing—He wooed me. Lying back on the bench, reflecting, I realized I felt so much lighter and freer. God had called to me through the busyness and heaviness of life to escape with Him; to just enjoy Him, His creation, and myself!

At that particular time and in that way, He brought me rest. Still reflecting, I could hear His invitation to just live, “Breathe life…in and out" He was saying, "…and in this way, know that I am God.” Read the verses from The Message quoted earlier again:

"'Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.'"

The main mission of this blog is to provide a place where our heart's can rest. And to encourage us to make room for more in our lives. A place where we are quiet enough to hear the invitation: Come…breathe life...

….and Breathe Deeply.

(for more detailed information on the amazing vision of the title words, view the "About (this blog)" tab at the top of the page)

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Where to Begin? (About Me)

I guess you could say I was your typical Christian. Some may have even deemed me a model Christian. A member of the church "9 months before I was born," and there every time the doors were open, even through the teen years.

At the still-tender age of 19, I married a young man who was studying to become a pastor. Once we were in ministry, I was the woman who did practically everything--at the church at all hours, “sacrificing." Several years of this with four kids, a painfully clean house, and "Betty Crocker" stamped on my forehead, I was living the highly esteemed life of duty. Someone actually said my life was perfect...

But I knew it wasn't. All my duty, drive, and perfectionism were a mask to the race I was running, desperate to get away from my past. Betrayal after betrayal by various abuses throughout childhood and my teenage years led me to a life of perfectionism and control. I never wanted to feel or be out of control again, which led me to this style of living and relating.

Convinced by our Enemy that the betrayals were solely my fault, I hid. And I was exhausted. Constantly keeping my world spinning on this axis of control and living in this mode of self-protection was beyond tiring.

Around the age of 27, my self-preservation began to unravel. I'm not quite sure how it started, how I began to see that something was not right. But somehow I could see Jesus coming for me, melting the steel walls I had formed unaware around my heart.

Like in Hosea 2:14, through a series of events in just a couple months of time (a significant death in the family, my husband losing a pastorate with nowhere to go, and losing my closest friendship) God thwarted me. All my raw nerve endings were exposed, and I could no longer hide them. As the scripture speaks of, He led me to the desert and walled me off...and He began to speak tenderly to me. I could no longer "save myself," as I had been trying for years. God was saving me FROM myself.

For three years I walked with God through a head-on collision with my past. Patiently and tenderly, God worked with me until I could see my past in the light of His truth. I began to understand that I lived under a crushing weight of false guilt. And under a debilitating lie that I was a disappointment…to my parents, my family, my peers, and God. Because I believed these lies, I hid my true self under the masks of duty and perfectionism to the point I forgot who I really was.

It was not easy to trade the lies for the truth. My past had become the definition of who I was, and it was painfully scary to let go of those false definitions because they felt so true. I remember the day God beautifully spoke to me as I was driving. After weeks of struggling through fear and uncertainty of my true identity and who I would be without the labels from my past, He showed me how hanging on to those labels was like keeping my 10+ year old favorite t-shirts that I still wore around the house—thin rags with big holes in them, and doing a very poor job of covering me!

In contrast, He stood before me offering His "Robes of GLORY," asking me if I would exchange the ragged t-shirts I clung to for His "rich Robes of Glory." In other words, our false view of ourselves and developed style of relating because of our past cannot present a true interpretation of who we are in Christ Jesus! The old is gone! The new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Sure, old habits tend to die hard. But that day I understood the dutiful, controlling life I had been living was not the full life Jesus promises. Through my past, our arch enemy had sought to steal, kill, and destroy me. (John 10:10a) I had been a woman in hiding running from her past and her God...and no one could tell. (Maybe because like me, many others were/are unknowingly doing the same under similar masks.) Thankfully, Jesus came to my rescue and showed me how to live life to the full. (John 10:10b). Beauty has risen from the ashes of my past. (Isaiah 61:1-3) And freedom like I have never known or heard of flooded every fiber of my being and spilled over into my home, my relationships, and my worship.

"Model Christian" took on a new meaning. No longer an exhausted woman/wife/mom/church member hiding my true life and testimony. With each passing season, Jesus takes me into greater and greater wholeness. I am learning to rest, to love, and to offer beauty and life to those around me. The beauty of a past that has been healed.

It is from this freedom, beauty, and life that I hopes that you will find freedom, beauty, and life, too.

(If you would like to learn more of this journey to life and freedom, the series begins in the December 2010 archive with the title "From Slavery to Freedom")