Month: May 2016

Dust

Psalm 103:13-14

“As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.”

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Well, I finally got tattoo #8 yesterday. I’d been thinking about it for some time, but the logistics only just fell into place. Whenever people see a tattoo in another language, the first thing they ask is what it means. Well, in this case, the Korean symbol on the back of my ankle means “dust.” It isn’t the only symbol for dust in the Korean language, but this one means, “soil, earth, clay, dust, ground, terra.” And that seems pretty close to the meaning of dust in the Bible verse above. WE. ARE. DUST.

I think we forget that sometimes. We think we are greater than we are, more invincible, more in control of our own destiny. Or maybe we are constantly beating ourselves up because we aren’t as great as we think we should be; we aren’t as kind, honest, or righteous as we are called to be. We fail. We fall. We disappoint ourselves, and those around us, and presumably God. But the verse above suggests that our God is a God of compassion, understanding, and unconditional love.

We also need to remember that, just as we are formed from dust, so are the people around us. They will fail. They will fall—and the higher the pedestal you’ve put them on, the greater the fall will be. They will disappoint. They will betray. And God remembers that they, too, are but dust.

Now, does this mean we should throw in the towel and dispense with all the good we know we should do? Does it mean we should do away with our efforts to promote justice and righteousness? And does it mean we should try to avoid the consequences of our actions, or protect others from suffering the consequences of theirs? No, no, and no. Paul makes that abundantly clear in Romans 6:1-2: “What then shall we say? Shall we continue in sin so that grace may increase? By no means! How can we who died to sin live in it any longer?”

We should do what we know to be right and good. As Micah 6:8 commands, we must seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. And as Jesus stated (Luke 10:27), we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Still, as hard as we try to obey God’s instructions, we will fail at least some of the time. And no matter how hard our fellow believers try to keep those commands, they will fail. And no matter how much trust and loyalty we place in our leaders, they too will fail. And maybe, just maybe, if the God of the universe—holy, righteous, and just—can show compassion toward such dusty creatures as you and me, then perhaps we could too.

Sold!

1 Corinthians 6:20a
“You were bought at a price…”

1 Peter 1:18-19
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

In this day and age, when people keep talking about having great hands, beautiful tax returns, and “the best words,” I have to admit, I have none of those. Well, to be honest, sometimes I actually do have the best words, but that’s only because I have such a love of the English language. But whenever anything like tact or diplomacy are called for, I can be almost guaranteed to NOT have the right words.

Not only that, but I often ask the wrong questions, I seldom have the right answers, I frequently make the wrong choices. And I’m not talking about morally wrong choices (although I’ve made my share of those, too). But I have been known to spend too much on a sweater, or to pass up a pair of pajamas that I absolutely LOVED over a $15 price tag (those Walrus pajamas will haunt me forever). I could go on and on. This may explain why I can spend 15 minutes in the meat aisle at the grocery store, deliberating on which is the right cut of beef for this week’s recipe.

In my shortcomings, though, I have this comfort: for every mistake or misstep I make, for every time I fail or fall short, GOD. NEVER. DOES. He never has. He never will. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus was channeling a future Toby Keith—

I don’t want to die for you, but if dying’s asked of me,
I’ll bear that cross with honor, ‘cause freedom don’t come free—

He said yes, and He meant it. He knew everything about you—the good, the bad, the ugly—and He chose you. He bought you, purchased you, redeemed you. He paid the ultimate price for you, because you’re worth it. YOU. ARE. WORTH. IT…to the One who matters most. Don’t ever forget that.

Garner State Park 12

Hooked

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For the past year, I have been privileged to lead a Sunday school class for our church’s older members, the Harvesters (so named for the biblical concept of first sowing, and later reaping a harvest). A few months ago, I taught based on an example of what we like to refer to as “God in culture,” and I chose the television series Once Upon a Time. In the first place, I have grown to love the show, and in the second, it seems to me to have many parallels to or reflections of biblical principles and ideas. In that lesson, I brought up the term simulacra, which has been studied extensively in sociological circles. It is essentially the idea that in modern culture, we have created many mediums that convey some level of likeness to or similarity with reality, and yet those cultural objects have in some way lost their reference points, and become an alternate reality of sorts. It’s a complicated idea, to be sure. But in my own life and experience, it is very easy to relate. Let me explain.

When I watch a movie or a television show, I often become swept up in the plot line, in the characters, and so forth. I may watch a movie or a TV episode and ruminate over it for days, or even weeks afterward. They almost become real—like some kind of digital velveteen rabbit. They truly affect me, at a fundamental level. And yet, they don’t really reflect anything. They’re fictional, made up, fantasies. Fun ones, but artificial nonetheless. You’ve likely experienced this same phenomenon, after watching a series finale perhaps. I mean, come on, Netflix has coined the term “showhole” to describe this feeling of loss. So maybe you can understand where I’m coming from, and if so, you may appreciate a glimpse into this past week’s Sunday school lesson, wherein I again went back to God in culture, to simulacra, and to Once Upon a Time

…Well, my simulacra is acting up again, which means it’s time for an update on Once Upon a Time. And of course, our main focus is still on the “Hook and Emma” arc—where Captain Hook and Emma Swan (the heroine of the story) are trying their darndest to successfully pursue a romantic relationship—but life and magic keep getting in the way. When last we left them, Emma had tried to save Hook from a fatal wound using dark magic—thereby imbuing him with dark magic. She kept this a secret from him for a while, but when he learned the truth, he felt betrayed and decided to embrace his dark side. In the end, though, he made the right choice—to die a hero and rid the world of dark magic forever. But that sent him to the underworld, which is basically like a kind of purgatory where people go if they’ve died with “unfinished business.”

And as it turns out, one of the story’s villains had tricked Hook, and channeled all of the dark magic to himself, making Hook’s death an apparent waste. So, in the winter finale, Emma and her friends and family resolved to go to the underworld and rescue Hook—and that’s where they’ve been all spring. While looking for a way to get Hook out of the underworld, the team of heroes manages to help many of its residents recognize and resolve their unfinished business, allowing them to move on from there. A few end up in the River of Lost Souls, which is most closely equivalent to hell. But most of them follow a bridge toward a light—presumably heaven, but that’s never stated explicitly.

Well, long story short, it turns out there’s no way for Hook to return to the living world. Emma is crushed, of course, but Hook comforts her and encourages her to let go and go back to Storybrooke. She goes, but only with his promise that he will move on from the underworld, and not allow her to be his unfinished business. So we can expect that one day, they might be together again, in the afterlife. I think that may provide a greater level of resolution for Emma than it does for me. You see, for me—in the real world—Hook is a fictional character who will never be again. He’s just—GONE.

I can’t help but wonder if this feeling of emptiness is akin to the feeling that people experience in the face of loss when they don’t have the hope of heaven, or a belief in God. It seems so, based on 1 Thessalonians 4:13, which states, “Brothers, we do not what you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” But it is, no doubt, exponentially worse for those who mourn the loss of a real live person, and one whom they have loved. As often happens, my compassion for these souls—those who’ve left and those left behind—is renewed and deepened, as I attempt to empathize with such an unbearable position. Won’t you join me in saying a prayer for the unbelieving among us—that they would find the hope that comes only through a saving relationship with our Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus. Amen!

Author of My Peace

Phillippians 4:7

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

A friend of mine recently sang on a worship CD produced by KingsGate Community Church. In particular, she was featured on a song called “Saviour, Healer.” You would do well to find it, listen to it, and buy it—you will surely be blessed. Some of the lyrics are:

Saviour, healer, my redeemer
Author of my peace
Perfect Father, like no other
Love that will not cease.

That second line caught my attention. I love to think of God as the author of my peace. The fact of the matter is that I cannot pen my own peace, no matter how hard I try, or how carefully I plan, or how vividly I dream. I don’t know what surprises are lurking around the next corner. I don’t know the challenges and trials that lie ahead for me and my family. So circumstances cannot be the source of my peace—they would produce a precarious peace at best.

But God does know every single detail of my life—from start to finish (and beyond). So He is the only one qualified to author my peace. So I find peace in knowing that no matter what I face—in turmoil, disappointment, and uncertainty—God is in control of my story. So as God orders my steps, may I claim His perfect and all-surpassing peace. And may the peace of God be also with you, today and every day.

Garner State Park 12