Becoming

You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations –these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit –immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
– C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

 

Photo by Matt H Wade

I live in Orlando, a city best known for its theme park kingdoms. Most of us who live here take little notice of them, considering them irrelevant (except for occasional matters of traffic) to the struggles of daily life. I’m afraid that’s how we sometimes view God’s Kingdom, too.

 

Everyone who rightly claims the name of “Christian” has been given a free ticket to a supernatural kingdom of epic adventures, but most of us are content to stop just inside the gate and camp permanently in the parking lot. After all, it is clean and safe here. Little effort is required to wander aimlessly in the immediate vicinity. From time to time snatches of captivating music tempt us to press on for points unknown, but daily struggles, unspoken fears or a lack of imagination keep us rooted to the pavement.

 

Christ bought the ticket we carry in our pocket, and it was His song which drew us through the outer gate. Far in the distance stands a blazing throne where God the Father reigns in unimaginable glory, and it is toward this throne that Christ’s footsteps lead us, that gratitude for His love compels us, that the promise of His grace draws us. Between the gate and throne lie diverse pathways lined with heaven’s riches which are ours to discover if we will. Some of you will be saying, “Riches? The route of my life has included far more disasters than miracles.” But I am not referring to the outward condition of life but to the inner process of becoming Christ-like. It is a process of goodness and glory which requires our attention and cooperation and invites our celebration. Having passed through the narrow gate which divides the dead from the living, it is time to leave the anteroom where life is habitual and the world’s songs drown out heaven’s music. Half-hearted devotion is satisfied with half-truths and temporary treasures, but we were not redeemed for such trinkets.

 

God has infinite gifts tailored to meet the particular needs of His children. To move toward God is to become a little better, a little wiser, a little fuller, and a little more beautiful than we were before. One small step in the right direction will bring us that much closer to the Savior who has gone before us. Yes, we may encounter difficulties – battles and wounds, even – but there is no limit to the grace and joy to be found by walking forward in faith. When we finish this earthly sojourn, we will have become something more than we are now, and when we finally arrive at the foot of the throne, “the souls of righteous men made perfect,” (Heb. 12:23) we will have become everything that God dreamed for us. Right now, right here, all of us who dare this quest are in the process of becoming that new and glorious creature.

 

The Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesians that they might “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,” and “be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19). Can you imagine what that might mean, to be filled up to all the fullness of God? For one thing, it means that no matter how much you know of Him now, how much you are filled with His love, how much you understand His goodness, His sufficiency, His power in your life – there is more! There’s more right now, and there is always more. That is the marvel of God’s kingdom. You can always press a little closer to the throne. The wonderful promise for us is that when we draw near to God, He will also draw near to us (James 4:8).

 

Discuss it: What would it mean for you to step a little deeper into the Kingdom of God? What keeps you from taking that step?

* Would it mean clarifying a belief you have struggled with?

* Taking on a greater challenge in the area of service?

* Might it mean facing that sin you’ve brushed aside?

* Could it mean forgiving the nearly-unforgivable?

* Perhaps making prayer a more constant source of strength?

* Memorizing your favorite passage?

Let me know what is calling you deeper in.

 


 

I am having a happy summer break with the Littles, so this post is a repeat from several years ago.

Who Am I?


Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a haunting poem called “Who Am I?” from his jail cell in war-time Nazi Germany.  In it he considers the difference between others’ observations of him, as brave and confident throughout his imprisonment, and the way he felt inside, like “a contemptible woebegone weakling.”  His confusion is familiar to me in this season of Lent when we are encouraged to remember our abiding sinfulness and to repent of all its unseemliness before our Most Holy God.  In the process of doing that good work of repentance, I can sometimes get lost in my own shame, scrabbling like a squirrel in a box to find the way back to courage and confidence.  Who am I?  A worthless sinner who even in her best moments can never escape her own failures?  Or the beloved daughter of the King of Everything, a courageous and powerful extension of her Father’s purpose in the world? 

 

Scripture tells me that I am a sinner before I sin, that my humanness is confined by my fallenness, that I will never in this life do anything which is pure or worthy of the great attention which God pours upon me by His grace alone.  When I clothe myself in my most shining achievement, it is, in comparison to God’s beauty, as though I had covered my nakedness with excrement (Is. 64:6, Zec. 3:3). There is a deep and enduring truth here which is dangerous to ignore – I cannot forget my sin nature or the way it works itself out in practical, cunning and consistent corruption.  If I do forget that, it will overtake me.  Even worse, when I devalue my own sinfulness, I devalue the price which was paid to free me. 

 

However, alongside my very real need for repentance and the truth of my depravity, there is also a danger in claiming the name, “Worthless.”  I count myself among those who have taken that name early in life, and we spend much of our emotional capital repeating it to ourselves (Stupid!  Failure!  Worthless!).  We also spend much of our time and energy trying to climb out of that pit, to earn our own freedom, to change our own name, to fill the hole in our hearts with affirmation or accomplishments that we have garnered for ourselves.  I carry a psychic tennis racquet to bat away the compliments I cannot accept, and yet I will work harder and longer the next time around to make sure someone keeps lobbing them my way.  When I live out of my Worthless identity, I am trying to fix my own problem by myself. Real repentance doesn’t try to take its own punishment or repair its own brokenness.  Real repentance throws us passionately, even joyfully, back into the arms of God where we belong.

 

While we take needed time during Lent to recognize and repent of the sinfulness which infects our cells like a virus, it is another part of worship to rejoice in the fact that have already swallowed the cure.  In fact, God sees us clothed in the righteousness of Christ and seated with Him in heaven (Eph. 2:6) because that’s our truest nature.  It has been accomplished FOR us.  It is still being accomplished IN us.  Our sin nature is falling away, being conquered in slow motion.  Let us not define ourselves by the part of us which is dying.  Let us answer the question, “Who am I?” the way God answers it for us.  It doesn’t matter how much you or I feel that we are putrid pond scum.  God says that we are His bride, His friend, His child, His “Beloved.”  That is who we are and who we are becoming.  At the same time, Beloved could not be our identity or our destiny if Christ had not come to save us from ourselves.  That immense and glorious salvation is what we celebrate with the heartfelt offering of our repentance.


Beads on a String

It was an incongruous place to be stringing pearls. Her hair was a memory, and her face was puffy with swelling, but those beautiful, shapely fingers were quick and steady. One by one she picked out the beads, setting them aside to become an integral part of her latest creation. The others sitting nearby looked on curiously as a slow drip ran varicolored fluids into her chest beneath the collar bone. They, too, had bare metal trees flowing toxic sap, infusing hope. But they did not have the beads, the flashing silver spacers, the diamond-cut glass spheres, and the pearls that ran from her fingertips onto tiger-tail circlets.

 

Her smile was out-of-place, too, in the clinic. Most people tried to sleep the hours away while burning liquid invaded their tissues. But if a cocky beret and an inviting countenance were not enough to induce a conversation from her neighbors, there were always the beads. If you wanted to try, she would let you choose your colors from her box of surprises, show you how to handle the pliers, how to close the crimp beads to just the right tension. So that when you left you would have something to remember: a bracelet, a keepsake, a connection.

 

She gave them to all her friends in those days, a little bit of herself that sprang from the dark hours. A little bit of herself that glittered with life. She let me make my own one day, but I’ve never been very inventive, and she had to help me choose the colors. We picked a handful of blue beads in turquoise, powder and midnight, pearls in white and silver-gray. Some of them looked nearly black to me, dull and uninviting. Others were unusual, with bits of contrasting glass stuck on at odd angles. And several of them were my favorites. I would have made the whole circle of just those beautiful beads: creamy white with soft blue accents and elegant gold trim.

 

She knew better than I, however. Because when I had inexpertly strung all of them together and she had helped me finish off my bracelet, it was a little work of art. I stare at it now, examining each bead and the way they all meld into one eclectic whole. That was her wisdom. Each bead is unique, some dull, others wild, a few lovely. But when the artist has finished, they blend into a satisfying creation that can never be duplicated, a song from the heart of its maker.

 

As day upon day is strung on the cord that becomes a life, it is a gift to hold each one in our hands and notice without rancor whether they are troubling or luminous or ordinary, dull or wild or lovely. The uniqueness and delight of God’s work comes not from a bland sameness of beauty, but from His blending of the light and the dark in a pattern which can only be fully appreciated from afar. And thus the Creator is glorified, taking pleasure in each story which reflects His sovereign artistry. Year upon year, life upon life, like pearls on a string, our days are meant to reflect the heart of God – just as surely as my sparkling bracelet still reflects her love in a world she has long transcended.

 


I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Thy doings; I muse on the work of Thy hands.  Ps. 143:5