More Than the God of Men

green-leaf-in-the-rain

“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.”
– George MacDonald –

I wonder if she wanted to break free of that sloping little village nestled on the hip of the Mount of Olives.

From her home less than two miles from Jerusalem, she could see the magnificent bulk of Herod’s Temple filling the valley, dwarfing the clay-walled houses and the winding, dusty streets trailing so close below her. Perhaps she leaned on a rough-strawed broom and watched the men file to worship, or contemplated the boys, traveling in swarms to synagogue to be taught the law.

Born there, raised in a place and time where women cooked and hauled and cleaned, only to be sent away when the excitement began–I wonder if her mind itched and ached to hold words that all the men her age had known by heart since they turned thirteen.

Did it gnaw at her soul that the men of her country thanked God for not being born female? That womanhood was a curse to be borne in silence?

But then He came.

I’m not sure when she first heard His words, but something deeply thirsty in her must have swelled at His voice. A man who, of all rabbis, was different. He talked to her–actually spoke to her, a woman. It simply wasn’t done.

“Through the gospels, every encounter that Jesus has with women is a positive one. The women understand him before the men do; women are excused of their housewifely duties in order to sit and learn with the men (Luke 10: 38 ff.). Women stay with him at the Cross when his male disciples have mostly hidden; it is to women that Jesus shows himself first after his resurrection….Jesus’s every interaction with women elevates their status in a culture that very much considered them second-class beings.”

– Timothy Keller, from The Meaning of Marriage, page 267

All the longing to learn, the hunger to be filled up with God’s truth, came to life when she met Him. Here, at last, was a man who saw her as something of value, not as property to be manipulated.

One day He came to see her and her two siblings. Her sister was off doing what everyone expected a woman to do. Her brother was there, listening to the rabbi. All the men that crossed the Jewish countryside at the teacher’s side gathered close.

I wonder how she made her next move. Did she take a breath and step over reclining forms and around sprawled legs and bump into crowded-close shoulders to get to him? Perhaps the men glared at her and muttered guttural disapproval, or stared at one another in shock when she dared to pass through them.

And yet she pressed on through and sat down–in bold, flagrant opposition to all the social conditioning she had ever known–right at the feet of Jesus.

And all the new of tumultuous Zealot uprisings tittering in Jerusalem alleys, all the scorn of her countrymen sitting close around her, all the parading of the Pharisees on the street corners, and all the tuggings of her sister to drag her back to the kitchen, could not move this one girl from the place that she knew she belonged.

The greatest Rabbi, God in skin, commended her choice. With his words, he blessed her–this counter-cultural girl named Mary.

“…One thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” -Luke 10:42, NIV

With a few phrases, an entire culture was overthrown. No more were women to be slaves or oxen to be kept. Jesus smiled on one Jewish girl, and elevated her to an equal place among the disciples gathered at his feet.

It was with wonder on his face that my pastor spoke of these things in a recent sermon. He directed the congregation to the Biblical proclamation that affirmed the place of women in the court of the King:

 “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” -Galatians 3:26-28 –

Today’s “liberation” for women has worn the wonder thin. We no longer have to fight and struggle and long for equality. It is, at least on the surface, granted us in our culture. Or so we think.

Yet often we are still so enslaved to the whims of our society that we follow its dictates without a thought. Perhaps we are not so different from the women that thronged Jerusalem streets, yet remained invisible to the world.

We blend in, picking up the instruments of labor assigned to us. Today culture hands us briefcases, degrees, titles–still not asking what it is that we were created to do. Not so distant from the time that sandals were in style instead of stilettos, when the culture’s appointed tool was a water pot instead of an iPad.

Jesus turned everything that his disciples assumed inside-out. Why shouldn’t His gospel do the same for us?

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed…” – Romans 12:2  –

Women who follow Christ never have to look to the culture to find the acceptable role. They only have to look to their Savior.

Only at His feet can we begin to change this world.

What about you? Have you fallen into the culture’s mold without question?

Or have you accepted the Radical Call of Jesus?

Today’s photo came from Public Domain Pictures, by photographer George Hodan.

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Charting Paths and Planting Trees

yellow-trees

“To be born is to be exposed to delights and miseries greater than imagination could have anticipated; that the choice of ways at any cross-road may be more important than we think; and that short cuts may lead us to very nasty places.”

– C.S. Lewis, emphasis mine –

You could say that I was raised to be a gardener, to plant little round specks of seeds that would grow comfortable and familiar in my dusty palm before I really understood. Young as I was, I didn’t know enough to wonder what they would sprout up to become.

With equal truth, you could say that I was born to chart paths. Taught to read enough signposts, though, a girl can become numb to the meaning of the places etched on the wood. Adventurous lands erode into formless names. What was meant to thrill can fade into the rut of habit.

True– to be born in a place where planting seeds and navigating cross-roads is commonplace, must be a privilege. I’m conscious of the voices, the onlookers that wish that they’d been born in my place. Yet I still find the sacred ebbing into merely commonplace.

I, born to a call, wake up one day to find that “There” has grown to be a dull place to be.

And I wonder why opening up pages of God-words doesn’t knock me over with glory.

It bothers me that in the morning I can blink open my eyes to the orange-gold sun and not be flooded with speechless wonder.

When the people I meet are…just normal. Something I accept, without an accelerating flutter of my heart.

When my view of family disintegrates into “those people who live here with me.” When dear people’s embraces are expected, usual.

When I accept a day’s pattern with no more excitement than a shrug and a nod.

It’s not that love–life, the glory–is dead. I feel it, deep inside. But muddy, work-hardened fingers have gotten so stiffly mechanical that dropping the seeds into the soil no longer stirs dreams of what will sprout. “This is just what I do. I plant.”

Rattling off the proper turn to make on the journey has become patently logical. “I ought to go this way. It’s the correct way.” Never mind that I used to lie awake nights smiling to myself about the uncharted geography over the next rise. The crinkles in the old maps, the tracks of ridges and beloved valleys and heart-welling childhood glens hidden with faded-ink X’s on old cartographs–these used to quicken my pulse. Imaginings of the sweet, new-land air, the orange-and-spice thrill of mountains and falling waters and trees that stretch on and on to the sun. But now my feet simply go forward. I’ve forgotten how to stop and wonder.

Wake up!

“Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.” – Psalm 57:8

I shake the shoulders of my slumbering soul. “Wake up!” Tears start to my eyes.My skin bristles with a chill. I’m fearing vision eternally fogged with dream-sleep. Oh, that the charted paths would clear of dust and glow gold again. That the seed would slip again through tender hands, smooth of callouses. I ache to see the glory.

Frantic, wild attempts at self-stirring finally spiral into a gliding calm, a prayer to the only Heart-Awakener.

“Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.” – Psalm 51:12, CEB –

Sleep fading from long-still muscles leaves a tingling numbness. But I am–so slowly–beginning to see the dawn.

A compass atop a faded map, waiting at the doorstop, beckon. An adventure waits for my feet to follow. A Friend lingers to walk at my side. He’s already pointing the way to the next rise. I can see He’s come this way before.

The Gardener calls and I realize, as if for the first time, what can spring from the seeds He holds out. Tiny in my palm, yet they may be trees.

Deeds, planted–today. Journeys, started in faith–yes, today I can step through the door.

Tucking potential deep into loamy furrows, I close my eyes and He lets me see the glorious things that may be.

At the beginning of my trek, He leads me to a mountain’s crest and I can see, in dawn swirling on low clouds, dim shapes of the wonders that await in the miles ahead.

“Restore to me this joy.” This time the words are full and breathless. He is so marvelously good to call back this life.

Storyteller Andrew Peterson paints it all in bright words, what this planting, this stepping out, is for us:

“We chose the spot, we dug the hole
We laid the maples in the ground to have and hold
As Autumn falls to Winters sleep
We pray that somehow in the Spring
The roots grow deep

And many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn…

…So sit down and write that letter
Sign up and join the fight
Sink in to all that matters
Step out into the light
Let go of all that’s passing
Lift up the least of these
Lean into something lasting
Planting trees…

So many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless someone”

lyrics from “Planting Trees,” by Andrew Peterson

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

“Awake, my soul!
    Awake, harp and lyre!
        I will awaken the dawn

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
    I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth.”

– Psalm 57:8-11, NIV –

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Thank you, Public Domain Pictures and Larisa Koshkina, for today’s image.

The Truer Land

flowers-139136937323p“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”
– G.K. Chesterton –

Fairy tales object to being outgrown.

I, at least, don’t seem able to do it.

Writers have long spoken this secret. C. S. Lewis avowed that a fairy tale not good enough to be read by an adult wasn’t good enough for anybody.

But sometimes you have to read for yourself, step into a glittering, strange, noble place and find out what it is really like from the inside.

Something about a brand new world for adventures–a whole creation, made up from the whirring cogs of a feracious mind–speaks to me.

New palettes for my imagination result, and suddenly nearly anything can happen, in a whirl of shimmering, phantasmal hues.

People can argue about the merits of so-called “fantasy.” Certainly, bad stories proliferate faster than the good stories. Wise people stand on both ends of the “fiction see-saw.” I don’t like to give up on stories, though. If stories–parables, they’re often called–were useful to Jesus, surely I am not presumptuous in taking them up. All I know is that the most fantastic things are often those that turn out to be True.

And the Truest things are often the most unbelievably, preposterously outlandish. And the most Wondrous things are the ones we most quickly forget.

What, a God who stoops to breathe air and trace earth and live in a flesh-tent as one of His created things?

Surely not, that bones long weather-cracked can stir with life?

What storytelling, that the Death of One could enact the Life of Many?

Many, Lord my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.

– Psalm 40: 5, NIV –

But we’ve told ourselves the history until it’s all drabness. We’ve talked ourselves out of the wonder.

Tales of another world come down to ours, melt into nothing more than a sanitized Sunday School lesson. We push and shove on the idea of God until we think we’ve contained Him to our comfortable, clean, neat little box. Never mind that we’re sitting on it and hopping a little to get it to latch–like a suitcase overfilled for summer break.

Nevertheless, Truth exists, in all its unconventional glory. But perhaps we humans don’t quite know where to draw the boundaries sometimes? Perhaps we erase lines where God has written them, and inscribe them where He has never said they should be?

What is His line, This God who is Truth in flesh?

He is Truth.

C. S. Lewis has a delightful way of turning about our way of saying things, revealing that our little self-constructed “lines” are only fog curtains to reduce the mystery. We like to solve mysteries–maybe it’s because we like to control them. But God, fully uncontrollable, is full of mystery. And He tells fairy tales that are true.

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths….Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’.”

So these books that open worlds?

They’re portals that take my concept of myth and turn it on edge.

For a little while, I give the author “the secret handshake”–agreeing to “suspend belief” for a moment so I can take in his new world for what it is. Fantasy. Make-believe.

And yet, at the end of the tale, I’m often met with unexpected truth–an old friend on a path I thought to be unexplored–, a thrumming Truth in this made-up world, pulsing with the life of what I’ve believed all along.

Not in the words. Not even in the faces of strange creatures or the curiosity of abnormal physics or familiarity of human nature.

In the echoes of certain stories, I feel that the deepest part of it is the Truest part. One element that supersedes fictional places or the boundaries of worlds. An other-worldly longing for Redemption.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

And then, awakening in this Real world, with Real people, I see better.

After reading about things that I don’t expect to be true, I have fresh eyes to see the things that really are.

The point, after all, isn’t the contents of the finely-spun tale. It’s the lesson I learned in the reading–that, indeed, dragons can be killed.

Putting down a good story, I can see God’s Reality with fresh eyes.

Wise tales make the old seem new. They turn the oft-walked-by into a reason for joy. Good stories unmute the singing world so we too-deaf humans can hear the symphony at last.

Do you know how the clouds hang poised,
those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge? – Job 37:16, NIV

Have you wondered lately? About this Story of our Savior’s that’s being written all around and through and in us?

Let’s join the parade, the marching line of story-tellers that “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done” (Psalm 78:4).

Setting down our fairy tales, let’s go out and take off our shoes.

Let us love…for He has poured out Love first, to us, to make us His.

And sing…for we are surrounded by hosts of witnesses, crying out His praise in a thousand languages that we have largely trained ourselves to ignore.

And wonder…for this is the Greatest of Stories and He has brought us about for this season, for His praise.

Beyond the Climax, when Jesus sets all right and inaugurates the True “Happily Ever After,” we will finally see.

“But this is precisely what is written: God has prepared things for those who love him that no eye has seen, or ear has heard, or that haven’t crossed the mind of any human being.” – 1 Corinthians 2:9, CEB

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
 – Gilbert K. Chesterton, emphasis mine –

See also: Psalm 40:5, Psalm 65:8, Daniel 4:2, Job 5:9, Psalm 17:7

Thank you to Public Domain Pictures and George Hodan for today’s photo.