And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Monday, June 21, 2010

June 21, 2010 Loving the Law

“Blessed is the man…(whose) delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yield its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”

From Psalm 1:1-3, NIV

I usually have a book lying around for entertainment purposes. There are favorites from C.S. Lewis or Ferrol Sams, for example, which I've read many times and will never stop returning to. Or I’ll get on one author and strip the local library shelves of two or three of his or her offerings at a time, primarily when I’m in the mood for a good crime story or humor.

I’ll read for research or study as well, gleaning from those more learned than myself or anticipating the lively discussion with a group of people reading the same book simultaneously.

As much as I love books –as often as I have fussed at a child for carelessly leaving a book’s binding in stress, or getting sticky fingers on its sacred pages—as often as I have scolded, “Books are our friends!” I myself am terribly hard on books. Paperbacks generally end up gaining width from hot afternoons, resting against my sweatiness as I sit by the pool…or being splashed in the tub as I read in my favorite spot of all. If the library saw me with their precious and generous volumes suffering the perilous conditions to which I frequently subject them, they would install a guard outside the door and prohibit my entry every two weeks.

Obviously (because it is The Guidebook to end all guidebooks, and I am just one more sojourner in a foreign land) I must continually turn to the Bible for instruction and illumination, no matter how often it has been read or how familiar its passages. The fact is, I don't fully follow its precepts on a day to day, minute to minute basis. There is a great deal I don’t understand, much less follow! therefore, I must continue my studies.

What a privilege this is, what a luxury, compared to the experience so many have had throughout history and in other parts of the world today. To own even complete copy of the Bible, to have it within reach at all times, to say nothing of the fact that most Christian homes own multiple copies, whether underlined and highlighted and much thumbed-through, or sitting on shelves in fancy leather bindings gathering dust.

My library book at the moment is People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. Based on a true story, it winds through history telling the story of one beautiful book, a haggadah used for Jewish Sabbath worship in the home. A modern-day analyst is asked to unlock the mysteries of various stains and bindings and parchment choices, but Brooks also takes readers back in time, letting us see the particular events and people that have made the book’s survival possible for hundreds of years.

Whereas people underwent great trials to protect the haggadah…and whereas throughout history people have suffered to protect their own holy books…we, I fear, are jaded to the importance of the Bible. We can easily purchase any size, color, weight, print, or translation we desire. Audio or illustrated, hardback or paper, large print for a massive pulpit or tiny print in a pocket version, Bibles for athletes and women and children and Messianic Jews and the military.

The old saying "familiarity breeds contempt" may apply. We have access to the Bible that costs us little or nothing, but do we love the Law?

When a person has a deep emotional need he or she is like a dry, thirsty plant surrounded by arid terrain, withering day after day beneath a merciless sun. Another person…perhaps with good motives, perhaps not…walks by with a watering can and empties it on the tree. Does the tree stop and ask if it should drink in the moisture? Does it ask whether or not death might be preferable to the assistance in that particular watering can? No, the tree responds. Any person passing by, any source of water, and the tree will respond. How can it not?

Rather than tell us how to resist strange water, the psalmist tells us how to avoid the very state of drought. Not only do we not have to respond to the wrong people, the wrong distractions, the wrong thoughts, the wrong supplying of needs, we can….through God’s word….maintain a life of continual "wateredness" so that our leaves never wither.

The person who loves the Law, Psalms 1 says, is like a tree planted by streams of water. Regardless of the outward circumstances, the needs that this person or that can not or will not meet, the stress, the trials... the person who LOVES THE LAW OF GOD is like a tree by a stream. The circumstances, the so-called reality of his life are not different, but HE is different. He is like a plant with a ready, constant source of water. His leaves never wither, regardless of the heat of the sun or the failed irrigation systems around him.

Some of us rarely look at the Law (the first five books of the Bible) outside of Sunday school lessons about Noah, Moses, Abraham and David. There are dry stretches. There is THE law that makes us uncomfortable with its apparent pickiness over things we might, as American Gentiles, find irrelevant. And besides, that was the Old Testament. Jesus brought a new covenant.
ACtually, he said he came to fulfill the Law, not "abolish it" (see Matthew 5:17-18). And it is those five books which, according to Psalms 1, hold the key to our spiritual protection and growth. Our love for tthe Law…or our neglect of it…makes the difference between watered and withered. Drenched or dry. Bearers of fruit or barren of fruit.

Makes you want to curl up with Leviticus, doesn’t it?
Permission to use with acknowledgement of source.

Monday, June 7, 2010

June 7, 2010 The Mirror of God’s Word

“Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act--they will be blessed in their doing (James 1:22-25, NRSV)."

A two-sided mirror hangs mounted on the wall in our well-lit bathroom at home—one side provides a real-size image while the other is magnified. A light around its edges makes it even more user-friendly; even though the reflection is sometimes not what I might wish for…increasing lines, a stubborn red patch on my forehead that refuses to heal, the occasional (and gasp-producing) coarse chin hair…I use it frequently.

Contrast this with the mornings I run in town and try, still hot and sweaty, to muddle through the art of make-up application in the only adequately lit bathroom where I work. While grateful for any light, and any mirror, the result is far more likely to be…uneven.

Recently I was getting dressed at home and noticed that my face, reflected across the room in that mounted mirror, was upside down. I was at the exact distance at which the convex mirror, through mysterious laws of physics I will not attempt to explain (even Googling wasn’t much help) “flipped” the image. I wasn’t standing on the ceiling in reality, but the deceptive image made it seem so.

You’re probably way ahead of me. If James is telling us, in the passage cited above, that we have to look into the word of God and apply it, obviously the further away from the word (the “mirror”) we find ourselves, the more distorted will be our understanding and perception.

Last week I devoured The Shack by William Young, a book I had avoided since its publication in 2007. I’m not sure why I hadn’t read it—maybe the phenomenon that it became put me off. It seemed everywhere I turned someone would ask me if I’d read it yet, implying that (1) “you should” and (2) “what in the world is taking you so long?”

And…I loved it. One of the things I loved about it was that although it breaks out of the box of traditional thinking about God, it never broke out of biblical thinking. It also didn’t get bogged down trying to defend itself; it simply wove a story of love and relationship and pain and intimacy that made me wonder, more than a few times, if it really was fiction after all.

It’s important when we read, or watch television or movies, or listen to music, that we enjoy and or/critique the messages promoted with the mirror of God’s word in mind. Obviously we need a “working knowledge” of God’s word in order to function in the world as Christ-followers. And the further away we stray from it or the longer the dry spells in which we find ourselves neglecting its truth or the more frequently we find those dry spells occurring, you can be certain –as night follows day—that our ability to discern will lose its sharpness. If we get far enough away, perception can even turn upside down and become actual deception.

Permission to use with acknowledgement of source.