August 31, 2013

Home-making and Housekeeping

Home spawns many familiar sayings, from "Home is where the heart is" and "Peace, like charity, begins at home" to Oprah Winfrey’s, "I think that when you invite people to your home, you invite them to yourself."
Bill Cosby observed that, “Human beings are the only creatures on earth that allow their children to come back home.” Is this related to Meister Eckhart’s statement, “God is at home, it's we who have gone out for a walk”?

Jesus understood the dearness of home to the human heart. He used it to illustrate eternal life and the dwelling place of God by saying,

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? (John 14:2)

The ultimate home is where God lives. Sinners who are estranged from Him have indeed “gone for a walk” and some may not even care to go home. Yet others of us long for that place. Sometimes I am caught up in the thought of eternal life with Him, even saying aloud, “I want to go home.”

More often, I say it when life is hard and because the idea of home for a Christian is in deep contrast to this alien life here on earth. Here, I am a citizen of heaven living on earth as an ambassador, and find great appeal in being with God in the place He prepares for me.

This morning, I’m again prompted to think about this heavenly home where God lives. This is not to be confused with a building or house for public worship. A church is often called “God’s house” yet it is only a building where God’s people meet. The temple of Solomon was called God’s house also for God was represented as dwelling there with His throne in the Holy of Holies.

Sometimes the whole universe is represented in Scripture as God’s house, built one story above another. But the highest heaven is represented as the house of God, reserved for himself for his own dwelling. The psalmist expressed this in verses such as, “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens” (Psalm 123:1) and “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven…” (Psalm 11:4)

There is a sense where the house of God is closer than heaven. Because He lives in His people, those who genuinely believe in Jesus Christ are called the temple of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling place of God. Collectively, we are His household living here on earth, along with the saints who have gone before us and live in His heavenly home.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19–22)

This places on me a responsibility because my role as a housekeeper has several senses. I’m engaged in keeping tidy and maintaining the structure in which I live. I must do the same for my spiritual life for Christ lives in this earthen vessel and wants my life of clay to bring Him glory. For both, I have the help and grace of the Holy Spirit.

I’m also charged with care for the Body of Christ which is His corporate dwelling place. This includes allowing other Christians to care for me. Together we can do this because of the Lord’s grace and mercy.

As for the other house, the home of God, Jesus said He is there preparing a place for us, or as my post a couple of days ago says, He is preparing an opportunity for us. For this, my participation is more about what I leave out of this life. If I clutter it up with sin or even temporary treasures, there will be less space for the treasure He gives as a down payment on my future and final home. 

August 30, 2013

Eternal Treasures

My sister’s home was flooded in June, along with thousands of others in the town where she lives. This week we put what remains of her small business back in her basement. We talked about the things we treasure and how easy it is to become caught up with ‘treasure’ that cannot last.
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19–21)

Most of us don’t realize what we treasure or how much we value it until moth or rust or thieves or a swollen river comes and grabs it from us. This is definitely a test of the heart. When evacuation became a must in High River, some people lost everything they had except the clothes they were wearing. My sister is doing well, yet I suspect the grief hasn’t even started for many folks in her city.

Today’s devotional bids me to look forward at the treasures of eternity. The greatest will be the Person of Jesus Christ, and I am sure that wherever He is, I would be immensely joyful. However, another treasure is the place He is preparing for me. He calls it His Father’s house, a Greek term meaning God’s eternal dwelling place…

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? (John 14:2)

Some consider it a great honor to be invited to a great home such as the White House to dine with heads of state, or the mansion of a famous entertainer or sports star. I can imagine those, but to walk into the dwelling place of God surpasses my imagination.

The invitation is simple: “Whosoever will may come.” God has no list of elite or influential people and invites everyone. In fact, those who hear and respond are at the other end of the social spectrum…

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26–29)

Jesus often displayed a special concern for the broken and down-trodden, perhaps to emphasize that those who would dwell with Him forever didn’t need any special qualifications, only that they RSVP with a “Yes” and mean it, following Him with all their heart.

When all who respond arrive at His door, they will find a banquet prepared for them (I can imagine that). As we enter our eternal dwelling place, we will not look back. No matter how good life might be here, all of it will be shabby in comparison.

My sister says that no matter how her town is rebuilt, it will never be the same. Memories and vast changes will put an ache in the heart for a long time. Maybe that is a bit opposite to the change that will happen when my life here is over and I enter God’s eternal home. Instead of lamenting over what I have lost, all sorrow and any tears will be swallowed up by the wonder of seeing Jesus Christ face to face and receiving His heavenly treasures.

August 29, 2013

Room for everyone

In a small Alberta town near our family farm, there were more than eight churches, literally one on each corner. We often made jokes about this, but later I realized that if every person in that town went to church, there would not be enough space to accommodate them.

This will not be a problem in heaven. While I have no idea what it will look like, I do know that Jesus will be there, there is no need for the sun for His light will illuminate it, we will not need buildings of worship, and there will be a place for everyone. Jesus said so…

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? (John 14:2)

Some Bibles translate “many rooms” as “mansions,” suggesting a place that is bigger and better than anything we live in here. That is possible, but the Greek word used means “dwelling” or “abiding place.”

Later in the verse, it says Jesus is preparing a place for His people. That little word “place” adds something interesting. This word could be translated “opportunity.”

What does Jesus have in mind? I don’t know, but this is exciting. I do know that heaven will be grand because Jesus is involved in its preparation. I could be a place of opportunity, suggesting to me that in heaven, each person will enjoy life to the full, having greater occasion to live as God intended, something we cannot do here because of our own sin and the sins of others.

The disciples were sad that Jesus was going to leave them. I wonder what they were thinking when He explained what He would be doing before they joined Him. Typical of Peter, he wanted to go with Jesus right then, but Jesus said he could come later. (John 13:36)

For me, I hear the same word, later. Some days I long to leave this dwelling place and be in the one that Jesus is preparing. Yet He says later, perhaps because that place is still being made ready. Whatever the reason, I need to make the very best of this place where I am, using it to serve and glorify the One who is most interested in where I live when I leave here. I also need to tell others about these many, many rooms which means there is room for everyone, and all people need to know they can be included.

August 28, 2013

Law and love and wonder

In the Old Testament, the word “law” is the Hebrew word “torah.” It primarily means “direction, teaching, instruction.” This is not what we normally think when we use this word. For us, it is the regulations whereby a culture or government rules itself. When the law says I cannot drive faster than the posted speed limit, there is some instruction involved, but is mostly laying down a rule that if violated, I will have to pay a fine. The emphasis is “do this or else.”

While many people think that religion is the same, that is a whole bunch of “do this or else” laws, the law of God puts more emphasis on the spiritual principles for life that make life better, richer, more in line with what God had in mind when He created us. That means when God says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” He is not yelling, “If you don’t, you will pay” but implying (among other things) that “This is my ideal for your life.”

This is why the psalmist was excited about the Word of God and the laws of God. In them, he learned a higher kind of life, a greater way to be a human being. He knew that this body of learning was beyond his comprehension though. This is because sin blinds our understanding. For that reason, he prayed this…

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18)

Today’s devotional reading says that conversion to Christianity is a great experience because when God opens our eyes to His law, this recreates the faculty of wonder. Even when His instruction comes with strong rebuke, it can be sweet, beautiful and fresh. Seeing life through the eyes of God opens to us a great wonder. Some say the sky is deeper blue, loved ones more precious. For me, the gospel steadily deepens my sense of wonder at all things around me and deepens my love for life itself.

I once thought life was a journey to enjoy and I dreaded death, but now life is the prelude to eternity and death is its doorstep. I once thought of sin as the big bad things done by other people, but the wondrous law of God showed me sin is a violation of all that God intended for me and makes me unclean in His eyes. Once sin was not vital or even noticed, but now I fight it with all my heart for I want to please the One who died so I could be set free from its grip.

God’s instruction is not a list of rules. It is guidance and direction for life, and shows me how to have joy and peace, a peace too deep for words that is a mystery that humanity can never fathom. In it, even as a Christian with eyes wide open, I can only wonder and be amazed.

My Christian faith and the law of God shows me how His love is at the heart of everything, and with it, wonder is never far away. Most wonderful is that God loves me and His love is permanent, mine forever. The author of today’s reading expresses it this way:

Once we have learned to love Jesus and to experience His love to us, there falls a newness of wonder on everything. I know that God is power—but he may be power and still leave me cold. I know that God is justice—and yet infinite justice can never win my heart. God is love. The world is made in love. Every touch of his hand on me is love—and immediately I cry in adoration, “He will be called Wonderful!”

August 27, 2013

Astonished Gratitude

My sister uses a particular devotion guide. One day last week she was struggling with a sense of neglect and loneliness. She opened her devotional booklet and that was the topic for today. She was blessed as she read the Bible verses that answered her need. Then, on a whim, she opened a classic devotional book to the same date and was astonished that it also addressed the same topic.

God is good at doing things like that. Many Christians tell of how their devotional material hits whatever issue or questions that they are experiencing on that day. I suspect that it is not the devotional material that He lines up to fit our situation, but the situations that He lines up to make us ready to hear what He is going to say to us. We hear better when need makes the words relative to our experience.

The psalmist may have been thinking this, but in any case, he wrote lavishly about the decrees and laws of God. He also knew that without God’s help, he would not “get it” when he read the Bible. He says…

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18)

The Word of God is a wonder, but I am also amazed that I finally “get it” and wonder at it and that my wonder stays and deepens. Each day, I am astonished by something new from God, and if not astonished, certainly blessed by a deeper and more perfect knowledge of God and eternal matters. This is of God, not about me.

As today’s devotional says wonder is a valuable commodity. Think how easily the facility of wonder vanishes. I remember our short year in Alaska and the amazing scenery. One day we came out of the grocery store in Soldatna and the sky was overcast in “buttermilk” clouds, not particular in themselves, but the low sun made them blood red. It was spectacular, but we were the only people in that parking lot looking up. For the locals, this had become commonplace, not quite familiarity that breeds contempt, but along that line.

Perhaps this capacity to take things for granted is the reason Jesus tells us to pray for our daily bread. We spiritualize that and make it mean daily spiritual nourishment through a quiet time with God and in Bible study, but He probably meant daily bread on the table, food for our bodies. In North America, many people think nothing of that. Eating is commonplace, but if I pray for it and am thankful for God’s provision, I’m not only more appreciative for the food, but for other things, even the small thing.

This attitude of thankfulness is important. One of my course professors says that grumbling was the worst sin in the Old Testament. If I am not thankful, I am grumbling. Gratitude is vital to spiritual health and losing my sense of wonder messes with my gratitude.

For those reasons, I want to appreciate even the least of things, like the brilliant red on the sunlit building across the street from my hotel (we are on a business trip) and the incredible blue sky, and a good sleep last night, and my husband leaving me with a platter of breakfast before he went to his meetings. I’ve the privilege today of helping my sister sort the remains of her flooded home. I am thankful that I am able to walk and move and communicate, that I can drive a car and hear and see, that I can wonder at the world around me.

I’m also thankful that the Holy Spirit still speaks to me, shows me what God wants for me each day, even each moment. The wonder of God’s care is never earned or deserved, only to be received with astonished and humble gratitude.