Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On becoming a baseball fan

It wasn't so very long ago that I held my breath on days when the Cubbies weren't doing well. Matt will deny that those days had any affect on his mood...I know differently. But last Thursday as we watched the Brewers score four runs in the seventh inning, I suddenly realized that my own interest in the Cubs has become a dangerous thing. Instead of worrying about Matt's countenance, I was genuinely concerned that I might not be able to thoroughly enjoy the rest of our time in Chicago if the Cubs were to lose. What has become of this un-athletic girl who used to care less about sports?! It seems I've been captured by the American Pastime.

It was the perfect day at Wrigley. The crisp September day permitted short sleeves, the sun was in full view, and the breeze off the lake was cool, not cold as it often is this time of year. Even better, the Cubs have been playing consistently well all season, and Matt and I couldn't wait to disprove those stupid Completely Useless By September signs that start showing up this time in the season. We sat in someone else's abandoned 10th row seats and marveled at what a wonderful day it was shaping up to be. But in the ninth inning with the Brewers up by four runs, Cubs fans started leaving the park.

All I can say is that anyone who left missed the chance to see "the game of the year" as Matt called it, because in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, the Cubbies got four runs to tie up the score. What are the chances?! It was exhilarating! Three innings later and after an exhausting hour of standing every time the Cubs were at bat, we had seen nearly every pitcher in the bullpen. The crowd went wild when finally Derek Lee hit a line drive to send Marquis home. (Matt, in particular, was exulting because the Cubs fans behind us had been trash-talking Lee's hitting ability for a good bit of the game.) We hugged and cheered with the people around us and then quickly made our way closer to the dugout. What a blast! When it was over, the day culminated with a fabulous dinner in Wrigleyville and new Cubs t-shirts (see below).

In terms of hardcore Cubs fanship, I felt as though I had been pledging all year, and this was I-week (initiation). After a game like that, there's no turning back. I don't anticipate blogging much about baseball--I'll leave that to Matt. But for all those in my life who have been/will be surprised at my new interest (I'll leave obsession to Matt, too), it seemed an explanation was in order.

Matt's recap of the 12th inning, published with permission:
Daryle Ward pinch hit for Kerry Wood to start the inning, and drew a walk.
Jason Marquis entered the game to pinch run for Ward.
Reed johnson successfully put down a sacrifice bunt to move Marquis to 2nd base.
The Brewers intentionally walked Soriano to make it to 1st and 2nd, one out.
Theriot hit a deep fly ball to right, allowing Marquis to tag up and move to 3rd.
Then Lee lined/looped a single to center to score Marquis.
Then the Cubs stormed the field and celebrated with Lee.
And the fans went nuts.
And we went nuts

For Matt's lengthier description of the day, visit Matt's blog.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Geraniums: Yeilding Our Best

One of my daily responsibilities as an optician/receptionist is to water the plants, including two potted geraniums just outside our front doors. When I first started at my new job, I was horrified at the state of the two outdoor plants now under my care. The one on the left was completely devoid of any color; no signs of life were to be found anywhere on its dried out stems. The one on the right had several flowers, but they looked perilously crisp. Having seen my mom take care of her geraniums every year for as long as I can remember, I knew that these plants needed water--and fast!

On my first day opening the office on my own, I headed immediately for the watering can. I frantically phoned my mom, setting off the security alarm in the process. I knew I needed to dead-head the dying flowers (or lack thereof), but I had no idea how far down I was supposed to pinch them off. Once I attended to the situation with the alarm, I let her explain the science behind dead-heading. (What can I say? The office I work at is a brand new practice, and I have to be zealous about my little tasks to make myself useful.)

I've been watering consistently and dead-heading for roughly three weeks now, and my gardening exploit has been very satisfying...well, sort of satisfying. The plant on the left is absolutely BLOSSOMING with nearly two dozen beautiful red flowers and several more budding. I'm quite dazzled by its beauty, really. Every morning when I make my way out to the front stoop of our little office, I'm still surprised to see it so full of life after it seemed, well, so...dead. I would be pretty proud of my green thumb, except that the one on the right is all but dead now. No matter how much I water it, the plant looks dried out and lifeless. As I've contemplated this, I can't help but reflect on the spiritual implications of The Dead-Heading Principle:

Aren't you and I just like those silly plants?! There are so many things in our lives that are dried out and rotting; they need to be plucked right off the stem if anything lovely is ever to grow there. And it's when the Gardener comes around and takes the only life we've got away from us that we get the chance to flourish. It's painful! But in due time we see that all His pruning and uprooting really is clearing the way for who He's destined us to be. I don't mean to beat this metaphor into the ground--I know I've appealed to it once before in my post about the Shack. I'm just really startled by the imagery of God dead-heading me just like I do those geraniums every day.

And all of this talk about plants reminded me of one of my favorite passages in Elisabeth Elliot's book Passion and Purity: "God's ultimate plan was as far beyond our imaginings as the oak tree is from the acorn's imaginings. The acorn does what it was made to do without pestering its maker with questions about when and how and why. We who have been given an intelligence and a will and a whole range of wants that can be set against the divine Pattern for Good are asked to believe Him. We're given the chance to trust Him when He says to us, 'If any man will let himself be lost for my sake, he will find his true self.' (Matthew 16:25 NEB)"

Maybe the one on the right, that dead, crispy one, will see some life yet this fall.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone and the new has come!
--2 Corinthians 5:17

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Lion King, Forbidden Fruit, and an Enemy Who Fears Us

One of the highlights of my weekend was hanging out with the kids I live with and watching the Lion King. They are still on a Disney high from their recent trip to Orlando, so the movie was preceded by a show of their own to songs from the soundtrack. After their stellar performance, we settled in with a "snacky" dinner of cheese and crackers and chocolate milk for a wonderful movie that I hadn't seen in several years.

When The Lion King first came out, I was a slightly self-righteous nine-year-old with an ax to grind against Disney for all the "circle of life" nuances in the movie. My irritation didn't stop me from loving the movie itself (in fact, my baby sister who was just two at the time watched it every day for nearly a year, and I joined her quite regularly), but it did prevent me from noticing some of the overtly biblical themes woven throughout the plot. It's amazing how a crew of Disney filmmakers can write such a redemptive story, probably without even realizing it! It speaks to John Eldredge's theory that the story of redemption is written all around us in the world, and especially in movies, precisely because God created the world to speak of His Son.

Probably the most striking example of this, at least in my mind, is the relationship between prince Simba and his uncle, the villain Scar. Scar is jealous of his brother, Mufasa, the true king, and of Simba, heir to the throne and is plotting to take over the Prideland. There are two critical events as all of this is unfolding. In the first, Scar, knowing that Mufasa has told Simba not to venture outside the Prideland, practically dares the young cub to do so. He lies to Simba about an elephant graveyard where only the bravest lions go. Suddenly, we can see the resemblance between this devious lion and the Father of Lies, that serpent who dared Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Of course, once Simba has taken the dare and been rescued from near death at the hand of the hyenas, Scar is the first to cast shame. "Simba, everybody knows about that," he says looking down his nose at embarrassed Simba. And isn't this just how our Enemy comes against us?! By first tempting us and making sin look so desirable, and then pointing the finger in our faces once sin has yielded its painful consequences.

Second, Scar creates a plan with the hyenas to kill both the king and the prince. Scar tells Simba that his father has a gift to give him, but he must wait patiently in the gorge. Meanwhile, the hyenas startle a large herd of wildebeests, creating a frantic stampede headed straight for Simba. Scar plays the hero by fetching Mufasa and alerting him to what is about to unfold, and Mufasa hurries to rescue his cub. But just as the king hurls Simba safely unto a rock above the pounding hooves of the wildebeests, Scar cruelly throws him down into the stampede, out of Simba's sight. When the dust has settled, Simba finds his father lying lifeless in the middle of the gorge. Scar approaches and, with a look of sheer evil, asks Simba what he's done. As Simba tries through tears to explain what has happened, Scar tells him to run away and never return. Simba does run away, leaving Scar to take the throne and weave a tangled web of famine and hunger. And this is the most cruel tactic of our Enemy as well: through his lies he convinces us of our guilt, rendering us useless for the Kingdom of God as we run away from our calling with our tail between our legs.

All of this symbolism, and we haven't even gotten to the redemptive part of the story yet!! After hiding out in the jungle with Timone and Pumba, Simba's childhood friend Nala finds him and tells him about the awful things that have happened since he left. Simba stubbornly refuses to go back, until he happens to meet Rafiki, the baboon. Rafiki, who understands Simba's place as the true king, reminds Simba of his calling. "I know who you are," says the baboon. "You're Mufasa's boy!" The monkey wisely reminds Simba that who he is isn't nearly as important as whose he is. Simba goes back to the Prideland and does battle with Scar in order to restore the Prideland. We all need a Rafiki in our lives to remind us that we belong to the King and have been called to defend His Kingdom!

The spiritual implications of this movie speak to our lives in Christ. It is true that we are in a battle for the Kingdom of God and for our own hearts! To quote Eldredge again (from Waking the Dead), "You have an Enemy who knows what you could be and fears you!" And friends, this is perhaps the truest lesson of The Lion King: that just as much as we serve a God who is after our hearts, we also have an Enemy who will stop at nothing to destroy them (this is after all, why Paul commends us to "put on the full armor of God"). We can choose to allow the Father of Lies to defeat us with our own guilt or we can choose to remember the One to whom we belong and to courageously fight, taking our place in the Kingdom as co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).

"Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." Hebrews 10:22

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Gentle Whisper: Further Meditations on the Spirit of God

Some days it's hard to live where the cloud settles. It feels like everything is in a holding pattern, and I'm just waiting for the pillar of cloud to pick up and move to show me what's supposed to come next. In thinking about that imagery for the Spirit last night, I remembered the story of Elijah.

It's easy to envy Elijah; after all, he was privy to one of the most amazing mighty acts of the Tanak (Old Testament). The story, which can be found in 1 Kings 18-19, goes something like this:

An evil king named Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, are in control of the kingdom of Israel and thanks to Jezebel's ties to Baalism, idolatry has taken over the worship of the one true God. Yahweh instructs his prophet Elijah to challenge the prophets of Baal to a contest. If the Baalists can convince their god to send fire down on their altar, then the people should worship Baal. But if the God of Israel responds to Elijah's pleading for fire on his altar, then the people should worship Yahweh. So the whole company travels up to Mt. Carmel. The Baalists act like fruitcakes, dancing and singing and even cutting themselves (scholars refer to this act as "sympathetic magic") in effort to get a response from the pagan god of fertility. After hours of this nonesense, Elijah begins to mock them, asking if perhaps their god is on a trip or maybe in the men's room (1 Kings 18:27). And then, at Yahweh's command, he ups the ante. Elijah douses his altar with water.

Of course we know that the flooded altar is no match for the God who created both fire and water. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob comes through as promised: he sends fire down to consume the altar, and the people of Israel are humbled. In obedience to God's decree, Elijah has the Baalist prophets slaughtered, and the people rejoice in Yahweh's victory. Just when it seems like all is well, Elijah lets worry get the best of him. Rather than resting in the sure provision of his mighty God, he slinks off in fear! And ironically, he ends up cowering at Mt. Horeb, also known as Mt. Sinai, where Yahweh enacted His covenant with the Hebrew people. As Elijah sits there defeated, an angel approaches and tells him to wait for the Lord to pass by. First comes a mighty wind, but God isn't in the wind. Then an earthquake rumbles through, but God isn't in the earthquake. And then a fire burns up the ground, but God isn't in the fire. Finally, there is a gentle whisper, and that whisper is the Voice and the Presence of the Almighty God.

The Hebrew word for wisper or breath is ruach. This is the same word used in the account of creation found in Genesis 2 when God "breathed into [Adam's] nostrils the breath of life" (Genesis 2:7). Fittingly, in Hebrew, the Spirit of God is referred to as Ruach Elohim. So the Spirit of God isn't a display of power or splendor, rather, it (really, He) is that still small voice that speaks when we quiet our hearts to listen. And just as Yahweh spoke to His people on Mt. Sinai through Moses, just as He spoke to Elijah in the hush of a whisper, just as He spoke through the pillar of cloud, He continues to reveal Himself as the God who speaks to His people today.

Even as I sit and type, I am deeply convicted that I am so like Elijah. In the face of all that God has done to prove Himself in my life, I remain unconvinced that He will come through for me. As Beth Moore reflected on Isaiah 55:8-11 in her blog earlier this week, "sometimes we're so focused on the seed that hasn't shown a harvest that we ignore the bread sitting right in front of us." And what's more, I wait for Him to move me by some act of mightiness when I should be listening for the still small voice, the ruach that resides within me and wispers gently to my heart. I claim to be about waiting on this cloud, but in reality, sometimes I'm looking for God in an earthquake!

In spite of all that remains to be accomplished in my life here in Nashville, and in the midst of the direction I'm still seeking, I'm resolved to stay here where the cloud has settled and wait patiently on the God who speaks.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Made a Minister: Thoughts on Ephesians 3

We left off in Ephesians 2, where Paul appeals to the body of Christ to live as a unified temple for the Lord Jesus. In Ephesians 3, he elaborates on the beauty of the gospel that knits us together.

Paul views the gospel as a gift from God to be passed on. By employing the word "stewardship," he makes it clear that our knowledge of God is not to be horded. Rather, we are to share it! He writes that God's grace was given to him for others (v. 2); in other words, God has given Paul a testimony. The apostle boldly writes that God has revealed things to him and to others that previous generations have not understood.

This idea of revelation is one we've been discussing at length in Systematic Theology I. In a book called The Revelation of God, biblical scholar Peter Jensen describes the gospel as the primary revelation of God throughout history. Although God reveals Himself in creation, in His word, and through His Spirit to individuals, Jesus' lordship is the pinnacle of revelation. All else that God reveals points to Christ alone. And according to Jensen, the gospel revelation Paul writes of "is the very means by which God prosecutes His work in the world...the means He uses to to inform the world of its central truth...the way he applies the atoning death of Jesus to men and women."

Because the gospel is the primary means by which God is at work in the world, Paul's claim in verse 7 is audacious. How can he claim to be a part of something so holy and so grand?! The paradox, of course, is that Paul's words also reveal humility. He understands that it is only by the goodness of God's grace that he is a part of this ministry. Like Paul, we need the chutzpah to remember that we are invited to join in the work of gospel-sharing, and the humility to recognize that of our own accord, we are utterly unable to do so. Paul writes that the call of the church to speak forth the wisdom of God is only enabled by Jesus, "in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him" (v. 12). When we boldly preach Christ as the world's central truth, we are joining God in the purpose of His coming kingdom. It is not our efforts that procure the work, yet He works in us "to bring a light for everyone" (v. 8)!

The chapter closes with Paul's sweet prayer on behalf of the Ephesians: that they who are "rooted and established in love" (v. 17) might be strengthened in their understanding of the gospel. (Surely this is what the Spirit continues to intercede for us today, for as Martin Luther observed, "We leak the gospel!") And the necessity of this prayer is attributed to the glory of God: "Now to him who is able to do far more than all that we ask or imagine, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (vv. 20-21).

Living to expound the mystery!

"The only way that we will come into that high place of anointing and power to seize the moment, to advance the kingdom, to swim against the tide, to go against the odds, to sail against the wind that's the world is if you and I are resting in the consistent nature of God. You and I have a testimony of what God is really like living in our hearts in such a powerful way that it drives everything...the testimony of what Jesus is really, really like."
--Australian preacher, Graham Cook