June 20, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 202: Carpenter


"But in the next breath they were cutting him down: 'He's just a carpenter—Mary's boy. We've known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?' They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further." (Mark 6:3 MSG)

The Carpenter is at His wood bench. He has an idea for something He wants to make. He knows what He wants the finished piece to look like. He has a model He's working from.

The Carpenter lovingly and carefully selects a chunk of wood that's about the right size and sets to work.

He chips away at the piece of wood to hew it into the basic shape He has in mind. Then he planes and whittles and shapes it to refine it. He keeps checking His model for reference. He knows what He wants the finished piece to look like.

There are some rough places on the chunk of wood that have to be smoothed down. There are sharp edges that have to be curved. The wood has to lose some of itself so it can gain the shape the Carpenter has in mind. It has to give way to itself so it can be molded by the Master.

Finally, after a long time, the Carpenter looks at His creation. He is pleased with it. He treasures it. He cherishes it. He is satisfied that what He has made fulfills the vision He had in mind to begin with. He has always known what He wanted the finished piece to look like. He has a model He's working from.

The Carpenter checks His model one last time: He looks into the crystal-clear river of the water of life and sees His own reflection. He nods with approval. He has finished His creation. It looks like Himself.

June 19, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 201: Friend of Sinners

Friend of Sinners

"The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and people say, 'Look at him! He eats too much and drinks too much wine, and he is a friend of tax collectors and sinners.' But wisdom is proved to be right by what it does." (Matthew 11:19 NCV)

Jesus is a friend of sinners. 

Jesus is a friend of sinners.

The problem with being raised in the church (which is otherwise a blessing I hope never to take for granted) is that I can get so "used to" this truth that I miss how radical it is.

I can get to a point where I accept it as fact and forget how fantastic it is.

Jesus is and was a friend—a FRIEND!!—of sinners. Not just someone who tolerated them. Not just someone who paid them a little attention. But someone who befriended them. Someone who loved them.

The religious elite of Jesus' day had no idea how to truly be in relationship with God, and so they did what they knew: made and followed rules. People who broke those rules—the "sinners"—were outside their frame of reference for relating to God.

Then came Jesus, the rule-breaker who talked to "those people"! And touched them! And let them touch Him! And took part in the personal, intimate act of eating together IN THEIR VERY HOMES!

"'Justification by grace through faith,'" wrote Brennan Manning in "The Ragamuffin Gospel," "is the theologian's learned phrase for what [G.K.] Chesterton once called 'the furious love of God.' He is not moody or capricious; He knows no seasons of change. He has a single relentless stance toward us: He loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods—the gods of human manufacturing—despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course, this is almost too incredible for us to accept. Nevertheless, by His mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of His beloved son. This is the Good News, the gospel of grace."

I read this, and I am shaken a little from my lethargy. I think, "Wow...it really WAS a big deal that Jesus was a friend to sinners." But then I hear God's voice taking me further.

"Elizabeth, don't you understand? Don't you see? The sinner I am a friend of is you."

Oh my friends and fellow sinners, hear God's voice speak that radical truth to you today, too...

"_______________, the sinner I am a friend of is you."

June 18, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 200: Only True God

Only True God

"This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and the One You have sent—Jesus Christ." (John 17:3 CSB)

When I was in college, I worshiped an idol.

I bowed down to it. I gave it all my time, energy, and attention. I put all my hope on it. I believed in it to fulfill me.

My idol was not a shiny statue or any actual object. My idol was a number: the almighty 4.0 GPA...and I was fiercely loyal to it. Nothing else—not relationships with potential friends, not opportunities for service beyond myself, not peace or joy—mattered more to me.

I worshiped this god more than the only true God because I thought it could do something for me. I thought it would give me a sense of accomplishment and distinction...that I would not be just one of hundreds in my class but someone who stood out. I would have something to be known for. (And if you're thinking this reeks of that dangerous combination of pride and insecurity, you're 100% right.)

I realized the folly of my false worship somewhere along about spring of my senior year. With the 20/20 perspective of hindsight, I could see the stark contrast between my idol and the I AM.

When tested, false gods fail, but the only true God answers every question.

When tried, false gods wither, but the only true God surges.

When questioned, false gods stutter, but the only true God responds without hesitation.

When sought, false gods hide, but the only true God reveals Himself.

When called on, false gods are silent, but the only true God speaks.

Even as I was typing this post, God grabbed my attention with one sentence above: "I worshiped this god more than the only true God." It wasn't that I wasn't worshiping God at all; it's that I was worshiping my idol more. It wasn't that I worshiped my idol instead of God but that I worshiped it in addition to Him. The enemy was very happy with that arrangement: he takes the path of least resistance and grabs onto any piece of our loyalty he can get, because he knows that's all it takes to make our relationship with God less than it could and should be.

But God, whose name is Jealous, is not a God who settles. He is not just one good choice among many; He is the One and Only above all. And He wants all of us, because He knows that's what's best for us.

I know the enemy would love nothing more than to lull me into thinking my idol-worshiping days are as much in the past as the electric typewriter I hunched over for hours, writing college paper after college paper. But the temptation of new idols remains; I don't have to stray very far from my past to worship them in the present. There are new numbers I can bow down to: my bank account or online followers or likes on social media posts.

I need to keep being schooled by the lessons of my college days. I need to be on guard again the lure of idols I think can do something for me...and instead put my thoughts, time, energy, and affections on the only true God who can do something in me.