Monday, February 21, 2011

P4E.203 A Prescient View Into Heaven

Every Sunday morning, I take my son, Ben, to the ranch where he rides his horse, Brice. Sometimes I watch Ben take a jumping lesson, but most of the time I take our yellow Labrador retriever, Dylan, for a long walk. We walk the roads around the Elysian fields of the ranches, stables and equestrian venue where Ben rides.

A tumultuous rain storm rolled through the area yesterday, but this morning dawned spectacularly. Mountainous, billowy white clouds march slowly across the perfectly blue sky, while other wispy thin clouds swirl below them. The breeze pushes the clouds which creates a shifting pattern of warm unfiltered sunlight and cool shade and shadow. It is quiet. I hear my own footfalls on the road and Dylan’s panting. As Dylan’s paws hit the road, his nails make a little clicking sound. In the background, countless birds twitter. The occasional hawk screech or crow caw makes its way to my ear. Every so often a horse whinnies. A flock of birds is pecking in the pasture alongside the horses. Suddenly, they leap into the air as one, and their wings flicker reflecting the sun. They course in a graceful arc above our heads, circle and alight once more in the pasture. Dylan is tracking in the tall green grass and a cotton-tail rabbit darts out in front of him. Dylan is startled at first, but gives chase almost immediately. The rabbit is too quick for him though, and is soon just an excited memory.

If I look down the valley, I see evidence of man’s hand dotting the view. No doubt man has, at times, built in harmony with the environment. But, right now, every attempt seems a blemish on the landscape. As I look up into the untouched, green, rain swept hills I am thrilled with hope and a sense of invincibility. The entirety of my nebulous doubts and fears seem to dissolve before the reality of this scene. The road curves out of view before me, but there is no uncertainty about what lies ahead. All is well. I wish that this moment, this feeling could endure forever.

It makes me wonder about Eden; about before The Fall. I wonder about the world when God proclaimed that “it was good.” There were no cares, no fears, no schedules to meet. There was no curse of work or pain. No radio or television or computers or smart phones. There were no entertainment icons. No jealousy, envy, or strife between men. No greed or malicious intent or shame. No reason to be angry or impatient or frustrated; Only God and His perfect creation.

Eden was as much a spiritual place as a real, physical one; A place of the heart, where nothing stood between The Maker and his Creation. The Garden was a spiritual place that we have abandoned, but can and may return to. And that’s what these few moments walking Dylan are like for me. I don’t want them to end. They are a prescient look into Heaven where the breeze and men’s constructs are at my back and I face the sun and The Maker.

As I’m thinking these thoughts, I hear a muffled, “Dad!” I stop walking and look around. I am at about the farthest part of my walk. About a quarter of a mile away, I see Ben on Brice. Even though it had only been a few minutes since we had seen each other, my heart leaps to see him here, with me in this tableau. I wave and he waves back. It is so quiet that I barely have to raise my voice as I point to the highest hills above us and say, “It snowed up there!” He looks and nods “Yeah!” We both look to the snowy hills in the distance. I turn back to him, and he waves and says, “I’ll see you back at the barn!” As he trots away, my eyes unaccountably brim with tears. There’s just something about being hailed by your son in a place such as this. To be acknowledged by him and to have him look forward to seeing you again, soon.

A voice in my heart says, “This is how I feel when My sons call to Me and include Me and look forward to seeing Me again.” I understand, Lord. I understand.

All photos by me.

This is re-posted at LL Barkat's On, In and Around Mondays at her Seedlings in Stone Blog, here:
On In Around button

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

P4E.202 An Enemy of God

Vanitas, Simon Renard De Saint-Andre (1613-1677)

Recently, my wife raised a critical eyebrow about how much I knew about a certain female pop-icon. My antennae went up. I caught the temptation to return to my old ways right about at my larynx, which is a good place to stop. In reality, I should have stopped it at my heart, but at that point better late than never.

In the past, I would have gotten defensive about what and who I know. I would have either truly not known or feigned not knowing what Gwen was talking about (That's terrible isn't it?). If I did acknowledge that I knew what she was talking about, I would have been dismissive of Gwen's concerns. I would have rejected her values and clung tightly onto my own. As awful as it sounds, I might have mocked her for not being "up" on current culture. I would have tried to minimize her criticism by pointing out how well I was doing in other areas of my life (Even that would be a stretch). I might try to compare myself to others in a positive light. I've even been known to pull the old "in the world, but not of it" defense.

Hoping to stop temptations at my heart in the future, I'm trying to process why and where I go in my thoughts and in my spirit. I think there's a healthy tension that's precipitated by the sort of criticism that Gwen gave me. I have to remind myself that I shouldn't be above searching for the seed of truth in any criticism that comes my way. I try to remind myself that, as a Believer, I should welcome the testing of my faith. Because that's what Gwen was doing. I have to remind myself that I should constantly be checking and questioning my motives and values because I have a propensity to adopt worldly perspectives if I am not careful.

You might ask yourself what I mean when I use the term "worldly." I have come to believe that any unbalanced, out of proportion, attention to the sensuality that God blessed us with is worldly. Also, Thomas Aquinas enumerated the "cardinal" or "seven deadly sins" as:


These would seem to cover the worldly value system pretty well. Certainly, being in the world but not of it, I walk the tightrope between the values of the world and God's values. It is a very rigorous and unrelenting walk. I think James's warning to teachers extends to those in leadership positions (including husbands!). We will incur a stricter judgment. God help me and you! And he has given us husbands good help in our wives. Thank you, God, for them.

"You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." James 4:4

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

P4E.201 Passive?

Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506)

Sometimes, we married Believing men struggle with what it really means to be "Christlike." Recently, a man posted this question on a Christian marriage discussion site:

"How do I discern the difference between being Christ-like and being just passive?"

I thought about it for quite a while and finally wrote my 2-cents:

I used to wonder about the same thing: "Am I just supposed to roll-over on everything?" But, I've come to think of Christ (and myself) very differently and it challenges the very premise of your question. The more I study Scripture the more I'm convinced that Christ was NEVER passive, but was always active and purposeful in everything he did and said. Jesus had a plan, coordinated it with His Father in Heaven and His Holy Spirit, and executed it on a daily basis all the way to the cross and beyond.

My fleshly nature wants to put me first, wants to see me have my way, wants to see me recognized, wants to be served. All these wants are at odds with what a purposefully loving husband would want. Ken Nair nails it in his Christ Quest Institute when he says,

"the opposite of love is NOT hate, but selfishness."

So, Christlikeness is an active pursuit of selflessness and meekness. It is an incredible feeling of self-empowerment and self-discipline to know that I COULD exert my opinions, values, and desires, but purposefully decide to set them aside in favor of someone else's (especially my wife's). In a way, there is a parallel to what Jesus did when He CHOSE to set aside his Deity at the incarnation.

I think people tend to misinterpret when Jesus told His followers, "he who would be first shall be servant of all." They think Christ was threatening them for their audacity. In fact, I think He was giving them a crash course in leadership. In other words, He meant that the most important quality of someone who wants to be a leader (be first) is selfless service. This is probably the most difficult thing about being a Believer. To kill the fleshly desire to look out for myself first. The skills required to accomplish this are ANYTHING BUT passive. 

A couple final thoughts about passivity: First, one of the main areas where we might be perceived as being "passive" is our response to being wronged by others. This is critical to the Believer's journey and a husband's marriage. Am I able to to exercise the spiritual muscle to forgive when wronged? Second (and related to the first), is the area of withholding judgment/condemnation. Can I be self-disciplined enough to stop myself from sinning in this way? Because it is sin. And it will be judged. You see, in this light these are not passive positions, but active, planned for responses to circumstances that will be put in our path.

What do you think?