The Extravagance of God

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I am familiar with the scientific explanation of why the leaves of deciduous trees turn color in the fall. I know that chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green color, breaks down in cooler temperatures, letting the colors of other pigments show through. But that is not my first thought when I gaze upon the flaming yellow and gold of the elm tree in my backyard. Like sparks from a fire, it drops bright leaves on the grass where they glow against the green, warming my heart. Rather than science, I think about the extravagance of God who delights in making beautiful the dying of a leaf.

His extravagance, His generosity, His abundance is revealed in all of nature, from the unending vastness of the universe to the complexity of a single cell. When I am delighted by what God has made, I think how much delight He has in making it. Holy joy is imprinted on every created thing, springing from His fingers in unending originality, beauty and grandeur. I do not think God creates as He does just for Himself. His nature is to give and give and give, so He does in all He has made.

In Psalm 145 David praises God’s bounteous nature and goodness. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. (vs.3) They will celebrate Your abundant goodness. (vs.7) The Lord is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made. (vs.13) NIV

The extravagance of God revealed in creation is but a three dimensional picture of His boundless generosity of spirit toward me, His child. He created me in His likeness. (Gen.1:27) He crowned me with glory and honor. (Ps.8:5) He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Ps.86:15) These are a few examples of the generosity of God in the Old Testament. The ancient books also foretell the coming of His greatest outpouring of love, a gift beyond anything we can think or imagine. “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel, God with us.” (Is.7:14)

God’s unfettered love reveals itself most purely in the gift of His own son, Jesus Christ. Extravagance is often thought of in negative terms, but with God it is the sacrificial giving of Himself in the person of His Son, which portrays holy extravagance at its ultimate. “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all — how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom.8:32)

Autumnal colors around my home are lavish, festooning the hills and fields with extravagant sweeps of gold and orange. I look up often to see skeins of Canada geese stitch V’s across a sky blanketed in blue. I choose to read this abundant beauty as one of God’s messages to me of His lavish, extravagant love. Nothing is wasted in His message, because the beauty of dying leaves symbolizes the potency of Christ’s sacrifice, a paradox of the purest love given in the most brutal death. In laying down His life He gave us forgiveness, mercy, grace, eternal life, adoption into His family, His Holy Spirit and unending love, to name only some of His gifts. It doesn’t get any more extravagant than that.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

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Turn Toward the Light

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As a relative newcomer to the Canadian prairies, I delight in the cheerful sight of a field of blooming sunflowers. Their sun-shaped, bright yellow heads raised in unison to the east always lift my heart with joy. It is a common misconception that all sunflowers follow the movement of the sun, however this is only true of young sunflowers not yet in bloom. At dawn the budding flowers face east and move west throughout the day in a rhythm synchronized by the sun, called “heliotropism”. When in full bloom the mature flowers continuously face east to draw the most warmth from sunlight.

The Heliotropic Effect is a recent hypothesis that suggests societies, cultures, organizations and individuals work towards the most positive images they hold of themselves. Like sunflowers, people are drawn toward the light of positive affirmation, encouragement and gratitude. This is thought to be a healthy mindset, however, the foundational basis of self-focus may lead to inflated egos, perfectionism and hypocrisy if not balanced.

In fact, this modern hypothesis has its roots deep in the truth of God’s Word, but with a significantly different focus. Followers of Jesus Christ desire to look toward the perfect Son of God, to derive their identity and purpose from His positive image, not their own.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
(2 Cor. 3:18 NIV )

A person with an unveiled face has no barriers between himself and God. His position before God is restored because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice of His own perfect life, taking the place of our imperfect lives. So without the veil of sin, in a right standing before God, we can reflect His glory by becoming more like Him as we soak in His life-giving Spirit. In His inspired Word, God reveals the image He wants us to emulate in the person of Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, God is gradually transforming us to be more like Jesus. He instills in us the desire to look toward His Son as our model of a life pleasing to God.

Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but He has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He really is. (1 John 3:2 NLT)

The Heliotropic Effect hypothesis falls short because of its emphasis on self realization. Appreciative Inquiry founders, who coined the theory, say, “Like a plant that grows in the direction of a light source, individuals and groups strive to grow towards the positive image they hold.”  No matter how hard we strive, we cannot make ourselves perfect. But by turning our faces to the Son, like a sunflower, we are imbued with the gift of reflecting His perfect likeness to the world around us.

Bring the Boy to Me

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The desire of a parent to do whatever it takes to protect and care for their child is a primal one.

A Mother’s Ponderings

 

for Greg's wedding_0007Prone on her pallet, Mary listens to the night sounds. A small breeze rustling through the streets of Nazareth, the soft breathing of her slumbering family close by. She gazes up at a cool shaft of moonlight slanting through a window and ponders why the One who made the moon would choose her to be the mother of His Son. Spreading her hands over her stomach, the fear which woke her gradually yields to adoring wonder at this treasure growing deep within.

From before His conception, Jesus’ mother Mary, lived with the knowledge that her child would be the Son of God. She kept this knowledge, revealed to her by an angel, to herself early in her pregnancy, until God made it known to Joseph, her betrothed, and her cousin, Elizabeth. Mary carried the child foretold by Isaiah, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son. (Isa. 7:14 NIV) This simple peasant girl, especially chosen by God to be the mother of His incarnate Son, must have spent many a sleepless night pondering the immensity of what was to come.

No doubt Mary was distinguished among all mothers throughout history, yet she exhibited several traits common to those who have borne children. One trait, revealed in portions of Luke 2, was her inner contemplation about her child. After the shepherds came to see the infant Jesus lying in a manger, just as the angels said, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:17-19)

From the moment a mother knows she will have a child, she begins to think about who her baby will be and what their future holds. Perhaps she dreams about them achieving fame or accomplishing humanitarian deeds. But she really has no idea what they will become. Mary did know, because her child’s identity and deeds were revealed by the Holy Spirit through the prophets and angels. She knew He was the Son of the Most High, a Savior, Christ the Lord. Certainly the meditations of her heart must have been filled with awe and exaltation!

When her adolescent son stayed behind at the temple in Jerusalem after the Passover, Mary heard about His amazing interaction with the teachers there, and again she held these things dearly, deep within herself. (Luke 2:51 Msg.) But did she also think of earlier words spoken in the temple about her son soon after his birth? Moved by the Spirit, a devout man named Simeon said her child was destined to be a sign in Israel so that the thoughts of many hearts would be revealed.  And a sword will pierce your own soul too. (Luke 2:35) She would not know the meaning of those words until decades later when she saw her precious son crucified on a cross. Then came the unspeakable joy of His resurrection, confirming all that had been foretold about Him.

Mary was favored by God to be the mother of His Son. Every mother is given a child chosen for her by God. Not all are dedicated mothers, yet those who are share the heart of Mary in pondering the things they treasure about their child and the desires they have for them. Pondering and prayer go hand in hand, the highest calling of a mother.

Daybreak

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Sensing rather than seeing the columns of tall evergreen trees along the path, our small church family made its way in the dark toward the beach. We had come to celebrate Easter with a traditional sunrise service, however, winding our way through the woods in predawn darkness felt far from traditional. It felt humbling, even a bit perilous, to journey in the dark to the untamed shoreline of a coastal island so we could worship the risen Christ.

I couldn’t help but think about the two women making their way in the darkness to the tomb of Jesus. Not only were they surrounded by the gloom of the waning night, their hearts were also darkened with grief and loss. By the time they arrived at the garden, a thin gray light had begun to seep up from the horizon, revealing the darker forms of rocks and trees, and the looming cliff face where the tomb had been carved out.

Daybreak is a strange thing. It happens without measurable progress, beginning as a mere lessening of darkness until the moment when the sun edges over the horizon to flood all in its sphere with light and life. Perhaps for the two women coming to Jesus’ tomb, daybreak came as a herald of the dawning of a new era. In the increasing light of dawn they saw the stone rolled away from the tomb; the first rays of sunlight revealing its empty interior. Then to verify what they saw as reality, an angel said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!” (Luke 24:5 NIV)

Could the beginning of each new day ever be the same for these women? With every sunrise the brilliant reality of Jesus’ resurrection would dawn anew in their hearts, the power of His indestructible life flooding theirs with light, joy and hope.

Once on the beach that Easter morning, our small congregation stood silently on the sand facing the ocean. With each wave whispering on the shore, the deep rose flush of dawn pried apart sea from sky until the whole expanse filled with the glory of God’s light. For those of us who rarely witnessed a sunrise, its beauty indelibly imprinted on our hearts the scripture recited by our pastor.
“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6)

The whole earth is full of resurrection reminders. Each spring when new life emerges from dormant winter, each baby born from a dark womb, every morning sunrise breaking the hold of night, is a picture of rebirth. The resurrection of Jesus Christ has given us new life and the sure promise of eternity with Him. He has broken the bonds of death for all who believe in Him. His light has dawned.

“Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:3)

A Long Obedience

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Evangelist Billy Graham died today. (Feb. 21, 2018) Not only did he live a long life of 99 years, more significantly, he walked out a long obedience to his God. As a young man attending a Florida Bible school, he was still not convinced he should be a preacher, until one sleepless night as he rambled the greens of a nearby golf course.
“I finally gave in while pacing at midnight on the eighteenth hole,” he remembered.
“All right, Lord. If You want me, You’ve got me.”

From that point of obedience to God’s call on his life, Billy Graham went on to become the most well-known evangelist of this century, preaching the gospel live to over 210 million people worldwide. Only God knows how many souls have been saved because Billy obeyed His call.

From the above quote, it is obvious Billy obeyed God only after a personal struggle. He was no different than the rest of us, valuing our individualism to the point of becoming put off by following someone else, even God. Rules given to establish someone’s control naturally invite rebellion. But we often forget that God does not need to prove His control. He is sovereign God, after all. Out of love, He has given us a choice to obey His commandments or not, and when we realize He means them for our own good, we will want to obey because we trust Him.

Billy Graham obeyed God’s individual call on his life to be an evangelist, but before he did so, he was learning how to walk in obedience to what Jesus Christ desires to see in all His followers.

“I am asking you to live by the command that we love one another. I am not writing to you some new commandment; it’s one we received in the beginning from our Lord. Love is defined by our obedience to His commands. This is the same command you have known about from the beginning; you must live by it.” (2 John 5-6 The Voice)

The evangelist’s lifetime of obedience was deeply rooted in his love for God and thus a desire to live out his Savior’s commandment to love one another. He best did this by fulfilling God’s calling on his life to proclaim the gospel to as many people as he could.

God has called each of us to a long obedience, not only in walking out His commandments in our daily lives but in obediently responding with purposeful action to the individual calling He has placed in our hearts. We are each part of the body of Christ, uniquely gifted and called to be His representatives on earth. Our love for Christ and each other is defined by our obedience to His commands. Whether we obey the call to be an evangelist proclaiming the gospel worldwide, or the call to be a home-schooling mother, or the call to serve the needy in a third world country, God will honor a long obedience.

“The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

 

The Shape of a Heart

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There is a woman who walks beaches and forest trails in search of heart-shaped rocks. Not large rocks, just ones the right size to tuck in her plant pots or heap in a clay bowl on her table. Some are smoothed by the sea and sand, some chipped off a craggy cliff, but they all have the familiar shape of two rounded wings and a downward-pointing tip.

The woman who collects them has a passionate heart, a fiercely loyal and loving heart. It is also a fragile heart, wounded early in childhood then mended by the love of Jesus, yet still bearing scars that go deep. These scars resonate with the scars of other hearts, giving her the ability to connect to the hurting on a level most cannot. Because she lives and speaks from her heart, it is vulnerable and sometimes wounded. If not for the love of Jesus holding her heart in His nail-pierced hands, it could easily be broken beyond repair.

Perhaps she collects heart-shaped rocks because she has encountered so many human ones in various shapes, sizes and conditions. They may be a reminder of her own heart which has gone through multiple transitions, yet remains undivided. Like the psalmist, she often prays to the keeper of her heart, “Teach me Your way, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere Your name.” (Ps. 86:11 NRSV)

That is the secret — maintaining an undivided heart, not allowing it to be diverted from loving and obeying God. There are so many distractions and temptations that can splinter a heart, weakening its devotion to the One who made it.

The apostle Paul, whose heart underwent rigorous refining at the hand of God, spoke from his own experience in writing to the Thessalonian believers about keeping their hearts undivided.
– He wrote of not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.   (1 Thess. 2:4 NIV)
– His desire was for God to strengthen their hearts so that they would be blameless and holy in the presence of their God and Father. (1 Thess. 3:13)
– His prayer was that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who gave eternal encouragement and good hope, would encourage their hearts. (2 Thess. 2:16)
– He prayed confidently that the Lord would direct their hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (2 Thess. 3:17)

The woman who collects heart rocks has learned Paul’s secret of how to keep her heart undivided. She puts it in the keeping of God. He is the One who tests, strengthens, encourages and directs her heart. Each time she picks up a heart-shaped rock, brushes off the dirt and warms it in her palm, she remembers Who keeps her heart whole and she commits it again to God.