Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

I just finished reading a book about atheism– or more accurately, a book about the unreasonableness and faulty logic of modern atheism as espoused by many scientists and philosophers. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56614922-is-atheism-dead One of the arguments concerns the view, held by many atheists, that life exists only in the material– in other words, that only “matter” “matters.” They argue against the existence of the soul, or the uniqueness of mankind in relation to other living things. There is nothing beyond science and whatever science can explain. Therefore, there is no God. If there is no God, and we were not created in His image, they argue, then there is no Heaven or Hell, and nothing beyond what we can experience with our senses. There is no purpose for our lives; no consequences for our thoughts or actions; no higher power or authority than our own. We are simply a product of the evolutionary process and a sum of our material components. Our thoughts are simply products of brainwaves firing in a certain pattern; our emotions conditioned and triggered by no more than a series of chemical and physical reactions to stimuli.

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It is not my intention to argue or take the time to explain in the same detail that was in the book I finished, but I was struck by one of the points the author made. Without a belief in the God of creation, it is illogical and inexplicable that we should be affected emotionally by ANYTHING outside of the realm of material experience and scientific study. That means that we cannot fully explain or appreciate art, music, the grandeur of the night sky, the softness and warmth of a baby’s cheek, the thrill of a perfect sunset, the memory-evoking smell of a loved-one’s perfume or after-shave…our senses should not “move” our emotions. We can analyze a piece of artwork– it’s color or composition, the balance of light and dark, or the perfection of its perspective. But we cannot explain why it is “art,” or why it “speaks” to us (or turns us off!) We can discuss sound waves and tonality in music, but we cannot explain why certain songs move us to tears or cheer our spirits. We cannot say what makes a poem “connect” to something in our psyche, such that its lines come to us almost unbidden in times of distress.

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But all of this makes amazing sense in a world where God exists– a God that is the Author of Creation; of Glory; of Compassion and Wonder. God not only exists– He makes Himself known in the music of a waterfall, in the gentle fall of snowflakes, in the scent of lilacs, and in the smile of someone we love. And He has given us the ability to feel awe, and to strive to add beauty, art, and meaning to the world around us. This is unique among His creation. Birds sing; dogs romp and play; flowers bloom– but they do not fall to their knees in worship; they do not compose sonnets or build cathedrals in acts of sheer adoration. They are not moved to tears or stunned into silence by sun glinting on a spider’s web– even the spider ignores the beauty of its own functional creation.

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We are fearfully and wonderfully made–and wonder-ful-ly made! Today is a great day to look and listen for God’s glorious touches all around us. And it’s a great day to reflect back to Him all the wonder and glory of Who He Is in praise!

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.  Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

Psalm 19:1-6
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The Thief Comes

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 10:10-11 (ESV)

I know a very wonderful and kind-hearted woman who put out a table with several items she wanted to give away to anyone in need. She set up the table, taped a sign to the front, reading, “Free”, and went about her day. She returned to find that not only were all the items gone, but so was the table!

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I also know many other people (including my husband and I) who have been victims of theft, shoplifting, pick-pocketing, mugging, etc. The world is full of honest people, but it is also full of thieves. One of the worst things about theft is not the loss of “stuff.” It is the loss of security; the loss of trust; the loss of innocence and faith. Theft is invasive, even when it is non-violent and impersonal, like fraud or shoplifting. Theft is almost never random– a thief “comes.” A thief has a plan, and a target. Thieves tend to choose their targets based on two factors– the risk and the perceived “payoff.” A thief will target a person or place where the risk is worth the prize–if a target is low-risk, a thief may strike even for a small amount. A high-risk target may still attract thieves, but they will not take such a risk without a lot of planning.

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Thieves also come unannounced and unexpected. While thieves plan carefully, their victims have little or no warning. Theft is shocking and upsetting. We don’t set aside a time to be robbed, or items that are meant to be stolen. Thieves creep in, or distract and deceive us. It would be very foolish to leave valuables or cash around unattended or unprotected. As my friend found out, even a table left unguarded can be lost.

Most of us take precautions against theft. We lock our doors, put our valuables in a safe or in hiding, and even install security cameras and alarms to alert us to possible theft. We avoid dark alleys and dangerous places. We keep watch.

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We guard our valuables, but how well do we guard our hearts? Jesus compared us to sheep– helpless and vulnerable to predators, including thieves. He warns that the thief– Satan– comes only to steal and kill and destroy. Satan doesn’t want our money or our watch, though– he wants our time, our attention, our desires, and our worship. He wants to steal them, and kill us, and destroy our relationship with the Eternal Lover of our Souls. He wants us to be distracted by worry, greed, fear, pride, addictions, dysfunctional relationships, anger, abuse, emotional entanglements, empty pursuits, and endless doubts and questions.

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Satan doesn’t wait for us to seek him out. He doesn’t give us warning about his intentions. But he does come like a thief. He comes to steal our joy, our faith, our innocence, our rest, our security, our gratitude, our focus, our sense of purpose, and our hope. How much of an effort have we taken to stop him? How much effort do we take to guard what is more valuable than our money– our families, our character, our very soul? We wouldn’t walk down a dark alley with a wad of cash– but will we walk into temptation? Will we ignore warnings, believing it just “won’t happen” to us?

Luckily, we have a Good Shepherd. Even when we, like sheep, aren’t paying attention, and don’t see the enemy, God is still there, laying down His life, so that we can have a more abundant, more joy-filled life. The thief will still come– that’s not just an abstract warning, it’s a guarantee. There will be troubles in life that will threaten to steal all that God intends for us to enjoy. And, if we insist on going it alone, we will become victims of theft– our relationships, our character, our futures– we are at great risk. But if we trust in the Shepherd, we will have the best protection. The thief will still come to attack, but he cannot take what is in the Father’s hand– US!

The thief comes– to take; to destroy. The Shepherd comes– to give; eternal and abundant Life!

And You Will Find Rest For Your Souls

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light

Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

Sometimes, the commands of the Bible are counter-intuitive. In Matthew 11, Jesus tells those who are weary from their labors to come to Him. But He continues by telling them to take on a yoke and learn from Him, to find rest for their souls. This doesn’t seem like a restful offer. The image is of an ox or beast of burden being forced to wear a yoke and do more work. How could that be restful? Jesus finishes the image by saying that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. While that may seem better than a heavy yoke, it still implies work, NOT rest.

There is a lot to unpack in these few verses, but here are some thoughts about rest on this Labor Day:

  1. In order to take on Jesus’ yoke, we must be freed from the yoke we already bear– the very one that has left us weary and “heavy laden.” We can’t throw it off ourselves. We must come to Jesus. And we must understand that Jesus offers rest, not laziness, complacence or inactivity.
  2. Jesus refers to “my yoke” and calls for us to “learn from me”– indicating that whatever work we do, He is our partner and teacher. We are not being asked to work alone or under a weight we cannot bear. This is not an image of a single ox pulling heavy weights, but of a team, sharing the load in companionship.
  3. Jesus doesn’t offer us a permanent vacation from work, but “rest for your souls.” Rest from guilt, worry, grief, anger, loneliness, injustice, and more– when we come to Him and lay down our old burdens to take us His new yoke.
  4. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus isn’t calling us away from work; He IS calling us to meaningful and fruitful work– the kind that brings reward and fulfillment. We don’t need a heavy yoke and a hard taskmaster when we are eager and enthusiastic to see the results of our labors. But we DO need periods of rest. I hope that you enjoy a restful day, and a renewed enthusiasm for the work that lies ahead.
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 My dear brothers and sisters, remain strong in the faith. Don’t let anything move you. Always give yourselves completely to the work of the Lord. Because you belong to the Lord, you know that your work is not worthless.

1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIRV)
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Enjoy times of rest and refreshment, knowing that they are a reward for your work. Enjoy times of work, knowing they are not in vain. For while our work here and now can be filled with struggles, stress, and frustration, we know that Jesus came to redeem every aspect of our fallen world– even the work!

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Thank you, Lord, for giving us rest. Rest for our bodies, and rest for our souls. May we find refreshment and renewed strength to stand firm, and to work with enthusiasm, knowing that You not only see what we do, but share in it.

The Greatest Commandment

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:36-40 (ESV via biblegateway.com)
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This is a familiar Bible passage, and one that Jesus quotes from the ancient writings (in Deuteronomy and Leviticus). All the laws and regulations of history boiled down to two commands. And they are not what one might expect. The greatest commandment isn’t to believe; it isn’t a “shalt not”; it isn’t even to “obey.” Instead, the greatest commandment is to LOVE– love God wholly and without reserve, and love your neighbor “as yourself.”

It sounds so simple, but we don’t do it. In fact, we spend countless hours and waste energy trying to make the commandments MORE complicated and adding conditions, additions, interpretations, excuses, and critiques.

There is not enough time or space to list all the ways we try to avoid the greatest commandment, but here are a few I struggle with:

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  • My heart–I love the Lord, but I don’t always love Him with my whole heart. I love His creation; I love His promises; I love the “idea” of God. But I also love my comfort zone; I love my own moods (especially happiness and self-esteem); I love the admiration of my peers; I love God, but…I don’t always pray to God the way I would talk to my best friend. I don’t seek Him out ahead of everyone else. I don’t always seek His correction or welcome His Lordship.
  • My soul–Most of us would claim that we are “spiritual” on some level. But many of us (including me) don’t do a very good job of tending to our souls. We assume that behaviors and habits and a list of beliefs are “enough.” We spend very little time in prayer, worship, and Bible study (compared to the time we spend on chores, sleep, entertainment, driving around, daydreaming, etc.). I’m not suggesting that we all need to go into a cloister (especially in light of the second great commandment to love our neighbor). But souls, like bodies and minds, need to be nourished, exercised, and cared for. Very few of us make it a priority to nourish our soul-connection with God–to Love Him with all our soul. We skim over this part of the commandment, assuming it is much the same as loving Him with all our heart or all our mind.
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  • My mind– My mind wanders– a lot! And I spend a lot of time learning “about God,” instead of learning “from God.” I want to know what God is like– to be able to explain Him or comprehend Him. But God is bigger than my ability to “know” or even to imagine. And yet, He invites me to “know” Him, not just know about Him. In fact, He invites me to “follow” Him, to be His disciple, to model my character and my thoughts after His own.
  • My neighbor–I want to love humanity. I want to love “everybody”– from a comfortable distance! But God calls me to love my neighbor– that person who cuts in front of me at the grocery store, or revs their car engine outside my bedroom window at 3 in the morning, or laughs at me when I’m having a bad hair day. And not just “love” them in the sense of tolerating them– God wants me to love them “as myself.” To value them, reach out to them when I might rather avoid them, or seek peace when they are “pushing my buttons.” God wants me to offer them grace and forgiveness, when I might expect to demand justice or recognition.
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  • “As Myself”–Sometimes, I don’t love myself. Sometimes, I idolize myself. Other times, I despise myself. And the attitude I have rubs off on to others. God doesn’t call me to idolize my neighbor; to lie to my neighbor about Sin and its consequences, or to let my neighbor’s wicked behavior go unchallenged. Just as God wants to call me to repentance, He wants me to lovingly reach out to my neighbor, not enable her/him to live a lie. But if I am living a lie–not dealing with my own sin– I cannot demand from my neighbor what I am not willing to give to God. Similarly, I can’t give honest love to my neighbor when I despise myself– God created us both and loves us with an everlasting love! How can I give love I am not willing to receive?
  • My understanding of “commandment.” God has the authority to command my attention, my obedience, my worship, and my loyalty. But my “love?” God has given us the CHOICE to Love Him, and to Love others– He also gives us the imperative to live our lives filled with Love. It is not God’s will that we Love out of coercion, robot-like and against our own free will. Rather, God commands us to submit our will to Love in every situation. We are slaves to Sin, powerless to love perfectly–even when we try, or think we are doing well, we will fall into faulty thinking, ungoverned emotions, and uninformed, unloving reactions. We WILL break this greatest commandment, just as we will break other, lesser commandments. But God has also promised to listen to our confession and forgive us, redeeming our soul, cleansing our heart, and renewing our mind as we follow Him. God does not command us to Love perfectly in our own power. He does command us to choose Love–first and foremost for Him, and then for those around us whom He loves. In so doing, we will grow to understand the power of God’s commands as we experience the power of His Love!
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