People matter

Blessed Are the … Yeast? — 2012 Ornament

Glenn's 2012 Ornament (13th Annual): Blessed Are the…Yeast?

I was struck one day in my Bible reading with what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God. His audience did not have 2000+ years of Christianity behind them heralding him as God incarnate. But they had an idea about the kind of kingdom God’s would be. If it was truly God’s, it would certainly dominate any earthly rival.

But domination was not among the ideas Jesus shared about the Kingdom of God nor were might, majesty or power. Rather, ordinary and even lowly fit better for this kingdom Jesus claimed was home to him and “at hand” and accessible to all present.

Jesus depicted Kingdom people as poor in spirit and meek, mournful, merciful, peacemakers (Matthew 5: 1-10). And then he drew upon common, every day items to describe how Kingdom “subjects” were, like salty salt (v13), light-giving lamps (v14) and in another lesson, seeds that grow into giant trees, and a small portion of yeast that leavens a large batch of dough (Luke 13: 18-21).

Yeast. That one struck me. You can’t get more ordinary than yeast.

In 2012 after four plus years of career search posturing, I failed to secure any of the positions I sought despite making “the finals” on several occasions. But as I searched, I kept God in clear view and trusted that the doors that opened were either opened by Him or allowable by Him for me to pursue. This I did with every one. And here I stand, where I now am.

While I can’t see how my present fits with the balance of my life, I trust I am where God wants me right now. I am not in a career but I have a job with a good company. I don’t have impact like I would as an organizational manager but I can certainly be Kingdom yeast in my workplace.

The lesson of yeast and all Jesus’ kingdom analogies is that attaining the manner of God’s kingdom does not require any measure of success or status in this kingdom, the kingdom of the world, life now. In fact, success in this world may jeopardize our ability to truly see or at least dim our view of the Kingdom of God. (I need to keep that in mind if I should ever find my way back into whatever it is I think I’m looking for!)

Another realization from further study on this topic: virtually every Biblical character experienced this wandering into seemingly wayward places while being attentive to God, including Jesus himself. Think of his beginning, our Christmas: The scandal of his apparent illegitimacy seemed to cling to him even into adulthood – John 8:41?

When in this life, you feel helpless or impotent or left by the wayside, be alert to God slipping in under the radar to win you back to himself or re-establish your relationship with him. Christmas is about that.

If you should be so fortunate to join or rejoin the Kingdom procession, take heart when (not if!) you wander into some places and situations that are not what you had in mind. Where you find yourself will be where He is accomplishing His purposes in and through you.

…In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
— John 16:33b

Notes:

  1. ORNAMENT TEXT:
    FRONT: Fleshman’s (Blessed Are the…) YEAST; All Natural
    BACK: BLESSED ARE THE … YEAST?; (Jesus) asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to”  It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”  (Luke 13: 20-21, NIV84)
  2. PERSONAL NOTE: This year’s ornament title melds words from three of Jesus’ teachings:

    1) Borrowing a “Blessed are…” from his “Beatitudes” – how God’s Kingdom is (Matthew 5: 1-16)
    2) A missing word, “Least.” How God is “in” our care of the least among us.  (Matthew 25: 40)
    3) And, “Yeast” – Jesus comparing the Kingdom of God to an ordinary staple of life that  everyone could relate to. (Luke 13:21)

    All of the above describes the year of 2012 for me – The sense of not hitting the mark (Least) and being merely ordinary (Yeast) in a world attentive to everything but.  But, all the while, “Blessed…” by people in my life lifting me up and, every step of the way, God!
  3. DESIGN INSPIRATION: came from the Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast package (http://www.fleischmannsyeast.com/landing.html). I presume their yeast is great but their package had perfect ornament appeal!

Abide in Me — 2011 Ornament

WAIT, REST, TRUST, ABIDE:

Three years after I was separated from my position of 30 years, my life remained in “stuck” mode still. So I plowed ahead, one step at a time, clinging to my faith in God. He was faithful. He provided. He spoke.

But His messages were confusing: Be Still – Wait – Rest – Trust. This is not what the career-search gurus are advising. (Apparently, God and them are tuned into different channels.)

I turned to trusted advisers including the pastor of our church, Doug Walker. But Doug and God were in cahoots. (Apparently, he and God are tuned to the same channel!)

So, in honor of God and Doug, the message of my 2011 “Abide in Me” ornament is this: Listen for God and cling to Him. No matter what life brings, don’t let go – Ever.

2011 "Abide in Me" Ornament

Doug’s message on April 10, 2011 regarded Jesus’ teaching found in John’s gospel.  “I am the true Vine,” said Jesus. “Abide in me, and I in you.”  (John 15:1,4)  This term rested at the center of Jesus’ description of the kind of relationship He and his Father (God) have with each other and that each believer is invited to share.

The setting was significant as Jesus was sharing Passover supper with his closest friends, the last supper they would enjoy together before Jesus execution the next day.  Perhaps while lifting a cup of wine, Jesus used a grapevine metaphor to illustrate this “abiding” concept. He is the “true” vine, whereas God the Father is the vinedresser.  Believers are branches who “bear fruit.”

“Abide in me,” said Jesus, and you will “bear fruit.”  What fruit? The kind that flows from a branch, a person who clings to the Vine, to Jesus.  The fruits of the Spirit are listed in Galatians 5: 22-23: “love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.”

I appreciated Doug’s message, but it wasn’t making me feel very fruity. I was struggling.  Life wasn’t working for me.  Then Doug offered Jesus’ explanation about how fruit production occurs – by simply staying connected to the vine, to Jesus.  Through thick and thin, we cling, hold on, never let go and fruit will flow, “much fruit.”

And then he talked about “the catch.” About how “abiders” who bear fruit get PRUNED.  Why?  So that more and better fruit will grow.

Pruning.  Jesus friends would know about pruning. They were Jews, people of the land and sea – shepherds, fishermen, and vintners. The language of the land was in their marrow.

They would know how pruning worked, and why.  In the metaphor of likening a vine branch to a person, they would know that a person being pruned would not take to the treatment very kindly.  Pruning hurts.  It’s not fun.  Think about recovering from an incision.  The dang area hurts.

In my Twitter profile, I describe my journey as, “Negotiating the perils of earth life using a Bible as a flashlight.”  Life is full of peril. Cindy and I are living in that peril right now.  When God is the flashlight, the way he shows is often not the same way as what we hear in the culture around us.  The Christian life is not easy or for the feeble of heart.  Believers live in that tension.

But this is the life God has given us to live and Cindy and I are committed to walking with our God through every moment of it.

Christmas is, first and foremost, about the birth of Jesus Christ who we Christians believe to be God’s own son. Messages like these that are scripted in the lore and language of every day people reflect a very personal God.  But Jesus’ arrival on the scene was God’s most dramatic demonstration that people matter.

Of all the “matter” conceived by God, the so-called “Intelligent” creator, people are the matter that matter the most.  The God of Jesus is a personal God to each and every person who ever lived and ever will live.  For God, everything is personal!

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser…Abide in me, and I in you.
— Jesus (John 15: 1, 4a; Context: John 15: 1-8)

He Humbled Himself — 2007 Ornament

207 "He Humbled Himself" Ornament

DID YOU MEET THE NEW NEIGHBOR?

My 2007 ornament, “He humbled himself” depicts and honors the “star” of the Christmas story who set aside being God to move into the neighborhood.  The star depicts the height of glory from which Jesus descended to arrive in the most unlikely form possible – as a helpless human infant, to an unwed couple, whose pre-teen mom claimed to still be a virgin.  His crib was an animal’s trough, his mattress mere straw, his kingdom just a backwoods town.

His birth could have gone unnoticed except for the wonder that surrounded it – heralded by a star and a heavenly host and rumors of prophesies recorded hundreds of years earlier providing minute details about a savior to be born, with ties to times of old, to creation itself and to a messiah who would one day be installed as the glorified king of all eternity! 

Given all the build up, the birth circumstances didn’t exactly give the messiah a running start.  It’s almost like the author of his story stacked all the odds against him by design so that anyone he tried to “save” could not claim to being swayed by any appearance of privilege, status, prosperity or slate of hand.

So when the cards of life seemed stacked against me this year, I was able to turn to a God who knows what that is like, a God who said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28) – because hedescended to us, to meet us where we live, to demonstrate empathy by personal experience.  When we choose to align ourselves with him, his spirit takes up residence in us and, as we permit and yield, we become more like him,transformed into his likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18, Romans 12:2).

As we follow where he bids us to go, we ascend with him and discover heaven and its rule right here in the very midst of our lives. Occasionally, we experience a slice of heaven and see life as Jesus did.

The ornament’s theme scripture is Philippians 2:5-11 (from the New Living Translation):

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father
— Philippians 2:5-11 (NLT)

Jesus experienced life at the bottom and so he comes into our darkest, most despairing experiences in search of us, to pull us out and show us the life he has in mind for us, “life to the full” (see John 10:10).

Merry Christmas.  Wishing you “life to the full” – only available in Christ.

Bride of Christ — 2006 Ornament

MARRIAGE A MYSTERY:

I was honored this year to be invited by my niece Sarah to offer the mealtime prayer at her wedding banquet.  As I thought about that prayer and about the life that she and Patrick were entering into together, thoughts about marriage came to me that eventually inspired this year’s ornament design.

 Traditionally, a just-wedded couple’s first night together centers on consummating the spiritual and familial union sealed earlier at their wedding ceremony with their first physical/sexual union. This ornament draws its lesson from this most basic of all natures innately human – sexuality.

The terms “Christmas” and “Bride of Christ” encompass elements of our struggles with both sexuality and relating to God although neither term can be found in the Bible.  Rather, each regards aspects of God’s limitless desire to engage us at our level so that He might show us the abundant life that He offers to all people.

2006 "Bride of Christ" Ornament

God gifted humans with sexuality to (1) cause and sustain “oneness” (Matthew 19: 4-6)between a man and woman who have covenanted before Him to lifelong commitment and faithfulness with each other and (2) as a fun way to make babies and proliferate humankind (Genesis 1: 28).

Sadly in today’s world, our first exposure to sex is often in the form of an abuse of His design – advertisers’ use of sex to sell everything under the sun, … casual depictions of sex in our entertainment media … porn – the number one use of the internet, … premarital sex – more common today than premarital virginity, etc., etc., etc.…

In a society obsessed with sex, avoiding temptation is hard. Men in particular but many women as well struggle with maintaining a wholesome sexual perspective. Sharing in this struggle, I’ve devoted a lot of prayer and study to this topic.  Fortunately, God meets us where we are at, uses our struggles to build character (Romans 5: 3-4) and to demonstrate that nothing can separate us from Him (Romans 8: 38-39).  In Christ alone is forgiveness and mercy (Ephesians 1:7).  So, here’s where I’ve landed so far…

While God grieves the misuse of His plan for sex (Jeremiah 13: 26-27), our powerful craving for sex is by His design and He draws on that power not only to enable successful marital relationships but to try to drive home in us His intense desire to be “known” by us at the most intimate level. Throughout Scripture, God uses the language of sex to speak to us because, quite frankly, it is a language we understand – and so does He.   (On the bottom of the ornament, I listed some of these Scriptures.  Note in each how a sexual theme is stated or implied to convey a bigger idea.)

Forgiving my bluntness, a way to depict the “act” of marriage is as a “trinity” of physical, emotional and spiritual ecstasy experienced by a man and woman exclusively committed to each other for life. Furthermore, marital sex is ordained and encouraged by God down through the ages, so much so that He admonishes husbands and wives to not “deprive” each other “except by mutual consent” (I Corinthians 7:5).

I believe that the “oneness” that Scripture declares occurs in sex is when the spirits of two people “merge” via the physical act, which is why sex is set apart in Scripture from all other human acts, why its abuse is listed high on most lists of sins, and why purity and virginity is so highly regarded by God (see Genesis 2:24 &  I Corinthians 6: 15-20).  Think about this “trinity” next time you share this joyful, timeless ritual with your spouse. Marital union is a wonderful, prayerful, God-given example, although incomplete, of what oneness with God is like.

Isn’t it just like God to use our own carnal nature to draw us to Him? (That he GAVE us by the way!) – Another illustration of how He is not a distant God but as close as, … well, I hope you get the idea.

So, you ask, how does the innocence of the Christmas story relate to this theme? Well, one way to look at Christmas is God sending His Savior Son to the world via a sexual scandal of His own making. To a nation that stoned to death women caught in the act of adultery, a girl who claims to have never “known” a man is found to be pregnant. Moreover, the explanation she gives is about an angel visiting, of God “overshadowing” her to cause conception and that the child she bears is God’s own Son!  Imagine that story leaking in today’s press!


Notes:

Label, Front of Heart: Bride of Christ; Ephesians 5: 24-27

Label, Back of Heart:

Throughout Scripture, God uses the imagery of marital intimacy to convey His desire to be cherished by us. Israel, His chosen people, is His lover in the Old Testament and the Church is His Bride in the New Testament.  Not only is God NOT embarrassed by the emotional, spiritual and physical bonds that a husband and wife enjoy together, He defers to the most intimate of all human connections to illustrate the relationship He yearns to have with us. Being “known” in the “biblical” sense was God’s idea in the first place!

Label, Bottom of Ornament (Underneath):

Then the Lord God made a woman…and he brought her to the man (Genesis 2:22).

Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them. (Judges 2:17a)

Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood (Jeremiah 3:9)

How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! (Song of Songs 4:10a)

… when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, … you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:8)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25a)

“Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” (Revelations 21:9b)

Later thoughts associated with the lesson but not the ornament: (2/15/2013)

  1. Jesus reaffirming the original design of marriage: established by God, two become one, man has not authority to separate. Divorce allowed by God as an act of mercy only because of man’s sinful “hardness of heart.” (Matthew 19: 3-8)
  2. Marriage as a mystery: Part of a teaching by Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (Ch 5: 22-33).  The “mystery” reference is in verses 31-32 is: “As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.  This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.” (NLT)

    As noted on the ornament text, marriage is a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the church.  God’s relationship with his chosen people, Israel also mirrors this mystery. So both the old and new testaments are spanned by this idea: God/Christ as husband/groom and Israel/Church as wife/bridge.

    So, revisiting key markers of the conversation:
    • Established by God in the Garden of Eden: Then the Lord God made a woman…and he brought her to the man (Genesis 2:22)
    • Affirmed by Jesus: let no one split apart what God has joined together. (Matthew 19: 6b, NLT)
    • Explained by Paul: This is a great mystery… (Ephesians 5: 32a, NLT)
  3. For other biblical nuances of this idea, look at : As alluded in my ornament explanation, the Bible is filled with this idea. Any violation or watering down of it is entirely due to God making allowance due to man’s sinfulness and rebellion.

    Whole book examples:  Song of Solomon (expresses the romantic, passionate aspects), Hosea (expresses the faithfulness of the husband for an uncommitted and unfaithful wife).

Spike of Love — 2002 Ornament

2002 "Spike of Love" Ornament

THE ULTIMATE PRICE

My inspiration for 2002was a Lenten sermon by our pastor during which he read an account of what the torture of crucifixion involved and the pain a crucified person endured.  As a reminder of what Jesus endured for our sake, he invited us to take a spike, a miniature version of the large ones that were driven through Jesus’ hands and feet. 

This is how I know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for me.
— 1st John 3:16