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Who Will Cover Me?

I’ve decided to do a bit of griping today—but only for one paragraph. Be warned. Here it comes.

The blogosphere is filled with criticism, finger pointing and name-calling between family members. A famous Christian minister says something stupid (and it was stupid) and before you can say “trending topic” he is pummeled by criticism from others within the faith. Someone is hurt by their mistreatment at a local church, so they adopt Lone Ranger status and start a new blog about how the “real” church has nothing to do with organized religion. One faction of believers promotes an opinion and, in response, another faction labels them heretical or dangerous. It’s Jersey Shore for believers, only uglier.

There. I vented for one paragraph. But—no surprise—I don’t feel any better, nor have I changed anyone’s opinion or behavior. We all remain the same.

There’s a more excellent way. In my frustration, I reach for an island of transcendent sanity. I turn the pages until I read:

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:7-10)

One phrase shines through the layers of meaning in Peter’s words: “love covers over a multitude of sins.” He is talking about a community of people who have received the great treasure of God’s grace and are called upon to steward that treasure by how they treat one another. This stewardship includes the kind of love capable of protecting others from themselves: love refuses to reveal the sinfulness of others. To publicly expose the sins of others indicates a lack of love.

Who will help me? In my shameful state I need a love that throws a garment over of my ugly nakedness—the nakedness I have put on display by my selfish, egotistical, controlling words and choices toward others. Who will protect me if not the members of my own family?

This week’s meditation is a quiet reflection and openness toward the Holy Spirit. He can help us explore the depth of our love toward others. We can simply ask him: Does my love cover other's sin?

There's a difference between excusing sin and covering it. Can I hold people—especially members of God’s family--accountable without exposing them?

Our call to steward God’s grace goes beyond our personal relationships and extends to everyone with whom the Father has a personal relationship. It means we learn to love others for simply no other reason than that the Father loves them. It means loving all the church. When I rail against the sins of the church I am simply demonstrating my lack of love for her.

We are each given a stewardship of grace. We can be like the man who foolishly held his one talent and chose not to multiply it. We can keep God’s grace to ourselves, or multiply God’s grace by extending it to others.

Do Bible Characters Really Understand God?

It was a simple tweet, and not even a new idea:

The difference between ‘everything happens for a reason’ and ‘God brings reason out of everything that happens’ is superstition and faith.

As the day ran on it was retweeted again and again, by people I’ve never met or followed.

Then last night I heard a gentle and godly woman reflect on the loss of her 18 day-old baby: “The Lord has the power of death and life, he gives and he takes away.” It was a comfort for her, but it left me wanting.

Every word of the Biblical narrative is inspired, but they are not all inspired in the same way.

When that guy in the Parable of the Talents tells the Master, “I knew you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed,” we know he has it all wrong. Our Lord’s inspired story invites us to consider how a flawed picture of God causes us to make poor choices. Instead, Jesus tells the story to invite us into the Master’s happiness (Matthew 25:14-30) No one would seriously maintain this one man’s description of God was “inspired and true,” would they?

Or consider Job--the book, and also the man. The scripture assures us Job was a righteous man, and so he was. The scripture tells us he did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. Too true. When we read the Book of Job, we discover that Job’s friends bring a skewed picture of God, His love, and His justice. We take their words as part of a larger story, not as gospel truth. We know they are wrong. But what of Job?

I wonder if every word he says gives us an accurate picture of God, especially those very famous words:
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
    may the name of the Lord be praised

These words are beautiful. Job worships in the midst of heartbreak. But I wonder if we should trust his picture of God.

Did the Lord really take away? Did the Lord inflict suffering in order to win a celestial wager? We do not accept the counsel of Job's friends as godly wisdom. Why should we automatically believe Job that God "gives and takes away?" Today’s post is not an argument--it's a genuine question. Questions like this are the soul of meditation.

I invite you into the discussion--what do you think of Job’s assessment? He is a picture of humility and trust. He ordered his life around the reverent worship of God. I would love to have Job's humble heart and dedicated practices, but perhaps not his theology.

As you join the conversation (leave a comment, and help me meditate), consider two final points. First, when the Lord shows up at the end of the book, he says to Job, “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?” and begins to paint a cosmic picture capable of blowing anyone’s mind. Second, Job finally concludes, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” and “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.

What do you think? Come meditate with me.

Saturday Song: William Blake

William Blake, both his life and his work, is enough to freak out even the most open-minded Christian. For example, C.S. Lewis titled his book “The Great Divorce” in part to refute Blake’s “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” which was Blake’s brilliant—and almost indecipherable—comment on the church of his day.

Blake is another example of a Christian artist who forged his own path, fusing his unique verse with his own illustrations. He was an artisan as well as a poet, producing detailed engravings to accompany his work and the work of others.

His contemporaries thought him mad. He wondered himself. He had visions and dreams. Over the last two hundred years his reputation has grown. The ground-breaking Blake was willing to suffer the critique of his countrymen in hopes of eternal praise. It was a good trade.

 

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land

The Secret

Some secrets are safe even when you tell them to others, because some secrets must be lived, rather than known.

I found this secret buried deep in a stack of letters from a man stuck in prison. The kind of prison where you had to provide your own food and clothing, which was a problem because you were in prison. If you were out of friends you were outta luck. The kind of prison where you sat before you went to trial, wondering if you were going to trial. The man in prison had been beaten, healed, scarred, and beaten again. Shipwrecked three times, and far from home. Still, he had a secret, and he shared it with his friends:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4: 11-12)

This man, Paul: a follower of Jesus, was falsely accused and in prison awaiting trial for more than a year. He had discovered the secret of contentment. Can you imagine yourself, in the midst of all those circumstances Paul faced, content?

Contentment is perhaps even more of a secret today because the Western world is locked up in its own striving and appetites, wholly unaware of its blessings. Can we hear Paul’s whisper through the clamour of consumerism today? Consider just a few insights into his secret:

  • Contentment does not depend on circumstances: Paul could be content in the midst of plenty or little. In our world plenty is not enough: each of us know first-hand people who cannot be at rest even when they are surrounded by every comfort. Worse: some it’s us.
  • Contentment does not mean giving up: Paul still had places to go and things to do. He was not a fatalist who accepted every event in his life as the final word. Yet even when he faced obstacles and frustration he found contentment within.
  • Contentment is not the result of positive thinking: There’s an old story about the child given a pile of horse manure for his birthday: he joyfully grabbed a shovel and said “there’s got to be a pony in there somewhere!” Not so. Sometimes there is no pony: life simply covers us with dung. The danger of positive thinking is that it comes from our own strength, and eventually that resource runs dry.

The “secret of being of content” is much deeper. It is born out of relationship to an unchanging person and his unshakable kingdom. This week’s meditation is an invitation to tune our ears and listen to the man in prison. His words are like a treasure map: hearing the secret is not enough, it must be discovered. At the end of the search we will discover ourselves to be the kind of people so in tune with the Kingdom of God that we navigate difficult times, supplied with peace, as well as strength.

The Still Big Voice

I used to think the silence meant God wasn’t speaking. Now in the silence, he’s all I hear.

As a young man I would look to the stars, overwhelmed by the beauty of the night sky. I knew from Psalm 19 that the heavens declared the glory of God. I could see his greatness, but could not hear his voice. Even in their majesty I would wonder why God was so silent. My prayers, especially at night, were filled with requests and concerns. I would list my needs one by one, unaware that my greatest need was stillness. I would fall asleep listing my anxieties to this silent God. When I awoke, I was still with him. But I was unaware either way.

Of the many needs of North American believers, silence is among the greatest. Silence is the page on which God writes his word. Our noisy world scribbles on the page continually, overlaying sound and word on top of word and sound until the page becomes black. We cannot read what God has written unless the page is clean.

The pathway of modern life has been hardened, trampled by words. Back in the day you had to visit Times Square; now Times Square visits you. The sower sows the seed but it falls on the path and is carried away by SportsCenter, YouTube, NPR, and our ubiquitous earbuds. Quiet is an aberration. When Maxwell Smart uses the Cone of Silence, the point is that everyone simply has to shout louder. Drop any comedian into a monastery and he’ll have the monks doing hip-hop before it’s over. Even our Bibles are cluttered with sidebars and graphics, pictures and celebrity interpretations. 

But what if God is in the silence? He wasn’t in the whirlwind or earthquake for Elijah. The “still, small voice” is still a whisper. Perhaps the Father has his reasons for not raising is voice. I suspect it’s for our good that we find him in the secret place, well away from Times Square. This week’s meditation is actually quite, well, meditative: why not create a secret place each day and give him just three minutes of blank slate? The Father doesn’t need a podcast to reach our hearts. We will find his presence in the silence, and it will be enough.