Articles

Refiner’s Fire and Falling Sparrows

All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables;
I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
(Matthew 13:34-35)

I will turn my ear to a proverb.
I will utter my riddle on the harp….
(Psalm 49:4)

Everyone loves stories.

Our heavenly Father has put illustrations–parables, really–throughout all creation to demonstrate eternal realities. These are not examples put here “just for fun” so that the Christian can engage in a clever intellectual exercise, a way to enjoy “spiritual symbolism” that doesn’t connect with any real-world application; intriguing, but essentially useless for true change or growth. He has placed parables within the fabric of physical existence that teach us truths about divine realities that sustain us in the “nitty-gritty” and mundane aspects of life.

So, we find that a sparrow does not fall to the ground without the notice of our tender Father (Matthew 10:29-31). And does He not much more care for us? The crushing pressures and needs of life, that seem so threatening, are simply opportunities for Jesus to prove His faithfulness to us again and again. We can trust Him completely. Birds do it.

We learn that our God is a “refiner’s fire” (Malachi 3:2-3). This is encouraging (and maybe a little scary), because we realize that precious stones become ever more priceless as impurities are removed through fire. A shimmering glaze on pottery becomes hard and permanent, unable to be removed, after it goes through the burning heat of an oven. So our fiery trials in life build in us character and beauty and enable us to  give pure offerings of worship to our King.

Jesus continually taught in parables to explain (and sometimes conceal) deep spiritual truths. Just as the parables carry an inherent power to transfix our attention, leading us into reflection, and hopefully a new mindset, guiding us into transformation; so do the “parables” inherent in physical creation guide us to sudden epiphanies of comprehension, inviting us–compelling us–to awe and worship, which leads to transformation and genuine love-response to the One who first loved us. This is obedience to the first and greatest commandment:

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:5.

So, we find lessons from the glazing of pottery, or the carefree soaring of birds, or the joy of food well-prepared, or the mysterious intensity of a quasar, or the soothing warmth of the afternoon sunshine, or the gentle touch of a loved one, or the innocent happy gurgling of an infant. These are organic expressions of our material world, which were created and pronounced “good” by our good Creator; but he is more than simply a Being greater than the cosmos who set everything spinning into existence. The stories woven into creation point to deeper realities rooted in the  character and nature of our loving Father. He enjoys our enjoyment of discovery. He knows it is fun for us, and when we search out and uncover these truths for ourselves it “locks” them into our understanding as a mere bullet-point outline never could.

We are excited by stories; we relate and respond to stories; we are changed by stories. Our Lord made life a story, so we could relish living it and contributing to the mystery. We are explorers in an adventure movie; we are pilgrims in a fairy tale; we are cherished and pursued for divine romance. And all this is far grander and more wonderful than anything Hollywood could ever dream up.

 

 

 

We Do What We’re Told
(how to be your own robotic sheep)

Sheep2 (herd)

Here now, are ideas oft repeated:

  • If we could get rid of religion, there would be no more war or social chaos.
  • God is a sadistic tyrant who eternally tortures people just because they don’t believe in him/her/it.
  • Churches expect their people to accept all their teaching, and punish independent thinking. No intelligent, informed person believes in God.
  • Religion has poisoned every culture and resisted all human progress.
  • The Bible is an incoherent mess of writing by superstitious ancients, and is full of contradictions.

I could list many more, but these are the first few that popped into my head.

These notions are dogma to a large segment of our society; ideas so pervasive it almost seems they exist in the intellectual air our minds breathe. It makes sense to turn away from “God” and religion in disgust, since religious zealots scurry about raping the environment, carrying weapons, and secretly plotting to overthrow governments and force the entire world to become a theocracy.

I wonder how many who cling tenaciously to these positions are aware that there are rational, reasoned responses to every single assertion, and others like them? Thinking people through the centuries have wrestled with gigantic questions and doubts and fears, and have come to rational conclusions and positions of faith that can be well-articulated. Whether you agree or not is your prerogative, but you should not dismiss their findings out of hand as if they are ridiculous. To do so is dishonest and foolish.

I have not set out in this post to “prove” the existence of God or the love of Jesus. I am not here to perform quantitative analysis of empirical research. I am merely a pilgrim pointing past myself, past all the garbage and the fluff and even the good and bad “stuff” to signposts, sometimes only dimly perceived, leading us to a place where we can all find hope and truth (and hopefully hope through truth).

Now, it is true that there have been terrible atrocities throughout history performed by individuals and groups claiming to be people of faith. Churches can be hotbeds of uncritical, mesmerized group hysteria, filled with preachers whipping their followers into a frenzy. Religious fundamentalists often speak out with venom and bitterness and appear to hate anyone who feels differently than they do. Since I am a christian, let me confess for us all: mea culpa.

But, consider this well-known quote:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion).

Or this comment from a blog post (sorry, the original post is no longer available):

“if your storybook was true, I find it funny your warped idea of gods love. The relationship your hold with god and jesus isn’t some friendship, your not walking through the woods skipping and dancing. you are being an obedient slave who worships him and strokes his ego and if you don’t you go to hell. seems to me god is a bit of tyrant and is extremely egotisticals and will have anybody who is willing to get on their knees and worship him. if you want to be that pathetic then i really to pitty you all.” (comment from “not stupid“)

It sounds like Mr. Dawkins and “not stupid” need a hug. Apparently, Christians do not “corner the market” on anger and bitterness. When I read comments containing this kind of contemptuous hostility, it actually sounds as though there is deep hurt beneath it. Maybe I am naive, but it grieves me. It also frustrates me, because many of the points made by the so-called “new atheists” are often objections that have been raised, debated, and answered centuries earlier.

Let’s be real. Anyone who holds to dogma and opinion without at least a bit of examination is a religious fundamentalist. Many militant atheists fall into that category. When we cease to process information critically, with at least a modicum of humility, we are prey to the conformity of “groupthink”.  We have moved lockstep into the herd of all the other “sheep” who bleat–excuse me, think–the same way we do. This herd mentality affects us all in one fashion or another. I have read publications by supposedly enlightened “freethinkers” who spout the same tired rhetoric over and over again.

Everyone has a worldview, a matrix through which they process information. That is important and necessary. It’s just that we need to be reminded sometimes that a great deal of mystery still exists.

I write for anyone reading, who like me, is an honest seeker. Because no matter how you slice it, none of us possesses every piece of the knowledge pie. The sheer volume of what we don’t know–and I am speaking of the entire human race en masse here–is staggering. To be a seeker is to be humble, which is one way to become truly wise. It doesn’t mean that a seeker won’t have opinions–strong ones in some cases–it just means that he or she is willing to engage with others in a respectful, open manner.

Many of us like to say we are not “religious”, we are spiritual. It has become a catchphrase. I use it here in the sense that every human ever born on this earth is a spiritual being. We crave transcendence. We seem to be “hardwired” with a desire to connect with humanity, nature, and the cosmos. Most of us sense intuitively that it is a marvelous thing to immerse our lives in causes greater than ourselves. Those who do not, who simply live for their own pleasure and gain, end up shriveled and emaciated husks.

Like so many people before me, I look at the beauty of nature, or the magnificence found in a clear night sky, and I tremble with awe for the wonders laid out before me by a loving creator. I pray, and experience a peace from something or someone outside myself. I ask for wisdom, and am granted understanding that comes from sources I didn’t uncover with my own intellectual ability.

I encounter the love of Jesus Christ, the living God, every day in numerous ways. It would take far more than one post to explain how and why I came to believe and experience him, and continue to have that experience. Many millions of other people through the millennia have lived the same way.

This is a Grand Adventure.

I do not claim to have new understanding; all I can do is share my story, which I do gladly. But I am aware that if someone fortifies themselves with disbelief, any thoughts I could offer will most likely fall on deaf ears.

You can lead a sheep to Living Water, but you can’t make him drink.

 

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