Category Archives: worship

Not Safe. But Good.

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Not Safe. But Good. (Photo by dogrando.)

Lesson Three was one of my favorites because, to tell the truth, I find great comfort in a God I can’t control.  Oh sure, I sometimes try to treat God like my personal Santa Claus, but of course that never works. Years ago, Barry and I attended a church that emphasized asking God for all kinds of things–healing, jobs, marriage restoration, financial help. While it’s true that God is our source for life itself, I don’t like it when the focus is all about me.  Look, I have NO TROUBLE focusing on me. My trouble is focusing on God who is SO MUCH BIGGER than me. I don’t need help worshiping myself.  I need help remembering that God is a holy, awe-inducing, incomprehensible, uncontrollable God who is worthy of every ounce of devotion I can give.

In The Chronicles of Narnia, when the children first learn about the great lion Aslan, they ask if he is “safe,” being a lion and all. Their friend replies, “‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

That’s the kind of God I want to worship.  Not a safe God. A God who challenges and stretches me, but who simultaneously fills the new spaces created by the stretching. A God I cannot tame but who is so good I have nothing to fear. Jesus said of his own life that he had the power to lay it down at will and the power take it back up again. That he chose to do so proves his wild and fierce devotion to us. Why would I not return love like that?

“No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”  John 10:18

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Where is your brother?

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As I re-read Lesson Two this week (Why are you angry?), this time I landed on God’s 2nd question to Cain:  Where is your brother?  The first part of the story focuses on Cain challenging God’s right to be God and to, therefore, make the rules. Cain essentially challenges what later becomes the first commandment to love God with our whole being, putting no idols before him–not even ourselves. Maybe especially not ourselves. God, in turn, confronts Cain on that issue.

But God’s 2nd question confronts our responsibility towards others as do most of the rest of the 10 commandments. In the story of Cain and Abel, as in the commandments, God equates true worship with, first and foremost, wholehearted, unabashed devotion to himself, followed by a commitment to one another. No lying, cheating, murder, slander, even jealousy. It all starts, though, with devotion to God. Without worship of God as our starting point, are we capable of true devotion to one another? What is the impetus? If I am the source of my own moral decisions, when someone else gets in the way of something I want, be it an object, a goal, an idea, or even a perceived right, my only responsibility is to do what “feels” right. But if God is the object of my worship versus my own ego’s demands, my decision points are derived from God’s ideas of how to treat people versus mine.  I’ll just be honest. In my case, this is so much safer for myself and for those who have to live with me!

Mercy-drenched Morning

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Ever notice the color of things in the morning? Look around at nature before the sun fully rises and washes everything out with its brightness. Cool air, quiet streets, rich hues that you can’t really see during the heat of the day—all serve to clear the cobwebs in your head, especially after a good night’s sleep.

Sienna Morning 1

photo by Kay Johnson

With the morning comes new perspective too. Even Scarlett O’Hara got it right when, faced with increasing pressures, she would say, “But I won’t think about that right now. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”  Sometimes, tomorrow really is another day, and it pays to wait.

Sienna breezway

photo by Kay Johnson

“Tomorrow” can bring new perspective.  In Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert describes one of her darkest nights—a time of personal agony. For the first time in her life, she prays. For hours, she can only sob and repeat, “Tell me what to do!”  To her great surprise, God answers! And what does God say?

Kathryn of Sienna

“Go to bed, Liz.”

And that’s how she knew it was God. At that moment, going to bed was the wise—and only—choice. It was not a time to make life-altering decisions. It was time to rest and let God hold her heart.

In the book of Lamentations, right in the midst of some really depressing stuff, there is this whisper of hope.

I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.

(Lamentations 3:20-23)

Fresh mercies every morning.  I like the sound of that.  I also like the advice God gave Elizabeth Gilbert:  Go to bed!  Such advice is consistent with the character of a God who says, “Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.”

Go to bed.

Get some rest.

And see with fresh eyes in the mercy-drenched morning.

Sienna sunrise

photo by Kay Johnson

I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
The Lord is good to those who depend on him,

to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly

for salvation from the Lord.

(Lamentations 3: 24-27)

Find Your Strengths…but Find the Point

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Over the last six years or so, my reading focused decidedly on leadership and “strength finding.” Leadership is a hot topic. Ask anyone in the business world. It has become a whole industry. Just as popular are books about finding and using your strengths in order to work within your “sweet spot.” Books like Good to Great, The Tipping Point, The Dip, and the Strengths Finder series have made swamis out of people like Jim Collins, Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, and Marcus Buckingham. I learned a lot from these books and found them fascinating. Yet, amazingly, we are now in the midst of a season where the dirth of leadership could not be more obvious, and despite attempts to move people to work from a place of passion and service, it seems we are more self-centered than ever.

What is the disconnect? I’m not sure I know. But I do know this. After a little time and distance from these books, I’m discovering one significant missing piece. In a wonderful book called When People are Big and God is Small, author and professional counselor Ed Welch focuses on this passage from 2 Corinthians:

“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.”

Welch goes on to write

This means that the essence of imaging God is to rejoice in God’s presence, to love him above all else, and to live for his glory, not our own. The most basic question of human existence becomes “How can I bring glory to God?”—not “How will God meet my psychological longings?”

By extension, we might add that the basic question is also not, “How can other people or my work meet my psychological longings?”

This understanding of ourselves as servants of God is practically a foreign concept, perhaps especially in the United States where the “pursuit of happiness” is seen as a right to be fought for to the death–even when we trample others to do so! In truth, our purpose is not about pursuing happiness but about pursuing God–to love him with heart, soul, mind, and spirit, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Obviously, I love to write. But when people ask me, “What do you want to write?” I’m stumped. I don’t have an idea for a great novel. And blank paper freaks me out! But I know this—whether I’m writing the next great character novel like A Prayer for Owen Meaney or writing content for a website, my purpose is to find ways to allow the glory of God to spill over into the pages and into every relationship with every reader, client, or co-worker. When I believe that my purpose and passion are to love God and bear his image through love for others, it plays out in everything I do. And it matters not whether I am using my strengths to lead as a communicator, marketer, and writer—or operating from a point of weakness (bookkeeping!) where I must lean wholly on God to make it through. As Welch says, “Ultimately, the awesome responsibility and glorious privilege of image-bearing is expressed in simple acts of obedience that have eternal implications.”

 

© 2009 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.

Useless Beauty?

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wine and cheeseDo you ever wonder about the point of beauty? I mean, why do we need beauty, really? If life is only about survival of the fittest, beauty has no purpose, yet we long for beauty and will go to extraordinary lengths to have it.

We don’t desire simply to eat. We want to dine—else we would never have invented wine, or chocolate, or a million varieties of cheese or beautifully appointed tables with bright cloths and candles. We need clothing, but we don’t just cover ourselves with hay or animal skins. We adorn ourselves. We weave delicate silks or hand woven wools. We employ intricate dyes with rich colors, beads, embroidery, and other fine stitching. In our homes, we might spend hours choosing just the right paint color for the bathroom walls! Why?

Even in the most primitive cultures, I suspect there is still a compulsion to add some element of beauty to daily living, whether a handful of wildflowers, a dance, a song sung around a fire, or even a tattoo! We yearn not only to surround ourselves with beauty but also to create it. The world is filled with evidence of this fact. Think Taj Mahal, Alhambra, or the Louvre.

Our basic needs for food, clothing or shelter are surpassed by an even greater need—the need to feed our souls. If a mother were only meant to feed her child for sstring rehearsalurvival purposes, dinnertime would be quite a different thing. Why instead do millions of mothers waste time setting a dinner table or creating a special atmosphere for a holiday? Why, indeed, would anyone take the time to write music, fashion a piece of pottery, plant a garden, or even get a haircut?

We find joy in beauty. Keats said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” Can we also find truth in beauty? Keats thought so. He also wrote, “’Beauty is truth, truth beauty, —that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’” Keats was on to something, but maybe we do need to know more. Maybe we need to know the origination and purpose of beauty.

Edward Welch’s book When People are Big and God is Small has an interesting passage that I believe provides a clue. Welch notes how life itself provides pictures for us of who God is and what he is like. Scriptures say that God is a loving bridegroom, a redeemer, a feast giver, a judge and advocate, a father, mother, obedient son, suffering servant, friend, shepherd, potter, physician. We relate to these titles because we have known fathers, judges, physicians, and the like. The book goes on to say,

These concrete “snapshots” that God gives us of himself are not just God’s way of accommodating himself to human language. God isn’t using our understanding of servants to suggest that he is like a servant. No, God is the servant, the husband, the father, the brother, and the friend. Anything in the created world that bears a resemblance to these descriptions of God is simply God’s glory spilling into creation and into creatures. Whenever you see these albeit distorted images in other people, they are a faint reflection of the original.

Koi PondGod’s glory—spilling over into creation and into creatures. Is it possible that we are drawn to beauty because beauty is part of God’s glory. Indeed, if Welch is right, God is Beauty, and the beauty I see here is but a faint reflection of the original. So when I am touched by the best in human relationships, by the forgiveness of a father to his son, or by a woman lovingly caring for her elderly mother—any such tender pictures of love, forgiveness, and affection, I am touched because I see glimpses there of God’s glory. Likewise, when I am awed by the beauty of a glorious sunset, a breathtaking aria, or of the magnificent art and craft as seen in a place like Notre Dame, there too, I am seeing but vague hints of God’s glory—and it sets my soul on fire.

Copyright © L. Kay Johnson, 2009. All Rights Reserved