Thursday, May 27, 2010

Christ, Our Redeemer

Christ as Redeemer. It’s a tough concept to wrap my head around sometimes. As God comes again and again into my life to set me free, I find it hard to live redeemed. Hard to live without worry, without fear, without stressing myself out over every little difficulty, every failure. Hard to not wait for the other foot to drop or look for the loophole that allows the goodness of God to fall by the wayside as some cruel joke of the universe.

But as tough as it is to live redeemed, I’m fairly comfortable with the idea of what it means to be redeemed – to be bought, paid for, set free, restored, renewed, and blessed. What, though, does this say of Christ’s role as Redeemer?

To many, perhaps to most, it means He has redeemed us as slaves. He has paid the price for our freedom and loosened us from the mastery of sin and flesh in our lives. He’s given us our walking papers, set us upon a new trail, become a new master – a master without the heavy hand of a hard man but instead with grace and mercy and respect.

Until recently, I would have agreed with this picture. It certainly is beautiful. The God of the Universe cashed in an “All for the price of One” coupon and bought back each individual bonded into slavery. He set us free. On the broadest, most impersonal of scales, this still works for me. That is, it works for the world, for the earth.

What, though, of the ache in the heart that longs for a personal intimacy with the Redeemer? What does an All-for-One coupon say to that?

Nothing. Or at least, very little.

Luckily, the Scriptures have an answer, one that allows me to relate in a new way to Christ, my Redeemer, and one I am ashamed to say I missed for too long.

When the Bible talks about redeemers, it seldom mentions slavery. It seldom mentions those belonging to others, sold and bought for a price, set free without much to their names but the papers to legitimize it all.

No, the Bible speaks most often of “family redeemers.” What in the world does that mean?

Family was the strongest bond in the Bible. You were nothing without your family, and it was this network of relatives that provided not only your worth but your financial and social security, your standing. Your family provided for your most basic needs. This is why men and women longed for marriage, and women facing barrenness prayed fervently for God to open their wombs.

It was more than love or closeness; it was truly a matter of life and death.

If a male died with no offspring to care for his wife, responsibility fell to his relatives – brother, father, uncle, nephew, whoever – to take her in and care for her. If a father died with an unmarried daughter, her uncle or brother took her in. In the case of Ruth and Naomi, it was Ruth’s in-law who became her family redeemer after the death of her husband, her brother-in-law, even her father-in-law (not necessarily in that order). Without Boaz, she had no one.

Boaz explains the whole concept of the redeemer to Ruth. He’s not first in line; there is one other male who has first rights of redeeming her. That guy is not interested, cannot for whatever reason marry her, so Boaz is free to lend his services. It is this exchange that introduced me to a new concept of redeemer: the family redeemer.

Unlike the man who redeems a slave, a family redeemer does more than pay the price for freedom. He does more than provide a set of papers and the chance at a new life.

He provides everything.

Boaz takes Ruth, marries her, sleeps with her, provides her offspring, provides her food and nourishment, work, labor, allows her to work in the fields. He has taken care of her most basic needs, re-established a line of succession to care for her future needs, and yes, even invited her back into the family through this new marriage.

All this for an in-law!

This is where my hope lies, in the beauty of the family redeemer. Aren’t we all in-laws to God? Isn’t there one degree of separation – sin – that keeps us from being fully His? Yet, He still redeems us.

He redeems us not in the sense of buying our freedom. Indeed, He is our Family Redeemer – bringing us fully back into the family through new relationship with Him, providing our nourishment and immediate needs, blessing us with the offspring (fruits of the Spirit, discipline, joy, grace, mercy, forgiveness) to fulfill our future needs, securing our role and place in society through purpose and good standing, and so much more. It’s more than just our walking papers. It’s more than setting us free.

It’s setting us free…with benefits. We are not freed and left standing in the square to wonder, “What now?” “Gee, God, this is great and all, but where do I go from here?”

We are free with the gifts of the future. We are free with new love, new relationship, new life, and every possible concern already met. We are free with the food and drink for today and the fields to harvest for tomorrow.

We are redeemed.

Christ is our Redeemer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Looking Up and Looking Down

Sometimes, I catch myself looking up. The call of a bird, the hum of an airplane, a passing shadow, a cloud – these draw my gaze upward. At night, I watch the stars pop out one by one, bursting through the darkness in brilliant beauty. I can hardly hold my head still as the wonders of the sky spin me dizzy just trying to keep up with it all.

In those moments, I know God must be up there.

It’s not always obvious what He’s doing or just what he’s up to up there, but it must be something magnificent. How else can you explain the phenomenon of a rainbow or the way the clouds pull together just before rain falls? How else could the Earth stay in orbit so perfectly around the sun, with each day coming and going exactly as the last? It’s incredible.

But when I find myself looking up, it sets my mind wandering, too. Just where is God? Is He behind that cloud? That bird? Am I even looking in the right direction or is He somewhere beside or behind me, puttering about in some corner of the Heavens that I cannot immediately see?

Because that’s how it works when you’re looking up: you develop this sort of tunnel vision. Whatever you look at draws into focus while the periphery blurs away. If you want to see more of what you’re seeing, if you want to follow the flight of the eagle, you have to keep your eyes focused. You have to keep moving, keep changing direction.

When it works as it is supposed to, you hardly notice. You might feel a little dizziness for a moment, but the beauty of the moment takes that all away. It’s when you start to move and run smack into the tree you thought you passed a minute ago or the same rock presses into the ball of your foot just as it did before the eagle caught your eye that you realize you’ve been spinning. You shake your head for a minute and laugh.

That eagle was worth it.

All of this has me thinking – it has me thinking about the way I look up to and follow God. Am I watching Him in wonder or am I aware of my spinning? Do I constantly look down to make sure my feet are on solid ground or am I lost in the moment? Can my focus stay clear and follow Him through the Heavens…or am I missing something? He glides into the glare of the Son, and for a minute, I lose Him. Or have I? I dare not look away. It is all too glorious.

Then, I pause. How is it that He sets me spinning, laboring to follow Him in the movement of the moment, and yet He is constant? He stays the same, not spinning as I am nor shielding His eyes. He never loses sight of me, never has to gather Himself and re-locate this daughter.

What’s up with that?

Suddenly, it strikes me: He’s looking down. You know that feeling. It is the mountaintop experience – literally. It is when you’re perched just right at the height of the world that the expanses open before you. Everything stretches out before your eyes in the same focus. You see it all! The house with a puff of smoke billowing from the chimney. Three cars stopped at an intersection, debating who has the right of way. A young child riding a bicycle. Another skipping rope. There is nothing beyond your vision, beyond your sight.

All of it, you would miss if you were somehow beneath it all…looking up. Maybe you’d see the front door of the house, but the eave would block the chimney. One or two cars might shade your peripheral vision, but could you see all three? Before you know it, the sound of a bicycle whizzes by, but you’ve got to look and see where the noise is coming from. Because you’re stuck looking up, where you’ve got to be very purposeful about your vision. Spend too much time staring at the wrong thing, and you’re bound to be hit by an oncoming train eventually.

You just can’t see it all looking up. That’s why it’s important to know what you’re looking for. Or rather, Who. You’re looking for the One Who is up there looking down, the One Who sees it all spreading out before Him. The One Who has the perfect angle for guidance and wisdom and protection.

Once you find that One and your eyes lock, you know He will protect you. He’s watching out for you, watching over the things you cannot see because of the angle of your vision. He will guide you, spin you around as you continue your focus on Him. If you lose yourself in the moment, in the beauty, in the awe of the experience, you won’t even feel the dizziness. You won’t be left disoriented. No, your feet will always be pointed in the right direction.

The direction that the One looking down can obviously see that the one looking up needs to move. That is the beauty of God.

(This is just one of many positions God takes in our lives. This is the amazing power of His omnipresence. He can stay above us looking down, watching and guiding our paths, while at the same time walking beside us in strength and ahead of us in leadership and behind us as a catalyst and in a whole different place, preparing the way for us. It just happens that I was thinking about His looking down this week…as I desperately looked up in the hope and promise of His goodness.)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Idol Worship

I wrote not long ago about turning God into nothing but mere superstition. That is not the only way I shape Him in my image. Too often, particularly when the answers don’t come as I would expect them, I begin to worship Him as a lesser god, even an idol.

What sets God apart from other deities in other religions is that He cannot be bullied and cannot be bought. His mercy and grace pour freely forth from His blessed hands, and He loves to live and work in relationship with us. He doesn’t care that we’re not perfect; He has already redeemed that. He doesn’t answer the richest, the loudest, the most demanding first; He answers us equally, according to our need.

I know this, but I don’t live by it. Not always. This has never been clearer than in my prayers for a job. This is my most recent, and perhaps largest challenge ever. God has made me beautiful. He gifts me in new ways – big and small – every day. My heart does not lose sight of this. But when one more rejection comes or a long period of silence or a drought in the job market where there’s nothing to even fudge my skills and apply for over several days, I wonder why He is so silent on this one issue.

This one place so close to my heart and…nothing.

That leads me to wonder if I’m looking in the right places. If I have the right methods of discernment to discover His will. If I’m being obedient in each step of my life, each movement of my walk. If I am praying long enough, often enough, hard enough, loud enough, softly enough, with enough tears. If I am being honest and forthcoming with God. If I am being too selfish, too focused on what I think I want.

These are not light questions, nor are they bad ones. These (and many more that come up so often) are great spiritual disciplines to consider! Who wouldn’t want to be looking in the right places, following God, discerning His will, praying fervently and appropriately, and so on? We all want that.

It is the next step that dooms me. It is the step I take where I turn God into a rewards God – the kind of god who will answer when I persist, who will see my labor and my emotion and answer me, the one who will only respond when I get it just right or fix everything to be perfect. Sure, this leads me to pray more, but this is not the way to cultivate a truly powerful prayer life.

This is simple manipulation. And it fails. When it fails, then I question still whether I am doing it right, enough, appropriately, persistently, and so forth, and I wonder just what in the world is wrong with God that He is so demanding, so stubborn, so ignorant that He could just turn His back on me like that.

Who does He think He is anyway?

Then I’ll switch modes and start making deals…and sometimes threats. If, God. If You bring me a job, then I promise I’ll never: (fill in the blank). If You bring me a job, I’ll do better at: (fill in the blank). If You don’t answer me soon, I’m turning my back. I’m going against everything I think I believe, and I’ll just do whatever I please, and You can deal with it. IF I even tell You about it. Or worse – I’ll just quit! What will You do when I give up on You because You’ve given up on me?

That’ll show Him.

None of it works, of course. God cannot be bought or bullied, and that is why I love Him so much. Because I know that the love He showers on me, the gifts (both big and small) of every day are absolutely undeserved. He cherishes me. He adores me. He loves gifting and blessing me, working behind the scenes to weave the most intricate tapestry of my life.

I delight in that. I delight in Him.

He delights in me.

That’s where the rub is: in all of this, through the frustration and the waiting and the excruciating questions, my heart never loses confidence. He is working; I know this. He has something incredible in store; He’s promised this. He steadies my heart and assures me anew every day of what’s to come. In generalities, but that’s just fine with me. His confidence is enough.

So He doesn’t even let me worry.

Still, it’s hard not to. It’s hard not to think about a dwindling bank account, an approaching arbitrary deadline, absolute rejection by the entire working world, and all the millions of little things that come with all of that. It’s hard not to wonder if I’m praying hard enough or loud enough or being faithful enough or earning what I’m asking for. It’s hard to let God be Who He Is (and always Has Been and always Will Be) when He doesn’t seem to be on the same page as I am. When He seems to be living on a whole different planet, with a different life and different circumstances and….

Doesn’t He know what this is like? Doesn’t He “get it”?

He does, and that is why I love Him. That is why on the off chance I try to follow my own heart instead of listening to Him, I end up right back at Him. That’s the way He’s changed my heart – to pursue His ways by nature, by rote, by instinct. That’s beautiful.

It took too many years to figure out that I was doing this, that I was turning God into the same kind of idol He so detested throughout His Word (and still does today), the kind of God He has never been, never will be, and never can be. Now that I know that, I still do it. But I know how to fall out of that trap. I know how to catch it, pull myself back, and remember His goodness. It rests in my heart.

In all the faith, hope, love, beauty, grace, mercy, confidence, and assuredness in the world.

Not that I’d mind Him finally answering, finally fulfilling the steadiness He’s given me by placing me in the right job. Soon. 