You ARE home. Get Used to It

earth-lightSongs are important. The words we sing, the words we listen to, sink in and take hold of us. That’s why I get so annoyed when I hear Christian songs on the radio or choruses and hymns sung in church that relay bad theology.  I’m not just talking about esoteric theology, like debates about Trinity or what happens at the end of time. But when we’re talking about fundamental perspectives of life, it’s kind of important.

I’ve been hearing this one song over and over again on Christian radio, and it’s bugged me every time. And today, it just struck a deep enough nerve to make me want to say something.  It goes like this:

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

And I want to yell “bullshit” every time I hear it.

Guess what? You were born on this earth for a reason. You were put here by God intentionally. This is not just some temporary holding place until it’s your turn to catch a ride to the other side of eternity.  The earth is your home, and it’s about time you get used to it.

Such songs about being sojourners in a foreign land, yes, they do have some biblical basis.  This life is transitory. And it’s hard.  And let’s face it, when life is hard, when we endure loss, grief, hardship, suffering, we long for this life to be over and to move on a place of peace and eternal joy.  And these songs also remind us to not put too much stock in achieving earthly glory, wealth or power. Ultimately, it will all be dust.

But here’s the simple truth.  God created humanity.  And he placed us here.

He did not birth us as only spiritual creatures designed to live in ethereal realms.  When God decided to create human beings, he placed us on earth, in the Garden of Eden – not in some spooky spiritual dimension.  He gave us physical bodies, and gave us plants to eat.  He put us here to work, to tend the garden, to occupy ourselves here, and to enjoy the beauty and fruit of the place. And he called it “good!”  This is your home.

We have bodies. We have minds. We have emotions. And we have spirits.  We are an integrated being, not separate slices piled on top of each other. That old saying, “you are a spirit, you have a soul, you live in a body,” is partially true.  But the full truth is “you are a spirit, you are a soul, you are a body.”  So important are these components, so inextricably intertwined and interdependent, that the Bible tells us at the end of all things, at the Great Resurrection, we will be forever clothed in flesh.  Resurrected flesh, to be sure, a glorified body, but a body nonetheless (1 Cor 15:42-54).  And, if the book of Revelations is taken literally, God himself will move his Throne from Heaven to earth, and the dwelling place of God will be on earth with humanity for all time (Rev 21:2-3).  Even if this is taken figuratively, God comes to dwell with/within man — not that we should be eagerly seeking an otherworldly existence.

Early biblical interpreters universally shared this perspective of living in the here and now, in this world.  Rabbis from the first centuries talked about the earth as a gift to man, showing God’s favor on us. And the creation story of Genesis is explained in a parable of a great king who prepares a banquet.  First he makes all the preparations, and then he invites the guests of honor.  “Adam was created [last of all things] on the eve of Sabbath. And why?  …  That he might straightway go in to the banquet.  The matter may be compared to a king of flesh and blood who built palaces and furnished them, prepared a banquet, and thereafter brought in the guests” (b.San 38a).  And Philo, a contemporary of the Apostle Paul, echoes the universality of this as the accepted understanding when he relates a similar story:  “Just as givers of a banquet, then, do not send out the summonses to supper till they have put everything in readiness for the feast … exactly in the same way the Ruler of All Things … when about to invite man to the enjoyment of a feast and a great spectacle, made ready beforehand the material…” (On Creation 78).

The earth was made and prepared for us.
And we were made to live and enjoy life here.
This is your home; you do belong here.

Ya know, sometimes the earth is a mess. People are hurting, and you’ll hurt too. But you were placed here to be salt and to be light.  To do good things.  And to enjoy the beauty and fruit of the garden. So isn’t it about time you stop focusing on — and singing about — flying away to glory and escaping the bonds of this earthly life, and start getting about the business you were placed here to do?

You’ve got a mission. You’ve got a purpose. And you are not done yet. This is where you are meant to be. This is your home. Get used to it.

 

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STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.
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Resetting Your Most Important Relationship


[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #e10069;”]R[/dropcap]elationships are probably the single most important thing in life. And they’re impossible unless the people in them know themselves and each other. Kinda basic, right?

Okay, now without getting all churchy and religious, the single most important relationship you’ll ever have in your life is between you and God — because it affects everything: the way you see the world, how you view yourself, what gets you through difficulty and hard times, influences how we treat each, even how we live on this planet. How you see yourself is important. And how you see God will in turn influence how you see yourself.

And most of the time, we get it ALL WRONG. Religion and the Church have basically done us a great disservice because they’ve painted pictures of God that usually alienate us from God.

Case in point: just talking about God, what’s the first image that comes to mind? Chances are, it’s something based on images from Renaissance art, or Hollywood movies, or (even worse) fire and brimstone preachers. Church can really mess you up sometimes if you let it. And, frankly, a lot of those preachers don’t know much more about God than you do — I mean really, his personality and character, his heart, not just Bible facts and head-stuff. If they did, we’d see a lot more water-into-wine miracles happening all around us, a lot more Hanukah lamp-oil generation, and a lot less public stonings.

So let’s try to undo some of those mental images that have been drilled into our heads, and start over.

Let’s start over

Introductions are important. When you’re meeting someone for the first time, that first impression can either launch or kill a new relationship.  So let’s let God introduce himself. Scrap the images we’ve been carrying around most of our lives about what God is like, and let him tell you himself. What does God want you to think about him?

Famous first words — everybody knows them: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Book of Genesis, chapter one, verse one. And we could camp out here for a while, but I am especially moved by the next sentence. “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

There’s an image for you. “Hovering.” The Spirit of God was hovering over it all, over the mass of chaos and emptiness. And out of that mess, he brought order and life. Good life. (And if you happen to be going through some chaos in your own life right about now, that simple thought may hold the key to keeping you sane.) This is who God is. This is how he introduces himself. The hovering one.

The English language doesn’t do this justice. The word used there is a rare one in Hebrew. It only occurs 3 times in the entire Hebrew Bible, and those other references paint a powerful picture of what’s going on here. The image is the protective action of a bird, caring for its young, wings spread over them in the nest, fluttering. In fact, that is a better translation than “hovering”: fluttering. The other reference in Deuteronomy describes this protective love God has for his people: “In the desert God found Jacob, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions” (Dt 32:11).

God introduces himself, as soon as he steps onto the world stage, as the protective, caring one. His Spirit flutters over the empty stuff of time and space, and embracing it between wings of love, transforms it, nurtures it into his beloved creation. This is your God. This is how he wants you to see him.

After he transforms the empty void of space and time into a paradise, he creates humanity and places us in it. A garden. This is significant too. God is not a stingy God; he is not austere, harsh and severe. He created an extravagant garden for us to enjoy. The ancient Jewish rabbis described it as God first setting an elaborate banquet table, and then when it was all prepared, invited us as the guests of honor. And even the Apostle Paul says that God created all things for our enjoyment – that’s the heart of a loving parent. And then we see God walking and talking with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, enjoying their companionship, sharing in the good things he created for them. We were created for this: for fellowship, for relationship, for love, with the God of Eternity.

This image is reinforced later in the Biblical story when Moses is dealing with the harsh realities of leading a strong and stubborn people. He confronts God and demands a greater revelation of him. Kind of like “If these are your people, then I’m gonna need to know you better so I can lead them better.” He wants to see God face to face. Of course God knows this would kill him; Moses would vaporize in the unfiltered presence of full glory. So God puts him in a cleft in the side of a mountain, covers him protectively with his hand, and then passes by, declaring his name, revealing himself to Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…” (Ex 34:6).

God describes himself in the way he wants to be perceived and understood by us. Compassionate. Gracious. Overflowing with love and faithfulness. Loyal. Forgiving. And Just.

How have we missed this? How have we turned this loving, protective, caring, compassionate and gracious God into something other than that? How have we turned him into a vindictive, white-bearded and cranky old man, catching us in every fault, counting every sin, every failing and mistake on his eternal abacus? Maybe it’s human nature. We know God is perfect, and our imperfections are glaring in comparison. We think he must be angry or displeased or at the very least disappointed by our shortcomings. Or maybe that’s what we’ve heard so often from angry pulpits. But, as King David once noticed, God knows that we are but dust, he knows we fail. And he loves us anyway. He eagerly accepts us back into his presence — full of grace, compassion and love.

Religious people just don’t get it

God’s own people – religious folks, ones claiming to know him best – may be the worst at misunderstanding him. Jesus one day stood with his protégés in the Temple of Jerusalem, surrounded by religious people, some hungry, some self-satisfied. And he called out with aching heart, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you. How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you were not willing…” (Mt 23:37). As he faced rejection by the people he came to love, Jesus again and again showed the heart of the Father, even in the very choice of his words. He longed – and continues to long – to gather us under his wings of love. Yet we are so often not willing. We don’t get it. But this is your God. This is how he wants you to see him.

We may have missed this introduction for ourselves. Or maybe our impression of God got skewed because of the way he was introduced to us by over-zealous preachers wanting us to live holy lives – or at least “holy” as they understand the term. Now, just like back in Jesus’ day, religious people are often the ones who understand the heart of God the least.  And if you’re gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgender, someone who may not fit traditional models of “holy” lifestyle, chances are you were on the receiving end of a slanted misrepresentation of this God. But there it is, in black and white, in every translation, in every language, the clear description God gives of himself.  Not what we’ve been told. Not how he has been portrayed. Not the Angry One, or the One who rejects us.

He describes himself as the one yearning for relationship with the humans he created. Hovering – fluttering – over us, turning chaos into a place of safety and beauty for us, gently caring for us as a bird sheltering its young under loving parental wings. This is the Eternal Father, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love, full of forgiveness. The God who longs to walk with us, like he did with Adam and Eve in those early days of creation.

If we miss this introduction, this self-description by God himself, we can walk through our day to day lives seeing God as someone other than he really is. We’ll live our lives under false impressions, and miss out on the most important relationship we can ever have.  So let’s start over. Let’s let that loving, caring, compassionate, hovering God re-introduce himself to us personally. And turn our chaos back into a paradise.  That’s worth a reset, isn’t it?

 

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STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.
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You’ve got important work to do — and you’re gonna need some help!

helper2As a single guy, feeling the full weight of taking care of the house, the yard, the laundry, the cooking, the dogs, a full time job …, I think I now know exactly why God gave Adam a “suitable helper”.

Funny, how every single person I know is focused on finding Mr. Right or Miss Right. The desire for companionship is strong in us humans. And with rare exceptions, that’s how it’s supposed to be. Unless you happen to be graced with the spiritual gift of celibacy, you’ve probably more than once quoted that famous passage from the creation account in Genesis: “It is not good for man to be alone …” (Gen 2:18). And your sights are usually zeroed in on finding a romantic partner, someone to love, to be loved by, to “have and to hold,” and to experience that physical/mystical bond of “the two shall become one flesh”. (Thank you, Genesis, for providing us with all those great images.)

But I recently became acutely aware of what was perhaps the original intent of that spousal description. The King James version of the Bible reads, “an help meet for him”, and thus was introduced into English idiom the term “helpmeet” (and not as some of my more amorously focused brothers think, “helpmeat”). God gave Adam the herculean task of tending a huge garden and all the wildlife in it. And practically speaking, there just weren’t enough hours in the day or strength in the body to do it all alone. Adam needed help — and a help specifically suited to him, to his personality and to his specific needs. A helper was needed to help him accomplish his task. Not just to be a romantic partner. That “becoming one flesh” stuff is all just a wonderful fringe benefit.

Without that help, it is likely that Adam would not have been able to successfully do the thing he was charged with doing.

And that’s the point. You were put on this planet to do something significant, something important, something no one else but you can do. You were designed to be that unique piece in the cosmic jigsaw puzzle needed to complete the picture. And without you, without you fulfilling your assignment, that puzzle will always remain incomplete. And guess what? You can’t do it alone. None of us can.

It is interesting and informative that when Jesus sent out his disciples to do the work of the Kingdom — to proclaim the message of Freedom, to heal the sick, and to break the power of the enemy — he sent them out two by two (Mk 6:7). Like Adam, we weren’t meant to try to accomplish the work by ourselves. It’s too big for any one person. We need help. And based on these two important passages, it seems clear that that’s how God intended it. And if that’s the case, then we can also assume that it is God’s will that we have that help. He WANTS us to have our “suitable helper”. And that’s good news for most of us: God is right there in the mate-finding game with us.

But here is the kicker. You gotta look beyond the surface. You gotta get past your own amorous needs and look at the bigger picture. God wants you to have the love of your life, that partner who will be faithful in good times and in bad, in blessing and in trouble. Just make sure you find someone who will actually “help”. Find someone whose heart will align with yours, who will cooperate with your purpose on this planet, who will come into agreement with the important things in your life, and come alongside to help. Make sure your prospective mate can actually contribute. You don’t need another burden, another weight to carry. You don’t need the distraction or the drain on your energy and time. You need someone who will share the burden and help you carry the weight, who will help you stay focused and will re-energize you. Make sure the person you’re considering will be an asset to you, and is of some earthly good — other than providing you some sugar.

Your pursuit of a life companion is a wonderful thing. And if you stay purpose-driven and mission-focused, you’ll have God as a recruiting partner. Because He wants you to succeed even more than you do.

You’ve got important work to do. And you’re gonna need some help! So choose your helper wisely.

God — as He Wants You to See Him

agatha-christie--murder-on-the-orient-express-coverOpening scenes are important. You miss ’em, and you may miss the key element in everything that follows. Like an Agatha Christie mystery. The ending won’t make sense if you skipped the early pages introducing the main characters.

Okay, I’ll admit I can’t recall ever having actually read an Agatha Christie novel, but I’ve seen the Murder on the Orient Express movie. That counts, doesn’t it?

The same goes for the Bible. Now, before you go “oh, that Bible stuff again”, hold on for a second. This could be important — maybe even life-changing. Faith and a relationship with God may not occupy center stage in your life as it does with some of us fanatics, but I’ll bet you’ve got some thoughts about God, about who he is, what he likes and dislikes, whether or not he’s tallying merits and demerits on his infinite abacus. What’s the first image that comes to mind when someone mentions “God”?

And that’s the point. Most of us get it wrong. Our impressions are based on images from Renaissance art, or Hollywood movies, or (even worse) fire and brimstone preachers. Church can really mess you up sometimes if you let it. And, frankly, a lot of those preachers don’t know much more about God than you do — I mean really, his personality and character, his heart, not just Bible facts and head-stuff. If they did, we’d see a lot more water-into-wine miracles happening all around us, a lot more Hanukah lamp-oil generation, and a lot less public stonings.

So let’s go back to the opening scenes. Let’s let God introduce himself. Scrap the images we’ve been carrying around most of our lives about what God is like, and let him tell you himself. What does God want you to think about him?

Act I, Scene i

Famous first words — everybody knows them: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Book of Genesis, chapter one, verse one. And we could camp out here for a while, but I am especially moved by the next sentence. “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

There’s an image for you. “Hovering.” The Spirit of God was hovering over it all, over the mass of chaos and emptiness. And out of that mess, he brought order and life. Good life. (And if you happen to be going through some chaos in your own life right about now, that simple thought may hold the key to keeping you sane.) This is who God is. This is how he introduces himself. The hovering one.

The English language doesn’t do this justice. The word used there is a rare one in Hebrew. It only occurs 3 times in the entire Hebrew Bible, and those other references paint a powerful picture of what’s going on here. The image is the protective action of a bird, caring for its young, wings spread over them in the nest, fluttering. In fact, that is a better translation than “hovering”: fluttering. The other reference in Deuteronomy describes this protective love God has for his people: “In the desert God found Jacob, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions” (Dt 32:11). (The third passage, Jer 23:9, reads “all my bones tremble…”, reinforcing the “fluttering” action inherent in the word.) God introduces himself, as soon as he steps onto the stage, as the protective, caring one. His Spirit flutters over the empty stuff of time and space, and embracing it between wings of love, transforms it, nurtures it into his beloved creation. This is your God. This is how he wants you to see him.

Another Self-Revelation

Later in the story, when Moses is dealing with the harsh realities of leading a strong and stubborn people, he confronts God and demands a greater revelation of him. Kind of like “If these are your people, then I’m gonna need to know you better so I can lead them better.” He wants to see God face to face. Of course God knows this would kill him; Moses would vaporize in the unfiltered presence of full glory. So God puts him in a cleft in the side of a mountain, covers him protectively with his hand, and then passes by, declaring his name, revealing himself to Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished…” (Ex 34:6). God describes himself in the way he wants to be perceived and understood by us. Compassionate. Gracious. Overflowing with love and faithfulness. Loyal. Forgiving. And Just.

How have we missed this? How have we turned this loving, protective, caring, compassionate and gracious God into something other than that? How have we turned him into a vindictive, white-bearded and cranky old man, catching us in every fault, every sin, every failing and mistake? Maybe it’s human nature. We know God is perfect, and our imperfections are glaring in comparison. We think he must be angry or displeased or at the very least disappointed by our shortcomings. But, as King David once noticed, he knows that we are but dust, he knows we fail. And he loves us anyway. He eagerly accepts us back into his presence — full of grace, compassion and love.

The Final Word

God’s own people may be the worst at misunderstanding him. Jesus one day stood with his protégés in the Temple of Jerusalem, surrounded by religious people, some hungry, some self-satisfied. And he called out with aching heart, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. You who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you. How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you were not willing…” (Mt 23:37). As he faced rejection by the people he came to love, Jesus again and again showed the heart of the Father, even in the very choice of his words. He longed — and continues to long — to gather us under his wings of love. Yet we are so often not willing. We don’t get it. But this is your God. This is how he wants you to see him.

We may have missed this introduction. We may have skimmed past it, or may have never seen the spotlight shining on him as he bursts onto the stage of creation and into our personal lives. But this is the description of the main character in history. Hovering — fluttering — over us, gently caring for us as a bird sheltering its young under loving parental wings. This is the Eternal Father, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love, full of forgiveness. If we miss this crucial character profile, we’ll read the rest of the book with the wrong impression. We’ll walk through our day to day lives seeing God as someone other than he really is.

Opening scenes are important. They set the tone for the rest of the story. And sometimes we need to go back to page one to get it right.