Pilgrim Notes

Reflections along the way.

Month: August 2008

Dreaming

My mind wanders.

I remember it quietly wandering off during the sing-song rhythm of the speaker’s voice. And that was last Sunday. As a child, my imagination moved so easily between dreaming that my teacher’s and parent’s might say, “Come on Dougie, keep up with us.”

One day while walking with my family at a shopping center, I soon began to drift and dream. My body kept moving as my eyes followed the legs in front of me moving back and forth, back and forth. A few steps into Gimbels and I realized that I was following the wrong set of legs.

After a short panic, my parents arrived in the store and found me. They had walked into another store, but I was drifting off elsewhere and just kept following whoever was walking in front of me.

As I drifted, I was dreaming in “what ifs.” What if I could walk through that glass? What if I could climb up in the church’s rafters and fly from beam to beam? My imagination would ask a question and soon my reason was working alongside my imagination to construct whatever dreamy world I created.

The human imagination can ask all sorts of fantastic questions, and the human reason can build a logical though self-contained world from that question. Lewis Carroll asked, “What if you could walk through a mirror, and enter into another world?” Then he wrote “Through the Looking Glass” to answer that question.

Both “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” are imaginative worlds that Lewis Carroll created with the richness of his imaginations and the precision of his logic. You see, these fantasy worlds were not illogical. They were perfectly logical. In fact, Lewis Carroll was not primarily a children’s author, but a logician.

He applied his logical mind to building these imaginative worlds. Each chapter in “Through the Looking Glass” is a move on a chess board. And yet, the story is not physically real.

This is both the gift and the danger of the mind. Reason working alongside imagination can answer all sorts of questions, but the answer may or may not be true. In addition to my dreamy magical worlds of walking through walls and flying in the rafters, I asked other questions like “What if I am kidnapped?” “What if there’s a ghost in the basement?” Or “What if my parents are raptured and I am left behind?”

The same imagination that brought such delight also filled me with terror. Because once my imagination set the question in motion, I began looking for clues as to why that might be true. A sound in the basement and a flash of light suddenly grows into a terrifying goblin living beneath us.

The gift of reasonable minds and active imaginations have helped us discover news worlds, land on the moon, write amazing literature, and find cures to diseases. But the same gift can also lead to terror and fear and evil worlds like terrorism and fascism and racism. Left unchecked, the mind will draw from its rich resources to churn out perfectly reasonable answers. But these reasonable answers may be wrong and even be disastrous upon my power to think

Our minds may ask questions like “What if there is no God?” “Or what if God is evil?” If I start with the idea that God is absent, a mere phantom, then my mind and imagination will work outward from the supposition to find reasonable assurance that I am right. While we all may face doubts at times, if we continually apply our skills of reason and imagination to doubt, then we will end up where we start–in doubt. The starting point of reason makes all the difference.

C.S. Lewis once suggested that a man who doesn’t believe in miracles will not be convinced of miracles because he sees one. His mind will build a case as to why he didn’t see a miracle at all. So while the mind is an amazing gift for processing, imagining and rationalizing, it fails in the initial act of discovery.

The human relationship with God is built on trusting God’s faithfulness in both the seen and the unseen. In one sense, this relationship is similar to human relationships that require trust as a fundamental starting point. Think of a husband and wife.Trust allows them freedom to rest in their shared love without the need for constant reaffirmation.

In this trusting relationship, the presence of the beloved brings a sense of peace and joy. While dramatic gestures of love may reaffirm presence, there are many steady, quiet affirmations through little actions. A shared conversation. A quiet walk.

Presence for me is often found in the gentle touching of one foot brushing up against the other’s foot during a night of sleep. This quiet assurance brings peace and a reminder that my love is there. A trust in the covenant faithfulness of my spouse allows me to rest in her presence and away from her presence. But that trust can be damaged. If the imagination begins to ask, “What if my spouse is unfaithful?” The mind can easily begin to question every action, every word.

This leads to fear of the unseen. For as soon as the spouse is not present the imagination begins reeling. Where are they headed? What are they doing? The mind requires constant reassurance of the spouse’s faithfulness. This is why we guard the trust our spouse puts in us. Once lost it so difficult to regain.

This is also why the Psalmist writes again and again and again about trusting the Lord instead trusting the arm of the flesh. As our trust grows more and more in my reason and the reasonableness of the world around me, the power of “what ifs” can begin to plague me. Like a jealous spouse, I begin discovering clues everywhere that reinforce the absence of God.

This dark hole of doubting chokes and smothers the joy of the soul. We need signs and constant reassurance that God is there. “Why can’t He just appear and take away my doubts?” But he is inviting me to trust in His covenant faithfulness—both seen and unseen.

And like a foot poking across the bed, His Word pokes across the space between heaven and earth. Again and again and again, He quietly calms my souls in the gentle intimacy of His Word. The Psalmist reminds me of how prone I am to trust in the unfaithfulness of my own mind—which can easily create fictions upon fictions.

Thus I am reminded to trust in something, someone outside myself. Ultimately, this trust is a gift. When I trust in the Word and trust in the Lord of the Word, I come to realize that I have been given a precious gift. I can use that gift to dream like a newlywed uses the gift of their new love to dream. They imagine a life together. They dream of children and home and a life of new possibilities. I can approach the Word as a dream. And wrap my open mind around the words and stories contained within.

I can learn to dream fantastic dreams like the prophet Ezekiel. This strange man ended up in exile in Babylon. Everything he saw around him suggested that the God of Israel was defeated by the gods of Babylon. In the midst of a crushing empire that dominated other nations by power and oppression, Ezekiel trusts the Lord. Thus his “what ifs” wrap around the faithfulness of God.

With an imagination immersed the commandments of the Lord, the covenant of the Lord, and the promises of the Lord, He begins to dream. And in the land of exile, he dreams of returning home and rebuilding the temple. He dreams of a stream flowing from that temple that will bring healing to all nations. His dream rooted in relational trust gave energy and hope to the exiled Jews. They joined in his dreams. And eventually, his dreams led them home.

That was over 2,000 years ago. The great and mighty Babylonian gods have long faded from sight. But the dreams of Ezekiel still inspire. In his dreams, we hear the God of Israel still speaking, encouraging, and challenging us.

So I’m kinda glad my mind wanders. By God’s grace, I want to let it wander in the garden of His Word. I want to dream even more dreams and not simply dreams of flying through the rafters and walking through glass. But dreams of justice and peace and kindness and love.

By God’s grace may the stories and songs of Scripture come alive in our imagination. And may we dream the dreams of God.

It's All Over Now Baby Blue

While I’m working on business KPIs and online marketing, I listen to the Grateful Dead belt out Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.”

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you.
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

I feel a bit foolish as tears fill my eyes and a deep ache fills my heart because something, someone “calls for me.”I don’t always understand what makes me cry so easily. One minute I in the midst of promotions and products and schedules, and the next moment, I’ve slipped over into a thin place.

This joyful pain seems out of place in the cold light of fluorescent rows, staring down on endless cubicles of people pounding out metrics on laptop machines. And yet, the voice still calls.

Beneath our engines of enterprise and above our monuments of marketing, the still small voice is wooing, drawing and stirring us to love. Maybe the match I strike does not burn up this material world around me. Maybe instead I leave the cold, relation-less sterility of business behind, and remember once again that I am a lover and called to love and embody love in the midst of every place–whether lush green valley or a cynderblock room of cubicles.

David and Goliath, St. George and the Garden of Eden

When Goliath challenges Israel, King Saul and the people shrink back in fear (1 Samuel 17:11). Saul’s fear betrays his loss of true authority. He stands head and shoulders above all Israelites, yet he cannot protect his people from the giants in the land.

Goliath stands before Israel clad in “scales of armor.” Peter Leithart emphasize the allusion between Goliath’s scales and the serpent in the garden. Goliath threatens Israel, the beloved, just as the serpent threatened Eve in the garden.

Adam failed his test in the garden, allowing the serpent to attack Eve and not coming to her defense. The image is repeated again her. King Saul, like Adam, is helpless before the threat.

David appears as God’s chosen King. He stands before the serpent and kills it in the name of the Lord. Then what does he do? He cuts off the head. The wicked authority is overthrown, which sends the wicked army into chaos.

As I think about that story and look at the St. George and the dragon icon on my desk, I realize that the St. George story is simply a retelling of the Garden of Eden story yet again. George fights the wicked dragon that threatens the city and rescues the maiden from the dragon’s grasp.

These stories paint a picture of what the true king does. The king and the land are one. He does not act for his own glory, his own power, his own pleasure. He lays down his life to defend the bride, the beloved, from the dragon.

Jesus fulfills this Adamic commission completely, thus He is the true King, the true Adam, the true Messiah. He fights the dragon, lays down his life, and crushes the head of the serpent with His heal. This act of total love does not fail. The Father vindicates the Son on the day of Resurrection by the power of the Spirit.

This pattern of the king laying down his life for the beloved gives us a model of true authority–be it in the home, the business, the church or even the government. Unfortunately, most of us are used to seeing Sauls rule the land. These Sauls are not true shepherds, thus they plunder the beloved.

Think of the CEOs that get rich while their company (and the people in the company) suffer and bleed. These men are not true leaders, but hirelings. Jesus says to the faithful servants, “You were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.”

Part of this faithfulness includes the willingness to lay down our lives, our reputations, our livelihood for those we lead. Whether it is a father with his family, a manager with her employees, a pastor with his church
or whatever the position of authority.

True authority is revealed in the boldness of David to lay down his life on behalf of the beloved. May the Spirit of Christ raise us up and reveal his true kingly rule and authority in and through us.

Meditation as Song

I’ve been chanting the Psalms in the mornings, and it occurred to me today that singing is meditation. In the past I’ve thought of music and chanting as a means to focus the mind on a singular idea. So music was a way to meditation. But I considered the actual meditation pure thought.

Now I realize that the Psalmist is not stripping the outer world away to think in a purely rationalized or abstracted level. Rather singing is meditation. Just as eating the bread and drinking the wine is remembering the Lord’s death.

While thinking draws on a rationality, true meditation is so much more. It brings together imagination, rationality, the physical body and emotions. Meditation is training me to be a whole/wise person (a home sapien) and not simply a homo logicus.

Law and Love and Grace Part 3

Overcoming Evil with Good

God created a world of glory and wonder. He created a man and woman in the center of this world and taught them the rules of this world that governed how they relate to God, to one another and to all creation. While their violation seems almost innocent to us, it is a tragic violation the breaks the laws of relating to God, to other people and to all creation.

The first few chapters of Genesis records the impact of such a violation. Broken relationship leads to self-preservation to jealousy and eventually to murder, which leads to destructive civilizations and eventually to a world of chaos.

Into this world of evil God sends a flood to wash away almost everything. While the flood is judgment, it is also a gift of restoration where evil and chaos infiltrated almost everything and everyone on the planet.

Genesis reveals the end result of the kingdoms of this world. The football teams, glee clubs, restaurants, businesses, cities and families are kingdoms infected with sin and evil. This is not a light innocuous infection. Without intervention, it leads to chaos, destruction, death and disaster. Given time and space, sin and evil continue unraveling, corrupting, and destroying everything.

This is hard for us to grasp because we see the seed of sin. The beginning looks minor. A stolen fruit. An angry thought. A little self pity. But left unchecked, the seed keeps growing. Death keeps overtaking the person. Tolkien captures this corrupting aspect of evil in Lord of the Rings with Gollum. He starts out as a Hobbit, but over time evil corrupts and corrupts and corrupts him eventually into a monster.

Even more disturbing is the recent image of the Joker in the movie, The Dark Knight. We see evil given full reign. Total chaos. The Joker acts for the sake of destruction and chaos. No desire for revenge or greed or power, but absolute chaos and destruction.

Think of the most horrid crimes and evils that plague our world, and you see the fruit of the works of man. No matter how creative, how industrious, how disciplined and even how religious humans are, given time, sin will blossom into horrid evils that destroy our worlds and destroy our souls. In one sense, hell is the unchecked, unstopped, uninterrupted place and time for evil to completely corrupt, completely destroy, and completely ruin.

So the question is, “How do we confront evil?” Whether a person believes in God or not, they still face the challenge of evil all around them. Every day the newspaper brings fresh evidence of evil and corruption. Scandals and abuses are not limited to one political party, one religious or non-religious group, one social class.

Look over the headlines from one year of news and you’ll find images of slavery, physical and sexual abuses, murder, stealing, and more in people from all sectors of society. From church group leaders to politicians to outspoken liberal and conservative commentators, we see evil and corruption abound. Just this year a wealthy couple from Rhode Island were indicted for slavery.

Somehow we are shocked by such heinous stories. Somehow we wonder, “what caused this?” “How could they be so bad?” Some of the best educated have given in to dark actions as much as the poorest and least educated. This should somehow be a clue that evil is not “out there” but “in here.” If we but think about our own imaginations, we may realize all of us are capable of unthinkable evil.

The Bible is not prudish but honest about this evil. While we like to debate the origins of evil, the Bible spends little time answering our metaphysical questions. Instead, it reveals God responding to evil.

The Bible reveals a world crying out for the sons of God to vanquish evil and restore the earth. With that context, we can see the law as God’s response to that cry. The law revealed to Moses is but the beginning of God’s fulfillment of His promise to Abraham.

The gracious gift of blessing the whole earth through Abraham’s seed is the great and wondrous blessing of recreating a world corrupted by sin and evil. Instead of flooding it again, God works through Abraham’s seed to overcome evil with good. The kingdoms of this world are coming under subjection to our God.

The law is given to the children of Israel as God redeems them from Egypt. In His love and grace, He chooses a specific family at a specific time in history to freshly reveal His kingdom, His rule, His order. Within the seed of Abraham, the seed of the law is planted and it will grow to reach all nations.

Paul reveals that the particularities of the law in relation to the Jewish people were just for a season. As John Frame explains, those particularities of a specific family, a specific priesthood, , a specific temple, and  a specific piece of land would flourish through Jesus into a  new nation of Jew and Gentile, a priesthood of all believers, a temple made of believers, a kingdom stretching outward to every tribe and nation around the world.

Through Jesus the law comes into fullness by the power of the Spirit. While the tablets of stone were glorious, the law written on the heart by the Spirit is even more glorious. For now, we are all through Jesus growing up into the image of our God.

Think back of the image of a family. Through Jesus we are becoming human. We are learning to walk, to talk, to eat, to live for the glory of God. The law is revealed in and through us by the Word and Spirit. As children of God, we are immersed into the kingdom of God.

We are immersed into the rule of God. In and among the people of God, we see the Spirit outworking the law in His people. Just as the child grows and learns and develops in relationship, we grow and learn and are shaped in relationship with God and God’s people.

With this in mind, think of Moses’ command to the people about studying the law:
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:6-9)

If we apply Moses’ command to the picture of a child learning and practicing to walk and to talk and to eat, we begin to understand that the law is shaped and formed in a family relationship. As children of God, we are learning in relationship. We are learning by practicing. We are playing at being human.

We don’t go to school to become human. We become human (in Christ’s image), by the grace of God working through us as we learn His word and act on His word. In other words, we are learning by living in the midst of decaying kingdoms all around us.

Outwardly, the kingdoms of this world are wasting away. But He is renewing us inwardly. He teaches us. We are growing in grace and truth. We are learning through failure, through suffering, through conflict and even through success.

A parent does not give a child a rule for how to respond to every particular situation in life. Rather, the child learns from the parent how to think and act and move within a framework. The Spirit of God is teaching His framework through which we think and act and move.

This framework is not simply ideas but is ideas rooted in relationship. As we meditate on God’s Word through study, prayer, and fellowship we grow in knowledge of the law. As we act upon the Word through speaking and acting, we grow in understanding.

This growth prepares us to rule. We rule in the various kingdoms. We rule in the bowling clubs, the businesses, the Boys and Girls Scouts, the local community, and in the churches. We speak and act upon the wisdom of God in the midst of kingdoms of this world.

Every day of our lives, we will be working out His kingdom in the midst of the kingdoms of this world. We are participating, but it is His Spirit that truly establishes the kingdom in and through us.

And His glory is being revealed. And the slaves are being set free. And the fatherless are being fathered. And it’s happening in offices, restaurants, car dealers, day care centers, car washes, prisons, coffee shops, and even churches. And the most-quoted Psalm in the New Testament is being fulfilled:

“The LORD said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
Psalm 110:1

Learning to Think

This probably deserves more space, but I was talking with our group last night about the need to learn the habit of thinking. We live in times when we are bombarded with information, bits of data. From blogs like this to rss feeds to non-stop entertainment and 24 news cycles, we know lots and lots about little bits of stuff. But instead of helping us to think, this immersion into data seems to make everyone talk and act like robots that repeat the latest cliche.

We need time to pause and wait and think. A.W. Tozer once suggested that books should starting the thinking process but reading is not a replacement for thinking.

As I was reflecting on the story of King David, I thought about how his time as a shepherd gave him time to think. From the psalms he composed, it is clear that he spent time thinking, reflecting and contemplating upon the law, the creation around him, relationships and even statecraft. We talk about David the warrior and David the psalmist but I would also think of him as David the thinker.

Thinking is not about using large words that exclude most people and only allow specialists to enter a dialogue. Nor is it about forming other kinds of exclusive clubs that exalt one set of ideas or one group over another. It is the habit of regular reflection. The habit of using our imagination and reason together. And in the Bible, it is about training the mind and heart to focus on the Word, soak in the Word, reflect on the Word and reflect upon the world around me through the lens of the Word. And thinking is not simply silent ideas swirling in my head. It is speaking and singing thought.

The Psalms and poetry (as well as Eugen Rosenstock Huessy) have taught me about speech-thinking. The poet focuses upon the particular, the common, the thing right in front of him. As he reflects and speaks about the “thingyness” of the thing before him, his ideas explode outward, opening the particular thing into a vision of the universal.

Here is a poem by the Welsh poet Bobi Jones (translated by Joseph Clancy). Imagine Bobi enjoying a warm home with his family. As he sits before the hearth and thinks about the heat circulating through the house, he sees the grace of God afresh. He redefines fire and heat and hearth for us as we live thorugh his eyes.

As I read this poem yet again, I pray for eyes to see the world around me, and the discipline to pause and think about all the great gifts that fill my world.

Hearth

Hell is fire; then there’s a fire that’s Heaven
In a grate amidst the children. We draw close around it
And listen to the beating of its orange wings
Against the breeze that’s gathered the invisible
Confidential cooking of the hearth.
The fire from the sky, it broke through the rain
And alighted like a bird upon the kitchen altar.
And the mother caught it like Noah’s dove
Between her two hands and offered it becomingly.

Which of us who listen to it can help but hear
The warm melody of the kettleful of family?
In bed, between mother and myself,
God is warm; and His place at the table’s filled.
He is the Musician we hear coming
From room to room in secret.
It is His music heats the house
Gurgling through feet and blood, to rise,
Smokeless, to our half drunk heads.

Only those who know the sunshine know the beauty
That breaks across the mat between door and cupboard.
It pierces to the marrow of all laughter patiently
Like a tune that lingers round the edges of the mind
Or a cat curling up. Our song’s purring, the love
That’s been composed so cunningly, that’s been performed
On the harpstrings of the family fires through Him.

by Bobi Jones (translated by Joseph Clancy)

Worth Thinking About

In his reflections on Eugen Rosenstock Huessy, Jeffrey Hart cites an ERH quote worth thinking about, “Our choices project us forward in our own histories. We make judgments, we may be prudent, but we act on faith. We create actualities that did not exist before.”

Love and Law and Grace part 2

As I’ve tried to summarize my thoughts in a second installment, I’ve realized it may take a little more space. So I plan to divide it into a few more posts. What I am writing is not innovative (at least I hope not). I hope that I am simply restating classic Christian ideas in ways that may give us a fresh perspective. These ideas are me trying to express what I believe I’ve learned in fellowship with the people of God through both conversations and reading.

Kingdom and Kingdoms
by Doug Floyd
8/8/08

So how do we live in this kingdom of God while still existing in the midst of other kingdoms that are at war with God? How does the rule and law of God function in our lives?

During the summer before my freshman year in high school, I met up with other soon-to-be freshman guys as we trained to play on the football team. Each morning we started the day completing a series of exercises prescribed by our coaches.

My size and speed (or lack thereof) helped determine my position: a lineman. All summer long, we played games, we ran exercises, we listened to the coach, and we learned how to play the game.

In order for me to play effectively as a lineman, I needed to know the rules. The application of rules transformed the field from a group of guys just fighting and wrestling into a football team. In other words, the rules or the laws of football created or established the foundation for a football team.

I didn’t spend the summer reading books about the laws of football. But I did hear some lectures by the coaches, and I may have even been quizzed. The coaches taught us the rules of the game bit by bit. Each practice focused on repeating what we had already learned and learning new plays in the game.

I call it a practice because the coaches not only told us the rules, but then demonstrated the rules and invited us to practice the rules: again and again and again. We learned the rules of the game in relationship with our coaches and with one another. Teaching and practice went hand in hand.

While all the rules were important to establish game play, certain rules were more directly applicable to my position as a lineman. I needed to know what physical contact was legal and what was not, the proper and improper use of my hands, and when to go into action.

While all the rules applied to me, my role in the game brought certain rules into greater focus. The receivers focused on other rules and the backs focused on yet other rules.

All of us players looked at the rules as guides for how to play. But the coach had another perspective. Working within the rules, he had to develop strategies for competition against other team. In other words, the rules created the world or arena where competition could take place. And this is what made the game fun to play and fun to watch.

When we got to the game, the referees enforced the rules. While players, coaches and fans might complain about certain calls, the referee was the law. His word carried the authority. If he called a play “out of bounds,” it was out of bounds. He was the physical embodiment of the rules.

As I think about my freshman year of football in light of the kingdom of God, I realize that the game of football is a kingdom. It is a world with rules and time and characters. It has a beginning and an end. And all those within the world of football will view and apply the exact same rules in different ways. While some people may actually study the rules in a classroom, the rules are primarily learned through relationship and through practice.

As I continue to reflect, I realize that there are many kingdoms in this world. Every business is a world with a specific space (a building or buildings) and specific time (work day and work week). Specific rules govern each business and each business is subject to higher rules that govern the whole “universe” of businesses. And just as the creation story speaks of a world filled plants and animals and eventually people. Each business is filled with things and people. It is a world.

Soon it should become obvious that I am surrounded by many worlds or kingdoms: restaurants, schools, cities, clubs, sports, and more. Each of these kingdoms or worlds is built on the word or law or rule. The word or law or rule defines all the elements that make up the world. Consider the following questions.

What is the world? A ball team. A chess club. A family. An Italian restaurant. A farm. A country. A planet. And so on.

Where is the world? In an office. In a home. On a field. In a car. In the city. In the country. And so on.

Who populates the world? Football players. Dad and mom and children. Horses and cows and chickens. A chef and waiters. And so on.

The rules or law defines everything about each world. All through our lives we move through various groups, jobs, activities that are defined by rules or laws or something that brings order.

Now let me focus on the most fundamental world of all: the family.

Like the first man and woman, a child is born into a world that already exists. In the beginning, the child is completely dependent on the parent to care for it. Certain rules or laws govern this world. In order to function and grow within this world, the child will have to learn how to sit, stand, and walk; how to eat; how to use the restroom; how to communicate; and much more. The child must learn to be human.

Certain laws or rules govern all the areas mentioned above. The child will learn to sit, stand and walk in a world governed by gravity. This means the child will also learn how to recover from falling – again and again. Certain laws or rules will govern how and when they eat, how they use the restroom, and how they communicate.

Think about one of the most complex human actions of all: communication. The child must learn words, phrases, and even vocal inflections. The way I say “stop” communicates as much as the word “stop.” The child learns words, phrases, sounds, and even the time to increase or decrease volume.

How does a child learn all these rules? While reading will play a role in the child’s later development, reading is not the initial way the child will learn. They learn the laws or the rules by relationship and by practice. The parent models the rules. They repeat the rules in something like a ritual.

When feeding the child, the parent may feed on a schedule, may repeat certain phrases, and may use certain plates and spoons and cups. They repeat the schedule over and over and over. The parent may or may not be aware of teaching the child, but every moment of every day they are modeling the rules of this world. The parent embodies the law. The parent is the law: from talking to walking to eating and drinking. The child is immersed into rule or law of the family.

Gradually, they begin to act and move and imitate the parent. As they learn the rules of walking, we cheer. They practice and fail. And practice and fail. And continue practicing.

They play at being human. From having baby dolls to little trucks, they re-enact patterns in a miniaturized way. They may fail. They may have accidents. They may speak the wrong thing at the wrong time, but they learn through practice. Gradually, they become like their parent. They grow into the image of their parent.

And this is how the law shapes them into being human. Eventually, they travel beyond the kingdom of their family and enter other kingdoms. They enter into a world of kingdoms that includes schools and friends and clubs and jobs and cities.

Ideally, all these vast kingdoms that cover the earth would live and move in harmony, forming one great and glorious kingdom. But it’s not ideal. And no family is ideal. No family lives up to the ideal. All kingdoms, all families and all people are infected by sin and evil.

Get Satisfaction with the Help of Thousands

Tapping into the willing spirit of passionate customers and dedicated online users, Get Satisfaction is a giant help forum for thousands of companies. Ask a question and get responses from thousands of customers. The idea is not new but the application of combining official company pages with employee and customer responses as well as tagging and sorting topics makes this a pretty cool tool for customers and companies.

Law and Love and Grace

As a Special Agent for the FBI, my father spent his days enforcing the law of the land. With the weight of the Federal Government behind him, he arrested bank robbers, diffused hostage situations, and even followed Russian spies. I grew up under the shadow of the law.

This law provided a sense of security to a child with an overactive imagination. My world of fantasy seemed as real of the physical world, and so I always sensed aliens, monsters and ghosts were just around the corner waiting to reach out and grab me. My dad, as the physical presence of the law, represented a protection from this impending chaos.

Oddly enough, the law meant something entirely different in the context of church. It was repressive, controlling, announcing impending judgment and always holding before me the terror of either being “left behind” to live in a land with a cruel and evil antichrist, or being cast into hell for torment and repression.

So I carried within me two very different images of law: one of protection and safety, and one of doom and terror. In my childlike mind, I never tried to reconcile them. Once the idea of God’s grace penetrated my mind, I discovered such joy and freedom in faith that I assumed law and grace were opposites.

So my first venture into grace meant abandoning and running in terror from anything that hinted of law. Love was the only law that commanded my allegiance. And yet, this didn’t work out as clearly as I would hope. I watched people use the words love and then act in ways that seem to betray the very idea of love.

I served in a church where people freely embraced and cried together and reaffirmed their love for one another. Yet all the while the same people were betraying each other, lying to each other, stealing from each other. Sadly, I watched this behavior repeated in multiple churches where I served or participated.

I reached a point where I was prepared to abandon church altogether. I often said, “I love sinners but I can’t stand Christians.” While this is not really possible according to a Biblical understanding of love, it reflected my anger and frustration at what seemed to be a disconnect between words of love and actions that violated love.

At that time (and for many years later), I failed to realize that I was just as guilty as anyone around me in my failure to love. I knew nothing of the painful calling and challenge of love. What seems so simple often requires many slow and painful deaths.

This failure of love in the church and in my own life brings me back to the law. When Jesus commands the disciples to love, he puts it in the context of keeping his commandments. He links law and love together.

If I pay attention to the pattern of law and love throughout Scripture, I found out that they are often linked together. When Moses reviews the commandments in Deuteronomy, he reiterates the call to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength. And even more strangely, the psalmist will link the giving of the law with God’s grace.

So law and love as well as law and grace are not the opposites I would have imagined. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I’m not the only one that has struggled with the relation between these words. In fact, many theologians continue to wrestle with the connection of law and grace in relation to the gospel.

In this short essay, I cannot begin to explore all the nuances of such a question, but let me suggest that I am coming to realize the Scripture does not pose these ideas as opposites in the way we might tend to do. In order for me to begin to even grasp how this might play out, I must return to the idea of law in my childhood.

The law my father represented in some small way begins to help me reframe how I think about law in the Biblical sense. So I want to offer a few images that are helping me to reframe my image of law. These images are drawn from Scripture and help me begin to think about how law is both a gift and a judgment in Scripture, and why we should spend more time considering God’s law in our lives.

First, I want to think about Hurricane Katrina. A catastrophic storm blew into New Orleans. The power of wind and rain sent the city into chaos. Homes flooded. People drowned. The city fell apart. Even as natural order seemed to break down, the social order broke apart. The world watched in terror as a whole city descended into chaos.

This terrifying image of a chaos-inducing storm reaches a global terror in the story of the flood. Think about Katrina repeated on a national, international and global level. After a few days, cities break apart in chaos. All social order is gone.

In the fight for survival, people lose all restraint and every imaginable evil explodes within the cities. Yet the storm continues. The chaos of natural disaster mixes with the chaos of social disaster. All order disappears. An ocean of chaos consumes everything until nothing survives but the chaos.

This terrifying image grips the imagination of the psalmist who pens psalm 46. He writes,

“God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Even though the earth be removed,
And thought the mountains be carried
Into the midst of the sea:
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling.”

In this image of the sea swallowing the earth, we see an image of chaos encompassing order. Our ability to function and live in the world is dependent on the regular order of the world. The sun rises each day. The stars don’t fall from the sky. The oceans may swell but they don’t overwhelm the earth. And when a furious storm brews and the ocean does overlap the land, we are overawed by the terrible power of the chaotic waters.

This sense of order, of regularity is sometimes referred to as law or the laws of nature. In this sense, law is not viewed as a bad thing but as the order in our world that allows us to have some predictability over life. We expect winters to be cooler than summers. We expect the sun to shine and rely on the energy it provides. We expect to remain fixed to the planet and for all the spheres to remain in the heavens.

The psalmist considers what happens when this expectancy disappears and the seas surge over the land. In this moment, the psalmist realizes that expectancy and security are really found in God. While the natural world may have something like law, the real law is found only in God. True order and absolute reliability is found in God alone.

God is the ruler because the rule proceeds from God. All order, all law, all security proceeds from God. He is the rule and the rule proceeds from Him. One way for me to understand this is to think back to my father. He embodied the law to me, therefore I found security in him. In our home, he was the law, he embodied the law and the law proceeded from him.

Think of Robin Hood. In this story, roles are reversed, and the bandit is actually good because he represents true justice. He is standing against the oppression of the false law that oppresses the people—the rule of the Sheriff of Nottingham. The great hope in Robin Hood is for the return of Richard the Lionhearted.

In this story, Richard represents the true law. When Richard returns, Robin Hood will be vindicated. The false law of the Sheriff will be exposed as lawlessness and true justice will be restored to the land.

In one sense, this was the hope of the Jews. They were waiting for the true law to come in the person of the Messiah. When Messiah comes, he’ll overthrow the oppressor and restore true justice in the land. It will be a day of vindication for the people of God.

While many don’t recognize him, the Messiah has come. Jesus comes as the true law. He says that the kingdom of God has come. What is the kingdom of God? The rule of God or the law of God. He appears as the embodied word. He embodies the fullness of the law. He is the law and the law proceeds from him.

And in an unexpected turn of events, he also bears the judgment for breaking the law. In Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham is imprisoned for breaking the law. But in the gospel, Jesus the lawgiver and law-fulfiller also bears the weight for the transgressions against the law. And in so doing, he frees us from the curse of the law.

He doesn’t bring this gift to do away with law and order, allowing chaos to descend upon the earth. Like King Arthur, he does this to establish a land, a world of true justice. For me, Camelot embodies the hope of justice. In Camelot, true peace is brought to the land.

The glimmering and fading glimpse of Camelot is but a picture of the kingdom that Jesus establishes by His Spirit. He fulfills the law that is first revealed to Adam. This law that establishes proper order between God and humans, humans and other humans, and humans and the land is fully revealed and perfected in Jesus.

This kingdom is now growing and emerging in the midst of another kingdom. In the midst of a sinful world at war with God and with the law of God, the kingdom of God is firmly established and set in place. The kingdoms of the world must and will eventually fade and fall away completely.

The triumph of kingdom of God will ultimately be revealed, and all people will confess Jesus as the Lord of this permanent kingdom.

So how do we live in this kingdom of God while still existing in the midst of other kingdoms that are at war with God? How does the rule and law of God function in our lives?

I’ll offer some thoughts in part two.

© 2017 Pilgrim Notes

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑