Thursday, May 26, 2011

Life as it was Meant to Be: The Significance of the Tree of Life

As per my last post, we catch two glimpses of life as God meant it to be in the Bible. One is the garden of Eden before the fall (Genesis 2:4-25) . The second is the New Heaven and New Earth found in Revelation 22. It is also interesting to note that these are also the only two places in the Bible that we find the Tree of Life.

God created everything and then planted a garden in the east. He put man there to enjoy and for Him to enjoy. He gave man responsibility to work the garden and take care of it. He made all kinds of trees pleasing to the eye and giving food to man. He also placed two specific trees: the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man was free to eat of any fruit of any tree except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and was told that if he were to eat of it, he would surely die.

Enter the serpent. See the woman disobey. See the man disobey alongside of her and also fail to protect the woman. See God punish the serpent (Satan), man and woman. The ground is cursed because of man and now he must be tied to it forever to produce food by the sweat of his brow with the ultimate end of returning back to dust. Woman has her pains in childbearing greatly increased and is placed under the rule of her husband.

Then, as God drives them out of the garden forever (at least in this life), He places a cherubim and flaming sword to guard the way back to the garden and more importantly the tree of life.

I propose that the "tree of life" is to be taken as a symbol of what God meant our lives to be. Perfect. In the garden. No death, no tears, no pain, no sickness. Most of all, we were created to be in perfect fellowship with Him, walking with him in the cool of the day, sharing our intimate secrets.

The reason I say that the tree of life symbolizes all of this is for the simple fact that we do not see the tree of life again until the end of time. And that tree of life is rediscovered by man in the coming of the New Heaven and the New Earth. John the Revelator is shown by the angel the river of the water of life as clear as crystal flowing from the throne of God. It is coming down the middle of the great street of God. And on each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing fruit and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.

Notice what Revelation 22:3 says now that the New Heaven and New Earth are a reality and that the tree of life is back within grasp: "No longer will there be any curse." (Rev 22:3). God is now back with His people to be reunited. Life for man is now restored to life as God always meant it to be. Man will see God's face once again and there will be no more night. We will be His people and God Himself will be with us. He will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things will have passed away. The curse is broken!

I recently heard a pastor say that the bad news always precedes the good news of the gospel. The bad news is this: you and I are under a curse. It came when sin entered into this world by the choice of our forefather Adam and foremother Eve. The good news is that there is a way back to the life, the paradise if you will, that was lost. That way is through the cross and the blood of Jesus.

I don't know about you, but I look forward to one day seeing God face to face and tasting of the tree of life so graciously provided for us.

That will be life as it was meant to be!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Life as it was Meant to Be: The Haunting of the Sacred Romance

Do you ever get that feeling of overwhelming awe? Or do you ever get that sense of things all coming together at the right place at the right time and a sweeping emotion of "everything is right" comes over you?

It might happen at a picture-perfect sunset. It could happen when your favorite team overcomes all odds and wins the championship. It happened to me at the birth of all three of our children when I got to see and hold them for the first time.

These are moments in our lives when we realize either consciously or sub-consciously that there is something deeper, more meaningful, more permanent than life as we know it. Eldredge and Curtis says this is the "haunting of the Sacred Romance." In other words, these are snapshots of the true story that we all are living; the life God has planned for us from the beginning of time. I call it "glimpses" of "life as it was meant to be."

From the cradle to the grave, we are all on a journey. And the journey is not just about this small, insignificant life we live here on earth. It is about eternity and a life forever with our Creator-Lover who has made us and called us according to His purposes.

Our lives at best here on earth are dim shadows of who we really are and forerunners of who we are to become. The great enemy, Satan, would like nothing more for us to believe that our short stories here on earth are the ultimate reality. In fact, that is how he lures many of us away from the Sacred Romance. He convinces us that what we are experiencing here and now is the best that it is ever going to get. So, we just settle...

I challenge you to remember today, that the best of the best that you and I experience here on earth can never compare to the worst in the Kingdom to come. My imagination is too small when I think of eternity with God. I sometimes think, "C'mon, there has to be more than attending an eternal worship service (not that this is totally bad)..."

Imagine the greatest elation/joy that you have felt in this life. Multiply that by one million and think, "Gee, this is what God has planned for me for eternity."

The next time you or I are moved by a great story, stirred by some great music, touched by a scene in nature, or just given a moment of rapture, I hope we take time to reflect that this is just a taste of what God has prepared for us.

The wise writer of Ecclesiastes says that, "He (God) has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end."

Today, give thanks to God when He gives you glimpses of how life was meant to be. Also, celebrate that one day, for those who know His Son Jesus as Lord and Savior, all of life will be like that moment and immeasurably more than you or I could ask or imagine.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Signs and Wonders and Kingdom Impact

In Luke 7, there is a great story about Jesus raising to life the dead son of a widow from a village called Nain. By Luke's account, Jesus has just finished teaching the great sermon on the mount (or level place) and was going through the local villages and towns. As he passed through Nain, he saw a dead person being carried out of the town gate. This dead person was the only son of his mother and she was a widow. When Jesus saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, "Don't cry."

He then went up and touched the coffin and said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" Then, to the amazement of all present and the obvious rapture of his grieving mother, the young dead man sat up, began to talk and Jesus, Luke says, gave him back to his mother.

A number of things strike me about this story in relation to the Kingdom of God. For one, the compassion of Christ for one who had lost so much. "His heart went out to her..." Second, the authority of Jesus to say to the dead young man, "...I say to you,get up!" and then the great gift made as He, "...gave him back to his mother."

But the thing that intrigues me the most is the reaction of the crowd of on-lookers. "They were all filled with awe and praised God. 'A great prophet has appeared among us,' they said. 'God has come to help his people.'"

"God has come to help his people." When we minister to people physically in the name of Jesus, the whole goal should be to point people to the Father and His Son, Jesus. When we respond to a disaster event in Japan, a chronic hunger problem in sub-Saharan Africa, an urban slum and its needs in a mega-city in India, our goal to have the people whom we minister to say, "God has come to help his people!"

A mentor of mine always taught me that when we are finished working in a community with our development projects, the highest praise from the local people is that they do not build a statue to us, but rather give glory to God.

Jesus used compassion and life touching ministries to point people to the Kingdom and to God. Our compassion ministries and demonstration of the gospel through acts of kindness should ultimately be about making His kingdom and the King Himself known.

What do people see and say when we help them in their hour of need? Do they applaud us or do they see that through us, God has come to help them? More importantly, what do we do to make sure that they don't applaud us but see God's Kingdom and His fingerprints in our acts of service and ministry to them?

It's a good question...

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Biblical Metaphors Describing our Relationship with God

John Eldredge in, "The Sacred Romance", writes that the Bible uses an ascending scale of metaphors to describe our relationship to God. It is a scale from low to high and shows us increasingly God's value of us.

1. We are the clay; He is the potter. Clay is an inanimate substance. However, in the potter's hand, it can be shaped and molded into whatever instrument the potter desires. God, our creator, also desires to be our shaper and molder. He longs for us to yield to Him to be molded and shaped into the person He knows we can be and desires for us to be.

2. We are the sheep; He is the shepherd. Sheep are a little smarter than clay; not much, but a little. I know this because I'm an agriculturist and have helped raise sheep before. But sheep need a shepherd, a guide if you will, to direct and lead them to safe paths and a good quality life. God desires even longs to lead us as the Good Shepherd.

3. We are the servants; He is the master. Servants are a bit higher than sheep. However, they are still regarded as a possession of the master of the household. God is a great master that is benevolently kind to his servants and is always looking out for their best interests.

4. We are His children; He is our heavenly Father. Children are even better than the previous three metaphors. They belong to the family. They are not objects or livestock to be owned, traded or sold. They are not hired hands or indentured service. They are children with full rights and full love in the Father's household.

5. We are His friend; He is the befriender. Not only has he adopted us into His family and called us His child, He has brazenly and dangerously now given us the privilege of being called His friend. Creator, Sustainer, All-Powerful and All-Knowing. He, the very One who made us and called us according to His purposes, gives us the honorific "friend" and invites us to stroll with Him in the cool of the day, talk, fellowship and enjoy His company as He enjoys ours.

6. We are the beloved; He is the lover. This is the highest level of intimacy and partnership which God beckons to us to enjoy. We are invited to be lovers! As Eldredge says, "The courtship that began with a honeymoon in the garden culminates in the wedding feast of the lamb."

The Apostle John writes in 1 John 4, "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us..."

I don't know about you, but I would settle for being clay. However, amazingly, God sees so much more in me...


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

God the Lover...We the Beloved

I finished reading through the Old Testament and am now into Matthew in my daily devotions. It would be negligent of me not to mention an age-old truth God has once again revealed to me through His OT prophets.

As I read through the prophets, I am struck over and over again how God is the white-hot, even jealous, Lover who unashamedly and unconditionally pursues you and I, the beloved. It's in Isaiah where He says, " a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you." (Isaiah 62:5). It's in Jeremiah where He proclaims, "...I have loved you with an everlasting love..." (Jeremiah 31:3). Hosea's adulterous wife, Gomer, is redeemed by the command of God to Hosea in a picture of how God pursues us even thought we constantly reject Him. And it goes on and on...God loves, we reject, God relentlessly pursues!

What does He see in us? What does He want from us? Doesn't he understand how vile and corrupt and completely unloveable we really are?

John Eldredge says in his book, "The Sacred Romance",...

"The gospel says that we, who are God's beloved, created a cosmic crisis. It says we, too, were stolen from our True Love and that he launched the greatest campaign in the history of the world to get us back. God created us for intimacy with him. When we turned our back on him he promised to come for us. He sent personal messengers; he used beauty and affliction to recapture our hearts. After all else failed, he conceived the most daring of plans. Under the cover of night he stole into the enemy's camp incognito, the Ancient of Days disguised as a newborn...The whole world lay under the power of the evil one and we were held in the dungeons of darkness. God risked it all to rescue us. Why? What...causes him to act the jealous lover, to lay siege both on the kingdom of darkness and on our own idolatries...not to annihilate, but to win us once again for himself?...what does he want from us?...What he is after is us!"

I stand amazed in the presence of the great love of God for me. I cannot fathom why, but I celebrate that He is the Lover of my soul and, unbelievably, I am am His beloved!

Henri Nouwen says that the gospel in a few words is this: "You are the beloved of God."

Solomon said it this way: "My lover is mine and I am his..." (Song of Songs 2:16)

Utterly amazing!