Significance in God's sight

A thought struck me this morning. Sometimes I've thought about heaven as a place where we can admire great art -- as lovely as this world is, heaven will be lovelier. And also great art from human artists -- perhaps a collaborative symphony from Bach and Beethoven? This morning I had a new wrinkle on the thought. God appreciates any kind of artistry. Maybe even assembly line workers. Might one of the exhibits in heaven's museum be several thousand inside passenger door panels put on by someone who took his job seriously, who did it as well as he could. Who ever noticed how well those panels were put on? I think God would.

God's work given to us

Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 (NLT) "For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." So God has planned things for us to do. Therefore it follows he has planned things for others to do. It isn't up to us to try to get as much done as we can by learning all the tricks of multi-tasking and self-promotion. So we should not be frantic to do more, but to be confident God will enable us to do what he wants us to do. A poem by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds me of this truth. He wrote this when after years of suffering in the Gulag and nearly dying of cancer, he abruptly found himself one of the most famous young writers in the USSR when his first novel came out.
At the crest of earthly fame
I look back in wonderment
at the journey beyond hope--to this place,
from which I was able to send mankind
a reflection of your rays.
And however long the time
that I must yet reflect them
you will give it to me.
And whatever I fail to accomplish
you surely have allotted unto others.
I admire his faith -- "however long the time that I must yet reflect them, you will give it to me." Also his humility, "whatever I fail to accomplish, you surely have allotted to others." So we too should have faith that God will enable us to do what he has given us to do, and humility that what we are not able to do, God has assigned to others.

God's humility and ours

Philippians 2:6-11 is a really awesome passage. Awesome both in the contemporary sense: really, really, really great! and in the the archaic sense: so great it frightens me. This was my favorite passage in my twenties. I loved the image of Jesus giving up his equality with God, lowering himself to the lowest depth made himself nothing ... humbled himself by becoming obedient to death -- even death on a cross And then God the Father's response, Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name. In my mind I saw this wondrous cycle, Jesus giving up and then the Father exalting him.

But then I realized how awesome in the archaic sense it was. If Jesus is so committed to humbling himself, making himself nothing, that means we his followers have to do the same. And that could be really hard! Maybe I should make my favorite verse Come to me all who are weary, I will give you rest or The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. I was reminded of it this last week. First, that great meditation by Jon Bloom on John the Baptist's humility. "John had blazed across Judea like a shooting star, the first real prophet in Israel for four centuries. John’s disciples had been right in the middle of this remarkable move of God. Then abruptly, they weren’t." I thought it was a great exhortation for  Christian leaders, don't think of yourselves as irreplaceable. Safe enough for me to cite, I'm a follower, not a leader

The next day I saw an article by Scott Rodin echoing the same thoughts – and citing Phil 2:7, how Jesus made himself nothing, taking the role of a servant. I've been pondering this, and was further struck by what Gordon Fee writes in a commentary on Philippians "The concern is with divine selflessness: God is not an acquisitive being, grasping and seizing, but self-giving for the sake of others." The awesomeness of God's selflessness awes me anew, and I realize this is a principle for all believers. If God is selfless, and salvation is becoming like God, we must then become selfless, and it is only our own folly or pride or brokenness that makes this feel frightening to us.

Yes, this is archaic awesomeness, terrifying in its implications, but we can and ought to have faith in the faithful God of the New Covenant, who is more committed to making us who we ought to be than we are ourselves.

Wild and crazy promises

Psalm 91 sounds quite clear. "If you say 'the LORD is my refuge,' and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways."

 Plain and simple. Commit yourself to God and nothing will ever go wrong. Is that really what it says?

 Satan used these verses to tempt Jesus. " Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 'If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: " 'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’"

 "Don't put the Lord your God to the test," Jesus replied, quoting another Scripture.

 Did Jesus think of Psalm 91 again when he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane? There he was, having given himself to God, not putting God to the test but doing what he was supposed to do. Wasn't it time to claim the promise -- "no harm will come to you, the angels will watch over you." But he did not, he said "Not my will, but yours be done."

 Paul adds one more wrinkle to interpreting the promises. "For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ." Jesus brings the fulfillment of the promises. The promise that no harm will come to you if you give yourself to God? That is the promise that Jesus came, died and rose again, guaranteeing us eternal life, and ushering us into the Kingdom as God's adopted children. That is the optic for understanding the promises, the wild and crazy truth awaiting us.

Prominence and humility

“We all want to finish well, but so many of us do not. Why? Because we too easily cherish our roles in the Great Wedding more than the Wedding itself. This is why John the Baptist must become our mentor.”

These words from Jon Bloom struck me this morning. He goes on. “For the past year John had blazed across Judea like a shooting star, the first real prophet in Israel for four centuries. John’s disciples had been right in the middle of this remarkable move of God. Then abruptly, they weren’t. The surge moved past them to Jesus. Of course it was wrong to be envious of the Messiah. But still, how could their beloved rabbi — and they with him — suddenly be relegated to the periphery after all that God had done through them?”

In Bloom’s retelling of the story (John 3:25-30), John looks on his disciples with compassion. He understood their conflict — sincere godly ambition for the kingdom, and selfish ambition to have prominent roles in it. “This was a moment of unraveling for them, of heart exposure.” Then John explains “the bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine and it is now complete. He must become greater, I must become less.”

I was reading something yesterday about Christian leadership as stewardship, how the Christian leader should be a servant of all, and willing to be least. Bloom is hitting the same theme. “When the blessed Lord grants one a role to play, one must perform it faithfully but never grasp it. The role is not the reward. The Lord is the reward.” 

I too have a mixture of ambition for the kingdom, and ambition to have a prominent role in it. But we all have a prominent role -- adopted children of our heavenly Father (Gal 4:6) personally welcomed by Jesus our reigning elder brother (Hebrews 2:11) But it is God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who really have the prominent role. May we remember that.

Jon Bloom's book, Things Not Seen.  (free to download to your computer or device).