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The Paradox of God’s Character

The Paradox of God’s Character (my journey through Psalms 110-118)

True honesty is a myth among the human race. As the boy Macduff observes to his mother in Macbeth:

And must they all be hanged that swear and lie? […] Who should hang them? […] Then the liars and swearers are fools, for there are liars and swearers enough to beat the honest men and hang up them. (Act 4 scene 2)

And he’s right. Honesty is out of fashion and has been since the fall of Eden. So it is no wonder that we sometimes judge God by our human standards. Even though we are made in the image of God, he is not human (he chose to become human as Jesus, but even so he retained his divinity), which means his character is not like that of the liars and swearers of Earth.

I think C. S. Lewis expresses the paradox of God’s character best in the novel The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when the children ask if Aslan (an allegorical representation of God) is safe, Mr. Bever responds with:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

This, paired with the psalms, leads me to draw a few conclusions about God that prove he is not hopelessly flawed like the human race.

God is unchanging

Humans have a hard time with change. Some people love it, but the vast majority of us have a hard time adjusting to any kind of change. Sure, it helps us grow and keeps us from being bored out of our minds, so change can be good, but adjusting to it is always a challenge. I wonder if this is because our hearts yearn for the one we were created in the image of an unchanging, steadfast, unsafe, King.  Psalm 110:4 says that “the Lord has sworn and will not change his mind”; Psalm 117:2 reiterates this with “For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever”;  Psalm 118 repeats over and over again that His steadfast love endures forever. And this is just here in the psalms–the rest of his word is filled with other examples of how he is unchanging. He is alpha and omega–the same today, yesterday and forever.

God is faithful and just

When I think about the character of God, I am constantly reminded of the Israelites’ wandering through the desert. Over and over again they complained and whined and forgot about the Lord’s provisions. Over and over again Moses spoke to God, intervening for this unfaithful grumbling. Over and over again God demonstrated his faithfulness by sticking to his chosen people, but still like any loving father, teaching them that actions have consequences–proving his justice is real. As Psalm 111:7 says, “the work of His hands are faithful and just: all precepts are trustworthy. ” And God values this kind of faithfulness in his people. Psalm 112: 5-6 asserts this: “It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice. For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever.” Remembered by the original and most high judge.

God is giving

When I feel like I’ve been overlooked, or forgotten, because (just being vulnerable here) this is something I struggle with a lot. A sense of insignificance. I have to remember that God is the giver of all good things. He wants to bless his people. He wants us to walk with him, not just talk about him or fear him. Psalm 113:9 is evidence: “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” Having a barren home can be…debilitating, even in our culture. And I’m not just talking about the inability to bear children, but the isolation that comes with perpetual singleness–and the way our culture seems to ask “what’s wrong with you” if you are not in a relationship by the time you are 30…or even earlier than that if you are a woman. God doesn’t see something is wrong with a woman who is ‘barren’ in any sense of the word. No. He sees an opportunity to give, to bless, and to honor this woman for her faithfulness and that is a hope that I hang on to every single day (no pun intended). Because, as Psalm 115:12-13 says: “The Lord has remembered us; he will bless us; he will bless the house of Isreal; he will bless the house of Aaron; he will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great.” If I believe that God is unchanging, faithful and just then you better believe that he is one who will bless and give the most amazing gifts. Even if it’s not in the timing we might prefer.

God is not Safe.

I have been reading an excellent book by Mark Buchannan entitled Your God is too Safe. If you haven’t read it, you should start immediately. In our culture we have created this image of God–this cuddly, hang it up in the Sunday school image of a man in a white robe cuddling a lamb and smiling down at children. Sure, that may depict a fatherly image of God, but it’s not the whole picture. It neglects to consider the power of God. The mind-blowing awesomeness that is wrapped up in an all-powerful being who has no beginning and no end. Who can destroy us with one word–or heal–or create–or bless–a multifaceted triune of holiness that can’t be put in a nice little box that we take out with our Sunday best and then put away while we live the rest of our lives. The being who frightens and commands the seas and storms. Psalm 114:3-8a sums it up with “What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan that you turn back? O mountaints that ou skp like rams? O hills, like lambs? Trembel, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob who turns the rock into a pool of water…” Our God is not safe, nor should we try to make him so. But he is good, and for that we should ever be thankful.

Working through Wounds

Working through Wounds (my journey through Psalms 109)

Most days I love being a teacher. I love spending my time guiding and counseling, rebuking and encouraging because let’s face it. My job is about 10% content and 90% building relationships and mentoring teenagers. Sure, theme, plot, and grammar are important, but they mean nothing if students can’t internalize the skills that will help them succeed on an every-day Tuesday in their future lives.

But then there are those days when I am repaid all my kindness with nastiness. Where my “heart is wounded within me” (Psalm 109:22) because “wicked and deceitful mouths are open against me and encircle me with words of hate and attack me without cause” (Psalm 109:2-3). And it hurts, no it wounds me to my core.

Without giving specifics, because that’s unnecessary, I’ll just say that this psalm resonates with me right now because recently this happened. I spent several days after the incident–seriously disrespectful with no hint of apology or acknowledgment of wrong from the student or the parent– reconciling with myself how to forgive and move on rather than letting the soul wound fester.

And let me tell you, the psalmist’s pleas for justice and godly intervention were fresh in my mind.

But so is another voice. 

A voice that whispers into my conscience that even though this kid intentionally wounded, frustrated and quite frankly ticked me off, it doesn’t negate the good God has done within and through me as a teacher.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t see this student as my enemy as David is expressing in this psalm, but I do see the enemy at work against me when I allow these incidents to infect my heart like a festering sore, which is far too easy.

No, instead I will “give great thanks to the Lord.” because he has given me much more than I deserve: a calling, a purpose, and a passion.

Adjusting our Attitudes

Adjusting our Attitudes: My Journey through Psalms (108)

My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn!  Psalm 108:1-2

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Growing up, my church put on a yearly children’s musical. I’m sad that this is kind of rare in churches now, but I understand. There is so much demand out there for a family, their time, their energy. Not to mention volunteers. Finding people who are willing to volunteer their time on Sundays is hard enough; soliciting someone to spend several weeks teaching kids to sing and perform is a challenge of astronomical proportions. At any rate, it is one of the things I enjoyed…most of the time.

I was not particularly talented, but boy did I want to be! I practiced all the time. I auditioned for the lead role every year. I wanted to prove something to that church, and maybe to myself, about my talent.

Honestly, all I really proved (most of the time) is my lack of star quality. I was a good supporting role, but I was not meant to be in the spotlight.

Except for one time.

One year, the lead was not a female role. I can’t remember the storyline, but usually, it had something to do with Christmas, so I feel like it was a shepherd or something. Anyway, miracle of miracles, I got the lead role. I was to be the singing shepherd. Center stage. In the spotlight, finally.

And I put my heart and soul into that role. I did a pretty good job if I do say so myself, but that’s not what I remember about this moment. This role.

What I remember the most is the kind of dedication it took to be the starring role. I remember how I hated to miss a rehearsal; I remember how some of the other girls and I interacted in not so pleasant ways;  I remember how I felt when it was over, but mostly I remember the way it made me feel incredibly special. Important.

And that is how we are supposed to treat God every single day.

He should have the starring role. He should be incredibly special. Our dedication and devotion to Him should be so complete that we loathe to miss out on time with Him.

Most of the time, though I find that I treat God like a supporting role. Someone who is there for me when I need him, but not the star. Not the one at center stage at all times.

God is not the supporting role. He’s not our backup singer. His

star quality should dazzle us every day.

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It is so easy to wake up and ask God to support our dreams, but what we should do is wake up, thank him, praise him and ask him how we can support his purpose.

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Often, I find, when I adjust my attitude in this way, my dreams realign to his purpose for my life. And when I become the supporting role, it’s kind of an amazing production.

He has given us so much.

It’s time to make Him the star.

 

Wilderness Reminders

Wilderness reminders: My Journey through Psalms 105-107

When the Israelites wandered through the desert, they became well known for one thing: grumbling. They had no food. Grumble. They had no water. Grumble. They didn’t like the food. Grumble. They were tired. Grumble. Grumble. Grumble. Despite the fact that God constantly reminded them of his provision (by miraculously providing for them multiple times–daily really), their default was clear: grumble. grumble. grumble.

Earlier in my faith, when I would read these passages I would judge them pretty harshly. How could they continue to whine and complain when bread was literally falling out of the sky and they were following a pillar of fire? God’s glory really doesn’t get any clearer than that. It’s in front of your face!

The older, and dare I say, wiser I become I realize more and more how arrogant that is. Because I do the same thing every day. Instead of remembering His grace and goodness, I tend to focus on what he hasn’t done for me, rather than what He provides for me.

As Psalm 106 states before going into the history reminders: “Honor His holy name with Hallelujahs, you who seek God. Live a happy life!” That last comment in verse 3 is really a command: honor him, seek him, and live happy. Remember his promises and focus on the blessings, what he has done for you. That is the secret of a happy life.

Why? “Because he’s good, because his love lasts,” Psalm 107:1 answers. And reassures in verse 3 that “You’re one happy man when you do what’s right, one happy woman when you form the habit of justice.”

I may not walk through a literal wilderness, but these wildernesses still exist in my life–in everyone’s life. Because let’s be real, life is not all sunshine and rainbows. Life is hard. Life is unfair, or at least it feels that way. And life can be lonely. Really lonely when you are isolated in the wilderness and it looks like everyone else around you is enjoying favor in the land of milk and honey.

I know I’ve written about this on the blog before, but it’s life and it’s where I am right now. I am in a wilderness of singleness. And it’s hard. And heartbreaking. And lonely.

Sometimes.

Usually, it’s all those things when I focus on what I lack. What I want. What God HASN’T given me. Like the Israelites grumbling about not having the promised land, or food right when they want it, I grumble about what I think my life should be instead of turning inward to focus on what life IS right now. What he has blessed me with. And why.

But “Oh thank God–He’s so good! His love never runs out. All of ou set free by God, tell the world! Tell how he freed you from opression…” Psalm 107 is quick to remind us just how much God HAS done for us. And, quite frankly, how beautiful his provision is.

And as I work toward transformation I see it. I see the blessings day in and day out. I focus more on them and less on my selfish desire to want what I want when I want it!

Because “if you are really wise, you’ll think this over–it’s time you appreciated God’s deep love” (Psalm 107:43). In the wilderness or in the land of milk and honey…

God. Never. Changes.

Transformation

Transformation: My Journey through Psalms 104

I haven’t done New Year’s resolutions in a long time, because frankly by Easter everything is pretty much challenged by life and shouldn’t we be constantly on the lookout for reformation? So I choose resolutions when I need reformation, not just on one arbitrary day of the year.

What I do enjoy doing each year is picking a word to focus my year around. This year, after a lot of prayers, I choose transformation. And wow. Let me advise you if you do this and you seriously make it a regular prayer to be ready for whatever word you are praying for to really penetrate your life.

I’m not the easiest going person in the world. I like a set schedule. I like routine. I hate surprises. Can I adapt? Sure, or I wouldn’t be a successful teacher, but it really stresses me out when I have to create and change on the fly.

I’m also not the bubbliest person in the world. Happy is not my default. In fact, I have been compared to that Sadness character in Inside Out by more than one person. That, I think is a little extreme, but I get it. I’m a pragmatic realist so I really don’t bounce around looking for things to jump for joy about.

2017 was a really rough year for me–and ended in a really rough way. So when 2018 rolled around I wanted real change. I wanted transformation. 

Did you know that transformation is radical? And usually requires some kind of alteration or catalyst. Something new must be added in order to alter the composition or original structure. In case you are wondering, chemically speaking, a break down has to happen–at the cellular level–for transformation to occur.

Yikes.

See where I am going with this?

I’m actually kind of impressed with what God is doing with this in my life. I think he led me to this word because I could have chosen one of two things to do with the year 2017. 

I could have wallowed in the sadness, or I could do what Sadness is supposed to do–allow it to move through you so you can actually understand, appreciate and experience real joy. And that is true transformation.

So what does that have to do with Psalm 104?

If You, God, can be dressed up in sunshine… have built your palace on the ocean deeps and made a chariot out of clouds…commandeered winds as messengers and appointed fire and flame as ambassadors…roared and the water ran away…set boundaries between earth and sea…make grass grow…bring grain from the land and wine to make people happy

Then how could we ever doubt his ability to transform us each and every day?