THE FORMULA The mystic was back from the desert. “Tell us,” they said, “what God is like.” But how could he ever tell them what he had experienced in his heart? Can God be put into words? He finally gave them a formula — inaccurate, inadequate—in the hope that some might be tempted to experience it for themselves. They seized upon the formula. They made it a sacred text. They imposed it on others as a holy belief. They went to great pains to spread it in foreign lands. Some even gave their lives for if. The mystic was sad. It might have been better if he had said nothing. (From Song of the Bird by: Anthony de Mellow)
Now I grew up in two different churches who would both be considered to be on the conservative end of the spectrum when it comes to how they practice their Christian faith. I owe them a lot for they did their best to help me come to know Christ. I learned a lot about the text in the Bible. I learned their canonical order, their authors and subjects, and memorized many scriptures. But it wasn’t until my undergraduate training that I begin to learn more about the context, translation, and ultimately the inclusion or exclusion of text into the modern Bible.
The image on the cover of a magazine or newspaper has the power to cause riots and demonstrations. We have seen that happen recently, especially involving images critical of certain religions. Advertisers also know the impact an image can make. They will spend 4.5 million on a 30 second spot during the Super Bowl to get an image planted in our minds. The next thing you know we are buying their product or accepting their subliminal message. And all of us have images in our minds (both good and bad) going back years or decades. Some are very powerful, still affecting who we are and the decisions we make every day in varying degrees. The power of an image!!!!
One of the most powerful images in the history of the world was frequently seen by people in Roman times. It was a negative one, but one that Jesus took and changed into the most powerful image for good the world has ever known, the image of the cross. It is still an image of pain and suffering but also of victory, salvation and hope. Yes, there are other great images but none like this one. No one but God could have ever given us something like that. It is life changing!
Last Sunday, in The Grove (5th & 6th Grades), our class studied the story of Adam and Eve’s conversation and temptation with the serpent. I asked the class this question, “What do you think Adam and Eve were thinking?” One of our maturing 5th grade theologians returned my question with his own question, “Miss Laurie, why didn’t Adam and Eve ask God to help them? He was with them in the garden. Why didn’t they talk to God?”
“All my hopes, all I need held in your hands…all my life, all of me held in Your hands.”
The preceding line is from one of my favorite new songs. It is a song about the sovereignty of God. It serves as a reminder that God is in control of everything in His creation. It is also an invitation to surrender control to Him over what we hold on to tighter than anything else, our lives. Even though at times this can be a struggle, I’m encouraged to know that when we surrender control of our lives to the sovereign God we can be assured that we will find real life, a Zoe life.
Zoe actually means life but it is more than a generic existence. It carries with it that there is a particular quality of life or living that far surpasses a mundane existence. It carries with it the idea of an abundant and blessed life that is connected to the life of God. Zoe is life not simply to the full but overflowing – life from God.
I don’t know if you’re a new year’s resolution kind of person. I used to be, with limited success. I picked the usual suspects. Stay fit, save money, yada, yada. But a few years ago I started a new tradition. Instead of picking 2 or 3 resolutions to focus on, I picked a single word.
Maybe you can focus on a few big things at once. I do better with one. One word for the new year. One guiding word to focus on. The past couple of years its been “discipline” and “presence.”
Over the next few days, between football and napping, take some time to reflect back on 2014. What were the moments of joy and celebration? Struggle and disappointment? Journal if that helps you or just share with your family. Then come up with a word for 2015. Think about what’s coming in the next year for you. What would be one word or idea that could guide you and keep you focused on loving God and loving others? One word as a lens through which to see 2015, helping you be intentional about life instead of just letting life happen to you.