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Drunk on Beauty

Drunk on Beauty

It was early in the afternoon, my body was tired, and I was feeling dizzy. My body was desperate to recover all the water and electrolytes it lost during the morning hike through the Amazon jungle. I had been invited on this mission trip to Colombia, and our assignment was to offer personal prayer and encouragement to the ministry staff stationed at the base in Leticia, a city in the southern tip of the country. While there, we also visited the staff in El Puente, a sister base located in the Amazon jungle. Hiking to El Puente was quite an adventure, but what I remember the most is the heat. The Amazon was hot and humid even by the standards of the Puerto Rican sister writing this blog! On our way back to the boat that would transport us to Leticia via the Amazon River, I could feel my body crashing, desperate for even one drop of water. 

I wonder if that desperate sensation, that frantic desire that makes every cell in one’s body scream of thirst and yearn for water, resembles what David’s poetry conveys in Psalm 63.

 

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
My flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 

Psalm 63: 1


David was desperate, not for water, but for God! According to its title, this psalm reflects a moment in David’s life when he was in the wilderness of Judah, running from either Saul or his own son Absalom. In the arid desert, where water is hard to come by, David must have experienced extreme physical thirst. He was well acquainted with desperation, and allowed his bodily experience to inform his desire and pursuit of God. Isn’t it interesting how our moments of deepest need often point us to the only One who can satisfy it? 

After our hike through the Amazon, another team member brought me a much-coveted bottle of water and a pack of electrolytes. Every cell in my body screamed for joy! But if someone had brought water to David, he would have remained desperate and thirsty because what he wanted (and needed) was not only to quench his physical thirst, but the steadfast love of God, which is “better than life” (Psalm 63:3). As James M. Hamilton, Jr. terms it in his commentary, Psalms, he wanted to be completely “high on God” and wholly satisfied in him. When was the last time we were that desperate? When was the last time we desired God with such intensity and yearning that we sought him earnestly? If the answer to these questions is “never” or “a long time ago,” our most urgent question ought to be why, why are we not desperate for God? Why is our spiritual life stale and stagnant? Before we can answer these questions, we must read further down in David’s poem.

 

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.

Psalm 63:2

 

Gaze on God and drink Beauty

David’s intense thirst and desire for God leads him to stare at God. Other translations render the Hebrew as “So I gaze on you…” which better reflects David’s intent on fixing his attention on God because he is the only remedy for his thirst. This language is reminiscent of another one of David’s psalms, where he communicates his one desire.

 

One thing have I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to inquire in his temple.

Psalm 27:4

 

In contemporary vernacular, David’s Gatorade was to feast on the beauty of God. He gazed upon God in the sanctuary, where his presence dwells, in order to see what God does (his power) and who he is (his glory). No wonder David’s immediate response was to worship the object of his gaze! He had no choice. He was contemplating the very source of beauty, the One who is all perfection and excellence. How could he keep quiet? He was drunk with the steadfast love of God, which according to David’s bold claim, is better than life. David was in the desert, surrounded by miles and miles of beige and brown shades, but his spiritual, contemplative life was anything but dull. In David’s mind, there was nothing better than feasting on the beauty of God. In other words, God’s beauty was David’s chief preoccupation. 

Now, let us return to our initial question, why are we not desperate for God? Why is it that some of our spiritual lives are stale and stagnant? Perhaps, the reason why reading our Bibles feels like dragging heavy luggage rather than energetic delight is because we have found something to stare at in our screens and electronic devices that is seemingly more beautiful than God. Perhaps, the reason why prayer feels as dull as talking to a telemarketer rather than talking to a dear friend is because we have exchanged the privilege of basking in the beauty of God for the hurried and frantic journey to wealth, to “success,” to power, to visibility, to…whatever. 

Certainly there are seasons in our Christian discipleship when our relationship with God feels dry and distant. But there is an important distinction between such seasons and the contemporary, distracted, and beautyless journey some of us are on. Whereas the former is characterized by awareness and a longing for things to change, the latter is marked by ignorant “bliss,” distraction, and complacency. The former draws us closer to God, but the latter keeps us at arms length from the One who is Beauty itself. 

In this psalm, I hear both a word of admonition and an invitation. David’s desperation for God and our lack thereof confronts us with the reality that many of us have deemed other things better and more beautiful than the steadfast love of God. We are walking around like Christian zombies, numbed by wealth and dulled by constant scrolling up and down the screens, unaware of our dead walking. But, there is good news! Things do not have to be this way. David invites us to get drunk on Beauty by gazing on God, by looking intently upon his awesome deeds and attributes. 

Friends, the compelling and tempting pictures we see in our computer screens, tablets, and phones have nothing on the One who sits on his throne in heaven surrounded by brilliant light, listening to the unceasing worship of the heavenly creatures who cry Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is, and is to come (Revelation 4:8). Michelangelo could never paint anything remotely close to God’s beauty, and the cleverest of song writers will always be without sufficient words to describe him. He is like jasper and ruby (Revelation 4:3), wholly other and yet so near to us. Yes! The preacher’s pen will never run out of material! Let us hear David’s invitation to get drunk on Beauty, for only in him will our deepest longings be satisfied.    

 

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
And my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,

Psalm 63:5

 

Meditate on God’s beauty 

By now you may be thinking, “Ok Nydiaris, I get it. I ought to stare at God.” But how does one do that? How does one gaze on one whom we cannot see? David was clear on his method; he meditated on God. 

 

… when I remember you upon my bed,
And meditate on you in the watches of the night…

Psalm 63:6

 

Meditating is remembering and dwelling on what God has said in his word. Lean into the beauty displayed on page after page, chew on his words, read it again, think on it, journal about it, put a Post-it note on your desk, tell Siri to read it to you and Alexa to repeat it, and… PRAY God’s words back to him. If we make this a habit, we will be held captive by his beauty, completely enthralled by his excellence, alive to him and his work in the world. Let us make the beauty of God and his presence our chief preoccupation, everything else can wait, for his faithful love is better than life.

 

Let the beauty of God ground you

Gazing at God and saturating ourselves in his beauty fills us with confidence. Note David’s assurance in God’s deliverance in verses 8-11.

 

“My soul clings to you;
Your right hand upholds me.
But those who seek to destroy my life
Shall go down into the depths of the earth;
They shall be given over to the power of the sword;
They shall be a portion for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
All who swear by him shall exult,
For the mouths of liars will be stopped. 

Psalm 63:8-11

 

Hamilton’s commentary notes that David’s gazing and meditating filled him with confidence because the contemplation of God’s beauty reveals his character and power. He knew that as he fiercely clung to God, the strong arm of the Lord would sustain him. He knew that the God he contemplated was all powerful and kind, zealous for his glory and defender of the lowly. He knew that what God had done for his ancestors in the past, he could do again. Thus, even in the midst of the desert while being hunted down by his enemies, David could confidently declare that “those who seek to destroy my life shall go down to the depths of the earth.” His confidence flowed from God’s beauty, not arrogant self-reliance; he was grounded in the truth that gazing at God’s beauty had planted and rooted in the depths of his soul. 

Unless we make it a priority to be God-gazers and recover a sense of the excellence and goodness of God’s love above everything else, we will be like chaff in the wind, without roots that hold us steady in the hurricane force winds of culture and the trials that followers of Jesus will surely face. Grounding ourselves on Beauty protects us from questioning God’s care and goodness every time a difficult situation arises. The beauty of God, deeply rooted in our hearts, is a scaffold that protects us from falling apart every time we lose a material possession, watch the market crash, or the car breaks down, because we know that the object of our gaze holds the universe (and us) in the palm of his hand. So, let us drink deeply from the beauty of God, starting with prayer. 

 

Let us pray…

Lord,

We confess we have been distracted, deceived into thinking that other things are better and more beautiful than you. Forgive us for letting our imaginations be held captive by worldly narratives of “beauty” and success. Resuscitate us with your beauty oh Lord! Breath life back into these dry bones and awaken our souls to your love, for it is better than life itself. Lord, let that truth be tattooed on our hearts and let us be satisfied in your faithful love, so that we are spoiled for lesser things. Stir our spirits, make us desperate with longing for you, move us to read your word with delight and to pray with fervency. Make your beauty our chief preoccupation. Earnestly we seek you! Hear our cries of thirst. Amen.   

Five Habits of Lifelong Relationships

Five Habits of Lifelong Relationships

By Nathan & Kelly Miller

Kelly and I recently celebrated 21 years of marriage, and while she and I have always shared a pretty amazing relationship, it’s not been easy, nor has it been without disappointments, hurts, misunderstandings, and a whole lot of hard work. In fact, these past three or four years have been the hardest. Parenting has gotten more complicated, life has been more stressful, time has been more fleeting. And this whole “midlife” thing is just weird.

We’ve learned more about ourselves and each other in the past couple of years than perhaps all the previous years combined. We’ve also cried more, had to listen more, apologized (and forgiven) more, and been stretched more. Simultaneously, we would both say without any hesitation, that we also love each other (and even like each other) more than ever before.

Recently we were asked by our Re Engage marriage class at the Olathe Campus to share a few of the things that have been most important to us in maintaining a joy-filled relationship. While I’m sure there’s a lot that could be said, and we are definitely not experts here, we wanted to share five habits that help us. 

If you’re not married, we’ve written this with you in mind as well, and we hope you’ll keep reading. Each of these habits can easily be translated for just about any relationship you believe is worth nurturing for the long haul.

 

Habit #1: Stay curious

Stay curious about yourself and stay curious about the people you love. Start with yourself. Never stop learning about and working on yourself. It’s so easy to focus on the other person’s shortcomings, and overlook the fact that I am also a bit of a mess. At the start of COVID, for example, Kelly and I grew increasingly interested in attachment theory, family systems, and how deeply our upbringing shapes our present and future realities. We pursued a variety of podcasts, books, and other resources (check out a few recommendations below).

As we’ve learned more about our own motivations, areas of woundedness, or unmet desires, this has given us new language with one another, greater compassion for each other, and a deeper desire and ability to love one another. We’ve discovered that many of the challenges in our relationship actually started long before we even knew each other. This doesn’t pass the blame (well, maybe a little bit), but rather gives us the ability to truly see ourselves and see each other. We have a newfound ability to see our own shortcomings, so that we can work on ourselves for the good of ourselves and each other.

Start with yourself, but don’t stop there. Never stop being curious about this person you love. For example, I love learning about Kelly, and I feel like I have learned so much about her in the past few years. As she learns about herself, I get to learn more about her, and then I get to meet her in those places of mutual discovery. Always be a student of the people you love, never stop pursuing deeper understanding of who they truly are, and then, knowing better who they are, find new and fresh ways to love them all the more. Stay curious.

 

Habit #2: Make time

Of course, staying curious takes time. So take the time! Sadly, this is an area that in different seasons, we’ve been a bit sloppy. When either of us feels a bit distant or we’re going through a rocky patch, one of the first questions we ask is, “Are we making enough time for each other?”

This is so obvious and still, we can be so bad at it. One of the dominant factors in any great relationship is time. Sometimes you need time just to plan your week or talk about the kids. You also need time to ask probing questions and to listen well. Those conversations cannot be hurried. For us, one of our best habits for this is taking walks together. It’s so much easier to have some conversations side-by-side rather than eye-to-eye. We also love sitting together at a winery, a restaurant, or on our deck.

We also make time for fun together. Whether it’s going on a hike, having a picnic, going out to dinner or the theater, visiting a national park (or whatever you might consider fun), those experiences together make the relationship more enjoyable. When was the last time you played with the people you love? Those moments of laughter and silliness or shared activity can bring such a bond of intimacy. Make time.

 

Habit #3: Apologize first

As you spend all this time learning about yourself and each other, it’s inevitable that you’re also going to hurt each other. This leads to Habit #3: apologize first. 

I can remember early on in our marriage, both of us feeling hurt and upset by each other, and then just sitting silently waiting for the other person to apologize. Waiting…still waiting… why doesn’t she??? Why doesn’t he??? While we just get a little angrier and a little angrier and a little angrier.

At some point, we were both done just sitting there! I don’t remember what prompted this, but it was in one of those waiting moments in awkward silence that I just made a decision. What if I make it a goal to always be the one to apologize first? No matter what, no matter how much I’m hurting, knowing that I’ve got my own messes and shortcomings, what if I always try to apologize first?

Now thankfully, Kelly joined me in this goal, so we both end up apologizing first from time to time. This responsibility should never land on just one person. But let us tell you, this has been a game changer for us. 

We’ve learned (and are continuing to learn) that our relationship’s health is more important than being right or justifying our actions (this should be obvious, but doesn’t always feel obvious).  How fast can we apologize—truly apologize without excuses or manipulation—and how quickly can we offer forgiveness to one another? What would this posture do to your most important relationships? Apologize first.

 

Habit #4: Pray together

We also recognize wholeheartedly that we cannot possibly do any of this on our own, and perhaps the very first habit we ever embraced as a couple was Habit #4: pray together. From our very first night together to last night, every evening before bed we take roughly 60 seconds to remind ourselves and each other that we cannot do any of this without God’s help. 

We take turns. One night Kelly prays. The next night I pray. And, yes, I have fallen asleep more than once while Kelly is praying. We don’t say anything particularly profound, and we don’t think anything particularly magical happens, but the habit itself is so profound. 

Not only does this make it hard to go to bed angry or even distant from each other, it gives us an opportunity to vocalize in front of each other our need for God. That humbles us, and just about any relationship needs humbling from time to time. At this point, we’ve done this more than 7500 times and there is no doubt in our minds that this is one of the reasons our relationship is so strong. 

If you’re not married, find a friend that you can pray with regularly. I know it may seem awkward at first, but it will feel more normal the more you do it. I started praying regularly with my friend Toph even before I met Kelly. We prayed together weekly throughout college and monthly for the past 21 years— 25 years in total. Not only has that provided a rich dimension to our relationship, I think it’s one of the reasons our friendship has withstood the test of time, distance, and a whole variety of different life-circumstances. Finding someone—anyone—to pray with regularly is truly a beautiful gift. Pray together.

 

Habit #5: Never stop cherishing

This last one is really just a bit of a “catch-all,” but we’re pretty convinced that the most important vow any of us make at a wedding is to cherish. If you truly cherish each other, all the other vows should fall right into place. Whether you’re single or married, it’s easy to take for granted the people you value most, but that’s so perilous to any relationship. Never stop cherishing.

I recently realized that I wasn’t doing a great job at this one. Over time it’s so easy to grow comfortable with one another and then to slowly take each other for granted. You stop saying thank you as much, you stop pursuing each other, and you can so easily begin to devalue one another.

Both of us have just recently redoubled our efforts to cherish more. It’s actually been fun to restart this quest together, even after all these years, to ask each other: what makes you feel cherished? What makes you feel wanted and loved? And then try to meet each other in these places for our own mutual joy. 

Again, this applies to all relationships, not just marriage. Ask difficult questions of your loved ones: how can I be a better friend? What would make you feel seen and known and wanted? Then actually take steps to show you care about each other. Never stop cherishing.

 

Jesus, too.

As we’ve gotten better at this relationship thing, it’s also been so helpful to remind ourselves and each other that every human relationship is ultimately meant to point us to the relationship Jesus wants with each of us. For our God pursues and cherishes and has time for each one of us. He loves us, and the very best of our human relationships is only a blurry snapshot of his delight in you. 

We’re 21 years into this, and while we don’t know what the next 21 will hold, we’re excited and we’re confident that as we continue to press into these habits together, and as we continue to receive and prioritize the love our Father has for us, even in the hard times, we can flourish. For the beautiful thing is that the more we receive God’s love, the more we are enabled and empowered to love each other, and when we do, there is incredible delight.

Resources

Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson (and anything else by Curt Thompson)

The Place We Find Ourselves podcast by Adam Young

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim & Kathy Keller

The Great Sex Rescue by Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, and Joanna Sawatsky

 

The Power of Community

The Power of Community

Written by : Debbie Perry

 

Several years ago, I wrote a blog about the power of surrender I was experiencing through a recent journey with leukemia, followed by our shared experience of quarantine due to the pandemic. As I look back on that time, I remember praying that if the words of my heart could be an encouragement to even one person, then all that I had been through would not be wasted. I believed God intended to make something beautiful from the ashes of my painful journey then, and I believe it still. So at the urging of the Holy Spirit and the encouragement of a close friend, I am again sharing how God is still writing my story in new and unexpected ways. 

I was recently reminded of the importance of community in my life. And more than that, I was reminded that my presence might be a gift to others. I say this not as an arrogant comment, but to encourage the hearts of others. You see, after attending Christ Community in person for 16 years, I have spent over three years watching online. Through my battle with leukemia, stem cell transplant, pandemic quarantine, and now a depressed immune system, I have been so grateful for a church that has made it possible to witness strong biblical teaching of the gospel and beautiful worship online. 

With a weakened immune system, I have been encouraged to avoid large groups of people, and to keep my circles of exposure small. I feel that there is a fine line and a lot of gray area between the wisdom of protecting myself from illness and letting the fear of getting sick keep me at a distance from others. I don’t share this to be complacent, I share it with an empathetic heart for others who find themselves in a similar situation. I have been contentedly watching online with 60 or more Leawood campus congregants every Sunday for much longer than I ever expected. Every Sunday I am reminded there are many of us dealing with health issues or other circumstances that keep us worshiping at a distance. And while we may enjoy the convenience of watching in our pajamas and welcoming God into our living rooms on Sunday mornings, we may also experience similar feelings of fear, loneliness, or guilt as we miss worshiping in a community with others. I truly feel as though God has used this time away to draw me closer to him, but recently I have been longing for more.

I recently attended the Ash Wednesday service at the Leawood Campus. I was not planning to attend since I just finished a bout with an upper respiratory virus, but I really wanted to attend since I knew it would be a smaller group than a Sunday service. Once again I felt as though I were in a game of Double Dutch. You may know that playground game, two jump ropes swinging as you wait for a time when you can jump in. But the timing sometimes just seems off so you just wait a little longer until the timing feels more right for you to take the leap. That is how I felt. Should I wait a little longer or jump back in while the group seemed smaller? Is now the right time? Well, as God often does, he made things a little more clear when I woke up that morning. He gently spoke to me through my morning devotional from Genesis. Genesis 2:7 says, “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”  This passage was not new for me, but I saw something new this time. From the wisdom of my devotional writer I was reminded that out of all the ingredients in the world, God chose dust to breathe life into mankind. Dust does not signify an end. It is often what must be present for new to begin. Was God showing me that he intended to use the ashes of Ash Wednesday to breathe life into me? Ashes are like dust, right? I couldn’t stop thinking about it and so I decided I wasn’t going to question it, God had my attention. I was jumping back in.

In obedience to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and after many moments of second guessing, I grabbed my mask and arrived in the church lobby to attend a service in person for the first time in three and a half years. I distanced myself as I greeted new and old friends, but it did not take long for me to realize how much I had  missed seeing, and being seen by my church family. It felt good to see the smiles and surprised looks on friends’ faces to see me in person. I knew I had missed others, but never thought that maybe I had also been missed by them. 

As I entered the service, I grabbed a chair and sat with only one close friend away from the larger congregation in the back of the room. Looking at the church community that I love in front of me felt more comforting than I ever could have imagined. I was at a distance, but among them. The music began and I could not seem to hold back tears. It was the same music that I experience in my living room on Sunday mornings, but why did it seem so much more powerful in these moments? And then it hit me, I was back in community with others, as God intended. I have underestimated my need for worshiping in a community. We were never intended to do this life on our own, to worship alone. He created us to need each other’s presence to grow and thrive. 

It was a powerful night that led to deep reflection in my own heart about what God is up to in my story. He revealed some places that I have forgotten to surrender to him. Places where I am trying to figure out my “new normal” on my own. Places where I was longing, but not listening. I see now that while it has been a necessity to stay at a distance for a season, it is not meant to last forever. While I still need to be wise for my health and may have moments where I am fearful or unsure when to jump in more permanently, I am so grateful God directed me to notice a glimpse of what I have been missing being away from a loving church community. 

I want to offer encouragement for anyone in a similar season of missing a church community in your life; I hope you know that your church community is also missing you. Praying for you. Longing for your return. Whether you are already part of Christ Community or seeking to find a new church home, I hope you know that you will be as much a blessing to us as we might be to you. Whether you are feeling led to jump back in this week or months from now, I pray that God is already revealing big and small ways that he wants to use the dust of your current or previous circumstances to strengthen you, and knit you back into a loving community where others are waiting to welcome you in. I hope we can see each other there soon!

 

God’s Face Is Toward You

God’s Face Is Toward You

When my kids were little, one of the best parts of my life was when I’d walk in the door at the end of a long day. They’d run to me, squeeze my legs, squeal with delight, beg me for piggyback rides, the “dragon game,” or other ridiculous forms of roughhouse. Their faces could practically light up the entire room at the very sight of me. I was a hero, a celebrity, the most loved human on the planet and the source of one of their greatest delights. It felt pretty good. 

I have teenagers now. Needless to say, I’m not even sure they notice when I get home (or that I ever left). While I choose to believe they’re still glad to see me (after all, according to Hebrews 11, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…), I do miss those little faces lighting up like that at my very presence. You know the feeling, right?

 

A face that is glad to see you

Does anything feel better than seeing another human light up when they see you? You show up at a friend’s house that you haven’t seen in years. You return home from a long and tiring business trip and your spouse greets you at the door. You arrive home after your first semester in college. Your grandkids finally pull up after a long road trip. Even as I write this, I can literally feel my face lighting up just at the very thought of these situations.

We also feel this in the small and subtle things. When you walk into church and you can just tell the people you see are glad to see you. Their faces light up, which makes your face light up, which makes their faces light up even more, which makes your face…. It feels good, doesn’t it?

We now know that there is brain science to back this up. Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks, in their brilliant little book, The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation, write:

Our brains desire joy more than any other thing. As we go through our day, our right brains are scanning our surroundings, looking for people who are happy to be with us.

God designed facial recognition circuitry into our brains and linked it to our joy center. My wife’s face lights up when she sees me, and this initiates a joyful chain reaction in my brain that I can feel in my body. Brain science reveals that this joy sensation is crucial for emotional and relational development. Our brain looks specifically to the face of another person to find joy, and this fills up our emotional gas tank. The face is key.

They summarize joy in three points. 1) Joy is primarily transmitted through the face (especially the eyes) and secondarily through voice. 2) Joy is relational. It is what we feel when we are with someone who is happy to be with us. Joy does not exist outside of relationship. 3) Joy is important to God and to us.

Of course, I didn’t need to quote these experts for us to know this to be true, nor do we need science’s confirmation for the things we already believe so deeply. We feel this deep in our bones! We know, even in our own bodies, that this is true.

It shouldn’t surprise us then that God has also known this to be true, for this is how he made us. Long before any of these scientific studies were even imagined, God imagined humans, and he made us to light up at the faces of one another. He made us for joy—joy with him and joy with each other. 

 

“The Lord make his face shine on you”

It even comes out in the “original” benediction or blessing in the Bible. It’s the oldest we have and it has long been my personal favorite of all the benedictions we give at church. In seminary, our pastor used to sing it over the congregation at the end of the service. We say it over every child in our dedication services, I try to work it into every one of my weddings, and I love using it on Christmas Eve and the start of every new year. It’s also become one of my favorite songs we sing from Elevation Worship, The Blessing.

Thousands of years before we knew anything about brain science or interpersonal neurobiology, God knew, and our brilliant Creator God gave us this benediction. I memorized it first in the NIV, Numbers 6:22-26: 

 The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

 “The Lord bless you

    and keep you;

 the Lord make his face shine on you

    and be gracious to you;

 the Lord turn his face toward you

    and give you peace.”

 

The original blessing, the blessing God commanded, perhaps the highest blessing we can receive, is that God’s face would light up when he sees us. That he would continually turn his face toward us. For this is the ultimate blessing, the ultimate protection, the ultimate act of grace, and the greatest source of peace. If you want real joy, here is where it is found—seeing God’s face light up when you walk in the room. Knowing that God is glad to be with you.

Reflecting on this passage, Wilder and Hendricks write: 

God designed our brains for joy, and He wants us to live in the glow of His delight. This blessing expresses a joy that can be paraphrased, ‘May you feel the joy of God’s face shining on you because He is happy to be with you.’

 

How can God possibly be glad to see me?

However, if I’m honest, I often wonder, does God’s face really light up when he sees me? He knows me. All of me. He knows the ways I tried to run from him in high school. He knows the mistakes I made in college. He knows my failures as a husband, as a father, as a son, as a brother, as a friend, as a pastor, as a colleague, as a boss, as an employee, as a neighbor, as a citizen, as a human. So many mistakes, so much sin. Every one of my faults is in his face, even the failures I’ve been unable to admit to myself. He sees.

You can’t hide anything from God’s face. And I imagine that disappointed look, like the one your mom or dad used to make. Or worse, I imagine him turning away from me, and walking out on me. If YOU really knew me, dear reader, YOU would turn your face from me and walk out on me. Each of us has felt this happen way too many times. Nothing destroys our joy quite like this.

And yet….

The good news of what Jesus has done for us means our God will never do that to any of his children. No matter what. Ever. You see, Jesus already died the death we deserve, and when he was forsaken on the cross, the Father did turn his face away. That is what we deserve, but Jesus experienced that for us, so that we never will.

Jesus also lived the life we could never live—perfect, holy, righteous, just. He took our shame and gave us his goodness, so that when the Father looks at us, he sees all the good that Jesus is. All of his beauty and righteousness and love. We are given credit for that.

This means, if you are one of God’s children through faith in Jesus, his face is always toward you. It’s always shining when he sees you. For our God is always glad to see you. Do you believe that?

Like lovers who have been separated for months. Like a parent who hasn’t seen their child for a whole semester. Like your grandkids when they finally show up for a long awaited visit. Like your closest college friends at an unexpected reunion. That’s how God feels EVERYTIME he sees you. And he always sees you! His face is always toward you. Can you see his eyes lighting up?

Now I realize this is hard to believe. The gospel of Jesus usually is hard to believe. So how do we actually experience this? I want to feel this—how can we? Let me quickly and inadequately suggest two things.

 

Turn your face toward him

First, if you want to experience the joy of God’s face toward you, you have to turn your face toward him. It’s mutual. He also wants to see your face light up when you see him! Like any relationship, the joy is best experienced by prioritizing time for that person, and mutually enjoying one another.

When you open your Bible, when you carve out time for prayer, when you quiet your life enough to listen for him, when you show up to church each Sunday, when you sing songs of praise to him, when you go on a walk alone in the woods. These are the spaces we are most likely and most often to experience his face and his joy, and he experiences it from us, too. If we want joy, we have to make these things a priority. Like the old hymn says:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in his wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of his glory and grace

 

Turn your face toward others

Second, if you want to experience the joy of God’s face toward you, you have to turn your face toward others. So often our experience of God’s love comes through the love we feel to and from others. When you show up at church or your community group or Bible study, does your face light up from the people you see? As yours lights up, theirs will too, and you’ll get a taste of the joy of God’s face. If we want joy, we have to make each other a priority.

As we do these things, with faith in Jesus as our deep hope, we’ll experience joy, and we will live out the fulfillment of the greatest benediction. 

Let these words again wash over you—not simply as a wish, but as a truth that is fully yours in Jesus Christ. Read them this time from another translation:

“May the Lord bless you and protect you;

 may the Lord make his face shine on you

and be gracious to you;

 may the Lord look with favor on you

and give you peace.”’  Numbers 6:22-26 CSB

These words have already come true for all who believe. Amen and Amen!

From the Ground Part 2: Bearing the Gardener’s Fruit

From the Ground Part 2: Bearing the Gardener’s Fruit

Last week we explored the biblical portrayal of God the gardener, who formed humans in his image to rule creation as he does; as a gardener. Jesus enacts this rule by dying on the cross and bringing new life up from the cursed ground, reconciling earth and heaven and calling us who follow him to do likewise.  

 

(De)Formed from the Ground

The rule over the ground that we were made for has been tragically deformed, however. We see examples of this all over Scripture, and it is not hard to see parallel examples repeated in the present.

God forms his people Israel and leads them to dwell in the land of Canaan. What we find is that the quality of the relationship God’s people have with the ground beneath their feet is an essential marker of their faithfulness or unfaithfulness to God. This is portrayed in the prophetic oracles concerning Israel’s tenuous relationship with the land (e.g. Jeremiah 12:7-13, Ezekiel 33:28-29, Amos 9:5-15, Malachi 3:8-12), all of which recall the blessing of Deuteronomy 28:11 (echoing Genesis 1:28 “…God blessed them. And God said…”) and the curse of Deuteronomy 28:18 (echoing Genesis 3:17 “cursed is the ground because of you”). A fruitful ground, rather than one that is wasted away or only yields thorns, is a sign of God’s blessing for his people’s faithfulness. 

The ramifications of our deformed relationship with the ground is unfolding in the ongoing struggle of God’s people to respect and emulate God’s loving rule over his good creation. We see this deformation playing out in current, popular ways of relating to creation. In our postmodern iteration of sinful relationships with God’s creatures, both desecration on one side and deification on the other are false. Both are deceptions. 

To turn creation into a god (to deify it) is to lay a weight on it which it cannot bear. By our actions, habits, policies, or even our indifference, we reveal whether we consider the ground good or not, while in the Bible God says very clearly that it is. Both deification and desecration are ways of robbing creation, and the very ground itself, of its God-given dignity.

The key is to recognize our own deformation from the ground, confess it, and seek to be reformed into Christ’s creation-gardening image. Ask yourself: In your daily activities, habits, political persuasions, or even your inaction, how might you be inclined toward either idolizing aspects of creation or destroying aspects of creation? Only by being re-formed into Christ’s image can we overcome our present deformed relationship with the ground.

 

(Re)Formed In the Image of the Gardener King

Surveying John’s Gospel, we see the full representation of God’s gardening nature in the person of Jesus Christ. The Word that upholds the universe steps into the very creation he is tending, taking on flesh to become the Gardener King. It reveals the reality that caring for creation is a fundamental aspect of humanity, written into the very fabric of our call to imitate our creator. 

The Bible’s call to care for creation as Christ does is even more expansive, as God’s gardening of creation is more than tending soil, so our image-bearing of the Gardener King includes more than having a backyard garden. Tending creation is not an optional subplot of God’s mission to bear fruit for his glory; rather, it is foundational, formative, and necessary. 

 

Bearing the Gardener’s Fruit

The fruit Jesus wants us to bear is the same fruitfulness God originally called humanity to in Genesis 1:28. We are to cultivate all of creation as God does, from the literal ground up. But in our present cursed-yet-reconciled relationship with the ground, we can only “bear fruit in keeping with repentance”. We must turn away, repent, from destructive or idolatrous practices and turn toward a more Christlike care of creation.

Each of us can discover the boundaries of our responsibilities to creation in the places we are (de)formed by. Then, being (re)formed into the Gardener’s image, we can play a crucial role to positively form our places by dying to ourselves to produce life-giving fruit for the good of our fellow God-creations. To use a term popularized by Wes Jackson, farmer, activist, and founder of The Land Institute in Salina, KS, we can do this by consulting the genius of our place.

 

The Genius of the Place

In Jackson’s book Consulting the Genius of the Place, he calls upon his readers to attend closely to the place in which they live in order to gain wisdom for how to live within its (God-given) ecological limits. 

King Solomon’s treasury of wisdom was, at least partly, gained through just this sort of attentive study of ecological embeddedness. Yet our Gardener King certainly surpasses Solomon in wisdom. Jesus is the very fount of wisdom and the firstborn over all creation. His masterful parables put this wisdom on full display, and we even have direct commands from our Gardener King to study his creation in order to glean his wisdom: “Look at the birds of the air…Consider the lilies of the field….”

If the ecological beauty depicted in Revelation 21-22 is any indication, these are commands we will have the pleasure of obeying for all eternity when our Gardener King consummates the renewal of all things which he has already inaugurated. 

 

Consider the Ground

I believe it would be wise to start practicing now. Consider the literal ground of the place you live. Obviously, this would be your home and the land it stands on, but also keep in mind your neighborhood streets, parks, schools, and other public places. Take inventory. 

What do you have that owes its existence to the ground? Your food, of course, but also the wood of your furniture, metals mined from the earth, the energy that powers your lights, appliances; even the materials used to manufacture plastics and other synthetic materials came from somewhere

Then expand your attention beyond your four walls. Christ Community’s mission is to influence our community and world for Jesus Christ. We cannot do this until we know and love our communities and world by paying attention to the actual places in which we, and our neighbors, live and move and have our being. This includes the health and integrity of the ground itself and all it supports. 

Thank God for the ground beneath your feet, then pay attention to ways he may be leading you to work with him as he forms you to bear fruit as a more faithful follower of the Gardener King.

Stan Archie and Tom Nelson | POD 001

Stan Archie and Tom Nelson | POD 001

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Hosts & Guests

Stan Archie – Senior Pastor
Christian Fellowship Baptist

Tom Nelson – Senior Pastor
Christ Community – KC

Bill Gorman – Host

Show Notes

This is Episode 001 of theFormed.life Podcast, where we hope to challenge you to think deeply about what it means to follow Jesus in all of life.

In this episode of the podcast, we are talking about the hostile dividing walls that tragically still exist between people, with a special focus on race, ethnicity, and culture.

  • That’s a big topic, and we won’t be able to cover it all. One of the tools Jesus uses to tear down hostile dividing walls is genuine relationships.
  • With us today to help unpack that idea is Christian Fellowship Baptist’s Senior Pastor, Stan Archie, as well as Christ Community Church’s Lead Senior Pastor, Tom Nelson.
  • The current conversation taking place in our broader culture about racial and ethnic differences is often not life-giving or especially productive.
  • Let’s focus more specifically on the church. What are you seeing in how the church is engaging in this conversation? Knowing that there is both healthy and unhealthy in the church in this conversation.

Notes

Often the church’s response is too simplistic from both “sides”:

  • Without giving in to caricature, listen to some of what we hear in conversation:
  • “History doesn’t matter that much; the present and future should be the focus.”
  • “Structural/systemic problems are not as harmful as often portrayed; the real problem is the breakdown of the family, lack of education, personal choices, etc.”
  • There is a lack of recognition that individual choices (good and bad) matter!

Quote

“What is poverty? Poverty is the inability to fully experience image bearing. The four relationships (God, ourselves, others, whole of creation) are not working the way that God designed them to work. Poverty is rooted in broken relationships and those relationships are broken for three reasons; individual brokenness, systemic injustice, and demonic forces. That’s the story. The world, the flesh, and the devil.”  – Bryan Fikkert

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