Tag Archives: Creator

Left-Brain Development in a Right-Brain Dude

When Moses entered the tent of meeting to speak with the Lord, he heard the voice speaking to him from between the two cherubim above the atonement cover on the ark of the covenant law. In this way the Lord spoke to him.
Numbers 7:89 (NIV)

Confession time this morning. I am an organized wannabe. My whole life I have had a desire for my life to be organized, measured, well-structured and disciplined. In that effort I’ve dabbled in Day-timer, Day-keeper, Seven Habits, Scan Cards, pocket calendars, Palm Pilots, Outlook, and you-name-the-organizational-big-name-fad-gadget-system-of-the-moment-here.

My right brain always betrays me. Just ask my wife, Wendy, who is a certified, card-carrying rock star of the organized world, and also sports an amazingly developed, creative right brain.

Now, in my defense, I will tell you that I’ve progressed a long way in my life journey. I’m more organized and disciplined than, perhaps, ever. My organizational discipline has grown and developed over time and it has developed in parallel with my spiritual journey. Get this: I’ve come to realize that God holds the tension between right and left brain. The Creator is the ultimate fullness of both creativity and order. God is both limitless possibility and infinite detail. The further I get in my spiritual journey of unity with the Creator, the more balanced I find my life becoming in this regard.

Let’s be honest. Today’s chapter is a slog. It’s the longest chapter in the five books known as the Torah (a.k.a. Pentateuch, Books of Moses, Law of Moses). The chapter is incredibly ordered, detailed and repetitive as it describes the pageantry of the dedication of the traveling temple tent (called the Tabernacle) that the Hebrews carried with them on their march out of Egypt and to the promised land. In orderly fashion the leader of each of the twelve Hebrew tribes brings their offering to the Tabernacle. Each tribal leader brought the same gift, listed in the same order in detail. They brought the gifts in the same order given for the organization of their marching and their encampment around the Tabernacle. Today’s chapter is a left-brain’s dream on steroids (as the right brain reaches for a bottle of five-hour energy).

I’m reminded this morning of Paul’s letter to Jesus’ followers in Corinth where he writes:

Let all things be done decently and in order.

The kicker comes at the end of today’s chapter (if you make it that far) when it reports that after the orderly pageant God’s presence and voice became manifest to Moses when he would enter the inner sanctuary of the tent before the ark of the covenant [cue: Indiana Jones Theme]. In other words, God’s power, presence, and voice came at the end of well-ordered offering and dedication.

This morning I’m reminded of the description of the Temple of Solomon (designed to replicate the basic structure of the Tabernacle tent) the we read back in 2 Kings just a few weeks ago [here’s the post]. No order. The scroll with the law of Moses had been lost for years. The Temple of God had become an unruly farmer’s market style carnival of religious idols, complete with temple prostitution. No order. No discipline. No presence.

Despite the groaning from my creative, go-with-the-flow right brain, I’ve come to acknowledge along life’s journey that detail and organization are a critical, spiritual component. There is a certain peace, power and presence of Spirit that accompanies life and worship when things are managed in a detailed, disciplined, orderly way. And so, I press on in the development of my left-brain.

Now, does anyone know where I put my phone?

Promises of the Uncontainable

I am the Lord,
    the Maker of all things,
    who stretches out the heavens,
    who spreads out the earth by myself…

who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’
    of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be rebuilt,’
    and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them,’
Isaiah 44:24b,26b (NIV)

I am reminded this morning of English class back in the day. Our teacher assigned us “compare and contrast” papers in which we were to compare two different things. We were to discuss their contrasts, their differences. Isaiah’s prophetic poetry in this morning’s chapter is a compare and contrast composition.

The first five verses are an introductory statement for Isaiah’s readers. They are a “now hear this” to draw the reader in.

Verses six through 20 are a treatise on the nature of the religious idols popular in society and culture of Isaiah’s day. Idolatry was common among the people of Israel and Judah at the time, and many would have Egyptian and Canaanite idols in their homes. People might worship both at the Jewish temple and one of the many idol shrines or temples in town.

Isaiah’s comparison poem focuses on the fact that these idols were images made by carpenters, smiths, and artisans. They were a product of a human’s hands. The carpenter might make a chair with part of a tree, and an idol with the other. The blacksmith might take a hunk of metal and make a hammer with part of it, and an idol with the rest. The idol is a human product, Isaiah repeatedly reminds his readers.

Isaiah then writes a second call to the reader in verses 21-23 in which he weaves all of creation. Clouds, morning, mist, sky, earth, mountains, and forests are all mentioned. Isaiah is already contrasting the small wood or metal god made by the carpenter or blacksmith with the expanse of all creation. The idol is a human creation, but humans are God’s creations. So, which is truly God? In verse 24 Isaiah makes his main comparative statement. God is the creator of all things, beyond the heavens, who cannot be contained in a hunk of wood or metal. God is beyond all that we see or know.

Having established God, the Creator’s, expansive, uncontainable person and power, Isaiah makes a prophetic promise. Those children of Judah living under political exile will return. A ruined Jerusalem will be rebuilt, along with the temple.

This morning I am reminded of the Creator who cannot be contained by human knowledge, reason, description, image or craft. God uses countless metaphors in communicating with us simply because metaphors are the very best we can do in our finite minds. Isaiah doesn’t even attempt to use a metaphor. God is simply the One who created all that we see and beyond it.

Isaiah reminds his readers that God is the power behind the promise of a rebuilt Jerusalem. As I stand on the cusp of a new year, not knowing what will happen, I am reminded that this same God is the power behind the simple promise given by Jesus (in a different compare/contrast statement) whose birth we just celebrated:

“If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

“Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

The Language of God

Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
John 10:6 (NRSV)

I taught a class a year ago called The Language of God,  and in the class I and my classmates walked through the Great Story, unpacking evidence that metaphor (something that represents something else) is the medium God incessantly uses to communicate Himself to us. God is Creator. God is an artist. God reveals Himself in creation and in word pictures.

John understood this better than Matthew, Mark, or Luke. In his biography of Jesus, John begins by revealing Jesus as “The Word.” Since then, John has communicated different metaphors that both John the Baptist and Jesus used to communicate who He was…

Lamb of God
Water of Life
Bread of Life
Light of the World
The Gate
The Good Shepherd

John isn’t done. There are more metaphors, more word pictures, to come in the remaining chapters.

I find it fascinating that John records that Jesus used “this figure of speech” or way of speaking, “but they didn’t understand what he was saying to them.” Later in the chapter the religious lawyers even make it more blunt, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus response: “I have told you.” And indeed, Jesus has been telling them all along. They were so myopically focused on the scribes’ ink on the papyrus of their precious scrolls that they couldn’t interpret the language of metaphor, the living Word, that was being communicated in front of their eyes and in their very own ears.

“Those who have the ears to hear,” Jesus said. Those who can interpret the word pictures Jesus is verbally painting, those who can understand the language of metaphor, they get what He is saying.

Understanding God’s Message is deeper than being able to read the ink on the page. You have to understand the language of metaphor our Creator/Artist God is using in His works of creation and the Great Story He authors.

 

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Artist’s Date

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Romans 1:20 (NIV)

Wendy and I will sometimes go on an artist’s date with friends. Often it’s just another couple, though we have done it with slightly larger groups. We typically go to the Des Moines Art Center because it’s close, it’s free, and it has an amazing collection of 19th and 20th century artwork. Here’s how the artist’s date works:

First, we wander together through the Art Center quickly browsing through each gallery. Each person is to be open  and mindful to pay attention to what particular piece of artwork strikes them for whatever reason.

Once we’ve made it through the Art Center, we then spread out, each person to the one piece that struck them the most as we browsed. This time, we stand or sit in front of that piece of artwork and look at it for 30 minutes.  There are no particular rules. You might look at it from different angles. You might get in close to inspect the brushwork. You might just sit in one spot and stare at it. I personally like to bring a journal (and a pencil, the Art Center doesn’t like you using a pen!) and write my thoughts.

When the 30 minutes are up, everyone meets back at the lobby. We go to a nice restaurant, order some good food and drink, and then take turns sharing what art work we looked at and what we gleaned from our 30 minutes with it. It’s always fascinating to hear others share.

When you look at an artist’s work, really look at it, you eventually begin to catch a glimpse of that artist. The painting, the photograph, the drawings, the sculpture are an expression of what’s inside the heart and mind of the artist.

We often forget that God first reveals Himself to us as Creator. “In the beginning, God created….” God is an artist, and the universe is an ongoing work of art as the heavens expand out into the seemingly endless canvas of space and time. When you look at creation, really look at it, you begin to catch a glimpse of the Artist. Detailed, ordered, and infinitely particular while at the same time infinitely playful and diverse in subject, composition, line, color, and form.

Today, I have the fortune of driving for several hours through forecasted rain and snow as I make my way home. My artist’s date today is in the Art Center of nature and I will focus my attention on God’s artwork: Prairie Winter. I can’t wait to see what new things there are for me to glean as I study the landscape.

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The Divine Good Luck Charm

Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because the Levite has become my priest.”
Judges 17:13 (NRSV)

Wendy and I are fans of the Minnesota Vikings. I even know the Vikings fight song and will sing it for you upon request. Granted, we have not had much to cheer about for many years. As we wind down the 2015 season, there is at least the prospect of our Vikes going to the playoffs and an outside chance they could win their division. I’m hopeful, but not holding my breath.

A life-long fan of the Vikings, I can remember being a kid and having so much life energy invested in that game on Sunday. A win could send me to the mountain top and a loss could ruin my life for days. Growing up in the 1970’s when the Vikings were a perennial favorite to go to the Super Bowl, there were more mountain tops than ruins – with the exception of the Super Bowl itself. 0-4. Woof.

Back in those blissful, ignorant days of childhood my perception of God was that of a divine good luck charm. Do the right thing and rub God the right way and the Vikings might win on Sunday. If they lost, well then I must have done something to deserve my tragic circumstances. My focus wasn’t on what God wanted of me, but rather what I could coerce out of God.

Looking back, it’s really quite silly. The story of Micah in today’s chapter, however, reminds me that my childhood perceptions of God are actually quite common. It seems to me that Micah was not looking for a relationship with his Creator, but rather a good luck charm that would assure his prosperity.

My spiritual journey has taught me that God is beyond what I can possibly fathom. God knows that our temporal fortunes in this life are of no eternal value compared to the true genuineness of our faith. Reducing God to some kind of divine talisman is demeaning and disrespectful, and I get the sense that this is why God gets so ticked off with idolatry. The narrow road winds to deeper, more meaningful places than wins and losses. It takes us through more painful tragedies and more life-giving victories.

We love our Vikings, and we will be cheering them on in the coming weeks. Who know? Maybe they’ll surprise us [Still not holding my breath]. Even if they lose, we’ll (once again) chalk it up as a spiritual lesson in faith and perseverance.

Skol!

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Copyright Infringement

Source: Christopher Dombres via Flickr
Source: Christopher Dombres via Flickr

Egypt will become a desolate wasteland. Then they will know that I am the Lord. “‘Because you said, ‘The Nile is mine; I made it….'” Ezekiel 29:9 (NIV)

Just last week I read a story about a legal dispute in which recording artists Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke were sued by the family of Marvin Gaye. The family of the late soul legend claimed that Williams and Thicke stole elements of their father’s copyrighted song Got to Give it Up for their song Blurred Lines. In the end, a jury awarded the Gaye family $7.4 million dollars.

Copyrights are a big deal. When a book is written, a song produced, or a movie is distributed there are laws designed to protect the writers, artists, and producers. In our internet age in which things can be produced and distributed across the globe with a click, disputes over who created something and who has the rights to this or that get messy. The legalities get even messier when you include individuals and their lawyers from different nations.

I thought of this as I read this morning’s chapter in which God accuses Egypt of spiritual copyright infringement. The Egyptian pharaohs had a long history of claiming themselves to be deities. To claim that you were a god was a common way for ancient rulers to elevate themselves as authorities over their constituents. In his proud claim of divinity, it seems that Pharaoh took credit for creating the Nile. Creator God took note of the copyright infringement and the next couple of chapters stand as His summary judgement.

It’s easy to think of Pharaoh’s pride as a relic of ancient monarchs. I have observed, however, that we live in a scientific, techno-industrial age in which God is summarily dismissed as non-existent. We are asked, instead, to place our faith in scientific theories presented as indisputable truth. In the absence of an almighty God before whom we are to be humble, we are free to feel a sense of creative pride in the babies we make and genetically engineer in our laboratory. We are free to take personal responsibility and/or credit for healing disease, being a well-spring of hope, or bringing salvation in various forms to people, relationships, our environment, city, region, state, nation, planet, or universe.

I often wonder if we haven’t simply engineered a more subtle and spiritually insidious form of Pharaoh’s ancient copyright infringement.

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God’s Editorial Metaphor

Taking a person or issue and layering it in a different metaphorical imagery has long been a way we humorously address subjects and issues. In this editorial cartoon Steve Sack cloaks "trans fats" as one of the Biblical four horsemen of the apocalypse.
Taking a person or issue and layering it in a different metaphorical context has long been a way we humorously address subjects and issues. In this editorial cartoon Steve Sack cloaks “trans fats” as one of the Biblical four horsemen of the apocalypse. In today’s chapter, God uses a similar device in delivering a prophetic editorial against the King of Tyre.

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, take up a lament concerning the king of Tyre and say to him: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“‘You were the seal of perfection,
    full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
You were in Eden,
    the garden of God;'”
Ezekiel 28:11-13a (NIV)

Editorial writers and cartoonists have a very long history of using imagery and irony in the skewering of their political targets. They will often place a person in a different metaphorical context to make a thought provoking point in humorous fashion. No matter which side of the aisle you find yourself, a quick Google search will yield several examples that will tickle your funny bone while your spirit cries a political “Amen!” to the point being delivered. [Note: For the sake of my friends on both sides of the political spectrum I have chosen the benign issue of nutrition for my illustrative example at the top of this post.]

In today’s chapter, God takes up the editorial pen against the King of Tyre. He’s already delivered strong messages against Tyre as a city state (Ezekiel 26), and an even more narrowly targeted message against the merchant class (Ezekiel 27). Now, God whittles His message down to the King of Tyre in an individual rebuke.

God uses irony and imagery, picturing the King of Tyre as Adam in the Garden of Eden before the fall. He figuratively dresses the monarch with the adornments of a high priest. The metaphor is clear. The King of Tyre thinks he’s all that. He believes himself to be human perfection, to be Adam (the first of creation, created sinless in the Garden) and Aaron (the first High Priest, the chosen of God to be the mediator between God and humanity) rolled into one. Apparently, the crown royal of Tyre fashioned himself as a god on Earth as many monarchs did throughout ancient history. God, through Ezekiel, muses on whether the king will feel so divine bowing before those who will kill him.

Today, I’m thinking about the myriad of metaphorical ways in which Creator God layers His messages. I’m thinking about the myriad of metaphorical ways in which we as humans, made in the image of the Creator, can layer our message to individuals, to audiences, and to the world around us. I need and want to continue becoming a better and more effective communicator.

The Natural Ebb and Flow of Conversation

source: bitzcelt via Flickr
source: bitzcelt via Flickr

They were also to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord. They were to do the same in the evening…. 1 Chronicles 23:30 (NIV)

I am continually learning. The further I progress in my journey the more I find that there are certain religious trappings and traditions that have no meaning for me, and so I let them go. I also find layers of meaningful discovery that add color and texture to my relationship with God and my spiritual sojourn.

One of the discoveries that has emerged for me in recent years is actually quite ancient. In fact, I have come to believe that it was woven into the very fabric of life by God in creation. I have discovered the connection between the natural cycles of creation and my ongoing conversations with God.  Just as there is an ebb and flow to the conversation between Wendy and me at different parts of the day, so there is an ebb and flow to my conversations with God. Prayer is not a compartmentalized moment, but a flowing conversation that continues throughout time. I saw an allusion to it in the above verse as it talked about the responsibilities of the Levites in the ancient temple.

In the morning my conversation with God is in gratitude for a new day, never promised, yet full of possibilities. As I wander through my day, the conversation flows into gratitude for daily provision, into contemplation of decisions that need to be made, of the need for strength, patience, endurance, and/or courage in the tasks. As people flow in and out of my day through phone calls, e-mails, and visits, my internal conversation with God flows into requests made on the behalf of others I encounter and my own responsibilities in those relationships. In the evening the continuing conversation of spirit ebbs towards reflection, processing the events of the day, of letting go of things I cannot change, and of gratitude for blessings that I encountered along the way.

That is just one day. I have come to realize that there are similar cycles of conversation and relationship which ebb and flow on a more macro level of seasons of the year, years in the life span, and life span in eternity. Conversely, there are also layers of the conversation on a micro level which ebb and flow with each inhale and exhale of breath.

Today I am thankful for the ways that my relationship with my Creator and Redeemer grows richer and deeper the further I proceed in life’s journey.

The Gift of Music

itunes captureThese are the men David put in charge of the music in the house of the Lord after the ark came to rest there. They ministered with music before the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, until Solomon built the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. They performed their duties according to the regulations laid down for them. 1 Chronicles 6:31-32 (NIV)

I have studied and taught on the subject of creativity for many years. I’m a huge fan of the arts across the entire of breadth of ways people choose to express themselves. God’s Message says that through Jesus all things were made, and that we were made in the image of the creator. To create and express oneself creatively is to be Christ-like.

I have explored a host of creative mediums over the years. I like trying new things when they strike my fancy. Acting, singing, song writing, play writing, fiction writing, poetry, painting, pottery, writing, guitar, bass, piano, and drums just to name a few. I may not be particularly gifted or good at most of them, but I find it interesting how each one works and how one medium of creative expression differs from other mediums.

I do find it interesting, however, that music clearly holds a special place in God’s heart. Today as we read through the family tree of the tribe of Levi, who were responsible for the temple and worship, we find that there is an entire branch of that tribe whose sole responsibility was music in temple worship.

Music has a special way of affecting our thoughts, our moods, and our emotions. When King Saul was having some sort of mental health episode, it was David and his harp that had a medicinal effect. My iTunes and Spotify playlists are largely broken down by the types of music for different situations and moods. I have quiet music for my morning conversations with God. I have hard driving, intense music for working out. I have feel good music for lifting my spirit in the drab hours of the afternoon. I have cool jazz for rainy days. I have baroque music for when I need to concentrate at work or study. I have hours of easy listening music for the background of dinner conversations.

Today, I’m simply thankful for music and appreciative of our Creator for this gift of expression that is such an integral part of both life and worship.

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Original Works Night

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And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. Revelation 14:3 (NIV)

One of the cooler things my local church does is a semi-annual event called Original Works Night (O.W.N.). The idea is rather simple. Creative types are encouraged to bring their original songs, dance, poems, scripts, paintings, photographs and etc. Our church’s auditorium is transformed into a relaxing coffeehouse atmosphere complete with free food and drink. People gather and for a couple of hours to take in the artistic expressions.

O.W.N. happened to be this past Saturday night. While the artists were all over the map in terms of their own personal faith journeys, there were two themes that emerged. First, there those who, upon placing their faith in Jesus and experiencing salvation, felt compelled to write songs to express their gratitude and wonder. Second, like many of the psalms we’ve read together in recent months, there was a lot of creative expression that came out of pain.

Earlier in John’s vision, we encountered angels and creatures who continually utter the same praise over and over and over again. I found it fascinating that in today’s chapter there is a new song brought into heaven’s throne room. As it happens, it is sung only by those 144,000 who had experienced the pain of the great tribulation and were saved from it by the blood of the Lamb.

I am jazzed by being made in the likeness of the Creator of all things. I love to see and hear the creation of others as they express themselves, their thoughts, emotions, and experiences in artistic ways. I love that in a vision of the end times, we find Creator God in heaven’s throne room having His very own Original Works Night.

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