Tag Archives: Design

Reason, Creativity & Metaphor

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
Isaiah 11:1-2 (NIV)

The language of God is metaphor. Throughout God’s Message He speaks through word pictures: poetic word pictures, word pictures in parables, typology, foreshadowing, metaphorical names, dreams, visions, and prophecies. God is a creative artist. God is the Creator Artist. The intricate, mathematical design of all creation is balanced by the Creator’s artistic flair in communication and story telling. We are made in God’s image. Left brain and right brain. Reason and creativity.

I have found that many people get perplexed and confused when approaching the writings of the ancient Hebrew prophets. Reading the prophets can be a head scratcher. There is no doubt. This is especially true considering that we are reading an English translation of the original Hebrew text. The original Hebrew is much like the balanced reason and creativity of Creation. It can be very left-brained in its intricate (even mathematical) poetic structure and very right-brained in its metaphorical content.

This morning’s chapter begins with a Messianic prophecy. If you delve into the word pictures, you begin to unlock the full meaning.

Jesse was the father of King David. King David was told by God that his throne would be established forever (e.g. the Messiah would come from the line of David). During the time of Isaiah’s writing, the line of David was still sitting on the throne of Judah in Jerusalem. Alive and bearing generational fruit. But, within a couple of hundred years of the writing the monarchy of Judah would be cut-off by a series of occupational empires (Babylonian, Persian, Roman). There would be no king in Jerusalem. The family tree of Jesse’s royal lineage would become a lifeless stump.

From that dead, life-less stump comes a shoot, that will develop into a branch which will bear fruit. Life will spring out of the seemingly dead line of Jesse. That’s why Matthew and Luke are both careful to record the family tree of Jesus in the telling of the Jesus story. Jesus was a descendent of Jesse, born in the town of David, the town of Bethlehem.

And what does Isaiah’s prophecy communicate about this new shoot of life?

Spirit.
Spirit.
Spirit.
Spirit.

Consider Jesus’ own words:

“No one can enter the Kingdom of God unless they are born of both water and spirit.”

“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

“God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in Spirit and truth.”

“The Spirit gives life. The flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of Spirit and life.”

Jesus even took this same word picture of trunk, branch and fruit and passed it on to His followers (see John 15). How cool is that to see the manifestation of the word picture the Creator planted in the design of creation: Trunk give birth to branch which bears fruit that falls to Earth and “dies” and is buried, which then gives birth of Life to a new tree which develops branches and bears fruit. God’s intricate, creative design speaks God’s language: metaphor.

This morning I’m inspired thinking about the depth and layers of meaning in Isaiah’s prophetic writing. There were layers of meaning Isaiah himself could not possibly comprehend as he wrote the verses 700 years before the “Shoot of Jesse” would spring to Life. I am thinking about design and creativity. Words and word pictures. Spirit and Life. I’m praying that I perpetuate the word picture; praying that Spirit and Life is bearing fruit in and through me today.

 

Outside the Box

NebuchadnezzarI will strengthen the arms of the king of Babylon and put my sword in his hand, but I will break the arms of Pharaoh, and he will groan before him like a mortally wounded man. Ezekiel 30:24 (NIV)

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was not a particularly nice guy. He was proud and given to delusions and radical decisions. Yet, for all of this God was clearly at work in and through the gentile ruler. In the book of Daniel we see God working to teach Nebuchadnezzar humility. In Ezekiel’s prophesies there is clear attribution given to Neb being appointed to accomplish God’s plan.

This morning of Holy Week I am reminded that Jesus’ mission did not look like people expected. Instead of conquering warrior, God’s Son became suffering servant. I am simply reminded this morning that God does not always work inside the box of our prescriptive designs. In fact, God seems to often work outside the box of our expectations. At some point, I’d think we would stop being surprised by this.

To-morrow, and To-morrow, and To-morrow

Patrick Stewart as Macbeth.
Patrick Stewart as Macbeth.

When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 2 Samuel 7:12-13 (NIV)

  • When I was five I intended to grow up and be an astronaut.
  • When I was seven I intended to grow up and become President of the United States.
  • When I was ten I intended to go into the navy and become a naval aviator.
  • When I was thirteen I intended to become a lawyer and politician.
  • When I was sixteen I intended to become a great evangelist like Billy Graham.

It was never  my intention to live in Pella, Iowa. It was never my intention to spend twenty years in the customer research and quality assessment business or to be a business owner. It was never my intention to be divorced and remarried.

As I look back on my life’s journey I find that there are many things I intended to do that were clearly not part of God’s plan for me. David wanted desperately to build a temple for God, but that was not God’s intention. God intended for David to become the warrior leader who would establish the throne and prepare the way for his son to build the temple. There are many things in my life I never envisioned which I now believe God both knew and ordained for me.

Just last week Wendy and I were discussing a man we have observed who is aggressively striving after his own intentions, who appears to have failed miserably on many counts, and also appears to be in denial regarding it all. Wendy remarked that the man reminded her of Macbeth who destroyed his life intending to fulfill what he believed was his prophesied path. But, that’s one of the things I love about following God: He eventually redeems even our foolish wanderings and failures for His purposes.

Today, I am reminded to be discerning between my intentions and God’s designs. I desire to lean into the plan God has for me and follow the path laid before me. I have no time to waste blazing trails that lead, at best, to nowhere or, at worst, to tragic ends. I don’t want to end up thinking along the same lines as Macbeth who concluded at the end of his tragic strivings:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Chapter-a-Day Hosea 9

Coffee & Newspaper
(Photo credit: dongga BS)

My God will reject the people of Israel
    because they will not listen or obey.
They will be wanderers,
    homeless among the nations.
Hosea 9:17 (NLT)

My morning routine is pretty well set. I get out of bed. I stagger to the front door and get our copy of The Wall Street Journal out of the mail slot. I go to the kitchen to make a big cup of caffeinated coffee and a small pot of decaf. Then I peruse the headlines while I wait for the coffee. When the coffee is finished I head upstairs to my office to have my quiet time and write this post.

How interesting that one of the banner headlines this morning was the controversy surrounding the support of Jerusalem as the capitol city of Israel. In the chapter this morning, Hosea’s prophecy was that God’s punishment for Israel’s idolatry was that they would be “wanderers, homeless among the nations.” They were. For well over two thousand years, their identity was as a scattered nation and peoples.

I hear arguments back and forth and on different sides regarding how a follower of Jesus should politically stand towards modern day Israel. This is not a forum for political rhetoric. I only know that I find it fascinating that these ancient prophetic texts from God’s Message are linked to today’s headlines. It is a reminder to me of what I’ve come to firmly believe: that God is working out a grand plan of His eternal design. Those who follow understand that, even in a small but significant way, we are a part of that plan.

I’m excited to watch it unfold as I quietly live out God’s plan for me; As I go through my morning routine, read the headlines, and walk through God’s Message a chapter-a-day.

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 1

“If the offering is a Whole-Burnt-Offering from the herd, present a male without a defect at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting that it may be accepted by God. Leviticus 1:3 (MSG)

My grandfather was a court bailiff and as a child I spent my spring break with him at the courthouse. I still remember the long bookshelves, stacked floor to ceiling with an important set of leather bound books entitled “Code of Iowa.” It was the “book of law” for the state of Iowa. Call it the rule book for our society. It prescribes the rules by which we live together and on which our judicial system judges those who break the rules.

Leviticus is not an inspirational book of song lyrics (like Psalms). It is not a devotional book of wise sayings (like Proverbs). It is not a biographical story (like Matthew). Leviticus is an ancient book of law. Like the Code of Iowa sitting on the county courthouse shelf, Leviticus is the “Code of (ancient) Israel.”

We also have to remember the time and historical circumstance in which the book of Leviticus was given. A couple of million Israelites had just left slavery in Egypt. An entire nation with their flocks and herds now found themselves wandering in the desert together. There was no system of government. There wasn’t an agreed upon set of rules. It was a law-less nomadic society; Imagine the entire population of the state of Iowa (complete with farmers taking their livestock) grabbing everything they could carry and making their way on foot toward Canada [Canadians will appreciate that I made them “the promised land” in this metaphor]. Leviticus was God’s attempt to provide some basic rules for life and worship to an ancient people whose daily life we can scarcely imagine in a time and culture very different from our own.

Besides being mindful of the historical context, there are two things I always try to keep in mind while wading through the Code of (ancient) Israel. First, the common link we have to that people is our sin nature. We all blow it and fall short of God’s holy perfection. The sacrificial system prescribed by Leviticus is an initial attempt in history to deal with the core spiritual problem: man is sinful, separated from God, and therefore stands condemned to die.

Second, God is a God of metaphor, so the Code of worship and conduct prescribed in Leviticus is going to provide word pictures and foreshadowing to the larger story God is authoring. For example, the first sacrificial offering prescribed is a “male without defect.” Picture Jesus, God’s own Son, a male without defect, dying on the cross. Two thousand years before Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross, God was trying to give people a word picture of the ultimate plan in the sacrifices He prescribed.

Today, I’m mindful of an epic story of grand design which is still being authored, of which I am a part. And, I’m thankful for a God of detail who has a master plan, even though my finite mind can’t completely comprehend it.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and rachael voorhees