Chapter Ten: The Opposing Cross

The Opposing Cross

                And now we come to the cross.  Nowhere is there a greater depiction, or symbol, of the law of opposites than at the cross, and in the cross.  Its very name denotes its nature.  Any time something is crossed, two opposing directions intersect.  We see it in crossword puzzles, we encounter it at crossroads, and we hear it in cross examinations; two directions approach and cross each another.  And with the crossing, there is a point of intersection.  And at this point, there is a completion…a wholeness…a balance…in that both directions, for just a moment,are contained within this one point.  With that thought and from that vantage point, let us now approach The Cross.  Continue reading “Chapter Ten: The Opposing Cross”

The Accentuation of Grace

The Accentuation of Grace

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.”  Titus 2:11

Snow in the south is like rain in the desert.  It’s prayed for, rejoiced over, and trampled through.  Its occurrences are rare, so when it does arrive, it is welcomed with squeals of delight and thunderous rounds of applause.  This past Friday, it received a standing…and sliding…ovation!

There’s something magnetic about snow.  Somewhere, in its molecular makeup, there’s a very powerful, people-pulling electron that makes one grab coats, boots, and gloves and run out into the midst of it.  No matter how old I get, when snow starts to fall, so too does my attraction to the indoors.  With each falling flake, I’m magnetized and hypnotized.  The next thing I know, I’ve been pulled outside and the polarized snowflakes are wreaking havoc on my molecular composition!

That’s what happened to me this past Friday.  The snow was falling so beautifully that I just had to go outside.  I walked to the creek, enjoying the snow as it fell within the woods.  As I looked about, I couldn’t help but notice the way the snow outlined the trees…each tree…every tree.  My eyes moved from one to another until I realized I was no longer looking at the woods, but through the woods!  And, my visibility didn’t stop there.  As far as my eyes could see, not only were shapes outlined, but so too were their details, bringing clarity and closeness to that which otherwise would have seemed far away.  Then I wondered…if this is true for snow, is it also true for grace?

If you’ve read a couple of my earlier posts, namely Snowflakes of Grace and Dirty Grace?, you know that I like to compare snow and grace  There’s just such an apparent correlation between the two that it’s hard for me to see the one without thinking of the other.  So on this day, when I was looking at the snow, I was thinking about its counterpart, grace.  And so I wondered, is there a connection between the visibility snow brings to trees and the visibility grace brings to lives?  Does grace etch a person’s life the way snow etches a tree’s branches?  Does grace impact a group the way snow impacts a woods, reducing the assemblage of many to an assortment of individuals?  Does grace, like snow, draw our vision out further and further until we see that which was once unnoticed?  And as I asked, the answers fell with the snow…and within the snow.  And that’s when I saw it:  the accentuation of grace.

I must say, I was not expecting to receive such a lesson.  Snow-lined trees had never appeared before as tutors of God’s word, but on this day that’s just what they were.  And because of God’s grace, I had ears to hear…or, more precisely, eyes to hear.  And through my eyes, God spoke gracefully, glisteningly, and gloriously.  Once again, He showed me truths through His snowflakes of grace.  As I attempt to share these truths with you, please have your visualization glasses handy…they may enhance your hearing!

Remember how I said the snow on the trees caused them to stand out so that I was able to see further?  That simple tracing of white caused each tree to stand apart from the others so that my eye traveled from one to another.   Those that, in their natural coloring, would have blended in with their wooded surroundings, now stood out as if highlighted by nature’s pen. Well, in much the same way, that’s what grace does to us.  Just as snow defines a tree, grace defines us.  Grace has a way of collecting in our crevices, of smoothing over our rough surfaces, and of highlighting our structures.  The presence of grace also causes us to stand out from others as our individuality is illuminated so that we’re no longer seen as a part of the whole, but now we’re seen apart from the whole.

So just how does this grace fall upon us?  How do we become people whose lives are etched with its snow-like purity?  It begins when we are drawn to God; this pulling is nothing short of God giving us that which we do not deserve (the definition of grace).  Paul records this snowfall in Ephesians 2:8.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast.”  The first dusting of grace fell upon us when God called us to become His children through faith in Him.  The second sprinkling came when we received “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” (Eph. 1:7).  The third flurry fell when we were justified freely by His grace.”  (Romans 3:24).  Then, because we have a Heavenly Father who loves to shower us with grace, He allows us to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Hebrews 4:16).

With such an outpouring of grace, how can we not be demarked and defined?  How can we not stand out among and within the forest of humanity?  What snow does for trees, grace does for people.  The trouble, however, lies in the eyes; in the way that we look with them…and the way that we hear with them.  It’s one thing to notice snow on a tree…it’s quite another to notice grace on a person. Wouldn’t it be nice if, as our eyes scanned across the people we encounter every day, we saw them bedecked in grace?  What if we saw all that God covered rather than all that nature creased?  What if we saw the person instead of the party, the kid instead of the crowd?  What…if…we…saw…grace?  Would it change the way we greeted others, or treated others?  Would it change the distance of our vision…and the distinctness of our vision?  Would we see beyond what lies before and before what lies beyond?  And, if we saw such grace, how much more would we hear?  Instead of letting our eyes give voice to the world, would our eyes now give voice to the Creator?  Would we hear Him every time we saw them?  Here’s what I think:  what’s true in the woods is also true in the woulds.

Oh, that we would allow God’s grace to fall upon us, and to cover us, and to defines us.  Oh, that we would look upon others the way God looks upon us, as recipients of His robes of righteousness.  Oh, that we would see the accentuation of grace on mankind as clearly as we see the delineation of snow on maples.  Oh, that we would see every individual conspicuously outlined by God’s snowfall of grace.  And oh, that we would hear God’s gentle reminder…“for by grace you have been saved…and that not of yourselves…it is a gift from Me.”

A quiet snowfall, a quick walk, a quaint woods, a quaking lesson.  I hope you were able to see it with me…and to hear it with me.  Now, with God’s grace, I hope you will try to walk it with me.  We’ll need grace upon grace…but we have access to a never ending supply at the throne of grace.  Let’s plan on meeting there!

The Marks of Humanity

The Marks of Humanity

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees;[a] for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  I Samuel 16:7

 So many lessons can be extracted from God’s creation.  It’s as if God has left devotionals all around for those who prefer pictures to pages, nature to notebooks.   So, when I noticed the burnt marks on the beech tree close to where I was sitting, I took a little time to see what lesson God had written there; surely there was a natural truth that, once uncovered, would be found to have spiritual roots as well. 

 I first thought how evident this mark was; clearly anyone who saw this tree would know that it had once been way too close to a fire.  (Or, since trees can’t move, perhaps it’s more accurate to say the fire was too close to the tree!)  Since the tree was on our property, I remembered the fire that had broken out years ago which, no doubt, had brushed up against this tree.  Truth be told, I had forgotten about the fire.  It had occurred at least ten years ago.  I had been burning leaves on the hillside, giving in to my compulsively cleanly nature to, well, clean up nature, when the fire reminded me that it too has a compulsive nature.  Before I knew it, the fire had jumped my well laid out (though unsecured) perimeter and the whole hillside was lit up.  We did get the fire out and, until the day I saw the scarred tree, I thought no damage had been done.   But there stood that tree.  That blackened tree. That, “Do You Remember What You Did To Me?” tree.   And yes, I did remember.

As I looked at this tree, I felt a kinship to it.  I too felt marked; I too felt that what was most evident about me was what was outwardly seen.  The verse God brought to mind was I Samuel 16:7 which says, “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  I immediately thanked God for His ability, and willingness, to look beyond the outward appearance and into the heart.  I wondered how often I looked at others the way in which I looked at this tree, too quick to see what was marred yet failing to look deeper, failing to realize that the marks were not simply signs of past struggles but also reminders of continued healing.  Of all the trees in the woods, the one that caught my eye was the one with the scarred trunk.  Scars, by their blemished nature, attract attention.  And, unfortunately, it’s not the kind of attention we desire.  We don’t like the imperfect.  We like the pretty; we like the undamaged; we like the unmarked.  We want to see it in others, but even more we want to see it in ourselves.  And, when wounds occur and scars emerge, we do our best to cover them up.  But that’s not what Jesus did. 

Jesus had scars.  I don’t know about the pre-risen Jesus, but the post-risen Savior had scars.  I know because John records it in his gospel.  In John 20:24-29, we read about Thomas’ encounter with his risen Lord.  Thomas missed Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples and, upon hearing his friends speak of Jesus’ resurrection, he just couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  He needed to see, no…he needed to touch.  For Thomas to truly believe that this “person” his friends had seen was truly Jesus, he needed to see and to touch Jesus’ scars.  No one could have those scars but Jesus.  Thomas needed to look at the outward appearance; for him, the scars were necessary; for him, they were the identifying marks of his Lord; for him, they were proof of life everlasting.  And so it was that Jesus appeared again and, to Thomas’ amazement, He presented the scars that could be seen and the marks that could be touched.

Just think about the presence of these scars.  Jesus, who had just overcome death, defeated Satan, and ascended to His Father returned again to earth in a body that was completely new.  Now glorified, He appeared to His disciples and to many others in flesh that could pass through walls, in flesh that was unrecognizable until He provided the insight, yet in flesh that bore scars.  Surely He could have returned to earth in an unblemished body.  Surely the spotless Lamb of God could have donned flesh that was as outwardly perfect as the One it contained.  But He didn’t, and for Thomas it was the difference between beseeching and believing, between paralysis and purpose, between the earthly and the eternal.  For Thomas, Jesus allowed the outward scars to be visible so that the inward healing could be seen, “for man looks at the outward appearance but the LORD looks at the heart”.  For Thomas, Jesus allowed His scars to become a testimony of His humanity, a validation that He was the One who became flesh and walked beside him.  It wasn’t a dream, it was real; the lessons weren’t over, they had just begun.

If we truly want to be more like Christ, which is the purpose of each new day, then we too need to learn the value of scars.  We too need to allow our scars to be visible just as Jesus’ were because the truth, in nature and in man, is that scars draw others to us.  Scars show our humanity, our encounters with struggles and our susceptibility to sin; scars show that we too can get too close to a flame.  But, because of grace, God’s spiritual Neosporin, our wounds can heal and, if we’re willing, can become marks God uses to draw others to Himself.  We are all like Thomas, wanting to see the humanity along with the holiness.  So let’s be careful when looking at the outward appearance of others; let’s take time to look more closely, more deeply, more Jesus-ly, but let’s also be careful to not falsely present ourselves to others by covering up our scars.  In nature scars are evident, on the Son of Man they were plainly seen; we would be wise to allow ours to show as well.