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Monday, December 5, 2016

Wearing White

From my elementary years, my parents worked as wedding photographers on the side of their day jobs. They were pretty good. Maybe it could have been their full time gig, but my dad has a big heart and a small understanding of business. As a result, their name was associated with kindness and price breaks in the wedding world. Word of mouth was their best marketing, and there were many springs and summers where I never saw them on the weekends except in the nighttime hours between rehearsal dinners and weddings.
As a consequence of this interesting life, my brothers and I were exposed early to the myriad controversies surrounding wedding traditions. Some traditions didn't make any sense.

  • Why did the bride have to have something old, new, borrowed, and blue?
  • What's the point of a ring bearer when he doesn't usually bear the ring?
  • Why does the groom not walk down the aisle? 
  • Why does no one give the groom away?

But some traditions, I never questioned.
Notably, the white dress. Why does almost every bride wear white?
That was obvious. 
Because she's supposed to be a picture of purity.  

Growing up in a highly legalistic church tradition which idolized virginity, I remember my attitude about white wedding dresses. In a culture of legalism, I learned to look disdainfully at brides who wore white dresses even though they'd been married before, co-habitated, or had a reputation for promiscuity. It seemed like lying. It felt like they were stealing a symbol meant for pure people (namely, me) and using it to pretend to be something they aren't. After all, I was working hard for my purity, and I didn't like other people getting the prize without the pain.

I'm not proud of what I used to believe. In my arrogance, I saw my virginity as a mark of purity that made me more acceptable to God. I thought that if I remained sexually pure, I would have the blessing of God, and He would love me more. 
And at the end of the day, I wanted so much to be loved.
Of course that way of living comes with a high price. You've got to be perfect. Everything is at stake.

I didn't know back then that I had the whole thing upside down. 
I was already impure, virginity notwithstanding.
But I was already loved too. More than I knew. 

In 22 days, I get to marry my best friend. 
One of the things I know now is that I don't deserve to wear a white wedding dress as a symbol of my purity, because I am not pure on my own. An accurate depiction of me before Jesus would be to walk down the aisle in filthy rags, because that's what my righteousness was before I was in Christ. 
The truth is though, that that isn't who I am anymore in Christ, and only through Christ, not because I've earned the right to some special status. 
For me, the white dress doesn't represent my purity anymore, it represents the purity of Jesus which was given to me at the cost of his blood. 
A purity that can't be marred no matter what happens. 
A purity that I don't have to protect, but one that motivates me to love Him from a grateful heart. 

1 Corinthians 6:11
"...and such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Light Applied

Of the many rich metaphors of Scripture, I love best the picture of light and darkness that asserts itself so often as to nearly reach theme status. From the first page of Genesis when God creates light to the final pages of the story when the nations walk in the light of the lamb, our innate longing for light is affirmed by a God who has every intention of satisfying it.

Maybe it's a quirk of personality, or a season I'm in, but I find myself often overwhelmed by the darkness. I feel suffocated by it, and it drags me into despair and depression. I am so prone to forget the current and the coming light of the gospel and get lost in hopeless apathy. But in a recent rereading of 2 Corinthians 4, I found a few grace-fully lit candles to guide me when I feel the darkness pressing in.

2 Corinthians 4:6For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 
1. Dependence: For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts... Note the active verb has a subject. God. I am often not able to "find" the light. He finds me. And only He can be the source of all the Light I long for. The verse hearkens back to the Genesis act of creating light from nothing. God alone can do this.

2. Identityhas shone in our hearts... Look at the verb again. It's past tense, like so much of the grace language of the New Testament. He has already shone in my heart to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God. This is who I am now. I already have this light, even when I can't feel it or see it. It's real, and it's already mine.

3. Hopeto give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God... The light is here defined as "the knowledge of the glory of God." The reality is that this is not the end of the story. What is broken (the Image of God) will be restored. What is dark will be made light. This is the glory of God made visible once and for all.

4. Relationshipin the face of Jesus Christ. The light is found in the face of Jesus. Not the tablet of the Law or the pseudo-goodness of my once-dark heart, but in the living face of Love Incarnate. Do I feel punished by the darkness? I can always turn to Jesus, and in knowing Him more, I am healed by the eyeball-scorching light which reverses the blindness of my sin and guides me. In being reconciled to Jesus, I am now given light to see the Father whom I could never have hoped to see otherwise.

Though I often think I sit in darkness, there is hope for me. And for you too.

Isaiah 9:2 fulfilled in Matthew 4:16
"...the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."

Monday, January 25, 2016

Same Rain

The house does not fall, but it is not exempt from the storm.

The parable of the two houses (Matthew 7) usually receives attention for the promise. Jesus says that if we live according to His Words, we will be like a wise builder who builds on a strong foundation, namely Himself, the Rock. One of my favorite songs in first grade Sunday school consisted of a repetition of the story that ended with hand motions highlighting the drama, "...and the house on the sand went SPLAT!"

This results-orientation glosses over an important element.

"And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house..."

It's true that it doesn't fall. It's true that the Rock holds it up. But the wind still shakes it and the floods still threaten and the house is beaten with the same storm that wracks the house on the sand.
The wording in the passage is identical for both houses. Not a drop of rain omitted.

Somewhere along the way, Christians picked up the idea that we would experience different rain than the houses built on the sand. Yes, Jesus said we would deal with suffering, but certainly it wouldn't be mental illness or sexual confusion or divorce or child abuse or incarceration. Maybe we expected that we would be persecuted for our faith or have a financial strain here and there, but there are some things (you know....the truly awful things) for which we think we'll get a pass.

We're Christians, after all.

But that's not the picture that we get from Matthew 7.

If your rain looks remarkably like the rain falling next door, do not despair. Your source of hope is not the difference in weather, but the Rock on which your life is built.

Let it rain.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Below the Stars

The sky enchants me. I love orange sunrises and watercolor sunsets, moody clouds and sapphire blues, sparkling stars and midnight cloaks. In the ever-changing canvas of the sky, I read the extravagant language of color and texture flung wide to the watching world, a message sent to a world peopled for praise. I AM here. 

How we need the reminder to look up.

I was driving through Staunton last night, near the rural farmlands of Virginia where the lack of city sky glow allows the stars a chance to sing a little louder. The cloudless night gifted me a perfect view of Orion, his glittering sword hanging from his belt and his arm raised in anticipated victory in the hunt. I thought about how the stars look to me and about the pictures we've made from them in an effort to classify, mythologize, and understand the infinite. And then I wondered how God sees the stars without the limitations of a sub-celestial perspective.

For a moment in the car as I gazed on the expanse above me, I felt a great distance from Him as lightyears of space and the eons of time pushed me from the Holy One who placed the stars on purpose in their orbits and can see them with perfect knowledge as if looking down on them from His exalted place.

But even this is not accurate. The picture I formed ignores His even greater transcendency. Even the way I think of Him includes false limitations, because He isn't merely "above the stars" as my locational perspective tends to place Him, as if He is part of the universe instead of the Source. He is incomprehensibly outside of that realm altogether. This chilled me even more, and I felt the naked ignorance of my humanity as if I was lost on a floating asteroid.

God, where are you? 

The answer was a quiet whisper to my soul. Not audible. Not visionary.
Just the reminder of who He is and the reconciliatory point of the story from the beginning.

Emmanuel. God is with us. 

When Jesus looked into the night sky, He saw the same stars that I can see. He walked under the same dying sun and lived based on a Jewish calendar using the phases of the same moon I marvel at. He is God With Us. He limited Himself to my perspective and walked below the stars to know and feel my distance from the Father. Now, knowing my limitations and being fully aware of my inaccuracies, He does not correct them immediately. He does not reprimand me for my inability to lift myself to interstellar vision. He did the reconciling by coming and living and dying for me. He rose with orange sunrises and fell asleep with watercolor sunsets on the same planet where I do my rising and falling and breaking and healing. We get to be together.

How can I not trust Him? He sees Orion, like I do. But He can love me perfectly because He also sees the whole universe like the Father. This is the kind of with us I need so much.