The Truth About Sunset

Last night I saw the sunset blazing orange through the deep gray-blue of the surrounding clouds. Light broke the hazy darkness and scattered its rays over the felted mountain tops and valleys of pine. My own eyes lit up against ruby red and violent gold of the western sky then melted into the purple hue of the eastern sky, which was also visible across the expansive overlook. Color, space, time and place became an invitation to look beyond the expression of beauty into beauty itself.

Time-locked, the moment still exists within a photo for memory, but what I can see of it in a picture is only part of what was actually there. Furthermore, the experience of the moment was still only partial. I was distracted by the light and the shadows from the reality they expressed.

Word Pictures

Just like the mysterious truth about sunset goes beyond the motion and the color, I am finding it more difficult to capture the experience of my life in words. Truth is a way of life. Words may carry some of its expression, but the story they tell is much more powerful at communication.

To transfer from one to another; to form a relationship – that is what it means to communicate. The characteristics of one become the characteristics of another. Incommunicable diseases cannot be caught and so nobody is afraid of them. That which is communicable, however, spreads and grows from one to another becoming part of their experience of life for good or for evil.

I want to communicate the freedom of the kindness of God to the world around me, but this cannot happen until it first becomes part of me, then flows through me. The words that I write are ineffective at capturing my experience – except in so much as they are an expression of my heart’s desire to invite others into this way of life.

The invitation itself is an attempt to translate the desire that now flows from me because it flows from Him. No one wants the connection more than the Father Himself. His own name invokes the idea of relationship in terms that humans can relate to – though they may not fully understand.

Art As Invitation

My desire to introduce others to this way of life must be what drives my creative expression. It is impossible to capture, but greater skill produces greater clarity, so I must develop my craft in order to worship and praise more fully through it.

Furthermore, I must develop perspective so that the focus does not slip from what the art is meant to communicate onto the art itself – or worse, onto the artist.

Every poet and musician and artist, but for Grace, is drawn away from love of the thing he tells to love of the telling till, down in Deep Hell, they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him. For it doesn’t stop at being interested in paint, you know. They sink lower – become interested in their own personalities and then in nothing but their own reputations. – C.S. Lewis “The Great Divorce” p.85

How can I see the invisible reality to which the tangible experience of my life gives witness? The truth about sunset is not the sunset itself, but the invitation it offers into a reality that cannot be seen with the eyes. The truth about writing is not found in the words themselves, but in their invitation to seek something yet beyond.

Does God Keep His Promise?

Psalm 105:16-22 tells the story of Joseph who was promised a position of authority but experienced being “…put in a collar of iron; until what he had said came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him…” (Psalm 105:18).

Why Does the Experience Contradict the Promise?

What should I expect when it comes to me? What if the promises of God become the very area I must be tested in so that I can receive the fullness of what the word contained?

The Psalm tells about Joseph being carried in chains to a faraway country, which appears to be totally opposite the promise that he would rule. Did he need to be taken through the struggles that he encountered before the word was ready to come to fruition? Was he, like Jesus, a man who learned obedience through the things that he suffered?

Abraham received a word and tried to make it come true on his own effort, but this did not lead to the best outcome. Yet, I am more inclined to pursue his approach than to accept the process of death required for a seed to sprout and grow into the promise it contains.

My Story

Today I will be introducing a program I designed to a new audience of students. For me, it is a struggle to approach this later part of the process with the same kind of placid faith that accompanied its start. Now that I am invested, it is more difficult to release control of the outcome. Yet, this is the practice of faith that is being sharpened by this test. If I am going to be faithful with great things, I must be faithful with little things like this – not to overlook the challenges my situation presents but to address them from a framework of discovery and creativity rather than fear and control.

But as this and other key projects are coming to a head, the very practice of wisdom-based living begins to look unclear. Similarly, a friend spoke to me about the murky waters he entered when the sweetness of his own journey had reached its zenith.

It followed almost immediately that he was led into a test where his world was completely outside of his control and he could not do what it took to get it back into shape. The framework of wisdom seems wrong when everything is falling apart – almost like it only works as an add-on to a life that is running smoothly. If the latter case were true, then I wonder if it is really worth anything at all.

The proof, I told him, of its value must be seen through a different lens. The same metrics of success do not apply. But still, the longing remains inside of us to have the business projects pay off well, to see material success follow our efforts. If it does not, I must ask, was I really following the way of wisdom?

Outcomes

This is where I think Solomon got off track. The understanding of his mind was great and he could explain the world according to its function and design. His fame at one time was because of the name of the LORD (1 Kings 10:1), but I wonder if he began to think it came from his own intelligence. Did he start off in one way only to end up walking in another?

Ecclesiastes suggests he had lost the meaning and purpose to a life of wisdom (as he called it), but I think this is only because he abandoned the purity of his relationship with the one from whom it came. Is it possible that the wisdom of God so defies human expectations that material success makes it almost impossible to follow the lead of one whose definitions and outcomes are completely different?

The heroes of faith described in Hebrews did not even receive the thing that was promised (Hebrews 11:39). The outcome was totally different than what anyone expected, yet they were willing to follow through with their part in the story.  Their lives laid the foundation for the better gift of God that I enjoy today (Hebrews 11:40). Am I ready to be like them and follow faithfully into obscurity and even infamy before His name and His glory can shine forth through my life even after I am no longer around?

The Real Question

If this is the kind of story I am going to be part of, I do not know the steps I need to take in order to get where I need to go. The only thing I seem to have is the promise of ability to follow as I am led by the Spirit of God within me. Thus, the question always comes back to one of trust.

Do I have a good Father?

Is He able to fulfill what His word has spoken?

If the answer is yes, then I am free to walk confidently forward on the road to anywhere. If I am unsure that He is good or that He is great, I will hesitate to take the risk of following an uncertain pathway; I will be more inclined to trust in my own understanding and try to bring the word to fulfillment on my own.

If I am to pursue a way of wisdom, it must grow out of the confidence that I have in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not even out of my own ability to act on faith. My primary pursuit must be one of intimacy and encounter. Otherwise, I cannot help but see the world through the eyes of my own understanding.

This is true even with regard to my relationship with God; it is easier for me to define what I think this should look like than it is to actively walk it out. I would rather turn my relationship into a religious practice than stay in a place of mystery and discovery. I want to see where my feet will fall before I let them step forward. However, His presence becomes more tangibly evident when I take a step into the darkness and find I do not stumble and fall. If I never tried, I would never know this. He would remain invisible in spite of my descriptions of what this invisible looked like.

It is not my words or my understanding but my practice of life and the story this writes which most fully communicate the unique expression and work of God in this world through me.

Proverbs 2:1 – Treasure Up

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, (Proverbs 2:1 NKJV)

“Treasure up” is the first phrase that grabs attention in this verse. It is a command to action rather than simply a request to value the commandments that are give. Treasuring up is the art of collecting, storing, safeguarding, and revisiting the things that are valued. Although it may require a great amount of space and effort, there is never too much cost attached to the practice of treasuring up. There is always more room, always more desire.

Furthermore, that which is treasured up and stored can more easily be given away and shared. I think of a king in a palace who not only uses the treasure to make the dwelling place beautiful, but to showcase his splendour to others. Treasuring up does not always mean hoarding. However, those who give the appearance of treasure on the walls without the reality of wealth stored in the vaults will not long maintain their facade. There must be more within than is shown without.

Once the treasure has begun to grow, it continues to diversify and build upon itself for it can be used to forge relationships, invest in opportunities, etc. Treasuring up is an active process that makes the commandments useful, secure within the life of the individual, and valuable for long-term use. They are not simply tossed in a vault and forgotten but actively used to produce value for the one who treasures them. Additionally, the son is to treasure up these things “with you.” It is not simply enough to appreciate the commandments and pass them along to others. They must be personalized, internalized, and kept close. Truth must be lived before it can be taught. The act of treasuring up is wasted if it is only applied to the lives of others.

A contrast is made in this verse between the words and the commandments. It is not the words that are treasured up but the commandments. The commandments are not received but are treasured up. It seems that to the author, a son might come to difficulty with receiving words and treasuring up commandments. Perhaps this is because commandments are easier to receive than to do. The challenge of receiving words may stem from difficulty in relationship between the father and son, or maybe from the fact that words are simply a vessel for ideas.

To receive words requires more than just hearing. Rather, what is heard must be collected, stored, mused over, and mined for the value that they hid within their shell. This value is not always easy to perceive and so the son might tend toward discarding that which he does not understand. Unfortunately wisdom is hidden deep and requires effort to access. Those things that are most difficult to understand might also be the most valuable. Therefore the son is encouraged to receive the words, perhaps even in spite of their appearance. This idea receives further support on the subsequent verses that call the son to action in pursuit of understanding and insight.

Opening the chapter and verse, the words “my son” indicate a relationship of affection, care, and responsibility from the one who gives the words and commandments. The reader of proverbs is not supposed to be an open-minded fool receiving words from every source. Rather, the advice listed here applies when the conditions of a father are present. Otherwise, it would be dangerous to apply the principles above. If the son will hearken to the words of one who has stewardship over his life by receiving the mystery locked in words, and treasuring up those rules that should govern his life, then he will receive the reward promised later on in the chapter. We will explore this reward further in the coming verses.