City and Citadel (Relief part 4)

The word “citadel” takes its root from “city”. The citadel, however serves the purpose of outfitting and armoring an otherwise defenseless place. It’s not enough to have a city. You have to know how it functions, its rhythms and flow. Day and night and night and day. And how to defend it. There’s something about a bustling downtown metropolis just waking up. The mist rising from the manhole covers. The angular light from the sunrise glinting down a deserted alley. The city has a mystique all its own. And I think that’s what Jesus is hinting at when He says in Matthew’s gospel (5:14) “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” Did he just call me a city? Or is He talking just to me? I think He’s levelling His statement at His Body. But taking the symbolic approach to the world with reference to us, we as a race don’t seem to have gotten much further than “the city”. And so, I think it’s a good place to start.

“Now the city was large and great: but the people were few therein, and the houses were not builded.” (Nehemiah 7:4)

It’s referring to Jerusalem after the massive rebuilding project of its walls. Something in which everyone partook. It says in chapter four, verse seventeen, that “every one with one of his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon.” That might sound drastic, but the cohesion of the church as a body of believers–something resembling its founding in the Book of Acts–can be so, so hard to maintain let alone find. I wonder if we really care about the station of the people we see on Sunday morning. They are what makes up the city in which we find ourselves. The closeness of God’s children to one another (and Him) is supposed to be so markedly different than any other group that it’s supposed to be seen. As Jesus says, it “cannot be hid”. But unless we are able to keep out the lies that would tear down walls and tear us apart, we won’t coalesce into something greater than the sum of ourselves.

“He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.” (Proverbs 25:28)

It starts in our own heart and mind. Knowing God there first and in turn sharing Him with others, is the key to the city. And like Jerusalem, the more people do this–building their own houses, as it were–the more we can form up and follow suit.

“And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2)

The whole point of God creating anything is to form an outward reflection of Him as a person. From water to earth to a building and to a city. God’s word is replete with the symbolic–because that’s all that we can do. God is like this. Like that. And He loves you. Don’t forget that. Strip away the symbolic and you have to do away with this plane. Because what else do we have to work with? Without sounding apocalyptical, if there’s nothing on this earth, not you, me, anything that would get someone to look to God and maybe try on belief in Jesus as Savior and friend, where else will you go? There is nowhere else.

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not.” The second verse of the third chapter of John’s first letter. He continues in the next verse: “Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” (emphasis mine)

Maybe this is why there’ll be a “new Heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1)?

Relief/Relife

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Construct (Relief part 3)

I had a dream once where I saw myself sitting in a scaffolding. Like the kind you’d find on the downtown sidewalks of a big city. Only, rather than positioned there on the sidewalk, it was in the middle of a large, empty coliseum. And scattered about me on the planks of the scaffolding were notes and toys and other marginalia from my childhood. A doorway, too. Through which I see the living room of the apartment I lived in as a child.

If you think about it, with the exception of a forest canopy, the hollow of a tree or the caves of the earth, we are all open to the sky. We are uncovered. Buildings and structures (human-sized, of course) are an eminently human thing. Something we need else we’re at the mercy of the weather and the earth. Get enough of these together and you have a city. Following parts one and two, building up from the earth is what we’re getting at. And like most things in the Bible, there’s a double entendre to be had as we are, after accepting Jesus as Savior, the newfound dwelling place for the Spirit of God.

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16)

As an aside, the Colosseum (the official one) would, under the rule of Emperor Titus, occasionally be closed off and used for “water games”. In my mind’s eye is only a crumbling edifice with widely-spaced columns. Certainly not water tight!

Each of us is like a building. I open with my dream because it’s replete with memories and ruminations and impressions that no one would else would get–not even my parents. I had the dream when I was in my late teens. In my dream, I am even younger and dealing with things from before that, looking in on the place I lived as a toddler. Point is, God is growing me up. Growing you. And while all of the inherent details of my dream are highly and exclusively specific, I can guarantee you that God is doing (and has done) the same in you. “Bricks in your wall” as I would call them. Numerous instances and interactions and impressions that have been bricks and mortar and more. Walls. Beams. Streets. You are being constructed by God. And if your eyes are open, you’ll see those lines.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man (or woman) hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

So what are those lines? If you’ve begun (from part 1) from the water to the earth (and its lines in the soil) to where you form a container for God’s Spirit, then you’re on the right track. I don’t really have anything to say to that except keep it. Play it up and exalt God in the midst. We get an incredibly detailed picture of the Temple in the Book of Ezekiel (chapters 40-47). He was ushered onto a mountaintop and into the presence of “a man, whose appearance was like the appearance of brass” (40:3). This “man” proceeds to show him around through six dry and contextless chapters detailing the interior of the Temple. What stands out in sharp relief is its intention. Chapter 46 opens with the “inner court”. It says “in the day of the new moon it shall be opened. And the prince shall enter by the way of the porch…” The word “way” there is also used in the Psalms to describe the word of God. Derek. God sets up shop and takes residence in our heart by His word. His presence through His word.

“Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God…” (Revelation 3:13)

The “symbolic density” increases. You are you. You are the fullest representation of yourself and also that piece of God in the world. But we also are symbolized by building implements. “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house” says Peter (1 Peter 2:5). All of which is meant for one thing: a place for God to be. To dwell, and as Jesus says, to “sup with him and he with me”.

If you consciously dwell on whatever little thing the Holy Spirit intimates to your heart and mind–keep a journal if need be, for just those things–and build upon that foundation, you will begin to see the uniqueness of your station in God. God has taken pains to develop you into the image of His Son inside. The courts without are all you though. Part one speaks of the “Afterimage”, the fleeting and fading glimpse with which God reveals Himself. In German, it’s called nachbild, the suffix of which literally means “build”. We build upon that which God has shown us. It’s one thing to talk all around about the symbolism, but it’s lived out in the actual life.

“And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)

He does now though. It’s your heart.

“And the Lord said unto him, I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication, that thou hast made before me: I have hallowed this house, which thou has built, to put my name there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually.” (1 Kings 9:3)

His heart in yours.

Till (Relief part 2)

“And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.” (Genesis 1:9)

Gathered together into one place…

God did that when he made us. Though we are indeed more water than anything, there’ll come a time (if there hasn’t already) where you begin to coalesce into a fuller version of yourself. Into something resembling a person. It’s different for everyone. It’s so cool to see a little person who you can tell at a young age is already comfortable in their own skin. Who knows how God will use them? They seem to be on the right track out of the gate and that’s awesome. Others take their good sweet time. Waiting on God knows what to become something that only God knows. As He made them, it’s Him to whom they’re living and to whom they’ll answer. Praise God. I find that the longer one takes to coalesce, the more potential opposition will they face. If you’re going through that, here’s a secret: Be grateful that God formed you–that He made you. Did you know you can never unravel that realization? It’s something you can reverse engineer back to the source. It’ll never grow stale.

“Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: Thou settlest the furrows thereof: Thou makest it soft with showers: Thou blessest the springing thereof.” (Psalm 65:10)

Jesus uses the earth, i.e. farmland in many of his parables. Sitting on the seaside, no less, He begins (in Matthew, chapter 13:3-23) with the parable of the sower. He cognates (yes) the believer with “good ground”. Several other character types does He implicate in this first parable. He that received the “seed by the way side” out of whose heart the devil “catcheth away” the word. Don’t let it go. One receives it into “stony places”. This person doesn’t allow the Word of God (the seed, in this case) to take root in their heart and mind. There’s the hearer who is overgrown with weeds, or “thorns”. Too many distractions prevent God’s word from sprouting. Then you have the good ground and the high yield that’s bound to happen out of the heart of the believer who, themselves, are “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17) and also “rooted and built up in Him” (Colossians 2:7). Thing is, there are several levels of metaphor at work here in the Bible. And the deeper one presses in to God, it almost as if they transcend one symbol after another until they become as like Jesus as humanly possible. But first, the earth.

“The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows.” (Psalm 129:3)

Suffering. Pain. Hardship. “The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10) says God to Cain. Jesus continues in Matthew 13 with three more parables that, how can I say this, increase in symbolic density. “The kingdom of heaven”, He says, “is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field.” (verse 24) This is a bit more serious because we’re now dealing with more than one type of person in the field. He says “while men slept, His enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat”. Okay, there are people (like weeds) who don’t belong in church. Love them and pray them wherever God wants them to be. The third parable has to do with mustard seed. To where the entirety of the kingdom is present in “the least of all seeds” (verse 32). He then sews it up with the fourth. Exactly one verse in which “leaven” or yeast, is distributed evenly among “three measures of meal” (verse 33). One verse for which we get no more elucidation.

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Genesis 3:19)

It’s interesting how in 1 Kings, when Elijah calls Elisha to come and follow him–in much the same way Christ called His disciples–Elisha asks that he be allowed to say goodbye to his family. Elijah allows it and afterwards, Elisha catches up with him and, it says, “ministered unto him.” (1 Kings 19:19-21) Contrast this with the two people in Luke’s gospel who, after being called by Jesus, want to sever ties with their families. One says “suffer me first to go and bury my father.” To which Jesus replies “let the dead bury their dead” (9:59-60) The second says he wants to come but, like Elisha, wants to say goodbye. Jesus responds to him: “No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (9:61-62) It would seem things have changed between the testaments. Jesus ushered in the things of the interior and while Elisha worked out what he did with his family, the strictness of the call of God takes precedence over everything and everyone. And every call centers around “ministering to God.” In whatever way you’re formed.

The metaphor of growing and planting is just about the best way to describe the life of faith before the Lord. When you take time and come into sync with God and His plan for your (eventual) growth and harvest, you no doubt will reap the rewards.

“While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22)

Afterimage (Relief part 1)

“Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him:” (Colossians 3:9-10)

Sometimes an afterimage is all we have to go on. We see something about God and then close our eyes (for whatever reason, sleep, etc.). It doesn’t take long for the image to fade and darkness envelop. Thing is, God is always looking at us from every angle and He likes what He sees. The trick is, learning to live in that light. The more we do, the more God builds us into who He thought we should be. And believe me, if you have some idea as to who you’d like to be, don’t automatically think it’s not God. Take any and every notion as to who you think you’re becoming (or are, or would like to) and take it to God. When Paul says above to “lie not one to another”, a broad way of looking at that is to see that if we’re not becoming who we are in God, qualified, of course, with Paul’s exhortation to be “renewed in knowledge after the image of Him”, then we’ll be lying. Plain. And simple.

“The light of the king’s countenance is life; and his favour is as a cloud of the latter rain.” (Proverbs 16:15)

I believe we are looking at God everywhere we go and with everyone and thing we encounter. And Jesus is the perfect example of “God in human form”. When Paul says that we are “renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created [us]”, the only way we’ll grow into that “image”, of whom God sees when he looks at us, is to look at Him. And if the first sentence of this paragraph is indeed true (I don’t mean to be circular or inscrutable here), then there is a disconnect somewhere if we don’t know who we are.

“For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.” (1 Peter 3:12)

Them that do evil…

Lying is evil. Paul sews up his list of “deeds” with lying. His list includes things that look for all intents and purposes like they’d be worse. Things like “fornication”, “malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth”. (see 3:5-8) All these things, when practiced by a Christian, are lying. It’s not who we are. We are “renewed in knowledge” he says. In pulling this apart, we see that Paul is trying to get us to see that we are this new thing and that if we choose not to build upon it, we’ll be lying. And God cannot shine on us if we’re not living from the invisible qualities of the heart that are in line with Jesus. Paul suffered, as did Jesus, to get believers to see the simplicity that Jesus sought to bring into the world. So simple and counterintuitive to the dead way of thinking of “the old man”, is “the mind of Christ” that Jesus had to die to prove His point.

“As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.” (Proverbs 27:19)

This feels watery. Disjoint. But that’s a good place to start.

“And the earth was without form, and void: and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Genesis 1:2-3)

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