Our True Value Comes Only After a Restoration!

This week we begin our yearly journey to the Christ child of Christmas.  Our theme comes from the Psalms, which is new for me so it promises to be a fresh and challenging journey.

Today our focus is on Psalm 80 where the theme of restoration is clearly developed in verses 3, 7 and 19.  Notice the repetition and intensification:
Verse 3:  “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”
Verse 7:  “Restore us, O God of hosts.”

Verse 19:  “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts.”

Each “Restore us” is the imperative of a Hebrew verb meaning to turn or return.  Here the sense is a request that God “return us” or “bring us back” or “refresh us.”  The meaning of the psalmist is clearly that only God can restore Israel to what God originally fashioned Israel to be and only God can restore us as well.

If you have ever seen a God-shaped restoration or perhaps even been on the receiving end of one, then you know how incredible it can be.  While doing research for this series, I came across the true story of a long-neglected painting hanging in Venice’s San Salvador church. 

Identified as a Renaissance masterpiece by Vittore Carpaccio, the 16th century Italian painter, the dirt-encrusted Supper at Emmaus, depicting the resurrected Christ meeting two apostles in a country inn, was thought to be a poor copy of a 15th-century work.  Its discovery as a Carpaccio, worth an estimated $50 million, follows the restoration of the canvas by the Save Venice campaign.

It was initially passed over by Save Venice because it was too dreary, but a closer inspection of the work a few years ago by two top U.S. and Italian restorers convinced Save Venice to fund the project.  After the removal of three layers of over-painting what emerged was a sumptuously colored, finely detailed painting.  The date 1513 at the lower right, along with stylistic and historical clues, led to its identification to Carpaccio.

What can be said of paintings can also be said of human beings:  our true value comes out only after a restoration!  This year as you begin your journey to Bethlehem, pray this simple prayer, “Restore me, O God!”  Restore to each of us this year, O God, the hope of the ages, the peace of the heavens, the joy of our salvation and the love for a lifetime.

Thoughts on My Way to Epidural Ecstasy

*WARNING: I begin this writing with a warning label.  You are about to enter the philosophical and theological world of a man dazed by several weeks of lingering back pain, but determined to have something to say, so enter this essay ONLY at risk of thinking deep thoughts.  I just hope it does not bring you too much pain! 🙂

With time on my hands and a pain in my leg (that emanates from my back and sprays fireworks down to the top of my foot, stopping periodically at my knee for a conference call with the pain demon), I find myself drawn to an article I read several months ago.  I had stored it in my “writing ideas” folder and while waiting on a call from a doctor to tell me he would be glad to stick a few needles in my back and smile on the way to the bank, while I hopefully smile on my way to epidural ecstasy!

The article comes from David Brooks, a columnist for the New York Times and is entitled, “Moving Toward a Richer View of Human Nature.”  He says our failures as a nation spring from “reliance on an overly simplistic view of human nature” which makes us “divided creatures.”  Our division comes from the belief that reason is trustworthy, but emotions, are suspect, therefore our society progresses only to the extent that reason can suppress our passions.  In other words, we are good at discussing material things, but bad at talking about emotions!  Hmmmm!

Hoping to escape this “amputated view of human nature,” he references a group of researchers from neuroscience (you know, the folks who give epidural shots … still waiting for that call … see why I was drawn back to this article), psychology, sociology and behavioral economics.  This growing body of research offers key insights:
•    The unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind, where many of the most impressive feats of thinking take place.
•    Emotion is not opposed to reason:  our emotions assign value to things and are the basis for reason.
•    We are not individuals who form relationships.  We are social animals, deeply connected with one another, who emerge out of relationships.

In simple-speak, what does all this mean?  For me, it confirms what I understand and experience living in this mind and body over a few decades.  Paul knew about “this treasure in earthen vessels” (II Corinthians 4:7), and warned us not to separate our minds from our hearts, our thinking from our doing, the intellectual from the spiritual.  

We are indeed “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).  We are designed in and for relationship and Jesus could not have been more clear about ”how” we are to live in whole and healthy relationships:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.  The second is like it:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-39).

Brooks says this research identifies a range of deeper talents, which overcomes this amputated view of human nature that continually separates reason from emotion.  He lists 5 of these talents, but the one I find significant is what he calls “limerence.”   Hang with me now!

He says “the conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, the challenge of a task or the love of God.”  Finally, he offers the punch line of the whole essay:  “Some people seem to experience this drive more powerfully than others.”

Duh!  Honestly, haven’t followers of Christ been saying this for centuries?  To finish Paul’s previous thought, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels (conscious mind), so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God (experience this drive more powerfully) and not from ourselves (unconscious mind).”

My point in all this intellectual wonderings … well, even the smart people ultimately come to the same, simple truth.  We are loved and long to love! 

By the way, I still haven’t heard from the shot doctor about my epidural ecstasy, but my heart, soul and mind are completely at peace!

Public and Private Legacies

I can write about no other subject.  I tried.  I tried to wait for more information.  I tried to wait for more understanding.  I even tried to wait for the decision to come from the board of Penn State University who are meeting as I write.  I suspect everyone reading this knows the details of this horrible turn of events.

Joe Paterno, the head football coach of the Penn State Nittanny Lions for 46 years, is now linked to a horrible scandal involving his former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky.  Almost a decade ago, a graduate assistant in the football program witnessed Mr. Sandusky sexually abusing a young boy and reported it to Coach Paterno.  He referred the allegation to the athletic director and university vice president, but neither took action.

While the obvious tragedy being choreographed in the press is that of the famous coach, the greater tragedy clearly relates to 8 boys who were allegedly abused by Paterno’s assistant over a 15-year period.  Amid a 23-page Grand Jury report that is not for the squeamish, a path of childhood destruction is detailed.  Two details struck me. 

First, there was a “very credible” witness to one of the actual abuses and second, there is testimony that children not only stayed at the perpetrator’s home, but even went to church with him.  My mind sadly sank to a verse I often read when dedicating a child:  Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

I, then, thought of another football story.  A story of childhood frolic and cartoon characters eerily birthed almost exactly 59 years ago.  You know it well.  Lucy holds a football for Charlie Brown in a Peanuts comic and just when he raises his foot to kick it, she pulls it away and he screams, “Don’t ever do that again!”

A theme in the Charlie Brown saga throughout the years has consistently been trust and security.  This is not surprising given the cartoon’s target audience.  One such story has Charlie and Peppermint Patty leaning against a tree on a beautiful spring day and the conversation goes like this. 

Peppermint Patty says: “Chuck, what do you think security is?”
Charlie Brown says: “Security?  Security is sleeping in the back seat of the car when you’re a little kid and you’ve been somewhere with your mom and dad… and it’s night time.  You’re riding in the car and you can sleep in the back seat and you don’t have to worry about anything.  Your mom and dad are in the front seat and they’re doing all the worrying. They take care of everything.”

Peppermint Patty smiles and says, “that’s real neat!”

But then Charlie Brown begins to get this serious look on his face and he raises his index finger and says:  “But, it doesn’t last.  It doesn’t last. Suddenly, you’re grown up and it can never be that way again.  Suddenly, it’s over and you don’t get to sleep in the back seat of the car anymore. Never!”

Peppermint Patty gets a sad and frightened look on her face and she says “Never?”

Charlie Brown nods and says, “Never!”
Then stricken with the tough realities and the difficulties of life, Peppermint Patty says: “Hold my hand, Chuck!  Hold my hand!”

My heart is heavy today for children whose lifted hand is taken by an abuser.  My head is heavy today for adults who use position and authority and promises to forever steal the innocence of childhood.  And just now (as I switched the television back on), my spirit is lifted to know even though a highly revered football coach chose not to do the right thing and resign, the board of his university chose to do the right thing and fire him. 

Jim Denison is right when he says, “Our legacy is forged by what we do in private, not just in public.”  

Adoption–the Chance to Change the World

The world is grieving the death of perhaps the greatest creative genius of our time, Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple computers.  His list of accomplishments is mind-boggling:

•    He made computers accessible to non-technical people.
•    He reinvented the music industry with the iPod and iTunes.
•    He revitalized animation with Pixar.
•    He reinvented the personal communications industry with iPhone.
•    He changing the way we consume media with iPad.
•    He changed the way software and hardware is sold.
•    He forever altered the language of computer interfaces.
•    He built Apple into the second-most valuable company in the world.

What many of us do not know is his parents, Clara and Paul Jobs, adopted Steve as a baby.  Adoptee and follower of Christ, Ryan Scott Bomberger, reminds us of the powerful act of adoption:  “No matter the perceived world success of an adoptee, adoption is a loving act that transforms, not only the life of the child, but the entire family.  And sometimes the world.”

The divine parallel is inescapable … there is no Christianity without adoption!  The Apostle John knew this when talking about people receiving Christ, he says Christ “gave them the power to become children of God.”
Paul, too, uses the image of adoption repeatedly in his letters to the churches.  To the Ephesians he writes: “[God] chose us in Christ … He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ …” (1:4-5).  He tells the Romans that adoption leads believers to being “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).

In Paul’s day, being adopted included a release for the adoptee from any obligations attached while in the birth family.  For example, any debts owed by the adoptee were canceled upon entrance into the adoptive family.  The adoptive father became, in every significant sense, the real father. 

In spiritual words, the cancellation of sin’s penalty (as the angel told Joseph, Jesus “will save his people from their sins”) and becoming a real child of God, in line to receive a full portion of the Father’s kingdom.

Fortunately, adoption into God’s family is not based on our being perfect children.  Sad to say, but most children’s services agencies have plenty of kids available, but some are older, some are nonwhite, some have special needs, and there is no competition for them.  Some of them will remain with children’s services until they are adults.  In God’s family, however, there are no un-adoptables. “To all who received him … he gave the power to become children of God.”

Loving parents adopted Steve Jobs and he became a creative genius who changed the world, as we know it.  Our heavenly Father wants to adopt us so we can become “children of God” and yes, change our world, as we know it.