Glowing Faces

“Only when we perceive the face of the One in whose image we were made do we come to know who we are and the One for whom we were made. And because of who He is, to behold Him and remain unchanged is impossible.” – Bill Johnson

CampTimberline-Panorama

This past weekend, my family and I attended Greenwood Community Church’s Family Camp at Camp Timberline in Estes Park, Colorado. I’ll take several things away from the weekend, but one of the most fun takeaways will be remembering my daughters’ glowing faces. Savannah’s face was glowing because this was her first real experience in the great outdoors, she was amazed at how big the world was, and there were so many people that she had never seen before then. Charlotte’s face was glowing because she had more adventure in this weekend than any other weekend, including the camp’s zip-line, climbing wall, gut-check plank, silencer swing, and blob in the lake.

Liz and I had glowing faces due to the consistent reflection of God’s glory in this place. We saw it in the vast beauty of the mountains. We see it as God’s people sang praises to his name. We saw it in the passages of Scripture that were our guide for the weekend and we saw it in the way the Spirit led us as a body together.

It was beautiful to see God’s glory reflected on the faces of my family and the other attendees of the family camp this weekend. It made me think about the way that God can be mirrored in this life and the way that we can contribute to that reflection.

Jewish rabbis have a word for what we experience in glowing faces and that word was shekinah. Though the word is not found in the Bible, there is, in fact, a clear pattern of God’s glory being reflected on his creation.

Take for example, Moses’ face in Exodus 34:29. The verse says, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” In other words, there was a visual effect that God’s presence had on Moses’ physicality. Have you ever been around someone so radiant that it was clear God’s presence resided with him or her and that God’s beauty and majesty was being reflected. It occurred to me that if we take seriously the invitation to come near to the Lord (James 4:8), it is possible that our actual physical appearance could be altered.

Now, clearly when the Bible talks about God’s children being transformed into his likeness, the emphasis is not on a physical appearance. When Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that “we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes form the Lord, who is the Spirit,” it is clear that he is talking about spiritual transformation. Truly, the more we see God’s glory, the more He transforms us into His likeness through the power of the Spirit. But, why would we be surprised if spiritual transformation and renewal had a physical effect? Doesn’t the Bible contain story after story of ways that the spiritual realm impacts the physical world?

In the days following the camp, we began to realize that our faces were not glowing quite as much as they had been. Further, when confronted with the daily routine, difficulties that arose, and the need to return work (and first days of schoolwork for Charlotte), our faces began to take on other, darker forms. But, we pause today to recall the glory we see on the mountain and recognize that the Spirit of God did not stay there. Instead, he brings his people through an ever-increasing glory (or, as some say, from glory to glory) so that we might better reflect his beauty and majesty. May you enjoy good health today, even as your soul is getting well (3 John 2)!

Red-Tailed Hawks, Running Towards Pain, and Black Lives Matter

If only hurt people did not hurt people. But they do. To one degree or another, people always have. They are doing so at this very moment. And they are us.” – Sandra Wilson

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As I finished breakfast this morning, I heard a loud crash just to the left of me. I looked out the window and discovered that a bird had flown into window and was now sitting on the fence outside. As my daughter and I walked out, we realized that there was not only one bird, but three hawks sitting on the fences; one of them was eating some sort of small animal. We took a step outside and then we heard it, that famous hawk scream. I had never been so close to one red tailed hawk, let alone three. And sadly (this was the part my daughter was most affected by), a bunny rabbit had lost its life.

At lunchtime, I attended a panel discussion on “Race Relations and the Church,” as a part of the Citywide Worship Movement in Denver. About 60-70 pastors and Christian leaders from the Denver area gathered at Elevate Church and there was a sense that what would happen would be more than word. The panel was comprised of Elliot Sawyer, Doug Lasit, Del Phillips, Eric Garcia, Nirup Alphonse, Greg McDonald, and Dr. Raleigh Washington. They took their places and the group that had gathered begin to quiet. The ensuing conversation was beautiful…and painful.

I heard one panelist say that until all people have a place at the table, the conversation will be impossible. I heard one panelist say that the answer to the world’s problems is relationship; the relationship between people and their God, and the relationship between people and one another. I heard another panelist say that if a pastor isn’t multiethnic in his own life relationships, how can he hope that his church will be made up of multiethnic relationships. One said that if you want to see segregation in America go to a church on Sunday. One said that pastors themselves must be willing to talk about these issues from the pulpit. And yet, I heard every pastor say that God desires people from every tongue, tribe, and nation come together as one as He is one.

Nirup Alphonse suggested that the passage in James 5:1-7 contains content that is paramount for the world at this time. And so I looked it up. It says,

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.

This was one of those moments when you read Scripture and it just cuts to the core of what you see going on around you. Now, not many consider the book of James to be prophetic as its primary intention. But, look at the way James nails what is going on in our culture today. The material possessions of the rich won’t hold up in the last days. The wasted riches will witness against those who hoarded wealth. The laborers of the field, who have not been paid justly, will also cry against the rich. The rich have grown full and fat in a day of killing. A righteous man has been put to death, one which has not put up opposition. And God has seen it all.

Now, most of us read that passage and think that James is talking about someone else. The rich. That’s not me. But, this is ludicrous. Most of us that are reading this passage (online, on a computer, smartphone, or tablet) are among the wealthiest in the world. Just look at the Global Rich List sometime. Most reading this will come up in the top 1%.

As such, the message is for us. We hoard our stuff. We ignore the laborers all around us who have not been paid appropriately. And we feast while innocents are slaughtered. It’s sobering, really. The Good News is that the Lord of Sabaoth both hears and sees. And, in the end, each panelist declared the reason for their hope, Jesus Christ.

We all stood together, held hands in a circle, and prayed. It was beautiful because it was a picture of the eternal body of Christ. It was painful because it is not what we experience most days and there is much to be done.

It wasn’t until this afternoon that I connected the dots between the two major events of my day. At breakfast time, I was fascinated with the three red-tailed hawks in my backyard. They were beautiful, especially up close. But, it took my daughter’s concern for the bunny rabbit for me to recognize the pain of the situation as well. While there is nothing wrong with my enjoyment of something beautiful, it is wrong for me to ignore the simultaneous pain. My precious daughter, in that moment, was drawn to the pain of the situation that I, having been desensitized by decades of life, movies, and newsfeeds, barely noticed. Sometimes, I don’t even see the pain that exists all around me. And what is worse, sometimes I do not see how my ignorance allows the pain to continue.

But, I can choose differently.

The experiences that I had today, the people that I spent me time with, and the lesson I received from my daughter, can all contribute to different choices tomorrow. How can I walk in this life with a better awareness of the pain that exists all around me? How can I move past sentiment for those in pain and towards action for resolution? How can I be a follower of Christ who runs toward the pain instead of from it? As a voice in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, my friend Carlos Delgado asks the following questions:

How many millions of people throughout how many hundreds of years—how many voices crying out had I been taught never to hear? And how ought this Black suffering belong to my education, to my intellectual life, and finally to my actions in the world?

Lord Jesus, you, for the joy set before you, endured the cross for us. You ran towards the pain in order to bring us from death to life, from darkness to light. Teach us to better hear your voice and the voices of those who suffer around us. Give us the strength to offer our thoughts, our feelings, our actions, and our very selves to the purpose of your will be doing on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.