Wednesday, August 26, 2009

An Ineffective Conduit

For the ten years we have lived in our house, the smallest upstairs bedroom has been without heat or air conditioning. We could hear the rush of air in the vent when the blower turned on but could feel no air moving. Several years ago, after many complaints from my daughter who occupies the room, my husband lowered a flashlight and mirror down into the vent to search for whatever blocked the air flow. The light revealed a clear passageway. We were stumped.

This week, because our living room is already torn apart due to renovations, we decided now was the time to tackle the vent issue for once and for all. Steve made a small hole in the living room ceiling directly under the vent to Melanie's room. He was searching for the point where the vent connected to the main trunk line. He cleverly inserted a weighted string down into the vent and lowered it until it hit bottom. Judging from the amount of string which had disappeared, we now knew the vent's connection to the trunk line was below the living room wall, down in the basement. Steve went down to eventually discover cold air pouring out of a hole in the trunk line. Evidently, Melanie's vent had some time ago gotten disconnected and now hung uselessly above the opening. The vent no longer served as a conduit because the connection to the trunk line no longer existed.

Being a conduit means carrying something from one point to another. Electrical wire delivers electricity from an outlet to a lamp. However, if the connection is broken, the wire can no longer carry electrons to their destination. Only when there is a complete circuit can the wire serve as an effective channel.

God intended the nation of Israel to be a conduit of His blessing and a light to the nations. In Deuteronomy 4, Moses urges the people to hold fast to the Lord, carefully keeping His statutes and judgments. "For that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him?"

As Deuteronomy unfolds, God indicates Israel will fail at their calling. A successful military campaign and resulting prosperity would soon make them feel self-sufficient. "Then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt." (Deut. 8:14) But there are preventative actions that could alleviate the problem: "Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require from you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul... So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer." (Deut. 10:12, 16)

In order to be an effective channel, Israel needed to hold fast to the Lord. They needed to love Him with all of their heart. Their service and obedience must be a natural outflow from a carefully nurtured and loving relationship between them and God. Unfortunately, they did not heed the warning.

Many years later, Paul wrote the Romans about the failure of Israel to be a vehicle to make God known to the nations. "They did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works." They operated under their own strength, trying to obey the law while neglecting the relationship with the Law-giver. It was an effort doomed to failure.

The present kingdom that Christ built is comprised of individuals who have determined to follow Him. "You are the light of the world," Jesus charged His followers. Much like the ancient Israelites, we too have been called to carry a message. Our lives, words, and actions should convey the good news of the gospel to the 21st century.

Along with the common responsibility of being God's conduit to the lost, we also face the same danger ancient Israel faced. "Apart from me you can do nothing," Jesus warned his disciples. When we move away from our source of grace and love, our actions become self-serving, intolerant, and self-righteous. Like a vent that carries the sound of air conditioning yet fails to actually bring the cooling air to its destination, we expose the letter of the Law without revealing God's grace and love. We are ineffective conduits when our own connection is non-existent.

My handy husband was able to fix our little vent issue in about an hour. My daughter Melanie happily reports that her room is now wonderfully cool and comfortable. A conduit works infinitely better when it is connected to the source! Only when our lives reflect a living, vibrant relationship with God can we be effective in conveying His love to others.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

One Powerful God

Some of you may be old enough to remember the very first Indiana Jones movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark. One of my favorite scenes is when, in a street market place, Indiana is confronted by a murderous Arab wielding a saber. At first it looks bad for our hero, who stands seemingly bewildered at the threatening way the enemy slices the air with his sword. Then suddenly, in a surprise move, Indiana simply pulls a gun from the waistband of his pants and shoots the Arab dead. Confrontation over.

The whole scene reminds me a little of the power of God as displayed in Revelation 19. At the end of time, rulers from all over the earth join forces under the unifying power of the antichrist and assemble on the battlefield of Armageddon. Numbering in the millions, they have come prepared to conquer the remaining opposition, men and equipment at the ready. Things look grim for the good guys until the heavens open and the rider on the white horse appears: Jesus Christ. He decisively deals with the evil empire, capturing the antichrist and slaughtering the assembled armies with one swift blow. In the end, it looks more like an execution than a battle scene.

“He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth,” the psalmist writes in Psalm 46, “He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire.” No earthly ruler or even the greatest of armies will ever be a match for the power of God.

Yet this omnipotent God, who can blow away the mightiest forces with a breath, also makes it His business to know the number of hairs on my head. David’s Psalm 139 delights in God’s careful knowledge of us: “You are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O Lord, You know it all.”

It is hard to align such opposing traits in one person. God’s great power and sovereignty exist alongside His tender care and intimacy. There is such paradox within the character of God.

The picture featured above was taken during John F. Kennedy’s presidential term. He was one of the most powerful men in the world at the time, and decisions he made kept the world from nuclear war. Yet the same man who stared down Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis was known only as “Daddy” to little John, Jr. Power and intimacy coexisted in one man.

In the same way, the God who created the universe and sets the world’s rulers on their thrones is known as “Abba” to us. Daddy. Like little John, we can play at our Father’s feet even as He holds the universe together. While the breadth of His power is unimaginable, we are still important to Him.

“I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold…Keep me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings.” Psalm 17:8, 18:1-2