MIRRORS

Check up on yourselves. Are you really Christians? Do you pass the test? Do you feel Christ’s presence and power more and more within you? Or are you just pretending to be Christians when actually you aren’t at all? [2 Corinthians 13:5 (TLB)]
little blue heron

Writing about Paul’s flawed bronze mirror yesterday reminded me of the mirror I have at the end of our hallway—the one mirror in the house I actually like! Unlike ancient mirrors with their fuzzy image, this mirror is quite clear but, like those ancient mirrors, the image it reflects is misleading. Some defect in it makes a person look slightly taller and slimmer. Unlike a fun house mirror, however, it’s a minor distortion and so subtle that it takes a while to realize that the reflection isn’t quite true.

I’m not sure any of us truly like mirrors. In actuality, most of us would prefer the ancient bronze ones to those unforgiving three-way mirrors we find in changing rooms! No matter how beautiful we might be, the reflection in a good mirror is brutally honest. I may be able to edit away blemishes, wrinkles, and even pounds with Photoshop but any mirror tells me they’re still there! As much as most of us would prefer not looking too closely at our bodies, we are even less likely to enjoy examining our spiritual nature.

Unfortunately, we’re usually more willing to look closely at other people’s behavior than our own. We’ll use a magnifying glass for them but, when scrutinizing ourselves, we would prefer a mirror like the one in my hall—one that makes us look better than we are—to one that provides a frank and candid assessment. The words “mirror” and “miracle” share the same Latin root of mirari, meaning “to wonder at or admire.” While we’d prefer looking in our spiritual mirrors to admire what we see, at least for me, there is much that isn’t attractive, let alone admirable. One’s spiritual mirror should be as accurate and blunt as those make-up mirrors with lights and magnification! Nevertheless, when we take a deep look at ourselves, we’re tempted to minimize our spiritual flaws by excusing the inexcusable, rationalizing the unjustifiable, defending the indefensible, or just plain ignoring the obvious.

Although diet, exercise, cosmetic surgery, make-up, and Spanx can make some changes in our appearance, there really isn’t a lot we can change about our bodies. No matter what I do, I never will have the added height and long slender legs I see in my hall mirror. There is, however, much that can be done about our spiritual imperfections and shortcomings—things like anger, vanity, bitterness, hardness of heart, bigotry, pride, scorn, resentment, greed, and lust. To do that, however, we need to take a good hard look at ourselves in our spiritual mirrors!

Forgive us, Father, when we fail to take a thoughtful and honest look at ourselves. Examine us, O Lord, and tell us what is there! Give us eyes willing to see what you see, commitment to making the necessary changes, and the power of your Holy Spirit to do it.

O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. … Search me, O God, and know my heart; test my thoughts. Point out anything you find in me that makes you sad, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. [Psalm 139:1,23-24 (TLB)]

And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own? Should you say, “Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,” when you can’t even see because of the board in your own? Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother. [Matthew 7:3-5 (TLB)]

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THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. [1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (KJV)]
variegated fritillary butterfly

At my age, I think I’d prefer a hazy mirror and blurred reflection to my bathroom mirrors that seem cruel with the clarity of what they reveal. Mirrors in Biblical times, however, were usually made of polished bronze and their reflections were blurred. In 1 Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul wrote of seeing an unclear reflection in a mirror. When the first Bibles were translated into English, the words “glass” and “looking glass” were commonly used for the word mirror. Both words, however, are anachronisms since glass mirrors were not introduced until well after Paul’s letter was written. Nevertheless, as a result of the early translators’ use of glass, several later Bible translations turned that flawed mirror into a blurry window or a clouded windowpane. The Greek words Paul used, however, were dia spektrou which meant “by means of a mirror.”

Initially, I thought the proper translation was necessary to understand that verse. After all, when looking in a mirror, we are seeing ourselves; when looking through a glass window, we are seeing others. Then I looked at the more important (yet easily overlooked) word: “darkly.” Rather than speaking of a poorly lit room that would make it difficult to see in any sort of mirror, Paul was speaking of our human limitations. The literal translation of the Greek words used, in aenigmate, mean “in a riddle” or “an enigma.” Regardless of the translation, whether we’re looking at an imperfect mirror or through a smoky window, what we’re seeing is incomplete and distorted. Like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle, it is incomplete. What we’re able to perceive is just an outline, a hint, a rough sketch, of what is to come.

Although God revealed Himself to us through His word and in Jesus, what we know of Him is neither easily explained nor clearly understood. Like the picture on a puzzle’s box, we have an idea of what it will be like once done but we don’t know exactly how it fits together. In spite of having numerous translations of the Bible and countless scholars through the ages who’ve offered interpretations, commentary, and clarifications, much is still left to conjecture. Because God and His plan are an enigma, there is a great deal we will never know, much less comprehend, this side of heaven. With our limited comprehension and flawed eyesight, we only catch a fleeting glimpse of Him now. Someday, however, we will see Him face to face and what was obscure will become clear when the darkness becomes light.

So, what do we do until then? How do we get through this puzzle called life with our incomplete knowledge and understanding? We do it with faith, hope and love!

The heavens shall be open, and I shall see the Son of man, the Son of God, and not see him at that distance…but see him, and sit down with him. I shall rise from the dead…for I shall see the Son of God, the sun of glory, and shine myself as that sun shines…and be united to the Ancient of Days, to God Himself. …No man ever saw God and lived. And yet, I shall not live till I see God; and when I have seen him, I shall never die. …As he that fears God, fears nothing else, so he that sees God, sees everything else. [John Donne]

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. [1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (MSG)]

The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. His servants will offer God service—worshiping, they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. Never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs. [Revelation 22:4-5 (MSG)]

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SHIFTING SANDS

Dome house - Cape RomanoAnyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash. [Matthew 7:24-27 (NLT)]

5-miles south of Marco Island, Florida, the remains of the Cape Romano dome house are a perfect illustration of Jesus’ parable about building on a solid foundation. When completed in 1982, the 2,400 sq. ft. house was on Tice Island and about 100 feet from the water. Consisting of six interconnected dome-shaped modules, it was eco-friendly and state-of-the-art. Completely self-sustaining, it had solar panels, generator, satellite TV, a 23,000-gallon cistern that collected water runoff, a water filtration system, and even air conditioning. While its rounded domes survived the hurricane force winds of Andrew in 1992, in the years following, water levels began to rise and destabilize the house’s foundation. After 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, the domes began leaning as the shifting sands eroded their foundation. As the beach retreated, the domes appeared to be marching into the Gulf and, by 2013, they were standing in 6-feet of water. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, two of the domes collapsed into the sea. The remaining domes now sit about 300 feet offshore. When the house was built in the 1980s, two other large houses stood on the island. But, like the dome house, they were no match for Florida’s storms that sucked the sand beneath them right back into the Gulf of Mexico; they, too, are a thing of the past!

Before erecting this house, the owner built a prototype in Tennessee to test his design and it still is standing. Since sand from the beach was used for the concrete, the sand was analyzed to make sure it had the proper aggregate for construction. The problem, however, wasn’t with the concrete or the domes’ unique design; the problem was with the choice of foundation! Rather than bedrock, it was sand!

The Sermon on the Mount concludes with the parable of The Wise and Foolish Builders. Israel is known for torrential rains that cause floods and, when the winter rains came, the Jordan River would pour into the sea causing it to overflow its banks. While the sand around the Sea of Galilee was hard on the surface during the hot summer months, a wise builder would not be fooled those conditions. He’d dig down as far as ten feet below the surface to reach the bedrock for the foundation of the house. The foolish builder, however, takes the easy way and doesn’t dig down to the bedrock. Like the homes on Tice Island, both homes would look secure in good weather. It was only when the storms hit that the difference would become obvious. Houses built on the bedrock can withstand floods and erosion while those built on sand won’t.

Having been raised by a builder, Jesus knew His topic well but He wasn’t giving a lesson in construction. Many of His listeners had built their lives on surface righteousness—one of cursory adherence to the letter of the Law without actually building a deep faith in and obedience to God. No matter how carefully they observed the outward rituals of Judaism, without an inner relationship with the Lord, they had no foundation. They’d built something that looked good on the outside but was weak on the inside and would not stand strong during life’s tempests and turmoil.

It’s inevitable that one or more storms will pummel us and challenge our foundation and this parable still applies to us. Foolish builders choose to build their lives on worldly things like the false gods of wealth, status, looks, power, and self. However, their lives will crumble and collapse when those things disappear. As with the dome house, it may not occur all at once but it will happen. Because wise builders build their lives on faith in the unchanging Lord and His Word, they can withstand life’s challenges. If our foundation is laid in the bedrock of Jesus and Scripture, while battered and bruised, we will remain standing.

When the homes on Tice Island originally were built, they looked sturdy—but looks are deceiving. Without a firm foundation, they couldn’t stand; neither can we! How firm is your foundation?

Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken. [Isaiah 28:16 (NLT)]

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THE SAD STORY

After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel. … In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. [Judges 2:10, 21:25 (NLT)]

tulipAs a history of Israel’s disobedience, idolatry, and moral depravity, Judges is one of the saddest books of the Bible; it also is one of the bloodiest and violent. After starting well with war against the pagan tribes of Canaan, it ends with civil war and Israelite killing Israelite. While some tribes obediently drove the pagan people from their land, others found it easier to tolerate sin than fully eradicate it. By the time of Gideon, altars to Baal and Asherah poles had been erected and people wanted to kill Gideon for destroying them. It only went from bad to worse after Samson. Micah sinfully set up a shrine for his idols, wrongly fashioned a priestly ephod, ordained his son into the priesthood, and then purchased the services of a Levite as his personal priest! After the Danites stole his idols, ephod, and Levite, they set up their own idolatrous shrine with the Levite as priest. Did no one remember God’s laws given to them by Moses that specifically covered priests, ephods, Levites, and the worship of idols?

As for violence—along with the carnage of battle, there’s a disembowelment, a tent peg hammered into a head, eyes getting gouged out, and a king’s thumbs and big toes get amputated to humiliate him. Thirty men are killed just to pay a gambling debt and a father’s foolish vow ends in the sacrifice of his daughter. After 300 foxes are set on fire in a vengeful act that destroys a town’s grain fields, vineyards, and olive groves, a father and daughter are burned to death as payback!

Instead of conquering the fertile land they’d been given, the Danites moved north, burned the peaceful city of Laish, and mercilessly killed its inhabitants. When the men of Gibeah raped and killed a Levite’s concubine, the Levite dismembered her body to summon the tribes of Israel. Then, after they nearly eradicate the entire tribe of Benjamin in retaliation for the concubine’s death, the men regret their actions. To right the wrong, they slaughter every man, woman, and child in Jabesh-gilead except for 400 virgins who are given to the surviving soldiers of Benjamin. Needing more virgins, another 200 young women were forcibly abducted from Shiloh. How did this happen? What happened to God’s law? How did Israel fall into such sin, violence, and mayhem?

Scripture tells us that one generation after Joshua’s death, the people forgot and, within one generation of the death of each judge, they forgot again! There was a reason God wanted his word passed on through the generations and a reason he commanded people to keep repeating the law to their children. Whether the command to put His words on hands, foreheads, and doorposts was literal or figurative, God wanted His word to be an inescapable part of His people’s lives and the lives of every generation that followed. Why? Because God’s Word means life!

When I look at the disobedience, idolatry, moral depravity, and violence in Judges, I can’t help but see parallels today. As my mother would say, it seems that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Indeed, it does! There’s a reason the world doesn’t seem much better in 2022 than during the 300 plus years of turmoil recounted in Judges. As they did nearly 3,400 years ago, people continue to do whatever seems right in their own eyes. We’ve allowed the full story of God’s redemption to be forgotten, disregarded, or never heard. The people of Israel didn’t need a king; they needed God. So do we! What are we going to do about it?

And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. [Deuteronomy 6:6-8 (NLT)]

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WHY DO WE WATCH? 

I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. [Psalm 101:2-3 (ESV)]

rainbowWhile writing about curiosity yesterday, I thought about our insatiable curiosity concerning the lives of others. Some people think nothing of prying into other people’s lives by asking how much it cost, how much you’re paid, what the grade was, and more. The number of followers of the various social media platforms and fans of tell-all books, gossip magazines, tabloids, and reality TV tells me plenty of people want to know all that and more. Whether we know them or not, we seem to have a voracious appetite for the lives of other people, especially the lives of celebrities, former celebrities, one-time-wonders, housewives, bachelors, bachelorettes, the rich and privileged, and just about everyone else. We have talk shows where the more salacious the content the better and people come to blows after revealing sordid betrayals. We have assorted judge shows where in-law problems, unknown paternity, infidelity, and other poor choices reign. Private disagreements, personal relationships, and shocking secrets are openly aired for the curious world.

As much as I struggle to understand why any of us are interested in other people’s private lives, I find it even harder to comprehend why people choose to make public spectacles of themselves. Reality TV, of course, isn’t real and those “real housewives” aren’t really “housewives.” Knowing that circumstances are contrived to guarantee crisis, conflict, and drama, I wonder why people deliberately allow themselves to be manipulated for their five minutes of fame (or infamy). Considering the number of people who have an incredible willingness to freely share the most intimate details of their lives with the world, it appears as if curiosity and braggadocio are two sides of the same coin.

Perhaps it’s conceit, egotism, or a weird sort of arrogance that leads people to think that, no matter how appalling, their every thought, feeling, experience, meal, or intimate moment is worth sharing with the world. People have become so immodest that they will bare their souls and just about everything else to complete strangers. They are like exhibitionists who leave the curtains half open to dance in front of the window and their curious audience is like the voyeur who peeks through those curtains. Sadly, our curiosity has turned people parading their private lives into a lucrative business (apparently the more dysfunctional the better.)

It’s almost malevolent the way people want to see others at the worst. Perhaps we’re drawn into this tabloid culture so we can congratulate ourselves on being nicer, saner, smarter, more moral, and less superficial. Pride puffs us up because we don’t hoard, commit adultery, spend excessively, or keep having needless plastic surgery. Self-righteously, we pat ourselves on the back for not living vicariously through our talented children, exploiting our families, brawling in public, or letting cameras into our bedrooms. We feel superior because we’re better behaved, pay our debts, and know who fathered our children.

Granted, there is a difference between watching chefs contend for top honors, brainiacs compete for money, super athletes vie for a title, or pickers search for rare artifacts and watching people engage in attention-grabbing, immoral, inappropriate, or self-destructive behavior. Nevertheless, there is a fine line between innocent interest and prurient curiosity and crossing that line leads us into sin’s territory of judgment and pride.

To rework Jeff Foxworthy’s quote about going to the state fair: “If you ever start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest, most dysfunctional family in the world, all you have to do is watch reality TV because pretty soon you’ll be going, ‘You know, we’re alright. We are dang near royalty!’” Perhaps people’s bad behavior, excessive alcohol consumption, emotional outbursts, humiliation, tears, and turmoil became entertainment simply to make us feel like saints in comparison to them. Let’s not fool ourselves; we’re not! Perhaps it’s time to check our curiosity and rethink how we spend our time and with what we fill our minds.

Men compare themselves with men, and readily with the worst, and flatter themselves with that comparative betterness. This is not the way to see spots, to look into the muddy streams of profane men’s lives; but look into the clear fountain of the Word, and there we may both discern and wash them; and consider the infinite holiness of God, and this will humble us to the dust. [Robert Leighton (A Puritan Golden Treasury)]

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. [Philippians 4:8 (ESV)]

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. … Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. [Colossians 3:1-3,10 (ESV)]

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CURIOSITY

When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate. [Genesis 3:6 (MSG)]

catI often wonder why Eve ate that forbidden fruit and why Adam so foolishly followed suit. Of course, we have the clever, devious and deceitful serpent to blame. Assuring Eve that God lied to her, he said she wouldn’t die if she ate the apple. He promised that she’d be just like God with the knowledge of good and evil. God hadn’t given Adam and Eve any reason to doubt His word, so why did they succumb so easily to Satan’s temptation?

It certainly wasn’t hunger that led them to that forbidden fruit; they lived in Eden where everything was good and all of their needs were met. The two already had the knowledge of all that was good so why were they so interested in learning about evil? The serpent, however, piqued Adam and Eve’s curiosity. Seeing that lovely tree with luscious looking fruit, they got inquisitive. Why did God forbid that fruit? What would happen if they ate it? What did it taste like? Who would know? What was evil? What was death? What would it be like to have that knowledge—to know everything? Curiosity tugged at the two of them and they started yearning for what wasn’t theirs to have.

Curiosity was given to us by God and it is a beautiful gift. It makes us wonder what lies beyond and question what things are made of, how they work, and how they can be used. It causes us to ask, “What would happen if…?” Curiosity moved mankind forward in an amazing and awesome way and, without it, we wouldn’t have things like the wheel, electricity, solar energy, computers, vaccines, telescopes, or space travel. As William Arthur Ward said, “Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.”

Along with being that wick in the candle of learning, however, curiosity can be a double-edge sword. While it’s what makes a child explore and ask “Why?” it’s also what makes him stick a fork in an electric socket, swallow button batteries, and bite into detergent pods. Curiosity sent the Magi to Bethlehem and the shepherds to the manger but it also caused Adam and Eve to disobey God. It was curiosity that caused the Ethiopian eunuch to ask Philip to explain Isaiah but it also caused the prodigal son to explore a profligate lifestyle.

Untamed curiosity can make us vulnerable to the enemy’s attacks. It was curiosity that caused David to watch Bathsheba from his rooftop and lust for what wasn’t his to possess and curiosity made the men of Beth Shemesh peek in the Ark at what wasn’t theirs to see. Curiosity asks, “What’s the harm in one taste…one touch…one sip…one try…one time…one look?” Remember, Lot’s wife took just one inquisitive look back at Sodom and it didn’t end well for her.

“Where would we be today if no one got curious?” asked the teacher. “In the Garden of Eden!” answered the little boy. When curiosity leads us to be displeased with the wrongs of the world, it is a blessing. But, when curiosity leads us to be discontented with the blessings we have, as it did with Adam and Eve, it only leads to trouble. Curiosity isn’t a sin but what we do with it can be! Like free will, curiosity is a God-given gift but, like free will, it must be used with caution. The choice is ours.

Curiosity is a kernel of the forbidden fruit which still sticketh in the throat of a natural man, sometimes to the danger of his choking. [Thomas Fuller]

When God, your God, cuts off the nations whose land you are invading, shoves them out of your way so that you displace them and settle in their land, be careful that you don’t get curious about them after they’ve been destroyed before you. Don’t get fascinated with their gods, thinking, “I wonder what it was like for them, worshiping their gods. I’d like to try that myself.” [Deuteronomy 12:29-30 (MSG)]

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