Admittedly, posting about my faith is beyond my comfort zone
It's verboten for a journalist to admit to a religious bias. Yet isn't not doing so an omission?
Gardening and succulents are wonderful hobbies, but they're not all there is. Nor are family, friends, money, travel, possessions and careers. Yet within me---and I suspect within you---is a deeper longing. We're made that way.
The seven decades of my life have been filled with missteps. All that I am and all that I posess are gifts (i.e. "blessings"). If I cling to them, I risk making them into idols that cause self-absorption, entitlement, comparisons and pridefulness (i.e. "sins"). How to avoid that? Pass blessings along! There is joy in doing so. Happiness is being a conduit of God's love, beauty, kindness, and generosity.
If you scoff at this, I don't blame you. It sounds almost silly. I can't help that. I just don't know a better way to say it. All that I do, and all that I am, has become more and more about serving. And even that desire is a gift! If I had to rely on my own strength and determination, I'd certainly fail.
I'm not reinventing the wheel here. What I believe is both unique to me and also shared by billions. Every Christian is flawed and does a miserable job of exemplifying perfection. And that's the point: We don't have to.
May you read my faith essays with an open mind. And if you feel a twinge of longing, no worries, faith doesn't originate with you. It's a gift, free for the asking. So, ASK!
Debra Lee Baldwin
Observations on Light
Do you ever think about light? I'm constantly attuned to it: sunlight, slanted light, firelight, translucent light, moonlight, backlighting, rays, candlelight, incandescence and more. I love how people throughout the ages have seen God in light.
My life verse: Ephesians 5:8-10
(Personalized) For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as a child of the light, for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth, and find out what pleases the Lord.
What IS Light? From Webster's Dictionary
"That which makes vision possible: opposed to darkness; form of radiant energy that acts upon the retina of the eye, optic nerve, etc., making sight possible: this energy is transmitted at a velocity of about 186,000 miles per second by wavelike or vibrational motion."
From The Science of God by MIT physicist and Jewish theologian Gerald Schroeder:
- "Light...is outside of time, a fact of nature proven in thousands of experiments at hundreds of universities...
- "It is highly significant that light was the first creation of the universe. Light, existing outside of time and space, is the metaphysical link between the timeless eternity that preceded our universe and the world of time, space and matter within which we live."
- "...radiant energy does not experience the flow of time. Radiant energy, such as the light rays you are seeing this very moment, exists in a state that might be described as an 'eternal now,' a state in which time does not pass.
- "At the speed of light (the highest speed attainable in our universe), time ceases to flow altogether. The time of all events becomes compressed into the present, an unending now. The laws of relativity have changed timeless existence from a theological claim to a physical reality.
- When you consider that the birth of the planetary system is said to have radiated from one central source, and that an observer standing at that spot could watch the detritus spin into deep space, you realize it's possible for the earth to rotate billions of times while the observer's actual time is mere days. If the "week" described in Genesis Chapter 1 is time from God's perspective, not ours, it is consistent with geological evidence that the earth is billions of years old.
Photographers routinely position flowers and leaves so that they are back-lighted; the tracery of veins and colors of petals are heightened by the very sun that gives them life -- and that reveals a purity of beauty so intense, it "testifies to the Creator," providing a glimpse of Heaven.
Is it a coincidence that the English words "sun" and "son" sound the same? After all, Christmas, celebrated at the winter solstice, is both the Son's arrival and the sun's return. Other intriguing coincidences include history ("His story"); the fact that "sol" sounds the same as "soul," and that the traditional Christian day of worship is Sun-day.
There is no vision, and therefore no beauty, without illumination. Sight is the most valued of our senses. The eye itself is sometimes used as an argument for creation and against the theory of evolution. Sight happens only when all of the eye's component parts, working as an interdependent unit, are fully functioning and complete.
Sunlight is made up of the whole range of colors that the eye can detect. The range of sunlight colors, when combined, looks white to the eye. This property of sunlight was first demonstrated by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666.
In biblical times, clear oil of pressed olives was used for anointing and also for lamps. Lamps burned continually in the Temple to provide an unending source of light. According to biblical scholars, oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit.
"Light" is synonymous with goodness, safety, truth, clarity and beauty. Its opposite, darkness, is associated with evil, danger, fear, ignorance and impurity. Like yin and yang, our fallen world combines light and dark, both in spiritual and physical realms. Day and night, good and evil, kindness and cruelty -- this duality permeates the natural world and the choices we make.
Mankind has an innate ability to recognize the connection between light and deity, hence the historic prevalence of sun-worship and the lighting of candles. Even stained glass windows require sunlight to reveal their intricacy.
Light banishes darkness and deters evil. We speak of "broad daylight" as the most revealing of situations; "under cover of darkness" as when crimes are committed.
Before gas streetlamps and electricity, people avoided venturing outdoors at night. Danger was everywhere -- from accidentally stepping into a hole to being robbed. Candles and oil lamps were costly and their faint glimmer -- always in danger of being snuffed -- limited their usefulness. For the majority of people, bedtime was dusk, and life resumed at dawn (Roger Ekirch, "At Day's Close: Night in Times Past".)
The sun gives light and therefore life, but also can burn. Light can be blinding. Fire is useful as a source of warmth, a means of cooking and as energy -- but it's also associated with danger, pain and death. God is light, and manifests in fire (as in the burning bush), yet transcends definition by created beings.
The Creator Connection
From Succulents Other Than Cacti by A. J. van Laren, former Curator of the Botanical Gardens of the University of Amsterdam, Holland:
“Among the succulents we shall find veritable gems, so intricate in form, so delicate in coloring, so exquisite in their manner of flowering, that they arouse our admiration as being perfect works of art directly from the hand of the Creator.”
Evolutionary theory relies on random chance, but how is it possible for "a hundred and twenty-five million thin, straight rods that report in black and white" and "seven million plump cones" that interpret color, to coincidentally coalesce? The info in quotes above and observations in bullet points below are from one of my favorite secular books: Diane Ackerman's The Natural History of the Senses.
- We think of our eyes as wise seers, but all the eye does is gather light.
- We don't perceive color at night. There are no light rays to bounce back at the eyes, and we don't see. It is mainly through seeing the world that we appraise and understand it.
- Our eyes have separate mechanisms that gather the light, pick out an important or novel image, focus it precisely, pinpoint it in space, and follow it; they work like top-flight stereoscopic binoculars.
- Vision can rush through the fields and up the mountains, travel across time, country, and parsecs of outer space, and collect bushel baskets of information as it goes.
- Light also affects our moods, rallies our hormones, and triggers our circadian rhythms. The absence of light can affect our health and lead to depression, even suicide.
- Irises may look pretty much the same, but the pattern of color, starbursts, spots and other features is as highly individual as fingerprints.
Light in the Bible
"Light" and its synonyms describe the Creator: Radiant, luminous, resplendent, illuminating, enlightening, radiating, dazzling, brilliant, blazing, blinding. Words with root words meaning "light" include intelligent, lucid, clarity and luminary. "Lucifer" by the way, means "shining" -- a far different image than the cartoonish devil of Halloween.
The Bible begins with the creation of light, and the first few lines of John identify Jesus as "the light of men." (John has a much more to say about light -- see excerpts below.)
At the end of the Bible this fascinating passage, also written by John, foretells a world without darkness:
REV 21:22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.
REV22:5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
Note that Revelation says twice that there will be no more night. Lamps will be unnecessary. Imagine walking into a cave or windowless room and being able to see perfectly! The very presence of Jesus will permeate everything, banishing darkness and every iota of evil.
1John2: 10 Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
1JN 1:6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
DLB's Garden Psalm
The Creator of the Universe awaited my invitation
I set aside an afternoon for Him
We sat in the garden together
He took me on a tour of Heaven
He is Light, and He shone through petals
Illuminating, life-giving, beautiful
Practical, too. Each fold and stamen
Has a purpose, but they could be drab and do it, too.
Nasturtiums, two of them, in a ray of sunlight
Petals overlapping, nestled in glowing green disks
needn’t be so lovely.
What fun is it, if there’s no one to share it with?
He asked me
When I said I wasn’t worthy
To be the guest of the Creator of the Universe
In His own garden, though I call it mine.
I asked Him, Was He playing with shapes and colors
When he made succulents in spirals
And bird-of-paradise, with orange-and-blue feather petals?
Yes, and form and texture, too, all within certain parameters.
Bee-attractors, water-users, sun-catchers, all those things
Each is different, as though He drew it — to whatever
fanciful dimensions He chose — and then ignited it with life.
Where are the evolutionary in-betweens?
I see no failed experiments.
Everything works perfectly, and is perfectly beautiful.
And it all happens outside my window
Whether I’m there to see it or not.
But how much better it is for the Creator
If I see it, and share it, and marvel at it
And know Him better as a result.
I asked Him to show me how to worship Him.
He showed me my own garden.
DLB: A Meditation on What Matters Most
We seem to be hard-wired with an awareness of a Higher Power and a perfect place called heaven, where there is no pain, sorrow or evil of any kind. But it's tricky to try and determine reality where God and heaven are concerned.
The only reliable source would be someone who had died, then returned to tell about it. Those who have near-death experiences talk about a shining light, but they don't describe much more than that, because they kept (figuratively speaking) one foot on the ground.
People also tend to assume if you're a good person, you'll go to heaven. But they don’t say just how good you have to be. No one knows. They shrug and say it's up to God. Or they reason that if they're sorry for the bad things they've done, God will forgive them and let them in. This gets complicated, because if that's the case, you have to ask for forgiveness constantly, and if you forget, a single unworthy thought could sink you.
So, if heaven is something you have to earn, I'm not going, and, I suspect, neither is anyone else. How can anyone earn -- or deserve -- perfection, if they're not perfect? Just how good is good enough?
On the other hand, what kind of a God would dangle the promise of paradise, but not provide a way to attain it? (I'm assuming God is a Person, rather than an amorphous life force. And I'm assuming heaven is a place where I retain my identity, rather than being reincarnated, or merging with the cosmos.)
It all comes down to this: Who or what is God? Once we know that, we can figure out what motivates him, what he wants, and how we fit into the picture.
There are as many concepts of God as there are religions. There's no point in re-inventing the wheel here. Why not pick one and go with it? OK, which one? The one that is true, of course. Well, then, what is Truth?
There's only one person who can answer that question, and that's God himself. So, are we right back where we started? Not exactly. If God is a person, he can answer questions. So...let's ask him:
God, help me find you. Open my eyes to ultimate Truth. Teach me who you are. Please show me if heaven exists, and what I have to do to get there.
When you start thinking of God as a Person whom you can actually talk to, and who might even care enough to answer your questions, it changes things. Suddenly this big, glowing life-force starts to come into focus. We're told that we're made in the image of God. If that's true, then it makes sense that there's a lot about us that echoes the nature of God.
If you want to get to know anyone really well, you have to imagine what it's like to be that person. So, what's it like to be the Creator of the Universe?
Let's say you made these cool beings, full of beauty and intelligence, and you get this huge kick out of watching them move, interact, and do clever things. It delights you when they exclaim over the things you've created -- flowers, birds, butterflies, sunsets and more. But something's missing: They don't know YOU exist. So you poke them to get their attention. Wouldn't you be thrilled if they turned and looked at you, and recognized you as something amazing? Maybe their first reaction would be fear, but then they'd pause, because they'd see such tenderness in your eyes. Imagine them falling on their faces in awe, jumping up and picking a bouquet of flowers, then shyly holding them out to you. Wouldn't your heart just melt?
Is it possible that the Person who made us wants nothing so much as a deep and mutually fulfilling relationship with us? How awesome would THAT be? Yet I know it's true, because I've experienced it. I've glimpsed heaven here on earth, albeit through a glass darkly. I didn't do it by taking drugs, repeating a mantra, entering a trance or trying hard. I experienced what I call "the joy that hurts" (because it's almost too much to take) by asking God to allow me to know him the way he wants to be known. I had to ask, I had to wait, and I had to be receptive. It had to be on his terms; he didn't come because I summoned him.
It makes sense that a God of our own creation cannot surprise us. Each time I felt the presence of God, it was in a way that I had not anticipated, and it was always different. Most originated from simple things: Light shining through flower petals, the boom of thunder, a butterfly that climbed onto my hand -- coincidences that were like loving gifts. Everything had a natural explanation, yet also defied explanation, because I experienced it physically, intellectually and spiritually. Is it really so hard to understand the Trinity? We are, each of us, an echo of the body, mind and spirit of God. And sometimes we resonate with God, like plucked strings of a musical instrument.
I'm hardly the first to describe God's love affair with mankind. Moses and the prophets did it, thousands of years ago. Why was God so angry with the Israelites when they worshipped idols? Why did he call himself "jealous"? Why did he become a man and die a sacrificial death?
Jesus: The only person who spent three days dead and came back to tell of it. The only one to call himself Truth, to claim to be God, and to announce that the way to eternal life was through him. The great philosopher C.S. Lewis said Jesus was either whom he said he was, or he was as crazy as a cabbage.
God so loved the world, he endured hell on earth, so that we could stand, pure and forgiven, in his presence. He loved YOU that much. Imagine. There is no death more painful or humiliating than crucifixion. ("Excruciating" comes from "crucify.") Do you love anyone enough to go through that for them? Can you imagine the immensity of love that would do that? And yet we created beings pound our exquisitely crafted fists and insist that God revise history (His story), according to what we -- with our limited knowledge -- think is right!
Isn't it incredible that, even though we're not perfect, and have never experienced perfection, we're capable of conceptualizing it, and we use it as a standard to evaluate what matters most? The problem with perfection isn't that it doesn't exist. It's that we long for it and can't obtain it on our own.
I believe this is why we were created: To delight God and be delighted by him. I believe the intense love I feel for my son is similar to the way God loves me -- with an important difference: God's love is perfect. And if God loves me intensely and perfectly, then he will make it possible for me to be his companion for eternity, even though there is nothing I can do to deserve it.
What matters most is not what we do, but what God did for us. Since we can't get to heaven by our own actions, we have to get there through God's. No other religion but Christianity (in its purest form) explains this so well:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)
Christianity has gotten a bad rap, for good reason -- as an organized religion, much of it has been corrupted. Anything man creates is flawed, and evil is alive and well on planet earth. Why does God allow it? Because there is no freedom without choice. We have to be free in order to fulfill the reason we were created. If we can't choose not to love someone, then it's not love, is it? Why would God want to spend time with robots with fixed smiles and nodding heads?
But don't take my word for this. If what I've said about God is true, it's easy enough to prove. Ask your Creator to introduce himself to you. Ask him to give you glimpses of heaven here on earth, and to show you what there is about yourself that reveals his own nature. Ask him to allow you the joy of being a conduit of his love to others. If you want to know for certain what life is all about and why you were created, if you want to know God as the personification of absolute love, beauty, justice and truth, just ask.
Eternal and almighty God, let me know you as you want to be known. Please reveal yourself to me in ways that resonate within my body, mind and soul. Help me delight You and be delighted by You. May the light of your love shine through me into the lives of others. Thank you for loving me so much that you lived as a man and laid down your life for me. Your amazing gift enables me to be perfect in your sight and to experience Perfection, and I accept it with awe and gratitude.
Turn around and meet the amazing Gentleman whose heart you just melted, who is eager to show you heaven and all of Creation, and who will delight (as I will) in your love and friendship for eternity!
P.S. I am grateful to Maranatha Chapel in Rancho Bernardo, a sister church to Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, for wisdom, guidance and insight that enabled me to finally understand what Christianity is all about -- not a tiresome set of rules, but a joyful and eternal relationship with my Creator.
Ephesians 1:17-19: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
DLB: A Meditation on the Love of God
We were created for a twofold purpose: To give God recipients for His love, and to give God love. Love is the only thing we CAN give God, and the only thing He wants from us.
What is love? It is a fond, respectful regard of another person that results in delight in being in a relationship with that person. It's possible to love without love being reciprocated (like a mother's love for a newborn), but love is deepened and enriched when it's returned.
We love people and even entities that we know, and the more we know them, the more we're capable of loving them. Those people we know most intimately, through years of frequent interaction, we call our "loved ones." We also love our home town, because we know it; America, because we know it; and Earth, because we know it.
People watch a movie or TV show and identify so strongly with the characters, they feel they know them. This feeling of "knowing" is transferred to the actor, and is enhanced by seeing him interviewed. Celebrities receive esteem and regard from others who don't know them yet believe they do.
But what is it to really "know" another? To know someone is to understand the myriad characteristics that make up the other's being -- in other words, their personality. As knowledge deepens, their outward appearance becomes irrelevant. We develop a relationship with what's inside: the way their mind works, their unique combination of talents, what they value, what motivates them, what hurts them and what pleases them. We anticipate their reactions and savor their sense of humor. We take delight in doing things that delight them.
Loving God is something we're expected to do. But what we call "love" is often "need." We need God, specifically what God can provide. It's reflected in our prayers: We ask for everything from healing to parking spaces. There's nothing wrong with needing God -- indeed, it's a fact of existence -- but sometimes we slip into trying to persuade God to part with some of His power, so our will can be done. We turn God into a celestial wizard, and try to come up with just the right words to make the Big Magic work. We treat God like a vending machine: Insert prayer, receive answer. We bargain with God: If I do this, then You do that.
When we look at God as something to use instead of Someone to love, we miss the point of our existence, and the reason we were created. But we can't love God until we know Him.
How can you know a silent, invisible entity? Wouldn't it be easier if God would appear before us, so we could believe fully, without doubt, in a blinding instant of revelation? It would make everything so much simpler, instead of this cat-and-mouse game that requires constant faith.
The key is choice. Love cannot exist unless those who love are free to choose not to love. Imagine a marriage in which the wife was not free to leave. Instead of focusing on a relationship with her husband, she'd obsess on being trapped. It would hardly matter if he were a nice person. If God were to reveal Himself to us in all His glory, it would erase every uncertainty, but it would also eliminate our ability to choose God or reject Him.
Faith is one way we love God; it's our constant acceptance of Him, despite temptations to do otherwise. Faith is a gift from God, and it increases as we know Him and therefore love Him.
When we really want to know a person, we talk to him, listen to him, discuss him with others, learn from people who know him, and gain perspective on him through his actions. We strive to understand what he values, and what is important to him. All these avenues are open to us where God is concerned: prayer, meditation, fellowship and teaching; and viewing His work in creation, answered prayers, miracles and transformed hearts.
And as we come to know Him, the most amazing thing happens: We get a sense of His personality. If God is truly God, He isn't limited by the narrow ways we define Him. I used to think of God as an amorphous being, sort of a Blessing Machine that keeps everything on track and that dispenses good more or less randomly.
I can't speak for everyone, but I do know that the more I know God, through the revelation of the Holy Spirit (which you have to ask for), the more I discover that God is full of surprises. He can wash through me like a wave of joy, speak silent words that make me laugh, show me creation in ways I never noticed -- and in all this, He gives me the conviction that I'm dear to Him and is delighted that I sought His company. Imagine! HE'S delighted that I wanted to spend time with HIM! What a revelation of personality: goodness, humor, majesty, generosity, gentleness, humility and desire.
Not surprisingly, the characteristics of God that I’ve discover through prayer and meditation are consistent with those revealed in other ways. The Bible is the story of the most amazing person -- and personality -- who ever existed: Jesus. Christian friends, authors and pastors reveal their own relationship with God, and share insights into how to get to know Him. It's like we all have our eyes skyward, viewing small parts of a huge being, who also delights in whispering words of unimaginable tenderness to the innermost depths of our souls.
The Remarkable Tim Keller
If anything you've read on this page has resonated with you or piqued your curiosity, I can't recommend Tim Keller's sermons enough. The late Tim Keller, along with wife Kathy, founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. During the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, it became one of the largest and most vibrant churches in the US. Tim Keller left a legacy of engaging insight and great wisdom, via sermons now available in podcasts.
A few favorites: