Monday, January 14, 2008

Cultivating Oranges, Part 1

As the year starts off, many of us take the opportunity for a fresh start personally. In response to last week's message at church, my new start includes cultivating a heart of worship. To me, that means developing an attitude of noticing God in everything around me, and allowing him to influence everything I do.

Sunday there was a basket of oranges on the pastor's podium. Pastor Will held one up and likened it to my heart. This orange (and my heart) has a fragrant, sweet, refreshing fruit inside it. It represents a whole, as in my whole heart—an illustration the Bible uses to indicate the center of one's attitude and intention. Here can be found my thoughts, hopes and dreams; my attitude toward spending money and time management; my relationships with parents, spouse, friends, children, and more. Each section of the orange represents one of those areas. The orange, similar to my heart, had been carefully cultivated with sun, rain, nutrients, and careful handling to get to the table that morning.

Yet there was something remaining before the fruit could be enjoyed by another. The orange had a peel on it to protect it from the outside world. Does your heart ever get a protective layer wrapped around it? I think we all have that experience, at least from time to time. Life is just a little easier when you don't have other people, or even—dare I say it—God, mucking around in your intimate business, requiring the emotional energy that is a necessary part of change.

Will identified three protective peels, or barriers, we tend to put up as a resistance to letting our Creator have access to the intimate areas of our hearts.

The first barrier we put up to resist allowing God to work his plan in our hearts is FEAR. Simply put, we are not sure we can trust God. We are not sure he will allow us to keep our hopes and dreams. We know there are things hiding there that he will not approve of, and nobody enjoys exposing their ugly secrets to the outside air. What's more, God is so big he can seem impersonal, and nobody shares their intimate self with a stranger.

There are many people who pay their respects to God two times a year, or maybe as often as once a week. Let me ask you, do you speak to your best friend only one time a week? When I meet new people and speak to them only on occasion, it takes our relationship a long time to grow into something meaningful. It is an ongoing, cultivated conversation that results in better knowing another.

There is no way we mostly insignificant humans could have approached Almighty God with this idea of having a relationship. First, what do we know? We would have been too frightened of this being that controls the movement of the sun, the blowing of the wind and the shifting of earth's plates. But in his letter to the Romans (chapter 5, verse 8), the Apostle Paul tells us that God sent Christ to make relationship with people possible. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” While we were still helpless to approach the perfect One who cannot look upon sin, he reached out to us and made a way to be able to come have a knowledge of and relationship with him. Sounds like he might be interested in a relationship, eh?

Jesus tells his followers in the Book of John (chapter 15) that a true friend is willing to give his life for another. “I command you to love each other in the same way that I love you. And here is how to measure it—the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends. You are my friends...” Those listening didn't understand it at the time, but Jesus was referring in advance to his eventual death on the cross. He was trying to convey the intensity and depth of the love that was willing to give up life, so that those listening, as well as all Christ's followers, and even all of humanity, could have the opportunity to have a meaningful, living relationship with the Creator.

In Genesis (chapter 7) we learn of a man named Noah, who trusted God's word for 120 years as he built an enormous boat in the middle of dry land. Can you imagine remaining true to the direction of someone you knew only casually, for 120 years? Noah must have been intimate with God in order to have the persistence to obey. And Hebrews 11, which recaps the faith of the early followers of God, tells us that because of his decision to build despite the fact that a flood big enough to float that boat had never occurred before, Noah was made right in God's sight. He trusted God in a seriously life-altering way, and God rewarded him.

If we need any more reassurance that we don't need to be afraid of God, consider that “Do not be afraid” is the most often repeated command in the Bible. God desires to have relationship with us, and his “delight is in those who honor him, those who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:11) When we let go of the fear, and allow ourselves to be loved by God, that makes God happy! It still amazes me that insignificant little me has the power to do something to please the Creator of the Universe.

There are more barriers that also get in the way of a complete relationship with our Father, which I will share in another post later this week. I know there is good juice to be had from those oranges. Won't you come back and try to get to it with me?

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