Skip to main content

A picture is worth a thousand words

I'll throw out the old plan I set up with their ancestors when I led them by the hand out of Egypt. They didn't keep their part of the bargain, so I looked away and let it go. This new plan I'm making with Israel isn't going to be written on paper, isn't going to be chiseled in stone; this time I'm writing out the plan in them, carving it on the lining of their hearts. I'll be their God, they'll be my people. They won't go to school to learn about me, or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons. They'll all get to know me firsthand, the little and the big, the small and the great. They'll get to know me by being kindly forgiven, with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean. (Hebrews 8:7-12)

The old saying "Don't throw out the baby with the bath water" always made we wonder. Just how many parents and nannies of those tiny children actually made them disappear with the bath water? Silly as it seems to consider that one, these little sayings can present a reflection of something which is not reality, at least we hope it isn't! Whenever mom prepared "hot dogs" for supper, did you ever look for the dog? I did because I remember my dad quipping that hot dogs were made from ground up puppy dogs, and me wanting to hide my little Manchester Terrier in fear she'd become dinner! When someone told you they got "creamed" in their baseball game that day, did you wonder if it was by whipped cream, shaving cream, or cream cheese? Not likely. We use words to express meaning oftentimes different from the primary meaning of the words. When God tells us he threw out the old plan and set up a new one - there is no mistaking what he means here - it is more than just a 'word picture' that depicts something else entirely. There are some "word pictures" God does use to describe how this new plan was to function in our lives.

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love. (I John 4:18)

Word pictures are something which convey meaning. When a word picture is used, it lends a "graphic" impression to the thought being expressed. Going back to my first word picture presented about the baby and the bath water, the thought is for us not to consider every failure as having nothing worthwhile in it. Even a failure has some redeeming feature - some lesson we can take away at the end. What the word picture reveals is that in trying to rid ourselves of the worthless stuff, we can inadvertently get rid of some of the good stuff if we aren't paying attention. Researchers have proven that word pictures actually help our brain to work faster - processing the idea a little quicker. It drives us to look for the meaning behind something. I think this is the main reason God uses so many word pictures in scripture - to help us get the point quicker, without having to expend a whole lot of energy just listening to words. The picture actually portrays the thought in a way which engages our emotions and the emotions help to "lock" the idea in our minds.

This new plan God speaks about isn't written on paper, nor chiseled in stone, but carved into the lining of the heart - evidently the place he 'takes up residence' in. We all grasp the idea of a pen scrawling on paper, producing some semblance of a story as the writing forms. We also get the idea of a hard object like stone being unaffected by the pen - a chisel is actually needed. What is behind every chisel - a hammer. Why does the stone need a hammer and chisel - it is hard. Now, take this word picture and allow it to expand your imagination. The paper we carry around with us is affected by time, is it not? I possess a couple "first edition" Sugar Creek Gang books. They are tattered by time and the pages are brittle with age. As they have yellowed, they are harder to read, fragile, and fading ink makes it difficult to see the original form of the image on the cover. 

Thinking of the stone being chiseled, I turn to the idea of a pretty big bolder which does not lend itself well to being "portable". In fact, it is pretty cold, impersonal, and just downright rigid. God's old plan - the Law - was chiseled in stone. I wonder if this was a "sign" of what God already knows about all of us - starting out well, dedicated to his service, but in time drifting into service which reveals nothing more than hardened hearts (much like stone)? We might be "rigid" in our practice of religion - keeping rules / regulations - but without any personal attachment to our God. Paper and stone does very little to ensure people obey what was written, does it? God needed a more "reliable" means of establishing his new plan - the human heart - the place of his residence. In affecting the heart, he assures allegiance. What better way to convey meaning than to paint the word picture of our "heart" being the place he writes his promises and his assurances of grace?

The idea of learning about God at a special school, or by buying a book outlining the easy steps to follow seems a little silly, but it conveys big meaning. We have a tendency to want God in five easy steps, don't we? Let's get this "God thing" into a nice, easily understood, pretty package and tie a bow on it to boot. We want the "steps" to follow because we don't want to deal with uncertainty. God is quite the opposite - becoming all things for all men where 'love has the run of the house'. He is experienced by any who seek - in the way we each need to experience him. No two creatures experience him the same - yet he is the same God. We cannot find a formula which defines how we grow close to God - it happens in the discovery of him in our very own personal way.

The concept of a slate being wiped clean is presented as a word picture of forgiveness. Grace is the "eraser" God holds in his hand - as grace passes over the slate where all our sins are recorded - it is wiped clean because love has the run of the house. Not even a tell-tale outline of the sin remains - there is no fear of the judgment, nor of being 'too far gone' for God to reach us. We "get" this one because we all have seen the ability of the eraser to eliminate the "former image" of what was once on the slate. God's grace and his intense love "erase" the "former image" we each possessed - that of a sinner, condemned and unclean. In the passing of grace over our hearts time and time again, we move from being "written upon by sin" to being open to be written upon by grace and inhabited fully by love! Don't pass by these word pictures, but allow them to begin to engage your emotions. In the engaging of your emotions, God will use those emotions to ignite the reality of his word within your heart. Just sayin!


Popular posts from this blog

What did obedience cost Mary and Joseph?

As we have looked at the birth of Christ, we have considered the fact he was born of a virgin, with an earthly father so willing to honor God with his life that he married a woman who was already pregnant.  In that day and time, a very taboo thing.  We also saw how the mother of Christ was chosen by God and given the dramatic news that she would carry the Son of God.  Imagine her awe, but also see her tremendous amount of fear as she would have received this announcement, knowing all she knew about the time in which she lived about how a woman out of wedlock showing up pregnant would be treated.  We also explored the lowly birth of Jesus in a stable of sorts, surrounded by animals, visited by shepherds, and then honored by magi from afar.  The announcement of his birth was by angels - start to finish.  Mary heard from an angel (a messenger from God), while Joseph was set at ease by a messenger from God on another occasion - assuring him the thing he was about to do in marrying Mary wa

A brilliant display indeed

Love from the center of who you are ; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply ; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. (Romans 12:9-12) Integrity and Intensity don't seem to fit together all that well, but they are uniquely interwoven traits which actually complement each other. "Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it." God asks for us to have some intensity (fervor) in how we love (from the center of who we are), but he also expects us to have integrity in our love as he asks us to be real in our love (don't fake it). They are indeed integral to each other. At first, we may only think of integrity as honesty - some adherence to a moral code within. I believe there is a little more to integrity than meets the eye. In the most literal sense,

Do me a favor

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Philippians 2:1-4) Has God's love made ANY difference in your life? What is that difference? Most of us will likely say that our lives were changed for the good, while others will say there was a dramatic change. Some left behind lifestyles marked by all manner of outward sin - like drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, or even thievery. There are many that will admit the things they left behind were just a bit subtler - what we can call inward sin - things like jealousy,