For the past three days, Ozark's campus has been hosting its annual Preaching & Teaching Convention. This means several things. 1) We get two days of having classes canceled. So that's pretty sweet. 2) My old ministers come to town and bring me goodie-baskets or take me out to lunch. So that's also pretty sweet. 3) I make terrible use of my time without class and end up getting behind on schoolwork. Not so sweet. 4) I am humbled once again. The convention is like the Ozark All-Star Game as tons of alumni show up on campus. It's easy for me to think that I'm so smart and so talented and that I know all about doing ministry and that I'm so great because a dozen people read my blog. But a lot of these guys have been doing it for 50 years, and I'm reminded that I'm just a young pup that has a lot to learn and a long way to go.
For the convention, yesterday I attended a workshop taught by Lynn Gardner about writing, particularly about writing for publication. Lynn used to be the academic dean at Ozark and he just finished writing his seventh book. He also routinely comes to the library on campus on Fridays, which is when I happen to work there, and he's super-nice. Here's a couple things I learned: First, Lynn talked about how the bulk of good writing revolves around rewriting. On a first draft, a writer should just get ideas down on paper, and it doesn't have to be that good. The quality comes through editing and revising. He said, "There is no good writing, only good rewriting." This is very unfortunate for someone like me, because I hate editing my own writing. I pretty much never read back over anything I write; I either print it off and hand it in or hit the "Publish Post" button at the bottom of my screen. So when you read stuff on here and see a blatant misspelling or missing word, just know that it's usually not because I'm an idiot. I'm just lazy. Another thing I learned at the workshop is that the opening paragraph of any writing is especially important because an editor will often make a judgment of the whole work from that paragraph. This is also unfortunate for me because as I'm sure you've noticed if you've been reading my posts for awhile, my introductions almost never have anything to do with the rest of my post. All of this to say that you probably shouldn't be looking for any books being published by me in the near future, or in the distant future, for that matter.
In a freak set of circumstances, however, this concept of writing actually is loosely connected with what I want to write about today. A while back I was struck by Isaiah 8:18, which says, "Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion."
I have a fancy-looking red dictionary that sits on my shelf that I rarely use. I somehow got it for free in high school, and I'm thankful for it because it makes me look more like a scholar to have a dictionary on my shelf. Here's what it says about the word "symbol": "1. One that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention, esp. a material object representing something invisible. 2. A printed or written sign used to represent an operation, element, quantity, quality, or relation, as in mathematics or music." And then there's some definition related to psychology that has nothing to do with Isaiah.
Now I am neither a Phoenician nor a phonetician. But here's something I think I understand about language: Right now you're looking at symbols. Letters are symbols; in themselves, they are only scratches on notepads or pixels on a screen. They symbolize sounds, and you can put them together to make words and sentences which symbolize ideas. And Isaiah says that's sort of what his own life is like. As a prophet, he's a symbol of God to Israel.
I think the same is true of us as Christians. We are signs and symbols of God to the world. We are letters that God has written to humanity. People understand something about God by looking at us. Like an author pushing his pen to paper and beginning to write, the Holy Spirit has inscribed our hearts and souls to deliver a message to others. We are God's words, not in the sense that the Bible is God's Word or that Jesus is the Logos Word, but the world reads about God by watching us. To those without knowledge of their Creator we are symbols, standing in place of God to convey a message of his love and grace.
So I guess this is the question: What sort of God are we symbolizing? What picture of God do people perceive by reading us? Do they see a materialistic God that loves new clothes and new books and new cars and new phones? Do they see a self-consumed God that looks out for his own interests at the expense of everyone else's? Do they see a duplicitous God that feigns righteousness but puts on another mask when your back is turned? Do they see a distant God that goes about his own business alone? Or do they see a self-sacrificing God that gives himself to take on the punishment for those he loves?
It's a challenging proposition. A terrifying one, in fact. We're a people that enjoy our breaks--coffee breaks, study breaks, nap breaks, potty breaks, etc. But this business of being a symbol of God does not allow for breaks. We are books that are never closed. We are more like those marquee signs that continuously scroll words in mutli-color letters. People constantly watch us, gleaning messages about God through our lives. So let God write his words in your life and clear out space for him to continue his story through out. After all, who doesn't like a good book?