Category Archives: Christian Blog

God Symbols

 

I am editing and rewriting the fifth novel of my science fiction series. The society (the Snow People of Shushimee) the travelers encounter in this book had a written language at one time and, because it was associated with rituals they no longer understood, they had come to see it as evil. They knew the symbols, but no longer understood what they meant.

In this excerpt, the chaplain is getting ready to speak to his congregation. (Andez is his Chaplain’s assistant. Cooper is the Transport Chief who holds a particular grudge against God.)

As Andez conducted the early parts of vespers, Craig let his thoughts wander “We’re not much different than the Snow People. We don’t understand so many of the old society’s symbols anymore. We don’t understand the Shepherd, or the planting and sowing, or the patriarchal society. To the first believers it was comforting to think of God as father. And we think it’s as bad as it is good.” He looked around room and caught a glimpse of Cooper leaning against the chapel’s door jamb. “At least half these people don’t even know their fathers.”  Andez took his seat, ready for Craig to speak. “God help me tell them about you in terms they understand.”

As I revisited this paragraph I returned to a subject I have been wrestling with for a while. It has to do with the changing view of God and how we deal with it. Here are a few reflections. And this is in no way a complete discussion of the subject. Hope they start your own thought journey.

When humanity lived in violent times, God was understood in terms that matched the violent times. King, ruler, God was judged by how much power his followers had. How strong they were. The things that symbolized strength to them were used as symbols for God. (The right hand, the horns of animals.)

When the world’s most valued institution was/is the family, it was/is natural to understand God as a loving father figure.

When success, getting ahead, making something of one’s self and acceptance by society is most valued, God is viewed as helping us achieve these goals.
And when individuality is uppermost in value, God is understood as a partner in a relationship.
When law and civil order is most valued, the symbols of God reflect those values.
When head knowledge, and education are most valued, theology becomes most important.
We cannot forget (yet we often do forget) any way we speak of God is symbolic. We cannot understand the magnitude and breadth and depth and multi-dimensions of God as a Spirit otherwise. The total otherness of God escapes us.
Because of their function, symbols have this habit of slipping in to God’s place. We worship the symbol instead of God:
The Bible,
Ritual and words,
The blood of Christ,
The shroud Christ was covered with,
The trappings of theology, as well as theology and dogmatics themselves,
Traditional symbols such as father, mother, shepherd, sower, reaper, king, ruler, provider, sustainer, power source,
The symbols and style of worship,
Victims, (as the symbol of Jesus’ teaching of the strong empowering the weak instead of oppressing)
are but a few symbols we deeply care about.

When Jesus was sent to earth, God provided the ultimate symbol of His love. He sent his son. Something all humans understand and relate to. So, the family symbol has been most enduring.

However, today many people no longer understand the Old Testament view of God. When we try to apply our values as a victim oriented society to their understanding we question the authority and actions of the Old Testament God. Yet, there are societies that have not been part of the world’s journey and understanding as people and society have put into practice the lessons Jesus brought with him from God. Some still see God through the eyes and symbols of conquest and dominance of the strong over the weak as it was before Jesus was sent into the world.

And even, as people and societies who try to put Jesus’ teachings into practice, we stumble and fail in the application of them. Sometimes our symbols are faulty. Sometimes we try to make God fit the symbols we love. And that may be okay in certain instances. Illustrations are often valuable to help us understand things about God we could not otherwise. And Illustrations often grow into symbols.
Having said all that, we must also understand if we change the symbols for God we do not change the essential nature of God. For instance, God as a mother symbol does not change God, it merely helps us understand the nurturing action of God.

If we can grasp that each symbol illustrates a specific part of God instead of the whole, we can comfortably use the symbols. In fact, I think God does things the way he does because he tries to use the things we understand. He speaks to us differently because we are all different people.

I understand God as a loving father because I happen to be have been blessed with a loving, mischievous, thinking, teacher and pastor of a father. Imperfect though he was as are all humans, he was a good model for God as father. But I don’t have to look very far to see people who cringe at the idea of God as father, or even male. And many cringe at the idea of Mother God.

Music speaks to me. It’s part of my very soul. God can get into my heart and grab my attention quicker by using beauty than any other way. Music as a symbol for God makes sense to me. My mother is tone deaf…a monotone even. God as beauty and music makes very little sense to her.

What are your symbols? What are the things in contemporary life that can become symbols to people who no longer understand ancient symbols? We need to go back and understand the ancient symbols before we can translate them for our new generations.
Do not be afraid when someone else’s symbols are different from yours. God is God. Even when called by another name or symbolized by a not-male or not-female Spirit instead of male father or female mother or a relationship partner instead of authority. We can examine each symbol and see what part of God it is speaking of. We can check it out with the Bible and see if that which the symbol is trying to bring to light is really part of God’s nature. Then we can accept or reject it.

But we do not have to live in fear of the changing world and its symbols.

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Hope is an Anchor

Hebrews 6:18-20

…God did this so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast, and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

 

In a study about heaven, I came across a new idea about the anchor. As you may know, the anchor is a powerful symbol for me. I put the picture I took of a side anchor of a bridge driven deeply into the side of a mountain on the cover of my devotional book – “People of Faith in a Changing World.”

Anchors are about hope. Not the kind of hope that says “I hope I don’t fall,” or “I hope it doesn’t (or does) rain tomorrow,” or “I hope I didn’t hurt you.” It’s the pinning or driving our confidence into a framework of the magnitude of a huge mountain.

The hope is heaven (verse 14) and the sum of all the good that God has sworn to be for us in Jesus. “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul” can be restated as “What anchors our soul is not our subjective confidence, but the sure objective reality that God has promised. This is our anchor…” The anchor is sure and steadfast. It is the finished and purchased work of Jesus, our high priest.

Okay, we are convinced that God through Jesus Christ as our anchor.

But what if that anchor is firmly secured to heaven and Christ but the other end is not firmly attached? What if I have let go? Or if I have never really grasped the end dangling down from heaven?  What if it is no longer hooked into the matching notch in my soul?

The anchor is not secure until it is fastened at both ends. It would be like laying a heavy-duty anchor on the deck of a ship and not attaching the chain to the ship. The possibility of it helping can be reassuring that it is available. But when crises is upon the ship, there may not be time to stop and connect the anchor before the crew needs to throw it overboard. And someone aboard needs to knows the proper way to connect the anchor to the ship.

Our “expert at hooking up the anchor” is Christ. He points the way. He provides the means – we call it salvation. Then he gives us ‘the enabling power to hold fast.’

So we lay hold of the hope and live our lives hooked into heaven.

I got a picture of millions of chains or ropes dangling down from heaven. Ready. Waiting. Inviting.  Waiting for us to lay hold of the rope of hope. Let us lay hold and remain as steadfast on our end as it is on God’s end.

And so we pray:  Our God, give us the courage lay hold of your hope and steadfastly attach our souls to your promise and presence. Help us live out that hope in the presence of all around us. Help us understand we don’t have to follow everyone else’s ideas swirling around us when they push and demand that we need to replace that hope with something we can touch and hold and prove. Remain steadfast In our lives and help us remain steadfast in our hope.

Inspired by and quotes from a sermon by John Piper called Hope Anchored in Heaven (Web Site: Searching for Christ)

Lament

As I am writing a 365 day devotional book, I come across some things that signaled a change in my way of thinking. At a time I was angry with God, I discovered I could yell at God and he would not throw me out. That was very freeing. The other thing I discovered at the same time was I could be angry at God, but at the same time realize he is my only place to go for a help. It was odd, but was wonderful. This is from several years back….but I hope it blesses you. Jo Bower

A Lament
Following Jeremiah’s Tradition

Psalm 73:21-26
At one time my heart was sad
and my spirit was bitter.
22 I didn’t have any sense. I didn’t know anything.
I acted like a wild animal toward you.
23 But I am always with you.
You hold me by my right hand.
24 You give me wise advice to guide me.
And when I die, you will take me away
into the glory of heaven.
25 I don’t have anyone in heaven but you.
I don’t want anything on earth besides you.
26 My body and my heart may grow weak.
God, you give strength to my heart.
You are everything I will ever need.

 

I cry to my Lord:  You have shown me your hand. But not the fingers of your blessed caress. I feel the backside of your hand. And it knocked me down.  The opportunity you led me to believe you sent which caused great joy in myself – and all I know as we praised your name – has collapsed.  And you let it collapse.

Through all my prayers and hope and gratitude 0f how far you’d brought me, you still let it collapse.  So be it. But it’s not just all right. I’m not skipping over this with blithe remarks about God’s will be done or it’s fine. You did it And I’m deeply angry with you. What would it have hurt? Just what did I do so wrong?  Yet, hope sneaks back almost undetectable. Then it rushes to the surface. And I resist it. Hope has just led to heartbreak.

Yet I can’t help it.  It has far more resiliency than ever imagined. Why can’t it stay until I’m ready to embrace it?  I’m not yet deserted. God, you are still with me.  It is from that indisputable fact that my hope finds its origin.
Still I hesitate. Questions remain. Was it an exercise of futility fed by my need to be someone? Did I run ahead of you? Am I to pursue the dream, and so, in what direction?

Obviously positive thinking and belief alone does not always bring reality to its knees. It has brought me to mine. So much for motivational speakers.  I can’t help but feel the dream is not dead, Perhaps just postponed. But before I take it up again,  you will have to bring me to full knowledge of your hope.

But strangely, I believe all these things. I’m just fearful of letting go again. Fearful of letting hope poke its head from under the covers I tossed over it.

God, on a positive note, I have been released from a total obsession that had begun to rule my life. I’m not sure what the obsession was, 0r if it was helpful or harmful. But something was pressing down on me.  Was it that I was being driven to work on one activity to the exclusion of joy coming from other activities? Was it the fear of failure, of acceptance and criticism, or the fear of success?  Whatever it was, I thank you for deliverance.

I was down so far only you could rescue me.  Don’t let me fall back into that pit.  Help me pick up, follow the opportunities you do send . . . and know what direction you direct now. Thank you for not leaving me in my time of anger.

I will again praise your name, in a different way than before, but I will praise you.  You enabled my survival.

Come

Come, you who have written off Christmas

As a useless commercial, greedy,

Networking through-giving-the-right-gift-to-the-right person,

And raking in all you can get celebration.

 

Come, you who weary of trying to please,

Or gain approval of the people who depend on you

And who you love with all your heart,

By providing the perfect holiday experience.

 

Come, you who refuse to celebrate because you believe

It’s the wrong time of the year,

Or merely the ancient believers’ redemption of an old pagan worship day

Was merely the early Christians’ effort to wrestle dominance from other belief systems.

 

Come, you who cannot see beyond the secular celebrations

Of Santa, elves, goodwill, and tender made for TV movies.

Who, when you have outgrown those things,

No longer find meaning in the celebration.

 

Come, discover the simple, uncomplicated,

Love motivated, God-initiated gift that began all this.

And as humans, we’ve turned it into madness as we, as usual,

Have gotten things backwards, and put the emphasis on the wrong things.

 

Come, return to the celebration

Of a loving Creator longing for a relationship with the people of his creation.

Of that same Spirit of power and might giving that most precious son

To humanity as the example of God, the Father’s, existance and scope of love.

 

Come to the celebration,

Not of the date, or of merely the traditions, or the giving and receiving,

Not merely the spirit of Christmastide’s goodwill,

But of the eternal love that prompted that first gift of a baby named Jesus.

 

So, come, put it all aside:

The studies that tells us what we’ve gotten wrong,

The disapproval of what the season has become,

And celebrate, with heart, mind, and spirit, the gift that changed the meaning of giving.

Let Us Not Waver

Romans 4:20

For Abraham never wavered in believing God. Indeed his faith grew strong and was a glory to God.,,

 

It seems a long time ago, in the middle of a faith crisis related to ministry, God promised strength and release.

Specifically, he promised me the high level of stress I was experiencing would not last the rest of my life. God would provide protection for my mental and spiritual health. Through the years he has kept that promise in varying degrees:

Several times, just as the job I held was beginning to require business abilities I did not have, God intervened. Each time God changed my husband’s place of ministry, the change has also been the best thing for my changing needs.

Not that those changes were endured casually or without trauma, but in our faithfulness, and in God’s faithfulness, God’s timing has been proven best for all involved.

And now changes have come that sees that long ago promise move to a new level of fulfillment. Now I have the ability to enjoy a new role as a person in the pew instead of part of a pastoral family and worship team. With that comes a narrowing of the number of people who are influenced by who I am, how I use my abilities, how I express myself, and the decisions I make. At the same time if my decisions are not always the best, fewer people are negatively impacted.

This stress-worry is something God and I have worked on for years. And in this change God’s timing and faithfulness has been as astonishing as ever.

Sometimes God changes our just inner lives, sometimes just our physical lives. And often, as the result of God’s work in one or the other, both are changed. However it is, God’s promises are not forgotten.

But I don’t think most of us take God’s promises with us as part of our daily lives. We visit them when we are worried, upset, grieving, facing upheavals, or are troubled. But we don’t let them dwell with us like we do things that we are trying to solve or what we are worrying about. We don’t take them out and examine them like we do a problem. And I think we should.

… Abraham never wavered in believing. I wish I could say that. Abraham didn’t always make the best decision, and sometimes he tried to help God’s promise hurry up to take place, but the scripture says he did not waver in belief.

God made me a specific promise, and I lost sight of it several times. And I must confess I almost lost sight of God’s role in helping me carry the load. You may be more like Abraham in trying to help God’s work along in your impatience to get things done. God will help you know where you get ahead of God’s fulfilling his promises.

But just as God is constant, his promises should be part of our daily lives. Let us not waver.

 

Seeking and Accepting

Acts 17:26-28 NIRV

                    From one man he made all the people of the world. Now they live all over the earth. He decided exactly when they should live. And he decided exactly where they should live. God did this so that people would seek him. Then perhaps they would reach out for him and find him. They would find him even though he is not far from any of us.  ‘In him we live and move and exist.’ As some of your own poets have also said, ‘We are his children.’

 

  • So again I prayed, desperately seeking God’s presence. And in today’s language that is the accepted language and thought pattern. It implies digging through, creating a path, tossing out distractions, and extreme, concentrated effort. So, I approach God that way – as if it is a painful, birth process.

In Acts 17, Paul lists what all God does just to get us to seek him. Somewhere in my reading I came across this idea:

                        Maybe seeking is not just my responsibility alone

                        What if I have taken on a responsibility

                        That is not totally mine to work out?

                        What if seeking is not such hard work?

                        What if seeking God is as easy as turning my face (attention) towards him?

And perhaps the desperate seeking could end when I realize God is seeking me with the same concern I am seeking him. Perhaps I don’t need to seek out the perfect meeting place, find the perfect attitude or create the perfect atmosphere.

Perhaps grace is not so much sought as much as it is applied.

                        Perhaps it’s not so much about desperately searching for God’s will

                        As it is learning to understand our gifts,

                        See the opening doors, and recognize opportunities presented

                        As invitations to fulfill God’s will.

                        Perhaps living a Christian life is about accepting Christ first,

                        Then spending our lives learning to see God at work.

                        Perhaps I do not grow because I do not see where God’s work needs my gifts.

So today I stopped working at seeking and turned my face towards God. And found God looking me straight in the eyes.

“Ah.” He gestured toward the waiting table laden with bread and drink.

“You’re here. Have a seat.

“What’s on your mind?

“Would you like a drink of living water?”

It’s Over

1 Kings 19:4-8 (NIV)

4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said.
“Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank.
Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

So the Great Elijah had this wonderful experience
With the burning altar when God sent the Fire down and burned everything
Including the Water he soaked the wood with to prove the power of God.
However, in proving God’s power, he made powerful enemies.
And he panicked and ran.
He ended up safe and provided for by angels,
But his spirit was broken.

“The glory days are over,” he says to himself.
“Here I am of use to no one.
I don’t have anyone to serve.
I am of no better than my ancestors who couldn’t remain faithful
To God for more than one generation at a time
Before falling back into sin.
So, God, just take me home.”

No one has to live very long,
No one who has a servant’s heart,
No performer or artist who has ever had a perfect performance or result,
No pastor who knows it is time to turn the congregation over to the next person God has prepared,
Who comes to a low point following the great times of the mountain-top experience,
Can deny they know exactly what Elijah felt in that cave.

“Things will never the same,”
Something deep inside insists,
“Or ever as good the emotional seat taunts.”
We don’t leave God, but we hide out.
In fact we often find God is supplying our needs during the process.
But we are scared the opportunity for service is gone.
The special lift, or heightened communication with God or community
Will never be experienced again.

“This is as good as it will ever get. It’s over. I’ve reached the peak of life.
God, just take me home now, or I am afraid I cannot ever serve you like that again.
And I will fail you, me, and the people I am supposed to be serving.”
This is not just a pity party.
This is the loss of confidence in our ability to reproduce this kind of experience ever again,
“I cannot conceive of things ever going anywhere but down from here time.
Life will never be this good again. And I have many years yet to live.”

And most of it really is true. Life will never be the same
After one of those periods of life… after a truly spectacularly mountain-top time of service,
Service may never again be so meaningful for quite some time.
Relationships may not be as rich.
But……
God nurtures us while we flounder in uncertainty of what comes next.
And before we know something sparks that servant’ s heart.

We find a kind of perverse joy in the mundane…..
As a musician knows the joy of just practicing returns,
We experience life in normal valley as good.
Perhaps the fire on the mountain experiences will never again be part of daily life.
But it is not over.
God is, as he always was, still there – working, prompting, going before us, clearing the way
For the different, new – if not spectacular – thing he is guiding us to.

Quietly we follow.
Gently God leads.
We expect little.
God presence is often just enough.
And step by step we travel through the tunnel of transitions,
And unexpectedly emerge onto a whole new mountain place of life
Made possible by the journey that began when we thought nothing would ever be the same.

Give Us This Day

Matthew 6:11

Give us this day our daily bread,

 

For years I have prayed for people by making lists of the things I thought they needed.

And when I finished the list, I didn’t know how to continue praying for them. The other day I came across a new idea from the scripture as this verse from the Lord’s Prayer jumped out at me.

I suddenly realized I’ve wandered from the idea of God giving us what we need. I find this idea fascinating and have written about it before. But I have not applied the idea to prayer.

I imagined someone for whom I pray regularly. I could not know everything they might do in one day. I could not come up with a list of things I thought they might need for the day. This scripture suggested I pray that God would fill in the needs.

So, I began to pray for their health and needs and moved to asking God to give them whatever they needed for that day.

I was reminded that we don’t need the same things every day. One day I need courage and the next I need hope. Unless I call and request you to pray for certain things, you don’t really know what I need, but God does. And when I pray ‘God, give them everything they need for today,’ he goes into action.

That is so simple, yet so deep. Everything you need. I really like it. It comforts me and helps my worry that I am not praying for the right things for you, yet I am praying more specific than ‘help her/him/them.’

Give them everything they need for today. And tomorrow I pray for that day.

And when we need wisdom in making decisions that will affect the future, God sends the kind of help we need to make the best decision today.

Tomorrow we will pray for what we need and God sends what we need to follow through .

Compassion

God, I drove through what some cities call ‘the district,’

And saw the homeless, the down and out, the dirty,

Standing in doors of bars and cafes, looking out at something I couldn’t see.

And I thought to myself

These are your creations too

You love them as you love me.

When I drove through the rougher neighborhoods

With their little kept houses, motorcycles and souped up cars,

Where people drink and fight at home.

And I thought with an ache in my heart,

God, these are your people too.

As your church we – I – need to be reaching them.

As I walk through my territory

I look at the streets, apartment complexes,

Small homes … family places.

And I think to myself,

Here, too, they love and fight, sometimes in quiet desperation;

Many not knowing they too are your people.

Give me wisdom to know how to put love into action,

To what groups to give financial support,

In what causes to get involved.

I cannot reach everyone personally,

But I can give out pieces of your living Spirit

To anyone, everyone, with whom I come in contact.

Help me not to withdraw into my business like a shell,

When dealing with those different than I,

But always share your warmth and acceptance.

Compunction to Care

After the funeral of a friend taken too soon,
And crises looming in several other’s lives,
My attention was directed to the scripture that
States we do not grieve like those who have no hope.

I was reminded people who love God
Have been sometimes counseled not to grieve,
As if grieving is a symptom of non-trust in God’s care for us.
But that is not what this scripture says.

It tells us we will feel grief, but are not deserted.
God is in the middle of our grief, a constant comfort.
But I was also reminded, from other scripture, as people of God
We might even grieve more than those without hope.

Many people care only for ‘me and mine.’
But as we express God’s love,
We have the compunction to care
For people and situations in a way many people don’t comprehend.

I am pleased to hear of some wealthy people who have begun a movement
To give back to the world, but what is my motivation?
God teaches me it is love – As I love the people around me
I get involved in their emotional lives, and love them for who they are.

And even when people I don’t know hurt – but are in situations I understand – I hurt.
When they grieve, I grieve;
Perhaps not in the bottom-of-the-pit place where I find myself When a close companion,
Beloved family or cherished friends dies, but I do grieve.

But I can let God’s love flow through me by being close,
Listening without denying their feelings are real or even appropriate,
Starting where they are when they come for comfort,
And showing God’s love so they will understand there is hope.

Hope God will help us deal with the grief,
Hope things will get easier to bear as God provides strength,
Hope the grief can spur us to action through which to funnel the grief.
Hope we will not always be lost in this sea of grief.

God is the source of my compunction to care.
The love flowing into my heart fills me and urges me care enough
To share it with everyone I meet, and when I care,
I share the grief of the person in front of me as well as people in tragic situations I hear about.

Yet I don’t live a grief-stricken life.
As God is the source of my compunction to care for many,
He gives strength and the wisdom of how to live with the resulting grief.
His help is often flesh covered as people offer practical help, and often it is spiritual comfort.

I don’t deny the reality of that deep sense of loss.
I have experienced it too often, and it is not always related to death.
It is only in facing it for what it is, feeling each stage fully, and giving it back to God
That I become unafraid to nurture this compunction to care.

The more I learn to love God,
The more the compunction to care grows,
The more I care for those around me and am affected by them,
The more strength God will give me to remain effective in expressing God’s love to hurting people.

I Thessalonians 4:13
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like those who have no hope…

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