Category Archives: Devotions by JB

After

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come far. The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

 

So, did it change you?

Did it challenge your faith, make it grow?

Or frighten you into doubts about your views of God

Did it make you less likely to give up your faith in time of adversity?

I think Easter does all these things. We are reminded there is truly evil, greed, desire for territorial protection and fear run deeply through humanity’s being. It’s frightening when we are forced to watch the innocent suffer. It touches our emotional core. We can barely contain our question of “Why?” and “How long God? How long must this go on?” And we pray “If possible let this cup pass from us.”

Or today we’d say “Really, God?” or “Come on, God, Seriously?” and “Are you really letting this go on?” And our faith is rattled.

But we have an example of a graceful meeting a crisis head on. From the time in the garden when Christ’s acceptance that the cup would not pass from him to his last words of the cross, we see how serious adversity can be handled.

But we protest, “Jesus was divine.”

True, we don’t fully understand how that worked, but we have hope because the same power he drew from is also the power available for us to draw strength from.

Bear with me here, I am not changing the subject.

Just as Jesus was not alone in his inner life, we are not alone in our inner lives. I use the ‘inner life’ term on purpose. It’s the place hope or despair, courage to face or fear to deny, acceptance or rejection, tolerance or prejudice, worthiness or unacceptability, competence for life or inability to function all live and call out for help. If the inner life’s needs are not met, a restlessness remains even after all of our other needs are met. That restlessness drives to a place where we never experience contentment. We are always searching.

Many times we substitute, mistake or misunderstand a physical presence as the way to fulfill our inner life needs. Perhaps, more precisely, we want to believe another’s physical presence also should satisfy our inner needs.

While the power of the physical presence and touch can satisfy physical and short-term emotional needs, it will not solve inner life needs. Many of life’s dramatic traumas are caused by the battle between seeking solutions to inner life needs in the physical world and not finding them.

Bitterness, disillusion, and cynicism invade our inner lives. Seeking wealth and power, oppression, greed, violence on different levels, and self-promotion are some of the actions that grow out of that discontent inner life.  This makes the healthy things impossible: the things that drive us to do well in all we do, do things right, or make a success of our work, be a positive voice of change and a witness to God’s goodness and love.

Here’s how the two are connected. When we finally put a finger on our own chest and say, “There’s something wrong in here,” we can have hope things can be different.  We can believe there is a power available to us to help us change what is wrong. That power is the same power God brought to bear to raise Jesus from the dead.

God has the power to meet the needs of our inner lives. When we look to God for completion of our lives, the struggle between spiritual, emotional and physical natures can be calmed. True peace is finally a reality. It changes how we act, what we do, how we treat people, and what we are no longer afraid of.

The only bad news here is that only a spiritual answer can solve the spiritual, inner life problems.  And if we allow it, God will resolve the conflict between the negative and positive forces that battle in our inner lives.

Because of the work Jesus did at Easter for the forgiveness of sin and, through the power of resurrection, we can live confident, productive lives full of love, action and peace.

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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.

I Don’t Get It

Jude 1: 9-10

9But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”  10Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct— as irrational animals do— will destroy them.

I DON’T GET IT

In seminary my husband had a teacher who told them while they were preaching not to refer to obscure references as illustrations because they would lose the congregation’s understanding. This scripture is a perfect illustration. No one knows what Jude is referring to. No where in the Old Testament is Michael recorded arguing with the devil over the fate if Moses’ body. There are some traditions advanced scholars have flushed out such as God hid Moses’ body to keep it from becoming an idol, but even those ideas are scarce.

We understand Jude Is making a contrast. Even Michael when doing something as important as protecting the great Moses’ body did not stoop to slander. But we feel left out because we do know about the incident to which he refers.

Now we know how many people feel when we speak “Christian -eeze.”  We understand what we mean. Perhaps people of our own denomination and church understand what we mean, but the further we get away from the church the less people know the illustrations.

To me this passage is a challenge to study and understand what the terms and illustrations (examples or references) we use originally meant so I can reword them before I use them outside the church.

Our traditions are rich. We don’t have to abandon them. But as society around us grows more secular, we will have find new ways to express our faith so we remain Christ’s representatives today, not merely yesterday’s symbols. And we need to teach people the traditions, what they mean. We need to keep teaching what the symbols mean. We need to teach the Old Testament to understand how we can expect God to relate to us today by seeing how he related to them. We cannot assume even our own children understand. These days life changes radically from one generation to the next. We all must teach by what we say and what we are.

God does not change. The way he relates to us, his love for us, his understanding of us will not ever change. I relax in he presence as I become convinced of that, but the way that relationship looks changes from society to society and generation to generation. We need not be frightened of that.

God Did it Again

I had taken a year off to work part time because both of us were working full time.

I explored part-time work.

Thought I might contract with a funeral home in OKC.

Everyone was set. They needed no one.

Plan set aside.

 

Loierrty-years  (Hand covering mouth so you won’t know how many) later

God handed me the opportunity to do that very thing.

Go figure.

I’ve just finished the one book I had to write (People of Faith in a Changing World) based on my journals

I’ve gotten health problems solved

And God took care of another dream – to regularly use my piano playing professionally.

 

I told someone just when I face reality and say to myself, “This is it. What is here is what I will be content with.”

God comes along and says, “I’m not done yet.”

“I put this idea in your head a long time ago so when the opportunity came,

You would be ready to accept.”

Same thing happened when my husband had the opportunity to

Move from the pastorate into chaplaincy.

 

It tells me God is a living, active spirit in my world.

It tells me God doesn’t play with my life.

It tells me God is the author of my dreams as well as gives me abilities,

And just because the dream doesn’t happen now, doesn’t mean they never will.

It tells me I will always have something to contribute

No matter what else changes in life.

 

I rejoice as I realize God can and will continue to use me.

I am here, God, take who I am

The abilities you have given me,

For the comfort of others.

May I never tire of service,

May I always rejoice in serving.

Review of People of Faith In A Changing World

Review People of Faith in a Changing World

By David Ramous

https://offsetinnocence.wordpress.com/author/offsetinnocence

I love devotionals (hence why I’m writing a whole series of them). A good devotional is like ahealthy snack The author has to really understand what they want to say and then communicate the truth in a short, digestible means – one that is also powerful and true.

This book does that extremely well.

Now, this book is not a short one. It’s300+ pages with literally hundreds of devotions ranging across all of Scripture. The author writes clearly, and I felt recharges as I brought this book with me on my recent trip to Georgia.

The book contains both honesty and variety. I never got bored, and there was a nice mix of stories, poetry, deep theology and much more.

Anyone looking for a large anthology of devotions should definitely check this book out.

Thank you to David Ramos for the kind words. I have been following David’s blog and he has written a book of devotionals called Climbing with Abraham. I have ordered it and read most of it. See a review on my page ‘Book I read’.  It is worth your time.

So, Remind Me, Why Do I Need God?

 

Psalm 107: 26b-29
…In their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunkards: they were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, And he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were made calm.
Romans 8:26
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.

“Life is so complicated today people snap.” I’ve said that many times when I have heard some of the awful things people who, otherwise seem normal, have done to each other.
Coping is something we have become masters at. We smile and say we are fine when our families are quietly falling apart. We tell ourselves ‘it doesn’t matter’ when whatever it was matters a great deal. And we go on to the next thing in life without acknowledging, confronting, giving it to God and solving whatever the conflict or hurt or pain was.

Often it’s just life that piles up on us. We don’t feel overwhelmed as we go but and we just let things pile up, accumulating baggage. We continue that way, coping without resolution, until we suddenly find ourselves at wits’ end.  Some people ‘snap,’ some fall into addiction, some become clinically depressed, and sometimes mental instability sets in. Others retreat from reality to lose themselves in music, writing, and other arts. Sometimes we even use service to God and others as coping mechanisms.

However, there are other times when sorrows and life’s problems suddenly overwhelm us. One minute we are coping and the next the phone rings or cars crash and our whole life is never the same.
Either way, the gradual accumulation of baggage or instant sorrow, we end up reeling and staggering under the load at our wits’ end. Simply put, we burn out.

When we come to the end of our wits we most often draw from our own wisdom and strength to gather ourselves as problem solvers. Yet there is a time when we come even to the end of our wisdom.
We need God because everyone eventually comes to the end of our wits and wisdom.

Yes, we like to deny it. Yes, we keep coping, slogging through life, reading self-help books, not sleeping and worrying. And all the time we are complaining about small things, and afraid to address the real cause. We need help.
And the God, who knows us inside and out, who loves us and cares about us, has not left us while we were trying to do it all on our own. When we have tried everything, done everything, said everything, and we don’t even know how to pray, or where to start, the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us, tells God what we need and God goes into action.

What God would really like us to do is turn to him and unburden ourselves as we go, working through the pain on a daily basis. Then when the phone call comes or things crash, we don’t waste emotional and spiritual time blindly staggering around, crying “God, where are you? Are you there?”   We can immediately breath a prayer and God stills the storm to a whisper and makes the waves of the sea of distress calm.

Why do I need God? Because life is full of crashing storms and wild seas.

And so I pray:
God, I want to be so close to you I can just breathe a sigh of a prayer and have given the problems and hurts to you as I encounter them. I realize I am not there. Help me renew my relationship with you every day so it grows to the place my first reaction will be to ask for your help first. Then, with a quiet soul, I can face each new storm.

Domesticating God

Psalm 99

The Lord reigns,

let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. Great is the Lord in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise your great and awesome name—  he is holy.

The King is mighty, he loves justice— you have established equity; in Jacob you have done  what is just and right Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.

Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel was among those who called on his name; they called on the Lord and he answered them. He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud; they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them.

Lord our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds. Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.

“Any time we begin to define religions as doing this and not doing that, we need Psalm 99.” –Peter W. Marty (Feasting on The Word)

We domesticate things, that is, we try to reduce everything down to our dominion: dogs, cats, ferrets, birds, gerbils, white mice, snakes, lizards, chimps, wolves, lions, tigers and bears and whatever else that will consent to share our abode. Often we have to be reminded they still have instincts from the wild. And we all have to learn we can’t do that to other people.

The idea has come up in my reading about this text that we have domesticated God. We have defined our ‘religion’ in behavioral terms and think of God as a mentor or friend.

The trouble with that is when we no longer need religion to ‘tell us how to run our lives’ and have outgrown the need for a mentor, we no longer need God. Our only definition of God is the source of love. The only thing relevant to us is the relationship. But we have to be reminded our relationships with God is not all there is to God.

So we need Psalm 99. The Lord reigns, nations tremble. Holy is He! Mighty King, lover of justice. Extol the Lord. God spoke in the pillar of cloud. Extol the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is Holy.

Those are off the leash words. Wild words. Words that take God out of the bounds of our comfortable relationships with a friendly, loving God. And we’re not always sure we are comfortable with them. We forget God is the holy one…the essence of holy. God is The Holy. God is The Justice. Mercy and love tempers some of the things Holy and Justice requires and God comes to us, through Jesus, on a level we understand. But that does not change who God is.

This Psalm reminds me I cannot reduce God down to my terms. God’s Holiness is beyond my wildest understanding and imagination. God is not a He or a She. God is not national. God is Spirit and international with no preference for any one nation or denomination, one worship style or another.

Granted, we speak of God in symbols so we can get a better grasp on who God is. That means we seek, and I think God uses, symbols that mean something to us. But if we find new symbols for God, we forget we are not really changing God.

And we all seek to worship God in ways that are meaningful to us, and I think that is acceptable to God. However, we need to be reminded in our worship we are entering into God’s presence in a way meaningful to us, not coaxing God into our box.

When we domesticate God, it makes relationship language difficult. Our tendency is to begin regarding our relationship with God like the ones we have with people. And we expect him to interact with us like people do, so we are afraid to really trust God. I understand it’s hard to hold both the view of the Otherness of God and the God who loves me so much he sent Jesus to connect with me and show me His love at the same time. But if we can somehow discover the richness of this contrast, our relationship with God becomes without equal.

So I pray:

God, help me let you out of the cage, so to speak, and allow you to be beyond my understanding without fear. Help me trust you because you come to my level so I might understand and accept you into my life, and yet remain the God beyond domestication.

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.

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 .

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