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.
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:
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.
…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)
Luke 8 20 :14
The seed that fell among the thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go their way, they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures and do not mature.
I have been a night person my whole life. In one of the parsonages we lived in when I was a kid the top floor had a little landing, a sitting area, a small office, and one large room that was as large as half the house downstairs. Our parents arranged all four beds and each girl had our own little space. I used to wait until the other three girls were asleep and sit up in bed to play jacks – without the ball bouncing.
Over the years I have followed everyone’s advice: pray, yoga, meditate, create plot lines, deep breathing… you name it. And still I start out praying, but eventually I run out of things to pray for and/or meditate about. And worry moves in.
And so, there I was, again in the middle of the night, awake and worrying: what’s that popping sound in the car’s steering? I can close my eyes and see all the scenarios of what could happen on the roads when the steering goes out if one of us were driving. What is going to happen with the writing? Can I write anything other people will want to read?
For years I worried about why I couldn’t just quit worrying, be like everyone else and just give it all to God in one big lump. I got very weary of the don’t worry, be happy people. Can it really be that easy? Honestly, I thought I had a spiritual problem.
The idea came to me… I should say, in my seeking, the Holy Spirit prompted a memory from my education. When I ran out of things to pray about, and worry stopped by to chat, I changed tactics.
“Yes, that is a legitimate worry,” I told myself. I thought it through, and then turned to God. “Okay, God, I can’t handle this myself. Heal this hurt.” or “Yes, that person may have misunderstood what I was trying to say. Go between me and her/him and soothe any hard feelings.” Soon the past had pretty well been dealt with. For a few years longer, I repeated the activity nightly, and now it’s no longer necessary to do that. When worry comes I stop then, examine the worry, dismiss it or take the time to talk to God about it.
In a sense, I did have a spiritual problem, but not the one I thought. I was trying to be a ‘don’t worry person’ when God was waiting for me to figure out how to and when I was ready for him to help me deal with my ‘worry gene.’
I won’t presume to be the only person who has a worry gene. We all know worry is but one of the non-clinical things that grow into obsessions. This scripture names two more of the common things that become obsessions. Sometimes we hold onto our pain or hurts until we see the whole world through the eyes of hurt and pain. They become an obsession. But we have to keep giving whatever it is to God before it become a life habit or takes hold of us as an obsession. Otherwise it will darken our life, complicate our emotional health, raise our blood pressure and ruin our joyful relationship with God and the people around us.
The scripture ends with ‘And they don’t mature.” For years worry choked my growth as a person and a Christian, but didn’t kill it. God and I worked through it. God is faithful.
So I pray: God, help me recognize when I am in danger of letting something overtake my life. Help me not to ignore it because it’s easier to suppress than face the unpleasant parts of my personality. Help me not to dwell on it, but give it to you until we have conquered its danger to my spiritual and emotional life.
1 The Lord reigns,
let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. 2 Great is the Lord in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. 3 Let them praise your great and awesome name— he is holy.
4 The King is mighty, he loves justice— you have established equity; in Jacob you have done what is just and right 5 Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.
6 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. 7 He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud; they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them.
8 Lord our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds. 9 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.