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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.

Perspectives

It is a fact of nature that big things come from small.
Trees and adults alike start as seeds and embryos.
Songs are often born of feelings, poems of a passing conversation
And many a good marriage is born of a smile.

God help me remember who I am today didn’t happen just yesterday.
Yet what I am tomorrow is happening today.
That seems a contradiction, but life is made up of small steps.
Daily reactions and decisions from the situations you put me in.

Help me be sensitive to your leading in small things,
The way I react to a person, what I say to him or her,
How I decide to act on any given situation
Can begin molding my character and determine opportunities for witness.

Planning and looking to the future are good and necessary.
But help me attend to the sacredness of daily growth.
Give me wisdom to identify and implant the best daily activities
For me to grow into what you have for me in the future.

LIVING LIFE BACKWARDS?

The speaker told the congregation about a rowing team she was on in college.

The rowers sit with their backs to the goal, facing a person.at the end of the boat.

The rowers’ job is to row, following the directions of that person,

And the person who faces forward guides the rowers to the finish line

In their final race, with qualifying heats over, they finally were neck and neck,

When their guide crashed them into a bridge.

 

Her text was God’s words “for I know the plans I have for you…”

Using her illustration, God sits at the end of the boat

And we are the rowers who have our backs to the goal.

We cannot see what is coming but the one facing forward, God,

Knows the future and directs us from that point of view

 

We talk about stepping into the future, facing the future,

But really all we know is the present and past,

So in reality, we are facing the past and stepping backwards into the future.

All we really have is hope, trust,

And faith in someone who will not crash us into a bridge.

 

Starting with Old Testament stories, through Revelations,

We gain an understanding of how we can expect God to handle our trust.

And if we insist on crashing into bridges, which we sometimes do,

God doesn’t withdraw,

But allows the trouble and then supplies wisdom and strength to endure.

 

As I consider the past, I can trust that the God who worked then still sees the future.

He still knows the plans for a hopeful future he had for them, us – me –

Have not changed since he first promised Israel’s exiles he had one.

And he will hear my prayers for courage when

– keeping my eyes on him – I step backwards into the future.

 

Jeremiah 29:11-12

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray I will listen.”

Wednesday and Thursday’s Prayer

God, Help me look at today.

I’m reminded of living near the ocean in the Northwest.
By Wednesday many people’s talk
Had already turned to the weekend’s visit to the beach.
No matter the season, many live for the weekend’s coastal adventure.

God, help me live today in your presence.
Help me do something for your kingdom each day,
Move closer to a goal, do something useful,
And/or work on the skills that bring me pleasure.

Help me be thankful for today
In spite of mid-week weariness.
If I concentrate on today’s joys and challenges,
The week’s road doesn’t seem to stretch so far beyond the horizon.

If there are preparations to be made,
Help me keep them in the right perspective,
Joyfully looking forward, without dread, or losing today’s importance.
Help me bask in today’s space and time.

Prayer meeting is pretty much part of the past, but not the need for it.
At mid-week I need that refreshment of spirit:
A gathering of resources for the longevity of my joyful attitudes.
Help me find something to enhance worship on this day.

Each day has its own feel
But the middle days get lost in the turning toward the weekend.
Help me make the best of this day,
In a way that makes me a better person for all days to come.

A Conflict of What’s Best

So, a pastor heard me play piano and asked where I was playing.
I understood his question was really about my church.
Upon learning of our recent change in station and life
That means I am not playing for church, he offered me a job where he pastors.

My heart jumped.
I was flattered…it meant the gift was intact.
I do miss sharing the music God gives me.
For the first time in years I have an option of where I play.

But it’s not that easy.
The church is 40 minutes away…
We would not be able to attend our new church which has welcomed us graciously.
And their needs present real, possible conflicts with the availability of our one car.

Continue reading →

Sometmes Quietly

Sorry, I don’t have any angst today,
No tears to cry.
I had a panic attack the other night over the past,
But God once again assured me the past has not been wasted.
The work God called me to and whatever we did together still has and will always have value.

So today a quiet spirit resides as I look into the future.
When I talk to my elderly mother and she says there is no news
We pause, then quietly laugh together and finish with
And that is probably a good thing.
Occasionally one of us adds, “l thank God for my life.”

Just by my finding significance in the above,
You most likely understand the achievement of this peace
Is not something that just came in the mail.
Disappointment, hurts, failures, insecurities – As common as they are to all of us,
Have often threatened disintegration for my melancholic personality.

But, as my conversation with my mother testifies,
God is the great enabler – the one who overcomes and bestows overcoming.
Today’s quietness of spirit is because God overcomes.
And the hope for tomorrow’s peace and release for service
Is because God will always be the great enabler.

Sometimes, quietly, I can step back, take a deep breath,
And drink in the joy the relationship with God affords.
With each adversity comes a new struggle,
Followed by working-through and letting-go periods.
And God enables me to adjust so again I realize…

I thank God for my life.

HALFWAY GIVERS

When I try to talk about totally giving myself to God
I struggle with it and just end up sounding pompous or at the least, stuffy.
But I’ve been given a new chance from a couple of different sources.
So I kind of put them together and hope I can see things differently.

It still seems to me it is a matter of building trust in who God is and his trustworthiness.
Few of us come away from that first, life changing encounter with this depth of trust.
It’s a maturing, letting Jesus become part of life, Believer (not a teenage Believer) thing.
I think of it as beginning to look for service beyond the ‘what God does for me” stage.

And we have to experience letting go of things before God can give us something better
Enough times times that we have faith in the process –
Almost like we have to practice letting go before we let go of “me.’
We have to learn to trust: God replaces what we give up with something better.

In reality when we, at conversion, give ourselves to God,
We are committing ourselves to the putting away of things as apostle Paul illustrates
As we grow from childhood into teen, then young adult, then adult Christians.
Some mature quickly and let can go of self in a short span of time, and some never can.

One source drew from Exodus 34:29, putting the relationship in covenant terms:
When God makes a covenant with us our life changes.
But something must die for something to be born born and the hard work.
The writer asks,
“What did Moses have to leave on top of the mountain to come down transformed?”

It seems to him as it does to me that more has to change than just our emotions.
We can’t come away from a transforming encounter with God
Bringing our “old life habits, ways of thinking, ways of being,” acting,
And ways of doing things “back with us if we truly are becoming a new person in Christ.”

The putting away of those things becomes the real spiritual work
That, in the end, brings me to the point of being able to finally let go of self
And enter into a new covenant with God in which He is the stronger partner
And provides love and strength for my giving myself to His care.

The struggle is in trusting enough to give up our old person, whom we are used to,
And believe God will transform us without wiping out who we are.
My second source says “The last thing we want to let go is ourselves.
It is the only thing we really own.”

And now, after giving up all these things, “Christ with imperious demands
Asks for that one last thing.
It is at this place that the real battle is joined.
All else has been skirmishes.”

Matthew 10:37 and Luke 14:25 – 27
Talk about loving God so much you are willing to surrender even family members.
“….Interestingly enough…life or self is the last thing mentioned.
Yes, (he’s willing to surrender) even his own life.

Jesus ….puts it last because he knows it is the last thing we give up.”
But what does our life look like if we stop halfway?
Changing what people can see, or the easy parts
Yet doing our best to serve and love God without surrendering self?

“A Missionary (for example) gives up home and loved ones…but not self…
Finds his inner self touchy over position, place and power.
The minister…finds himself preaching
With a great deal of vanity and ambition mixed in.

The layman (who doesn’t give up self) finds himself easily offended.”
Christ still works through us, but we keep getting in the way.
Eventually we block God’s gifts flowing through us,
And finally turn away from God in frustration.

There is no set timeline – like a second year Christian should have given up
The old way of thinking and by the fifth year, be ready to give up….. .
At the same time, we cut ourselves off from the best God has for us
If we become halfway givers – always holding some part of ourselves back,
Not quite trusting God enough to risk giving that one last thing – ourselves.

Tom Arthur “Disciplines 2013”
E. Stanley Jones “Victorious Living”

There’s Something Wrong In Here

I read these two very different scriptures in one day:
The first is Jotham’s Parable in Judges chapter nine.
The second John three.
They go together in an oddly striking way.

The parable starts like this: The trees looked for a ruler.
They went to the olive trees
“Will you rule over us?”
“What? And give up producing the most needed olive to rule over you?
No! It is not worth it.”

Next they went to the fig tree.
“Will you rule over us?”
“What?” The fig tree laughed at the other trees.
“And give up producing this lovely fruit to rule over you?
No way! It’s not worth it!”

Then, getting desperate I suppose,
They go the grapevine.
“Shall I give up making this wonderful wine?
To rule over you?” It laughed.
“No!” And waxed eloquent in its refusal, I would imagine.

Not being wise enough to get the message the trees approached the thorn-bush.
And the thorn-bush, being already somewhat envious of the trees,
And also remaining true to its nature said:
“Me rule over you? Me rule over the mighty trees?
Why, it would be my pleasure!”

The writer was speaking to the ancient people’s choice
Of the things they had chosen over God.
They assumed every new idol or religion they encountered
Was the new answer.
And they followed anyone who consented to rule over them.

Yet Jotham’s words speak to us.
The things from God are so truly good we try to worship them,
Make them our central theology and then turn them to ruling doctrines.
But the good things from God reply to our question,
“What? Me be your king and queen? We’re too busy creating more good!”

And we go to good works who says:
“What? I’m just too busy.
I can’t take time for administration of the law.”
And meditation says :
“It is merely my place to advise.”

And so we run to all the things God has allowed us :
Technology says no, “but I’ll help you organize and share it.”
Service to others paused, really wanting to rule,
Then stayed true to its nature said:
“The right thing for the wrong reason does not last.”

We go on ’till we find passion, greed, obsession, reason or enlightenment,
Who look at each other in delight. “Oh yes! We will rule.
Gladly we will drive you and coax you even make you a ruler.”
And we say, “Finally. Someone to take charge.”
God sighs.  And the evil one is delighted.
We start anew. Things go along well.

Driven to achieve, to be and do good, and to see good things happen, we hope for the best.
But in the end we realize it’s not enough.
And somewhere we put our hand to our chest and admit,
Something is wrong in here.

Ah, enter John Chapter Three.
Those universal words of love
Given by the creator whose very nature is
Love and is expressed in constant giving.
And when we respond to … God so loved ….he gave… .

We not only rediscover eternal life,
We find the One God who will not turn into a faulty ruler.
The One who provides the framework
On which to hang the good things he gives us,
The tools he provides, and the work he calls us to.

Amen and Amen.

John 3:16
Judges 9:7-15

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