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.
See to it that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your body is full of light and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp is upon you.
I spent this summer having eye surgery. I did not get much writing done because my eyes got tired very easily. However, I never lost the ability to see well enough to read music and play piano except for the actual recovery time. For you see, I had developed a cataract in my right eye so thick and opaque light was no longer able to get into the eye. As soon as that was removed, and even before the eye healed, the amount of light that was suddenly flowing through the eye nearly restored my vision to my mid twenty’s level.
I began to have a new idea about the ‘light’ scriptures. This particular one talks about our whole life being lit if Christ’s light is in our life. Another scripture speaks of the eyes being the source of light for the whole body, referring to our soul being lit with Christ’s light results in our whole life being filled with light.
My doctor promised color would come alive again, and indeed it has. “Great vision is ahead for you!” I hardly believed him. But I could begin to believe as the light streaming into my eye for the first time in years became tolerable and vision cleared through healing. Most of that had happened even before I had surgery on the second eye.
The lessons God has reminded me of start with the fact of my unawareness of what was happening. Quite a while ago, I was informed that cataracts were beginning to form, but it would be decades before I would even know they were there. It has not been decades, but even at that I could not tell I was losing my awareness of bright colors. Just in the last two years have I gotten worried about my vision. Still I could not believe a cataract of such severe nature snuck up on me.
And the faith lesson is obvious. We drift away from God, really quite unaware our spiritual awareness has dimmed. Then something happens and we turn, hands out and blindly feel for God. Darkness has crept into our lives as we compromise with the darkness around us. What that looks like for each of us is different. Sometimes we have sunken so low we can no longer believe change is possible. We can’t get a grip on God’s love, presence, and constant forgiving grace. Sometimes we even quit believing.
The light of life is gone.
I had not realized how tentative my life had become as I automatically adjusted to limitations. I no longer enjoyed driving and getting out by myself. I, unthinking, turned down opportunities to play piano because confidence faltered. I assumed it was all stress and the need for rest as my life’s situation had changed. That was partly true, but now I see, I just could not read music fast enough to keep up. God did use that to force me to get very much-needed rest, but once I could see better, confidence returned.
And, as we put out blind hands and encounter God, life slowly returns. Then, one day, full life is again possible. Christ’s light comes back into our souls, and once again we have light to shine onto those around us who look to us for illumination.
Of course, the answer to that is always be aware of and take care of things as they come into our lives. I had indeed taken steps to keep cataract development slow. I addressed the sugar thing that was heading toward diabetes and other physical things that are known to foster eye problems, yet I wasn’t quick enough. And as humans, we get sidetracked, by even good things, so easily. May God help us to identify those distractions as they are beginning to get the upper hand instead of waiting until we have lost the light from our spiritual eyes.
Review People of Faith in a Changing World
By David Ramous
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.
Matt 5:7 Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy (RSV)
Even without religious applications we understand two things about mercy: it is given not earned and it modifies other actions.
We present our case, explain why we did or said or thought what we did, and take any responsibility for it/them. We then ask the other to judge us with mercy, because we did not begin with malice in our hearts.
As a modifier it essentially changes negative situations into positive situations. After all, it is through mercy that I receive forgiveness instead of the punishment justice calls for. God’s mercy.
But mercy isn’t a primary motivator. It begins with love, moves to compassion, and shows up in the action of mercy. With God’s primary nature being love, compassion and mercy are natural components of his actions toward the creation he loves. Whether we are right or wrong in our assumption, we have come to expect mercy from God.
And here is the hard part for humans. Love is not our primary motivation. With humanity’s encounter with and embrace of evil, we are primarily self-centered. So how do we come to the place where we are merciful people?
First, I realize I don’t feel mercy . . . I feel compassion. Mercy is the course of action I follow in response to that feeling. Compassion is born of the love we know as agape love. Devine love. Love that does not seek profit for the giver. Love that is applied simply because it’s part of the giver.
Now where do humans, self-centered as we are, manufacture that kind of love? That’s our first response isn’t it? If I just live right I can learn to love like that. We all are capable of merciful acts, but to become a merciful person, we have to have God’s love in us.
But it’s not exactly spontaneous. We first recognize and face the fact of the wrong that has been done. We admit the deserved punishment, but feel compassion for the wrongdoer, – knowing without God we would be in the same place – God’s love fills us and we understand forgiveness instead of punishment. Now we are capable of showing mercy. And finally, we decide to show mercy. I include the last step because we understand without God’s love in us we can know mercy is called for and refuse to apply it.
It’s fairly obvious, then what we need to seek. The indwelling, to use an old-fashioned but self-explanatory term, of God’s love. To this end we seek the deepest relationship with God that is possible for each of us.
This scripture teaches we receive mercy as we give it. And now it makes sense. Mercy is not an automatic response unless we know God’s love, and because we know God’s love we experience mercy, therefore, we know love and feel the compassion that is the parent of mercy. It’s a circle.
When I break that circle I am acting as if I have not received mercy. It’s like ignoring mercy has been applied to me, and I must return to mercy’s source and ask God to show me the mercy of forgiveness for my hard heart. And the circle can begin again.
And so I pray,
God, I don’t want to show mercy simply to buy my way into heaven. I want to have impact on the world around me. Help me keep my heart and life in constant contact with you. As I experience your compassion that results in mercy towards me, show me the places in my life that call for compassion and mercy.
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?”
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
I’m frustrated when I try to get beyond the ‘we’re all the same in God’s sight” cop out, and the word-service given to the philosophical acknowledgement of Galatians chapter three verse twenty-seven’s resounding ALL.
I’m afraid we still think in terms of God approving and disapproving of everything, and we assume we need to think in those terms. But are we sure we have to hold opinions on everything, and approve or disapprove of every thought, person and belief?
God’s ALL is not about approval and disapproval, it’s about the worth of people. And when we (Humans, not God) want to make ourselves look better, we first make our detractors look unworthy.
People have been degrading others since the first person accepted slavery as an institution, since politics became a profession, since success or society’s approval, or wealth became the measurement of a person’s worth. And it has seeped into the church and Christian’s attitudes between denominations and believers.
Competition seeps in and we resort to proving ourselves worthy and the ‘other’ not. We tear down effectiveness; analyze to death with emphasis on the negative; and apply what is no longer acceptable in today’s society to yesterday’s actions. We try to prove worthy or unworthiness through approval or disapproval.
But God’s ALL is not about approval. ALL who believe are worthy; ALL have the same value, and ALL can become believers and be redeemed.
And as such, ALL enjoy God’s love. With our actions we judge who God will find acceptable. We make lists of what we agree and disagree with, approve and disapprove of and forget God’s disapproval does not negate worthiness; it reflects actions. God approves or disapproves of actions instead of worthiness.
But when it comes down to politics – church or otherwise – , denominational or personal survival, or establishing reputations in life or business, God’s love goes out the window. We draw lines and we fall back into the trap of approving/disapproving and attacking worthiness.
And so I pray:
God, help us let You redeem our scornful natures.
Help us find the place to stand when we have disagreements of belief and ideas
Without degrading our opposition,
Without assuming our disapproval cancels Your (God’s) ALL..
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.
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.
Matthew 9:18 – 22 (NIV)
18 While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.”19 Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.
20 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21 She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”
22 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.
On his way to another healing Jesus was interrupted.
On his way to helping someone, another asked for help.
His thoughts were focused ahead to the one at his destination
But as he went he stopped and helped the woman in front of him.
Some became impatient.
Some were puzzled.
Very few knew what was happening.
But she did – and so did Jesus.
Some also have suggested the scriptures at the end of the gospels
That say go ye to all the world….
Are better understood as saying
As you go to all the world, take the good news with you.
On the way to work or play, or eat out or meet your accountant,
One the way to funerals, or weddings, or births, or the hairdresser,
One the way to your desk, or worship, to serve or be served,
Stop and see the person in front of you.
See the person whose stress shows.
See the person who just needs a listener.
See the person who faces a challenge.
See the person who needs something you can supply.
A smile, shared laugh, a pen, a few extra dollars, a word of appreciation,
Your jacket, the ability to pick up a dropped item, a hand to open a door.
A push so someone’s shopping cart, a word of encouragement,
Better yet, recognize the person brimming over with good news – celebrate with them!
As you go along your way,
Take the good news of God’s presence in the world with you.
Scatter blessings and be the reminder things can be different
Remind people all is not negative, cold or impersonal by being personal, warm and positive.
The conversation between Jesus and the woman he healed on his way to another healing
Took but a few minutes – perhaps he had stopped to let someone pass,
Or got slowed down by the traffic and she took advantage of the moment to touch him,
But her courage and his response changed her life and leaves us with this reminder.
As you go,
On the way to the next thing, when you get slowed down,
Don’t forget to respond to the person in front of you.
When they are in need, or reach out – reach back.
New International Version (NIV)
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,