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.
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.
As I am writing a 365 day devotional book, I come across some things that signaled a change in my way of thinking. At a time I was angry with God, I discovered I could yell at God and he would not throw me out. That was very freeing. The other thing I discovered at the same time was I could be angry at God, but at the same time realize he is my only place to go for a help. It was odd, but was wonderful. This is from several years back….but I hope it blesses you. Jo Bower
Following Jeremiah’s Tradition
At one time my heart was sad
and my spirit was bitter.
22 I didn’t have any sense. I didn’t know anything.
I acted like a wild animal toward you.
23 But I am always with you.
You hold me by my right hand.
24 You give me wise advice to guide me.
And when I die, you will take me away
into the glory of heaven.
25 I don’t have anyone in heaven but you.
I don’t want anything on earth besides you.
26 My body and my heart may grow weak.
God, you give strength to my heart.
You are everything I will ever need.
I cry to my Lord: You have shown me your hand. But not the fingers of your blessed caress. I feel the backside of your hand. And it knocked me down. The opportunity you led me to believe you sent which caused great joy in myself – and all I know as we praised your name – has collapsed. And you let it collapse.
Through all my prayers and hope and gratitude 0f how far you’d brought me, you still let it collapse. So be it. But it’s not just all right. I’m not skipping over this with blithe remarks about God’s will be done or it’s fine. You did it And I’m deeply angry with you. What would it have hurt? Just what did I do so wrong? Yet, hope sneaks back almost undetectable. Then it rushes to the surface. And I resist it. Hope has just led to heartbreak.
Yet I can’t help it. It has far more resiliency than ever imagined. Why can’t it stay until I’m ready to embrace it? I’m not yet deserted. God, you are still with me. It is from that indisputable fact that my hope finds its origin.
Still I hesitate. Questions remain. Was it an exercise of futility fed by my need to be someone? Did I run ahead of you? Am I to pursue the dream, and so, in what direction?
Obviously positive thinking and belief alone does not always bring reality to its knees. It has brought me to mine. So much for motivational speakers. I can’t help but feel the dream is not dead, Perhaps just postponed. But before I take it up again, you will have to bring me to full knowledge of your hope.
But strangely, I believe all these things. I’m just fearful of letting go again. Fearful of letting hope poke its head from under the covers I tossed over it.
God, on a positive note, I have been released from a total obsession that had begun to rule my life. I’m not sure what the obsession was, 0r if it was helpful or harmful. But something was pressing down on me. Was it that I was being driven to work on one activity to the exclusion of joy coming from other activities? Was it the fear of failure, of acceptance and criticism, or the fear of success? Whatever it was, I thank you for deliverance.
I was down so far only you could rescue me. Don’t let me fall back into that pit. Help me pick up, follow the opportunities you do send . . . and know what direction you direct now. Thank you for not leaving me in my time of anger.
I will again praise your name, in a different way than before, but I will praise you. You enabled my survival.
So, then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh – 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die: but if by the Spirit, you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are Children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs with Christ – if in fact we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified.
I John 3:1
3 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
As we celebrate mothers one month and father’s day the next we often study the scriptures Paul writes about us being God’s children.
God is father, and adopts us into the community of the children of God, and joint heirs with Jesus. And if we can grasp that, it changes our approach to God and life. We use terms like Christian confidence and boldness in approaching God and life. And that is good.
We also speak of being like children in trusting implicitly, without reservations, in God’s love. And that is good.
I don’t know about you, but when I was younger, when I was around my parents I sometimes reverted to feeling like a child. And I think that is natural. But as I grew up, my relationship with them changed. And as an adult, the element of friendship entered. I still was their child, I still trusted them, loved them, cared deeply for them, but my maturity was reflected in the relationship.
As I read this scripture, I wondered if our relationship shouldn’t change as we mature as a Christian. And this is not how we normally like to think. We want to remain as youngsters in Christ. That simple trust. That totally true or totally untrue world we live in as a child. And that was good. We don’t want to think about our relationship. We just want to feel. And we set about our lives based on what makes us feel good.
We choose our church, our activities, and service according to what fits our needs to feel fulfilled. As lay people we tend not to ask God to show is where he wants us to serve. That is an adult this to do. Learning to love as God taught us…others come first.
As youngsters, our love is based on what parents do for us, and we gradually begin to understand love is the basis of their actions. We all have seen the conflicts that results when either the parent or child fail to have a healthy view of the love interaction. It is a sign of maturity when we begin to respect who our parents are and learn to love them for who they are.
But in all of this, we remain their children.
As a young person, we are first drawn to Christ because of the things he does for us. As we begin to mature in Christ, we learn to love God because of who God is.
But in all of this we remain God’s children. We just become God’s adult children. But the emphasis the relationship changes. It is no longer primarily about what God does for us. It becomes about the fellowship, the joys of life, and the courage to persevere. And we come to see God at work even when he doesn’t do things our way.
Obviously the child parent illustration breaks down at some point due to age, but no matter the dynamics, we still remain our parents’ children.
And we remain God’s children. While retaining the childlike trust and wonder at the depth of God’s love, we should become the adult Children of God.
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.
Scripture speaks of a party spirit, (Galatians 5:20 Amplified Bible)
But it’s not the University par-ty! par-ty! Spirit.
It’s using ideology, religious bent, difference in life style
As the excuse to angrily part ways – break fellowship
Humans draw lines.
Kids wearing school uniforms may have stopped violence over clothes envy,
But I witnessed kids drawing lines characterized by
How many and the message of the arm bracelets they wore – bling.
Some societies still use ‘good families’ – we use money, position, and religion as our chalk.
We could stop there, acknowledging wealth, position, heritage and religion separate us.
But instead of stepping over the line, we use it to enable and feed our scorn and disrespect.
We personify the Biblical Party Spirit: derision becomes a journalistic tool,
We pit generations and geographical areas against each other, calling it demographics,
We attack opponents’ worth, and disrespect is a political weapon or even justifies homicide.
Why do humans draw lines?
What drives us to scorn people who bring change we fear?
Why do we generate hate over differences?
And if we say we draw lines because of some need for safety,
It is not a product or measure of the distance between us and God?
I don’t think it’s God’s fault or a defect of our design.
I’m afraid it’s when I am the only controlling interest in my life,
When all I care about is me and mine,
And all my life is centered around getting ‘us’ what we want,
Respect – the simple idea that everyone’s value is equal – is lost.
There’s a math set theory concept that puts a different spin on equality.
Two sets that contain the same number of items
Are considered equivalent – not equal in the sense of being the very same,
But of the same value.
I like this idea applied to people.
It allows for all the differences in us.
The things we value, how we are hard-wired,
Creative, spiritual, logical, color of skin,
Scientific, romantic, military bent, primarily heart belief,
Or thinking, scholarly belief, no belief, and everything between –
God equipped us, giving us the same rights and position in His consideration.
But we are not the same –
We are wildly different in ability, station in life, influence, and activity.
We must quit trying to make us be the same – valuing each other by achievements,
And begin thinking about our shared value instead of drawing ‘us and them’ lines.
I’m learning a new kind of respect.
Built on equivalence, not strict equality as we think of it.
That leaves me the right to choose my way,
Without resorting to the parting of ways with ideologies,
Without having to question my respect for people who are so different from me.
It’s such a tiny thing – respect.
Both giving and receiving respect changes us all.
So, is it really that easy? Or even that simple?
Even admitting there are people who will never understand the concept of respect,
Would our world be so different if we lived in respect of each other?
If so, how do I get the desire to respect?
And how do I overcome the desire to drawn lines?
Ho do I learn to value others as I do ‘me and mine?’
How can respect be my first reaction?
Instead of fear, suspicion, scorn or hate?
I long to make the answer easy – God.
If that’s so, why are there so many inward sighted, bitter, arrogant Christians?
Maybe it’s so hard because respect has to come from our core.
We can’t fake it – or we’re merely being civil.
And people know the difference.
So, first it has to be genuine – there can be no point of contact without it.
That means God has to change me inside so my core generates genuine respect.
But first I must want to change, I must ask God to change me, and then live accordingly.
Our society understand some things as reflected in the random acts of kindness movement,
Respect acts that way, rippling out from me. But first God must change me.
Galatians 5: 19-20 Amplified Bible (Read Galatians 5: 16 to 20 for context.)
Now, the doings (practices) of the flesh are clear (obvious); they are immorality, impurity … Idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, (ill temper), selfishness, divisions, (dissensions), party spirit (factions)