Tag Archives: Inspirational Blog

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.

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So, Remind Me, Why Do I Need God?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lament

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

A Lament
Following Jeremiah’s Tradition

Psalm 73:21-26
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.

Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights
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.

Post-Resurrection People

In the days following your resurrection you appeared to many different people:

You appeared to Mary Magdalen, The woman of many sins: a forgiven sinner.

You appeared to Peter, The very man who, under pressure, denied he knew you.

You appeared to  the travelers on the road to Emmaus,

Discouraged, sad of heart, defeated of spirit.

You appeared to the disciples in the upper room,

Hiding, frightened because they thought you, their leader was dead.

And even Thomas.

You appeared to him. He who needed proof to believe,

Who wanted to believe, yet was hesitant.

 

One of my novels is a novel inside of a novel. The main character was reading a novel. Both were important to the story line. I tried writing both at the same time, and realized it was impossible, so I wrote the two novels separately, using two different styles and two different voices.  When I spoke of the first novel I spoke as me, and when I talked about the novel inside the first novel, I spoke as the character of the first novel to whom I attributed that novel. My husband would tell me I sounded multi-personality-like.  Even now I sound like two different people.

Indeed, I sometimes think, half-seriously, that there are two people in me. One is the person who loves people and enjoys being with people. The other is the hermit – the melancholy creative person who wants nothing but to be left alone. While not a clinical multiple personality problem, I suspect all of us have distinct sides to our personality.

In fact, as I look at the list of people you appeared to after your resurrection I realized I have resembled many of them at one time or another.

I am a forgiven sinner. Yet a times in my life I struggle with temptation.

I know who I belong to, but at times, by my actions, I betray or even deny my faith under pressure.

I’m often ashamed about how easily I am discouraged, how often I am sad, defeated in spirit. In all the confirmation you send my way in life, one rejection one negative comment sends me down the path of discouragement.

Then there are times I withdraw from the community, frightened I am not equal to the task before me. Doubting I am the person for the job. And I need proof you are with me.

As with all the people you appeared to after your resurrection you come to me in spirit. You forgive, reassure, send people into my life to keep me on track, and by your presence let me know you will always provide the strength needed to live victoriously.

As a post-resurrection person, I learn you are constant in your relationship with me, no matter which of these people I resemble today.

And so I pray:

God, Help me embrace my faith in the power of your resurrection so I become fearful, worried, unsure of myself in my walk with you. Thank you for your constant presence and encouragement. Help me continue growing beyond the pulls of all the  influences around me.

 

 

 

 

What the World Needs

Us. That’s what the world needs.
We who have learned fractious living is unproductive.
We who have learned there is a time and place to give voice to our inner critic.
We who tire of both extremes insisting they are the only proper and right choice.
We who are adopting peacemaking as life’s philosophy.
We who share grace instead of insults in life’s stress filled moments.

You. That’s what the world needs.
Your individual voice that soothes your world’s hurts.
You who rub balm instead of salt into open wounds.
You who understand just because you know gossip doesn’t mean you have to share it.
You who are aware of and mindful of other’s feelings and reactions.
You who, by example, can teach our world about balance.

Me. That’s what the world needs.
Me, who God has redeemed and refined to reflect who God is.
Me, who has dedicated talents and self to God’s expression.
Me, who can change the atmosphere in which I dwell by sharing the quiet joy of God.
Me, who can make a difference in the world when I give that which makes me unique.
Me, who the Holy Spirit empowers me so others can see God.

God’s People. That’s what the world needs.
God’s people to be present and active.
God’s people to step up and be the means of Grace for a fractured world.
God’s people to give positive input instead of dropping out and criticizing.
God’s people’s witness to build-up, and not tear down.
God’s people to face reality but re-enforce good, wherever it is found.

And so I pray:
God, I realize the world needs more than one word solutions. It’s not a simple world we live in, and we have left you out. Help me be part the positive movement leading the way back to you as our world begins to realize what we have is not working. But to do that, help me live each day in your presence and be a reflection of you in the part of the world you have put me in.

God’s All

Galatians 3:26-27
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..

It’s Over

1 Kings 19:4-8 (NIV)

4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said.
“Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.
All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.
7 The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank.
Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.

So the Great Elijah had this wonderful experience
With the burning altar when God sent the Fire down and burned everything
Including the Water he soaked the wood with to prove the power of God.
However, in proving God’s power, he made powerful enemies.
And he panicked and ran.
He ended up safe and provided for by angels,
But his spirit was broken.

“The glory days are over,” he says to himself.
“Here I am of use to no one.
I don’t have anyone to serve.
I am of no better than my ancestors who couldn’t remain faithful
To God for more than one generation at a time
Before falling back into sin.
So, God, just take me home.”

No one has to live very long,
No one who has a servant’s heart,
No performer or artist who has ever had a perfect performance or result,
No pastor who knows it is time to turn the congregation over to the next person God has prepared,
Who comes to a low point following the great times of the mountain-top experience,
Can deny they know exactly what Elijah felt in that cave.

“Things will never the same,”
Something deep inside insists,
“Or ever as good the emotional seat taunts.”
We don’t leave God, but we hide out.
In fact we often find God is supplying our needs during the process.
But we are scared the opportunity for service is gone.
The special lift, or heightened communication with God or community
Will never be experienced again.

“This is as good as it will ever get. It’s over. I’ve reached the peak of life.
God, just take me home now, or I am afraid I cannot ever serve you like that again.
And I will fail you, me, and the people I am supposed to be serving.”
This is not just a pity party.
This is the loss of confidence in our ability to reproduce this kind of experience ever again,
“I cannot conceive of things ever going anywhere but down from here time.
Life will never be this good again. And I have many years yet to live.”

And most of it really is true. Life will never be the same
After one of those periods of life… after a truly spectacularly mountain-top time of service,
Service may never again be so meaningful for quite some time.
Relationships may not be as rich.
But……
God nurtures us while we flounder in uncertainty of what comes next.
And before we know something sparks that servant’ s heart.

We find a kind of perverse joy in the mundane…..
As a musician knows the joy of just practicing returns,
We experience life in normal valley as good.
Perhaps the fire on the mountain experiences will never again be part of daily life.
But it is not over.
God is, as he always was, still there – working, prompting, going before us, clearing the way
For the different, new – if not spectacular – thing he is guiding us to.

Quietly we follow.
Gently God leads.
We expect little.
God presence is often just enough.
And step by step we travel through the tunnel of transitions,
And unexpectedly emerge onto a whole new mountain place of life
Made possible by the journey that began when we thought nothing would ever be the same.

Compassion

God, I drove through what some cities call ‘the district,’

And saw the homeless, the down and out, the dirty,

Standing in doors of bars and cafes, looking out at something I couldn’t see.

And I thought to myself

These are your creations too

You love them as you love me.

When I drove through the rougher neighborhoods

With their little kept houses, motorcycles and souped up cars,

Where people drink and fight at home.

And I thought with an ache in my heart,

God, these are your people too.

As your church we – I – need to be reaching them.

As I walk through my territory

I look at the streets, apartment complexes,

Small homes … family places.

And I think to myself,

Here, too, they love and fight, sometimes in quiet desperation;

Many not knowing they too are your people.

Give me wisdom to know how to put love into action,

To what groups to give financial support,

In what causes to get involved.

I cannot reach everyone personally,

But I can give out pieces of your living Spirit

To anyone, everyone, with whom I come in contact.

Help me not to withdraw into my business like a shell,

When dealing with those different than I,

But always share your warmth and acceptance.

Compunction to Care

After the funeral of a friend taken too soon,
And crises looming in several other’s lives,
My attention was directed to the scripture that
States we do not grieve like those who have no hope.

I was reminded people who love God
Have been sometimes counseled not to grieve,
As if grieving is a symptom of non-trust in God’s care for us.
But that is not what this scripture says.

It tells us we will feel grief, but are not deserted.
God is in the middle of our grief, a constant comfort.
But I was also reminded, from other scripture, as people of God
We might even grieve more than those without hope.

Many people care only for ‘me and mine.’
But as we express God’s love,
We have the compunction to care
For people and situations in a way many people don’t comprehend.

I am pleased to hear of some wealthy people who have begun a movement
To give back to the world, but what is my motivation?
God teaches me it is love – As I love the people around me
I get involved in their emotional lives, and love them for who they are.

And even when people I don’t know hurt – but are in situations I understand – I hurt.
When they grieve, I grieve;
Perhaps not in the bottom-of-the-pit place where I find myself When a close companion,
Beloved family or cherished friends dies, but I do grieve.

But I can let God’s love flow through me by being close,
Listening without denying their feelings are real or even appropriate,
Starting where they are when they come for comfort,
And showing God’s love so they will understand there is hope.

Hope God will help us deal with the grief,
Hope things will get easier to bear as God provides strength,
Hope the grief can spur us to action through which to funnel the grief.
Hope we will not always be lost in this sea of grief.

God is the source of my compunction to care.
The love flowing into my heart fills me and urges me care enough
To share it with everyone I meet, and when I care,
I share the grief of the person in front of me as well as people in tragic situations I hear about.

Yet I don’t live a grief-stricken life.
As God is the source of my compunction to care for many,
He gives strength and the wisdom of how to live with the resulting grief.
His help is often flesh covered as people offer practical help, and often it is spiritual comfort.

I don’t deny the reality of that deep sense of loss.
I have experienced it too often, and it is not always related to death.
It is only in facing it for what it is, feeling each stage fully, and giving it back to God
That I become unafraid to nurture this compunction to care.

The more I learn to love God,
The more the compunction to care grows,
The more I care for those around me and am affected by them,
The more strength God will give me to remain effective in expressing God’s love to hurting people.

I Thessalonians 4:13
And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like those who have no hope…

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