2 Corinthians 5:16-21
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come far. The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
So, did it change you?
Did it challenge your faith, make it grow?
Or frighten you into doubts about your views of God
Did it make you less likely to give up your faith in time of adversity?
I think Easter does all these things. We are reminded there is truly evil, greed, desire for territorial protection and fear run deeply through humanity’s being. It’s frightening when we are forced to watch the innocent suffer. It touches our emotional core. We can barely contain our question of “Why?” and “How long God? How long must this go on?” And we pray “If possible let this cup pass from us.”
Or today we’d say “Really, God?” or “Come on, God, Seriously?” and “Are you really letting this go on?” And our faith is rattled.
But we have an example of a graceful meeting a crisis head on. From the time in the garden when Christ’s acceptance that the cup would not pass from him to his last words of the cross, we see how serious adversity can be handled.
But we protest, “Jesus was divine.”
True, we don’t fully understand how that worked, but we have hope because the same power he drew from is also the power available for us to draw strength from.
Bear with me here, I am not changing the subject.
Just as Jesus was not alone in his inner life, we are not alone in our inner lives. I use the ‘inner life’ term on purpose. It’s the place hope or despair, courage to face or fear to deny, acceptance or rejection, tolerance or prejudice, worthiness or unacceptability, competence for life or inability to function all live and call out for help. If the inner life’s needs are not met, a restlessness remains even after all of our other needs are met. That restlessness drives to a place where we never experience contentment. We are always searching.
Many times we substitute, mistake or misunderstand a physical presence as the way to fulfill our inner life needs. Perhaps, more precisely, we want to believe another’s physical presence also should satisfy our inner needs.
While the power of the physical presence and touch can satisfy physical and short-term emotional needs, it will not solve inner life needs. Many of life’s dramatic traumas are caused by the battle between seeking solutions to inner life needs in the physical world and not finding them.
Bitterness, disillusion, and cynicism invade our inner lives. Seeking wealth and power, oppression, greed, violence on different levels, and self-promotion are some of the actions that grow out of that discontent inner life. This makes the healthy things impossible: the things that drive us to do well in all we do, do things right, or make a success of our work, be a positive voice of change and a witness to God’s goodness and love.
Here’s how the two are connected. When we finally put a finger on our own chest and say, “There’s something wrong in here,” we can have hope things can be different. We can believe there is a power available to us to help us change what is wrong. That power is the same power God brought to bear to raise Jesus from the dead.
God has the power to meet the needs of our inner lives. When we look to God for completion of our lives, the struggle between spiritual, emotional and physical natures can be calmed. True peace is finally a reality. It changes how we act, what we do, how we treat people, and what we are no longer afraid of.
The only bad news here is that only a spiritual answer can solve the spiritual, inner life problems. And if we allow it, God will resolve the conflict between the negative and positive forces that battle in our inner lives.
Because of the work Jesus did at Easter for the forgiveness of sin and, through the power of resurrection, we can live confident, productive lives full of love, action and peace.
I am editing and rewriting the fifth novel of my science fiction series. The society (the Snow People of Shushimee) the travelers encounter in this book had a written language at one time and, because it was associated with rituals they no longer understood, they had come to see it as evil. They knew the symbols, but no longer understood what they meant.
In this excerpt, the chaplain is getting ready to speak to his congregation. (Andez is his Chaplain’s assistant. Cooper is the Transport Chief who holds a particular grudge against God.)
As Andez conducted the early parts of vespers, Craig let his thoughts wander “We’re not much different than the Snow People. We don’t understand so many of the old society’s symbols anymore. We don’t understand the Shepherd, or the planting and sowing, or the patriarchal society. To the first believers it was comforting to think of God as father. And we think it’s as bad as it is good.” He looked around room and caught a glimpse of Cooper leaning against the chapel’s door jamb. “At least half these people don’t even know their fathers.” Andez took his seat, ready for Craig to speak. “God help me tell them about you in terms they understand.”
As I revisited this paragraph I returned to a subject I have been wrestling with for a while. It has to do with the changing view of God and how we deal with it. Here are a few reflections. And this is in no way a complete discussion of the subject. Hope they start your own thought journey.
When humanity lived in violent times, God was understood in terms that matched the violent times. King, ruler, God was judged by how much power his followers had. How strong they were. The things that symbolized strength to them were used as symbols for God. (The right hand, the horns of animals.)
When the world’s most valued institution was/is the family, it was/is natural to understand God as a loving father figure.
When success, getting ahead, making something of one’s self and acceptance by society is most valued, God is viewed as helping us achieve these goals.
And when individuality is uppermost in value, God is understood as a partner in a relationship.
When law and civil order is most valued, the symbols of God reflect those values.
When head knowledge, and education are most valued, theology becomes most important.
We cannot forget (yet we often do forget) any way we speak of God is symbolic. We cannot understand the magnitude and breadth and depth and multi-dimensions of God as a Spirit otherwise. The total otherness of God escapes us.
Because of their function, symbols have this habit of slipping in to God’s place. We worship the symbol instead of God:
Ritual and words,
The blood of Christ,
The shroud Christ was covered with,
The trappings of theology, as well as theology and dogmatics themselves,
Traditional symbols such as father, mother, shepherd, sower, reaper, king, ruler, provider, sustainer, power source,
The symbols and style of worship,
Victims, (as the symbol of Jesus’ teaching of the strong empowering the weak instead of oppressing)
are but a few symbols we deeply care about.
When Jesus was sent to earth, God provided the ultimate symbol of His love. He sent his son. Something all humans understand and relate to. So, the family symbol has been most enduring.
However, today many people no longer understand the Old Testament view of God. When we try to apply our values as a victim oriented society to their understanding we question the authority and actions of the Old Testament God. Yet, there are societies that have not been part of the world’s journey and understanding as people and society have put into practice the lessons Jesus brought with him from God. Some still see God through the eyes and symbols of conquest and dominance of the strong over the weak as it was before Jesus was sent into the world.
And even, as people and societies who try to put Jesus’ teachings into practice, we stumble and fail in the application of them. Sometimes our symbols are faulty. Sometimes we try to make God fit the symbols we love. And that may be okay in certain instances. Illustrations are often valuable to help us understand things about God we could not otherwise. And Illustrations often grow into symbols.
Having said all that, we must also understand if we change the symbols for God we do not change the essential nature of God. For instance, God as a mother symbol does not change God, it merely helps us understand the nurturing action of God.
If we can grasp that each symbol illustrates a specific part of God instead of the whole, we can comfortably use the symbols. In fact, I think God does things the way he does because he tries to use the things we understand. He speaks to us differently because we are all different people.
I understand God as a loving father because I happen to be have been blessed with a loving, mischievous, thinking, teacher and pastor of a father. Imperfect though he was as are all humans, he was a good model for God as father. But I don’t have to look very far to see people who cringe at the idea of God as father, or even male. And many cringe at the idea of Mother God.
Music speaks to me. It’s part of my very soul. God can get into my heart and grab my attention quicker by using beauty than any other way. Music as a symbol for God makes sense to me. My mother is tone deaf…a monotone even. God as beauty and music makes very little sense to her.
What are your symbols? What are the things in contemporary life that can become symbols to people who no longer understand ancient symbols? We need to go back and understand the ancient symbols before we can translate them for our new generations.
Do not be afraid when someone else’s symbols are different from yours. God is God. Even when called by another name or symbolized by a not-male or not-female Spirit instead of male father or female mother or a relationship partner instead of authority. We can examine each symbol and see what part of God it is speaking of. We can check it out with the Bible and see if that which the symbol is trying to bring to light is really part of God’s nature. Then we can accept or reject it.
But we do not have to live in fear of the changing world and its symbols.
…God did this so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast, and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
In a study about heaven, I came across a new idea about the anchor. As you may know, the anchor is a powerful symbol for me. I put the picture I took of a side anchor of a bridge driven deeply into the side of a mountain on the cover of my devotional book – “People of Faith in a Changing World.”
Anchors are about hope. Not the kind of hope that says “I hope I don’t fall,” or “I hope it doesn’t (or does) rain tomorrow,” or “I hope I didn’t hurt you.” It’s the pinning or driving our confidence into a framework of the magnitude of a huge mountain.
The hope is heaven (verse 14) and the sum of all the good that God has sworn to be for us in Jesus. “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul” can be restated as “What anchors our soul is not our subjective confidence, but the sure objective reality that God has promised. This is our anchor…” The anchor is sure and steadfast. It is the finished and purchased work of Jesus, our high priest.
Okay, we are convinced that God through Jesus Christ as our anchor.
But what if that anchor is firmly secured to heaven and Christ but the other end is not firmly attached? What if I have let go? Or if I have never really grasped the end dangling down from heaven? What if it is no longer hooked into the matching notch in my soul?
The anchor is not secure until it is fastened at both ends. It would be like laying a heavy-duty anchor on the deck of a ship and not attaching the chain to the ship. The possibility of it helping can be reassuring that it is available. But when crises is upon the ship, there may not be time to stop and connect the anchor before the crew needs to throw it overboard. And someone aboard needs to knows the proper way to connect the anchor to the ship.
Our “expert at hooking up the anchor” is Christ. He points the way. He provides the means – we call it salvation. Then he gives us ‘the enabling power to hold fast.’
So we lay hold of the hope and live our lives hooked into heaven.
I got a picture of millions of chains or ropes dangling down from heaven. Ready. Waiting. Inviting. Waiting for us to lay hold of the rope of hope. Let us lay hold and remain as steadfast on our end as it is on God’s end.
And so we pray: Our God, give us the courage lay hold of your hope and steadfastly attach our souls to your promise and presence. Help us live out that hope in the presence of all around us. Help us understand we don’t have to follow everyone else’s ideas swirling around us when they push and demand that we need to replace that hope with something we can touch and hold and prove. Remain steadfast In our lives and help us remain steadfast in our hope.
Inspired by and quotes from a sermon by John Piper called Hope Anchored in Heaven (Web Site: Searching for Christ)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Isiah 60 and 63
Chapter sixty three verse eight: He said, ‘They are my very own people. Surely they will not betray me again.” And he became their Savior. Vs 11 Then they remembered those days of old when … they cried out “Where is the one who brought Israel through the sea…Where is the one who sent his Holy Spirit..?”
60:1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn! Lift up your eyes and look about you:
To me there is a picture here of a people who,
Having neglected the vital relationship with God,
Have become weary, self-absorbed, bent over with cares.
Finally they say to themselves,
“Where is that God who used to be with us?“
God hears, says these are my people.
Surely they will listen now,
And prepares a savior.
When the people straighten and look up,
God already has the savior ready to send.
For centuries Isiah’s words have been acknowledged
To be speaking of the Christ’s coming.
So again, I see the picture of my people who are bent over,
Who are now weary with self-absorption,
Troubled at the chasms that have grown up between us,
Searching for new ways to satisfy the old needs that never go away.
And when, or if, we straighten, look up, and ask
“Does it have to be this way?
Is there not a better way?”
God has already prepared the answer.
He doesn’t ask us to return to our ancestor’s way of living,
Or an antiquated philosophy –
He calls us to return to his presence.
In doing so, we turn from the negative and begin the journey to wholeness.
This time of year most of our moods lighten in the festivity.
Some of us hide behind preparing the season for everyone else,
Hoping for a different outcome that will be more satisfying this year,
While others truly find momentary fulfilment in the preparation.
We all hope to carry the spirit with us into the next year –
But too often when the season is over, the joy goes with it.
So why don’t try something new ?
God is waiting for that first realization he has already sent the answer.
Ask, “Didn’t there used to be a different way?”
Let God remind us there is joy in believing he is with us.
Let God remind us he wants to live in us and help carry the load.
Let God remind us when we turn around to look for him,
He is already standing there, his face toward us.
Let God remind us of the name of Jesus, Emmanuel – God with us.
He has already sent a savior,
But we call it Christmas.