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After

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come far. The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

 

So, did it change you?

Did it challenge your faith, make it grow?

Or frighten you into doubts about your views of God

Did it make you less likely to give up your faith in time of adversity?

I think Easter does all these things. We are reminded there is truly evil, greed, desire for territorial protection and fear run deeply through humanity’s being. It’s frightening when we are forced to watch the innocent suffer. It touches our emotional core. We can barely contain our question of “Why?” and “How long God? How long must this go on?” And we pray “If possible let this cup pass from us.”

Or today we’d say “Really, God?” or “Come on, God, Seriously?” and “Are you really letting this go on?” And our faith is rattled.

But we have an example of a graceful meeting a crisis head on. From the time in the garden when Christ’s acceptance that the cup would not pass from him to his last words of the cross, we see how serious adversity can be handled.

But we protest, “Jesus was divine.”

True, we don’t fully understand how that worked, but we have hope because the same power he drew from is also the power available for us to draw strength from.

Bear with me here, I am not changing the subject.

Just as Jesus was not alone in his inner life, we are not alone in our inner lives. I use the ‘inner life’ term on purpose. It’s the place hope or despair, courage to face or fear to deny, acceptance or rejection, tolerance or prejudice, worthiness or unacceptability, competence for life or inability to function all live and call out for help. If the inner life’s needs are not met, a restlessness remains even after all of our other needs are met. That restlessness drives to a place where we never experience contentment. We are always searching.

Many times we substitute, mistake or misunderstand a physical presence as the way to fulfill our inner life needs. Perhaps, more precisely, we want to believe another’s physical presence also should satisfy our inner needs.

While the power of the physical presence and touch can satisfy physical and short-term emotional needs, it will not solve inner life needs. Many of life’s dramatic traumas are caused by the battle between seeking solutions to inner life needs in the physical world and not finding them.

Bitterness, disillusion, and cynicism invade our inner lives. Seeking wealth and power, oppression, greed, violence on different levels, and self-promotion are some of the actions that grow out of that discontent inner life.  This makes the healthy things impossible: the things that drive us to do well in all we do, do things right, or make a success of our work, be a positive voice of change and a witness to God’s goodness and love.

Here’s how the two are connected. When we finally put a finger on our own chest and say, “There’s something wrong in here,” we can have hope things can be different.  We can believe there is a power available to us to help us change what is wrong. That power is the same power God brought to bear to raise Jesus from the dead.

God has the power to meet the needs of our inner lives. When we look to God for completion of our lives, the struggle between spiritual, emotional and physical natures can be calmed. True peace is finally a reality. It changes how we act, what we do, how we treat people, and what we are no longer afraid of.

The only bad news here is that only a spiritual answer can solve the spiritual, inner life problems.  And if we allow it, God will resolve the conflict between the negative and positive forces that battle in our inner lives.

Because of the work Jesus did at Easter for the forgiveness of sin and, through the power of resurrection, we can live confident, productive lives full of love, action and peace.

God Symbols

 

I am editing and rewriting the fifth novel of my science fiction series. The society (the Snow People of Shushimee) the travelers encounter in this book had a written language at one time and, because it was associated with rituals they no longer understood, they had come to see it as evil. They knew the symbols, but no longer understood what they meant.

In this excerpt, the chaplain is getting ready to speak to his congregation. (Andez is his Chaplain’s assistant. Cooper is the Transport Chief who holds a particular grudge against God.)

As Andez conducted the early parts of vespers, Craig let his thoughts wander “We’re not much different than the Snow People. We don’t understand so many of the old society’s symbols anymore. We don’t understand the Shepherd, or the planting and sowing, or the patriarchal society. To the first believers it was comforting to think of God as father. And we think it’s as bad as it is good.” He looked around room and caught a glimpse of Cooper leaning against the chapel’s door jamb. “At least half these people don’t even know their fathers.”  Andez took his seat, ready for Craig to speak. “God help me tell them about you in terms they understand.”

As I revisited this paragraph I returned to a subject I have been wrestling with for a while. It has to do with the changing view of God and how we deal with it. Here are a few reflections. And this is in no way a complete discussion of the subject. Hope they start your own thought journey.

When humanity lived in violent times, God was understood in terms that matched the violent times. King, ruler, God was judged by how much power his followers had. How strong they were. The things that symbolized strength to them were used as symbols for God. (The right hand, the horns of animals.)

When the world’s most valued institution was/is the family, it was/is natural to understand God as a loving father figure.

When success, getting ahead, making something of one’s self and acceptance by society is most valued, God is viewed as helping us achieve these goals.
And when individuality is uppermost in value, God is understood as a partner in a relationship.
When law and civil order is most valued, the symbols of God reflect those values.
When head knowledge, and education are most valued, theology becomes most important.
We cannot forget (yet we often do forget) any way we speak of God is symbolic. We cannot understand the magnitude and breadth and depth and multi-dimensions of God as a Spirit otherwise. The total otherness of God escapes us.
Because of their function, symbols have this habit of slipping in to God’s place. We worship the symbol instead of God:
The Bible,
Ritual and words,
The blood of Christ,
The shroud Christ was covered with,
The trappings of theology, as well as theology and dogmatics themselves,
Traditional symbols such as father, mother, shepherd, sower, reaper, king, ruler, provider, sustainer, power source,
The symbols and style of worship,
Victims, (as the symbol of Jesus’ teaching of the strong empowering the weak instead of oppressing)
are but a few symbols we deeply care about.

When Jesus was sent to earth, God provided the ultimate symbol of His love. He sent his son. Something all humans understand and relate to. So, the family symbol has been most enduring.

However, today many people no longer understand the Old Testament view of God. When we try to apply our values as a victim oriented society to their understanding we question the authority and actions of the Old Testament God. Yet, there are societies that have not been part of the world’s journey and understanding as people and society have put into practice the lessons Jesus brought with him from God. Some still see God through the eyes and symbols of conquest and dominance of the strong over the weak as it was before Jesus was sent into the world.

And even, as people and societies who try to put Jesus’ teachings into practice, we stumble and fail in the application of them. Sometimes our symbols are faulty. Sometimes we try to make God fit the symbols we love. And that may be okay in certain instances. Illustrations are often valuable to help us understand things about God we could not otherwise. And Illustrations often grow into symbols.
Having said all that, we must also understand if we change the symbols for God we do not change the essential nature of God. For instance, God as a mother symbol does not change God, it merely helps us understand the nurturing action of God.

If we can grasp that each symbol illustrates a specific part of God instead of the whole, we can comfortably use the symbols. In fact, I think God does things the way he does because he tries to use the things we understand. He speaks to us differently because we are all different people.

I understand God as a loving father because I happen to be have been blessed with a loving, mischievous, thinking, teacher and pastor of a father. Imperfect though he was as are all humans, he was a good model for God as father. But I don’t have to look very far to see people who cringe at the idea of God as father, or even male. And many cringe at the idea of Mother God.

Music speaks to me. It’s part of my very soul. God can get into my heart and grab my attention quicker by using beauty than any other way. Music as a symbol for God makes sense to me. My mother is tone deaf…a monotone even. God as beauty and music makes very little sense to her.

What are your symbols? What are the things in contemporary life that can become symbols to people who no longer understand ancient symbols? We need to go back and understand the ancient symbols before we can translate them for our new generations.
Do not be afraid when someone else’s symbols are different from yours. God is God. Even when called by another name or symbolized by a not-male or not-female Spirit instead of male father or female mother or a relationship partner instead of authority. We can examine each symbol and see what part of God it is speaking of. We can check it out with the Bible and see if that which the symbol is trying to bring to light is really part of God’s nature. Then we can accept or reject it.

But we do not have to live in fear of the changing world and its symbols.

Hope is an Anchor

Hebrews 6:18-20

…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)

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.

God’s Adult Children

Romans 8:12-17
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.

 

 

A New Creed

I believe from the beginning
God’s plan to redeem all men and things to Himself
Has been His purpose since the beginning.
And through the power of Jesus Christ this is being accomplished.

I believe through Christ, who died, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven,
And now sits at God’s right hand, all God’s blessings are ours.
I believe through the power God gave Christ,
He holds – not only our hope, salvation and blessings – but power over all forces.

How can I help but believe?
As the Jews were the first chosen people, you have selected us –
Those who believe in Christ also are chosen to become your chosen people,
Holy, blameless, before you with all the blessings of the adopted sons of God.

How can I not believe and rejoice in your redemptive plan?
As men of old ransomed valuables that had been lost to them
Christ ransomed, by his sacrifice of life and blood on the cross,
The child-parent status we lost through sin.

I believe when I first believe in Christ, confess and seek forgiveness,
My heart is changed, and I am returned to that relationship as an adopted son.
All that I am: all I become; how I perceive, treat, and love people around me,
Through Christ’s power, with God’s Spirit’s direction, are brought into harmony with God.

Ephesians 1:3-7
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight….

I CONFESS I LOVE MY LIFE

When you’ve been doing the same thing for a while
Restlessness sometimes sets in.
Needing refreshment, you look around at other people’s lives,
And wonder if you need to do something new or different.

In such a state, I went visiting – spent some time in other people’s homes.
And, you know, my life doesn’t seem so dull.
I asked myself how I could handle some of the things they face.
And God let me know what I lacked, and what I had.

I’ll take my stresses,
The ongoing problems, my financial status,
The home I live in,
Even the stain in the bathtub I can’t seem to get rid of.

So, I choose the life God has given me.
I choose my journey with the failures and successes.
I embrace my lack of certain abilities and the talents I have been allowed;
Thankful for the spouse God has given me, and the people in my life.

So, with a deep breath, expectation and dread, hope and worry,
I turn toward the new year.
With another breath, I accept what is, with my failures and successes,
And not yearn for what I do not – or ever will not – have or achieve.

Okay, let’s get on with it.
God has given me things to do, a person to be.
I confess, I do love my life,
And with that confession, I give it all back to God.

God Is Not MY God (Alone)

So, here I am in a place of opportunity
I would have never had if it weren’t for my husband’s ministry.
One of many opportunities through the years.
And once again I realize how narrow my perspective of God gets.

Here I am, in the presence of God
In a completely different cultural setting than my own.
Words are familiar, but in a new setting,
And I can join into familiar lyrics and tunes with different tempos and rhythms.

And I remember God is not tied to form
Or ritual,
Or order of service,
Or anything else that calms me and sets my atmosphere for worship.

There are people who worship without music
(Which I cannot imagine.).
There are people whose entire worship is a written script
(How dry, where’s the joy?).
There are people who have no script at all… not even bulletins
(It’s okay – they sing all the songs without written words – by heart).
There are people who cannot be quiet in service,
(Whose joy spills into robust singing and vocal approval.)
There are people who touch God through languages I will never understand,
(But God’s spirit still touches my heart.)
And God works in and through us all.

I am reminded that while God isn’t confined to my box,
He fully inhabits my life, and my culture, and my method of worship,
Allowing me to express who I am and need to most effectively worship.
While all the time encouraging me to grow, change and be more than I am.

And that is what we all have in common: God isn’t confined to anyone’s box.
Yet he fully inhabits the lives of those who ask, any culture, and any method of worship,
Allowing all his children to express who we are, and what enables us to enter into worship.
While all the time he encourages us to grow, change and be more than we are.

One of life’s greatest blessings for me is to have what I believe and think about God
Spoken to me in words and phrases that are completely unlike my own.
When another person expresses the call of God on their life.
And it looks so very different in action, yet is the same in principle.

Spirits soar and boxes expand just a little
As we begin to understand and grasp the tension between
Our inability to understand the complete scope and totality of God’s work,
While, at the same time, experiencing the extreme, personal, nature of My relationship with God.

Monday Morning Prayer

God, Wake me up.

Open my mind to the possibilities of the week.
Help me plan so things that must be done are resolved.
But help me joyfully anticipate the messiness of the week.

Help welcome the things that break into my routine,
Accept the unwelcome challenges you present me,
React in wisdom, grace, and welcome growth.

Help me willingly participate in the laundry of life:
Those things someone has to do no matter what else happens
For the upkeep of family, religious and professional life.

Be the silent partner in all my interactions,
Whether it be my beloved, extended family, children, friends, business associate, or a clerk.
Temper my anger, my unhappiness when my desires are blocked, and even my celebration of personal triumphs.

The week is yours.
The possibilities are limitless.
Come, let us begin.

An Ungratefully Received Gift

When life changes quickly and unexpectedly the foundations are shaken.
And while I accepted and see God’s hand and wisdom in this last upheaval,
I’m very uncertain of the direction the rest of my life is heading – what it will look like.

So with that in mind, I have had a series of really strange dreams.
As each season comes, I dream about the things I will not be doing this year.
Many have brought feelings of release from the pressure of responsibility.

Spring brought a dream of about Bible School that ended in vulnerable tears on my part.
I dreamed about being presented to a group to make a speech and presenting a concert.
And I dream of being disciplined for errors at some unfamiliar workplace.

I know, there is nothing deep, dark, or a mental illness represented here,
But, again, with that in mind, I began to dream about presenting a Christmas Play.
This is the time of year I begin if I’m writing a new play for any given year.

And I rebelled. I woke up in the middle of it, and said,
“A Christmas play! I will not dream about this.” I went back to sleep. The dream continued.
In rebellion, I woke up again. “I will not dream about that stress. It was fun.”

The third time I woke up enough to think about the play
And realized I didn’t recognize the play –
And I laughed and muttered to myself, “God is giving me a new play!”

And now, I have a new Christmas play to write.
It’s the comedy-drama thing I enjoy writing.
God was trying to give me a gift – and I was about to refuse it.

God was helping me understand how ungrateful I’d become in my worry about the future.
God took care of my family in such a dramatic way and brought me to a quiet place
Just when I didn’t know how much longer I could continue doing what I was doing.

As my husband wondered if his current form of ministry
Was drawing to completion,
God provided the next step.

And I have allowed myself to unnecessarily revisit the natural worry
That comes with big, fast changes in life – good or bad.
I have allowed worry to become fretting.

Now, I don’t expect all the worry will dissipate in an instant,
But I will resurrect a practice from the past when I let go of things I couldn’t control.
As soon as the fretful dream comes, or worry pops up, I know what to do.

I’ll immediately turn to God, give the worry to him, and wait for instructions.
Meanwhile, I’ll allow myself to be bathed in grateful thankfulness for the new way of life God has given me;
And learn to recognize God’s new gifts and the new ways He is sending them.

“Fret Not Yourself,” is one translation of “Don’t worry about ….” Apostle Paul told his readers.

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