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God of the Living

living god[Jesus said,] “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!” [Mark 12:27, NIV]

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal. . . . My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. [Isaiah 26:4, 9a NIV]

Your name, Lord, endures forever, your renown, Lord, through all generations. [Psalm 135:13, NIV]

Forever. Eternal. God of the living, through every generation that was and is and is to come. For those who doubt, I say, the odds are in God’s favor, that forever means forever and eternity has no end. We, finite beings, cannot really fathom the infinite. It is a concept that has no comparison, no metaphor.

Graphic by Ace Montana

Graphic by Ace Montana

By the same token, we have mistakenly assumed we know what it means to “live.” Is it really just our seventy or possibly eighty years that will measure our living? Even if it’s one hundred years that we walk or ride the earth, is that all there is to living? Breathing by lungs, blood pumped by a heart, brain synapses firing: Is that all there is? Is God merely the God of this corporeal body? Or, is God the God of a living soul?

And for this reason, the soul and spirit yearn for God, the One whose Presence sustains and protects and cherishes. The soul lives by God. Amen.

P.S. I have had to add another Lectionary site to my devotions as my initial choice did not have daily readings. For those who are interested: http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/daily.php?year=B

One in Heart and Mind

Basic-Human-NeedsI’m not really commune material. Is that a confession? I mean, how many people do you know who are? It sounds so wonderfully romantic, these newly minted believers who met together and shared together and insured the stability of everyone: no one was in need.

The community of believers was one in heart and mind. None of them would say, “This is mine!” about any of their possessions, but held everything in common. The apostles continued to bear powerful witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and an abundance of grace was at work among them all. There were no needy persons among them. [Acts 4:32-34a, CEB]

But what does it mean to be in need today? We have corrupted this word, I’m afraid. I look at my own life and it’s a bit of a joke. For instance, I have two grown children and a “plus one” living in my house right now and along with myself, there are four cars between us. That’s right, every person has his/her own car. And yet, if one of those cars isn’t working, the first words out of our mouths is: OMG, we NEED a car. Each person has his/her own cell phone (of course) and there are 3.5 bathrooms, so we are almost 1:1 on that score as well. We have 3 dogs and each dog has his/her own dog bowl. mazlowThe list goes on and on. These are not the “needs” that the first testament church was meeting.

More likely, this verse refers to food, shelter, and clothing. Each person who joined their “church” was guarantpeople helping peopleeed a sustainable life.

As far as living corporately, I don’t believe we will ever reach that point in the contemporary church.

However, I still believe if every church on every corner of every city, town, or community, would engage and provide folks in their immediate environment with necessities of life, then hunger could be eradicated, adequate clothing could be provided, and everyone would have a roof over their heads. But, the cycle of poverty and welfare in this country has become a nightmare of “need” wrapped in entitlement. I don’t know the solution. How can we turn the culture back from this slippery slope where people enter into deep debt to have a car or a house or private school they cannot afford. It is not just a cycle of poverty, it is a cycle of perceptions and expectations.

How can we become more authentic in our relationships with people in our midst? How can we be satisfied with less? How can I?

cornerstone[Peter said] “. . . then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’” [Acts 4:10-11, NIV]

This is the gate of the Lord
    through which the righteous may enter.
I will give you thanks, for you answered me;
    you have become my salvation.

The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone; . . . [Psalm 118:20-22, NIV]

gateOriginally, a cornerstone was foundational to the construction of a building because all other stones would be laid out in reference to it. Later, this stone became more ceremonial with inscriptions and time capsules and the like. I am sure that both Peter and the Old Testament writers were referencing the Messiah as a cornerstone to the faith in its most traditional sense. For the disciples, Jesus was the cornerstone for something very new upon which believers would build a church–a force of change. For the psalmist, the prediction would be that the One Messiah would be rejected (unrecognized for his assigned role to humanity) and despite being a way to God, the way would be closed. And yet, despite rejection, the foundational stone would remain and the “building” would grow.

We are living the outcome, for good and for ill. The “house” is still standing, rooted and grounded by the cornerstone. And inexplicably, this structure is also a gate. As soon as anyone links up with the cornerstone, that person becomes a “gate” for the next person to enter, to connect.

holdinghandsIt’s a strange metaphor when combined, and yet, I get it. In this picture, the gates (the people) are transparent but linked up. We are transparent because we want people to be able to see inside, to behold the glory as it were, the spark and flame of life.

Jesus, the cornerstone of the Church as it was meant to be. Jesus, the cornerstone of my life as it is meant to be as well. Come in. The way is open; the gate is open.

Expectations

expecting a miracleWe all think we know what we need. It’s part of our human nature. And honestly, in many cases, it seems pretty obvious. In the case of the lame man, he had adapted to his disability and didn’t even consider that a need any longer. He asked for alms each day to meet his immediate needs and had already decided that he could not meet these needs himself.

Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.  [Acts 3:2-5, NIV]

I can’t help but wonder how many times I have missed the bigger miracle while reaching out for the thing right before me.

Right now, it’s kind of important for me to keep my head, heart, and eyes clear in just this way. It’s pretty obvious that I cannot remain in our big house anymore now that I am down to one salary after Mike’s death. With no life insurance or other nest egg to speak of, I am faced with downsizing now rather than later. Preparing a home for sale and looking for miracle treesomething else is overwhelming to say the least. I need a small miracle to find something that is affordable for my new life and yet practical for house guests or boomerang children.

What is my expectation of God here? I am trying to balance the realities of looking at properties (in essence, one can’t win the lottery without buying a ticket) and believing that God has something planned for me, yet out of sight. I don’t want to jump at “good enough” if best is around the corner. I don’t want to leap out of anxiety or doubt.

Work and pray. Like Nehemiah. That’s all I know to do.

woman walking labyrinth

But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear [as in adore] him,     on those whose hope is in his unfailing love . . . [Psalm 33:18]

I’ve written about “unfailing love” several times. This phrase captures so succinctly my heart toward God and my faith in God towards me. It’s a mantra. I am resolute.

It’s always a challenge for me to select source material for each day. People think of me as creative but really I’m more adaptive. Give me a kernel and from that I can often spring forward. Over time, my structured responses have been around the seasons such as Advent and Lent, and once, for three years, I plodded through the New Testament. That was a wonderful time of discovery. But at the closure of these efforts, I flounder. I once tried the same kind of slow journey, section or verse by verse, through the Old Testament, and although there were many fascinating moments and stories, by the time I reached the histories, I missed experiencing the message of grace upon which I thrive.

So, today, after a two day hiatus from posting, I am going to attach myself to a Lectionary. The concept of lectionary comes down through the Judaic principle of “appointed scripture readings” according to a calendar or given days. This practice is referenced in the gospels when Jesus is asked to read the day’s assigned passage in the synagogue [Luke 4] and it was from Isaiah 61, a prophecy of his own coming. Although there are various lectionaries from a variety of denominations, I’m not really concerned about those differences. For now, I’ll reference the Episcopalian one I found online.

Art by Delores Develde

Art by Delores Develde

And so it has happened today, that I find myself back to my Beloved and the unfailing love of God through Christ Jesus. And for this year, I will be His bride, for I need the protection and stability of that love and the confidence that my Lord will collect my tears.

You keep track of all my sorrows.     You have collected all my tears in your bottle.     You have recorded each one in your book. [Psalm 56:8, NIV]

Pilate washes handsWhether it was sending Jesus cross town to Herod (since Jesus was a Nazarene and in Herod’s district) or offering the crowd an opportunity to voice vote and release Jesus or just washing his hands of the entire event or sending a guard to seal the tomb of Jesus’s internment, Pilate did everything he could to avoid responsibility for Jesus’s death. Whatever happened, whatever Pilate had heard or feared, he did not want the buck to stop anywhere close to him. He was the consummate politician.

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” [Matthew 17:24, NIV]

not my faultProtecting ourselves from blame is a very common and contemporary habit. So often, people want to lay the cause for their troubles elsewhere, whether it’s their parents, their environment, or their limitations. If only, they think, if only things would have been different, I could have succeeded.

I heard someone say, just yesterday, “every time I try to do the right thing, it goes wrong for me.” As though the very act of doing “right” brings about doom and gloom. For them, living life is one streak of bad luck after another.

hard roadBut this is not the way of God. There are some paths that must be walked whether they are difficult or not. Jesus could have avoided crucifixion if he really wanted to; he had the power to escape. But for the sake of humanity and the fulfillment of prophecy, this was the way he had to go. Even his disciples dried to stop him and Jesus rebuked them.

God does not promise an easy road, merely that we will not have to walk it alone.

Are You Disappointed?

The crowd was disappointed in Jesus. He did not turn out to be the Messiah they wanted. He did behave as a warrior king.

Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.” But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. [Luke 23:20-23, NIV]

disappointmentI had an unpleasant confrontation with my daughter about this very point, but in somewhat different terms. Relatively new to the contemporary and casual worship (having been exposed to Russian Orthodox practices most of her life), over the last couple of years, she was coming into a place of understanding and personal commitment. She was getting direction from the messages and found solace for her many losses as an teen adoptee. And then her father, my husband, died this past December. Her world crumbled and her faith faltered. After all, how many losses can a person take? I knew it was hard for her. But I thought she would bounce back. Today, I discovered otherwise. I could hear in her voice and her attitude that she felt betrayed by God. This God who supposedly “saved” her from her circumstances and yet plunge her into grief.

Jesus had stopped being the kind savior who had intended the best for her. Her seeds of faith had dried in the heat of sorrow.

How can I help her? Although my many years in my faith in God and Christ has sustained me through these months, she has not had the same foundation. She is disappointed like the crowds that day on the streets of Jerusalem. They wanted something else, not what God was offering, not what this Jesus was offering.

I grieve twice over now for my daughter. Nothing is the same and nothing will ever be same. I am sure the disciples were not much better. They scattered at the arrest of Jesus. Only a few came to his execution (John, Jesus’s mother, and Mary Magdalene, who believed). She believed he would survive the cross and live again. So much so, that even in the face of his death, she returned to the grave on Sunday morning, just in case, just in case. When the body was gone, she wavered (and for this reason perhaps, she did not recognized Him).

I believeDisappointment feeds upon our thoughts. We must consciously choose to believe in the face of the “evidence.”

I am reminded of the little girl from Miracle on 34th Street, who rides in the car in the last scene, repeating over and over again, “I believe, I believe, I believe.” Sometimes it simply takes that much.

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