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Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

Art by Lilis Boyer

Art by Lilis Boyer

The Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) found its place in the Jewish canon by its sheer beauty and poetry. It is not really a complete piece at all, no matter how artfully publishers identify the man speaking or the woman speaking, it’s still just a series of fragments. We will never know the whole of it. And so it is about a fragment that I will respond.

Set me as a seal over your heart,
        as a seal upon your arm,
for love is as strong as death,
        passionate love unrelenting as the grave.
Its darts are darts of fire—
        divine flame!
[Song of Songs 8:6, CEB]

And another, repeated twice in the book:
Make a solemn pledge,
        daughters of Jerusalem,
        never to rouse, never to arouse love
        until it desires. [Song of Solomon 2:7; 8:4, CEB]

Love is powerful force that has gotten washed out by dime store romances and flimsy chick flicks. It’s been downgraded by pornography and trivialized by teen angst. Even Valentine’s Day has played a part in corrupting its message. Purveyors of cheap love are laughing all the way to the bank.

When love is roused at the wrong time or at the wrong place, the power of it and the joy are sucked out of it. It is sex without love, masking the truth of it, manufacturing a feeling but it is not transformative love. But when the moment is right, when there is a mutual selflessness, when it is about the giving away of it moreso than the absorption of it, then the power of God can be unleashed. This I believe.

I know, there are different words for love in Greek, but in the Hebrew, both verses use the same feminine noun, ‘ahabah אַהֲבָה which can be translated as love: human love for a human object (man to man, man to himself, man to woman, sexual desire, and incidentally, God to man too).

And so I ask myself and all of us, is my love toward others with the same intent as God’s love?

God shows love to people over and over again whether its through grace or miracles or the sacrifice of the One Son, Jesus. God’s love is pours out without measure. Jesus taught, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.” [Luke 6:38, NIV]

But no, not me. I confess, I am hungry to be loved more than to love. Lonely. Overwhelmed. Shaken by circumstances. Distanced by disappointment still. Hardened by losses, speaking into the wind.

I am no stronger than the one beside me. My years in Christ clear my vision and for this reason, I understand why the saints and desert fathers of old cried out, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Art by Cyra R. Cancel

Art by Cyra R. Cancel

Or why St. Francis wrote:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

Let me know and give love as strong as death.

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ash-wednesdayTonight our church entered Lent with two Ash Wednesday services. One of the themes was “keys” and how we can use those keys to unlock those places hidden away inside our hearts.

Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heartand not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. [Joel 2:12-13]

We mark the beginning of Lent with this day. It can become a mere ritual of ashes, bread, and wine, or it can be enriched with commitment and desire. Do I want more of God in my life? Do I want to surrender the secret places?

Lent is not just a time of “giving something up.” It’s a time of exchange. I will to exchange one time sucker, one habit, for something new, for devotion, for meditation, for prayer, for reading, for conversation with Spirit. I not taking away. I am adding. I am making a promise. That is the message of Ash Wednesday and Lent for me.

One of the stations we had was a cross where we could affix a simple post-it note with something (or someone) that is hindering our journey to the Cross. This roadblock we gave to Christ. As one of the organizers of the Ash Wednesday service, I feel compelled to treat these requests with respect. And so, as part of my devotion, I will be praying over and with these requests along with those who left them there. I will be their Aaron for these 40 days, as God reveals.

 

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make a wayWe all were. Sent ahead. In some cases, that is more obvious than in others, but if you think about it, we can each lay a path or new ground for our descendants and loved ones.

But God sent me [Joseph] ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. [Genesis 45:7, NIV]

My mother and father left Europe and came to America and worked hard for the sake of their children and a new life. My mother’s mother left her village in Lithuania to go to Riga to experience city life. In my own life, bouncing from city to city, I eventually landed with a husband and a home here in Maryland and drew three orphaned children to us from Latvia and St. Petersburg, Russia, their lives forever changed.

We can each make a way. We can cut the brambles to the best of our ability so that others can walk behind.

But of course, some people refuse. The road ahead seems too difficult, too overwhelming. And so they sit in what small space they can carve out and wait. Reminds me of the parable of the “talents.” Three servants were entrusted with wealth to invest for the Master while he journeyed away. Two took risks and plunged ahead. But the one merely buried what he was given and although he returned it all, he had made not change or increase.

Humans are given gifts as well as challenges that make us who we are but also help make us what God intends. It is not about the money but about the attitude, the response to life’s events, accepting the truth of what is and making the very best of what that truth can contribute.

This process is true for organizations as well as individuals. Churches, in particular, have a mission to reach out to those stagnant souls who have lost their will or hope toward the next step. The Church, the Body of Christ, can do corporately what cannot always be done by the one. But it must be done in unity and love.

Look back: who is following you? Whose steps are landing in your footprints?

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Painting by Chris Easley

Painting by Chris Easley

Although I know this story well of Jacob wrestling with an unknown man (an angel? who knows?), I had not paid attention to the meaning of the name, Israel (“struggles with God”). And for me, a new scenario emerges of Jacob actually struggling with himself, that part of himself who was named usurper or supplanter. His history was full of deception and trickery and this night, I believe he struggled with that self in order to emerge new.

So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. . . . Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered.Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” [Genesis 32:24, 26-28, NIV]

I am a bit of a Doctor Who fan (not a serious fan, but I do enjoy watching the show on occasion). It just so happens I watched an episode reminiscent of this Jacob story in which the Doctor and his companions are challenged by a foe called the Dream Doctor who tells them they must choose between two dreams, which is real and which is a true dream? If they choose the correct plot, they will all live, but if they choose incorrectly, they will all die. It’s a mystery of course. But in the end, the Doctor figures it out and realizes that both scenarios are dreams and he destroys them both in order to live in reality (a paradox, of course). But the key to the story is the identity of the Dream Doctor who the companions don’t recognize, but who the Doctor says he knows very well, his very own dark side.

We all have this dark side and it is through our journey in faith, in Christ, that we are gradually able to bring that side forward in order to wrestle with it. Most of us tend to hide the dark side as long as possible, but truthfully, only when the dark side is brought to the light, can we be healed. As long as the dark side stays in the dark, it is safe to live on. (Oh, how Star Wars that all sounds. Sorry.)

These are my late night ramblings as I consider the meaning of Israel as a word. And if I was a true historian, there is probably more depth in it when it’s applied to the nation Israel. But I won’t go there in print. :-)

I give thanks, instead, to the Christ who does battle for me and with me in the name of God, the Light of the World.

 

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gateA quick search on the phrase, “gate of heaven” caught me off guard as it appears to have become a popular name for cemeteries. I think that’s a shame as it puts so much emphasis on heaven being available only after we enter the “big sleep” if you will. But heaven is also within and available to us now, if we open the gate.

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” [Genesis 18:16-17]

We are the church, we are the house of God. The body is a sanctuary and temple to the Holy Spirit [I Cor 6:19]; isn’t heaven there too?

In heaven, we are promised continual access to God where there are no more tears and no more pain. This timeless place is so not limited to our three-dimensional understanding of existence. It is spirit. It is God.

For me, the gate is Christ.

sheep gateI tell you the truth: I am the gate of the sheep. All who approached the sheep before Me came as thieves and robbers, and the sheep did not listen to their voices.I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be liberated, will go in and go out, and will find pastures. The thief approaches with malicious intent, looking to steal, slaughter, and destroy; I came to give life with joy and abundance. [John 10:8-10, The Voice]

GatesNarrow gate allow us in but gates also protect, whether in reality or symbolically.

In Old Testament times, the gates of the city were a public forum where transactions were witnessed.

A gate is a choice, whether to enter or depart.

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the tenWhat is your take-away in the negotiation between Abraham and the 3 “angels” about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Abraham: Please don’t be angry, Lord, at my boldness. Let me ask this just once more: suppose only ten [righteous people] are found?
Eternal One: For the sake of only ten [righteous people], I still will not destroy it [the city]. [Genesis 18:32, The Voice]

And there it is, the ultimate question and answer, “Will God sweet away the righteous with the wicked?” Those who study the end times have all kinds of scenarios about the final destruction, the great apocalypse. But in the end, don’t we really wonder, would God cast all away in one full sweep? Abraham wondered the same thing.

The answer was that God would save the city for the sake of the ten . . . but ten could not be found.

Ten could not be found.

How many are enough to save the Earth? or our nation? or continent? Will God stay the hand of destruction for the sake of the beloved? Am I one? Am I enough to make a difference in my world’s fate?

followershipToday, at our church’s “Code Red Revival,” the last of our guest speakers [Daniel McNaughton, from his book, Learning to Follow Jesus] laid out a clear context in which any believer must be operating in the world:

  • Learn to be with Jesus (like any mentor and mentee relationship, you must hang out together).
  • Learn to listen (it takes practice to hear God and there are many places where that can happen: in a large group like a church setting; in a small group like a bible study or micro-church; in a one-on-one relationship with another person; or simply alone with God).
  • Learn to heal (for this is modeled by the Christ and healing is promised, whether physical-mental-relational).
  • Learn to influence (being the salt of the earth or light in a dark place).
  • Learn to love (for God is love and until we step toward people in love, even those we “hate,” nothing changes).
  • Learn to pray (it is a dialogue built on respect and trust in which we can intersect with the divine).
  • Learn to manage God’s resources (work with the gifts we are given, now and along the way).

This is how we can  be one of the ten or twenty or 10,000. Thanks be to God.

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Artwork by Nathan Johnson

Artwork by Nathan Johnson

This question, “where were you?” changes its meaning by the emphasis put on each word. “WHERE were you?” versus “where WERE you?” versus “where were YOU?” And what emphasis did God use when he first spoke to Job?

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?Tell me, if you understand. . . . “ [Job 38:4, NIV]

Is it about place or time or person?

I’m pretty sure it’s about person, that neither Job or you or I were present in the time of creation energy. We can describe and count and observe and hypothesize, but we’ll never really “know” or understand Godwork.

Partially, the problem is that we continue to anthropomorphize God. We keep making very big and very wrong assumptions about God as though a jealous God is like a jealous man or woman. Or that fearing God is like fearing cockroaches or stink bugs. Or that listening to God is like listening to U2 or Taylor Swift. These words are human words used to describe human feelings and activities. It’s simply not the same with God.

I used to believe that Abraham had the God thing down. After all, didn’t he negotiate the salvation of his cousin Lot from the clutches of Sodom (or was it Gomorrah)? Really? Did Abraham actually bring up something that God had not considered? Was Abraham bargaining with God or was he really bargaining with himself, the value of human life against virtue and right living.

And so, here we come to Job who finally hears God, a God who asks Job question after question after question in order to lock in a simple truth: God is God and human is not God. Creator envisions creation; human lives in it, molding what is given. We do the same with our lives. We have much freedom in the managing of our persons. But the spark of life came from God alone.

For my scant few years, maybe they will be as many as 100 or maybe only 85 or even less, I cannot know. But for this time, I am given the opportunity to partner with God in gratitude, sharing in the work of creativity and love and joy and relationships. Or not.

“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” [Deuteronomy 30:19, NLT]

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