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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

turning pointOnly in the re-telling of the beheading of John the Baptist in the book of Matthew, do we see a seemingly direct response from Jesus. He wanted to be alone and I can assume, he wanted to pray and contemplate the implications of John’s death. Not long after this self-imposed sequester, the crowds find him, he heals a ton of people, he feeds a ton of people, and he is basically “outed” as more than the average human.

When Jesus heard about John [the Baptist], he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities. When Jesus arrived [landed] and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick. [Matthew 14:13-14, CEB]

The death of John the Baptist was a turning point in Jesus’s ministry. No longer a game of secret miracles and teachings on the hill, Jesus went into overdrive, preparing his teams for the next round in transforming the way humans would engage their God. John’s execution is approximately the midpoint in Jesus’s three-year crusade. From this moment on, I believe Jesus saw his work in the light of life and death, not only for himself but for anyone who believed.

John the Baptist died for unabashed truth-telling. He was not terribly diplomatic or politically correct. In fact, he was brash and tactless, a veritable bull in a china shop. Whether at the hands of Herod or another, John would have been killed sooner than later. He was a fish swimming upstream all of his life. He saw the world in black or white terms.

I believe Jesus was much more measured in his dealings with people of all stripes, colors, and persuasions. Even at the end, he often chose silence instead of outspokenness.

But I am getting away from myself. Turning points are important to see clearly in our own lives, but unfortunately, we can only see them in hindsight and not by foresight. All the same, those moments are meaningful and we should all take the time to evaluate our own. Take the time to write them down. Usually, they are fairly easy to identify — those moments where we took the left road instead of the right.

But the biggest question for me today is whether I have reached that turning point in my faith. Have I reached the ultimate understanding of what it means to follow the Christ? Life and death. Total abandon. All in.

 

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prophesyProphecy, predictions, and fortune telling: do we really want to know?

Amaziah said to Amos, “You who see things, go, run away to the land of Judah, eat your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s holy place and his royal house.” [Amos 7:12-13, CEB]

We check with the local meteorologist/weatherman every day; we are obsessed with knowing the weather forecast. Most people have it on the home screens of their cell phone. Will it rain? Will it snow? Will my life be changed by either? Nope.

We say we want to know but then, if it’s not what we want to hear, we speak against it. Chance of rain today, 53%  Oh, please don’t rain, I want weathermanto take a run or a bike ride or a walk or go out in my boat. Tomorrow, warm and sunny with only 3% chance of rain. Of course, the day I have to work indoors, it’s going to be a beautiful day. Yada, yada, yada.

And if the message is particularly grim, the messenger’s credibility is immediately suspect.

Originally, predictors about our world’s atmosphere called it “global warming,” but then the naysayers used every snow storm as an example to the contrary, as though their local snowstorm can counter the scientific evidence that our planet is warmer than ever. So, the analysts switched up the label and now use “climate change” to speak to the future. All the same, very few want to hear this prophecy. Like Amaziah, they say, go somewhere else to tell your tale, we’re all just fine here.

fortune tellingAre you curious about your own immediate future? How many fortune tellers grace our city streets? In some areas, they proliferate more than others (New Orleans has a high number of soothsayers on every corner in the French Quarter and Bourbon Street). Is it a game or do we really want to know? Do we believe these strangers have access to the string of our future? Or do we hope for a tantalizingly dark handsome stranger to be in our stars? Something or someone we can keep a look out for.

Not long ago, I finished listening to a new sci-fi fantasy book, Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price (first in a series, of course). The book has some issues, but I love the way it digs into the idea of time, both future and past as well as alternate lives and worlds, seemingly existing side by side. It’s pretty exquisite world building. For one of the characters, it’s Groundhog Day on steroids, but he doesn’t become a nicer and nicer person, he just kills people sooner to get it over with, etc. He is doing his best to manipulate the present and the future.

We are all manipulating our futures by the decisions we make today and living out the decisions we made yesterday.

There is an exercise in which you can do a review of your past and snip out the pieces that you would (if your could) remove from your past. It’s illuminating actually because few of us can do it. Why? Because every snip would change today and the now becomes too similar to the unknown future we struggle with each day. Would I like to snip out my bi-polar mother? Sure. But then, I would not be in the United States because it was her extreme personality that under girded our emigration.

Why did God provide prophets in the first place? And then, why did they disappear after the coming of Christ?

milk and honeyIn the Old Testament, it’s as thought God acted like a Father, giving fair warning about the consequences of certain choices. There were a lot of “if you do this or that–expect this result.” God tried to lay out the benefits, a land flowing with milk and honey, and yet, it was never enough. Once acquired, the people rejoiced, but it wasn’t long before the land was treated like a entitlement and not a gift. And so, God tried a different tactic, and provided one last prophet, one last shepherd, one last message.

Unfortunately, despite knowing and reading and seeing how things have gone in the past, we continue to make the same mistakes. God says: Accept the Spirit of Christ and “heaven” is a given grace. Follow Christ and live differently, sacrificially, in love and forgiveness and the world will unfold in a completely different way, an incomparable future. And yet, despite the prophesied future, we choose idols instead. We choose our immediate desires over a promised future.

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Art by David Lawson.

Art by David Lawson.

Are you the observer or the participant? We don’t see much ecstasy in worship these days. Oh, there’s a lot of loud music and wild lights like a rock concert and occasionally some roaring and clapping and shouting, but the spectacle of David and the transporting of the ark is beyond words and unlikely to be repeated in our age.

When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might,  while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets. As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart. [2 Samuel 6:13-16, NIV]

The journey, about 12.5 miles, was interrupted every six steps for a sacrificial offering. If this is true, they stopped about 4,000 times, and it would have taken almost a month to make the journey, assuming they stopped for 10 minutes for each sacrifice and went day and night. Not likely.

But, is the point of this story in the details or the implication?There are two distinct responses to the return of the ark: the participant and the observer.

King David led the procession as a worshiper dressed in an ephod (similar to a front & back apron), like a prophet, for Samuel also wore such a garment. He modeled, with apparent abandon, the joy of having the ark, a representative resting place for God on earth, returned to its origins, to the center of Jewish life and government. This day was his greatest accomplishment and gift to his people up to that point. He exhibited the fullness of his joy and pleasure and it burst out of him in dancing with disregard for how he might look or sound. He was that happy.

But from another vantage point was Michal, Saul’s daughter and David’s wife for whom he paid the bride price of 100 Philistine foreskins, which suggests he killed many men to win her. And back in those days, she loved David as well. He was her hero, her “knight in shining armor.” But when his attention turned away from her and wholly unto his God, displaying himself transparently to everyone, she lost respect for him. She was embarrassed by his display of emotion (and evidently, he may have also displayed his private parts in his frenzy – see vs. 20-21). She watched and she judged.

It’s a dangerous thing to cast judgment on the behaviors of others, whether it is in joy or grief. We cannot know the depth of their feelings or what is needed to express them in that moment. Perhaps I don’t believe the machinations of others are authentic. So what? What does it matter? Who is harmed by displays of raw emotion or spiritual manifestations (from speaking in tongues or a whirling dervish)?

But even in less significant ways, I’m afraid we have become a culture of passive observers. I think we might be missing out on a entire array of experiences because we pre-judge even ourselves. We imagine observing ourselves and do not act.

When was the last time you experienced emotional abandon? Or unrestrained spiritual expression?

 

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Well, it’s just this simple. Whatever it might mean for you or any other, I cannot really know. But when I say this well-worn verse, I understand it quite subjectively for myself because it is to this truth I literally surrendered when I prayed that “sinner’s prayer” so long ago and asked that Jesus become my personal savior, my atonement and my redemption, my portal to the God of the Universe.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. [Galatians 2:2]

It’s a contract of sorts because I gave permission to a spirit being, a very specific Spirit Being, to indwell within me. According to that contract, I also agreed, in theory at least, to give over authority to that Spirit, a right that Person actually earned through a blood covenant, the shedding of blood, which has been a symbol of agreement throughout the centuries of humankind. Interesting too, that this bloodletting was done preemptively, before I was even born. Impossible? Perhaps. But this I believe.

However, I am constantly meddling with the authority of this Presence: arguing and negotiating, ignoring and placating, lying and withholding. In essence, I spend a lot of time pulling on the threads of our contract and it’s only by sheer grace that I have not torn the thing to pieces.

And because I know these things about myself, I must often regroup, reconnect, recommit myself to that deal I made over thirty years ago. It’s shameful really, but true. Thanks be to God, there’s been a contingency plan for every misstep I have made.

path crookedToday, I was walking a path I have walked many times but for the first time, I was walking it in reverse. I assume it’s for this reason I had never noticed that moment in the path where it looked like it came to a dead end. It was just a sharp right turn, but as I approached it, my brain didn’t compute that logic. Instead, I stopped in my tracks, pondering how it could be that the path would end. I hadn’t really reached that point yet, but I stopped anyway, thinking I might have to turn back. How often have I done this in life? How often have I assumed something was at the end, when the way was still there, I just couldn’t see it. The calm of knowing and trusting in that “other way,” comes from within, comes from the Presence of the Holy Spirit, who is more than willing to direct me. It is in this way, that I understood my foolishness yet again.

And it is in this small lesson that I remind myself to trust my God and the Holy Spirit yet again.

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sprout in asphaltBe careful what you ask for. That’s the old saying when people ask for patience. . . . you know what you get? Trying and irritating situations that give us patience practice. Well, here’s another one, be careful about asking God to increase your faith, because it’s dire circumstances that build faith.

Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”He got up and gave orders to the wind, and he said to the lake, “Silence! Be still!” The wind settled down and there was a great calm. Jesus asked them, “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?”
[Mark 4: 37 - 40; CEB]

They were nearly drowned. Despite having walked with Jesus and watched him heal hundreds of people (see verse 3:10), when they were in their own cataclysm, the challenge to “keep the faith” was much more difficult.

Perhaps they even tried. I can imagine the guys debating whether or not to wake Jesus up (who apparently was so unfazed by the situation that he slept like a baby). Did they know this was some kind of test of faith (after all, it was Jesus’s idea to cross over the lake)? Which of the twelve finally caved in and woke up the master with fear and trembling and even challenged Jesus, “Don’t you care . . .?” (Reminds of the character, Martin Udall, in the film, As Good As It Gets, who says, “I’m drowning here, and you’re describing the water!”)

We are driven by our circumstances. Despite knowing in our heads that the world does not revolve around us, we still tend to view the world from center of the universe. Look, what is happening to me! Where is God? Where is Jesus? This can’t be right! I’m suffering here, like another movie character, Ratzo Rizzo in MIdnight Cowboy, “I’m walkin’ here; I’m walkin’ here.” The implication, again, is that circumstances need to adjust to our presence.

But faith walks in the face of circumstances. Faith moves in a straight line no matter what is happening around us. Faith is the tortoise, undaunted by the wily hare or the long, long road.

Faith is not built on the easy life. In Matthew 5:43-48, we are reminded that it’s easy to love those who love you, it’s loving the enemies that becomes a challenge. So it is with faith. You want your faith to grow? Give thanks for the difficult days.

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trustThe truth about trust is tricky. I mean, I have struggled with trust all my life. Sure, betrayal is a stumbling block to trust. But personal strength and intelligence can get in the way too. My mother taught me all the ways to combat trust: self-sufficiency, stick-to-it-tiveness, if you want it done right do it yourself, and so on. Trust requires a perpetual surrender.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence.” [Proverbs 3:5, CEB]

On Sunday, Pastor Jess Bousa, taught the message this way: to recognize the sovereignty of God, we must acknowledge God’s control of situations when things are “bad” and not just when things are going swell. After all, it’s easy to trust God when life is moving along sweetly and securely. It’s the tough times that call on the truth of our trust and faith in this One God.

One of his examples was II Kings 6:15 – 17, when Elisha’s servant feared the encampment of the vast army of the Arameans out to destroy the prophet. But Elisha could see what his servant could not, God’s army that encircled them all: the “second circle” that is God’s domain. This is the circle where trust is engaged. This is the circle where God operates, the bigger arena where our human strengths are worthless, where our intelligence can no longer figure things out, where our manipulations no longer have impact. Trust happens there.

Elisha prayed that God would open his servant’s eyes to see that second circle.

I pray the same. For me.

And yet, I must remember this, unless I go through the chaos and clatter of life’s challenges, I will never get to see God’s power in my life. It’s a paradox of faith. I surrender this day. I must. I will to do it.

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Painting by Solomon Joseph Solomon (1860-1927)

Painting by Solomon Joseph Solomon (1860-1927)

Samson had everything he needed to serve and lead. He was called from childhood, from the day he was born. He was a Nazirite: dedicated to God. But these gifts made him prideful. He lost sight of the true source of his strength.

“Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah. The rulers of the Philistines confronted her and said to her, ‘Seduce him and find out what gives him such great strength and what we can do to overpower him.’ . . . “ [CEB, Judges 16:4-7a]

Did Samson make a mistake falling in love with the “wrong” woman? Apparently women were his weakness even more than his hair.

Delilah wasn’t the first time a woman betrayed him. Read Judges 14 where his Philistine wife [unnamed] beguiled him for the answer to a wedding riddle and told her relatives. That treachery ended badly with Samson taking revenge both in killing thirty random Philistine men and later destroying a number of his enemies’ fields and crops. The Philistines feared and hated Samson. And yet for the next twenty years, he continued to win victories with his strength alone.

Then Delilah, yet another Philistine woman, came into the picture. Her village elders offered her great sums of money for the secret of Samson’s strength. And so she double crossed Samson. Why couldn’t he see what she was doing? Why couldn’t he remember how it went the first time? Did he actually trust Delilah? I don’t think so. Pride consumed him. He could not imagine that God would allow him to be defeated. That lesson came hard when he was taken, blinded, and put to labor in prison, reduced to a stock animal grinding grain. He told Delilah the “secret” of his strength. But really, the secret was the hand of God. The hair was a symbol of the covenant.

Do I know the real secret? Or I have I fallen into Samson’s folly?

God has given us all gifts, strengths, and abilities. Certainly, God has given much to me but I take most of it for granted: my comfortable life, my health, my stage presence, my writing, my adopted children, my energy, my passion and enthusiasm, my long-standing marriage, my home, my job, my church; the list goes on and on. I am too comfortable I think. My gifts have become a norm like Samson’s long hair. As a result, I have lost my vision and gratitude for them and their purpose in my life.

Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.” [Luke 12:48b]

Art by Cheryl Ward

Art by Cheryl Ward

Forgive me O God, for I have sinned in my plenty, fearful of less, but holding on too tightly to the cornucopia.

I remember, back in the high days of the Toronto Blessing (1994) when people were “catching the fire” and manifesting all kinds of strange behaviors (of course, lives were changed as well – I have no bone to pick with that revival experience), one of the popular phrases/prayers was to say, “more” Lord. They were asking for more of God, I know, but looking back, it also feels a bit narcissistic: give “me” more, touch my life, etc.  I suppose the ideal would be that God would give me more so that I might give others more. But I don’t see myself following through on such an arrangement. At least, not so far. There was a time I longed to be used of God in some miraculous way, as a conduit for healing or prophesying or wisdom . But I’m thinking, for the few who gained great popularity in those arenas, most of them went the way of Samson. With great power comes great temptation.

No, I don’t want that either.

I just want to be true to the Presence of God in me, to hold my hands and heart open, to speak truth, to forgive freely, to look and listen without comparing people to myself or to one another, to accept now with gratitude and pray for tomorrow with confident anticipation because God is sovereign. I don’t need to wait for my hair to grow long or my days to number into the seventies or eighties. Samson didn’t need to wait either. It just took him that long to figure it out.

Let this reveal have legs, Lord, and roots. Nourish my soul with your Breath. Today and always.

 

 

 

 

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