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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

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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freedomInteresting. In today’s world, how often does a person use as their defense, “I didn’t know” or “Nobody told me.” And as a result, they believe this lack of knowledge absolves them of the crime. You’d think we’d get over it. After all, the “I didn’t see the stop sign” defense does not work in court, nor does “I didn’t know the speed limit” prevent an officer from giving us a ticket. And yet, we still say it and claim it and believe it.

 If anyone commits a sin by violating the directives I have given you—even if he was unaware of it—once he realizes it, he bears the guilt and must still accept the consequences. [Leviticus 5:17, The Voice]

The law works differently than grace. The law is immutable and enduring. The law has not gone away because of grace, it still exists; it is only our relationship to the breaking of law that has changed through Christ. For this reason, “. . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” [Romans 3:23] Sin still exists. Intentional or unintentional, blatant or secret, repeated or isolated, sin happens. Mistakes happen.

mercy on meInitially, I wasn’t fond of the centuries old Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” because I didn’t see myself as a sinner. I saw myself as foolish perhaps or selfish, but honestly, it wasn’t like I had killed anyone. (Why killing seems to be norm for being a sinner, I don’t know, but most people who say this phrase, use that act as the litmus test.)

During Jesus’s ministry, he called his disciples to the highest plateau of faith by telling us to walk the paradox line: love enemies, go the second mile, enter through the narrow gate, turn the other cheek, and so forth. And then, he tops these off with the ultimate impossibility: “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect!” [Matthew 5:48] What? Absurd. That’s inaccessible. No one can do that. No one can be even close to the perfection of God. And I can just imagine Jesus smiling: “Yep. That’s the point.” And apparently, anything less than perfect is sin.

Sin is part of life. But how do we respond to it? Do we yield to sin and its backlash (as they say, “Karma is a bitch”) or do we call on the power of the Cross of Christ to stand between? It is the point.

sacrificePeter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” [I Peter 4:8] But Christ’s love covers ALL sins. We are encouraged to model our behaviors after Christ and practice love so that we can learn to be more generous of heart to one another. But there is only One who covers them all, from small to large.

Own up to the sin. But even better, own up to the sacrifice of blood that protects us all from the kismet of life’s choices.

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passover angelBack in the day when the Israelites were finally released from Egypt, it happened at great cost, the lives of all firstborn children and animals throughout the land (not to mention the previous nine plagues), except for those protected by God in Goshen: the chosen ones were passed over. How often are we passed over, thinking it’s a bad thing, when in reality, it is for a greater good?

On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. [Exodus 12:12-13]

So often, God’s timing is unclear in the moment. Only in hindsight, can we see the consequences.

I remember how disappointed I was when I was passed over for promotion after promotion in my work. And yet, looking back, the outcomes had their own blessings. In one case, a less challenging position offered me the opportunity to get a second Master’s degree. In another case, I was able to learn and grow in the cyber world and non-traditional librarianship (at the time). I learned what it meant to become an early adopter and to forge new paths in the computerized world. And later, another loss, merely opened a door that brought me back to my own community, where I now live, work, and worship. I am content here.

Perhaps it is a wisdom that comes with age and experience. The very thing that appears to be a calamity transforms into a grace.

Of course, in the Exodus time, the Israelites were saved from the grief of losing their firstborn children, but then they also left everything they knew to flee into a desert that challenged them daily. Not everyone was so sure that this passing over would come to good. Not all could not see that promised land of milk and honey; only those who embraced their faith in God.

It is no different today. I must believe in God’s ultimate plan for my good, or at the least, the good that may come after me because of where I live or how I live or the children I send forth into the world.

Today, in the New York Times, I read an OpEd piece by Frank Bruni, and although this piece was driven by his observations about age and wisdom in sports, specifically Peyton Manning, he included additional observations about maturity and our response to life events.

And it’s no accident that many of us, while remembering and sometimes yearning for the electricity of first loves and the metabolism of our salad days, don’t really want to turn back the clock. We know that for everything that’s been taken away from us, something else has been given. . . . We’re short on flat-out exuberance. We’re long on perspective. . . . Life is about learning to look past what’s lost to what’s found in the process . . . [Frank Bruni, Maturity's Victories]

 

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dream and forgivenessIt’s not like Joseph had one God dream after another. He had a couple of foretelling dreams as a teen and no other dreams of his are shared through his time in Egypt. Instead, he turned to dream interpretation, but again, only a few. He known for being an honorable man, but not necessarily a diviner. Yet, God used him in this way at a point of need.

[Joseph said:] And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt . . . Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” . . .  Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  [Genesis 41:33, 39-40, 46a; NIV]

After twelve years of servitude, Joseph is raised up to one of the highest positions in that world, second only to Pharaoh at the age of thirty, all because of a dream, an interpretation, a vision, and twelve years of leading in lower positions. Every year of his captivity was actually a year of practice and preparation for the big leap. He had no way of knowing that such a day would come.

What we don’t see is any record of built up resentments toward his half-brothers. The only hint that memories cause him pain comes in the naming of his sons: Manasseh (which appears to mean “forget” and Joseph writes that his son has been born to help him forget his father’s household) and Ephraim (which seems to mean “twice fruitful,” and Joseph writes that this birth symbolizes a new life of fruitfulness in the place of suffering). Suffering? Interesting.

By the time the brothers finally come from Canaan to ask Egypt for grain, Joseph has been away at least twenty years. He has a new name, a new life, and his own family. And yet, the moment of reckoning arrives–the moment of payback, the moment when he could, at a word, destroy all ten of his brothers for their betrayal. During this first visit, he is tempted but there is also his integrity fighting against it.

Resentments build fast in my world. I know it. I see it. I feel it. People will say, “oh, I forgave, but I will never forget.” I think it was my old friend, Mma Precious Ramotswe, from the mystery series The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, who said (more or less), “If we don’t choose to forget as well, the memory may very well erase the forgiveness.”

I can choose drama or I can choose dream. I can choose to forgive and forget. I can allow God’s dream to build a life or I can fight the way. I can complain of the time and the disappointments or I can trust in the preparation.

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