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Posts Tagged ‘God’

Photo by Irm Brown

Photo by Irm Brown

So simple really, how else would the weak find traction? God is the great equalizer.

Then Asa cried out to the Lord his God, “Lord, only you can help the weak against the powerful.Help us, Lord our God, because we rely on you. . . [2 Chronicles 14:11a]

Unfortunately, the strong forget their own need for God. They rely on themselves. And eventually, the mighty fall. Sometimes, in their pride, the strong give assistance to the weak, but it is always measured, to keep the weak in their place. Or worse, the gifts are not particularly useful or what is actually needed.

When I was in Africa on a mission trip, we visited one of the poorest villages that was created on a portion of land owned by a wealthy landowner for the families of the men who worked his land. They were reminiscent of slave quarters, but African style with dirt floors and huts and water a football field away that had to be carried daily by the women and children. They were fortunate to have a place to live but nothing more. From the landowner’s perspective, he had been generous, but it was a measured generosity. That was bad enough but while there, among the partially clothed children was a little girl who wore a torn and tattered party dress, clearly, a gift from a well-meaning westerner who had sent used clothing to the poor. The girl probably loved that dress, but what was the donor thinking? Again, a misplaced generosity.

If the strong want to help the weak, they must enter the life of the weak. So did our Jesus serve humanity. So did Mother Teresa in India  and Jackie Pullinger in China.

 

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Art by Laurie Justus Pace

Art by Laurie Justus Pace

And this is the point, whether one believes or does not believe: God knows our hearts. God knows my heart. There is no sin I can craft in my head that is unknown, there is no good deed seed not watered. God is sovereign over the heart — the soul of humankind.

Forgive and act; deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know every human heart) . . . [I Kings 8:39b, NIV]

For this reason, when life circumstances challenge my way, there is only One who can truly help me or actually altar the course of my steps, transform the crushing press of deadlines and drama and duty, rally the troops of heaven on my behalf and, ultimately, on behalf of my loved ones.

Forgive me Spirit Father, Adonai. Forgive my stealthy forays into the world. Forgive my selfish ambition. Forgive my judgments of others. Forgive my callous eye. Relieve my fears. Strengthen my trust and resolve in You. Sustain my mindfulness that I might pray without ceasing.

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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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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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Everyone Forever, painting by Minako Abe

Everyone Forever, painting by Minako Abe

I am reading through the Bible in a year. I’ve done it before. Sometimes, it feels a bit of a drudgery, particularly I Chronicles. But in this chronological plan, I get to mix up some of those dry passages with the Psalms, thoughts that always move me, either to my knees or to gratitude. Today, these words resounded deeply:

But the Lord’s faithful love is from forever ago to forever from nowfor those who honor him. . . . [Psalm 103, 17a, CEB]

Forever — endless — infinite — eternal. These are God words. In fact, it is only God who can calmly say, “always,” and mean it. And because I am devoted to this forever God, I can surrender my irregularities and my sometimes and my good intentions. I can trip and fall and rise again. I can start over again–and again–if I have to. I can claim a grace that only an infinite God can give freely. I can fail and I can succeed.. I can weep or laugh. I have been loved since the beginning and I will be loved until the end. I am a child of God and beloved.

Both Psalm 103 and 104 begin this way: “Let my whole being [soul] bless the Lord! . . . ” [CEB] That is my prayer today.

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right handThe most common reference to “right hand” placement is the right hand of God and the One on this side, that is the Son of Man, the Messiah, Christ Jesus. This is a place of shared power and signifies authority. This norm has carried down through the ages to the point that most “guests of honor” at a dinner table are seated to the right of the host. It is a place of And yet, in Psalm 16, there is a new take on this idea:

I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. [Psalm 16:8, NIV]

I am moved by this proclamation and realize it should be mine each day. With it, I could give authority to God to move on my behalf and with it I could count on God’s presence to protect me, to guide me, and to support me. In addition to giving God authority, if I could practice keeping my eyes on God, symbolically speaking of course, I could focus my energy and direction, cast off distractions and, potentially, move forward without fear. Oh, what prevents me?

I remember back in acting school when we were introduced to a variety of circus skills, my favorite was tightrope walking because of the visual concentration required, to keep the eyes looking ahead at a single destination point.

But I also remember the story of Peter who walked on water, albeit briefly, as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. Did he try it again? I always wondered. Did he remember the experience as a success or a failure? He defied, for just a few steps, the laws of gravity and science. He stepped outside the known dimensions of reality. But was it enough to believe?

spiralBut here’s a conundrum:
“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore. [Psalm 16:11, Amplified]

And here, in the same psalm, I am now at God’s right hand, receiving the benefits thereof. An interesting circle: God at my right hand and me at God’s right hand: Oneness. That is the point. Fueling and being fueled, loving and being loved, giving and receiving, all at the same time. Strength to strength [Psalm 84:7].

 

 

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HonorI don’t pretend to understand the honor codes of Old Testament times. The stories that surround the lives of Saul and David are most complicated of all. Saul wants to kill David and chases him all of the country and despite opportunity, David refuses to kill “God’s anointed.” And even later, after Saul’s death, an Amalekite takes responsibility for a mercy killing of Saul but dies for it:

David asked him, “Why weren’t you afraid to lift your hand to destroy the Lord’s anointed?”Then David called one of his men and said, “Go, strike him down!” So he struck him down, and he died. For David had said to him, “Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, ‘I killed the Lord’s anointed.’” [2 Samuel 1:14-16, NIV]

The first four chapters of 2nd Samuel are filled with revenge and death and killings in the name of honor. It is outside the norms of our culture in general, although certain societies and gangs still practice the eye for an eye practice. But, in no way do I see the anointing of God prevent or protect a leader. We have cast aside any idea that a leader, whether in that position by force or vote, could be a designee of God.

There are some basic honor codes that humans seem to try to abide by: the fair treatment of prisoners of war, the military “code of conduct,” dealings with the Red Cross and other first responders, and perhaps some locally created codes within companies or organizations, often watered down into “value statements.”

In the end, people codify behaviors based on what often appears to be a moving target: what is right, what is good, what is fair? Eventually, these determinations may become laws but often, they are simply, agreed upon or understood. Unless a person is a sociopath or in some other way, without conscience. For it is, in the end, the inner voice that agrees and supports the code. Or not.

anointedAnd yet, in David’s time, this code could be trumped by God or in the name of God’s anointed.

The one thing that came out of this reading and meandering thoughts was that our modern society puts little respect into the roles of our leaders. Perhaps it’s the democratic process that seems to somehow cheapen their position. After all, the voters could have been deluded or simply wrong and therefore, we do not need to honor this man or woman. And besides, we can count the days, eventually, they’ll be voted out (or in again) soon.

I’m just wondering if things would go differently if we all rallied behind our leaders. If we simply accepted that this person, in this now, as God’s anointed, would things go better? Oh, pie in the sky, I know. But so much energy is spent derailing leaders, from presidents to local mayors, it’s a wonder anything gets done at all.

 

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