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Posts Tagged ‘truth’

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.” [John 6:35-36, NIV]  I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. “But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.” [Psalm 81:10-12, NIV]

 No one can make or convince another person to believe, particularly in the things of God. The proofs will always, somehow, fall short; the explanations sound hollow; the passion suspect. Believe or not: there is no try.

Belief in God requires an acceptance of “other” that is outside our normal range of perception. God is not like us. God is not just me or you or nature or the universe. God is all and God is nothing. God is paradox and logic. God is light and dark. alpha omega

God manifests among us through humans in a variety of ways and for this reason, there have been (and still are) saints and charlatans. Jesus is our prime, for those who believe, of course.

Jesus is the physical God with a specific message and example of grace and redemption and love. Jesus completed the circle of promise that was initiated in the heart and soul of sentient human: Adam, if you will.

But Jesus, the physical, departed earth more than 2000 years ago. What’s left? More God. Spirit. And faith that it all really happened, God really IS and WAS and WILL BE.

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God does not participate in Valentine’s Day. God is not particularly interested in the hearts and flowers of young lovers wooing one another. God is not about Cupid and arrows and online dating. God is about our innermost being, the center of ourselves, our gut, our center, our soul and spirit. Our identity. That heart.

You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.heart of the matter
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit. [Psalm 51:6-12, NRSV]

Anything else, and we are lying to ourselves and to God. We could be living a myth of faith if our “hearts” are not in it. If all we have is a semblance of faithfulness, a Sunday morning piety, a “Praise the Lord” verbiage, we are missing the depth and breadth and length of God within.

The heart of a matter is the crux of it, the most vital part that implies the rest is totally dependent upon it. Is your faith totally dependent on the presence of God in the core of you?

It is from this center that decisions are made and hunches are formed and hope is nurtured and sin is birthed. But it is also here that faith is planted, where God manifests as the Holy Spirit, where change begins.

Oh yes, “create in me a clean heart, oh God.”

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Christ Pantokrator mosaic, Ravenna, 6th century.

Christ Pantokrator mosaic, Ravenna, 6th century.

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you. I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. [Ephesians 1: 17 – 19a, CEB]

At my church, I often have the privilege of “hosting” one of the morning services. In this capacity, I welcome the people, introduce the substance of the service, pray for the congregants, sometimes lead communion, give announcements, and finally, release the people at the closing with a final word and/or blessing.

Today, I am touched by these words from the lectionary for they speak from my heart what I desire for you, my reader. What greater gift can I offer you than a revelation of God and an open heart to the presence of God in your life whose promises await you (and me)?

This week, on Facebook, a friend challenged her FB followers to define beauty in three words. One of the best answers I read was “Revelation of God.” That made total sense. For all things beautiful have their roots in the creative hand of God.

So, with that in mind, I bless you. I pray for you beauty and all the other benefits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and even self-control. What more do we need in this world to walk the Way?

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confessionA “good confession,” as a phrase, has been pinched by the Catholics and any Internet search will teach you how to make a good confession in the confessional and thereafter make penance etc. But in this case, Paul is referring to a “confession of faith” which has been appropriated by yet another clerics to represent a formal statement of beliefs by one denomination for another. They are crafted documents and in most cases, cover a wide range of potential controversies discussed by believers through the centuries. But honestly, the confessions of Timothy and the Christ were much more personal. They simply acknowledged who they each were and to whom they belonged and gave fealty.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you [Paul to Timothy] made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. . . .  I command you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and Christ Jesus, who made the good confession [Paul about Jesus] when testifying before Pontius Pilate. [I Timothy 6:12-13, CEB]

There are people who get all “hinky” about the term, saved, as in “Are you saved?” But I think it’s really just a shortcut question about one’s confession. They are asking, “do you profess the Christ?” Do you follow the One God? Do you believe that Jesus was God in the flesh during a particular period of history and yet died and resurrected into a different kind of “body” and heretofore communes intimately with the God of the Universe to this day? Or, even this, do you believe in the Presence and transforming power of a Holy Spirit who lives within, upon invitation, and opens a Way to heaven on earth in preparation for eternity?

What do you believe? What is real to you? Who is this Jesus to you? Whom do you confess?

“This is also why I’m suffering the way I do, but I’m not ashamed. I know the one in whom I’ve placed my trust. I’m convinced that God is powerful enough to protect what he has placed in my trust until that day.” [II Timothy 1:12, CEB]

 

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enticedWhat does it mean to be enticed to turn away? Intellectually, of course, I understand that to be enticed is to lured or beguiled by an expectation or hope for something better. But this phrase comes at the end of a long list of plentiful promises including a “land flowing with milk and honey” in which generations would experience fertility in their families and their land. They were promised a win-win. And yet, the warning came too and in the end, proved to be on target. Never enough.

 Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. . . . Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. [Deuteronomy 11:8-9, 16, NIV]

Human beings are notorious for never being satisfied. Most of us who live in the West are prime examples. We have more than we need and we want more still. I am no stranger to this dis-ease. I am living within the norm of this culture and mind-set. Only until we travel to other countries where people walk to a pump for their water or eat the same staple food every day or die of an unchecked pandemic, do we have our eyes opened for a season.

We have it all and yet we are enticed away by the “other gods.” Do we really imagine that the mere facade of better, faster, or bigger will be the antidote to what ails us? I am ashamed at the number of times I have allowed myself to covet what others appear to have, to know, to enjoy.

Not today then. I choose to wrap myself in the armor of God’s contentment. If only for a little while, I will be mindful of “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man [person] who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.” [St. Patrick]

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Widows-MiteIt’s not really about the amount we give; instead, generosity is often measured by the cost to the giver to give it [hint: as in “sacrifice”]. In other words, it is some part of the story about the woman who gave only two coins, her last two coins, and she was cited for being far more generous than the rich men who gave out of their abundance. [Luke 21:1-4]

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. . . . They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. [2 Corinthians 8:2-3, 5b, NIV]

As a believer for many years, I have been around the bend several times about giving and tithing. As a baby Christian, although I loved Jesus dearly, I was church-skeptical. Why should I give them my money? How will they use it? How can I trust them to use it wisely? (So self-righteous, as though I was using my funds well. Hardly.)

Then I went through a period of legalism where I tried to follow the letter of the scriptures, from purity to tithing; I was determined to please God, to perform superbly. And perhaps, if I was very good and very faithful and very exacting, I could become a super Christian and perform miracles for God. Forgetting of course, that we all fall short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23].

money pressueShortly after that, I began to follow various teachers and did my best to align my understanding of the intentions of God with their explanations. I became a kind of disciple, from teachers who garnered thousands in arenas to popular television evangelists. It was during this time that I met my husband, who I put through the paces of meeting my mother and getting her approval, etc. (it was a Gothard thing, for the folks who remember him). And yet, we were engaged in 3 days and married in 4 months. I think it was all that “purity” talk that put us on a fast track.

As a couple, we started out in a more traditional setting in Mike’s home church. The people were kind enough, but there was little fire. I had been introduced to contemporary praise and worship by then and a traditional service felt wanting. The whole giving thing went to a back burner as newlyweds and he had never practiced tithing.

Thetake-the-plungen, we found another church and our faith exploded through the body of believers, the anointed pastor, and the call to service. Here we gave willingly and for the first time, even sacrificially, of our money and our time. We trusted God and we trusted them. We also discovered several Cursillo-type para-church organizations that moved yet closer and closer to Christ, and another outlet for giving. Such joy.

When we came to Maryland, we continued in our love and faith, but we were being challenged to give where we knew no one. Again, the distrust from old came rearing its head.

Around this time, I was challenged by the remarkable story of Jackie Pullinger who went alone, in her zeal, to Hong Kong in 19giving to poor66 (and still remains) where she made a powerful impact. But what stayed with me the most from one of her sermons was her story of giving without reserve to the poor. A visiting friend chastised her saying that the man to whom she gave money would probably spend it unwisely, and she said that her Christ instructed her to give; what happened to funds afterwards was God’s problem.

And with that, we began to tithe faithfully, ten percent, as written.

habitsBut, then, the challenges to our commitment began: the costly adoptions, a new house, travel to family far away, and so on. And although we gave consistently, I would not say it was generous of us at all. Not really. We were doing good things, serving, and going on mission trips, of course. But we simply got out of the habit. Like anything else, the longer you do (or stop doing) something, the more natural & comfortable it feels.

Restore Church

Finally, Mike and I found ourselves at our current church, Restore Church, right in our small Maryland town. The love for the people and the pastor was an updated experience of our Atlanta days. But we were also being challenged to consider giving generously, not comfortably. A few months before Mike’s death, we committed to tithing again. And God blessed our decision immediately, with a light shining out of the financial morass we had made.

oneNow, with Mike gone, our family financial situation is tenuous at best, but I am in this one mind: God is the author of my journey, which now is missing my life’s mate, but God is God and so, this is the new way. I have an inner conviction that I cannot shake that I must trust God more than ever, tithe and even give above that tithe, because I am no longer my own, but God’s and God is my essential one priority.

 

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Photo by Steve Fraser

Photo by Steve Fraser

Throughout history, the Word has had the power to “light the way:” scripture, inspired by God in both the Old Testament and the New. Words handed down to us through story, heroes and villains, miracles and inheritance. The Word, then, a written and verbal account of the presence of God among humankind, given to enlighten our own actions and choices, to give examples and a path toward righteousness; a template for living and a warning in the face of evil. We acknowledge: Your word [God] is a lamp before my feet and a light for my journey. I have sworn, and I fully mean it: I will keep your righteous rules. [Psalm 119:105, CEB]

God gives and we must respond, or at the very least, I am compelled to answer. This psalm, the longest single chapter in the Bible, whose author is officially unknown but most assume that either David, Ezra, or Daniel wrote it. The overall message? The Word of God is all-sufficient.

Can I swear to that and mean  it? Can I keep the laws of God? Not all, for sure; and maybe not even the ten. But if I could just fasten my heart on to the two most compelling “Words” from God, two key laws, two commandments that hold within them, the entire Law of God:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  [Matthew 22:37-39]

These two would light my journey indeed, each and every day, if I allowed them to do so, if I surrendered to their Truth and embraced them wholeheartedly, they would shine the brightest.

But I cannot. I don’t. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man [woman] of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips . . . ” [Isaiah 6:5a, NIV]

And for this reason, I cry out to my Jesus, that One who always knew and knows that I cannot follow that path on my own, no matter how much I want to do so today, tomorrow I will go astray. This I know, this I have seen in myself. Only One can cover me, can make the path wide enough for my weaving heart. Oh Jesu, my Savior, the propitiation for my weak resolve.

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