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Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

Our country is still in mayhem after the assault on the Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. What aftereffects will occur, it’s difficult to say at this time. But, as a woman of faith, this juncture cannot be ignored.

Naturally, we can all pray: for peace, for wisdom, for understanding, for renewal, for justice, for explanations. And yet, despite our prayers, the question of “why” dominates my mind. How has violence become the only avenue for expressing frustration and inequity?

Today, I was meditating on “Psalms for Praying” by Nan C. Merrill and in Psalm 1 (her interpretation) presumably the last verse, she writes, “. . . Love’s penetrating Light breaks through hearts filled with illusions: forgiveness is the way.”

Another scripture says, “A good man [person] brings good things out of the good stored up in his [or her] heart, and an evil man [person] brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his [or her] heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” [Luke 6:45, NIV]

An illusion misleads intellectually and its intent is to cause misinterpretation of its actual nature (see Webster’s dictionary). This is where we are now. We can tell that illusions exist because of the words spoken and quite honestly, the actions (the violence). Illusions have found root in many hearts and, in my mind, the only way to break such illusions is by an act of God, or literally, the pure Light of the Christ.

People are regularly captivated by clever magicians who can transform what we believe to be truth into something else. And that something else becomes the replacement reality. I cannot dissuade someone who has fully engaged an illusion as real.

I suppose I may be steeped in illusion as well, but of another kind certainly, where love guides. My faith in God keeps me in the “Way,” but what about the people who read the same Bible I read, pray to the same God I do, and yet justify behaviors and words far outside my understanding of the verse, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and your neighbor as yourself” [Matthew 22:37].

According to cult de-programmers, it can take up to five years to bring a loved one out of the deep influence of a charismatic leader or group. This process is about unconditional love, questions, and patience. Illusions do not fall like a curtain, but in pieces and cracks. Hostility, name-calling, disgust, and chips on the shoulder are no help. Let us instead, look for points of concurrence. This is my prayer.

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Lent, Day 5.

Joshua 1:9. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Yesterday, Sunday, I had the blessing of giving the message at the Village of Hope Church. I used this Lenten study on Brave Faith (based on Mary Geisen’s devotional) as its root. Today’s excerpt from Geisen’s book uses one of the same illustrations I used of Peter having to step out of the boat before being able to walk on water. But even more important, that his eyes needed to remain on Jesus.

tightrope walkerI shared this story along with one of my own. Back in the day, when I was in acting school, we had two semesters of Circus classes. These were some of my favorites. Among the skills we learned was juggling and unicycle and of course, tightrope walking, which I loved. This too requires focus–that is focus on the end point. All balance comes from this focus.

Brave faith requires the same. We must look ahead and step toward that unknown. We must trust the Christ to bear with us the burdens, to guide our way, to keep us from falling.

 

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I’m not sure why I’ve been so dense about this scripture for so long. Did everyone get this and me just today? Sigh.

 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” [John 3:5-8, NIV] 

For some reason, I always associated being born of water as baptism. It is one of those symbolic acts that we are encouraged to do, from death to life kind of thing. In some churches, it is even mandated.

But today, I just realized that we are all born of water. I mean, human beings are born of water through the womb (hint: water breaking and all that). We are all the same in this way: humankind. We are all born with tremendous potential for all things possible in our three dimensional, time-constrained world.

However, how are we born of the Spirit? Is this that conversion experience when we accept Christ? That’s certainly an implication from scripture but I’m thinking some careful study might be good here as well. But accepting the reality of Jesus and the reality of the Holy Spirit, may only be the starting point. I think there is also a revelation of spirit that is needed. The Spirit is all around us. Heaven is all around us, for lack of a better term for that “other.” It is not a place as we know place.

Being born of the Spirit requires a certain relinquishing the body, not being so concerned about its state of affairs, recognizing the fleeting nature of the body, and cherishing instead the spirit within whose true home is heaven, with God and in God and through God.

Our spirit birth can be easy or difficult. We make it less difficult by practicing the ways of Jesus and thereby manifesting the “fruits” of Spirit. We agree to the paradoxes of going the extra mile, loving our enemies, and praying for those who persecute. We give thanks in all circumstances, for they are too are merely a moment. We journey the life of the flesh in anticipation of the birth in the spirit.

Can we dwell in the spirit now? Not really, but we can engage there through the Holy Spirit and in our relationship to God. Prayer is a key component and being still and meditating. These are ways to center down into those places. Sometimes, in worship, we are experience the Presence. The more self-less we are, the more likely to enter that Place.

Spirit of the Living God, breathe on me.

 

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“Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.” [Leviticus 19:11] Period. 
We are living in a culture in which lying has become a norm. I think we always knew that our leaders were lying but up until recently, there was a kind of unspoken understanding that the “lies” were somehow for our good, that we were being shielded from the ugly truth of dangers around the world. We were like little children who were not ready to hear about sex or how babies are born or that our beloved Uncle was a raging alcoholic and wife beater. Everything is fine.

But now, we are discovering that the lies are bigger and more dangerous. They are so pervasive that it has become difficult to discern the truth anywhere. We have one side exposing truth as breaking news and the other side proclaiming that all news is fake. Like the barrage of violence in games and movies and in real life on our streets and in our neighborhoods, we are becoming desensitized to it.  So it seems, with lies.

So what does this have to do with me, right here, sitting in my quiet chair in prayer?

First of all, I’m not much better inside my little life. I exaggerate and pretend, I withhold and I cheat. I too am a liar. So was I convicted this morning as the notifications ran across my screen about the lying game in Washington. I am no better and before I get all self-righteous about others, I must clean up my own house.

Forgive me God.

Because the political climate right now is so charged and the people so divided, my only comfort comes in praying for the power of truth to prevail. I pray that Truth expose evil and lies and danger.

But I also pray for truth in my own life. Fill me Lord with the Truth of your Holy Spirit, fill me with your kingdom that truth be my natural way. Stop my mouth before I speak, soften my heart before I judge, breathe into me.

Lying is a choice and for this reason, it is sin. We all know better, whether Christian or Muslim or Jew or Buddhist or Hindu or Atheist. Let us all carry the banner of Truth today.

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Will You Fast?

prayer-and-fastingDuring lent, one of the practices we are asked to consider is fasting. Historically, fasting implies the cessation of eating. But over time, particularly in our culture, this has morphed into “giving up” something. And so we find people say they will give up soda or sweets or caffeine. Some people now give up other soft pleasures like Facebook or gaming or television. It’s an interesting development. I have done the same thing over the years. It’s not a bad thing per se, but we may have missed the point.

If I think about the many habits I have given up for Lent, most of them I should probably give up anyway. I mean, they’re not really good for me. I remember the first year I gave up diet soda. Well, for heaven’t sake, that should be a permanent thing, for who doesn’t know that diet drinks are terrible for the body? So, what have I done there? I’ve used a spiritual “practice” to motivate me to give up something I don’t need.

Instead, I think a better fast might be something else–a beloved or necessary thing. And for this reason, I have chosen to begin a full fast of food for a period of time and then clear liquids. I love to eat. I need to eat. But I want to be truly conscious and intentional in this season. I want to be uncomfortable and out of step with my normal routine. I want to experience a change within.

There are habits of mind that I would like to break: judgments and gossip and resentment. These require a mindfulness that only comes with breaking out of the norm.

A full fast is not for everyone. I get that. But I have fasted at length before and I know its benefits. But I also know its traps like hoping to lose a few pounds or to be perceived as “holier” than others. Beware or just be aware. That’s the plan.

Another aspect I am adding this time is daily communion. Last night during the Ash Wednesday service, after fasting all day, the taste of a small piece of bread and juice was a tangible reminder of Christ’s presence in my life, as Jesus answered his tempter in Matthew 4:4, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” For me, communion became the Word made flesh as I took it.

Amen.

 

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lent-2017People are often surprised that I engage in the practice of Lent. Traditionally Lent is part of more mainline denominations and particularly “high church” or liturgical worship. How did this charismatic, “praise the Lord” believer come to Lent?

Part of the reason can be traced back to a few years I spent in a Reformed Episcopal Church. The priest of that congregation was a neighbor and engaging and after a broken experience in our previous church, we needed to rest. At first, the weekly liturgy seemed dry and unyielding. But over time, the words themselves began to unfold and they became a musical meditation to my heart and soul. It was during this time that I began to study and investigate the role of contemplative prayer and other practices like fasting, etc. At this church, we marked and walked the church calendar with an understanding that we were joining millions of others doing the same. The meaning of “our” Father became more real to me.

After I left this church, I continued my interest in the wider Church and its rhythms. I discovered another form of prayer called “keeping the hours” which was daily prayer and liturgical readings at fixed times during the day. So now I had a combined sense of the yearly pattern as well as a daily structure. Many would find this confining but I discovered a river that flowed beneath the practice and discipline.

I would be lying if I said I held to these faithfully year after year, I did not and have not, but there are seasons that I long for that rhythm again, that pulsing of the Spirit’s heartbeat within. I cannot experience this in contemporary worship services. Those have a different flavor, a joyfulness and a passion. I am that too.

And so, I balance my personal worship by choosing the 40 days of Lent, to slow down my body and my mind, to listen, to breathe, to flow in that river. It takes a while to find my way again. And so I fast or re-engage with fixed hours of prayer, or sit quietly.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and the next 40 weekdays (including Saturdays) are the days assigned to re-connecting with our inner life in Christ.

I invite my readers to come along with me and let us see what God will reveal.

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faith2Here’s a good question. In the face of someone who knows does not know much about Christianity, how would you share the gospel of Jesus Christ?

My answer has been the same for some time. I simply tell my own story, my “testimony” as they say. Because I was just like the person to whom I am speaking, in one way or another, at one time or another. I did not come out of my childhood and into my teens as a saint. I was narcissistic and self-absorbed. The world revolved around me, so much so that I married at 18 and divorced five years later to pursue a career in the theater. My world, my dream, my everything. The story goes on, too long for a post/homework but needless to say, it’s interesting how God breaks through the fog, even we don’t recognize it as fog. I came to faith through the Word of God, through reading the Bible and asking a lot of questions. I tested for truth and certainty in my soul. I have followed the Christ ever since. I am alive today because of that surrender.

But, I did not have opportunity to tell my story this week.

Nor do I consider this a strategy or a plan or a way of delivering the message. Effectiveness for the listener is not based on my delivery.

The message of the Christ, promised to the Jews for centuries as the Messiah, is all about redemption, about relationship to God and how that relationship works. Back then, it was about substitution and blood sacrifice. In the time of Christ, it was also blood sacrifice, but once for all eternity, in a space that has no time.

The conversations in the Hillsong class have given me a desire to dig again into the Bible and to seek understanding of the patterns and context in a way that I never have before. I am grateful, however, that my first introduction to the things of God was from the Bible and as a result, I have read through it many times. I am familiar with the stories, the essence of Scripture, but not enough about the pieces that bring vibrancy and connections.

I am feeling solid in my faith which is really important in today’s political climate in which believers, wrapped in Christ, yet still at odds with one another and often in a very unloving and ugly way.

” . . . I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” II Tim 1:12b

In a way, it is a pattern in my own life that I cannot seem to shake, or perhaps I am not intended to do so. I am the daughter of immigrants and I did everything I could to “fit in” and be All-American. Yet I never really succeeded. I was never quite American enough, but on the flip side, never quite Latvian enough either. I wasn’t protecting and preserving my heritage enough. In college, I was in a sorority, accepted but only to a degree, I simply could not balance the game of wealth and privilege no matter how hard I tried. And in college, by marrying young, I ostracized myself from my single friends. Eventually, I ended up in New York for acting school, thinking I would finally really belong, but even there, one foot in and one foot out. When I had my conversion experience, I felt the divide even further. How could I be a believer and creative artist? Back then, there were no avenues for that.

The longer I was a Christian, the more I tried to walk and talk the way I thought I should, the well-spoken yet conservative believer who “loved the person but not the sin,” and who carried her faith as a badge on her sleeve. I was on the inside now, I thought. I knew all the phrases, I knew all the leaders, I knew all the praise songs, I even knew how to speak in tongues. I had arrived.

But that secure space began to crumble over the years. I grew tired of editing my words (for all along, I was) and not mentioning that I enjoyed reading books that others in that world found objectionable (even demonic) or listen to music that had a beat, or go to movies not on the accepted list.

Then I went into faith-based counseling and discovered the depth and power of forgiveness & breaking strongholds of all kinds. I found beauty in other church traditions. I experienced liturgy. I found I had been in a microcosm of Christianity and not the Church universal.

I began hearing other voices like Rob Bell, Phyllis Tickle, and Brian McLaren. I read about the Emergent Church, and Progressive Christianity and Post-Modernism. It was all so freeing and interesting and I reveled in the hashtag, #LoveWins.

But of course, I didn’t quite fit there, not 100%. Lo and behold, I was back in the middle. I loved and respected many of my more conservative Christian friends but I also loved my progressive ones. In any case, I was pulled slowly but surely out of the Christian Right.

I realize now that this series of classes is nudging me to fill in my theology. To not worry about fitting in or being in or anything like that.

I am an amalgam.

I am politically left leaning (especially now in this Donald Trump era); I am thoroughly grounded in my love of God and Christ and the atonement; I am surrendered to a sovereign God who can break through and “save” whomever and whenever God so pleases; I am learning to love and be content with my now, given by God to me (both the sorrow and the joy); and I am not going to assume that I know God’s intentions for others who are “not like me.” I will lose validity with some people of faith and I will lose some validity with activists. But I will stand.

 

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