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Posts Tagged ‘holiness’

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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lords-prayer-lukeI don’t know. Just sayin’ and I really mean it. First of all, it’s slightly different in Matthew and Luke. And for so so many years, I was like the rest of the Western Christian world and was speaking it in King James English. For heaven’s sake, what is that all about? It renders the thing beautiful but archaic. It became a rote kind of thing with little understanding or meaning.

But then, for a long season, about a year and a half, I practiced a lay version of “Praying the Hours” and the Lord’s Prayer as well as the Gloria Patri and they always played a key part of those days. I became somewhat entranced by the power of the Lord’s Prayer and spoke it often and daily. Since that time, I have lost its potency, nor is it practiced much in my current church home.

So what is God saying to me today?

If it is true, as I understand it, that Luke’s version of the gospel was always geared to the non-Jewish believers. In essence, the same people we are trying to reach in our local church. Then we should be teaching them to pray this simple prayer:

Father, hallowed be your name (God – your name is holy and sacred)
Your kingdom come (Bring your domain to us, we surrender)
Give us each day our daily bread  (Feed us when we are hungry, just enough)
Forgive us our sins (Give us amnesty for our mistakes)
For we forgive everyone who sins against us (We understand we have to do the same for other people)
And lead us not into temptation (Block the way when we try to go down the wrong road.)
Amen. That’s it.

And there’s one other key here which I picked up during that year and a half. This prayer has always been and will always be a WE prayer, not an I prayer. When we prayer this prayer, we’re doing it together with a lot of other folks and we’re praying for them just like they are praying for us. This is a humanity prayer. Dogs don’t pray it and trees don’t pray it. Just us. Humans. And each and every human needs it. No strings attached.

I’m coming back to this prayer. You should too.

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flame of loveListen, God! Please, pay attention!
Can you make sense of these ramblings,
my groans and cries?
    King-God, I need your help.
Every morning
    you’ll hear me at it again.
Every morning
    I lay out the pieces of my life
    on your altar
    and watch for fire to descend. [Psalm 5:1-3, The Message]

Have you ever just prayed and prayed for something in particular? And prayed. And still the heavens are silent. We’re waiting for the fire to descend, the fire of the Holy Spirit to step into the situation, to alter it, to heal it, to divide it, to just manifest! Darn it!

I believe in the fire of heaven. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the God of the Universe, sweet Spirit, in all and through. But the longer I keep my God alive within, the more sure I am that no desire on my part will bring the fire. I don’t have the timetable.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pray, even fervently, but the prayer has to be without that one eye open – the eye that is looking for results. The more we look for the fire, the less likely we will see anything. Besides, it’s more likely that the miracle, the answer, the fire of God, will come in an unlikely form. In the same way that the Israelites looked for a warrior Messiah and a conqueror; instead, they got a mild-mannered carpenter who carried no obvious weapon, hired no bodyguards, and enlisted no troops. And yet, that Jesus and that ragtag dozen turned the world upside down.

Paul writes, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” [Philippians 4:12, NIV] And yet, he was also a mighty prayer warrior. He believed he was living out, each and every day, eachHoly spirit dove and every trial, answers to his prayers.

After all, there is still the simplicity of Psalm 118:24, “This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.” The fire is in every day, every hour, every minute. You don’t have to “see” the fire to trust. Holy Spirit, flame of love.

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FranzeseThis past weekend, our church had a guest speaker, Michael Franzese, a former Mob Captain (just below an UnderBoss) with the Colombo Crime Family. His testimony included many memorable moments but among them this was the most memorable for me, “Don’t ever let your past be a deterrent for what God will use it for in the future.” There was nothing in Michael’s former life that would make him a candidate for ministry, he was a thug and a criminal, a truth to which he confesses. And yet, he is now even more passionate about the things of God.

A person’s steps are made secure by the Lord
    when they delight in his way.
Though they trip up, they won’t be thrown down,
    because the Lord holds their hand. [Psalm 37:1, CEB]

In another part of Michael’s story, he shared how gradual the shift was from one life to another. He did not hear an audible voice of God or experience a single epiphany that turned him by 180 degrees, not in a minute or an hour or a day, but over years, many of which he spent incarcerated. His other strength came from his wife who endured his years of vacillation and uncertainty, not to mention the pressures of both the government for his cooperation and his former mob family who had put a contract out on him. This was the atmosphere in which he engaged a pursuit of God, challenging God the whole way to prove Himself worthy.

What message does this story amplify within me? Steadfastness. Patience. Grace. Forgiveness.

Photo by Chris VenHaus

Photo by Chris VenHaus

I was not a criminal, but I walked a dark line and toyed with a downward spiral back in my twenties. Sure, that’s a long time ago and although I had a more lightning conversion that Michael, the way has not been straight. A passionate believer, I have missed the mark many times all the same. I have been less than loving, judgmental, assumptive, and intolerant. I have been narrow-minded, inconsistent, and untruthful. I have manipulated the faith for my own desires and put on a veneer of holiness.

But I am still here. And God is still God and sovereign. And there is still a way I am to go.

If me, then you. If Michael Franzese, then me. Today, we can choose to walk worthy of the life God lays before us. We can respond to the circumstances in a confidence of faith that God never forsakes a heart intent on growing in Spirit.

Today and now. Let tomorrow be what it will. For “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. 13 When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.” [Jeremiah 29:11-13, CEB]

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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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There was an old game show called “You Don’t Say” in which contestants would try to figure out the missing word and thereby get points. At the end of the show, the M.C. would invite people to come back to watch the next show because, “It’s not what you say that counts, but what you don’t say.” We sometimes carry this idea along in life.

stillnessOur God gives you everything you need, makes you everything you’re to be.
You need to know, friends, that thanking God over and over for you is not only a pleasure; it’s a must. We have to do it. Your faith is growing phenomenally; your love for each other is developing wonderfully. Why, it’s only right that we give thanks. [II Thessalonians 1:1b-3, The Message]

We live in a culture of having and so often, despite our best efforts, it’s hard not to want what others have. We are constantly inundated with images of nice cars (mine’s 10 years old and counting), perfect figures with amazing clothes (I’m on a perpetual diet and shop thrift stores), and high-powered tech toys (I just got my first personal laptop from a pawn shop). How do we keep our eyes from roving the commercials and ads (not just on TV, but everywhere). Their message is clear, what you have is not enough.

Not true.

contentmentThe truth, the real truth underneath all the trappings of pretend, is that each person has all the raw materials for the life God intended. We have been given a variety of gifts and abilities, families and friends, circumstances and challenges, and they all add up to a life designed to building up the human spirit within. If we agree to walk it. The path is not easy, but if we take our own way, the road only becomes longer, more complex, and yes, even more difficult.

“Come to me,” Jesus said, and “I will give you rest” [Matthew 11:28]. As I am in God, God is in me, and you are in me and we are in God [paraphrase of John 17:21].

Within God understanding, it doesn’t matter whether I am as good looking as another woman or as rich or smart or talented. It doesn’t matter if I am a Queen or a housemaid, a teacher or a writer, an athlete or a businesswoman. I am walking out a life within and hopefully, using everything I’ve learned along the way, I can be united with Christ.

And for this reason, I can give thanks for everything. Even this.

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holinessBecause I find new understanding when I use a variety of translations, this day I see a glimmer in the Lord’s Prayer that has eluded me all these years.

Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom.  Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation.’” [Luke 11:2-4, CEB]

In this translation (Common English Bible), the verb “uphold” is used along with all the other requests: do something, do this.

Usually this section is translated as “hallowed be thy name” or “may your name be kept holy,” but this is a rare version in which we can ask God to act in such a way that the name of God would remain pure and holy and full of power. We are saying, “Lord, do whatever it takes to remain holy,” and in mind, I am letting God know that this relationship of God’s holiness and my lack of it are critical to the order of things. Without the holiness of God, I am lost.

“Oh God, hear me. No matter what I say or do, no matter how the world distracts itself from your Truth, uphold your holiness, because in this way, the kingdom of God will come and reign and goodness will triumph. In the meantime, keep my body whole and when I personally choose badly, forgive me. I promise, I will do my best to do the same for others. And above all, don’t let me mistake your way but strengthen my resolve to be steadfast.”

This is my prayer.

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