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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

theology-cartoon

Theology is a word I have mostly avoided until starting quarter three of the Hillsong Ministry School at Restore Church, Havre de Grace. I mean, it’s not a “bad” word,  it just seems, on the front end, as being one of those words coupled with “religion,” which has gotten a pretty bad rap in recent years.

But honestly, theology is just a study of the divine, a study of God, a study of the big questions and how they impact our every day life. In some form or another, we have all grappled with some of the big questions: forgiveness, sin, justice, salvation, etc. And as we engage with others, we will be asked along the way, “why do you believe what you believe?” And if we have spent any time at all studying or searching (as in research) for the answers, we are theologians too. So, for this season, I will be embracing this idea of being capable of theological curiosity and adventure. 🙂

The biggest impact of a big topic that has impacted my life directly is my understanding of the sovereignty of God. This simple truth has sustained me through the loss of my husband and the a host of circumstances that could be perceived as negatives. From Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” to Isaiah 14:24, “The Lord of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand, . . . ” God is God.

Another personal study I took upon myself was many years ago as I search for the “secret place” of God, referenced in Psalm 91. I wanted to “hear” from God and I wanted to “dwell” with God and so I went looking. And although I could not live there 24/7, I did have a taste of heaven and entered for that Holy of Holies.

If we don’t pursue understanding through study, we may actually mislead others or worse, allow ourselves to be misled. I remember, as a younger Christian worrying about teaching that could take me off the mark. For instance, I followed a very popular but conservative teacher who was adamant that theater and music when “performed” in a church service was not worship but prideful etc. Another time, I remember visiting a church that called on the congregation to imagine that a microphone stand was Satan and to laugh at it [him]. And during the heyday of charismatic movement, there were many many abuses of implied miracles like gold dust manifesting from the hands of the anointed.

The Bible remains the foundation (having stood the test of time) for any study and from it, we can build our understanding and confirm our faith. I like the idea of the Canon of Scripture being translated as a “measuring rod.” That makes a lot of sense. But in order for the Bible to be a successful measuring rod, there must be understanding and, I think, wisdom. The tendency by many is to cherry pick the Bible for the parts that support an intention and discount the rest. This is flawed theology. But one thing I have learned with certainty from my lead pastor, Jess Bousa, the bible must be read in the light of the culture in which it was written. It will never be true for our culture if it was not true for them. On the other hand, there were cultural biases for them, that cannot be overlayed our own, like dietary laws, punishments, and medical assessments, just to name a few. We must be willing to reason together.

In the end, we must embrace and acknowledge the power, existence, and revelation that comes through the Presence of the Holy Spirit, all of which will/should align with the Bible. Let us take care not to blast and judge others before we have searched diligently for common ground first.

The Bible is a tool for personal study, personal revelation, and, like an onion, has layers within it. What we learn at first blush is different than what we learn after multiple readings, corroborating commentary, and preaching/teaching. It’s a living, breathing process.

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purposeI will never forget my mother saying to me one morning, not long after reaching her 90th birthday, I just don’t know what I should do with the rest of my life. At the time, she felt hardy and hopeful and she was ready to take on something new. This idea of seeking purpose and planning toward it, has been with us all for a long time. Self-help books abound, whether secular or faith-based, “What is your purpose? What is the point? What is God’s will for my life?”

For the past few months, I have been participating in a series of classes under the umbrella of the Hillsong Ministry School at Restore Church. The entire first semester was like a walk through the Bible, broad swaths of understanding and patterns. But this semester is turning inward. Who am I in relationship with God, with Christ, with the Church?

rich-young-rulerTwo weeks ago, after class, I actually went home deeply depressed. I was feeling overwhelmed with I was not. I had a sharp and somewhat uncomfortable epiphany in which I understood the plight of the “rich young ruler” [Mark 10:17-23]. Not because I am a woman of wealth, per se, but there are experiences I still want to have and things I want to do that are not wrapped inside the cocoon of the church. And so, like him, I hung my head a bit and walked away. I want to be an expression of God in every day life, there is no doubt about that. And my faith in God is steady and even deep, but I am feeling a push back within. (In a recent sermon, Jess talked about the way he had been limiting his exercise: “I’ll do anything, just don’t ask me to do cardio.” — so it is with me, I guess.)

But I am off the homework questions of what God’s purpose is for my life? The correct answer is that everyone’s love-the-lordpurpose is pretty much the same: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength, and your neighbor as yourself; AND, go into all the world and preach the gospel. . . ”  That has manifested as serving in the local church, adopting children, performing and speaking for about the things of God, and blogging my heart devotionally. Can I say that I have been called by God to these things? Not with confidence.

Some years ago, I spent a long time working through a study to help me articulate a personal mission. I still use it on my site: My personal mission is to inspire meaningful change, build faith in God, and connect people with resources that will make a difference in their lives. This sentence grounded me in my work at the library as well as my work in the church and my work in the arts.

I believe God has blessed my writing and indulges my desire to write both devotional and secular material. But I would also like to use my 30 plus years of marriage and faith to counsel others; is it too late to go in that direction? I don’t know. I want to simplify my life.

passionMy strengths are my passion for God, my enthusiasm for the things that resonate within me, my ability to speak in a group with confidence, my humor, my writing. My weaknesses are my losses – words don’t come as quickly as they di did before, I forget names and faces, my memories are no longer crystal clear. I am a bit adrift since Mike’s death and although I soldier on, I am a bit unhinged for he grounded me. I scatter my energy across an array of interests. For those who know the Enneagram, I am a true seven.

I am pretty capable with technology, although I am losing ground as “virtual reality” becomes more pervasive and I never really did much gaming. It’s not that I didn’t really like it, I was afraid of becoming addicted to it for I do have an addictive personality (which I learned the hard way back in the day before my faith in Christ cut me loose — I don’t test God in this anymore).

I’m not as good of a listener as I should be. I tend to be a “fixer.”

Don’t want to ask others what they think my strengths are etc. I know what they will say. I’ve been around this bend too often. They see what I let them see. I don’t have many friends, but the few who are close are far. I am not perceived as needing any.

prayerMy spiritual goal is to become a more consistent woman of prayer, working toward achieving a 5% tithe of my waking time spent in direct conversation, contemplation, and reflection within 6 months from today. Some of the strategies I will use will be to plan for prayer each day and week. 5% of 16 hours is approximately 45-50 minutes a day. I will record my time and what I learn in whatever time I spend, whether it’s 10 minutes or an hour, but I will see an increase over the weeks. And out of that time in prayer, I expect to return to familiarity and intimacy. And from there, this idea of purpose will be grow more authentically.

victorian-writerMy life goal is still to write a book, no not just write it, but finish it (after all the re-writes) and get it published. And then another. And another. And quite honestly, to have success in this arena, I must give, at minimum, the same amount of time. Funny. I have a gut feeling that these two efforts were always joined at the hip. So be it.

Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this . . . [Psalm 37:3-5, NIV]

 

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helping-othersTherefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12:1-2, NIV]

Me, my body, my person, a sacrifice, but not unto death, no, that’s a very different thing. In some ways, to sacrifice one’s life and to die for something is amazing and total renunciation, but let’s face it, once and done. Is that crass? I’m not trying to be, honestly, but I keep pondering this living sacrifice concept and I’m seeing a lot of time involved here and commitment and ongoing surrender in the midst of daily life. It’s re-framing everything. It’s a state of mind of “otherness” where God’s way, no matter how we might disagree or misunderstand or hedge, is to be submitted to completely. God is God all the time. And of course, then, it makes sense to call this one direction, worship. It’s total mindfulness, Presence, and prayer.

In our not so distant past, there were “people of the cloth” (clergy, nuns, priests, and so on), who entered their calling with these words emblazoned on their hearts. And although this may still be true, there is a new trend where people of all walks of life are being called into a more consuming surrender.

Am I there yet? Not even close.

I have had a few supernatural immersions into the heart of God. My most memorable was over 20 years ago, and yet it has stayed with me as a very sweet memory and experience. A friend once told me that God often gives us glimpses of the kingdom of God, that we might get a taste of heaven and “see” God. To make a long story much shorter, this was a time of intense study and fasting when I lived alone in a cabin in the woods for a short season. My heart was seeking the “secret place” and I found it. I was mesmerized. I experienced a peace that passes all understanding. I walked in trust. I entered into comprehension and walked in that peace for . . . wait for it . . . a week. Yah. Only a week.

So the question remains: Do I really hold back from God, this living sacrifice? I do. Even after all this time. Not in every area. I’m pretty good in the tithe area, at least for standard income and I do volunteer. But, am I so close to God that I check in before I fill in that calendar square? Not so much. They say one’s calendar reflects one’s sacrifices of time to who or whatever appears the most.

As a somewhat artistic type, there’s always a type of tension when it comes to dedicating one’s time to the traditional things of God. Let’s face it, everything I write isn’t straight-up Godly or spiritual, but the process itself, the flow of words from inspiration to thought to words on screen or paper, that process (especially when it’s flowing) feels Spirit touched. Or taking and processing photographs, or cooking a meal, or making something for someone else, or acting/directing; these all have moments of giving. I can remember back in my early years of faith when I so wanted to be “all in” for Jesus and a popular Christian teacher of the day pronounced my love and work in theater as unacceptable to God, in fact, he believed all performance was out since it was too close to edifying self instead of God. I was crushed. I avoided my love for doing theater for quite a while. But that wasn’t me either.

heart-rock-on-the-beachSo here’s where I have landed on this score. It’s probably not 100% right, if there is such a thing as a right/wrong in this discussion. I am more about my heart being surrendered to God. I am convinced that the more doors (particularly those secret ones) I open to the work of the Holy Spirit, the more my life will reflect Christ in me so that no matter what I do or where I am, I am in a state of service to God. And how do those doors open? Prayer, meditation, self-examination, and selfless serving (giving of time and energy). The church is the easiest place to serve but it’s not the only place (e.g. the mission field, the soup kitchen, hospitals, shelters, emergencies, etc.). Generally, it’s the church that creates opportunities to serve, that’s the point.

And because it’s directed outward, whatever it is, in the name of God, there is an element of worship present. But if our acts of service or whatever, lose the focus, it becomes self-serving.

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Here’s what scripture has to say to me today:

rock withinWhen my heart is weak,
    I cry out to you from the very ends of the earth.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I am. [Psalm 61:2, CEB] 

I asked the Lord for a word as I feel so overwhelmed this morning. At work, we are moving into a new building and there is not a moment I am there that I am not pulled from one question to another, one concern to another, one dropped task to another, one solution to another. At home, a renovation project of the house I moved into last February has already presented some old house surprises like rotted wood and archaic wiring. My young adult children are entering the phase of adult problems (welcome to my world). My volunteering is asking for more of my hours and I’ve taken on a year commitment to the Hillsong Ministry School classes. I’m co-sharing a support group for widows and I’m supporting my daughter through the trials of single motherhood, her 6-month old living with me, and a deadbeat baby-daddy.

And so I sought the Lord for balance and was a little embarrassed by the references to “overwhelmed.” It’s not used lightly in biblical stories, it’s much more about life or death, it’s being crushed, it’s about fear and pain. My little life is self-imposed. My lack of balance has crept up onto me again and again by my own choice.

I tease my pastor about being A.D.D. and quite honestly, I’m not much better. I so enjoy novelty and new experiences, too often not counting the cost of living out those interests, pursuits, or circumstances for the distance. I tend to look at my calendar for white space, and fill it with obligation. Nothing new here.

I need to be overwhelmed by the Presence of God. Only then will I breathe easier, choose wisely, trust in the Now of Christ to sustain me in the daily.

 

There is no place to run except within.

 

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Devotional writing is a state of mind, heart, and soul. It’s not something that can be drummed up out of a dry hole. And so it has been with me. Like Hezekiah, I cry out to God, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” [Isaiah 38:3, NIV], But what was before is not enough. Devotion to God is daily and present. Like mindfulness, it is in the now.

god-is-nature

Oh my soul, sing again in the place of praise to God alone.

Today is not the kind of day I’d expect a rekindled desire to be with God to overwhelm me. My day ahead is a busy day, a hot steamy day, with a pile of responsibilities. And yet, God broke through the mind clutter. Come to me.

My prayer, a simple one. Keep me in the light of your Presence oh God. Speak into my inmost being, Christ Jesus. Fill me with endurance and promise, Holiest Spirit. Breathe on me and in me.

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FinishedIt’s the last breath, this “giving of the spirit.” We breathe in an out, minute by minute and day by day, but then, there is eventually the last breath. And so it was for the Christ.

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. [Matthew 27:50, NIV]

The one thing that has crawled around inside my head ever since Mike died is a simple question: Was Mike really done? Had he accomplished his mission, his purpose? There were so many plans yet and so many possibilities. Was he really done?

And as I reviewed the stories in Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, of Jesus’s last day, especially his time in the garden, I sense a similar question. For he does ask in verse 39 (and 42 and 43), . . . “if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will,” or some version of this. There are many treatises on this request, but for me, today, I am simply caught with the similarity to my own question. Could Jesus be asking, “am I done?” “Am I done already?” “Is it enough?”

God’s answer was clear. To that point, what needed to be done was done and what needed to be done next, had to be endured for the completion of the whole package.

Jesus’s moment was in the garden, the moment he let go one more time, and trusted in the Spirit of God that indwelled him.

There was another flash of crisis I think, on the cross, before he last breath. In verse 46, “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lamas sabachthani” –which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Another question about the end? Is this it? Some have written that Jesus was separated from God in that moment as he took on the sins of the world. But I’m not so sure. I believe God spoke and it was private. And God said, “Come.”

I believe the same for Mike, who lay on the floor alone, in much pain, and probably cried out to his God, to his Savior, and he was no longer alone but joined to the world of Spirit who said, Come. It is finished.

And he too, gave up his spirit, into the loving care of God of gods, King of kings, Lord of Lords. Rest now, my husband and my friend. I give you into God’s care now too.

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Mary Martha 2Having been a Martha type most of my life, it takes some strong intention on my part to return to the “one necessary thing.” In our Lenten devotional, the word for this week is Service and the first meditation is on Mary and Martha and I am reminded again, that service must come out of devotion or burn-out comes next.

The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.” [Luke 10:41-42, CEB]

A group of us at the church are participating in the Daniel Fast for the next 21 days, right up to Easter Sunday. And although there’s a lot of talk about the foods and food preparation (basically vegan – very Martha), the essence of it needs to be Mary, or the entire process becomes another diet or fad.

Clearly, we clutter our bodies with junk food & drink in the same way that we clutter our minds with noise, screens, and distraction. Where we can cleanse our bodies by changing our diet, it seems harder to clear our minds. This is one of the reasons why we all need times of solitude and silence. We need to stop multi-tasking and instead, put our single focus on God, on Christ, on the Holy Spirit, on the Word. Pick. Be. Rest.

In the journey toward simplicity, the questions that must be answered over and over again are, “do I need this?” or “do I love this?” Having just been through my first downsize, I practiced these questions quite a bit. Nonetheless, and despite giving away over 35 boxes of book, I still have eight shelving units filled with the books that remained. It’s a process. But I am getting better at it. Triage.

And I’m thinking this same process happens in the mind and spirit. Do I need think about this right now? Do I love contemplating upon this? Is it edifying or destructive? Will this practice move me closer to God?

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