Hebrews 7:25 Jesus Christ of All Dominion

26 04 2013

jesus compassion

 

“Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25 (NRSV)

Currently I’m working on a further foray into Molinism and the Lutheran Confessions.  The Molinist approach to soteriology addresses the subjects of God’s sovereignty, omnipresence and omnipotence in a bit more depth than the Confessions, but doesn’t contradict the Confessions in any way that I can discern, at least not so far.  I’m not a theologian, so I have to trust and pray as I dig, as well as engage in critical thought.  Faith does not require one to check one’s brain at the door, but to be open to being informed and enlightened by the Holy Spirit in study and prayer.

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I am consistently put in awe of the omnipotence and omnipresence of God.  I know that it’s hard to wrap one’s consciousness around God being everywhere, in and through everything, at all places and times, at the same time.  Yet Scripture upholds the completely pervasive totality of God.  I don’t claim to understand the mechanics of the cosmos- I’m baffled at any sort of higher math beyond basic accounting, percentages and ratios.  I  understand the mechanics of the Creator even less than I understand the mechanics behind His creation.  Yet I have faith that He is Who He says He is, and that He continually makes intercession for fallible and fallen sinners like me.

Then Job answered the Lord: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:1-6 (NRSV)

In literature and drama there is a device called deus ex machina: literally, “the god in the machine,” which writers use to save their characters from impossible situations.  The Indiana Jones movies make use of this device quite frequently- someone makes an impossible save at the very last moment, and saves the hero from certain death.

milling machine

Old machinery is fascinating to look at, but as far as there being any sort of sentient entities living in them (though the concept of malevolent, sentient machines makes for a good horror novel, i.e. Stephen King’s Christine) I’m not buying it.

Yet God is thoroughly present in and through His creation (and by proxy one would even have to include man-made machinery) which makes the reality of evil even more difficult to understand.  God is God, but He doesn’t always move in with that last minute save like in the Indiana Jones movies- at least not in the physical world that we can see in these temporary bodies. He left the apostle Paul with a thorn in his side, and Paul didn’t understand that either.

Yet God is the One in control.  Especially when we don’t understand.

We get a little bit of insight into the incredible scope of God’s involvement with creation on the most intimate levels in His discourse with Job. (Job 38-42)

God asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4)  Of course, Job wasn’t anywhere around, because he hadn’t been created yet.  I know I question God (and I do it often) but there are many times He answers me in the same way He answered Job:  “Where were you?  Who are you to criticize Me?”

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I don’t think God has a problem with us asking questions, but just as He expected of Job, we have to be prepared for answers we may not like or that we may not understand.  We are compelled to seek understanding, but also to embrace the mystery at the same time.

The Gospel of John explains the Who behind creation and the infinite dominion of Christ most eloquently:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” John 1:1-5 (NRSV)

 





Deuteronomy 32:35 The Lord Will Repay

22 04 2013

Doom-doom-21686108-1280-1024

I was never much of a gamer, but Doom (the video game) is sort of cool- in an apocalyptic way.

“Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
    for the time when their foot shall slip;
because the day of their calamity is at hand,
    their doom comes swiftly.”- Deuteronomy 32:35 (NRSV)

There is a saying, “Revenge is a dish best eaten cold.”  It’s easy to retaliate in the heat of anger, when someone wrongs me, but it takes restraint to wait until the anger fades to take action.  Often I find when the anger fades, so does my taste for revenge.

“If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;
    and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;
 for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,
    and the Lord will reward you.”-Proverbs 25:21-23 (NRSV)

This is a little bit harder piece of advice to swallow.  It’s one thing to look the other way at slights, but to actually be hospitable to one’s enemies is difficult.

fire hair

It is kind of fun to imagine their hair on fire though.  There are people in this world for whom I have to imagine the heavenly coals of fire igniting their hair in order to be nice to them.  I freely admit it.  I don’t like everyone- in fact, I don’t genuinely like very many people, and it would be wrong to pretend that I do.  Being polite or cordial is one thing, but being best buds, at least in my world, is quite a different thing.

Liking people is different from loving them in the Christian sense.  In the English language the one word we use for “love” can mean everything from “love that person like a spouse” to “I love my dog” to “I love mustard.”  I can count on the fingers of one hand the people who I can trust with any secret, and who I hold in the highest of confidence, but regarding someone as a close friend or mentor is not the same thing as Christian love or the concept of “agape” love.   I may have to love everyone in the broad sense of loving creation, for example, but thankfully I am not required to relate with the whole of humanity in the same close and unfettered way that I would with a trusted confidant.

I know many people think that Christians are supposed to be “nice.”  It certainly can be a good thing to be pleasant, but forced pleasantries or (worse) feigned affection, are just plain fake, and in my opinion, a form of lying.  There are also times when “nice” isn’t called for.

you-are-not-nice-person

Why do we think we have to be “nice” in the face of atrocities?  There are evils going on in this world that Christians overlook because it’s not polite or politically correct to mention inconvenient truths.  It is not being “Christian” to look the other way at persecution and call it “tolerating other cultures,” or to look the other way at the genocide that is going on in this country under the guise of “safe, legal abortion.”

Forty percent of all abortions are black babies, when black people constitute twelve percent of the population.  Over ninety eight percent of abortions are performed simply for convenience sake- not to protect the health of the mother, or because of a fetal defect.  Millions of infertile couples who want to adopt children cannot, because there are no children for them to adopt.

combined-infertility

The media has largely been silent about the murder trial of Kermit Gosnell, an abortionist in Pennsylvania who has been involved in the deaths of thousands of babies- mostly the children of poor, black mothers.  I will caution this link to the details of the alleged crimes is graphic and heartbreaking, so if you are faint of heart and of a gentle spirit, you may want to refrain from these horrifying details.  Suffice to say the reports of eyewitnesses are unspeakably appalling.

There are mothers’  hearts that grieve for these children- if not at some point in time, their own mothers, there are other women’s hearts breaking for these children. There are women who would be mothers, and children placed in loving families, if only those babies were allowed to live and be born.

newborn-baby

I’m not being politically correct, but sometimes the truth isn’t.  It wasn’t right to offer children to Molech back in Biblical times, and it isn’t right to sacrifice them to the god of convenience today.

I understand many women in a crisis pregnancy situation are coerced into abortion by “well-meaning” parents (???- but I knew girls whose parents gave them a choice between abortion and having a place to live) and even more often by boyfriends or husbands who do not want to be fathers.  I understand this all too well because my (now ex) husband tried that with me when I was pregnant with my son.  His mother (??) even tried to bribe me to have an abortion- and for no other reason than my son was unplanned and the timing wasn’t the best.   Had it not been for my own parents, and by the grace of God that I valued my son’s life, my ex’s selfishness may have cost my son’s life, and cost me a lifetime of regret.  Even though I had a difficult and complicated pregnancy, I thank God every day that he was born healthy, and has grown into a responsible adult.  He is especially precious to me because I was not able to have any more children.

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My son and his daughter, about a year ago

I feel for women in this situation, I really do, and I really feel for women who were forced into abortion by boyfriends, parents or even husbands.  It is not easy to stand your ground, and well near impossible without help and support.  But when did our society devolve to the point where child sacrifice is OK, simply because it means the parents might have to work a bit harder or have a change of plans?  Is life really that disposable?

God hears their cries.  He also hears the cries of mothers who don’t realize what they’ve done until it’s over.

All I can do is pray for God’s mercy and healing, and that the modern day slaughter of innocents will end.





Romans 15:13 Abound in Hope

17 04 2013

Come-Holy-Spirit

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NRSV)

Hope is a word that has been bandied about far too often by the purveyors of false hope.  The confusion of real hope with false hope has dulled the meaning of the word, in much the same way as the word “love” has been over and/or misused.  I might love chocolate pie, but that’s not the same kind of love that I have for my spouse or even for my dogs.  The hope that is spoken of in political and social circles is better equated with flimsy wishes and broken promises when compared to the real hope that is backed by the faithfulness of God.

The apostle Paul is not talking about “hope” in the context of political, economic or social change.  Those things are fleeting, cyclical, and largely outside of any individual’s control.

Paul is talking about real hope- the reality that in Christ there is abundant life, and in Him is the death of death.

fruit-of-the-spirit-master

There is a temptation for Christians to go off of either end of the scale- to be so preoccupied with the ills and evils of this physical world that they neglect the fact that our true citizenship is of the Kingdom of God and not this world, or to be so preoccupied with looking forward to the world we inherit when we leave this one that we don’t care about what’s going on in this world at all.  The reality is that for now we are bound to both worlds- we are called to bring about the Kingdom of God in this world, right now, while we realize that there is a far better reality to come beyond this world.  It’s more of that “now, but not yet” paradox that we live with that the apostle Paul describes in Philippians 1:22-24-

“If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.” (NRSV)

While we are here we have a mission and a purpose (to further the Kingdom of God on earth) even though we realize and have a valid and real hope that the life beyond this one is far better.

Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is a bit of an enigma to most Christians.  He is pictured as a dove, or as tongues of fire, or as breath or wind.  He is the Breath of God as He breathes life into creation, and more.

Jesus described the Holy Spirit as our Advocate, and Counselor, Who God the Father sends to give us the knowledge and power that we need to live as we are called:

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:25-27 (NRSV)





Matthew 9:9-13 Mercy, Not Sacrifice (or False Doctrine)

16 04 2013

 

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“As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.  And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard this, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.  Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.’” Matthew 9:9-13 (NRSV)

Many people (me included, for about seven years,) are creeped out by the church and completely avoid Christian fellowship because of faulty theology or misinterpretation of Scripture.  Some people have been led to believe that some events in the past permanently exclude them from Christian fellowship.  Even being aware, as a Lutheran, that no one is saved by the Law- and that the Law is there to point out how impossible it is for us to follow God’s will, and to point us to knowing how we are entirely dependent upon Jesus, as the apostle Paul teaches in Romans 5:19-21 –

“For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (NRSV)

I still thought that as a person who had been divorced and remarried, that I had no place in the church, and no right to be there.  The “morality rules” were drilled into my head that deep.

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My background is extremely conservative.  Both traditions that I grew up around- old-school Catholicism and Regular Baptists- frown upon divorce, and frown upon remarriage after divorce even more.  It is true, God hates divorce:

For I hate divorce, says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless. Malachi 2:16 (NRSV). 

God only permitted divorce in the Mosaic Law because of the hard-heartedness of His people, as Jesus teaches: He (Jesus) said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” Matthew 19:8 (NRSV)  There were a number of issues involved in the end of my first marriage, and I can attest that my own hard-heartedness was most certainly a contributing factor.

God hates all sin, including the laundry list of sins that are cautioned against throughout Scripture- gossiping, lying, coveting, failing to love others, maliciousness, immorality, revenge and the list goes on.  The apostle James goes so far to say that if a person obeys the Law but messes up one tiny little part of it, that person is still guilty of violating the entire law. (James 2:10)  Even so, we humans tend to categorize sin, and in my upbringing, I was taught remarriage after a divorce was one of those “unpardonable” sins that stigmatized a person forever and excluded him/her from Christian fellowship.

open sinner

Most Christian churches have been more accepting of people who have the more “socially unacceptable” scrapes and blemishes in their past, which is a positive development.  After all, we are all sinners, and we have all fallen short of the glory of God. All people need to be convicted by the Law and to hear the beautiful saving Gospel.  All people need to feel as if they are welcomed and invited into the church.

The only issue with “eating with tax collectors and sinners” is that being accepting of people should not imply that sin is anything other than sin.  There is a slippery slope that the apostle Paul discussed, where Christian freedom was mistaken for lawlessness and anarchy.

“(Paul writes:)It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife.  And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?” 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 (NRSV)

The difference here is between acknowledging that people are going to sin, and condoning sin.  Instead of looking the other way at our sins, Christians should examine our own hearts and ask the Holy Spirit for what we need to stand and to live a life worthy of how we are called.

Mercy

Every human being that draws breath is a sinner, and even those of us who believe, and have been baptized, and are saved by the grace of God, are saints and sinners at the same time.

“Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.”  Romans 14:4 (NRSV) 

So we are living the saint-as-sinner paradox on the more controversial issues, but it’s easy to forget that the garden variety saint-and-sinner who is very moral and prim and proper (think: Dana Carvey as the Church Lady) is just as much a law-breaker as the people that are excluded from some churches.

People will categorize one sin as being more heinous than another- and some sins are greater in magnitude as far as the damage they inflict upon the self and the greater community- but in God’s economy the kid who takes a pack of gum from the gas station is just as much a law-breaker as the spree killer.

I’m not suggesting that Christians should embrace sinful behavior, or fail to address those things that fall short of the glory of God, but that it’s good to remember, that God’s the judge and I’m not.

“You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.   For the one who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’  Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.  So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.  For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:8-13 (NRSV)

 

 





Matthew 22:17-22 Obey God, but Give Caesar His Due

15 04 2013

Withered-Hand-man

(DISCLAIMER: Contains some political/social perspective that may be controversial to some)

“(The Pharisees asked:) Tell us then what You think about this: Is it lawful to pay tribute [levied on individuals and to be paid yearly] to Caesar or not? But Jesus, aware of their malicious plot, asked, Why do you put Me to the test and try to entrap Me, you pretenders (hypocrites)?  Show me the money used for the tribute.  And they brought Him a denarius.  And Jesus said to them, Whose likeness and title are these?  They said, Caesar’s. Then He said to them, Pay therefore to Caesar the things that are due to Caesar, and pay to God the things that are due to God.  When they heard it they were amazed and marveled; and they left Him and departed.”- Matthew 22:17-22 (AMP)

I sort of wish Jesus would have told the Pharisees that it was perfectly OK not to bother with taxes, and while they were at it, that it was also perfectly OK to “go off the grid” and have nothing to do with the rest of society either.  That’s not what Jesus said, though.

Jesus didn’t tell us to agree with the government (important point) but He did teach that we should obey the government, even when the government is illegitimate and corrupt.

“Then Jesus said to the multitudes and to His disciples, ‘The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat [of authority]. So observe and practice all they tell you; but do not do what they do, for they preach, but do not practice’.” Matthew 23:1-3 (AMP)

Most people of Jesus’ time were expecting to see the Messiah as someone to set them free from the Roman oppressors, not as someone who would suggest that it’s a good idea to keep on sending money to Caesar.  It seems almost contradictory that Jesus would talk about abundant life in Him, but then recommend the people to keep right on sending tribute to Rome.

The issue Jesus has is that His Kingdom isn’t about money or material things.  Let Caesar have it, because his picture’s on it anyway.

lady justice

Civil government is also put in place by God to do God’s will here on earth- to do justice and keep order.  The function of doing justice and keeping order in society includes imposing punishments (up to and including the death penalty) for crimes when offenders break the law.  When government does not faithfully serve the functions of doing justice and keeping order, society falls apart, and anarchy prevails.

The dilemma that Christians have- and that the Jews of Jesus’ day faced as well- is what should believers do when government is thoroughly corrupt and unjust?  Obviously Jesus told His contemporaries to pay tax and to obey the law.  He did not advocate anarchy or civil war.

But what is a Christian’s response when:

Government places undue tax burdens upon those least able to bear them, but rewards those who refuse to work?

Government spends tax money irresponsibly and to the detriment of its citizens?- i.e. money spent in “foreign aid” that is being used to build up countries hostile to our own, and money squandered on trivial and unnecessary things.

Government overlooks and denies its citizens’ God-given natural rights?

Government makes and upholds appalling and unjust decisions (i.e Roe v. Wade)?

I don’t have solid answers for these questions.  Some believers would disagree with me on what would constitute frivolous government spending, or on what is the definition of a natural right.  Christians are called to live peaceably. Even so there are times when circumstances call for those who believe to take action.  It was right when people opposed the Nazi regime.  It was right for people to fight communism.  But what are we supposed to do when our government turns on us?  Does our silence toward injustice and corruption imply consent?  Are we just supposed to pay Caesar and shut up?

too_much_to_think

We are NOT called to check our brains at the door.

The argument that some would give is that since God works in and through even the most corrupt and vile leaders, that even these consequences of bad leadership are God’s will.  I have serious objections to this argument, because it would imply that it would have been wrong to fight Hitler or Stalin, because “God put them in charge.”  I find that line of thought hard to just comply with.  Even though God must have had a purpose for even these most evil of leaders, I don’t think that He expected or planned for His people to simply let these despots go unchecked.

boot-of-government-copblock

If anything, could it be that evil leaders and corrupt governments are put in place precisely to put believers to the test and put us in a position where we have to (whether we like it or not) make a stand and choose to live as people of God?

Could it be that we get the government we deserve based upon how attentive we are to it?  I can say much about the current government (and not much of it good) but here in the US (at least in theory) we have the mechanics available to fix the system when it breaks.  It is a believer’s obligation to be involved in government, and it is a believer’s obligation to shout it out from the rooftops when government is broken and officials are corrupt.

My answer must agree with Jesus- pay Caesar, because his picture is on the money.  But I will not be silent about the erosion of our civil (natural) rights, the egregious overtaxation and exploitation of the low-to-middle working class, and the behavior of dishonest scoundrels who have usurped their ways into the very highest offices in this country.

Obama's Work

I am not going to accept that despotic and corrupt leaders have the last say.  Christian people are called to hope for and to envision a renewed world and a healthy society, not to blindly accept the efforts of those who strive to tear down society and destroy our world.   We know how the story ends- Jesus wins!

Yes, I gave Caesar some of his portraits back, so to speak, not necessarily because I wanted to, but I continue to pray that the American people will wake up and see what we have done to ourselves- through our own greed, apathy, and abysmal choices in leadership on both sides of the fence.  I also continue to pray that God can work the impossible and turn the hearts of wicked people around (me included!!!) to seek Him and desire His way.

“If My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves, pray, seek, crave, and require of necessity My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14 (AMP)





Psalm 30:1-5 The Author of Healing

11 04 2013

Jesus-healing

 

“I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.

O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. 

O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.

For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”- Psalm 30:1-5 (NRSV)

“Faith healing” is a concept that atheists and agnostics latch onto with a great deal of derision, and in some ways rightfully so.  Unfortunately there are “faith healing” scams that go back to the times of the indulgence and relic purveyors, (the sales of indulgences and relics were two of the motivating factors behind the Reformation) so it’s easy to understand the cynicism.  Even today there are plenty of preachers willing to sell you a prayer cloth, holy water, and/or promise divine healing for a “small donation.”

miracle water

Leroy Jenkins’ “Miracle Water-” Straight from the Olentangy River to you!

There is also a small subgroup of Charismatic/Pentecostals who engage in snake handling- a practice derived from a verse at the end of the Gospel of Mark that does not appear in every manuscript:

“And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Mark 16:17-19 (NRSV)

snake-handling-file-photo

As an aside, I do handle snakes- regularly.  I have a ball python and a red-tail boa.  Both the python and the boa are non-venomous snakes, however, unlike the rattlesnake being tormented here.  I’m not touching him. There is a way to tell venomous from non-venomous snakes, and there is a right and a wrong way to handle constrictors as well.   As far as speaking in tongues, I probably know enough French and German to get myself smacked, but that’s pretty much it.  I haven’t cast out any demons that I know of, though I do let the dogs out every morning.  The deadliest thing I’ll voluntarily drink is coffee, and as far as I know I’ve never healed anyone by touching them.  If anything, I’ve probably spread germs by touching people.

I think God gave us intellect for a reason, if only to keep us from voluntarily doing things that will cause us to earn our Darwin Awards. I think the intent of the passage in Mark was not to encourage anyone to purposefully seek out venomous snakes to dance with, or to tell people to drink poison and put God to the test.  I think what he meant was if someone was accidentally snake-bit or exposed to poison, or if these things were imposed on them as a persecutor’s torment, that they would arise unscathed- sort of like Daniel in the lions’ den.

If we put the scams put forth by unscrupulous televangelists and purveyors of the prosperity gospel aside, as well questionable practices such as snake-handling, there is a deeper element to divine healing than healing a physical illness.

Sometimes God effects miraculous healings such as Jesus’ healings that we read of in the Bible- Lazarus, the paralyzed man, the leper, and likely many more.  But more often God gives us the same answer He gave the apostle Paul- no.  I’ll be the first one to say that I don’t understand why some people get cancer, then they’re prayed over and they get treatment and they recover, while others are prayed over, get treatment and they die.  I do know that the one thing that all human beings are subjected to (other than birth- and taxation) is physical death.

So what about the “un-healed?”

There is no healing apart from God, just as there is no creation, no growth, no thing apart from God.  Regardless of how it came to be, entropy is a part of this world.  Things decay and die in this world.

Whether we find healing on this side of heaven, or on the other side, is God’s prerogative.

Perhaps God has a reason for leaving the thorn there?  There was a reason He said no to the apostle Paul when he asked to have the thorn removed, even though that reason was never revealed to Paul.

empathy

If not for pain, how would we learn empathy?  If not for rejection and loss, how would we appreciate the extravagant gift of another’s presence?

God’s ways are not our ways, but as near as I can tell, His healing can be gradual and it can involve pain, but in His time, He will make us whole.





Luke 12:4-7 The Sovereignty of God, and Hearing the Master’s Voice

10 04 2013

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(Jesus said:) “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”- Luke 12:4-7 (NRSV)

Today I was reminded in a deep and touching way, that God is in control.

Lately I’ve been been challenged by a number of things, the combination of which caused me to go back into panic/anxiety mode for several days.  Most of my life, especially in childhood, I have lived with deep and pervasive fear and anxiety.  I am prone to panic attacks, as well as I’ve had three episodes of major depression.  When I’m entrenched in anxiety, or despondent about my circumstances, it’s really hard to stay encouraged.   It’s especially difficult for me to know that God has a purpose for me and cares about my life when external circumstances act as a spark to light up my vulnerabilities to anxiety and depression.

There are people who will say, “How can you be a Christian and be depressed, or have panic attacks?” I want to answer back, “How can someone be a Christian and get heart disease, or get a broken leg or a case of pneumonia?”  We know that Christians suffer illness just as others in the world do.  Illness, be it a visible, physical illness or mental illness, which is harder to quantify, is part of the human condition.  Even the Apostle Paul had a “thorn in his side”- some sort of ailment or suffering, that he prayed would be taken away, and God’s answer was no.   God heals some believers’ illnesses in this physical body, but not others.  I don’t claim to understand why some people are healed and other people have to deal with the thorn.

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Is it prudent or consistent with a Christian witness to tell someone with an illness that they wouldn’t be ill if they just had more faith?

What I think Jesus is emphasizing here is that physical or mental anguish are not the worst possible things that can happen to a person.  There is an end to physical suffering and mental anguish in this life, if only because this life is temporary, though I’ll be quick to point out that temporary does not imply meaningless.  This temporary existence is important.  It is in this temporary existence that we start to get to serve and get to know and trust God.

Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. Psalm 139:16 (NRSV)

He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;  for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17 (NRSV)

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I’m very thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to go to the indoor pool at the “Y” for the past few months.  I usually go a few times a week, early in the morning, to swim laps and to do exercise that increases my mobility and strength without tearing up my joints.  I’ve never been a sports fan or a particularly athletic type.   When I was a child I had rheumatic fever, and I was forbidden from playing any sort of sports, even had I been coordinated enough to play them.  I have slight damage to two heart valves as well as severe degenerative joint disease from it.  I still need exercise, but with the joint damage, working out is a bit of a challenge for me.  I don’t mind the pool though.  I can get a very thorough workout and I get some blessed quiet mental time with that workout as well.

When I was leaving and heading back to the car, I looked up to the sky and was treated to a majestic sunrise, complete with a few lingering stars, and living, dancing cloud formations.  I remembered Psalm 19:1 – “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.”

I don’t have the answers for illness and tragedy and suffering any more than Job or Paul did.  Though other believers may disagree with me on this, I do believe that God has a purpose in suffering, although I admit I don’t understand the why of suffering, and I don’t know what the purpose of suffering is.  Theologians and higher minds than mine have discoursed for centuries on whether or not God causes suffering, allows it to happen, or if it’s completely a result of human rebellion and sin.  My take on it is that if God is omnipotent and omnipresent- and if He is not omnipresent and omnipotent, then how can He be God?- then He has to be in suffering, and have a purpose in suffering as well as in everything else, which is hard for some people to accept, and an idea that many reject entirely.

All that I can know right now is that God is not only with us in the suffering of this life, but He is also with us beyond that suffering, and for now that understanding has to be enough.





Playing Hooky – Isaiah 53:5

9 04 2013

 

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I was never much for rocking the boat when I was in high school.  By the time I’d survived long enough to get to my sophomore year (1983-4) all I wanted to do was to stave off boredom while still keeping up my GPA.  Keeping up my GPA wasn’t much of a challenge, but staving off boredom was quite another issue.  I do have to admit to reading every single issue of  Mad and National Lampoon from 1982-86, as well as a stunning selection of $1.35 each coverless books from the cigar store that were as tasteless as they were coverless, along with the works of George Orwell, Ayn Rand, and JRR Tolkien, a somewhat extensive collection of the classics- including Dante’s Divine Comedy, many of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as a fair number of scientific publications,  and a plethora of non-fiction historical works on WWII.  I may not have had too many challenging classes in high school- with the exceptions of AP English and  AP music theory, but I did some major reading, mostly for my own edification and recreation.  Being a geek had some advantages, namely that on the rare occasion that I considered bending the rules, I was usually able to do it under the radar and beyond suspicion.  I got away with murder (in a figurative way, of course) when I wanted to- quietly and covertly.

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Since Mom is and was very much a practicing, old-school Catholic, every year on Good Friday, since the powers that ran the school system didn’t really care if Spring Break coincided with Holy Week or not, Mom wrote us an excuse to skip the afternoon so that we could go to the Good Friday service at church that generally lasted from about 1PM-4PM.  No, it is not Mass- the one day in the Catholic calendar that Mass is NOT celebrated is Good Friday.  The service that is held in lieu of Mass on Good Friday is called Tenebrae service, which means “service of shadows.”  The Tenebrae service is also observed in the Lutheran tradition, and includes the reading of the Passion of Christ, and reflections upon His death.  Heavy, heavy somber stuff, as it should be on Good Friday.

“But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.- Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)”

We- meaning my sisters and I- were well acquainted with the Good Friday service, but being both teenaged and very much disinclined toward Catholic religious observances in varying degrees, decided that we would spend the afternoon not in the shadows, but in the bright April sunshine.  We just didn’t have the somber thing going on that day.

That particular Good Friday was very good indeed, weather in the low seventies, bright sunshine without a cloud in the sky, and just a hint of  a light breeze.  Perfect weather in April in Ohio is almost unheard of. My oldest sister (who happened to be driving that day) wasn’t about to spend such a glorious day inside.  The only problem with not going to church was that her car- a bright orange ’71 VW- was readily visible.  We couldn’t hang around in town.

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My sister was not as good a navigator of the back roads in Marion County as I came to be. I liked to sneak cigarettes out where I knew no one would see me, which meant I took a lot of excursions all over creation to sneak smokes.  Gasoline was about $1 a gallon, and smokes were about $1 a pack, so my smoke-n-drive habit wasn’t terribly expensive.  I miss the random drive for the just the sake of driving, (gasoline is too expensive for that) but I have to admit that back then it wasn’t as much about the scenery as the nicotine.

Even though she didn’t know all the funky hideaways I ended up finding, she did find one of my favorite places- the railroad trestle bridge.  It’s long since been torn down and scrapped for whatever the steel was worth, but in 1984, though the line was dead and the tracks torn up, the bridge was still lingering over the river, a monument to obsolescence, a shadow still standing from a long-ago sphere.

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It’s hard to describe the serenity I found that day.  Even my sisters left me alone for awhile and didn’t threaten to knock me off the bridge where I would surely be sucked into the brackish water and unspeakable muck below.  I would never recommend swimming, wading or touching the water in that part of the Scioto River today (and certainly not back then) but sitting about 30 feet above the river on the trestle bridge listening to the soft breeze and the running water is hard to describe.  It was as if I was everywhere and nowhere at the same time (all points converge here) and I never wanted to leave.  All the things that weighed so heavily on my shoulders were gone (including the paranoia should our hooky-playing be discovered) and for if only a brief moment, I was free.

The world has moved on since then.  Places like that old trestle bridge, those happenstance cathedrals that occur in spite of the crushing hammer of entropy, and  in defiance of conscious efforts to unmake them, are harder and harder to find in a world where the new mantra is structure and order.  Even small children have every minute of their days scheduled and dedicated to a specific purpose.  I know all too well what it is to be locked into the whirlwind of busy- going everywhere and getting nowhere.

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It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the grace of God.  As much as I should, at the very least, have been in that service of shadows, I was in reality sitting on a railroad bridge without a care in the world.  It’s not so much that dropping out and going to sit on the bridge and watch the world go around is a bad thing, it’s more that everything has a price.  It’s easy for us to say we want to walk with Jesus- until it’s shadow time.  History gives the apostle Peter a bad rap for denying Jesus three times, but isn’t that we humans in our weakness and fallenness do?

One of the beauties of the grace of God is that He knows our weakness.  He knows that our bodies are weak and our moral constitutions even weaker.  Although we are also called to carry the cross, like as not we end up playing hooky instead, spending our lives blissfully unaware and disconnected from the suffering our Savior bore in our place.

The good news is that even when we are faithless He is faithful.  He offers us His grace, purchased with His blood and suffering and tears.  He is the Reason why I can have peace and freedom and serenity, because He took the punishment that I deserved.





Proverbs 28:14 The (Reverent) Fear of God, and a Heart of Flesh

8 04 2013

Banner red hearts-heart of worship

“Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) is the man who reverently and worshipfully fears [the Lord] at all times [regardless of circumstances], but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” Proverbs 28:14 (AMP)

Fear is generally a negative concept for me, so as I was drawn to the second part of this verse (“he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity”) I wondered why (in the NRSV translation, which is the one that my church generally uses,) the first part of this verse reads, “Happy is the one who is never without fear.”

Say what?  How many times are we told in Scripture, “Be not afraid?”  The other thought that crossed my mind, was that if fear makes you happy, then I should be the most elated woman on earth.

This is one reason why I do eventually want to learn Hebrew and Greek, so that I can read the words from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.  But even if I were to start my education in the Hebrew language today, it’s going to take awhile before I learn what the letters and phrases really mean (denotations as well as connotations.)  So when one Biblical translation doesn’t quite make sense or isn’t clear, I like to try some different ones.  The Amplified Bible that I quoted above can be a bit cumbersome to read, and in that translation one can lose the poetic literary feel of Scripture, but it does draw out and clarify seemingly contradictory verses such as this one.  It is generally a good idea to look at a few different translations of confusing or seemingly contradictory verses:

Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble. Proverbs 28:14 (NIV)

Happy is the man who is always reverent, But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity. Proverbs 28:14 (NKJV)

A tenderhearted person lives a blessed life; a hardhearted person lives a hard life. Proverbs 28:14 (MSG)

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The fear of God is not the same thing as the pervasive anxiety that can and (sometimes does) paralyze me and keep me trapped in terror. I like the word “reverence,” because it does insist respect for God, but it doesn’t quite convey the same idea as when Isaiah fell flat on his face, exclaiming, “I am a man of unclean lips, because I have seen the Lord, God of Hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever. Psalm 111:10 (NRSV) 

Here where the psalmist is speaking of the fear of the Lord, I can assume he’s talking about that reverent fear, the condition of putting God first before one’s own understanding and one’s own wants.

It is a good thing to be tenderhearted, but I don’t think that just being tenderhearted is the entire picture here either.  There are plenty of atheists, agnostics and humanists out there who are tenderhearted and will do anything to save the trees or save the bees, or “stop global warming,” or “end capital punishment,” and so on, but who do not acknowledge the sovereignty of God.  The Apostle Paul saw the humanists coming, and he gives us a warning about serving the creation versus the Creator:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves,because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”  Romans 1:18-25 (NRSV)

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The problem with just being tenderhearted, is that it matters what you’re tenderhearted toward.  It is good and right to be respectful of God’s creation and to be a good caretaker of the earth and of the blessings He has given us. God does reveal Himself to us in His creation.  That’s sort of His point toward the glory and beauty and majesty in nature and in all the wonders that can be observed in the cosmos.  He put that stuff there to point to Him!  But when the love of nature or the love of stuff, or the sovereignty of science become your god(s), and hedonism is your creed, there’s a problem.

Then there’s the person like me, who has (I hope) a healthy, reverent fear of God, but little to no natural tenderhearted tendencies.  (Empathy is not generally a strong trait in those on the autistic spectrum.) I’m wary.  I’m cynical.  I’ve been deeply wounded emotionally, and trusting people is next to impossible for me.  How am I supposed to have a tender heart- because I wasn’t really wired that way?

The sin of the Garden – the sin of the Fall- was the sin of wanting to be as God.  To see good and evil.  To hold the power of life and death.  To think that humanity has all of its own answers and fixes and solutions for everything.

The surrender in another Garden was the sacrifice of the Son of God- Who put aside the authority of His deity and took on human flesh, to die an ignominous death- to save both the unbelieving (but tenderhearted) hedonist, and the believing (though wounded and hard-hearted) runt kid nobody wanted.

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 (NRSV)

Lord, let it be so.  Give me a tender heart toward You and Your will, and eyes to see people as You do.





Psalm 118:21-24 The Unlikely, Misfits, Runts, and the Stone the Builders Rejected

5 04 2013

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I will confess, praise, and give thanks to You, for You have heard and answered me; and You have become my Salvation and Deliverer.

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

This is from the Lord and is His doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day which the Lord has brought about; we will rejoice and be glad in it.  Psalm 118:21-24 (AMP)

God has a sense of humor.  Otherwise He would not have transformed a scrawny little shepherd boy into King David.  David had several strong, bold, older brothers, which made God’s choice of the “runt” all the more peculiar.

If not for having a rich sense of humor, God would not have chosen to make Abraham the father of multitudes- when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90.  Their son’s name- Isaac- means “laughter,” because when the angel of the Lord told Sarah she would have a son in her advanced age, Sarah laughed.  I would have laughed too.  The idea of a 90 year old woman having a child seems like too much to believe, which might just have been the point.  If God says a 90 year old woman is going to have a child. then she will- laughter or not.

I’m encouraged by God’s pattern of choosing the rejected, the unlikely, and the unlovely.  His choice of a family for His Son was unexpected as well- Jesus was not born into a palace, the protected and coddled child of a high-born princess.  God placed Him with a poor teenage girl and her bewildered betrothed.  Instead of being born in the finest of estates, Jesus arrived in human form in an animal barn.

God has a soft spot for the runt, the nerd, the misfit, the modest and the poor.  That encourages me.

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The world has far different standards for worth and success than God does.  The world says, “Do unto others- and run,”  while Jesus in His wisdom says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13 (NRSV)

The world tells us some lives are expendable- especially the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly.  Jesus says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Matthew 19:14 (NRSV)

I’m glad that God loves the weak and the meek, because the world has no place for them.

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Lord, help me remember that You love the weak, the meek, the misfits, the runts, the nerds and everyone else the world doesn’t care about.  Help me to be your eyes and hands and heart toward those who the world rejects, even as You were once rejected by the world.