Psalm 150 – Praise God (It’s Not an Option)

3 04 2013

praise god

Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!

Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 

Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!- Psalm 150 (NRSV)

I have to admit lately praise (for God or anything else) has not come from me easily.  There are a number of reasons for that, but I can’t genuinely rationalize any of them.  If the Apostle Paul could claim to thank God regardless if he were hungry or fed, free or imprisoned, then I can at least take a moment and thank God and praise Him simply because He is, no matter what temporary misery I might be experiencing.

I’ve been focusing on my own circumstances and forgetting that God is beyond my circumstances, which can lead to a pretty dismal existence.

Circumstances are temporary, but God is permanent.

jennifer-pugh-praise-the-lord

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:11-14 (NRSV)

Today might look dismal, but God has good plans for me just as He did for the Israelites when they were exiled to Babylon.   I just might be in a place where I can’t see God’s plans.  Or maybe He is keeping them a secret from me, so that I don’t go and ruin them in my own ignorance and ineptitude.

I love the book of Ecclesiastes, because Solomon was a guy who had it all, or was as close to having it all (as far as material wealth goes) as anyone could ever be.  I remember a wealthy friend of mine (who was also very much an agnostic, at least at that time) who commented that, “Money can only buy one the kind of misery he likes the best.”   I wouldn’t mind having the opportunity to put his theory to the test, especially these days, but his sentiments echo Solomon’s as well:

“There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God;  for apart from him, who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 (NRSV) 

Happiness is fleeting, but there is real joy in God that is far deeper and way beyond our trials and difficulties.  A big part of faith is trusting that God is fulfilling His good plans for us, even when we are despondent of the future and are having a really hard time holding on to hope.

Praise God

Lord, I pray that by Your grace, You would give me the voice and the heart to sing Your praise, in good times and in bad times.





1 Corinthians 5:6-8 Throw Out the Old Dough

2 04 2013

fresh bread

“Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?  Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 (NRSV)

As part of the Jewish observance of Passover, (Exodus 12:1-28) everyone is supposed to clear out all the leavened bread (including bread starters) in their kitchen, which sounds like a weird thing to do- why would God tell people to throw out food?- but it has a symbolic significance.

Most people today don’t bake their own bread.  Those of us who do (and then only for special occasions) generally buy powdered yeast to mix in with the dough so that it will rise, and the whole batch of dough is used at once, but in ancient times there was no powdered yeast.  In order to keep the yeast cultures going, ancient bakers kept a bit of the dough back from the previous batch of bread to leaven the next batch, in the same way that people might make and use starters for sourdough bread today.

Anyone who has ever dealt with sourdough starters knows when a starter has gone south.  A pink or slimy appearance or a bad smell can indicate that the starter is contaminated with bacteria or mold, and then it needs to be thrown out, and then all the utensils and such that touched it need to be thoroughly washed.  If one uses a contaminated starter, any bread baked with it won’t taste good, and the finished bread (if it did actually rise) could also contain rather disgusting things such as salmonella, other bacterias and fungi that aren’t healthy to be consumed.

It was a good idea from time to time for people (especially in the days before refrigeration) to clear out the old bread and starters and start fresh.

Our lives are sort of like that baking cycle too.  Every once in awhile, we need to go clear out the kitchen and get rid of the stuff that’s potentially dangerous, that might make us sick, the stuff that clutters up the cabinets and gets in the way.  This is what the apostle Paul is talking about, only in spiritual terms.

I need to examine my thought patterns and confess that I don’t always bring them captive to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)  More often than not, I resort to the old ways of doing things- letting my anger seethe instead of finding loving ways to disagree, pursuing passive-aggressive revenge, and then I wonder why the only result of sticking to those old patterns is the same old rotten bread.

The rotten stuff, the contaminated thought patterns, have to be thrown out.  We occasionally have to take out the spiritual trash.

take-out-trash

In the Lutheran tradition, we sort of take a dim eye toward the practice of confession, even though selling indulgences is no longer in vogue.  I don’t think that it is always necessary to seek the sort of formal confession that is practiced in the Catholic Church (although there is nothing wrong with the way it is practiced today,) but I do see the value of it in certain circumstances.

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” James 5:16 (NRSV)

The sort of confession that is one believer to another, in a context of forgiveness and prayer, is a good first step in throwing out that old starter and bad bread.

Lord, help me to search and be willing to throw out all the things in my heart and mind that are not of You.  Help me to pray for and with believing friends, so that we may think and behave as Your followers should.

IF

“(Jesus said:) For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20 (NRSV)





1 Corinthians 9:24-25 Race to Win, and Colossians 3:1 My Parents’ Wisdom

20 03 2013

running-05

“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.  Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.”  1 Corinthians 9:24-25 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

Are you “running the race” for a heavenly prize or an earthly one?  What does this imply for how you discipline yourself?

I’ve never been much for competitive sports.  First of all my physical coordination is abysmal, and I have no athletic ability.  I remember attempting to play softball when I was a small child (before I got rheumatic fever and was forbidden from organized sports.)  I was usually last in the batting order and way, way out in the outfield.  Until my grandmother made the school aware that my family doctor had forbidden me from gym class and brought the doctor’s note, I actually did take gym class -until I was in eighth grade and ended up in the ER with a badly sprained ankle from attempting to run laps.  It was not pretty.  Everyone else knew how badly coordinated I was and how bad I sucked at every single activity in gym class, and so I was always chosen last for teams.  Sometimes the kids fought over who had to take me, although if the boys were included in the team activity, I was usually preferred over the not-so hygienic boy who ate boogers and dead bugs.

I do believe in personal fitness, even though I don’t get into organized sports.  The current wisdom for people like me with joint damage and minor heart valve damage is that exercise is necessary and healthy, including plenty of cardio, and preferably no or limited impact exercise. Swimming, walking or bicycling are the preferred types of exercise for me as I have a good deal of deterioration in my joints.   No, I don’t have six pack abs and I will not be doing any biathalons any time soon.

lap-swim

The only one I “compete” against is me.  How many laps can I swim or how many minutes can I put in on the elliptical machine?  Probably not as many as most people, but I know that exercise is necessary for bodily health, so I do it the best I can.

I’ve long since been tired of the always-on mentality this society wants people to have- achieve this, get that, know this, do that.  In the eternal scheme of things, how much do those things really matter?  Not flipping much.  The more time goes by I care less and less about much of what the world deems to be important.

I can’t say that I always live in such a manner that I am working toward the “imperishable wreath.”  I’m not the most disciplined individual.  I have many flaws. I make a lot of mistakes.  And this journey would be completely impossible for me, save for the strength and power of Christ.

 

holy family

 

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Colossians 3:1 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

What attitude taught by your parents do you need to reaffirm?

Mom and Dad have a sort of strange relationship as far as their faith.  Mom converted to Catholicism when she was in high school- before Vatican II.  She is very much a practicing Catholic, including saying Rosaries, going to Confession regularly, praying to various saints and observing holy days and seasons.  Dad grew up as a Regular Baptist, but dropped out of the church when there was a scandal involving the leader of the youth group he belonged to.  Even though Dad isn’t directly involved in a Christian community, he does know the Bible and he does pray, and he lives as a Christian witness. Both of their traditions are highly conservative, and they actually agree on core issues such as the sanctity of human life, but those traditions’ theologies  are strikingly different, to put it mildly.

From one side (mostly my grandmother) I heard that a person had to accept Christ and pray the “sinner’s prayer” to be saved. From my Mom’s side I heard you have to be baptized and believe and then follow all the rules and maybe you’ll be saved and maybe not.  So Mom and Dad didn’t agree on how one is saved, or means of grace, or what sacraments are and aren’t.  (I don’t agree with either of them on the issue of sacraments!) That confused me.  So I had to find these things out for myself, which isn’t easy to do when your parents disagree on important issues of faith.

Word___Sacrament_1

 

As time went on I observed their attitudes toward each other’s faith tradition soften.  Part of that I think was the influence of ecumenism and Vatican II, when it was declared to Catholics that Protestants were no longer to be deemed “heathens” but considered to be “separated brethren.”  I think we are all “separated brethren” over some things, and part of our calling in this life is to agree to disagree and love God and each other anyway.

I don’t see Dad becoming Catholic anytime soon, but I do believe that I will see him in heaven.  I believe I’ll see Mom too, even though I don’t see her at the tent revival running up for the next altar call.   God makes fewer distinctions regarding who’s in and who’s out than we do.

I’ve really been encouraged that they pray together.  It took years for them to actually do that, but they do now.  That’s something that I wish that I could do with Jerry, (I’m always praying for him, whether he knows it or not,) but he is an agnostic and thinks prayer is a lost cause.

If I am really seeking the things of Christ, then I would seek to reconcile myself not only with God, but with those who don’t share my faith.  Sometimes it breaks my heart, but Jesus calls us to love others even when they aren’t lovable, and when we disagree.

 





Christianity 101, Intro to the Lutheran Confessions, and the Sovereignty of God

12 03 2013

eternallife

I am nothing more than an obscure private individual.  This site is a place for me to first of all help clarify and strengthen my own faith.  If my observations are helpful to others, fine.  Feel free to comment, expound on anything or present a different perspective.  We can always agree to disagree.

First and foremost, I am a Christian.   I understand and interpret Christian faith as a confessional Lutheran, (which actually gives quite me a bit of latitude,) however, one can certainly be a Christian without being a confessional Lutheran.  At one point in my life I almost became a Southern Baptist because of their emphasis on Bible study. While I differ with the Baptist groups on the means of grace and also on the role of the believer in coming to faith, they do know Scripture.  I’ve learned much about God and faith from traditions that are different than my own.

A Christian is someone who believes the statements of the Apostle’s Creed, which is basically a synopsis of “What do Christians believe?”  that is derived from Scripture:

apostle's creed

I’m not going to tell anyone that to be a Christian means to be an ascetic.  Asceticism is more of a premise of Eastern religions, all of which (in different forms) require believers to earn their way to rewards.  The way of Jesus is one of grace and of surrendering to Him.   I’m not putting on a hair shirt, and I don’t expect anyone else to either, unless God calls them to it.  If a person is called to be an ascetic for the sake of Christ, or to wear a hair shirt, that’s fine with me, but unless God calls me to an austere lifestyle or to wear itchy clothes, I’m not going to join you.  There are no brownie points to be earned in Jesus’ economy.

I don’t believe that the physical body is evil, nor do I believe that material things are inherently bad.  God made creation good.  God created the world and everything in it to serve and glorify Him.  Humanity brought sin into the equation. Humans are completely depraved, and through our sin creation has become corrupt, but God wins.  As the Teacher of Ecclesiates (Solomon) teaches,

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;  a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.” Ecclesiates 3:1-8 (NRSV)

There’s a time and a place for everything.  So don’t expect me to be a prude. I have a sense of humor and I do use it.

The Lutheran Confessions are a collection of documents that were written largely in response to what Martin Luther and other Reformers saw as errors going on within the Catholic Church.  I don’t have anything against Catholics, other than I cannot be a Catholic because I don’t agree 100% with the Roman Catholic Church. Agreeing 100% with their rules- is one of their rules.  The Catholic Church has actually taken up with some of the Reformers’ suggestions, such as saying Mass in the language of the people and giving them access to Scripture, so we aren’t quite as far apart today as we would have been in the 1580s.

I also believe that God is 100% sovereign, meaning that He is everywhere in every time and place at the same time (omnipresent) and that He knows everything that has happened, is happening or will happen (omniscient.)  We don’t have access to all that knowledge.  Our minds and bodies are finite.  We can only occupy one space in one point in time, so our perspective is limited.  God is limitless, and that’s about as close as I can get to explaining the nature and scope of God.

As a finite and flawed human being there are questions I can’t answer, but questions are part of faith.   So is being wrong at times.

Far Side God _1

God can take our questions, our doubt and even our anger.  He is with us in and through it all.