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Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Who do you say I am?

The words of question to Simon Peter, to the disciples … to us all, encapsulate the most important question ever asked.

Who we say Jesus is determines our relationship with him, our eternity.

If we call Jesus a great teacher (which is true) that simply means that we relate to him on an intellectual level.

If we call him a great healer (which is true) then we relate to him as one who can fix our physical bodies.

If we call him a great counsellor (which is tru) then our relation to him is just as one who we can tell our troubles and to whom we can hand over our anxieties.

If we call him Creator (which he is) then we relate to him as a cosmic genie or chess player, moving his creation to a fro in an effort to win with the most players standing.

But …

if we call his father, then he is one who gave us life.

if we call him Lord, then he has a plan and we are part of it.

and if we call him Saviour, Redeemer … then he is the only one who could open heaven’s gates to us both here on Earth and in heaven … and he did so at a cost that was ours to pay, not his.

Jesus, on his last night with the disciples said (John 14:6), 

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

But, he didn’t stop there, he continues (v.7),

“If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus is reminding his disciples (and everyone who has read these words, including you and I) that Jesus and God are one and that he has access to the power of heaven. Actually, Jesus goes on (v. 12) :

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these …”

What?!

We, who believe in Jesus as our Redeemer, can do even greater things than him?!? People, we cannot forget who Jesus is … what he has done for us … how that impacts our lives.

Just a few years after his life was threatened by a bullet intended to kill him, Pope John Paul 2 said,

“We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!”

It is the death and resurrection of Jesus that gives us life, through which we share in his power and victory.

People we may have very real struggles, we may have very real fears and sorrows … but we serve the one who has beaten death. It doesn’t matter if this Pandemic continues for years, or if is all a conspiracy … if we call Jesus our Saviour, “Allelujah is our song.”

“Who do you say that I am?”
Jesus

“We do not pretend that life is all beauty. We are aware of darkness and sin, of poverty and pain. But we know Jesus has conquered sin and passed through his own pain to the glory of the Resurrection. And we live in the light of his Paschal Mystery – the mystery of his Death and Resurrection. “We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song!” We are not looking for a shallow joy but rather a joy that comes from faith …” Pope John Paul 2

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I love the image of the sign (left). The more I look at it, the more I nod in agreement with what it is communicating,

It makes me think of the story of Job, his friends and God.

Job’s love and commitment to God was exemplary. As a matter of fact, the text says he was blameless. God offered him up to Satan himself, as one whose inner love for his God would not be swayed by outer devastation.

gotta say, this premise always make me feel such angst

So, Job lost everything … children, livestock, crops, health. All he was left with was his wife, his friends and God (who seemed to be silent).

As Job sat on his dung pile, scraping the sores of his skin with clay shards, weeping, agonizing, listening for the voice of God … the only sound was that of his wife (who suggested he curse God and die) and his friends.

Now his friends had probably been with him all of his life. It was in Uz (possibly in the area of modern day Syria or Jordan) where they had probably played as boys. These friends had watched Job grow up. They knew that he was a good man, who treated people respectfully, who had conducted business fairly, who was truly blameless. They knew him.

This background may have built the foundation for false assumptions. Assumptions such as God blessed Job because Job was blameless. They undoubtedly had developed the misconception that God blesses the good, and therefore, curses the bad.

And that was their point of attack. Rather than lament with Job, they blame him.

The three accused Job of some type of sin that he needed to admit and repent of so that he would again receive God’s blessing. They believed (as so many of us do at times in our lives) that there is a formula for success and if Job was in the midst of curses, there must be something in his life that is wrong/sinful.

Once they have spoken their encouragement to Job, then God speaks to Job … and I am pretty sure that God is wagging his finger at him, but then he addresses Job’s friends and their judging of how God decides who is blessed and who is cursed:

“After the Lord had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me” (Job 42:7)

Our job, as was Job’s, is to be faithful with what God has given to us, be it people, possessions, passions or power. Our job is to love God, to love others. God will look after judgements, blessings and curses.

He will sort’em out later.

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I am a Christian, a Christ-follower, a disciple of Jesus, a child of the King of Creation … but …

I am not the one to follow

Though I have never killed anyone, I have the capacity to destroy another … with my actions, my words. I am human, in every good, bad and ugly way.

I have blown my top, been insensitive, laughed at jokes that I shouldn’t have, spoken of someone rudely in their absence, practised pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth … and these are just the things I am willing to admit publicly!

I have disappointed my share of people, from strangers to ones I say I love. I have broken hearts, been deceptive and vile, embarrassed myself and those I care about. I have misrepresented Christ …

so. many. times.

That is why you should not follow me on a good day … because I am far too fallible to follow.

I will disappoint you … because I have done that to others.

I will seem to be a hypocrite … because I done that too.

So if, on a good day, you think, wow! Now she is a good person, woman, Christian to follow …

DON’T DO IT!

Don’t follow me! For I am so lost too.

Often we hear of someone who has claimed the name of Christ(ian) but has lived a life that would seem to be contrary to what they say, how Jesus lived, what the Bible teaches. Or they might be quick to speak the name of Christ in public, while their private (real) life would indicate a den of lies. Or, perhaps they are a public or religious leader whose human sinning in the dark has had light shone on it, proving them to be a hypocrite.

We have all heard of such imposters. We have all heard, or said, in response, how could they? They should have known better. They are phoney, deceitful, hypocrites.

Such falls from grace can leave people running away from them, but also away from God.

I know that my heart, and soul, and intent, and tongue, and habits, and tendencies are so naturally sinful, ill-intended and imperfect. So we have to be careful when condemning they for …

there but for the grace of God go I.

Let me suggest who to follow?

All the nasty, disillusioning, mean-spirited, hypocritical, black-as-sin characteristics that are part of who I am … are as if they never happened … in the eyes of the God who I follow.

He has redeemed me, made me whole, clean. God sees me only through the sacrifice of his Son over me. My sin was absorbed in this sacrifice, granting me the availability of grace, mercy and forgiveness. Not because I deserve it, but because that was His gift of hope to us.

” … we have an advocate before the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He Himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
1 John 1-2

I desire to love my God, to imitate His life, to live my life as his follower, but I am frail, weak and so easily swayed.

I am not the one to follow

for I am lost too.

But I know who to follow!

“Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.”
Romans 12:3

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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Every follower of Christ has a story with with this verse from the Prophet Jeremiah. For most there is a love-hate relationship with this verse, because it can come across as Pollyanna fluff. When someone is in the midst of a terrible situation, the receiving of this verse can feel emotionally similar to pouring salt into open wounds.

When we are in the midst of suffering, when we cannot see light in the midst of the dark … when the diagnosis is cancer, when the phone call announces the end of life of a loved one, when the child is struggling, when the job has ended, when the letter from the university is a rejection, when your child is being bullied … then people don’t want to hear that God has a plan for our future. That’s because this verse hints that maybe these tough times are also part of His plans and that is hard to comprehend.

It is when one has come through the tough situation, when one is on the other side, this is when the truth and the beauty of this verse is understood and appreciated. This is when the hand of God is evident, because, as we look back it is His peace, His provision, His plan that is so clear.

It is then that we realize that in the midst of the most dark and dangerous valley, when we felt completely alone, He was there, the scaffolding beneath us.

When she arrived at the cliff in the valley, 
there was no room in her soul for fear,
for she knew God had brought her this far
and He would still be with her here.
And though she was waiting to see
what miraculous thing He would do, 
she never let go of His highwind whispers:
"I know the plans I have for you."
-Morgan Harper Nichols

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It is mid day, just days after the the celebrations of the holidays (I won’t say how many or few … for fear I may be befriended by my Christmas-all-year-adoring friends) and the sky is darkening already. The day began with the most spectacular sunrise, filling the sky with pinks, oranges, corals, even almost reds … and in my heart I heard my father’s voice red sky in morning, sailors take warning.

As I sat in my living room, amid boxes of Christmas decor, carefully packed away for next year, I felt as if that beautiful sunrise was a foreboding … but that could also be due to my recent check of the weather forecast … ten days of rain are coming.

January is not my favorite month of the year, whether clinical or psychosomatic, I seem to struggle with a seasonal downturn in my mind and spirit. Rain does not help this reality.

Though I am not one who listens to Christmas tunes in July, hangs the lights just after Halloween or keeps the tree up until epiphany, I long for Christmas to last all year.

It is in January when my annual heart’s cry is similar to what we might find in the pages of Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,

“It is winter in Narnia,” said Mr. Tumnus, “and has been for ever so long…. always winter, but never Christmas.”

The season of hope and peace and joy and love has been replaced by rain and dark and flu season and reminders of the pandemic. It is the season of …

almost, but not quite.

That is where we are … almost, but not quite. Christ has come as the babe in the manger who grew up to die on a sinner’s cross so that we might live with the Spirit. But … he has not come back yet and that is what our souls are reminded of when the Christmas season ends … for it should never end.

We have sung our carols of hope … now we have have to put their lyrics into practise, to live the hope we sang even when the morning skies are red with warning. This is the hard work of Christmas, living it day in and day out, even when there are no festive advent chocolates to sweeten the walk.

January is not where I expect life or Christmas to be found. And that is my personal challenge … to look for, to be the vessel through which the hope of Christmas can, unexpectedly, be found.

Today is known as Tweleth Night, or the eve of Ephiphany, when many Christians celebrate the Magi’s arrival and confirmation that the new babe was the reincarnation of God. It marks the end of the Christmas season … yet,

maybe

if we have experienced the hope, peace, love and joy of Christmas,

if we, like the Magi,

still seek Him …

Maybe we can have Christmas every day of the year … even when the rain clouds come.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman from his poem, “The Work of Christmas” 

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For the New Year I had started writing a post, but that didn’t feel right. So I started a second, got to the end and it still didn’t feel right. So I started again, resulting in Friday’s post A Lament to Start 2021. I kind of love when that happens, because I feel like I am not writing simply what I want to say, but what I am led to communicate.

This is the second post, when I got to the end, then my fingers began tapping in a different direction, a different message from what I had planned.

Hesed

A Hebrew word. Wikipedia says “the word is used of kindness or love between people.” Our world could all use more of that!

But, Hesed is more than just kindness … and love itself has so many meanings … no, Hesed is grander than these.

In the Bible, like Wikipedia, Hesed is often translated as lovingkindness but it is also translated as a steadfast love. Does this make things clearer? Maybe, maybe not.

To understand Hesed we need to understand the unconditional, compassionate, covenantal, generous, merciful, loyal, permanence that is all part of this steadfast love,

The steadfast love of God is not offered/given as a payment for good behavior, not an owed obligation, but freely and without any pause in the delivery of it.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

It is this steadfast love, this hesed, that means we live under grace (which is undeserved) rather than judgement or wrath. Hesed is the definition, the fulfillment of the good news of the grace offered to such a worm as I (Psalm 22:6) by one who knew no sin (1 John 3:5).

Hebrew scholar Dom Rembert Sorg wrote that hesed is “really the Old Testament reflex (reflected image) of ‘God is love.'”

And this hesed, this lovingkindness, this steadfast love is available to us all!

Could we be more blessed, more fortunate, more … prepared for a new year and all of the good, bad and ugly that awaits us, provided with this grace, mercy and love? We not only have a new year ahead, but we are not entering it alone, unempowered, lost.

We have the firm foundation of steadfast love that never ceases!

And that makes for a Happy New Year!

“Life is dear, but God’s love is dearer.
To dwell with God is better than life at its best;
life at ease, in a palace, in health, in honour, in wealth, in pleasure;
yea, a thousand lives are not equal to the eternal life which abides in Jehovah’s smile.
In him we truly live, and move, and have our being …”
Charles Spurgeon

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Lord, thank you for a new day, but especially for a new year.

We come to you today, the start of new year, because you are our God, our Creator and Redeemer. There is no other like you. You were and are and will ever be … and we bow humbly to you.

We are tired, we are all tired … but you know that.

What a year our world has walked through. The new normal has affected every area of our lives from our jobs, to shopping, to school, to recreation, to socialization, to hygiene to even church. Change is always wearying, but these changes … God, it’s kind of gotten to us at times. Yet, when we look at the suffering of others, who have experienced mourning, who have experienced natural disasters, who have experienced warfare during this pandemic, we feel selfish … our new normal is nothing compared to those challenges. Yet … you know. You designed that our minds and bodies and souls work together, that we humans be together … and we thank-you for offering yourself for our rest.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

We are discouraged, we have all been discouraged … but you know that.

Lord, it has seemed that bad news has been the theme of the year. Whether it was racial injustices or riots, politics, fires, natural disasters, homeless refuges around the world and famines … we are discouraged. Our social connections have decreased and when we looked to social media for connection, anger and fear have made social media less about connection and more about division. We simply need a little good news.

” … the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1)

We are longing for loved ones, we have all missed loved ones … but you know that.

Loneliness is pandemic in our world, God. Out of fear of and protection from Covid, we have been keeping our distance from others. Our children have not been having play dates, our teens have missed going to events with peers, our young adults are missing socializing, our elders … Lord, so many are so very isolated, so very alone. We ask that this new year might be one of reunions with loved ones … we implore you to make a way out of this lonely desert.

” … do not fear (loneliness), for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

We need you … we often don’t realize or do anything about it … but you know that too.

God, we need you. If anything has taught us this in our life, this pandemic year of new normal has been our motivator. When we are tired, you give us rest. When we are discouraged, you have given us good news. When we are lonely, we only need to seek and you are there. As the doors to our church services have closed for in person worship, we have encountered the challenge of choosing to connect online, in podcasts. As all that we know of worship services has been stripped away is your plan that we come back to YOU, rather than to the practises that have been our habit, perhaps these practices have even become the focus of our worship, rather than the specs with which to see you?

“God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

We leave these heart cries with you, trusting you to gather our tears. We trust you with our sorrows and what you will allow in and through them.

You are our God and we will serve only you.

* With our first breath we cry out … crying out is a most human response. Lament is a crying out to God. It is a declaration to Him of our sorrow, discomfort, sadness. It is being real before the God Almighty, announcing to him what he already knows … it is a step of faith, an indicator of intimacy and trust. Trust to share our pain and to leave it in his holy hands. To lament is to acknowledge God for who he is, it is to cry out our distress, then it is to leave our tears, our heartaches, our sorrows with Him … an act of full trust and confidence. It is to cast our cares, our worries, concerns and anxieties on Him … for He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).

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Approximately one hundred and sixty years ago, Emily Dickinson wrote a poem illustrating hope as a bird.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -

That perches in the soul -

And sings the tune without the words -

And never stops - at all -



And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -

And sore must be the storm -

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm -



I’ve heard it in the chillest land -

And on the strangest Sea -

Yet - never - in Extremity,

It asked a crumb - of me.

This metaphorical description of hope is as “the thing with feathers”, a “little bird” whose song is heard sweetest in the midst of the storms of life.

It is one of Dickinson’s most popular poems and I expect it is because the truth of her descriptive words resonate in the hearts of those who read it.

Hope … that ethereal quality that is available to us all, that gives sustenance to unfed souls, that keeps us vertical when we think we might drop and that never asks anything in return.

The apostle Paul said, “hope is as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19) and that it “does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5).

Today, this first Sunday of Advent, 2020, we need this hope. We need to be reminded that it flutters all around (and even, in) us. It will not disappoint. And this year, this pandemic year, hope is sweeter than ever.

In the book of Isaiah (40:31), is another feathery metaphor of hope :

“those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

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Yesterday, all of the children from the elementary campus of the school where I work, were out on the track, singing and being filmed for the Christmas presentation. This year their presentation is being filmed, to be broadcast for loved ones to see, from their homes, workplaces, or seniors facilities.

The Christmas concert will be different, because of the pandemic … but the concert will still happen … the children will still sing and dance and recite and act, the loved ones will still smile and laugh and beam with pride … different, but will still happen.

Listening to the radio the other day, I heard the comment that “the churches are closed, but the bars are still opened” …

and I shook my head.

Where we live, smaller, live church services have halted again (as Covid numbers, particularly as hospitalizations have increased significantly). This is a disappointment for those who were so thankful to be able to worship together, but …

this going back to online only church services does not mean that the churches are closed.

There is a passage, recorded in Matthew, that confirms how very open churches can be … if we personally know who has built the church.

Jesus is chatting with his disciples. He asks them first, “who do people say I am?” (v. 13) The disciples respond with John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. Now … Jesus knew what others said, because he knows all. I think what he is doing here is, as always, is teaching the disciples an important truth.

The passage continues with another question:

Then he asked them, “Who do you think I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “The Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
“God has blessed you, Simon, son of Jonah,” Jesus said, “for my Father in heaven has personally revealed this to you—this is not from any human source. You are Peter, a stone; and upon this rock I will build my church; and all the powers of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; whatever doors you lock on earth shall be locked in heaven; and whatever doors you open on earth shall be open in heaven!”

Matthew 16:15-19

The answer of Simon Peter,

“The Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

You see, the disciples were his disciples. They walked and talked and ate and slept with him. They were his people … and he was their teacher. They had a personal relationship with Jesus. The others, the people who Jesus first inquired about, they just knew OF him, the disciples KNEW him. Theirs was a personal association.

Jesus then goes on to speak of building his church on this rock, but I (and many commentators) don’t think that Jesus is referring specifically, or just, to Peter … but to all who can answer the question,

“Who do you think I am?”

with the words of Simon Peter, with the words of one who knows him intimately, personally :

“The Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Churches who are built on the bedrock of the intimate knowledge of who Jesus is, as “the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” they are not closed, but always opened …

and all the powers of hell shall not prevail against it.”

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In the Pacific Northwest it is storm season. The torrential rains and the strong winds appear usually from November to December. Some years the impact is barely noticeable, whereas other years they provide enough impact for headlines such as STORM OF THE DECADE (or CENTURY).

While listening to the weather forecast this morning I heard about successive storms expected to hit our coast over the next few days …

and I got so excited!

Just like last evening, while out with a friend for a walk and coffee. When we started walking back to where our cars were parked (three or four blocks away) the heavens opened up and lightening flashed brightly in the distance. We sought temporary refuge under an awning, enjoying the light and sound show until the rains eased.

It was spectacular.

Just like the ones to hit our coast, just like all such storms, it eventually passed.

The next morning I awoke to a bright sunrise … the calm after the storm.

Storms in our lives … the kind that flatten us, leave us with more questions than answers, the kind that can skew our hopes and throw our future plans and dreams up in the air … those storms aren’t as delightful or entertaining as a thunder and lightening night sky performance.

Yet, like thunder and lightening, like wind and rain, these storms of life come and they eventually touch us all.

I don’t have wise and life-changing words for such storms. I cannot say that the loved one will be healed, that the money will be there, that the stress and anxiety of your life will dissipate.

I can tell you, from my faith and experience of the storms of life and of the God of all … you are not alone. Even when it may feel that you are out to sea in a dingy, paddling with all your might (or curled in a ball in fear) … you are not alone. He is with you.

When you pass through the deep, stormy sea, you can count on me to be there with you. When you pass through raging rivers, You will not drown. When you walk through persecution like fiery flames, you will not be burned; the flames will not harm you.

Isaiah 43:1-2

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