Loving Father

 
As a father has pity on his children, so the Lord has pity on his worshippers. For he has knowledge of our feeble frame; he sees that we are only dust.                                                                                         Psalm 103:13-14

Psalm 103 is about my favorite part of the Bible. It has a lot to do with how we see God, and, more importantly, how He sees us.  So many times in my counseling practice, I have talked with people who cannot understand why God would love them. They certainly don’t feel it, and perhaps were never taught it.

They may have grown up with the idea of a judging, angry God. Sometimes this was informed by a father who did not show warmth or kindness, or perhaps was even abusive. However it happens, people often miss the understanding of God as a loving father.

Such an understanding colors our view of everything. If God is not a loving father, maybe he is an angry, judgmental one whom we can never please. Or maybe God is a distant, absent father who periodically checks in when we call for help, but really cannot be counted upon.

My understanding of the nature and character of God is one of a loving father who sees our frailty. He knows how we are made, but does not blame us for our failures to always do the right thing.

We fathers know how much we love our children. If God loves us like that, and He does, we can feel secure in that relationship. It changes how we see the world.

 

Prayer: Thank you Father for loving us right where we are, Amen

Sacred, Continued

 

You are the world’s light—a city on a hill, glowing in the night for all to see.  Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father.                                                                                                                                                                      Matthew 5:14-16 (Living Bible) 

Today is Memorial Day. We remember those who have died in defense of their country, and we are right to honor them. Today, I want to recall what I believe is the greatest speech in American history in order to discuss sacred.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln was brilliant in the way he understood the idea of sacred. He knew that the battlefield in Gettysburg, just 4 months prior, had been a scene of bravery and death the likes of which is seldom seen. Lincoln was humbled by this courage and suggested that the dedication needs to be not of that burial ground- it had already been dedicated by the participants far better than that assemble could. Rather, the dedication, the making sacred of that sacrifice, could be made meaningful and be redeemed by the rededication of the living to the cause of justice and union.

So, sacred does not exist in “places”, it exists in us. It is our duty to make sacred the places that we go by our dedication to justice, and compassion. We are to carry on the message that Jesus gave in his sacrifice so that we can become “God Carriers” to all around us.

Prayer, Father, thank you for giving us the privilege of being your light in the world. Give us courage and clarity in doing so, Amen

Sacred vs. Profane

 

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.                                                                                                                                                                                  Luke 2:51-52

In an earlier reflection I talked about the difference between mistakes and sins. I noted that Jesus made mistakes, just as all human do, but he did that without the motivation of pride, which is the basic source of sin. The mistakes Jesus made were common as well as maturational ones- he had to grow up and learn the way things worked. He caused his parents, Mary and Joseph a lot of suffering when he did not travel home with them one time, and he didn’t bother to let them know where he was going to be. The writer Luke said at the end of that passage,

 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

In short, Jesus had some things to learn about how humans should behave.

I’m sure Jesus also occasionally hit a nail wrong, forgot to do a chore, etc. This fully human part of Jesus was hard to understand, and some early writers had to find a way to deal with it. They explained it in a lot of different ways.

The Gnostics did it by seeing two different worlds- sacred and profane; physical/material vs. spiritual; one higher, one lower; therefore, they denied Jesus’ human nature; they denied his physical make-up and saw this only as an illusion, that he was divine, but not fully human. They believed that the only way to transcend the two worlds was through “special knowledge” (gnosis)- which they had or could attain.

We struggle with this distinction still today; we tend to maintain “holy places”. Jews had the temple, early Christians had cathedrals, basilicas, monasteries, etc. The church building, in the Middle Ages was a sanctuary for those running from the law- if you could get to the church, you would be safe because it was sacred ground.

The distinction of what is “sacred” and what is “profane” continues. I believe that anywhere we acknowledge and honor the presence of God, that place becomes sacred no matter where it is.

More on this tomorrow 😊.

 

Prayer: Thank you Lord that you have made a plan to be with us, right where we are, Amen

Certainty

God’s laws are perfect. They protect us, make us wise, and give us joy and light.                                                                                                                                                                                 Psalm 19:7-8 (Living Bible) 

Recently I have been thinking about our notions of “certainty” and how that affects our world view. What are the things of which we are certain?  For example, I am a person of faith, and as such, I have my own notions of security, my own certainty, based upon a relationship with God who loves me. I think that the world God created is amazing, and to think it randomly evolved to this level of exquisite complexity would, in my mind, be ludicrous.

At the same time, I do not think that the world was created in 7 days about 7,000 years ago, although there are some Christians who do. I do not know the processes that God used to bring  this world, this universe, into existence- that is a mystery to me. I am perfectly comfortable stating that position. I can live in some ambiguity quite nicely, without a need to have precise explanation of how the world came into being. There is a level of uncertainty in that.

For centuries the organized Church had “certainty” about how the universe works. The sun and other planets revolved around the earth. It must be that way. It was certainty. Anyone who taught otherwise (Galileo, for example) faced the considerable wrath of the Church. Gradually, science facts became irresistible, and the Church acknowledged that particular scientific certainty.

Unfortunately, the Church’s need for certainty about the physical composition of the universe led to a wholesale departure from the Church as a source of truth, as science gradually became the accepted standard for determining all truth.

The Age of Enlightenment came to be and gradually, the spiritual truths of which the Church was guardian, became hopelessly entangled in science, politics and governance. The role of faith was now labeled as an anachronism, an old remnant of a long-abandoned way of seeing the world.

Scientific truth and spiritual truths exist at the same time. One does not need to abandon the pursuit of scientific truth in the expression of spiritual truth. God is the author of all truth.

Holding two ideas at the same time, which appear to be contradictory, is hard. We like to label things and put them into easily understandable boxes- worldviews if you will.

In the coming days, I want  to explore this idea a little further if you are up for it. I call it the Sacred vs. Profane theory. I hope you join me in it.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the freedoms you give us to think and explore your creation. Help us to trust the things we do not understand, and to continue to seek your truth, Amen.

 

 

Broken, Unbroken

“If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken… “                                                                                                                                                                               II Corinthians 4:7-11 (The Message)

Laura Hillenbrand wrote a beautiful book in 2010 titled Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It was the story of the incredible life of Louis “Louie” Zamperini, an Olympic athlete and subsequent World War II hero. The book is moving and uplifting. Zamperini’s life was one that needed to be celebrated, and Hillenbrand accomplished that well in her book. A subsequent movie about the book was also very powerful, if somewhat less inspiring than the book.

As we begin this Memorial Day weekend, we celebrate those who gave their lives in service to their country. Zamperini did not die in World War II. He survived the horrible ordeal of capture by the Japanese army, and terrible treatment in prison camps. It was only after the war that Zamperini suffered what we would now call PTSD, and he descended into depression and alcoholism. His story of recovery from a life broken by war and torture is touching and carries hope.

We can see that Zamperini had a light, a Spirit in him, from early in life, but it was not fully exposed until after he had been broken by war and disease. He was strong, but he was breakable, as we all are.

God indeed has given us the treasure of the Holy Spirit in clay pots which are easily broken. Yet, those pots need to be broken in order for the light to shine out. Jesus said that we should not hide our light under a bushel. Indeed, we have this precious treasure of eternal life inside of very breakable clay bodies. When we yield that clay to God’s purposes, His light will certainly shine through.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the sacrifices that people have made to keep us free, and thank you for the Spirit that powers our lives, Amen

Presence

Three of Job’s friends heard of all the trouble that had fallen on him. Each traveled from his own country—Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuhah, Zophar from Naamath—and went together to Job to keep him company and comfort him. When they first caught sight of him, they couldn’t believe what they saw—they hardly recognized him! They cried out in lament, ripped their robes, and dumped dirt on their heads as a sign of their grief. Then they sat with him on the ground. Seven days and nights they sat there without saying a word. They could see how rotten he felt, how deeply he was suffering.                                                                                                                                                              Job 2:11-13 (The Message) 

This passage from the book of Job in the Bible always struck me as a great lesson in the importance of “presence”. Job had just experienced devastating losses of family and possessions, and he was in great misery. His friends from all around the area conferred with one another and went to comfort their friend. Upon arrival, they simply sat with him. They were so moved by his pain that they experienced suffering themselves. They said nothing, perhaps too stunned to know what to say, and wise enough to say nothing. They just wanted to be with their friend in his time of need.

It was only after they started to try to give him advice that they caused him some additional emotional pain. That however, is another story. The point is that they cared enough to plan together to travel to see him, and they just sat with him to show their love and support. That, it turned out, was the real healing they brought to their friend Job.

This COVID-19 crisis has caused us to be much less present with one another physically. Yes, we are blessed with many modes of electronic communication, and that is of incredible value. But we miss physical presence. There is something about just being with others, connecting, hugging, touching, that has been taken from us. I miss it, but it will eventually be restored.

I trust that one of the lessons we take away from this crisis is to never again undervalue the importance of being simply present with one another. What a gift that is.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for building us to be in need of one another’s presence. We often feel your presence when we are with others, Amen

 

Resilience

When anyone is in Christ, it is a whole new world. The old things are gone; suddenly, everything is new! II Corinthians 5:17 (ERV)
“…it is the ability to respond, absorb, and adapt to, as well as recover in a disruptive event”
“Psychological resilience is the ability to mentally or emotionally cope with a crisis or to return to pre-crisis status quickly.”

I like these definitions of resilience. That word, resilience, is in heavy use in these COVID-19 days. I have been thinking about this wonderful aspect of the human spirit that helps us to adapt and move forward- to recover from a trauma. Make no mistake, this health crisis is a trauma. It has completely changed the landscape in how we navigate the world. It has, and will continue to, color everything we do.

Willingness to adapt to a new landscape is critical. We can get stuck in the past and grieve over what was lost- and we do that for a little while. In fact, grieving is important because it reminds us of what we had. But it is also instructive for our future. We can decide to live and adapt, or we can become stuck in “what if?” and “why me?” thinking.

Let me here distinguish that this type of grieving is different from grieving the death of a loved one. This type of grieving is about lifestyle and circumstances. Losing anyone or anything causes us to grieve, but we need to be clear that loss of a life of a dear one is different.

That being said, I think that we must challenge ourselves to be supple in our thinking about how we move ahead from this trauma. As I get older, it is tempting to resort to “the way things used to be”. And yes, I do that- just ask my kids. But I also challenge myself to be resilient and adapt to what needs to happen to not just survive, but thrive.

I think that the human spirit, woven into our very being, pushes us on to go through hard things, then make sense of them to make the future better. We do it because survival demands it. So, I am grateful that God made us with this available resilience built into us, to move ahead despite the trauma. We just need to know that we CAN do that, as long as we WILL do that.

I once told a client, whose life had crashed from addiction and loss of relationships- “You can’t build a new building unless the old building is demolished. You can use the foundation, but the rubble needs to be cleared away”. I didn’t remember I had said that until years later she told me that this had been a statement that hit home for her. I’m glad it was helpful for her, and I hope it may help others too.

Prayer: Thank you Father for building into us the drive to survive, to make everything new from the ashes of loss, Amen