Archive for the ‘god’ Category

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

This is the high point of the Biblical story of the prodigal son.

The father welcomes the wayward son home.

Who do we identify with in the story? It’s easy to think of ourselves as the prodigal son seeing that we have all had our times away from God. It’s also easy to think of ourselves as the older brother. We have all been jealous when someone else got the attention that we needed or felt we deserved.

Of course, we are both the prodigal son and the older brother, but as Henri Nouwen has pointed out we are also the father.

One of the great pathways to safety with ourselves is in welcoming ourselves home. To forgive oneself, to love oneself, to hug and kiss oneself with the affection and safety of a good father, we all need that.

Looking back is helpful to see that our lives were led. God was always there. When we went away he followed us, and when we came back he was right there also. Our mistakes are forgiven by him in Christ.

The question is: Can we forgive ourselves?

This is not always easy. We must work at it. We must say, “Yes I am loved. Yes, I am forgiven. Yes, I am accepted. I am in the family of God.”

We must see that sometimes we are a harsh, judgmental father; we are the one standing in our own way of being home. We are the one with judgment of ourselves. We are the one who needs to become the gentle, compassionate father. We must model ourselves after God, the perfect father and gently love ourselves as the needy child.

Do this: Fill yourself with compassion for yourself. Run to yourself. Embrace yourself. Drop the negative narrative about yourself. It’s incorrect. Welcome your whole self home, just as God does.

Two thousand years ago was the human incarnation of God in Jesus, but before that there was the first and original incarnation through light, water, land, sun, moon, stars, plants, trees, fruit, birds, serpents, cattle, fish, and “every kind of wild beast,” according to our own creation story (Genesis 1: 3–25). 

Richard Rohr

What a fascinating and under-applied understanding of scripture we have here —  nature as an incarnation of God!

We usually refer to what Rohr describes as general or natural revelation. The creation isn’t God, that is a theological misunderstanding — it isn’t incarnate God like Jesus was God — but it is from him and of him and retains his image in we who were created by him, so yes, in same ways God is incarnate in nature, most startlingly in us. 

Nature shows us God like Jesus did, his characteristics, his nature. Nature holds together because of Christ and he will redeem it in the end. Rohr’s use of “incarnation” implies that the creation’s relationship with God is deeper than we have fathomed.

This is Biblical. 

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made … His qualities, they are in nature.

Romans 1:20

He [Jesus] existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. He is a force in nature, divine gravity!

Colossians 1:17

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Both male and female, attributes, coming from God. 

Genesis 1:27

God’s power runs creation. His image is in us! His divine nature can be seen the earth and sky. He holds all it together in a web, in an ongoing way. 

Of course the godly have always admired sunsets, high mountains and flowers along with most everyone else, and we have our Saint Francis, but what has often paralleled these token acknowledgements of God’s connectedness to nature is an utter disregard for stewarding earth’s resources, a shocking lack of the development of a excited global theology, and a dishonoring of our fellow humans. 

Our waters are polluted, the element of our sacrament of baptism dishonored. Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastics enter our ocean on top of the estimated 150 million metric tons that currently circulate our marine environments. Plastic has been found in more than 60% of all seabirds and in 100% of sea turtles species. 

 Our forests, a show of God’s renewable beauty and power are decimated. Between 1990 and 2016, the world lost 502,000 square miles (1.3 million square kilometers) of forest,  — an area larger than South Africa. Since humans started cutting down forests, 46 percent of the trees have been felled according to a 2015 study in the journal Nature. 

Our skies, His wonders, are full of smoke. Air pollution cuts the average lifespan of people around the globe by almost two years, making it the single greatest threat to human health. In the United States, even people with the lowest energy usage account for, on average, more than double the global per-capita carbon emission. We are literally smoking out the image of God. 

Space, the glory of God,  is now full of junk. The U.S. Department of Defense tracks more than 500,000 pieces of space junk in orbit around Earth. 

And tragically, instead of propagating love toward the different kinds of people on earth, those claiming to represent God have often participated in religious sectarianism, culture cancellation, isolationism, divisive nationalism, religious wars and racism. How does this honor the image of God in created humans, in those who Jesus taught are our neighbors?

This is what we have done to the power and glory of God in the natural world, we have wasted, harmed and ruined it.  Most terribly this include our fellow humans. It’s horrific! We have plundered the earth, poisoned the well, rendered the sky deadly and slaughtered each other. 

Furthermore and surprisingly the godly haven’t often been the leaders in stopping this, in honoring and preserving the intricately webbed ecology that keeps every living thing alive. 

I just finished reading The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, a nonfiction book released in 2015 by the historian Andrea Wulf. Humbolt’s 18th Century journey through Central and South America and later in his travels through Russia and the wonderful books he published based on his discoveries made Humbolt the pre-eminent scientist of his time.

Humbolt got it! He, and he was not a person of faith, understood what the godly didn’t. At 19,000 feet on Chimborazo — an Ecuadorian volcano — Humboldt, writes Wulf, “realized that nature was a web of life and a global force. He was, a colleague later said, the first to understand that everything was interwoven as with ‘a thousand threads’. This new idea of nature was to change the way people understood the world.” Humbolt changed the way we look at nature. He revealed it as an interconnected whole, an ecology, a world of interdependence. This is 5he way God made it and how he sees it!

Humbolt had massive energy and enthusiasm to study, understand and explain nature, and by doing so excite others about it’s wonders and the need to preserve them. In his day, everybody read Humbolt — Darwin, Marsh, Haekael, Goethe, Thoreau, Whitman, Muir and countless others. Humbolt’s book Views of Nature was  read around the globe. His poetic descriptions of the rapids of Orinoco, where he described rainbows dancing, ”optical magic,” reveal a man astonished and enchanted with nature inspired wonder, travel, research and preservation.

He understood the power he was witnessing. “What speaks to the soul,” Humboldt wrote, “escapes our measurements.”

What can we take from this?

All churches and mosques and temples and people of faith should encourage the study of nature and promote involvement in the sciences. As in the 17th Century women and men of faith should lead in rational and empirical exploration of our world. We have hidden too much in dogma and doctrine and neglected our father’s revelation in creation.  We would know him better if we honored the creation more. And we should lead the way in preservation of the earth and the honoring of all people.

And to know God better we  would advance if we looked closer at our world, at our neighbor and then ask what they existing as they are tell us about who God is. 

Today I tried to see Him in it. 

The clouds — big white and grey —  they reminded me of his care. They bring shade, rain, beauty and remind me that God is shade, rain and beauty for me.

The grab grass growing along my driveway — even this small unwanted life form possesses his power, especially his perseverance, his holy stubbornness. Like God it can’t be killed. 

The food chain? Often I’ve hated the violence of it — a lion running down an antelope. And yet all thing live on and in other things. One dies for another to live. The egg on my French toast this morning, given for me. The meat in my soup tonight, the glory of God given for me. The food chain is communion, the Eucharist. We eat what is holy, grain and oil and wine in remembrance of him who gave it, his life, to us. 

The delicate flowers of the purple and white lantana in my yard.  God is subtle, delicate, a beauty that keeps morphing, that dies back (Christ) and comes back. 

My friends from India, lovely, beautiful, their food, their clothes the different beliefs. They are God lovers for me to treasure and love. 

Today my wife was at the zoo.  She took a video of a red panda. I love him! I want him! I want to hug him. His reddish-brown fur, white nose and ears, long, fluffy, banded tail and waddling walk. If I approached him for a tete-a-tete he’d probably rip my face off. I do want the lamb to lie with the lion, the panda with me. But God has given the panda a solitary nature. He reminds me of Jesus’s need to be alone. God too must enjoy his own company at times. I also need time alone. 

To see, to take note, to honor, to enthuse, to celebrate, to understand, to nurture,  to share with others, to live at peace with our astonishing world as much as we are able — this is our holy mandate before the creation. 

Look! There’s God.

  

As we end the holiday season, we could ask ourselves where did we see the face of Christ?

My attention was drawn to one kind of seeing his face this Christmas season, although someone had to take me in hand and point this out to me because I’m so obtuse sometimes. I saw Christ in my wife’s face, my friend’s faces and my daughter’s faces. There was a divine complementarity going on where his qualities found space in them. .

Those smiles, warm cheeks, those bright eyes and those wet tears — there were some of these for each of us — in these was Christ. Christ was with us also to console each other. My wife sat with me and comforted me I was in pain, stroking my face — the very hand of Christ touched me. I held her when she cried one day. The arms of Christ. I comforted my daughter on another day when she was sick. The comfort of Christ.

One evening we ate looking into a table full of dear faces, faces of church friends. We shared talk, games, laughter. We were Christ to each other. I played cards with Christ. He let me win.

Did you serve someone this season? You were Christ to them. Did someone serve you? They were Christ to you.

This will be acknowledged at the end of time in a profound moment when the King will say to you and me, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:40

Two of the great archetypal stories of the world are Job, from the Bible, and Faust, written by the German literary light Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. 

These iconic tales have this in common: Both Job and Faust are tempted by the devil. What is different, however, is the devil takes things away from Job, but he gives things to Faust. 

Job loses his health, his family and his property. 

In Faust, Mephistopheles, the tempter, offers Faust three temptations: first, the pure love of an innocent girl; second, the artistic fecundity of Helen of Troy and third the creation of a new land and a new people according to his desires. Faust makes a deal with the devil, unlike Job, but Faust fails to create a satisfying life with his opportunities. He bungles them. 

And yet there are similarities. Both men, Job and Faust, in their dark days, make great efforts to resist the devil, and they both struggle to try to understand nature, the world and God. 

It’s the endings that I find most interesting. After confronted by God about his ignorance, Job says, “I abhor my words, and repent, seeing I am dust and ashes.”

At that point Job is restored as well as his fortunes, and the Bible says that, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part.”

When the Bible concludes that Job died full of years, there’s a sense of peace and satisfaction in the ending.

In contrast, while Faust also realizes his errors, struggles against the devil and makes efforts to be right, he never finds the enjoyment of life and satisfaction with it that he longs for. 

In the end, Faust is not thriving like Job. He is struggling, with everything.

Both stories dig deep. Both stories reveal the universally frustrating effort to understand life and grapple with evil.

But perhaps the story of Faust is more parallel to many of ours than the story of Job. Not many of us lose it all, and then — as if winning the total-life lottery —  get it all back. Not many of us are as righteous as Job, particularly when it comes to loss, suffering and enduring mystery.  He weathers difficulty with dignity, despite the advice from his foolish friends and remains quite noble. 

But we don’t see a noble, peaceful, provided for or restored Faust at the end of his life. Faust’s experience is more like ours, the losses and the failures and confusions mount along the way and the deep rest so longed for and the deep understanding so desired is not forthcoming. And for Faust, his family life spirals into disaster.

And yet right here is precisely where the classic, mythic narratives get interesting and Biblical, in the endings, and the story of Faust falls closer to many of us that the story of Job. Grappling with our own convoluted theological narratologies, our own imperfect families, we find that Faust is us and we, him. 

Just before the devil is to take Faust to hell, Angels  arrive as messengers of divine mercy  and declare, “He who strives on and lives to strive/ Can earn redemption still.” And they take him with them.

Another interpreter phrases it this way. Faust is carried to Heaven by angels who sing, “We can redeem him who bestirs himself striving.”

Here Goethe got it right. 

Strivers all! Or most! And yet by grappling and pushing and shoving our stories around — helped by the devil or not — we don’t get at the true knowledge of nature, God or even ourselves. Despite our cri de cœur, we are a bunch of conflicted, disfluent, ambivalent, equivocal ideological wavelets. We are theological tidelets! We wash and wish and wonder  —  and yet the grace of God saves us anyway. 

We never arrive at the state of ataraxia, the Greek term for a lucid state of robust tranquility, characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry. 

If we arrive at all — anywhere! —  we arrive by grace.

Natality is in Christ.

”For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Ep. 2:8-9

Ah! 

Grace! 

We don’t fly our own wings to heaven; we are carried by angels.

I love this! I love the picture of Faust, of me, of you, carried by angels — virtually kicking and screaming our way into heaven. 

Then arriving a hot mess, I imagine the gentle, powerful angels will set us down — we totally confused and exhausted strivers — and we will be quiet for a long, long time — along side Job and all the other strugglers present there. 

I heard a fiery sermon this morning. The preacher was good. Made some excellent points. The crowd laughed, and clapped. At the end speaker shouting. I got a feeling people were duly impressed.

Me, I just felt guilt. The text was Philippians 4:12-13.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Great text. I’ve memorized it. It’s in my most recent journal. The point of the message given by the pastor was that it if you aren’t content and full of joy in hard times, in the storm, then you’re not an authentic Christian. You’re a fair weather Christian. If you’re only content in good times, prosperous times, times when you have nice stuff, times when things are going well, then you aren’t for real.

He ended shouting “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!”

The whole thing made me feel somehow in adequate. I think it was because it felt like the pressure was all on me to do something to be more authentic. I know that in Corinthian’s Paul spoke of dispairing of “even life itself.” Nobody is up, positive, content all the time. That’s just not reality. 

I wanted to know more. I was left with questions?

I don’t tend to feel content in storms. How do I draw on that strength that comes from Jesus? Is there something I have to do? My efforts to be content in Jesus during storms don’t seem to work that well. On the other hand, I know I try to he authentic in my faith.

Thoughts: Looks like Paul’s strength was from Jesus, not from himself. Paul’s secret was that it was Christ strengthening him. Paul wasn’t strong. Jesus was. This distinction is important. Paul was quick to know his weakness in other places in Scripture. So what we make of all this?

Being content isn’t something we do, but something Christ does in us when he gives us strength. Paul learned that the strength wasn’t from him. He learned that we can’t make ourselves more content in hard times. Christ is the one who makes us content to suffer through the storm.

I suppose you could assert that we have to have the faith, but the Bible says even faith is a gift of God.

I think what helps me here is to see that this text is more about God being authentic than Paul or me. I’m pretty dodgy. Paul himself didn’t always have it together. But Jesus, he’s authentic, and he can do what we can’t do.

His strength that he brings to me by his initiative is what can get me through the storm.

So my, our, humble, broken Philippians 4 prayer might be, “God we seem to lack the power to do the very thing we want to do, be content with hardship. So it’s up to you. Christ be strength! Christ be the one who gives us even the faith that your strength is there for us. Jesus, it is you, not me, so be you in me.”

So in a sense I’m off the authentic making hook. Jesus is on the hook for me. He’s the one that is going to come through.

Thank God for that!

“I’m open. Christ be my contentment, Christ be strength in me.”

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Matthew 10

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Matthew 6

Yesterday as the sun set, I saw three doves light in a tree, the golden sunlight illuminate their light tan chests. They were loved with light and warmth, and they took a moment to perch, turned to the sun — before dark — to bask in this.

Whether our circumstances always point to this or not, God is completely aware of everything that is happening to us, and he values us highly and he cares about us!

No matter how you feel today, what might be overwhelming you, what might not seem to have a solution, God knows, and he cares.

So don’t be afraid and put worry aside as much as is possible because you’re very valuable to God and he knows precisely how things will work out and how he will be involved.

Be gentle with yourself today, and retain a sense of your value.

God values you!

He shines on you too.

Like the doves, perch and bask.

Where Is God?

Posted: November 2, 2019 in god
Tags: , , , ,

Ever wonder, “Where is God?” When scripture makes so many positive promises, and then you don’t see yourself experiencing them.

Here is one.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement …

Romans 15:5

Or this one;

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

2 Corinthians 1:3

Endurance and encouragement — God gives it.

Comfort— God gives it.

Yesterday my daughter called and reminded me how tough and strong I am.

My friend Jerry texted me reminding me of his respect, care and love for me.

My wife sat with me and brought tender care. She held my hand. Patted my back.

God gives encouragement and comfort, but it may not be the voice in the night, even a sense of his presence in the day.

God and his comfort often come through others.

Leo Tolstoy illustrates this beautifully in his story Martin the Cobbler, and if you haven’t read it, find it and do. Martin lost his wife. He is so lonely but one day he senses a promise —- the Savior will come to his house

All day looks at his window watching. First, he sees Stepanitch shoveling away snow. Martin invites him in for a warm drink and they talked for a while.

Then he sees a woman with a baby who is cold and He invites her in for some food and gives her warmer clothes and money.

Then he sees a boy stealing an apple and he intervenes and pays for the apple.

That night while Martin wondered why God had not visited him, the three figures appeared in his home, the very ones he had showed hospitality to that day. They said that when he helped them he was helping God. Martin then realized that God had indeed visited him in those he helped.

When we comfort others we are God to them. When they comfort us they are God to us.

So at the end of time the truth will be known.

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:40

God does come — in others, in us — helping others.

According to the Hebrew Bible, Solomon’s Temple, also known as the First Temple, was built in 10th Century in Jerusalem and dedicated by Solomon to Yahweh.  

One of the more fascinating historical notes about the construction stands out.

In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.

 1 Kings 6:7

God, our God, often builds his temples in quietness, because God, despite all the hollering from Christians about him, is a quiet God. 

God dresses blocks in one place, so he he can quietly place them in another.

I called my dad one day last year. I was missing him. 

I caught him up on us, then I asked him what he had been thinking about.

He had been thinking about the “quietness of God’s presence.”

I asked him, “Dad, what does that mean?”

He said, “I often can’t sleep at night. I wake up. I don’t know what to do so I just enter the quietness of his presence.” 

“I don’t say anything. I don’t pray. I just silently worship.” 

“I’m dumb before him.”

Years ago, as I was finishing up at the University, I felt far from God. Lonely. Confused. Uncertain of my future. I began reading the Bible. I was drawn to Isaiah 30:15. This became a very personal word from God to me, speaking to exactly my issue.  

“This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength …'”

Lately I’ve suffered some serious health problems. As a result I’ve experienced some very significant levels of pain. At times there have been a whole nursery of babies crying inside of me.

I’ve done a lot striving to connect to God to fix my situation, to move my health forward, to get back to normal. This is something all praying people do. Rightly so, we are told in the Bible to bring our sickness and problems to God, to seek, ask and knock, but too often our approach to God isn’t healthy or helpful. We don’t knock on his door. We bang on his door. We pound it down. We break in in our demands for the life and body and health and activities that we want. We want God to enable our plans and then — although we won’t admit it much — step politely out of our way so we can get on with our work.

This isn’t just a personal issue. A lot of churches are set up this way. They are on a mission to control God for their own good, to enlist Him to help them win the culture wars, to use him to hammer the deviant, to chisel at God’s words as a way of promoting its own political agenda. This kind of blunt-force approach to the way forward is motivated by our efforts to  move the church up and to the right on the field of public success. It’s ecclesiastical egotism. The agenda is to get more people, to take in more money and to promote politics of privilege that protect the church while not worrying if any ones else around the world is protected. It’s political stealth, physical health, a bunch of wealth and get some for myself.

I’m not saying the church shouldn’t want to do well, be excellent, succeed.  I’m not saying the church shouldn’t look to God to guide us and to make us well. I’m not saying I shouldn’t ask God to help me.

But a bunch of begging, a lot of trying to force an our agenda on God, the big push for the quick fix, the big push for the big fix, looking for the perfect road map that makes all  road blocks go away — perhaps that is a recipe for being disappointed in God. There are are some big moments in life where God comes though for us and his church in big ways, but that isn’t the whole story or even the typical story.

Perhaps what I need, and we need, the most is the sound of “sheer silence” as God builds his temples the way he wants. The American church has lived the loud Christian life of the hammer and the chisel. We’ve lived pound, pound, pound, push, push, push. It may have done some good, certainly the church is God’s chosen way to love the world, even the imperfect church, but wow! Our passions are too often too selfish.  

What we need now, and maybe more back when too  — and what I need now —  is not more begging, more controlling, more work, more progress, more pushing, more kingdom building or more empire building.  Perhaps what we need is simply this: A quiet resting before the divine. What does God want to do? How does God want to build? Can we quietly wait on God for his quiet language, his silent leading?

Thomas Keating has said that in “order to understand [God’s silent language] we ourselves must learn to be silent and to rest in God.”

Yes.

In God’s loving silence there is perhaps much more than we know or expect —  his presence, healing, rebuilding, affirmation, care, his a way forward, his love.

Recently, in my physical struggles my wife has been present for me, holding me, patting me, just being in the same room with me. She has said some sweet things, but nothing has meant as much as her presence, her quiet loving presence there in the room.

God silent, loving presence — we all could use more of that.

 

Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac.

Genesis 25:5

For Isaac, everything was given. He was given all his father’s wealth; he was provided with a home, a bride, a relationship with God, a place in history — all he had to do was receive.

This is so God! We are all Isaac.

Every good thing on earth and in the far flung universe is from God.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

James 1:17

Einstein, his intelligence, come from God.

Mark Chagall, his brilliant and magical creativity, from God.

Bill gates, his generosity, from God.

Elon musk, his innovative spirit, from God.

Abraham Lincoln, his masterful leadership and brilliant use of language, from God.

Your good things — all God. We do play a part in acting out these things, and so sometimes we think that they come from us. Even the life and body and strength to act them out is from him.

Many complain about not seeing God’s goodness. It’s everywhere. If God were to remove his goodness from the universe, all matter and all civilization would collapse into a black hole.

Never doubt that God is alive and present in our world. Every single good thing in your life is straight from him.

Praise him!

I called my dad today. He’s 91 and doing well. He still works; he moves furniture at the retirement campus where he lives.

I caught him up on my life.

I’m crazy busy with transitional activities — selling a home, moving, completely remodeling another home, supporting my two daughters as they transition into adulthood, helping plan and support a succession process at my work.

I always try to get my dad to tell me what he’s been thinking about. He’s a thinker, a very spiritual person, philosophical, a reader, idea-centric.

I thought I’d get nothing this time but then out it popped. He’s been thinking about the “quietness of God’s presence.”

I asked him what that means.

He said, “I can’t sleep at night. I wake up. I don’t know what to do so I just enter the quietness of his presence. I don’t say anything. I don’t pray. I just worship. I’m dumb before him.”

I like it. I told my dad I like it; I do. I can’t imagine why I’d like this right now, but “hmmm.”

He finished up by saying, “In the quietness of his presence the answers will come. When I don’t know what to do, I just wait. The answers will come.”

I’m so busy, and so not quiet. I’ve been so anxious of late, slammed with the tyranny of the processes I am currently caught up in. I’m so in need of the quietness of The Presence.

What a fresh-breath idea from my old, quiet papa!

I hung up the phone, with our mutual “bye, bye’s” and a good sense of what to do next.