Blessings and Curses

Been doing alot more reading, and study in preparation for something later in the month… and the thought that words have power keeps echoing back through all that i read.  Words can build us up, or cut us down.  Words, not just letters on a page, but audible sounds that we recognize as language can be spoken to bring life, or take it.

We are all guilty of either speaking things that are not life, or receiving such things.  The bible calls anything that is negative, and destructive a curse.  Curses have power.

So i ask you today – what was spoken over you, to you, about you, by you?  Were the words uplifting, inspiring, and a shining example that you followed to this point?  Or were they words that limited you, sensitized you to some area of life, words you grew into, or words that prophecized that you would never amount to anything.

I think we need the good ear of Jesus as we bear our hearts before him, and take time to remember these curses… not to give them more power but to share them with Jesus, and turn them over to him… clean house, get rid of them.  Like those boxes of stuff we all accumulate, curses sit heavy on our hears and minds.  They reduce the capacity we were designed for. They limit who we have become.  And they ought not.

 

So what have you been called?  What were you told you would never be free of?  In my life it was weight… i was often told i would never be anything but fat.  As a child, as an adolescent, and certainly as an adult.

It is a falacy to recite that kids ditty “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  Names hurt… they sting deep into the core of our being.  They break down who we are designed to be.  They limit.  The give life to curses.

So today, in the name of Jesus i give you Jesus, all of the curses spoken over me by others. spoken to myself, and those lived out.  Your body was broken and poured out for our sins.  You were called cursed for hanging on a tree… I send these curses to you and ask that you wash this life clean, break every curse, and the grip they have had on my life, our lives…. amen

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Ritual or Worship Style?

sttAs a child i was raised attending a Russian Orthodox church, where God lived beyond a screen of gold gilding, and icons of saints and angels…. in a house steeped with the sweet smell of incense, and Gregorian chants.  Church Slavonic was the language of heaven, i thought… for when the most important parts of the service happened they were not in English   Icons helped to visualize events of the Bible, and immortalized patrons of the church in the faces on the walls.

I loved the flicker of the candles, the smell of that sweet incense, the sense of a priest escorting us to God’s presence.   There was a clear sense of this being a sacred space, reserved for the act of meeting with a great God.

And Easter came to be the most sacred and wonderful time of the church calendar   The long hours of church services felt like we lived in church for holy week.  Thursday was one of my favorite – because the service was readings from all of the gospels, and recalled the events leading up to the death, and burial of Jesus.  On our knees in honor of the word of God, we listened, we prayed, and we knew the story well.

And after that Thursday service the frenetic pace of activity began as the men of the church carted up large and ancient pieces of furniture that would be set up to represent the garden tomb.  The women were gathering the huge amount of potted plants… hyacinths, tulips, hydrangeas, and white lilies   The smell was intoxicating.  Carefully and well choreographed everyone had a part in preparing the “grave”, which would be a visual representation of the crucified Christ, laying in state.

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On Good Friday, in the early afternoon service the priest would bring the special textile shroud bearing the likeness of Jesus out from behind the icon screen and with much singing and incense would place it on the piece of the special furniture reserved for this purpose.  Ancient by my young eyes, but probably created in the earliest parts of the 20th Century when the Cathedral was dedicated.  I think i always loved Russian history because of the connection of my childhood church with the deep pockets of the last ruling monarch of Russia.  He was integral in funding the construction and finding the appointments, including the huge clear prismed glass chandelier that hangs in the center of the church.  A magnificent fixture that always caused me fear for the thought of the sheer size and weight of it.

I can almost hear some of you bristling at these images.  Let me say several things here, because the orthodox church traditions are probably not familiar ways of worship for many, and might be viewed as idol worship. – No, I still am convinced this custom came from an age when a majority of the people were not literate… and this was the visual representation to help people understand, much like the custom of detailed stone carving of scenes in Gothic Cathedrals of Western Europe was once popular.  Those who cannot read understand pictures.  The more accurate and detailed the architect  is the better the insight.   I remember as a child reflecting on some of the large icons, thinking that I understood the picture so much more than some of the big words, or words not always in English.  St Theodosius was founded by immigrants from Russia and Bylorussia.. so even the appearance of the written language was different than what their heart language.  Pictures helped.

Another thought crossed my mind about this way of remembering the death and burial of Christ.  It is so very sensory… the eyes see, the ears hear the songs, in acapella, and the nose takes in a bouquet of spring flower scents, mingled by the heavy incense, and Aunt Tillie’s strong perfume.  The tone is dark… the world has not yet seen the resurrected Christ, and the hope of nations lay dead in a grave.  Much like the funeral of a very precious family member, it is a dark and dim time… The orthodox church helped me to appreciate how deep a sorry this death of Jesus was… but indeed he did not stay there.  And as sunday morning came the grave was gone, the lights were brighter than ever and the songs were loud and glorious.  I learned to sense God in these things that seemed ritualistic to many.

Finally, as a follower of Christ, and born again, i must say that I understand that faith is simple.  It is taking God at his Word, and no more.

So why am i writing this post?  It is because a part of my perception of God was a part of this wonderful and sacred experience, and even though the church i attend loves Jesus, and proclaims the glorious news with wonder and power, a part of the sensory perceptions are missing.  It is the special music, and the smells, and the sense of deep reverance that the protestant church does not embrace.

Several years ago i was in a book reading group and we read a book called Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas.  The thesis of his book is that Christianity is not a one size fits all faith, but that each of us has different ways of sensing God.  Some will stand on a mountain top and feel the closest to God, others find their faith invigorated by understanding difficult passages of the bible, or intellectual things.  In total he speaks of 9 different areas that we might respond to God, and each are just as powerful and effective as the other.

When i reach seasons like Easter, and long for the breath and depth of the services leading to the celebration of Easter I thank God for his heart to make each of us different.  And I thank him for those childhood experiences in incense, and gregorian chant.  I thank Him for the opportunity to communally share in the deep deep sorrow of the cross, of this one solitary death that impacted all of humanity.  And i thank God for the desire he put in my heart to sense him and seek him in these ways.  I pulled the attached movie off my old church’s website and wanted you to just get a bit more of the insight into what i miss.  Click on the lily below to see the movie.

lilly

 

Propitiation

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Propitiation! It is a big word, with big meaning. It is a key point of understanding the gospel. Simply it is “turning away from wrath by an offering.” God, angry because of the introduction of sin needs to satisfy his wrath. When Adam and Eve succumbed to the lies of satan this perfect world God created and pronounced good was scarred. Death came to a perfect creation. And death required death to satisfy God’s anger. The gauntlet was thrown down and satan marred what God said was good. The rules of engagement for this war is the requirement of blood. So an animal was killed to cover Adam and Eve from their nakedness.

Through the Old Testament countless animals were sacrificed to satisfy gods wrath, but that was a temporary solution. The satisfaction of Gods wrath came with the death of his son Jesus, on the cross, beaten and bruised. Son of God, sinless, became every sin, EVERY SIN! Your sin, my sin. Can you imagine perfect God coming down to earth, pitching his tent and living among us yet without sin. Sinless and holy, Jesus would become that “propitiation” for the wrath of God. He would endure the torture and beating, bruising, crushing, intense anguish to carry our sins on his shoulders. Nailed to a cross he hung in plain view for the world to see. And he died. Sinless, perfect, holy God looked away from his son when he died on that cross. The deepest pain, offering his one and only son to bear the penalty…satisfied it all. Paid in full.

Propitiation- debt cancelled, God’s wrath satisfied….it is a powerful essential for every believer. The guilty verdict that hangs over every person is removed- paid in full.

I found this video and showed it to our teens. It is clear, concise… It is propitiation.

Here is the link.

God, Fellowship, Faithfulness and Sisterhood

When God is on the move there is nothing that will stop the work he wants to do.  I have always believed that.  I have always longed to live in the early church new testament power of God to change lives, rebuild homes, strengthen relationships and transform a culture.

God has not changed, though decades and centuries have passed.  God is still moving in powerful ways throughout our world, seeking faithful people who are willing to yield their hearts, minds and souls to him.

Knowing God has not changed, perhaps it is us as a people that have become dull to his leading, prompting, and authority.  But when he awakens our spirits there is an energy, enthusiasm and new fresh sense of life that envigorates us deep to our core.  I love watching that happen in my own life, and how much more of a joy when you watch radical transformations occur right before your eyes.

Several months ago six women agreed to meet and work through a book – not the bible, but a book that uses biblical concepts, and unravels the mysteries of the female soul.  And something interesting has begun to happen… we have begun to seek god deeper, hunger in greater ways for answers to those deep issues, and God has begun to reveal his plan to heal us of the past, make us whole and reinvigorate us for the purpose he called us to.

I must confess that most of my life i could probably count on one hand people i would call a friend, let alone have a deep friendship that moves toward sisterhood.  There are those rare individuals that God has allowed in my life – we dont see each other for years, but when we do the relationship picks up right where we left off..  These are people you could trust your very soul with.  I am an only child and for years blamed that as the reason i was slow to make friends.  But the truth was it only took one betrayal of trust, one crushing blow of a loose lipped person to dismantle my capacity to believe in safety and honest protection of a sisterhood.  I spent many years believing everyone had to show me that they were trustworthy.  That’s not fair either.  But this time we started our praying… seeking God to be in the middle of the group, and to guard each of us, and the confidences given.  There is a profound sense of wanting this safe space, a haven to gather, to laugh, or cry, to bear each others soul… knowing we will uplift each other, pray hard for the needs, and trust God for what is beyond our capacity.

The book we are working through spoke of how in generations past women worked side by side… there was a closeness that came from sharing life, sharing work, sharing responsibilities.  And much of this  sisterhood has been lost to a fast paced, fractured life of this modern age.  Thankfully every tuesday the sisterhood comes back together, and we are also finding our friendships growing as we lean into God, and allow him to build his kingdom through us.

Calling and Influence

We each have a calling on our lives.  We have a specific purpose, a package of gifts and talents that, when yielded to God, bring an expansion of the kingdom.   We each have a life that touches people, makes connections that are specific, a sphere of influence that only is only fitting of one person.

What does my calling look like?  Probably different than yours. Probably unique, as is yours.  Unique because the life i live has exposure to a specific group of people, locations, groups, and philosophies.

No, we are not cookie cutters of each other. But lets start with the things that unite us and unite our calling:

  • We have each been called out of darkness, and into His marvelous light.  We have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
  • Our lives are no longer our own.  Decisions, and what our life becomes must be layed before the Lord in much prayer, allowing Him to influence and change our plans.
  • We are called to be the witness of Jesus, called to share the love and grace we have found with the world through the good news of His Gospel.
  • We are to live seperated, sanctified and set apart for God’s use.  We should live differently from the world.

Now the difference comes through lessons of life experiences.  I resonate with 2 Corinthians 1 and Paul’s statement that we can comfort others in the way God has comforted us.  Our very life, the darkest moments, can be yielded to God as ministry, reaching back to others who are now in that dark place.  I love that.  There is an authenticity of giving the morsels you have found comfort from to someone who is going through what you have made it through.  It is a life validation of the lesson learned in the trenches.  I can speak to that one who is grieving deeply, because I have grieved deeply.

There are some people who will stretch far outside their experiences and work in ministry in areas foreign to their lives.  That is wonderful, but I can tell you it is not where God has me.  Ministry and calling must be vibrant and living testimoney of the salvation and redemption God has worked in my life.  How can i effectively help someone that is in a place i have never been?  I can love someone, encourage them, but i cannot understand, for example, the depth of pain and searing loss a mom feels miscarrying a baby.  My heart and my mind get it, but life experience says another mom who has lived it, and known the deep comfort of God on their life can speak so much more effectively about that deep pain and loss.

May we each find the calling God has on our lives, and may we allow God to expand our territory and use us to influence many as the kingdom of God grows.   May we each find someone to influence, to disciple.  And may we allow someone older in the faith grab our hand and disciple us.  For that is how we truely grow strong in our faith, our calling and our god.

Good Friday Indeed

Thoughts flood my mind today of the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate payment of randsom for my very soul…..
… The torches and guards in a garden, the betrayal by a kiss.
… Unfair trial
… The crowd screaming for blood
… The public spectacle
… The fear and denial by Peter
… Gambling by the Roman guard
… Loyal to the end were the women
… Gut wrenching anguish
… “Father forgive them!”
… Seperation
… Darkness
… “Tetelastai!”.  It is finished.
… Death
… Earthquake
… Dark sky
… Temple curtain is torn top to bottom
… Body in the grave
…. Stone, guards, the watch
… Disciples hide

Ah, Friday, that Friday would change everything.  Forever more sin is paid for.  Thanks be to God that the story did not end on a Friday.

Thankfulness – 13 days to Thanksgiving

Today i am returning to think about what i am thankful for and my thoughts turn to people.

Thankful for God’s People

Our lives are not as rich when we are alone… friends weave a tapestry of thoughts, ideas, emotions and blessing into our lives.  Funny, but i have been realizing how little expressions, quick comment words, of friends have stayed with me.  Part of the process of living is sharing the journey with others, being there to encourage them when they are down, and celebrate the joyous events – like births and marriages, promotions at work, milestones in life.  I am so thankful that God has placed people in my life that are there for me, just as i am there for them.

“Let love be without dissimilation.  Abhor that which is evil; cleve to that which is good.  Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another.”  – Romans 12:9-10

Before i could write about people i want to take a moment to thank God for his friendship.  Knowing each and every breath i take that i am not alone, but have the all powerful God of creation walking with me makes this life bearable and possible.

My husband is a strong and faithful man of God, who leads our home in a wonderful way.  I am thankful for his faith, his love, and his friendship all these years (can you believe we have been married 32 years this past may?  omg)  As i look around it seems less common for people to stay together, challenges and all.  It is all too common to see strife, and challenge that ripples into the lives of everyone that they know.  Character shines brightest when it is tested most… and i am so thankful for his character and wisdom.

I am an only child, so the thought of sisters is a relatively foreign concept, but i love how friends have embraced me as a sister – sharing the good and bad of life in a safe place, knowing that what is said stays there.  In those moments when life crashes in i am reminded by good friends, sisters, that life will look better tomorrow, the sun will rise again, and the new day promises the brightness of new hope.  In the difficult times, when i have little to give it is then that i have learned who my friends are… and i am thankful for their strength when i am weak, encouragement when i am not, and wisdom when i am far from clear thinking.

For a family – while i am the only child of parents who have gone on to heaven, i am grateful for the family(not by birth, but by choice) that has surrounded me.  Coworkers that are closer than some of my family ever was, and church family that makes me feel a part of something greater than myself.

At the heart of my thankfulness today is this – People are a blessing.

Lord, thank you that you have not left me alone, and you have not left me abandoned.  Thank you for providing a soul mate in Steve, and for good friends that are closer than sisters.  Thank you for a sense of belonging both at work and church.  And thank you for the gift of friendships, some far too short, and others for a lifetime.  May you bless all the people that have crossed my path,and may you multiply blessings to them.  Thank you especially that you are my closest friend, knowing the details of my life that i would never give voice to, understanding my deepest thoughts and yet loving me, and pursuing me.  Amen

John 5:6

That verse reads “Will you be made whole?”

my challenges this week is to read through the book of John and yes I was reading when this passage jumped out at me . in the context  of this passage  Jesus is in Bethsaida, the place for the sick amd desperate people gather .  they gather to wait for miracle , and hope the angel visit in trouble, stirs the waters, brings them healing .  instead of an angel it is Jesus who challenges this man. He has brought himself to this place for many years… there he lays, sick, weary, almost beyond hope when Jesus approaches.  so the question resonates with me :  do I want to be made whole ?
I have been thinking about this man with his predicament .  His pattern of life must have been routine:  get up, get breakfast, go to the pool , wait for miracle , get up and go home .  the daily routine is predictable .  Changes such as being healed from long term  illness might be a major change in routine .  when life is such an ingrained pattern change can be traumatic .  how badly do you want to change ?  how much do you want to see your life transform ? is the fear of breaking that routine something that holds you from looking for change ? 

I can ask those questions and provide  from my own life as well .  fear of being healthy and fear of change have kept me gridlock for years . There is a familiarity with ingrained routines… patterns that are predictable.  Change upsets this predictability.  There is a lot of fear that comes with uncertainty and the unknown. 

I have chosen in my life to put aside the fear and lean into the change . With my faith in God it seems that the fear of change is gone .  I embrace the willingness to see how my life can be healed day by day .  I don’t want to be that man that waited at the pool for 30 some years hopelessly waiting . Jesus calls…may we have hearts willing to respond and be healed. So he asks each of us today “Will you be made whole?”

I did more studying, because i wanted to know what the greek word for whole was, and how it fit this context.  The greek word is Hugies (pronounced “hoo-gee-ace”) and means soundness – as in a person who is sound in their body.  2. To make one whole – as in resotre health.  Strong defines it as healthy – well in body, truth in the doctrine, soundness, wholeness.  This comes from the word auxano which means to cause to grow, to increase, become greater,and is spoken of plants, babies, and the inward Christian life.

Wow – do i want to be made whole? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.  How can we go on with these lingering sicknesses that keep us back from being all we are created to be. I want to learn more, grow deeper, find my truth and shed the heavy and tattered garment of sickness, and less than wholeness. 

If you know me you know i am visual… so as i think things through my mind begins to paint pictures.  So here is mine… It is the olympic marathon stadium.  Many runners are sleak, wearing athletic gear, freely moving about. And here am I, hunkered over with a heavy winter coat, large backpack, and almost unable to move at the weight of the situation.  As i enter the stadium i realize how different life can be. I see many pass me up, running, unrestrained.  Suddenly someone gestures to the backpack – Do you really need that?  Why do you carry such a weight on your shoulders. It prevents you from being able to run?  His hands gently help to take the backpack off my shoulders.  It hits the ground with a mighty thud…. the weight removed i am able to stand up straight.  Then he says to me “Do you really need that heavy winter coat?  It is covering up all that you are… you cannot move freely with the restraint of this garment.  He puts his hand out, offering to take the heavy winter coat… and more weight is gone… There is a new freedom to move, not feel so restrained… He then offers me the opportunity to walk… “Try your legs now… walk around… doesnt it feel good to not be burdened down?”   Do you want to be made whole? healthy? free of encumberances?  Do you want that backpack and heavy coat back? You have carried so many heavy burdens in that backpack, and you do not have to do that.  Trust them to me… i will take better care of them.  And your coat – Those excuses, and plans you have made to weave a barrier between yourself and being whole – do you ever want it back? No, a thousand times no… the new freedom tastes good.  Although i am now feeling vulnerable because that heavy garment is gone, and i am exposed… i look around, and the other runners in the race are also exposed, vulnerable, trusting in this new wholeness.   Am i willing to remain in this new place?  Am i willing to never return to the heavy burdens, and garments I hide behind? 

My prayer is that you will say with me… lets go… lets become whole, healthy, committed to grow, and challenged to help others shed their heavy burdens and garments of shelter for garments of praise.

 

Living this side of the cross

Easter puts everything into perspective.  It is so clear what happened…  The false trial, the railing accusations, the mob scene, the brutality and violence, death after arduous suffering.  And the faithful few that were there to the end.  Taking him down from the cross, preparing for burial, a donated tomb…a stone, rumors, a roman guard posted, and women finding the open empty tomb.

All of this must have been something more than they could understand in real time.  I wonder how i would have held up under the news?  Living by faith is something i want to do but that i still need practice with.  Would i have been like the majority of his followers choosing to hide and fear for my own life?  Or would i have been more abiding in faith and trusting that what Jesus said would be so?

On this side of the cross with amble proof of the claims i see the purpose and the plan.  But i am reminded that i must still live by faith for my own life…and believe in what is promised and not in what i see.  I am still a bit rusty with my living by faith muscle but trying to keep it working.  How about you?

Waking up

Wow, another soul searching sunday sermon…. Am I lukewarm? Am i not hot, not cold, but a distasteful blend of the two that doesn’t please God? Am I?

History lesson first – Lao dicea was a city in Turkey which was an early christian community. There were no natural wells or sources of water to this city so water had to be brought in. At a distance there was refreshing ice cold water from mountain snow melt… and it was brought in by aqueduct. Likewise from another direction were hot steaming pools and this hot water was piped in via the same method…. unfortunately as these water sources traveled to the city the cold got warm, and the hot cooled down. The water picked up sand and debris as it traveled to the city… where it was distasteful, and disgusting to drink…OK – so you see where this may be going….

Some of us are very hot – eager to obey and follow God with a great zeal, and others have very little interest in God nor is there a desire to figure out what to obey…. and then there is that subtle creep from one temperature to another. Not hot, not cold…. but luke warm.

Wow, I can remember a time in my life when I lost sight of my own life, and was stretched thin helping others, doing things, and just busy…. seeing that I could be an answer no matter what the question…. and then it happened… a little time off, a little time away, a little more time away, perhaps a hurt feeling, or a sense of not belonging, and I withdrew from some things… then more and more…. And my desire to respond to the needs i saw, and the call to obey God became lulled, subdued, and there I was …. lukewarm.

Sunday’s sermon was an honest and frank wake up call that this life is short, and how I choose to live will all too soon be over. I want my life to count, to have an impact on the world, but most of all I want my life to be obedient to God.

So Lord, here is my life. I am not my own, but I am yours. May you take my life and make it pleasing to you. Show me how you would like me to live so that I am not lukewarm.