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Posts tagged ‘growing in faith’

Down and Out

“My God! My God, why have you left me all alone?  Why are you so far from saving me–so far from my anguished groans?”  Psalm 22:1 (CEB)

Have you ever felt this way? Years ago I read something that has always stuck with me:  “When you feel far from God, guess who moved?”  I’m not sure if the theology behind the statement is all that sound, but it seems to be a good reminder that we tend to leave everything up to God and expect God to be the one to “zoom down” and fix things.  It doesn’t work that way.

However, the feelings of abandonment, the sense of lonesomeness, the deep grief that comes from the Psalmist has also been part of our experience at some point in our lives.  In one of the churches I served years ago, there was a woman in Bible study who said that she hadn’t experienced anything really negative in her life.  She said she was blessed to have had a happy, non-eventful life to that point.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish negative or heart-wrenching experiences on anyone, but I do think she will be in for a let down at some point.  It’s very easy to see God as all-loving, grace-giving, and the caring heavenly Parent when things are going well.  But when we are down and out, we also easily blame God for our troubles (“What did I do to deserve this?”) or we think God has forgotten about us or abandoned us.

When my great-nephew was born way before he was due, he struggled for his life at just over a pound and half in weight.  He fit in the palm of his father’s hand.  When he died a week later, our family grieved his loss, and his grandmother questioned why God would allow such a thing to happen when so many people had been praying for him.  They are valid questions.  Why didn’t God answer their prayers for the little guy to live?

The grandmother’s question to me was, “What good does it do to pray if God just sits there and does nothing about it.”  They cried out Psalm 22 in their own words.  I think it’s important to remember that God doesn’t “zoom down” to fix everything, and our prayers are for our connection with God to gain strength in difficult times and to find ways in which we can minister to each other and those who are struggling.

Let’s face it:  life isn’t fair, but that isn’t God’s doing.  We have freedom of choice, and many of us have to choose between good and evil, between offering help or ignoring.  As Christians, we are called to offer a helping hand, a shoulder on which to cry, loving support – that’s how God works in our lives.  The more we worship, study, and grow in faith, the more we build a relationship with God that helps us keep on keeping on in the tough times, and it also helps us to be  ministers to those in need.

The song that continues to sing in my head is Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  It reminds the listener that we are the bridges that help to hold each other up when the troubles come into our lives.  It’s our calling as followers of Christ, and it’s the gift we have to offer.  It’s the way God works though us as God’s hands and feet in the world.  May we claim that calling and live it through example and outreach.

What Now?

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.”  (John 14:18-19 NRSV)

This is a passage that is read most often at memorial and funeral services.  The intention is to provide assurance and encouragement to everyone as they ask the questions about where their loved one went and will they every seem them again.  Perhaps the most familiar part of John 14 is at the beginning when Jesus tells his disciples, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” (verses 2-3)

The subsequent verses build on that promise.  Jesus has died and been raised from the dead, and he appears to his disciples over the following forty days to reassure them, to remind them of what he taught them, to help them bring it all together in their minds and hearts, and then to commission them.  Some of us might say, “Sure, it was easy for them, they had first hand experience and knowledge of Jesus; after all, they saw him in person.”  So what about us?

The passage from John 14:15-21 reminds us that, even though Jesus isn’t present with us in the flesh, he has sent the “Advocate” the Holy Spirit who reminds us of his teachings and calls us out of our fears and worries and challenges so that we reach out to others to share our own stories and experiences of the risen Christ.  People question and want proof, and there is proof right in front of them – through us.

Okay, so maybe our faith is a little shaky at times, maybe we worry that we won’ be able to witness to our faith in “the right way,” maybe we think we have to be confident and strong in our ability to quote scripture or speak just the right words or act in just the right way.  God doesn’t call us to be perfect (as in “flawless”), but God does ask us to be ourselves.  We are all God’s children, and as believers in the resurrected Christ, we have faith to share whether we speak about it or act on it (hopefully both). 

Christ commissions us to live in the world as his followers and to share our faith in ways that bring the presence of Christ to others.  Sounds like a huge job, but in essence, it is really living the faith that is already in us.  We aren’t sent forth with God standing at the door of the church waving good bye and telling us to have a good day; rather, the Spirit goes with us, along with the rest of the family of God who support, encourage, build up and help to keep us growing in faith. 

I joke with my congregations all the time about “my list.”  When someone asks me a question that I just don’t know how to answer (because many of those questions only God can answer), I tell them that it’s on “my list” for when I get to heaven.  Of course, once I get there, the list won’t matter anyway.  Jesus reminds us that we see God through him, and the Spirit’s presence with us keeps us in faith and knowing that one day we will see God face to face, just as we will see our loved ones again.

We can never fully experience God’s love because it’s far to large to even describe, but we can experience some of it, and we can share it so others experience it, too.  The power of God’s love flows through us in our willingness to show forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion, and kindness to others.  May we find our confidence in God’s love as we continue to walk the journey of faith with the power of the Holy Spirit in and with us.

Mission Trips

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.  For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved’.”  Romans 10:12-13 (NRSV)

This week I will leave for Guatemala on a mission trip.  I haven’t been on one for a while, and it’s time.  What do I hope to accomplish?  Well, the work part of the trip is to do the interior work of painting, laying tile, cleaning, preparing shelves and so forth for a new medical clinic in Cunen.  The building has been up for a while, and now we want to have it ready so it can open hopefully soon after we leave to head home.  That’s the “on paper” job description.

Years ago, missionaries would go to countries to share the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the indigenous people, and they often imposed their own cultural ideas on the people, thinking that they had to conform to the Western way of living, dressing, worshiping, etc.  But time and experience has helped us to realize that the Guatemalan people can teach us more about living as followers of Jesus than we teach them. 

We go to work with them, to establish a relationship of respect and love with the Mayan people who have been oppressed, massacred, abused, and marginalized for years.  Yet, they live with the joy of Christ in their hearts and share that joy freely and without worry about what others might think of their witness.  Their lives are not separated, but holistic:  body, mind, and spirit in God’s presence and love with them.

This trip will be a blessing to me, and I can only hope that I will be some kind of blessing to them as I paint, sweep, interact, and commune with the Mayan people.  Their story, in the long run, is my story, too, because they are my brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are united by the common bond of Christ in our lives, and it is a privilege to be able to work with them and learn from them.  I pray that we will all grow in faith and in the love of Christ.  May it be so.

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