Category Archives: Theological Reflection

Thoughts on Bible, God, Jesus, Holy Spirit and how it relates to my own life.

Catching Up

Do you ever feel like you’re playing catch up? Breakfast dishes are still in the sink at 6pm and your kids are hungry and you’re wondering where the day went?

Sometimes I have such careful plans that get derailed by a Sick kid. Or a client with unexpected urgent needs. And sometimes it is my own lack of planning that kicks me at the end of the day.

today I realized a Bible study I had decided to start never got started. I was 11 days behind. I got overwhelmed just looking at how many days I had to go to catch up.

i logged into the settings and there was a button called “catch me up.” I hesitated because I thought it would double or triple the days to get me to where I thought I should be.

Imagine my relief when it simply reset the timeline.

Talk about God’s grace! I don’t have to work double or triple. God wants me to walk with Him and listen to Him daily. I miss out on the richness of life with God if I don’t.

But I’m not penalized when I run to Him. He meets me exactly where I am and pushes that lovely “catch me up” button. ¬†And all is right again.

ūüíú

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Easter Grief

Easter seems to be like such a happy celebration of life. Western culture has made it the new Christmas, it seems. School spring breaks are scheduled around Easter often. Children wake up excited to find eggs the Easter Bunny hid for them–and a large basket of gifts. A new Easter dress and shoes and hat. Fancy lunch. It’s the Christian holiday of the spring.

It is celebratory. Yes, Jesus Christ conquered the grave! Yes, Christians are given new life and hope of Heaven because of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection. His life and death would have been pointless without the resurrection.

And yet–I’m filled with grief. As I read different accounts in the Bible of the events leading to Jesus’ torture and death, I’ve been moved to tears. This man, this God, loved His people. He lived to bring them Life with a capital L. He was born of a miracle, created miracles all to bring attention and glory to a God who loves all people. He taught people to love each other, to fear their own judgment and not judge others. He taught communities how to live together, how to worship together and how to resolve conflict according to the way we were created.

People were afraid because he challenged the status quo. People in power were afraid to lose their power. They feared this humble man because he had the ability to inspire people to want better, to hope for justice, to care for each other.

Because he was a threat to oppression, he was killed. The nighttime mob in the streets of Jesusalem screamed for a bloody show. The religious leaders plotted and threatened to have this man killed before he upset the “system.” Pilate refused to take responsibility and acquiesced to the crowd. Who rules who, really?

And an innocent man stood condemned for crimes he did not commit.

My grief overflows. The Hope of the world–condemned by the world. Ironic. Sick. Twisted. I imagine what it might have been like had the world accepted Jesus and sought social reform, justice, hope and love for all.¬†I’ll see it when Heaven is at my door.

But I don’t want to miss that Jesus brought the Kingdom of God TO EARTH. It’s not missing. It’s here. It’s in my local churches. It’s in people who seek to do God’s will and love the Lord. It’s in me–because the Holy Spirit is in me and all believers. The Holy Spirit is a gift and a crucial piece of the reconciliation we so desperately need today. Believers can continue to make a difference in how they live, in how they treat others, in how they spend their time and money and gifts. Jesus is the Light of the world. I think the local church is now the Hope of the world.

Leading up to Easter, I participated in Lent. This participation included regular reading of a Lenten Bible study plan .Throughout this time, I was not just preparing my heart for the seasonal Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. I was also preparing for the death of a dear relative.

Pamela is actually my husband’s cousin. She’s our favorite relative because of her solid faith, sweet natured spirit and love for everyone she meets. She particularly had a gift with children. She and her husband were unable to conceive a baby, and so Pamela took on her nieces and nephew and my own children as some of her many projects. She has always made a point to connect with us and our children. Pamela was a social worker, placing children in foster homes and helping young adults who age out of the foster care system at 18 years old with no family and no resources. The closest I can come to describing her is that she reminds me of Rev. Fred Rogers from “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” That’s high praise, if you’ve ever been a kid who watched that show and felt the warmth and caring through your tv screen straight to your heart. Messages like “I like you just the way you are” are exactly things Pamela would tell the gaggle of children who constantly surrounded her.

About a year ago, she was diagnosed with a rare cancer. We were shocked. She has always been healthy and active. Just after Christmas, she called us and explained that the chemotherapy and surgery she’d had were no longer effective and that she was planning to enter Hospice Care. We were shocked and in denial.

How could we imagine a world without Pam??????

My husband took our daughters across the country to visit her and say their goodbyes. Pamela’s one outing that week was to the mall. She was on a mission to purchase stuffed bears from Build a Bear for our daughters. She kissed the heart that goes in each bear and recorded a voice message for each girl. They sleep with their bears every night. My family came home with a handwritten card for each of us that Pamela had written. We haven’t presented the cards to the kids yet. I don’t know what they say but I know they will be encouraging, positive and loving. As her card for me was.

As far as miracles go, I’m pretty realistic. I don’t often ask God for miraculous help but I was praying for it this time. “Please, God–heal her. Don’t take her just yet. Give her more time. Give us more time with her. We need her, God. So many people need her. Take someone else. . .”

A tiny little spark of Hope lay dormant inside me, hoping against Hope that Pamela could be a miraculous testament to the power of God.

And yet, on Easter Sunday–she died. 36 years old. We learned of it on Monday morning.

I was and am so disappointed. I felt like God let me down. Like of all people, why? How?

It’s unfair.

And yet–there is still Hope. I still have faith that God is in control. That Jesus loves us. That this world is not forsaken as long as there are people who continue to love God and love each other.

Pam died. But she’s not gone. The resurrection of Jesus means that beautiful Pamela is resting in His arms. And that one day we will be reunited.

My 12 year old daughter told her, “Think of all the babies in Heaven who are waiting for their parents. You can be THEIR mom now.”

I imagine this beautiful woman, rocking a baby, completely fulfilled with confident purpose in Heaven.

And I know that her life isn’t over but just beginning.

But I miss her so.

 

 

 

Gold and Faith

Matthew 25:14-30

I’ve always struggled with this passage. I didn’t understand why the one who buried his Master’s gold (called a talent) would be punished. In my mind, he kept it safe, not taking chances with it. It’s like keeping “Mad Money” stashed in a secret drawer like my previously mentioned Grandma. In my mind, I likened it to depositing in a bank, because I didn’t think about the Roman financial system of the time. It seems like responsible behavior. How could that be wrong?

Well, recently I’ve been told by different, unrelated¬†people (who I respect and who I have given authority to speak in my life) that I am “blocking my own blessings” and I am “the only one holding myself back.”

I’m at a crossroads in my life. I’m afraid to grow. I’m afraid to take a risk. I’m afraid to let my family down. I’m afraid to make a wrong move and to make my family suffer as a result.

So here I am reading this passage, and some things struck me.

The man who didn’t invest wisely, first of all was only given 1 bag of gold to start. His master didn’t expect much from him. It says in Luke 12:48 “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” Had the man “failed” in his investment, it wasn’t a huge portion. The Master didn’t trust this man with a large sum to begin with. It was an opportunity to grow and multiply and the man didn’t take it.

The man who didn’t invest wisely was afraid of his Master. He didn’t understand the expectations. He saw his Master’s bountiful gift for prosperity, “harvesting where you have not ¬†sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid. . ¬†.”

The man did nothing. He sat on the gold. He buried it.

Is it possible the Master didn’t communicate his expectations? Or is it the man who didn’t listen with the intent to understand?

I feel like that man sometimes. I’m given “talents” of shepherding, service, music, teaching, fellowship, connection, intuition, love; and I’m terrified to use them. I don’t use them in small ways, I don’t use them at all. I hide them. Because what if I use them wrongly? What if I displease God with those uses? This parable makes it pretty clear that¬†it’s better to invest them even a little rather than not at all.

The master admonishes the man, “You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.”

(Note: Oh! Banks did work then as saving accounts with interest!)

Is this story really about using our “talents”? Or is there something bigger happening?

Is this about faith? About being assured of our Master’s ability to reap blessing from nothing? About a willingness to take a risk because we know our Master can redeem the possible failure?

The Bible repeatedly refers to faith in God as something that can grow exponentially and as something with precious value.

Faith is the hallmark of Christian salvation. It is the only method of salvation, in fact.

So when the master says “For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

This issue isn’t about wasting a talent. It’s about a lack of faith. The man’s condemnation springs from knowing some things about the master but not believing in the Master’s ability to redeem and save.

The time is coming for my faith to grow fully, covering me as flowers and leaves cover a tree, and give me courage to step out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No one knows

Matthew 24:36-51

No one knows the Lord’s specific plans. Jesus says in v42:”Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.”

Anyone who says they know is misguided at best and lying at worst.

I am reminded a bit by police speeding traps. I virtuously follow the speed limit. For the most part. I tend to not panic when I notice a police car in my rear view mirror because I know I’m reasonably within a proper range. A friend who shall be nameless might remember a time driving me on a trip. We passed about 4 police cars, spread out approximately 20 minutes apart from each other. Every time, my driver would hit the brakes kind of hard and worry. I finally said, “CLEARLY the police are concerned about speeders today. Instead of panicking, why not just drive slower?” Even with a clear indication that law enforcement was targeting speeders, my driver found it difficult to slow down!

This breaks down because God isn’t in the business of setting people up to fail. In fact, God sent Jesus to cover for our weaknesses and provide surety for our sins.

In¬†vs 45-51, Jesus introduces us to the idea of a servant who is not only given charge of other servants but also the master’s resources to provide for those servants. If the servant is managing the household and personnel properly, the master will be pleased when he returns. If the servant has misappropriated the food for himself and abuses and neglects the servants, so the master will pay a surprise visit and severely punish and kill the servant–assigning him a place with the hypocrites.

Later, in Luke 12:48, Jesus says, “But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

How does this apply? Am I a wise and faithful servant to the Lord? Am I managing the resources He has given me to honor Him? Have I recently inventoried these resources and blessings? I Feel compelled to privately list my talents, resources and blessings, compared to how I serve my God. I fear it will turn up severely lacking.

The servant in the story didn’t spare a thought for the master’s return, living a life in clearly dualistic philosophy: “the master’s not here, he doesn’t care, I can behave however I wish with no repercussions. ”

My prayer is that I will see God working all around me, that I may sense the prompting of the Holy Spirit and obey. May I follow unashamedly and with no regard for anything other than pleasing the Lord.

 

Hypocrites with Large Phylactories

My church produced the musical “Godspell” when I was in high school.

I was cast as one of the Pharisees. I reveled in my role, acting smug and sanctimoniously ugly as “Jesus” sang Alas for You.¬†I stood on a ladder, wearing a robe and large phylactory, ( (I love that word) tossing my hair, updating my lipstick, and rolling my eyes at his anger. At the end of the song, he knocks over the ladder and I pretend to fall off. It was my shining moment. I loved it.

Watch¬†Chris Hayhurst’s passionate, excellent performance in¬†Alas for You.

The inspiration for this piece comes from Matthew 23:1-39.

As I was reading the NIV version of this, I was stuck with the anger and despair Jesus felt as he raged at the Pharisees. Particularly 23:¬†15¬†‚ÄúWoe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”

They made a production out of wealth, out of giving, out of righteous living. They focused on converts, seeing them as tokens to win them standing in society, convinced that this is the way to righteousness and sanctification.

The problem was that though their actions may have followed the letter of the law, they neglected the spirit of the Law. As Jesus continues (emphasis mine):¬†23¬†‚ÄúWoe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices‚ÄĒmint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law‚ÄĒjustice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24¬†You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

If we are missing the most important matters of the law, our actions don’t bring Freedom, Justice, Purity, Joy. In fact, they perpetuate Injustice, Slavery, and Despair. I think it’s important to take time to examine the true intentions behind my actions.

Am I doing something because I look good in the eyes of the Church? Of other Christians? Of non-believers? How does my participation in a project, activity or purchase impact others? Do I want to “fit in”? Am I serving the Lord by this participation? Truly, my own intentions are sometimes hard to discern. The waters are muddy in my heart as I sift through my longing for acceptance. Sometimes I do good things for the wrong reasons. I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to cleanse my heart and give me pure desires.

Until that day comes, I read verses 37-39, as Jesus’ desperation and sorrow culminate:
37¬†‚ÄúJerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.38¬†Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39¬†For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‚ÄėBlessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.‚Äô[a]‚ÄĚ

I don’t want a desolate house left to me. I want a home of joy and freedom. I want a home filled with the life giving hope of the Holy Spirit where everyone sings with joy and love towards Jesus, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Lazarus

Day 2 of lent: John 12:1-11

My Grandma and I were close. I loved her so much. She grew up during the Depression, the child of Polish immigrants. She was thrifty. She and my grandfather were experts at working hard, investing wisely and saving lots of money. They were determined not to be a burden to society or on their only child, my Dad. My grandmother would carefully fold gift wrap paper after opening a present and store it in a drawer in her guest bedroom dresser. She used ugly dishes from the 70’s. Her carpet, once brown, had faded to a very odd orange shade. It was still clean and functional, so she didn’t need to replace it. She took care of what she had.

And she lavished her son and grandchildren with treats at restaurants, and Christmas and birthday gifts.She started a saving account for me and deposited a generous amount every year into that account. She helped my parents when money was very tight with me in college, my mother earning her Master’s degree, and my two siblings still at home. Family was very important to her.

My grandma died just after I married my husband. As we were sorting through boxes in her closet, I was stunned to discover BEAUTIFUL dishes. White, with silver flowers etched around the edges. Delicate matching tea cups with whimsical handles. I found handy kitchen tools, still in their original packaging, stored away for 30 years. I discovered a Margarita Blender, the most coveted of the white elephant gift exchange, that she had triumphantly won. Still in the original packaging, stashed in the hall closet. I couldn’t believe that she had lived with so much beauty and treasure hidden around her. I feel sad that my Grandma was afraid to use these beautiful things because they might break. They might become faded. They might lose their wonder out of the box. Or they might be needed in the future, so don’t touch them today!

I think of Mary, Martha and Jesus, when I think of those beautiful untouched items.

6 days before Passover. Passover was the night Jesus was arrested. Less than a week before the beginning of the end.

And what is Jesus doing? Visiting friends. Lazarus, his friend, who he raised from the dead. Martha, who was responsible with the housework and a wonderful hostess. Mary, who loved Jesus.

While Martha was serving the men reclining at the table, Mary poured expensive perfume, VERY expensive perfume, on Jesus’ feet. She washed his feet with her hair. What prompted this? Was there discussion about what was to come? Was Mary just so moved by Jesus’ presence that she felt compelled to pour her most prized possession on her Lord? I wish we knew more.

Here’s some good commentary on this, found at¬†Bible gateway.

Jesus interprets Mary’s actions as preparation for his upcoming burial. It wasn’t a huge secret that the Roman authorities were waiting to trap, arrest and crucify Jesus.

Today, we are preparing for the death of another beloved family member. This family member is in Hospice care, dying from cancer. My husband and our daughters recently traveled to visit her. While they were there, they spent a lot of time talking with her, playing games, watching movies, talking about books. We made the decision to spend our resources visiting her while she was alive, not waiting for a funeral. We probably will not travel back for the funeral, but we have comfort that we could pay her honor and show our love in this life.

I have a feeling Mary felt the same–let the perfume honor Jesus the Christ while he is alive in our midst, not waiting for “someday” to pull out the good stuff.

Let my life be filled with sharing the good stuff, not saving it for a “just in case” or “someday.” Let us all love each other today, let our guard down, pursuing God every day, not just on Sundays. Not just at the end of life. Share the “good stuff”.

 

Lent

I usually fail when I give up something. I am spontaneous and a poor planner, so when I’ve given up chocolate, for instance–I will find myself mindlessly munching on a kid’s valentines day treat or sharing a chocolate cake with a friend. Oops!

So this year, I have decided to ONLY have dessert when I’m reading my Bible. This encourages me to anticipate the sweetness of God’s Word with the dessert I will get to enjoy. And It limits me to certain times and reminds me of my commitment to the Lord when I am feeling a little mindless munching onset.

The verse this morning is: Matthew 21:1-11.

I was trying to picture the awkward ride it would be on a donkey and a colt. Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary explains that “asses” (donkey isn’t listed in my edition of Interpreter’s) were used regularly as riding animals, even with prominent people (Judges 10:4, 12:1, 1 Sam 25:20). It’s not a war horse, obviously, but a peaceful ride. Jesus came not to fight with humanity but to bring peace! It is people–the very ones he came to save–who created war and division with the Savior and between each other.

Those people who sang in the streets “Hosanna!” while lusting for revolution and change, overthrow of government, retaliation for their persecution by Romans, with no thought for what Jesus was showing them in every word and deed.

I always thought Hosanna meant “blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Again, according to Interpreter’s, this is also found in Psalm 118, and is translated “Save us, we beseech thee.” 118:25 : “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!” is repeated in the Feast of Tabernacles (a common Jewish ritual) and as it is repeated, worship participants waved branches of myrtle, willow and palm.

In light of this, it seems that the Jewish people of Jesus’ time would have a very clear indicator based on their scripture that the donkey was symbolic of peaceful Royal entry to claim the city, and their cry of “Hosanna!” reflective of the Jews’ longing to be rescued from Roman oppression.

Psalm 118 continues with the popular refrain “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,. . . The Lord is God and he has given us light. . . .” ending with “O give thanks ¬†to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Jesus came not only to correct earthly injustice but also to save us from our own sinful nature–from ourselves. I imagine the people had great expectations for this King, perhaps hoping he would come in on a donkey kind of like Helen of Troy, lulling the Romans into a false state of comfort before overthrowing them.

If they are anything like me, it was hard to see their own hard heartedness and sinful hearts. They wanted freedom from human problems. Jesus provided freedom for all eternity–would they ever understand or accept that?