I Have More Power than I Ever Thought I Had…Some Thoughts on FAITH

I very nearly to forgot write this post.  I’ve done super well, faithfully following through on my New Year’s intention to post something every week…

…TWO WEEKS.  Not until Week 3 did I falter.  Technically, we’re right at the beginning of Week 4 and I really did miss Week 3, but I’ll treat myself with some grace and lump both weekend days into Week 3, ‘kay?

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Truth is, I didn’t even know what I wanted to write about.  This week has been so busy – conference last weekend, catapulted into a shortened school week due to a holiday and the end of semester, all in one week, started a new graduate program so all my spare time is spent on homework assignments (God, is three master’s degrees enough? Can this be the last? Why I’m working on #3 is, of course, fodder for yet another blog post…). And this afternoon, we welcomed into our home an exchange student from Thailand.  Busy, busy, busy!  Not enough room in my mid-life brain to percolate some fresh inspiration…

Even my Scripture study habit has suffered.  So today, after looking at my schedule of reading and determining just how much I needed to catch up on, I settled into my cushy chair by the fireplace and began reading…

…over and over again, I came across the connection between FAITH and MIRACLES.

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I know, I’m about to get a “You freakin’ Joel Osteen parrot!” from a lot of you, but regardless of some folks’ use of the word “faith” to turn God into a divine vending machine/ATM/barista, Scripture says it – quite clearly:

  • In Mark 6, Jesus couldn’t perform miracles because of the people’s lack of faith.

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  • In Numbers 21, those who had faith in God’s directive to look at the bronze serpent were healed; those who didn’t, died.

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  • In Acts 3, Peter and John clearly state that the crippled man’s faith is what healed him.

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Please understand – I am absolutely not a name-it-and-claim-it thinker.  I am a dyed-in-the-wool, choices-bring-consequences, you-made-your-bed-now-get-comfortable, and God-gave-you-brains-and-brawn-so-use-them sort of person.  Very independent, and very prone to kicking myself when I make a poor choice or exert less than perfect wisdom in any given situation.

It hasn’t been like me to ask for miracles. Historically, I’ve found that rather embarrassing…a miracle was evidence that I needed God to cover my backside (which, granted, He has done more than once).

There was a time when I no longer believed in miracles, or in God, for that matter. It wasn’t so long ago, and I found myself swimming in a sea of doubt, and despair, and darkness.  And I realized that although I didn’t know if God existed, and if He did, I didn’t know if He was listening to little-ol’-me…

…but I wanted to believe He was, and I wanted Him to hear me.

In my mind, I could see myself as that little lost lamb Jesus told us about, and I wanted a Good Shepherd to rescue me before I fell of the cliff (or, rather, catch me in mid-air because I was already falling).

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I remember talking with a friend about this, a friend who was acquainted with my extensive background in a variety of religions, and he directed me to Scripture.  Mind you, this was at a time in my life when the Bible, the Baghavagita, the Book of Mormon, the daily newspaper horoscope, the Wiccan Rede, fortune cookies…they were all about the same to me.  I had great respect for all expressions of faith and religion, but believed none of it.  My life had led me to a place where I hoped everyone could find something that would help them become a better person and leave the world a better place, but I certainly could not speak to the supremacy of Jesus Christ, the Savior.

I’d been reading Scripture about the Savior.  At every turn, my heart and my mind were being confronted by Jesus Christ – His words, His actions, His love.  And my friend asked me, “Do you believe this is true?”

I didn’t know.  Like Pilate, I asked myself, “What is truth?”

But maybe the darkness in my life made the light all that much brighter, because it was different than it was when I was growing up and first learning about Him.  There was a power in these Scripture encounters that I’d never experienced before, an urgency, a texture and resonance that was new to me.  What I was reading was no longer merely cerebral, but three-dimensional and REAL.  I could feel the person living inside the earthly tabernacle being sculpted, shaped, literally remodeled. It was almost – heck, maybe it was – physical.

My answer was paltry. “I-I-I [I’m not a stutterer; I was in that moment] think so.”

He said, “Good enough…good enough.”

And you know what?

It was good enough.

The tiny little mustard seed – the desire for the tiny little mustard seed – started a chain reaction of miracles in my life that steered me to a completely unexpected and only-dreamed-of-place.

Where I wanted to run away from my life, I settled in.

The marriage that was failing faster than I could keep it together was healed…because I was healed.

Out of the blue, the opportunity to leave a career that was leaving me withering and lifeless and start a career in music (those of you who know me know how significant that is) presented itself.

And religion (yes, I love that word now) became for me not a trite observance of Sunday ceremony and ritual, but a binding of myself to the God who loves me and makes me able to love, and that love continues to re-create me, every day.  My experience with Jesus Christ is as tangible to me as my experience with my husband or my friends or my colleagues.  He’s right there, just a prayer or thought or funny comment away (yes, we joke with each other now and again…).

But I had to ask myself today – was it really my faith that made those things happen? Because here’s another thought, no less powerful, but one that looks at this issue from a different perspective.

In C.S. Lewis’ book Prince Caspian, part of The Chronicles of Narnia, we run into a Dwarf named Nikabrik. He’s quite the surly fellow and absolutely does not believe in Aslan.  As they’re holed up in a bunker and feeling quite hungry, he quips that, if Aslan (who was standing right there) was real, he’d produce a feast for them.

Well, what do you know? Poof! A feast! And everyone digs in. Roast, apples, potatoes, pie, you name it…

…but all Nikabrik seems to experience is a few moldy turnips and rutabagas (both of which are fantastic – less the moldy bits, of course – in a nice beef stew).

Ultimately, Nikabrik didn’t want to believe, so Aslan was powerless to do anything for him.  He chose to remain in blindness, and so he couldn’t experience the miracle that was happening around him.  No faith, no miracle…or no experiencing of the miracle.  Where everyone around him was rejoicing and delighting in the hand of providence, not only did Nikabrik not experience it, but he couldn’t understand why everyone else was so thrilled with moldy turnips and rutabagas.

So does my faith – little and paltry and weak though it might be – actually produce miracles, or does it enable my ability to participate in and experience them?  Does my faith in God move God’s hand or place me in God’s hand?  Does prayer change things…or me?

C.S. Lewis had a very clear thought on this matter:

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Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shal find; knock, and it whall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8, KJV).

All it takes is to ask.  But if one doesn’t believe, one won’t ask, and so the miracle remains elusive, out-of-reach, and, for all intents and purposes, non-existent.

After pondering all of this, I don’t think that our faith is like a supernatural power-up for God.  God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do…and fortunately, Scripture is pretty clear about His direction, so we don’t have to worry about God being flaky or unpredictable. My experience, however, does indicate that our faith is a supernatural power-up for us, because it gives us the power to move into a place where we can see and hear and experience and partner with everything God is doing.

And that, my friends, is the greatest miracle of all.

You should try it.

 

Shiny!

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Today is the day, the first day of 2017 CE.  Common Era.  I love how they tried to eliminate the whole BC-Before Christ and AD – Anno Domini (in the year of our Lord), but really, what makes the Common Era, common?  The division is still delineated by none other than the history changing presence of Jesus Christ on the earth. The world can try to erase His existence and ongoing influence…they can try all they want…

Moving on, today is the first of January in the year of our Lord Two Thousand Seventeen.  And I absolutely welcome it.  I’m not just wishing happy new year in a trite, habitual manner; no, I absolutely welcome 2017, red carpet rolled out and eyes bright with anticipation at what this year will bring.

Some people might say, “Yeah, I’m glad it’s here, too; couldn’t wait to say sayonara to 2016!”  That’s really not my case. I am thrilled with the prospects of 2017 because of what the Lord brought to me during 2016. My heart is so filled with gratitude and thrilled to watch His hand at work in my life and in the lives of others – it was a truly fantastic year!

What was so fantastic? Well…

…My spiritual life – my understanding of God as my Heavenly Father and my ongoing relationship with Him through Jesus Christ – has become stronger. After years of wandering in a spiritual netherland, not really knowing what I believed or why or if I did at all, 2015 and then 2016 became an ongoing adventure in hearing God’s voice and learning to obey.  I’ve experienced obedience as the way to my truest freedom and, although I’ve a long way to go in the trust department, I’ve learned far more readily trust my Father, even when I don’t understand what’s happening at the moment.

…My professional life has been growing in leaps and bounds. Again, starting in 2015, I experienced what can only be described as a miraculous, midlife career change, transitioning from social work to music education.  There have been some major challenges along the way – re-entering grad school and, after only one year, a sudden, very unexpected transfer from primary to secondary music – but each of these challenges is forcing me to more fully rely on God (F.R.O.G.) day by day and is helping shape me into someone that looks a bit more like His Son.

…My personal life: when I see where God has brought me over the last two years (yes, one more time, going back to 2015) in my family relationships and friendships, I stand utterly amazed.  There were times when I didn’t think our marriage would survive…we celebrated 19 years in August! We bought our first (and last, I think) house together two months ago! I can look at my husband today and truly confess that I love him more than any other human on this planet…and that’s only because God has so beautifully healed my once utterly broken heart and psyche.  And in so doing, He has surrounded me with a web of precious brothers and sisters in Christ that pray with me, laugh with me, and mourn with me.  And as they have borne my stretcher, dropping me into the direct presence of that Great Physician, I have found myself able to bear some of their burdens, as well.

2016 was a year of beauty, healing, and growth. Regardless of the difficulties along the way, I can only say, “Thank you, Father, for a great year…that and better will do!”

Happy New Year, and a hearty welcome to 2017!

 

The Magic of the Mundane

Remember when Christmas was totally magical? When seeing the same old downtown decorations and hearing the same old elevator-version Christmas carols in every store and the thought of eating the same old food brought by the same old family members year after year after year brought excitement and anticipation and joy?  Remember when wrapping presents was fun? I remember the first Christmas Eve Communion service I ever attended; it was in 1991 at Wesley United Methodist Church in Yakima, Washington.  That evening was so magical and, for some reason, the message of Christ’s incarnation and the partaking of His memorial was overwhelming, so much so that I fell to my knees in gratitude and  remember it well, 25 years later.

After nearly five decades of church, and Christmas, and the annual routine, however, all of it has become, well, just a little bit stale.  I’m no longer a congregant sitting in awe; I’m a music leader who plays the same old carols year after year.  The Sacrament that was so powerful to me a quarter-century ago is now commonplace and habitual. The story is the same; heck, out of so many options we have  in the Gospel to read of the birth of Christ, even the Scripture passage is the same, every Christmas Eve, year after year after year.  Christmas Eve comes, songs are sung, candles are lit, presents are opened, and bed is eagerly welcomed as Christmas Eve goes.

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Christmas Eve at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Baker City, Oregon.

The sameness of it all is so apparent that it was mentioned in last night’s sermon.  In the Episcopal Church, the Scriptures are studied in a 3-year cycle so that the entirety of the Bible is covered in that timespan.  However, even in the presence of Matthew and John and  even the beautiful poem in Philippians (2:5-11 if you care to look), Luke 2:1-20 remains the Christmas Eve Scripture year after year after year.  Why?  Because the story is so amazing, it bears repeating, and repeating, and repeating. The event is completely ordinary, but extraordinary; completely impossible, but possible; completely natural, but supernatural.

The magic is in the mundane.  To the common onlooker, what would they have seen 2000 years ago?  An impoverished couple unfortunate enough to have to bring their child forth in less-than-desirable circumstances. A band of shepherds fresh in from the fields (as if the stable wasn’t stinky enough already). Dirt, cold, and cramped quarters; anything but the cozy warmth we associate with new life.  It wasn’t even mundane, it was mean, shabby, inferior.

But. But God. But the One who makes the impossible possible, the ordinary extraordinary, and who magically turns the mundane into the miraculous was in the middle of it all.  And because of that, the ordinary, mundane, and impossible bits of my life are just as much a manger for His miracle as that manger 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.  “Lord, that I may receive my sight” (Luke 18:41).

It’s almost time for resolutions and such. I stopped making those years ago; I can only barely take life one day at a time, much less set a goal for a whole year.  But if I were to make a resolution, it would be to be more mindful of how my Father is working in the plain jane-ness of my life, to be faithfully vigilant as He exalts the humble to accomplish His will, in me and in those around me, to be thankful for whatever comes my way because I know that all of it is serving His purpose, even when I don’t necessarily understand what that purpose is. As I welcome Him into my day-to-day, mundane existence, He will turn the water of my life into wine.

This year, during Advent, I read Max Lucado’s book, Because of Bethlehem.  He sums it up beautifully:  “The moment Mary touched God’s face is the moment God made his case: there is no place he will not go. If he is willing to be born in a barnyard, then expect him to be at work anywhere – bars, bedrooms, boardrooms, and brothels. No place is too common. No person is too hardened. No distance is too far. There is no person he cannot reach. There is no limit to his love” (p. 135).

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,
There is room in my heart for Thee.

(E.S. Elliot, 1864)