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.

faith 1

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.

faith 2

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

faith 3

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

faith 4

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).

good shepherd

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:

prayer-changes-me

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.

 

For All These Things, We Give Thee THANKS!

It is SUPER early on Thanksgiving morning.  I’ve actually been awake since 3:00 am (thank you, puppy), and have since scrolled through Facebook, sent some work emails and messages (I know, shame on me), and have read through a Litany of Thanksgiving.

In the Episcopal (or Anglican, depending on which continent you live) Church, worship services are dictated by rubrics and pre-written prayers and responses.  I grew up in what was considered a “progressive, spontaneous” denomination, and for the most part, prayers were personally developed and not prescribed.  As a middle-aged gal, although sometimes the structure of the liturgy can be boring, it also provides a centering point, being that the worship service is not about me.  Those pre-written prayers have often forced me to consider things and contemplate God in a way I wouldn’t on my own.

So here it is, the Litany of Thanksgiving…with my own little touches here and there (because progressive and spontaneous, right?):

Let us give thanks to God our Father for all his gifts so
freely bestowed upon us.

Every good and perfect gift comes to us from the Father of lights…have you ever considered just how gracious God has been with you, for all the amazing and sustaining gifts and blessings He’s bestowed?  I’ve been participating in the 30 Days of Gratitude challenge on Facebook, which has so powerfully helped me to acknowledge just how good my Heavenly Father has been to me – from the simple things like a new puppy to a fantastic house in which to live to meaningful work…all comes from His hand.

For the beauty and wonder of your creation, in earth and
sky and sea.
We thank you, Lord.

The last few days in Baker have been amazingly warm and temperate for this time of year…what we thought would be an early onset winter, complete with ice and snow and plows and chains, has turned out to be a lovely fall.  I have so enjoyed not totally bundling up every day, and not freezing all day long.  But even when the days turn frigid and I long for the warmth of spring, I have to remember that God set in motion the seasons, gave us day and night, seeded the earth with all forms of beautiful and often entertaining life (just watch my pets in action!), and called it all good.

For all that is gracious in the lives of men and women,
revealing the image of Christ,
We thank you, Lord.

“I see Jesus in you, I see Jesus in you; in your eyes, and all that you do, I see Jesus in you.”  I have so many dear ones in my life about whom I can sing that…too long to list…how about you?  When was the last time you looked at your spouse/sibling/parent/friend and recognized the light and image of Christ in them?

For our daily food and drink, our homes and families, and
our friends,
We thank you, Lord.

Today I’m not preparing a huge Thanksgiving meal, for which I am utterly grateful; we are blessed to be able to go out and pay someone else to feed us.  As I write this, I’m sitting in a gorgeous old home that I love, knowing that my husband is upstairs (wondering why on earth his wife is not in bed with him – he’s not much for insomnia). I have a list of friends and family to whom I will send a “Happy Thanksgiving” message to in just a few minutes, people that I know I can turn to in times of joy and sorrow, people that surround me with love and prayer and share my laughter and my tears.  But I have to think, too, of those who don’t share that experience – I should never, never, NEVER whine – about anything; I am far too blessed.

For minds to think, and hearts to love, and hands to serve,
We thank you, Lord.

Does it ever strike you funny that God entrusts His work to us?  That He has placed within our minds the capability to plan and create and implement; places us in networks of people who rely on us for not only physical, but emotional and spiritual support; and opens doors of opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World?  “You’re the only Jesus some will ever see, you’re the only words of life some will ever read” (The Imperials).  What an amazing amount of trust we have been given…

For health and strength to work, and leisure to rest and play,
We thank you, Lord.

I get up every morning, before the the sun, on work days and days off, and start a long list of to-dos.  Some are enjoyable, some are tedious.  Regardless, I rarely have to take a sick day and I am still, even in middle-age, amazingly strong and capable.  It is a wonder, and I am so thankful.

For the brave and courageous, who are patient in suffering
and faithful in adversity,
We thank you, Lord.

At the same time, so many go through their days with difficulty.  I used to work in Child Welfare – talk about patient in suffering.  First responders, social workers, medical personnel, our military…day in and day out of YUCK.  Yet we wouldn’t have a functional society without their dedication.  I think I’m going to go hug my veteran…

 
For all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice,
We thank you, Lord.

I hope we’re all valiant seekers after truth, liberty, and justice.  Today, take a few moments to think about how you can promote these things in your own little corner of the world.  And thank your spiritual leader(s) the next time you see him/her/them.  It’s sometimes quite exhausting to search the Scriptures and exhort the flock of Christ to better things…
For the communion of saints, in all times and places,
We thank you, Lord.

The communion of saints – living and dead.  I am surrounded by saints on earth and know that those who have gone before continue to surround me with prayer and encouragement, encircling me with a cloud of witness that strengthens me to run my earthly race.

 
Above all, we give you thanks for the great mercies and
promises given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord;

My husband – God bless him! – often gets on my for not giving him time to answer the question I just asked before asking another one, or completing the task I requested before hounding him about it (I really am quite the nag when left unchecked). Just the other day I was reading in Lamentations, written by Jeremiah, “the weeping prophet.”  In the middle of all that doom and gloom, I came across this:  “It is good that a man (or woman, or child, or anyone) should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord” (Lamentations 3:26).  That really convicted me – I am so unwilling to “hope and quietly wait” for Jesus to fulfill His promises – I want everything RIGHT. NOW.  So I made my own little covenant, in that moment:

Lamentations

(If you don’t keep a Scripture and devotional journal…try visiting The Holy Mess for some great ideas and even a free kit!  It’s not what I use, but Sara has some great tools for making your studies exciting and personally relevant!)

To him be praise and glory, with you, O Father, and the
Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

AMEN!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Refuge in a rocky place

I’ve challenged myself this year to read the Bible cover-to-cover; the last time I did this was 22 years ago, before marriage, family, a very consuming career plus simultaneous grad school, and before the middle-aged lag in energy.  Then I read all 66 books in 3 months.  Now I’m trying to get in just five chapters a day, but including some more in-depth study and journaling along with it, so I’m actually digesting and processing what I read.

I know, commendable.  I’m a few days behind, don’t admire me too much.

Anyway, sometimes things jump out at me out of nowhere and I spend more time than I plan chewing on them…hence being behind (along with being far too busy – true confession, sometimes I just forget).  Just such a verse waved at me last night, Genesis 31:21 – “So he [Jacob] fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the river, and set his face toward the mount Gilead.”

The first thing that happened was, as a lifelong singer of the sacred, an African-American spiritual popped into my head, the only one that could in response to this verse:

There is a balm in Gilead

That makes the wounded whole;

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin-sick soul.

You sang along, didn’t you?  Deny it all you want; you did.

Then I had to ask myself, What’s so important about Gilead? Why did he go there? Handy-dandy, trustworthy Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance  defines Gilead (pronounced ghil-awd’, by the way) as “a rocky place”.  Here’s a photo of modern Gilead:

gilead

Looks a lot like the mountains in Eastern Washington and Oregon where I live; not very pretty AT ALL.  Sage, tumbleweed, scrub brush, rocks everywhere.  Yet this is where Jacob went when all hell broke loose for him.  After leaving his uncle Laban’s home (and uncle was a bit miffed because Jacob had prospered so greatly while working for him; the employee surpassed the employer), Laban followed him in hot pursuit, and there, in the middle of this yucky place, God met him and told him to lay off.  It was in the middle of this rocky wasteland that Jacob and Laban made their now famous covenant with each other, “The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another” (31:49).

In that same place, Jacob was faced with meeting Esau, the brother from whom he’d stolen his birthright and patriarchal blessing.  In this deserted and uncomfortable terrain, Jacob wrestled with “a man”…but then named the place Penuel, which means “God’s face”.  Whoever Jacob wrestled with left him a changed man, a changed name, and a changed attitude.  The next day, Jacob and Esau met after more than two decades and, surprisingly, the past was all water under the bridge.

Yucksville was the site of God’s protection, deliverance, and blessing.

Makes me think about the hard times, the rocky places, the steep cliffs and prickly bushes in my own life.  How often am I too busy commenting (because I don’t complain, per say…nope, not me) on the surroundings and the difficulty of the situation that I don’t see my Father so very carefully maneuvering and manipulating things to serve His – and my – best interest.  I’m so longing to get out of Gilead and into the Promised Land (whatever that is in the moment) that I don’t experience the balm – the comfort, the healing, the blessing – that is part of the rocky place.

Needless to say, I’m still behind in my Bible reading goal; at this rate, I’ll finish next January.  But hanging out in a rocky place isn’t so bad, even if my timeline is thrown off.  Maybe I won’t try to book on out of here quite so fast this time.