Monthly Archives: August 2012

Where Do We Find God?

I Kings 8:1-43
“When the priests left the holy place, the cloud filled the Lord’s temple, and the priests were unable to carry out their duties due to the cloud because the Lord’s glory filled the Lord’s temple.” (I Kings 8:10-11)

This is the story about Solomon building the temple for God. David wanted to build it, but God said no. This time David’s son, Solomon, builds the temple and God is pleased. God packs up the heavenly suitcase and moves in.

A few months after my father passed away, my mother decided to get busy doing something. She decided that she wanted to help other people. Through a series of events she found herself in the local nursing homes calling on members of her congregation. Soon that spread to visits to those who had no one visiting them regardless of their church affiliation.

She loved this ministry. She made a difference in the lives of many people. In a few cases she was the one sitting beside their bed as they took their last breath.

She never believed it to be ministry. It was something to do to keep her busy and she found enjoyment in it. What if she knew that every time she walked into a room she was bringing Christ with her?

As children we may have learned that God lives in the sanctuary. The image is helpful for us, perhaps even as adults. Don’t we love going to church to “see” God? We walk into the sanctuary and feel God’s presence and know that God is ready to meet us.

So, did God live in the Temple? Does God live in the sanctuaries? To say yes would be saying that God is exclusive and that’s not the God I worship.

Yes, God resides in the Temple and sanctuaries. God also resides in the nursing homes and hospitals and on the streets. God comes in to our offices and court rooms and restaurants and classrooms.

God is everywhere. We find God everywhere. Because nothing can contain God.

“How lovely is your dwelling place. . .” (Psalm 84)

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The Counter Cultural Way

Acts 5:1-5
This is story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira. They sold their land and turned it over to the Apostles. That’s how they did it back then. It was a young church, the Pentecost event still burning in their hearts. Those who chose to come together and be in community with each other gladly sold everything they had and gave it to the community. No one said, “This is mine.” Everything was shared in common.

If you were born before, during or shortly after World War II you know about Communism. Communist Russia, Communist China, over half the world was taken over by this new thought of sharing things in common. It scared us. We fought it hard. And when it came time to talk about the early church sharing all things in common we couldn’t go there.

In the aftermath of the failure of Communism, we’ve relaxed a bit. Sharing may not be such a bad idea. As long as there’s some left for me.

Ananias and Sapphira must have thought the same way. They sold their land. They delivered the proceeds to Peter. “This is all I have to offer.”

He lied. And he died.

You don’t mess with the Holy Spirit.

As we have transitioned from a nation of citizens to a one of consumerism, I cringe at this couple.  I can’t give it all away. I need a little bit. Then I need a little bit more. And then a bit more. . .you know the drill.

There’s never enough. We live in fear of another depression. We live in fear that there won’t be left for us.

There was nothing wrong with Ananias holding back. He could have saved back some of the money. What created the problem was lying. He lied to Peter, he lied to himself and he lied to God.

What he couldn’t seem to comprehend was that it was all God’s. God gave it to him to use for awhile. He was a steward of the property.

“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants too. (Psalm 24:1 CEB)

It all belongs to God. We belong to God.  So the question we ask, “What would God have me do with my money and possessions?” might be phrased differently.

“How will I deal with that part of God’s money over which I’ve been given secondary control?”
Too bad Ananias and Sapphira didn’t ask that question.


The Dark Night of the Soul

2 Samuel 18
Families are complicated. They contain a mixture of love and laughter and anger and heartache. From the elder brother who slaves at home for his father to the prodigal son who goes to a distant land to get away from Dad. From the sister who stays home to care for a parent and gives up her own chances at marriage and family to the daughter who lives in her own self-centered world.

Families are complicated enough when they’re “typical.”  But, what if your father or mother is also your boss or king? What if your son or daughter is working for you? How do you treat them? How can you possibly be fair to everyone equally when a family member is on the payroll?  Someone has to lose.  It happens today just as it did in David’s time.

King David had lots of wives and children.  We only know about a few them.  Absalom is one of them.  David loved him dearly.  Even when Absalom tried to take over the throne by force.  Even when David and his court had to run for their lives in fear of Absalom.  Even as David created a battle plan that would out-maneuver Absalom and his troops.

David loved him deeply even as he sent his generals off to battle with the final words, “Deal gently with Absalom.”

War is war.  Someone has to win and for someone to win, someone else has to lose.  The loss must be complete for the win to be complete.  General Joab knew this.  Dealing gently with Absalom wasn’t an option.  So when the forest caught Absalom’s head it literally left him “hanging between heaven and earth.”  Stuck in the trees, his mule kept walking as if to say, “Your shot at being king has slipped away.”

Hanging between heaven and earth.  Hanging between life and death.  You can’t stay there very long; one or the other wins conclusively.  Joab figured out pretty quickly that no one was going to take responsibility for killing the king’s son.  So he used ten men to strike and kill him.  Firing squads do the same job; only one rifle holds the deadly bullet and no one knows which one holds it.

King David was used to bad news and he was not unused to the grief process.  He shed tears over his blood brother, Jonathan; he issued a decree of grief when King Saul died.  He lost a baby.  He lost soldiers on the battle field.  He was no stranger to grief.

Yet, when he receives the news of Absalom’s death, the words leap off the page with gut-wrenching pain.  “Oh, my son Absalom! Oh, my son! My son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you! Oh, Absalom, my son! My son!” (v33)

A widow stands at the grave of her husband.  “I wish I were there instead of him,” she says through her tears.  Her grief is a mixture: of wanting him back beside her again, of not wanting to learn to live without him, of fear of the unknown, of anger at his leaving her, of the pain of the awful grief itself that she’ll have to endure.

A father stands by the casket of his young child.  “Why?” he asks.  “Why couldn’t God have taken me instead?”  His pain is also a mixture: the loss of a child before he or she even made it to adulthood, at having to bury someone who should have been burying you someday, at having to wake up every morning and live without the child’s cries and laughter, at the guilt of what was left unsaid.

“If only I had died instead of you!” It’s a cry that leaves the lips of many grievers.  “Take me.  It would be easier for me to handle.”

No one can die for another.  No one can replace a death.

With one exception.  God, in Christ, went to the cross and suffered and died.  He was buried and resurrected.  God took on the dark night of the soul.

And he did it for you and me.

All glory and honor be to God.

 

 


Is God Against Us?

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
When I was a teenager and young adult my father would express his disappointment in my poor choices by saying, “After all I’ve done for you, you go and do this.”

Frankly, I didn’t see where one had anything to do with the other. I wanted to suggest that if he did anything for me perhaps he could tell me what I needed to do in order to repay his kindness.

Better yet, don’t bother doing anything for me and I won’t have to live with this guilt trip you’re putting on me.

I don’t like guilt.  I especially dislike parental guilt.  It makes me feel like, well, a child.  When my father imposed this on me I felt small and ashamed.  It was a terrible feeling and I would have done anything to get beyond it and set it aside.

Yet, isn’t that what God is doing to David in this passage?  “I anointed you king over Israel and delivered you from Saul’s power.  I gave your master’s house to you, and gave his wives into your embrace.  I gave you the house of Israel and Judah.  If that was too little, I would have given even more.” (2 Samuel 12:7b-8)

You can read the, “After all I’ve done for you” in this passage.  I cringe and remember my father’s words.  I feel angry at them and wonder what God is up to?  Is this a major guilt trip or what?

As a matter of fact, yes.  It’s a guilt trip because David is guilty.  He coveted another man’s wife; he took her and impregnated her; he had her husband killed along with a few soldiers for collateral damage.  He murdered to cover up his sins.  God is angry; God is infuriated.

Would we want God to be any other way?  Would we want God to be someone who looked the other way?  Would we want God to indulge us when we sin?  Perhaps we would in the short term.  After all, who wants to face the judgement seat when we’ve sinned?

In the long run, though, we want God to love us.  We want God to be involved and mixed up in our yearnings and our hurts and our pain.  We want God to come alongside us when the going gets tough.   We want to know that God is there celebrating with us when life is good.  That calls for God to love us with every fiber of the heavenly being.

If God loves us that much, then we have to understand that God is hurt and angered when we sin.  Because when we sin we deny our humanness.  When we sin, we deny who we are.  As unique creations of God, that hurts our Creator.  God loves us and cares for us so much that God can’t possibly let this go.  To look the other way would mean that God doesn’t care enough.  For God to indulge our sin would mean that God was indifferent towards us.

That’s surely not the case.  For proof, look at the empty cross.  John 3:16 states it all: God loved us so much that he sent his son into the world.  This son lived and walked among us and then voluntarily went to the cross because he loved us so much.

My father loved me very much.  He stood by me even when I made poor choices.  And when he expressed his disappointment in terms of what he had done for me, I realize that he what he did for me is love me.  He provided for me out of that love and he expressed his disappointment because he loved me too much to let me go on with my poor choices.

God, in Christ, meets us in the midst of our journey through life.  Wherever we are in that journey he stands with us and loves us.  He loves us so much that when we sin, he reminds us of all he’s done for us: cross and grave and resurrection.

Thanks be to God.


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