Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bubbles of empty meaning - connecting message and action

At the core of the Torah, I believe, is the relationship between God and man based on what God says and what we do in response. We speak, we do art, we fight, we take action, all in response to God's spirit. Our response must have a meaningful message, a body, a core. It's not a bubble of air, it's fruit.

Moses followed the pattern of holy commandment to fruitful action when he was given the law by God and then reflected the action giving the law to the people of Israel.
Then Moses and the Levitical priests said to all Israel, "Be silent, Israel, and listen! You have now become the people of the LORD your God. Obey the LORD your God and follow his commands and decrees that I give you today." Deut 27:9-10
There in the camp of the Hebrews, it was important to get their attention, to tell them to stop making up their own instructions of holiness and focus on the real God of the moment instead of idols kept hidden just in case the unfamiliar didn't work out. There is a vague truth in the message of traditional words and in the distracted repetition of words in our heads that needs to be quiet. Both disregard the meaning God gives to us through an understanding of His spirit.

We need the heart of the message, the message that is meant for the people who belong to HaShem. We have to listen so we hear the echoes of the still small voice that calls us to obedience. Like Elijah in a time of isolation (1 Kings 19:11), the commandment came, and the Lord showed His royal might to encourage him with stone shattering winds, an earthquake, and fire. But then the voice that showed His compassion and understanding for us in such a personal way, a peace-filled whisper, started the mission to anoint new kings and a prophet.

Words words words (but no meaning)

Context is important. Without it we lose meaning. As we look back on the message, the action that is associated with the words can retrieve the context, otherwise the interpretation is lost until maybe one day, we go through the same situation, the context becomes real, and the light bulb goes on. When I don't have that context, I feel forced to respond back with doubt and argument.

I am speaking to you.  (No I’m not. You're reading.)
I am writing to you. (Maybe. Maybe not. You get to decide.)

So the word of God demands action. The people of the Book did what God commanded them. And when people didn’t do what was commanded, there was judgment. That complete responsibility to word and action represents what we do between each other also. When we speak something, we have a responsibility to back it up with action if it’s to be done. If it’s something that we did, we have a responsibility to stand up for what it was we did.

I am blessing you. (Really? How? Did I hear you say you were thankful?)
I speak words over you. (Not really. It’s just talk.)
I speak blessings of plenty over you. (No I’m not. More talk. Fancy grammar.)
I am declaring blessings over you. (No difference there.)
I am declaring financial blessings over this group of people. (Not even close. Unless you put $100 on all the chairs.)

There’s got to be a full responsibility to make sure that when we say something, it needs to say the complete story. When the Lord God told Aaron to bless the Israelites in Numbers 6:22-23, there was a real set of actions that were put forth such as protection, favor, peace, and inclusion as His special people. By following the commandments, Israel was protected from being wiped out like many other tribes, and grew in numbers and in prosperity. God backed those blessings up throughout history. When He declared, it was the same as action.

God has blessed me. (That’s just half the story.)
God has blessed me by giving me a good wife. (OK yes!)
I am blessing God. (Just words.)
I am praising God. (Just more words.)
I am praising God for my salvation. (Ok, as long as you know how God backed that up.)

Every time I open my mouth, I have the opportunity to say something that will shine a ray of life from the spirit of God to another person. Some people just put out a lot of smoke and you never are sure what they mean. I don’t want shallow happy talk. That's smoke. I need talk that gets down to your glimmering soul and reflects your true spirit and feelings about life.

Life isn’t an endless ride on a merry-go-round and shouldn’t be about staying on the musical horse until your ticket runs out. Life is more about being transparent to God's light and letting people live with you and you with them. Joy feels like a light from heaven when it streams in. God wants to be a part of His people and shine through them and not just have them watch reruns and remakes of Exodus. Zech 2:10

God is restoring me. (Just words.)
God is restoring my life by getting me out of a bad job. (Just a personal perspective.)
God is restoring my dignity by giving me a job to help my family. (Meaning to others.)

It certainly is the time for people to stop faking it with vague political phrases and give people a sense of security by backing up your words with actions. It takes some real thought to back up your words and that you put meaning to them. The words have to be well chosen, because without meaning, they become a torrent of trite phrases. When the thoughts are few, the words start repeating themselves as if the repetition makes the meaning more clear.

Think before speaking

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. Eccles 5:2 May God bring patience to my mouth so that the words I choose have time to know whether they cause pain or real instruction by preparing a person to hear them. And may I not weary the Lord Almighty by saying that evil is good, using empty words like bubbles holding no value, or doing works without merit.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The heavy presence of the Lord - a clean heart and a weighty problem

Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob. Ps 114:7
The presence of the Lord has been in my thoughts. It represents the holiness of the place I can be in where the option of leaving that presence of the Lord God won’t ever be even an inkling of a thought for fear of losing any amount of a complete relationship with Him. But being in the presence of the Lord is to be in the fullness, the complete awareness that God is unequaled in the universe and brings a complete order with a complete justice and goodness to all that enter this presence through an inner cleansing of their soul.

It is my obedience and repentance that puts me in touch with that position where I know that the Lord God has welcomed me. It’s a position of responsibility that the earth has to tremble at, knowing that following any other idle thought will bring calamity. And the earth must shudder to know that it would not be totally in submission to the ruler of the universe whose word brought it into creation. Expressed in more concrete language, the fabric of matter would no long be held together by sub-atomic particle relationships and chaos would rule with energy having no ability to order itself.

So, it’s perplexing to me when I hear others speak of the presence of the Lord in a different way like “I can feel the heavy presence of the Lord right here. Can you feel it?” And my mind sets to work on the problem to connect with the person and the relationship they have with God that somehow creates the need to share about a weight of an unweighable quality and ask me to confirm it.

What are they saying?

Certainly it’s not a question of needing to know in that a leader is asking about your ability to detect God because we all believe in the omnipresence of God, right? It’s more rhetorical and a way of declaring that there is a palpable sensation that the leader is trying be aware of for the congregation so that it increases the value of the spiritual experience.

And so the experience is then a display of God’s power of which we can partake in and confirm that we are in the kingdom of God here in this building. And the better the experience, the more that God is allowing us to be a part of that kingdom which is represented by the church and the people present. Then that would mean that the value of the gathering is in direct proportion to how dense God is making Himself available to these seekers. But then, we’re stuck for how to measure a sense of dense.

The easiest way to find a way out of the quagmire is to equate density with emotional excitement and be done with it. Then after a snappy song, we can say that “God was really touching me.” You get the ability to match your enjoyment of a catchy tune to an approved statement that shows you’re a part of the tribe and feel pretty good about it. Problem gone. But not everybody saying they really felt the Lord means it was a barnburner of a praise song and maybe it was all about something else.

Should we question the person?

It’s also a question of authenticity for the leader in whether they are actually spiritually sensitive or just trying to exude the piousness of an anointed appointee worthy of their position who ends up masking their lack of connection with God with the whitewash of a familiar phrase. And as a shepherd of the flock, it’s not appropriate for us sheep to question our protector’s authenticity just like it’s not appropriate to question our instructor or doctor’s directives since training effort translates into authority in their roles.

When the leader is establishing a cultural norm for the group and you aren’t in the groove with the way it’s being played out, you want to find another socially acceptable excuse to deal with that embarrassment should anyone find out it’s not what you connect with. So, second guessing becomes popular. So, maybe I did feel something. Or maybe I am just not praying enough. And maybe…

We should question the question

So instead of putting the praising congregant into an awkward position of questioning their own sensitivity, the better thing to do is for the leader not to shame them into following that lost path of a disputed feeling and not ask the question at all. It would be better for them to express the result of that feeling provoking the declaration and let the people enjoy the fruit of the experience. It could be a joyful dance, or a heartfelt hug, or just a personal moment of transparency when God calls us to be real.

Children aren’t easily guilted into feeling something from their peers and the effect would be about the same as if you were to say “Can’t you just feel this person’s amazing grasp on differential calculus?” We should be more childlike. They would just ignore it and share their cookie with you.

But we’ve learned how to please our peers so we are more socially accepted and gain the attention that we crave. We say some stumbling phrases of polite attempts to connect in some way and they hit the hard walls of disconnectedness we keep up. And we turn away from the humble attitude that is our inner weakling who is saying “But I really never understood anything past basic arithmetic.”

An admission of not feeling it, is an admission of not being fully trained or very talented and smacks of ignorance which is hard to admit. You’re more likely to pass off the declaration with minimization and fall into another trap of disconnecting with the reality of that person by saying to yourself “they’re feeling pretty good today.” We lose the connection with the spirit of God in that person that is either there or at war with something there and the relationship grows shallow.

Connect through a clean heart

May we understand our relationship with God so that, without doubt, we know His presence will stay with us unless we leave first. It is in my clean heart where I know His presence is always welcome to abide, no matter the hills or valleys I travel in life. And so my prayer is that for my creator to keep a relationship with me in creating my clean heart every day.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Ps 51:10-11

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Can trees walk with the Lord?

Growing up in farm country and wooded areas with a purely Western mindset, I never really thought about our crops and the hedge apple trees doing much other than what we wanted them to do. We planted the crops, they grew, we harvested them, and we made a living from them. The Osage orange hedgerows protected the crops and homes from adverse weather and made for a cheap livestock fence.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
   let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
Let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
   let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!
Let the trees of the forest sing,
   let them sing for joy before the Lord,
   for he comes to judge the earth.
I Chr 16:31-33

A shared purpose with a tree

But as I grow myself, it seems like the Lord has a purpose for the fields and the trees as well. Or David at least knew something about combining the total effort of all living things into a unity of praise. I like to think of my walk with the Lord being similar to the walk that each living thing also is doing in order to complete the purposes that we were made for including that of praise.

I think of trees having a walk the Lord. But one that is unimpeded by sin but bound to the constraints of this earth. And they have a walk much like the metaphorical walk with God that Enoch had. (Gen 5:24) They are continually showered with life sustaining rain and encouraged to grow with an unencumbered sun on the plains. They respond by bursting out of their seeds reaching out to the heavens to sing for joy. And the song is unique and harmonious with the rest of nature.

How can those lowly hedge trees be so grateful to produce so much fruit for making more trees, shelter for the wildlife, protection for the croplands, and so much more? They are valuable in craft circles for making archery bows, guitars, and harps. They just have a strong walk with the Lord reflecting His qualities.

Joy in this moment of life

May we find our praise in a walk with God that puts Him first in our lives. If we have to find examples in the simplest of God's creations, His truth will not be less because of it, So like David, let's ask that all the creation will rejoice, whether it be sea, the fields, the trees, or us because we all find joy in the life we have been given in a walk with the Lord. Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and brought us to this moment!
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