Posts Tagged ‘blessings’

A Demanding God

 After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said,
“Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt sacrifice on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”
Genesis 22:1-2

Abraham, the shared patriarch of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, had an encounter with God – a disturbing encounter, to say the least. Some years earlier, God had promised to make Abraham’s offspring as numerous as the stars. Never mind that Abraham was 100 and his wife was 90 at the time. Sure enough, Sarah gave birth to Isaac after having been barren. Once Isaac had grown into a young man, Abraham heard God tell him to sacrifice Isaac. Forever the obedient servant, Abraham took Isaac to a mountain, laid him on a pile of wood, and prepared to stab him to death before burning his body. As Abraham raised the knife, an angel stopped him and offered a ram in Isaac’s place.

Of the many faces of God in the Bible, the one demanding the sacrifice one’s own child is among the most disturbing. It is completely inconsistent with the loving, nurturing God I experience. It makes no sense that after God promises Abraham countless descendants that Abraham would be directed to kill the one through whom those descendants would descend. The traditional moral of the story is that Abraham’s faithfulness was being tested by God and, thus, he was proven worthy to father a great nation. While I agree that obedience and faithfulness are important, I find myself questioning whether sacrificing Isaac was actually a directive from God.

Interestingly, there are numerous passages in the Bible indicating that God does not want our sacrifices. For instance, Psalm 51:16, “For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.” Likewise, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus twice quotes Hosea 6:6, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Even so, offering sacrifices to atone for sin and to show one’s obedience to God was a routine practice in the Old Testament.

A common thread running through Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is that of original sin, which is said to have occurred when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Some believe that original sin is etched into our human DNA, forever making us corrupt creatures and more deserving of God’s punishment than God’s love. When we believe we must earn God’s blessing, we may feel the need to sacrifice something to justify the undeserved gift. Many believe they will pay a painful price for anything good that happens in their lives. Do not misunderstand me; I know it is human nature to sometimes act in ways that are inconsistent with good behavior. Even so, why do we focus on the disobedience from a mythical story and ignore the consistent blessings God has bestowed on every generation since? Particularly for Christians, if we believe Jesus bridged the sin gap between humanity and God, why would we continue to feel we can or must pay for the love God so freely gives? Responses of gratitude and generosity would be more appropriate than self-denying guilt. The feelings of worthlessness – our poor self-esteem – lead us to feel the need to offer God sacrifices that God has no need or desire to receive. The sacrificial system may have derived more from our poor self-image than from God’s demands.

Sometimes we simply cannot accept our good fortune. Perhaps this is what happened to Abraham. Ultimately, God had to intervene to keep Abraham from destroying the very blessing God had given to him. We know how that is, do we not? Sometimes our subconscious guilt causes us to sabotage, or at least diminish the good in our life. When we act out of a deeply rooted sense of guilt, the outcome will not bestow blessing. When we act of out of a sense of blessing, God’s love flows through us to bless others. God’s nature is to bless, not to punish. Our human frailties punish us sufficiently already. God is accommodating enough, however, to allow our free will to sink us to whatever depths we feel we deserve. Once we are sufficiently low, God lovingly and patiently works to help lift us out of whatever hole we find ourselves in.

God’s demands are not contrary to God’s blessings. Our hearing, however, may be.

Note: this is the seventh in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God

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Life Notes

Dashboard Jesus

And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.

2 Corinthians 9:8

I was listening to the NPR radio call-in show, Car Talk, when someone asked a question about his dashboard Jesus. “Should my dashboard Jesus be facing out,” he asked, “so it blesses the road in front of my car, or should it face into the car, blessing my passengers and me.” The question was intended to illicit a comical response from the show hosts, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, and they did not disappoint. They concluded that the dashboard Jesus should face into the car, blessing its driver, because attempting to bless the road ahead and everyone on it is simply too much to ask from a single, plastic, dashboard Jesus.

This is not an attempt to make light of the icons some people use as reminders of a divine presence in their lives. Similar to having a Velvet Elvis hanging on your wall, art and spiritual significance are largely individual matters. Whether it is a pocket cross, a patron saint, a necklace, or a dashboard Jesus – anything that reminds us that Jesus journeys with us is fine with me. Behind the comedy of the radio show, however, is an interesting dilemma. Assuming a dashboard Jesus actually does provide blessings, should those blessings go out to others, or should the blessings be directed toward the possessor of the Jesus. Here are my thoughts:

Being an introvert, I would likely point my Jesus inward; not because I am selfish, but because I am not terribly comfortable overtly evangelizing others. I fear I might offend someone by directing my icon in his or her direction, thereby forcing blessings on a potentially unwilling recipient. An extrovert, however, might well direct the blessings outward, less afraid of creating offense, but assuming any blessings obtained from their dashboard Jesus will be even better when shared with others.

I did not find direct scriptural guidance regarding the proper placement for a dashboard Jesus. There are, however, many references to sharing our abundance with others. My suggestion is to put your dashboard Jesus on a swivel. Point it in towards you when you need a blessing, and point it out to others when your cup is full.

Come home to church this Sunday. Your dashboard Jesus will watch over your car.

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Life Notes

When God Answers

I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. Ecclesiastes 3:10-11

A businessman, late for an important meeting, could not find a parking place. Finally, in desperation, he cried out to God: “If you’ll help me find a parking place, I will start going to church again.” Immediately, a car exited in front of him. While pulling into the now open space the man said, “Never mind. I found one!”

What is our response when God answers prayer? Honestly, I think most of us are reluctant to believe God answers prayer because it is safer to believe things happen randomly. Who am I that God would bless my life? We are more likely to note when God does not answer prayer – at least not in the way or the time we wished. Even the most optimistic of us find it easier to believe the unfortunate occurrences in life are more the “norm” than are the good things. It is as if we believe the good in life is an anomaly that will be paid for with bad – a self-fulfilling prophesy that seems to prove its own truth. In his book Immortal Diamond, Fr. Richard Rohr writes, “Humans find it easier to gather their energy around death, pain, and problems than around joy…It is joy that we hold lightly and victimhood that we grab onto.” Why would that be true? Why do I focus on the weeds in my flowerbeds instead of the brilliant colors shining out through the weeds?

flowers and weedsWhy am I surprised when good things happen to me? Why would I question whether the hand of God is at work in my life? As a father, it is expected that I care for my children in good ways – why would I expect less from God. If we are children of God, as the Bible says, why would we receive anything short of extraordinary blessings from God?

We cheat ourselves by not stopping to enjoy a beautiful sunset or by marveling at the dahlias peeking out through the crabgrass. We do others and ourselves a disservice by submitting to pessimism, under the guise of “realism,” expecting the worst. We are to be co-creators of beauty, not prognosticators of doom. Sometimes, we must force ourselves to find the blessings of every moment, believing they are there. Where we focus our attention is a choice. The writer of Ecclesiastes follows the verses above by saying, “I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live.” These are still solid words to guide our days, thousands of years after they were written. God has made everything suitable for its time. Looking for a blessing in life? Look closer – blessings are all around us, all of the time.

Come home to church this Sunday and be blessed.

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The Blessings Ledger

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. Matthew 5:3-6, 12a

A blessing is a special favor, mercy, or benefit. A trial causes difficulty or suffering. Here is a test, with respect to blessings and trials:

  1. Are the blessings of today greater than those of yesterday?
  2. Are the blessings in your life increasing or decreasing?
  3. If your life were to end today, would the weight of your blessings outweigh the weight of your trials?

Everyone receives a mix of blessings and trials during their lives. How one experiences those blessings and trials, however, varies greatly from person to person. Some people seem happy regardless of their difficulties. Others seem perennially unhappy, even though their problems may seem trivial to others. One of the primary determinants of how we experience the ups and downs in our lives has to do with the perspective from which we view them.

There are times, particularly during times of trial, when we need to expand our perspective in order to see beyond the difficult moments. We need to look forward to a happier future or to remember a joyous past. Other times, especially when we are bored, call for us to look deeper into the moment for blessings we otherwise miss. For example, when we walk a route we usually drive, we allow ourselves to see in more detail that which is normally a blur to us. We slow down our experience in order to expose hidden or subtle blessings. January in Kansas can be a dreary, cold month. But even now, buds are swelling on the trees. In the middle of the dead, brown stems of grass, green crowns waiting patiently for their time to explode. The seeds of spring are preparing to burst forth. If I focus on the bigger picture – trees without leaves, brown grass, cold temperatures – January is a month without blessing. The blessing is there, but I must look closer to find it.

Here is the irony: our trials are often the stepping stones to our blessings, like traversing winter to arrive at spring. Granted, some of our blessings will not manifest on this side of the grave. Our lives are bigger than the days we walk the earth. But no matter our situation, there are blessings to be found in abundance, if we learn how and where to seek them. If our blessings ledger weighs heavier on the trials side, we may need to use a different scale. As Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!”

Come home to church this Sunday. Add a church family to your blessings ledger.

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Christmas in July 

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

–Luke 1:47-49

Tonight I hear a faint and lovely voice drifting through my home, accompanied by a guitar. There is an angel in my daughter’s room, singing. I never would have heard her, had I not been sitting in silence waiting for a blessing. I would like to get closer, but I find such blessings to be finicky – like seeing a doe in the front yard and wanting to get a closer look, but knowing it will run away as I approach. It will run from fear of my intentions, and only the white fluff of its tail disappearing into the woods will be visible before I have the opportunity to explain. I mean it no harm; I only desire to be blessed by its presence. Tonight, I wish to listen to the blessing of the angel without scaring it away.

I recognize the shyness of angels, because I, too, was shy when I was young and vulnerable. You see, I needed to sing. Something inside of me regularly struggled for release, and its best exit was through song. But I could only purge effectively in private. The invasion of another into my holy space made the magic of the moment disappear. I could not bear being judged in the process of becoming whole. The moment I caught wind of my mother on the stair, the music stopped. And I know it broke her heart.

My soul, magnifies the Lord!

The song of this angel is one I wrote, based on The Magnificat – Mary’s song of praise from the gospel of Luke. A Christmas song in July. A song I wrote to bless others, now returns to bless me! I want to sing along, but I fear the music will stop.

And my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior, for God looked with favor on me. 

God is looking with favor on me right now. The inspiring words and music are returning to me through the voice of an angel. Oh, how I want to approach – but how to do it without making my presence known? I know it is safest to stay put and listen more intently. I find that to be the way with spiritual blessings in my life. They need space, privacy, and focus to manifest, and I must be attentive in order to receive it. Angels do not come to me with loud trumpets and raised voices as they seem to have done in biblical times. I hear them when I am silent, and when I listen for them. Shhh! The angel is singing again. Forgive me, but I need to stop typing and listen a little longer…

God raised this lowly servant high…and holy, holy, holy is the name of God!

Come home to church this Sunday. Maybe an angel is waiting to bless you there.

Greg Hildenbrand

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