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Posts Tagged ‘power’

The Face of Calm

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  Mark 4:39-41

When we think about the faces of God shown by Jesus, we must consider the face of calm. Many times in the Gospels, Jesus tells his followers not to be afraid. This is consistent with the numerous Old Testament writings where those having an encounter with God or angels were told not to be afraid. When something well out of the ordinary occurs, one natural reaction is fear. If I were to come across a bush that was burning and not being consumed, I would be curious. If and when that bush began speaking to me, I would probably be afraid. In the passage from Mark, above, Jesus is crossing the sea with his disciples. Jesus falls asleep and a great windstorm hits, threatening to swamp their boat. The disciples are terrified and wake Jesus up, accusing him of not caring that they are about to drown. Jesus tells the wind and the sea to be still, and they obey. He then turns to his disciples and says, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Tying fear and a lack of faith together is profound and an often-overlooked connection. Did Jesus think it was not appropriate for the disciples to be afraid when the waves were crashing over the sides of their boat? Was he criticizing them for their lack of faith in his ability to keep them safe? Did he think they should not be afraid to die for his ministry? These questions are not answered in the Gospel story, but there are other ways to understand the story aside from a literal reading.

If we look at the chaos from the windstorm as a metaphor for the chaos sometimes caused by the circumstances in our lives, the story takes on a very personal meaning. When I work myself into a frenzied state over something that may or may not happen in the future, when I become frustrated with traffic, or when I feel shame over something I did or said in the past, I can almost hear Jesus whispering over my shoulder, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” The most obvious answer, whenever I succumb to these manifestations of fear, is that my faith is very small. I have lived far long enough to experience problems being solved – stormy seas being calmed – in ways I could never have imagined and that clearly were initiated by a power beyond anything I am capable of exerting.

There are several elements to this story. The first is that Jesus displayed power over the wind and sea. That, in itself, would cause both fear and wonder. Indeed, the disciples respond, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Perhaps they were still uncertain about the divine nature of Jesus, or even unaware of what a divine being might be capable of doing. I think one lesson of the story is that we cannot know or predict how God may intervene in our lives on our behalf.

A second element in the story is Jesus criticizing their fear of the situation, their lack of faith. One can make a good argument that we have nothing to fear, ever! If we truly believe God is lovingly present in our lives and that God can transform whatever is evil in our lives into something beautiful, what could we possibly be afraid of? Our fear, like that of the disciples in the boat, simply shows our lack of faith in God’s care.

Finally, and most instructive to me, is the need to become quiet enough to hear the voice saying, “Do not be afraid.” It is counterintuitive that we must silence the chaos in our own minds before we can hear and know the still small voice of God that has all situations well in hand. And yet, that is exactly what the calm face of God in Jesus encourages us to do.

Note: this is the 26th in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God. 

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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 23: Faith is a Good Start

 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.  Matthew 25:34-36,40

Religious circles emphasize the importance of faith. Faith is the belief in something beyond what we can see or fully understand. It provides a broader vision than our eyes can see and a more sensitive hearing than is possible from our ears alone. Faith acknowledges that for all we know and for all the information we have available to us, there is much that is and will always remain a mystery. Religious faith acknowledges a higher, benevolent power that assures all things work together for good. Christians name that power God.

I believe developing a faith in something larger than ourselves and in purposes larger than our circle of attention is important for our individual and collective development, regardless of whether that faith is a religious faith, and regardless of whether we express that faith in a church. Developing faith is a practical way to live. Jesus, in Matthew 17, says that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. The implication is that a small amount of faith can increase whatever power is available in order to overcome tremendous challenges.

Faith is a multiplier. We can accomplish more with faith in something beyond ourselves than we can accomplish alone. I want to emphasize the word accomplish. One purpose for the gift of faith is to accomplish something. Not that faith, alone, is not worthwhile. The apostle Paul says we are “justified” by faith, or made right with God. That we establish a faith connection with a higher, benevolent power is one thing. We might even worship that power on Sunday mornings, but are we using the power of that faith to improve the lives around us? God’s power unites with ours, through faith, in order to co-create – God with us – a better world. I believe faith should inspire us to work for justice, to feed the hungry, to welcome strangers, to house the homeless. Jesus modeled a life-giving faith and dedicated himself to meeting the needs of a broken world. He valued his time with his Father, going away from the crowds frequently to pray, but he used that connection to renew his ability to serve. The faith of Jesus is an active, achieving faith, and that type of faith leaves a mark.

The writer of James proclaims that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). The Bible is full of stories of ordinary people who responded in faith and accomplished extraordinary things. Why would we believe anything less is in store for us? Our faith is a wonderful thing, but our faith calls us to greater things. True faith inspires and empowers us to make good things happen in our world.

Faith, by itself, is only the beginning. How did I miss that?

uncovering-god-book-and-cd-covers

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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 17: The Power Behind Powerlessness

 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Our pain is exacerbated by feeling powerless over it. Physical or emotional hurt is one thing, but when there is nothing we can do to ease that pain – that we are powerless over it – our level of misery increases significantly. When we work in a hostile environment, or when we live in abusive surroundings, we may not see many good alternatives. Further, we may believe the status quo is preferable to the unknown. While this holding to what is known may seem a logical choice, unpleasant as it is, that is exactly the attitude that prevents us from stepping out of the old and into a new existence. Positive change requires us to give up whatever illusion of power we may believe we have over our current situation.

The condition of powerlessness is an illusion, however, or at best is only a partial truth. The fact that we cannot exercise control over a situation does not mean there is no power at work for our good. Scripture and experience assures us that all things work together for good. Powerless situations may actually prove to us that the power we thought we had was imaginary. In reality, we are not nearly as powerful over the flow of our days as we believe. Certainly, we have influence over the impact our environment has on us, but time marches relentlessly on in ways we can do little to change. I remember a Superman movie where something disastrous happened and Superman made the earth reverse its orbit long enough to turn back time so he could change the outcome. We have no such power; we can only change our outlook. Experiencing powerlessness, however, forces us to rethink our view and understanding of the world. It is only when something we have held to be true and good is shown to be false that we open our mind to other, higher possibilities. It is only when life has become unbearably unpleasant that we willingly let go of the old and open ourselves to something new. We are creatures of comfort and familiarity, and we go to great lengths to preserve both, even at our own peril.

Powerlessness is an illusion, though, because the power of God’s Spirit flowing through us is always at work. Indeed, without that Spirit, life is not possible. It is our spiritual oxygen. We will not knowingly experience the power of the Spirit, however, until we let go of the illusion that we are in control. As long as we feel in control, we are not open to perceive a higher source of control. It is only in our powerlessness that we experience God’s power.

There is power in powerlessness. How did I miss that?

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Life Worship Notes—February 6, 2104 

“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” Exodus 20:7

Names have power. Names describe what something is and is not, and they limit the perceived essence of the named. For example, the name of the tree outside my window is River Birch. That name establishes it is not an oak, a maple, or a redbud. The name also establishes it as a tree, and not a raccoon, a daffodil, or a mountain. Names define and limit the named in ways that help it be known. When we realize that names have power, we understand that misusing a name is a misuse of power. The early Israelites asked Moses for the name of God. God’s answer, in Exodus 3:14, was “I am who I am.” The people wanted to know something about God, something that would make God more knowable; but God refused to provide a name that limited God’s nature in any way.

Some Bible versions translate this commandment as saying not to use God’s name in vain. However, I believe that translation misses the commandment’s broader meaning. We can misuse God’s name in ways that have nothing to do with cussing. For example, I believe we misuse God’s name when we overemphasize the masculine aspect of God’s nature by constantly referring to God as “He.” Certainly, the Bible is full of masculine references to God; indeed, even Jesus referred to God as Father. Given the male-dominated cultures the Bible arose from, the masculine emphasis is not surprising. However, the true nature of God certainly transcends earthly gender. Unfortunately, referring to God in male terms disenfranchises those who have unjustly suffered at the hands of cruel, abusive fathers or other men on earth. In order to reach these broken souls, we must reach out in ways that help them break their connection between God and a specific human male. My only point is that, while it may be comfortable and common to refer to God as “He,” it is a naming of God that limits God is perceived nature in a way that repels some people. Ultimately, God is not a “He” or a “She.” God is who God is.

This is not to let us off the hook for using God’s name in vain. When we make a common statement of profanity, asking God to “damn” something or someone, we are asking the source of all power in the universe to focus a curse on some object or person. Is that really our intent? Using such language is a clear misuse of the power of the name of God, and one we can only hope God will choose to ignore. Clearly, we need to use God’s name with care and reverence, both for ourselves and for others. Implying erroneous limits to God’s nature or essence, or using the power available through God’s name to the detriment of others are what the third commandment encourages us to avoid.

Come home to church this Sunday. God is calling your name.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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