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Posts Tagged ‘God turns harm to good’


Lamentations 1: Jerusalem Abandoned and Disgraced

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Jerusalem: Old City Walls

Adapted from a Favorite written on January 15, 2008. 

Lamentations is a book written about the sixth century B.C.E., a time of reckoning for the Israelites who were taken into exile by the invading Babylonians.  These laments were composed by an eyewitness to the events involving the fall of Jerusalem, and they “combine a confession of sin, grief over the suffering and humiliation of Zion, submission to merited chastisement, and strong faith in the constancy of Yahweh’s love and power to restore”.  We have a “union of poignant grief and unquenchable hope”.  This shows how “Israel’s faith in Yahweh could survive the shattering experience of national ruin”.  (NAB 1991, page 859)

We might look at Israel as ourselves and begin to translate a time in our own lives when we have suffered grief, submitted to the events around us, relied on God’s constancy, and have at last fallen back on the only thing which sustains us. An unquenchable hope in restoration.  This is how we survive personal ruin.

The words of this opening chapter evoke such deeply sad images.  We so often steer clear of the things that make us uncomfortable that we may be tempted to skim through them quickly, passing by the pictures they create with half-closed eyes.  We may also be tempted to remind ourselves that Zion deserved the treatment she received.  We may sink into the cozy feeling of smugness about our own good fortune.  We are so eager to run from suffering in any way that we may not have learned to suffer well, and by this, I mean that we may have forgotten that there is sanctity in suffering.  There is purification.  There is rescue.  There is restoration.  So rather than flit past the descriptions of loneliness and misery, we will want to pause . . . unite our own suffering with that of these people . . . with that of the people around us today . . . with that of Jesus . . . and become co-redeemers with Christ.

We do not need to sink into maudlin or bitter wailing.  We do not want to become false martyrs.  We do not glorify ourselves by seeking suffering. We need not fear our suffering as it comes to us.

Through our relationship with Christ, we find that that transformation accompanies suffering, and turns all pain toward goodness.  We participate in this conversion by listening for God’s faithful voice, waiting for Jesus’ healing touch, and sharing the spirit of sanctity that the Holy Spirit will settle over us as we progress in our pilgrim’s way.

We need not fear the loneliness, the misery, the shame, the grief, the persecution, the weeping, the groaning, the silence, the sadness that we read about today.  We can take it in, process it with our own grief , and give it over to God who converts all harm to good.  In this way, we will suffer well, we will not suffer alone, we survive, and we live well.

To visit the land of the Bible, click on the image or go to: http://www.land-of-the-bible.com/content/old-city-jerusalem 

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Fruits: Living in the Spirit

The Ninth Day of Christmas, January 2, 2018

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gives to me nine ladies dancing.

But the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. There is no law against such things as these. (Galatians 5:22-23 GNT)

Are we able to think of others before ourselves? Are we willing to love our enemies into goodness? This is the love that Jesus describes.

Are we able to rejoice in our suffering? Do we praise God even in times of stress and turmoil? This is the joy that Jesus describes.

Do we rely on our relationship with God to guide us in all we do? Are we able to settle into the peace of this relationship despite the confusion the world promises? This is the peace that God brings us.

Are we willing to listen more than we speak? Do we wait for God to tell us which way we are to walk and what we are to say? This is the patience Jesus practices.

Do we offer our words gently when we speak truth that is difficult to hear? Are we able to act with compassion no matter the circumstances? This is the kindness that bears fruit in the Spirit.

Are we able to obey Jesus’ call to return good for evil? Are we open to seeing the good that comes out of harm when we allow Christ to lead us?  This is the goodness we see in the Spirit.

Are we willing to abide with those who live on the margins? Do we maintain a steady course without falling to temptation? This is the faithfulness Jesus models for us.

Can we put aside our desire to get ahead and to find comfort at all cost? Do we put our ego aside to allow others to share scare resources? This is the gentleness that flourishes in the Spirit.

Do we work toward consensus? Do we collaborate as we share in decision-making? It is the gentle invitation to others to join us in kingdom-building that exhibits the Spirit’s gift of self-control.

These nine fruits of the Spirit are difficult to practice but they are essential to life in the Spirit; and they are the mark of one who follows Christ. Today we reflect on the presence of these gifts in our daily thoughts and actions.

But what happens when we live God’s way? God brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. (MSG)

When we compare versions of these verses, we begin to see that the fruits of our life in the Spirit are essential to life as a follower of Christ.

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Colossians 1:21-27: True Wisdom

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Cathedral of St. Peter Claver in Cartagena, Colombia

Brother and sisters: You once were alienated and hostile in mind because of evil deeds; God has now reconciled you. God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (NRSV)

We sometimes read familiar verses quickly, thinking that we have felt their full impact and heard their divine wisdom. When we pause to consider singular words or phrases, and when we read varying translations, we open ourselves to their beauty and power. Last week was the feast day of St. Peter Claver when this citation was part of Morning Prayer; yet for some reason this portion of Colossians has stayed with me.

God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. (GNT)

St. Peter Claver

Peter Claver (1581-1654), born in Spain, traveled to the New World and landed in Cartagena – today located in Colombia – to begin his ministry to slaves brought to South America. Entering the holds of ships when they arrived in the harbor, Peter Claver managed the juxtaposition of wealthy slave traders with the plight of those they enslaved. Knowing that he could not possibly change the structures encouraging this lucrative trade, Claver moved forward to answer God’s call as he attended those in need. We might take a lesson from this young man who learned how to live a life of paradox. We might gain this divine, true wisdom of forgiveness, fidelity and love.

And the secret is this: the Messiah is united with you people! In that rests your hope of glory! (CJB)

Writing from jail, Paul tells the Colossians that despite his imprisonment, he is cheerful. As we read these verses, we realize that despite any evil we have committed, God forgives us when we are willing to put aside any harm we do so that we might return to God’s goodness. We understand that evil exists alongside goodness. We begin to appreciate the secret of true wisdom that brings goodness out of all harm.

The mystery in a nutshell is just this: Christ is in you, so therefore you can look forward to sharing in God’s glory. It’s that simple. That is the substance of our Message. 

That is the substance of God’s plan. That is the substance of true Wisdom. Let us enjoy this gift today.

We can read more about the remarkable Peter Claver at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-voices/16th-and-17th-century-ignatian-voices/st-peter-claver-sj

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Romans 12:2-16: Into the World

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind.

Today Paul gives us specific guidelines for how to live the Beatitudes, what we are to do with our concerns, how we are to handle our negative emotions, and where we might take our worries and fears. Our God-given identity calls us to reflect Christ in the world; but how are we to do this? Paul reminds us of God’s gracious gift of faith . . . and how we might carry it into a world that will likely be surprised by this message.

And because of God’s gracious gift to me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you should. Instead, be modest in your thinking, and judge yourself according to the amount of faith that God has given you. 

Paul reminds us that humility and love serve us much more than revenge.

Love must be completely sincere. Hold on to what is good.

God turns all harm to goodness. We have proof of this and we can rely on this.

Love one another warmly, and be eager to show respect for one another.

Paul addresses Christians, but we might extend this openness and respect to all.

Work hard and do not be lazy. Serve the Lord with a heart full of devotion.

Fidelity and responsibility. Prudence and authenticity. These are our hallmarks of behavior.

Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times.

Hope and patience. Prayer and petition. These are foundations on which we stand.

Share your belongings with your needy fellows, and open your homes to strangers.

Community versus individuality. The common good versus the singular gain. These are values we must weigh.

Ask God to bless those who persecute you—yes, ask him to bless, not to curse.

This is perhaps the most difficult of all Jesus’ messages. Loving those who harm us is a challenge we want to ignore; but with Christ as our guide and refuge, we cannot lose.

Be happy with those who are happy, weep with those who weep.

Our brother Jesus celebrates and mourns. We are invited to do the same.

Have the same concern for everyone. Do not be proud, but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise.

We are reminded that human wisdom cannot reach the heights of God’s wisdom. We remember that God does not abandon or betray us. We have before us a clear guideline for living as Jesus does, for living as we all might, for living as a builder in God’s kingdom. Today we have a striking description of our own God-given identity. Let us go into the world as if we believe.

When we use the scripture link and drop-down menus to compare varying versions of these words, we discover the blessings and gifts of God.

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Psalm 22: Spiritual Warfare – Part II

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Male hands crossed for prayer in dark

This Favorite was written on November 11, 2008.

As the words on the wall of our school’s student dining room remind us:  You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.  (Micah 6:8) There is no mystery in this.  The requirement is simple.  Spiritual warfare is this: Train self in order to invite wisdom; exercise compassion with justice in order to invite goodness.  All the rest follows naturally.  The outcome of good over evil is predictable.  The time of final resolution is not.

All the ends of the earth will worship the Lord; all the families of nations will bow down to you.

In this end which we see but whose time we cannot predict, God is all there is.  The war of life will have been waged and won by God.  Any influence of evil will disappear.  This we have been promised.

I will live for the Lord; my descendants will serve you.  The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you brought.

When miracles happen, we must proclaim them, thanking God.  We must sing God’s praise continually for our blessings great and small because in spiritual warfare the fall of darkness and deceit is brought about in an accumulation of these small songs intone grand chorus.  We also remember that the tiniest of miracles is significant for those to whom they have been granted . . . and that these miracles are a sign of God’s continual presence in our lives.

Tomorrow, foot soldiers. 

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Psalm 52: Thanksgiving – Part VI

Saturday, October 1, 2016OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Giving thanks for the Deceitful Tongue

In this Favorite from September 21, 2008 we find that thanksgiving finds us even when we encounter lies and deceptions.

Like an olive tree in the house of God, trust in God’s love forever.

The image of the olive tree is used often in the Old Testament.  Either the fruit or its oil was present at every meal in Jesus’ time.  The tree is evergreen and grows anywhere it can get a foothold, even on rocky hillsides.  “It is no wonder it assumed an almost mythical character.  The tree became a symbol of fertility (Ps. 128:3), beauty Jer. 11:16; Hos. 14:6), divine blessing (Deut. 7:13), peace and bountifulness (Gen. 8:11), and it was inextricably associated with Jesus (the Mount of Olives [Mark 14:26; John 8:1]).” (Achetemeier 782)

The olive tree serves as an apt model for the life of a Christian.  It takes hold where it can; its fruit and oil sustain, light, heal and anoint.

I will praise you always for what you have done.

We so often turn to God in time of sorrow and trial.  We must remember to praise God in thanksgiving when we are blessed.

I will proclaim before the faithful that your name is good.

We so often think that when things go well we have been clever, “on top of things”, and well-prepared.  We must remember to give God credit for the good in our lives, for without God we have nothing.  God is the one who ordained us with our aptitudes.

The first portion of this psalm asks Why do you glory in evil, you scandalous liar?  It is a question we pose when we discover that someone we trust has been untruthful in such a way that our relationship has suffered.

The second portion of the psalm describes how God will strike down the liar while the righteous jeer.  From a New Testament standpoint, we know that compassion and Christ-like witness are the proper responses to an evil act.  Still, we can empathize with the pent-up anger expressed in this Old Testament view.  That is why it is all the more important to look at the third portion.

Like an olive tree in the house of God, trust in God’s love forever.

It reminds us that after we have done all possible to rebuke a sinner, we must place our trust in God.

I will praise you always for what you have done.

It reminds us to thank God for the blessings in our lives, for the evil turned to good.

I will proclaim before the faithful that your name is good.

It reminds us to tell the wonderful story of our own conversion so that others may also be converted.

Like an olive tree in the house of God, trust in God’s love forever.

It reminds us to trust God, to love as Christ loves, to endure, to hold on, and to be faithful to God forever.

Like an olive tree in the house of God, trust in God’s love forever.

Achetemeier, Paul J. HARPERCOLLINS BIBLE DICTIONARY. 2nd edition. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996. 782. Print.

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Isaiah 11: On that day . . .

Thursday, December 10, 2015lion and lamb

“Isaiah wrote during a period of upheaval and general unrest, as the Assyrian Empire was expanding and the northern kingdom of Israel facing decline and imminent disaster.  Judah [in the south] was also vulnerable, although her destruction was ultimately to come at the hands of a later power, Babylonia . . . Isaiah’s primary ministry was to the people of Judah, who were failing to live according to the requirements of God’s law.  But he prophesied judgment not only upon Judah but also upon Israel and the surrounding nations.  On the other hand, Isaiah delivered a stirring message of repentance and salvation for any who would turn to God. (Zondervan 1051)

In reading today’s Noontime we see that only a stump or remnant of David’s dynasty will remain, and this remnant will be in exile; but from this stump will rise the Messiah, the saver of all peoples.  Also in today’s reading we hear that the word of God will first be lost on those originally chosen, and will then find more fertile soil in the gentile nations.  This is a story of disaster giving bloom to fruit – of rejection giving birth to glory.  It is the story of Jesus’ coming and interaction with humankind.  Harm will be turned to good.  Hate will convert to love.  Rejection will be overridden by restoration.  All that has sought to divide will itself be conquered.  All that has been self-seeking will capitulate to union. Emmanuel – God among us – will rule.  Emmanuel – God amidst us – will save.

isaiah 11v1We can take comfort from these words when we find ourselves in situations that seem irredeemable.  We can also find consolation for the times when we feel devastating loss.  God is constantly looking to restore all that is good.  God is consistent in his love and in his insistence in love being the only power which ultimately survives the chaos of our existence.  The message is clear: On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.  On that day, the Lord shall again take it in hand to reclaim the remnant of his people . . .

We often think of the day of Christ’s coming as some distant time in the next life, but as we recently reflected on God’s power to control all time for all good, we realize that that day may be today or any day.  That day is the day that God wills.  As members of God’s body we come together in the hope that each day may be that day, that all days may be days when we clearly feel and see Emmanuel among us.

spirit1Rather than put our hopes in a distant day when things may come right, when hard hearts may eventually be softened, let us place our hope in this day.  And let us petition our God that each day may be that day.  Let us ready ourselves each morning for his coming.  Let us walk with him through each day.  And each evening as we lay our heads on pillows to slip into sleep, let us thank him that this day has – in some way or other – been that day. 

ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY BIBLE (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. 1051. Print.

A favorite from November 7, 2009.

 

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James 5:7-9: Early and Late Rains

An early spring rain on a window

An early spring rain on a window

Monday, October 26, 2015

James speaks to three groups of people in these verses, and all three groups will want to hear his words.

James speaks to those who judge others and speak out against them. If we find ourselves participating in gossip we will want to take care. Even our grumbling is a kind of separation and violence.

A fruitful summer rain

A fruitful summer rain

James also speaks to those who assume that they are in charge of their own plans and future. If we realize that God has had little input to our hopes and dreams, we will want to turn back to God. Arrogance and pride harm us as well as our loved ones.

James finally speaks to those who amass treasure at the expense of others. If we come to understand that our fear for self separates us from God we will want to change our ways. We must soften our hearts and unbend our necks and consider what kinds of wealth we amass at the expense of others. We can hoard much more than silver and gold, and we do well to examine our own stockpiles.

A late and frosty winter rain

A late and frosty winter rain

James reminds us that with God . . . it is never too late to repent. Through God . . . all harm turns to good. In God . . . patience and persistence are the work of the Spirit. James advises us that the righteous will eventually flourish, whether the rains that bring the substance for blooming arrive early, on time or even late into our lives.

Tomorrow, patience in suffering.

 

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James 4:11-12: Honoring the Message

Thursday, October 22, 2015stone-heart

Don’t bad-mouth each other, friends. It’s God’s Word, his Message, his Royal Rule, that takes a beating in that kind of talk.

And this is the Law that Jesus bring to us, The Law of Love. No matter what we hear or see, we must continue to do as Jesus does. Speak well of others, even when we find it difficult to do so.

You’re supposed to be honoring the Message, not writing graffiti all over it.

And this is the message that the Spirit creates in us. No matter how deeply we feel the injustices of the world, we are to witness, watch and wait on the Spirit.

God is in charge of deciding human destiny. Who do you think you are to meddle in the destiny of others?

And this is James’ message to us. Not that our lives are predestined and predetermined, but that our lives are integral parts of God’s marvelous plan for creation. No matter the harm we experience, God will turn all injury, maltreatment and sorrow to goodness. No matter the darkness, Jesus brings light sufficient to pierce it. No matter the appearance of our individual and collective lives, the Spirit has only healing and transformation in mind for our hearts of stone. Jesus shows us how to soften our hearts and unbend our stiff necks in order to hear God’s message. Let us honor this message today.

When we compare varying versions of these two verses and listen for the words of the Spirit, we allow God’s message to visit us today. 

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