Archives for posts with tag: power

vacuum

My vacuum cleaner died yesterday, and I think it was my fault. It was supposed to be a really high quality vacuum. Consumer Reports rated it very highly, and we paid a lot of money for it…and it never worked well. It scratched my hardwood floors, and the power nozzle worked occasionally. I frequently had to drive over dirt on the floor or carpet several times before it actually disappeared, and it rarely picked up everything on one pass. You might say it “didn’t suck”, and you would be partially correct.

 But yesterday I was in a hurry. I was trying to vacuum before I ran errands, and, as usual, the vacuum was not cooperating. The fourth time I had to restart the motor in hopes of coaxing the power nozzle to start, I actually cursed it in anger…and it hasn’t started since.

 I turned it off and on, over and over, to no avail. For the briefest moment, I wondered if somehow my words had actually been effective, rather than just an emotional outburst. In retrospect, I don’t believe my curse had any effect in the demise of my vacuum, any more than my pleading restarted it.

 But our words do have incredible power. We can use them to bless, to encourage, to inspire, to rebuke, to condemn, to destroy. I still remember hurtful things said to me in anger decades ago. I still draw strength from encouragement spoken by people who chose to bless me in a life changing moment. Words can be a gift or a weapon. May I choose to bless those in my path more often, and may I choose to give mercy instead of venting my frustration.

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Redemption

I wear a cross around my neck. My husband gave it to me 25 years ago, and I’ve worn it ever since. It is a beautiful piece of jewelry, but it is special to me because it is a cross. It doesn’t make me a better Christian or give me some sort of magical protection. It is my choice to be associated with what became the symbol of Jesus.

The earliest reference to crucifixion dates to the 400’s bc when a Persian general was crucified by the victorious Athenian army after defeat. But it is the Romans who made crucifixion common. It was designed to be a humiliating, torturous execution that could be public to deter any others who might be tempted to test the strength of the Roman government. This form of execution was intentionally demeaning and allowed passersby to heap scorn and derision on the suffering, dying man. Emperors would often line the street into a city with bodies hung on crosses; Nero even set them on fire to light the street.

Selfish, deceitful, evil people were threatened by the power of Jesus. And they should have been! He had the power to call down fire from heaven and take them out, but instead he chose to withhold his power and allow them to execute him. He willingly endured the agony and shame of the mock trial and beating and crucifixion because he wanted us to know that sin has a price….and he was willing to pay it for us. God made it clear to Abraham that sin required a blood sacrifice; Jesus provided it for all of humanity.

The contrast between Jesus and the leaders of the Jews and Rome during Holy Week is stark. . They wanted the acclaim their positions offered and sought to destroy anything that threatened it. The leaders chose to lie and murder to protect their jobs and their power. They used what little power they had to destroy what they feared. Jesus already had all power on heaven and on earth. He used that power to save what he loved. What Jesus wanted was for us, not to just avoid the punishment of hell, but to have fellowship with God, unhindered by the shame and consequences of our sin. He chose to become that blood sacrifice on Passover so that his people would be spared eternal death.

Crosses then were made from wood. Not polished beautiful wood, but rough hewn wood. Mine is made from gold. And in that comparison I find the symbol of the power of my Savior. His love changes what is intended for evil, something crude and shameful and ugly, and transforms it into the symbol of salvation. His cross became my redemption and my hope. His sacrifice is the ultimate symbol of intentional, sacrificial love. What began as humiliation and suffering became power over death and access to heaven, freely given by Jesus who used his power to redeem those he loves. There is no evil intent, no sin, no pain so great that it cannot be transformed into healing and power by the God who loves you, who has all authority in heaven and on earth. He can be trusted with the crude sin of your past and transform it into a brand new future. God redeemed the despair and horror of the crucifixion of Good Friday into the miracle and glory of Easter morning.

Be assured of his love for you. Seek his presence and forgiveness this Easter. Find a Christian community with whom you can worship the God who can redeem crosses and people and make them beautiful and holy.

Complete Trust

Complete trust is rare. Somehow, between childhood and adulthood, we equate less trust with more wisdom. The toddler who jumped from the edge of the pool into his parents’ arms with full conviction that he would be caught becomes skeptical of his parents’ advice by the time he’s a teenager. The young adult who believes she has the power to become anything she wants begins to doubt her capabilities when they are tested by a world that doesn’t have her best interest at heart.

We’ve been betrayed by people who don’t love us, and hurt by those who want to use us for their own gain. We’ve trusted bad advice and shallow perspective and ended up wounded by betrayal and consequences that leave literal and invisible scars. We decide that we can’t trust others, so we begin to trust only ourselves.

This is where the gap between heaven and earth is most stark. The Bible is full of stories where God said “Trust me”. The hero of great battles was asked to conquer a fortified city armed only with trumpets and a cheering squad. A prostitute put her life in the hands of spies who came to destroy her city. (Joshua 2) The farmer who hid from his enemies was asked to lead a few untrained soldiers into battle against a huge, well equipped army. (Judges 6) Nehemiah, a wine taster in the palace of Persia, was asked to construct a wall around the ruined city of Jerusalem under the eyes of men who did not want him to succeed. Elijah set up a competition between Yahweh and Baal, knowing that those who served the loser would die. Each of them chose to trust God, and each of them saw the power of God in their own lives and over their enemies.

God wants us to learn to trust him, and he is patient with us in that process. The best view we have of God is when we chose to believe and obey his power, even when we can’t see a happy ending. The Hebrews who were pinned down between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army saw that God could be trusted to save them. Daniel defied the orders of the Babylonian king learned that God has complete power over our enemies. On Easter morning Christ appeared to heartbroken, confused disciples and showed them that not even death was a threat to them anymore.

How many parents beg their children to trust their love and advice, knowing that the choices their children are making are not going to end well? How many of my “scars” came from trusting the wrong source? How much pain and disappointment could we avoid if we trusted God, rather than the narrow, shallow, self serving advice of those who want power or another book sold?

I want to see God as he is in my world, but that requires that I trust him. Sin is nearly always the easy choice, and trust always looks risky. God does not change. He is the same today as he was in the Old Testament. There are situations in my life right now that I don’t like, that are painful for me to endure. I can try to manipulate them using my limited perspective and feeble efforts, or I can trust the one who says, “Follow Me”, the one who has proved himself faithful over and over, in history and in my life. Only then will I have a front row seat to see heaven invade earth, to bring my good and his glory.

WORDS

I suspect our ability to use words is at least a part of what God meant when he said that he would make man in his image. The ability to express information and our thoughts in words is one of the things that distinguishes humans from the rest of creation. I’m not talking about communication. Scientists have documented evidence of communication between members of animal and insect species. Sometimes their communication comes through color or dance in mating rituals where they communicate “I am available.” The organization of an ant colony or a beehive, animals who hunt in packs or who flee from a predator all demonstrate that there is communication between the members of the group. Sometimes there even seems to actually be a sort of language. Whales and dolphins have been recorded making consistent sounds in similar situations. I can listen to the birds in my yard and know whether they are just having a happy day, or whether the neighborhood hawk is back. I can listen to the bark or whine of my dog and know whether the kids next door are playing in our yard, whether the squirrel is in the bird feeder again, or whether the cute little female Bichon across the street is out for a walk. My dog can even understand certain words that I speak to him – “car”, “walk”, “toy” and “treat” all get enthusiastic responses – not so much for “brush” or “bed”. He even responds appropriately to one word commands like “up”, “sit”, “down”, or “paw”. But he can’t reproduce them. Animals can sometimes communicate basic information with each other, but they don’t have language and words like humans do. History changed for each civilization as it developed and began to use written language. Whatever being “made in his image” means includes our being able to communicate and use words.

Genesis 1 gives the account of God’s creation of the world. Creation began with “And God said…”. He didn’t have to do scientific research or build a special machine; he didn’t form a committee or sketch out a model; his spoken word resulted in creation of something new. When Jesus battled Satan in the wilderness, he didn’t argue or philosophize; he quoted scripture, God’s written word. Jesus didn’t calm the storm or heal or cast out demons or summon Lazarus from his tomb with meditation or a dance; he simply spoke commands, and it happened. Don’t miss the fact that the power of his word required that Jesus remain quiet during his trial.

God’s word can be his spoken word, his written word of scripture or his living word in Jesus Christ. All have incredible power. God gave us some of that same power when he gave us words and language. May the words we speak reflect the image of our heavenly Father in us.

God’s wardrobe

In this world, image matters. We chose a wardrobe that reflects our style and indicates how we want others to see us. Preppy, Goth, Metrochic, Surfer, Skater, Redneck, and Western are just a few terms that we use to describe appearance and that we associate with behavior. When I teach, I dress professionally so my students will know I take what goes on in our classroom very seriously. When I attend a sporting event, I try to wear something that leaves no doubt which team has my support. I choose clothes and shoes that will enable me to be successful at whatever I have planned.

The original verb in Judges 6:34 and in many of the translations is that “God clothed himself with Gideon” and empowered him to defeat the enemies of Israel. What Gideon was incapable of by himself, he was capable of when God filled him, when God “wore” him. This is the same imagery used in the New Testament idea of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul warns in Eph 6:10-17 that we are to “put on” the full armor of God. This relationship clearly indicates that both putting on and filling are required…our submission to God’s presence.

We are God’s wardrobe. He has promised to “fill us” as we “put him on”. If we forget to get dressed before we go out, we will be humiliated. Most offices and stores do not have “pajama day”. “Bedhead” is not typically the look we seek. As a child of God, his presence goes into your world everyday looking like you. If you go into your day capable only of your own potential, you are entering a battlefield where the odds are stacked against you. If you are intentional about allowing God to clothe himself with you, you will be filled with the power to accomplish all that he calls you to do.

Americans don’t want to call him a “king”, but we seek the comfort of having someone else stand between us and our enemies.  Those enemies might be in terrorist cells around the world or those with different political ideologies.  We want someone to make us feel good about ourselves and make us feel better about our future. We want someone to step in and do the hard things for us.  We want our leaders to fix all the problems in our society with no discernible cost to us.  We want to trust them to know the secret information and make the hard choices and make everything better so that we can go merrily along with our lives and please ourselves.  We want our president, our congress, and our leaders on every level to do what they have proved over and over they cannot do.

I’m old enough to see that every election is based on candidates making promises that they cannot keep, some that they have no intention of keeping.  I’m fascinated by people who choose their candidate because he makes a promise they like….and have no real concept of how he will accomplish that promise.  Too many people trust a party to make to tell them the truth, but the party (and the media) is really far more interested in advancing their own agenda than they are in the truth.  There will be people who enter the voting booth next week armed only with very limited information provided by biased sources.  Most of the people I’ve talked to have become lazy and allowed someone else to tell them what they want to hear about the candidates, and have made no effort to seek the truth themselves.  I have discovered that one candidate in Virginia is running way behind in the polls based on his opponent’s ad that completely misrepresents him.   And the voters will trust those who oppose him for the truth about him.  Election campaigns have become far more about opposition than support.  I can barely remember the days when I voted for a candidate, rather than against a candidate.

The problem is that kings are only men, and men who have great power are much more prone to use it for their own benefit than for the benefit of those under their authority. Lord Acton wrote a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887 and penned the famous quote and insightful analysis of history: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” The holy God is not corruptible because his power is not derived from the people he rules, and he is not subject to evil or weakness. He does not need his people’s obedience or money to make himself more than he is. He rules his people for their benefit, not for his own. 

Twice in the book of Judges we see the phrase “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did  as he saw fit.”  (17:6 and 21:25)  By I Samuel 8:7 they had rejected God’s authority over them and wanted a leader like their pagan neighbors had.  They gave authority to a man, and were eventually enslaved to their enemies.

When we trust men to do what only God can do, we are going to end up enslaved to people who seek their own good, not ours.  When we think we are so smart that we reject right and wrong for what is easy and convenient.  When we do what we think is right in our own eyes, when we are more interested in beating the opponent than in doing what God’s law commands, then we will end up somewhere we never intended to go, becoming something far less than we’d hoped.  Our country has trusted our government to “fix” poverty, crime, education, national security, and a whole host of other things that have just gotten worse in the last 50 years.  Perhaps we need to give the authority back to God, and elect men who will serve him, not themselves.