Posts Tagged ‘salvation’

Lot Fleeing Sodom
by Benjamin West c.1810

When Lot and Abraham’s households parted, Lot chose the lush land and the river plain that included five cities, one of which was Sodom. When the angels went to witness the “abominations”in that city, they had a first-hand encounter at the house of Lot where they were threatened with gang rape. Gadzooks! Wouldn’t this experience be enough to flee the city even without the threat of imminent destruction?

Genesis 19:15-17a
 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” When he [Lot] hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the Lord was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back . . .

Had Lot become complacent about the activities in his city? Had he lost sight of right and wrong and oblivious to the sin around him?

According to the story, in the night, his house was surrounded by ALL the men of the city (even if only a handful had been there, the story is horrific), and these were men who were sexually charged and blindly so. I understand that some people have sex with one another in a kind of cannibalistic way, wanting to “take in” the characteristics of the other, to be one with the beauty or success or talent. I can well imagine somehow that the “angels” might have been desirable in this way, in their “wonder.” I can even imagine them as “light” in the dark, illuminated from within.

But whether this is true or not, Lot refused the crowd and offered his virgin daughters. I have never understood how that was possible. How could a father offer his own girls to a gang? But, now I conjecture tat he was mocking the men outside for he knew they had no interest in women because the crowd’s reaction to his suggestion was indignation as though Lot was judging them. All very odd.

The story gets more “supernatural” when the angels blind the crowd which then protects the house from entry. The tale sounds like something out of the movies or Dr. Who. What is the point? The Genesis story hadn’t had a miracle on this order for several generations. Why now?

And then, after all this, Lot hesitates about leaving the city. Doh! (as Homer Simpson would say).

It’s so easy to get caught up in these Bible stories and wonder what is God doing? But the stories are really about God more than they are about Human. Ever since Adam, we should know, mistakes were made every day. Just like us. Biblical scholar, Andrew Whyte wrote: “Lot is the father of all those men whose righteous souls are vexed with the life they are leading, but who keep on enduring the vexation.”

There is only this then: God saves Human from destruction by grace, not because of worthiness. Lot was dragged out of the city even after he hesitated (more than likely, he had invested his wealth in the city), and it’s even possible that he didn’t understand this action at the time as “saving him” since he lost everything except for his life and the lives of his two daughters. It was a close save.

And yet, it was a second chance, or perhaps a third chance or a fourth chance to enter into a God covenant, to turn a life over to God. This particular chance appears to be as a result of Abraham’s prayers (negotiations) with God.

I try to remind myself daily: there is no one who cannot be saved. I think on this a great deal since I was one of those, I was in the crowd of Sodom as a young woman living in New York City. There was no reason for God to pull me out of the City. I had not earned it. My transformation came by grace, despite my hesitations and pre-conceived ideas of what it meant to follow Christ. I was a close call too.

And God’s grace continues still. Thanks be to God.

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Here’s another misconception that has bit the dust today out of the Genesis story. All this time, I have been getting all mooney-eyed over rainbows, thanking God for his covenant and seeing them as a “sign” of God’s protection and promise. In fact, my husband and I can name off all the times rainbows have appeared at significant moments: getting married, adoption, buying our house, and so on. We saw them as a blessing.

Genesis 9:9-10a; 13; 16
I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you . . . I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. . . Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.

Oh, I’m sure God doesn’t really mind that rainbows are important to us as a family and as a couple. But really, despite what I have been taught, and sure, it’s a fine sign for the covenant/contract that God made with Noah, but we’d better be clear here. I’m thinking now that God selected that sign as reminder for himself. God will see it. God will remember. God will not destroy the earth by flood (maybe by something else, but not by water).

Rainbows appear at the confluence of light and precipitation. It’s the turning point. It’s the moment when things can go toward sunshine and clear skies to an overcast and dreary day.

It’s as though God is saying, “Oh, the temptation: I could just let it rain and rain and rain.” But God doesn’t because God remembers that there is always hope in Human transformation.

Today, I saw a photographer’s work. Roman Sakovich, who artificially created the juxtaposition of what someone healthy (one side) looks like next to the side that has succumbed to drug abuse. It’s the same scenario in my mind, the same warning of what could be, what I choose, where I  draw the line, what will I believe? The rainbow is the dividing line.

We can see it, the sign, but I think it’s more of a warning than a promise. It’s a “don’t forget” what I [God] can do.

This is a hard thing to consider in the aftermath of the many devastating rain-based storms we have had in the last couple of years. People’s lives have been washed away. Their futures abruptly halted. Their hope crushed by the hand of nature’s unexpected brutality.

It could happen to me. It could happen to you. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” [Romans 8:22]

A covenant, or contract, is binding and is between two sides. In this case, the covenant was made with Noah, as a representative for Human, and God. The covenant, by its nature, has an “if” clause. It is conditional. We have a role in this first covenant as much as we have in the covenants that followed. This one was easiest in many ways: remember and acknowledge. That’s it.

Remember Who made the covenant with Human. Acknowledge the promise not to destroy, despite God’s ability to do so.

The sign is not merely a “blessing,” it’s the stamp on the promise to NOT do something. Not destroy. The next time I see a rainbow, I think I’ll lift up thanks. Thanks God for giving us yet another day to live in harmony with one another and with nature and the creatures who populate our earth. Thanks God for saving Earth, one more time.

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Tree by Vicky Brago Mitchell

Tree hugger has become, in some circles, a euphemism for left-winger or environmentalist or maybe “commie-fascist-pig.” It’s that bad. Tree huggers are seen to be superfluous and extreme, as though they care more about trees and mice and rivers than they do about oil and energy and pragmatism. Ironic, how many times scripture compares a blessed person to a tree. And one of the most important symbols is the “tree of life.” But of course, that must be different. Or is it?

Psalm 1:3
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

It’s a good thing, then, to be compared to a tree. Perhaps it came out of the climate where trees were appreciated. I remember my first trip out west by car and how we looked and look for a shady tree to stop for lunch. Another time, I booked a tent site in a camp ground near the beach. It never occurred to me that the site would have no trees. The “gorgeous” weather proved to be monotonous without the blessing of natural shade.

Our current house backs up to the woods. It is the reason we wanted this piece of property (although my big dream is to live near water — river, ocean, lake, etc.); the next best is trees. They are in constant motion really through their partnership with the wind. They are a nesting ground for all kinds of animals. They are part of the cycle of life and clean air. I have never told anyone before, but within days of our move-in, I felt compelled to do something very “new agey” and thank the trees for their sacrifice since hundreds were downed and destroyed in the name of our suburban sprawl. It just seemed right.

One of my favorite nature images is a winter tree silhouetted by the setting sun. I can’t explain that. So, yes, I really am a quiet advocate for trees. And yet, I am also careless as most urban dwellers. I use a lot of paper (it doesn’t look like a tree) and I enjoy the gifts of wood from floor to ceiling. I even live in a wood house.

Maybe that’s the real problem. I like the “idea” of trees; I like them conceptually. It’s not too different from liking the idea of being a follower of Christ. I can romanticize that too. I can sing all the right songs and wear the right jewelry. I can roll out a few scriptures, and I can pray a good prayer. I am a cross hugger about as much as I am a tree hugger.

But just as the rainforests are being systematically destroyed God’s natural world is being polluted, so are children of God starving around the world. . . starving for food as well as spirit. People are dying by violence and neglect. A monthly check to one organization or another is no longer enough.

Save the trees :: Save the people.

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Painting by Carmela Brennan

There is always a “last battle.” Not just in the heavenly realms, those extra-ordinary places that we can’t feel or see, but in our own world as well. In our individual lives, there is one last struggle. It can come in a moment during a car crash or it can be a lingering battle in a hospital bed. But it will come.

Revelation 19:11, 19
 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. . . .  Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and his army.

Throughout my slow read through the book of Revelation, I have been determined to find something personal in the global end time story. Otherwise, it becomes an exercise in the esoteric.

And so, as I draw to the end of the visions and prophecies, the sorrows and judgments, I am confronted by this final battle. What makes evil press on despite the odds? Why does an enemy still do battle although the end is clear? Why do they fight to the death?

I’m guessing it’s the experience of previous skirmishes won. It’s an addiction, like gambling. It’s quite illogical, since a previous win gives no advantage. Each game, each battle stands alone. There may be some experience gained, but ultimately, the outcome is not directly influenced. Look at sports teams. They can have a long list of wins and still lose the championship game. There are so many other factors.

In the last battle of a human life, the end is clear: the body will die. The battle is manifest, perhaps, in the body, but really, the battle is within. It’s the battle of the soul. With whom have we aligned that spark of energy and essence?

The battle is waged whether we engaged in spiritual things in our waking state or not. I’m sure of it.

I discourage anyone (and everyone) to dispense with these inane questions about a person “knowing” or not knowing Christ before the last hour. What the soul and inner spirit know and how that battle will be waged is not merely dependent on a deathbed confession. Each life is built on an array of experiences. That which is within stores them all: the kindnesses, the stories, the pain and the joy. It is all within and it is all part of the last battle.

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” [I Timothy 2:3-4]

The last battle is different for each person. And I do believe that people who have aligned their hearts and minds as well as their souls and spirits, will have a different kind of battle than those who have not. But God is sovereign. And none of us can know how the battle will go for others. There is strength and power in the King of Kings that may draw many more out of the fire than we can imagine. I believe in a just God. None will perish who God desires to embrace. For in this way, it is still possible, that the “last shall be first.” [Matthew 20:16]

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Despite the fact that “eyewitnesses” usually screw up the details of what they witness, they do get the big picture: they know it was a bank robbery, a car accident, a outpouring of power. And then, too, repetition tends to solidify an account, like one miracle after another.

II Peter 1:15-16
And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

Peter was “all in” (the new phrase moving through contemporary churches). While accompanying Jesus he was a doubter, a slacker, and a chameleon even, but once the Christ was revealed fully through his death and resurrection, he got it. It was just at the point when his world fell apart that his world fell together. And there was no turning back. There was only forward and the story, that one story that everyone had to hear.

In the same way that people recount eye-witnessed tragedies over and over again(the falling of the twin towers, the floods, the tsunamis, etc.), so also would transformative experiences be on the tip of the tongue. We remember because we tell the tale. Families reminisce at the dinner table and stories live on, memories are stirred, feelings are reborn. Where there was joy, joy is recreated (and the same for sorrow, but somehow, the sorrow is more tempered by time).

What is my story? Isn’t my writing part of this process? Remembering, reviewing, reliving. Re-re-re… again and again.

Thirty plus years ago, I encountered Peter’s same Christ, and it was real and true and life changing. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Sculpture by Karl Jensen

I can’t say I usually walk around feeling joyful. But today, amazingly enough, the combination of post-vacation, a good work-out, a leisurely start to the day/week, and a favorite verse, and I am in it, I mean really in joy and contentment right now.

I Peter 1:8-9
Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

I had the sense today that “salvation” is thoroughly wrapped up in the believing in Him (that would be the Christ) without seeing a physical entity but then, not only believing in His existence, presence, power & identity, but also loving this commander of my soul. It is another way of saying worship. It is another way of walking this world.

Some years ago, I was deeply involved in a para-church movement called the Walk to Emmaus (similar to Cursillo, Tres Dias retreat organizations around the world). Through this engagement, I met some wonderful people throughout the state of Maryland, for at that time, it was a statewide group, drawing participants from all counties. Among those friends was a dynamic man, Steve, whose love for people and God was apparent. When he died of lung cancer, it was a blow to everyone in that faith community and hundreds attended his funeral service, the most loving and authentically glorious service I have ever attended. Through our sorrow and loss, there was also joy, an unexplainable kind of joy that was God in our midst while Steve was there too.

A musically talented couple, Paul & Mary Lou Day, had just completed a song based on I Peter 1:8-9 called Inexpressible Joy and they dedicated that song to Steve during the service. For several years after that, the song was an important part of the worship experience whenever we gathered as a community. It captured our love and hope in the Christ and the love we carried for one of our own.

I cannot find a recorded version of this song online, it’s been a long time, I still remember the words:

Even though, you don’t see Him,
You still love Him,
You still love Him.
And even though you don’t see Him,
You believe Him
You believe in Him.

And He will fill you up with His glorious joy
His exalted inexpressible joy. (repeat)

And you shall receive for your faith this goal
And you shall receive for your faith this goal,
The salvation of your soul.
–Paul & Mary Lou Day

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Every endeavor has rules. I hate that. Maybe it’s because I’m a child of the sixties [age-alert] but there’s some part of me that wants to rebel just at the whiff of rules. But why? Why have they become limitations instead of opportunities for excellence?

II Timothy 2:5
Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.

In reality, it’s the rules or the finiteness of the task and the subsequent precision and commitment to working within that framework that separates the good from the great.

When Paul uses a sports analogy, the first sport that comes to my mind is diving. It’s so terribly precise. All those Olympic dives look wonderful to me until it’s replayed in slow motion and the announcer breaks down the movements and compares them to perfect.

I also think of ice skating, skiing, even ballet. The individual, in order to reach excellence, must ascribe to a certain set of standards. Ultimately, it is only after reaching the highest benchmark that rules can be broken or bent for the sake of creativity or experimentation or invention.

I remember, as a child, watching a clown on a high wire and I thought he was crazy to be on a high wire with so little experience. He always looked like he might fall off the wire at any moment. It was funny and scary at the same time. Only later, as an adult, did I learn that the clown must have the most precise technique and confidence in order to “play” on the wire. In the same vein, the jazz artist (whether dance or music) must know the fundamentals thoroughly or the modern artist classic proficiency before improvising.

So, in a way, it’s true, the rules are to be broken, but only after understanding and mastering the space between the rules. Once we learn to color inside the lines, then we can venture out.

Now, what has this to do with my faith in the Christ or serving God? What are the basics or rules of my faith? Isn’t it Christ crucified, resurrected, and engaged in human life thereafter through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to reestablish communion with God? And thereby I can walk out in love, light, truth, justice, and faithfulness because God is forever in our midst: Emmanuel. Yes, and so essentially, to live is Christ (the greatest mystery of all).

If Christ is exalted (manifest) in/through me [Philippians 1:20-21], then I am living loved and loving others, I am a light in dark places [Matthew 5;15], I am faith-filled and faithful [Luke 17:5-6], I am a spokesperson for truth [John 17:17], and, best of all, I can know, recognize and collaborate with the Holy Spirit [I Corinthians 6;19].

From here, I can improvise. I can be the clown for Christ. I can be a fool. I can be martyr. I can be a change agent. I can be human as God always intended.

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