Tag Archives: Power

Bible Meditation

torahMy grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:9

  • The Supreme Court recently rendered a decision that puts the law of the land squarely in opposition to God’s will for human beings. What does this verse say to people who feel that this decision puts them in the crosshairs of earthly power?
  • We all sin. We all struggle with the consequences of sin. Daily life sometimes feels like walking on broken glass. What does God promise us?
  • When circumstances are incomprehensible, they also feel unbearable. To such situations, Luther said:

When the murder of John the Baptist was announced, that horrible crime, [Jesus] was silent, went away into the desert, fed the people, and did not make an issue of it, but only preached the Word and did His duty. Christian wisdom, therefore, means to commit oneself to the power of God and to turn one’s cause over to Him who judges justly. A Christian can indeed, by the office of the Word, judge sin, but he should not raise his hand against it unless he is compelled to do so by God or commanded by the Word. And so when you are alone and unable to set everything right and straight, commit your cause to Him who has more powers and who alone can do everything.”
Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 15 : Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, Last Words of David, 2 Samuel 23:1-7, ed. J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1972). Ec 1:16.

How do Luther’s comments correlate with the teaching in today’s verse? Where is the comfort in it?

  • Secularists deny the existence of a spiritual realm. They teach that our only recourse in life is to our own strength. How do you answer a secular thinker who scorns your faith and belittles your willingness to trust your well-being to a power he cannot see?

 

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com.

Image: Torah Scroll
Source:  http://library.duke.edu/exhibits/hebrewbible/torah.html
License:  Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0

 

Arianna Huffington Got Something Right

Ariana Huffington delivered the commencement address at Smith College this year. A successful, powerful woman spoke to this year’s crop of young women wannabe’s, and she gave them a powerful message. She fudged on the real power, because she kept everything quite interfaith neutral, but as I read the speech, I was impressed by the fact that she had hit on some important truth that everyone needs, no matter the age.

The president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post gave the assembled graduates a memorable message. They should each have a copy of it packed in their bags as they leave college. If I remember college graduation at all, my memory does not include the content of the graduation address. I don’t even remember who spoke. These ladies need a take-home copy of the speech which they promise to read and absorb after the graduation glow has subsided. Ariana Huffington recommend that Smith graduates think of success in terms beyond the traditional notion that success is money and power. She advocated that they add some new dimensions to their concept of success:  well-being, wonder, wisdom and service. (Ms. Huffington used the term “give back,” but since I like to avoid liberal/political rhetoric, I choose the cognate term “service” which is more compatible with a Christian perspective.) Ms. Huffington explained all these terms in eclectic, interfaith imagery, but I immediately recognized some basic teachings and truths of Christianity. The uniqueness of Christianity is the person and work of Christ; the moral teachings of Christianity often intersect, if not outright overlap, the moral teachings of other religions. Ms. Huffington’s speech seemed to me to be only half of the story, because people who live in relationship with Christ certainly would applaud her ideas, but they would take them farther.

The first element of the Huffington/Smith College component of success is “well-being.” Ms. Huffington talked about ways to achieve “well-being,” but her suggestions are quite half-baked compared to the teachings of Christ. He wrote a whole sermon on what it means to achieve well-being and what a person needs to do and be in order to experience that well-being. Listen to this:

Blessed are the poor in spirit …

Blessed are the meek ….

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …

Blessed are the merciful …

And so forth.

There is a way to live that automatically leads to well-being – peace and blessing and fulfillment – and Jesus explained exactly how to live that way. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is not the whole story, but it is a good place to start learning how to live with a sense of well-being.

                The second element of Ms. Huffington’s path to success is “wonder.” She is correct that the ability to experience wonder is crucial to anyone’s quality of life, and it has kept a great many projects going while those who lacked a sense of wonder saw only a persistent slog to the end. Wonder does more than animate creativity, however. The ability to experience wonder is a crucial element of worship. In the book of Revelation, myriads and myriads of worshipers gather in reverent wonder before the throne of God and sing, “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8) Many people are so blasé about the whole idea of religion that they ignore the greatest possible source of well-being, because they feel too smart and too mature to believe in God. Yet it is God who dwells within Christians so intimately that they can live their whole lives in an attitude of worship, which is real wonder. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your body is the temple (the very sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit Who lives within you?” (1 Corinthians 6:19) That statement certainly should have inspired wonder on the part of early Christians, and it inspires wonder today, as Christians try to live the worship evoked by wonder at the majesty of God who miraculously dwells within us even as he inhabits the throne room in eternity. It is the wonder of worship that pushes back the chaos and destruction that forces of evil attempt to impose on our lives daily.

                The third item in Ms. Huffington’s expanded definition of success is wisdom. Anyone who reads the daily news is treated to story after story where human beings display a profound lack of wisdom. When subterfuge, deceit and fraud are uncovered, it doesn’t matter if a person is a Hollywood celebrity or a powerful political official or a rich businessman. It takes a complete lack of wisdom to believe that lies will never be discovered. Reputations, business ventures, even entire countries collapse when a lack of wisdom bears fruit in someone’s life. In the book of Proverbs, Wisdom cries out, shouts and screams, to no avail:

20 Wisdom cries aloud in the street,     in the markets she raises her voice; 21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out;     at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: 22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?

                                                                (Proverbs 1:20-22a)

As long as there have been people, Wisdom has been ignored by people to their very great shame and loss. Jesus told his follower that they would need wisdom in order to have good lives when he said, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”(Matthew 10:16) Wisdom often means making choices that are personally costly, choices that don’t build toward the accepted definition of success as money and power. Sometimes wisdom requires the willingness to do what is not profitable, because wisdom and truth go hand in hand.

                Ms. Huffington’s final element of her amplified definition of success is “service.” She calls it giving back, because Ms. Huffington thinks in line with progressive political mantras. She is convinced that the young women at Smith College owe the state and the community for their current level of success, and they must pay the state and the community back for the contributions that have brought them this far. This is what was in the back of her mind when she used the term “give back.” However, Jesus had a much bigger view of the dimension that makes life rich and good. Jesus said that the most important thing anyone could ever do is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) In short, love God and serve your neighbor. You could even say that if God is first in your life, you will automatically serve your neighbor, because your neighbor will be as important to you as yourself. People like Mother Teresa who exemplify this teaching show us what real success looks like.

                Ariana Huffington gave a great speech to the graduates of Smith College. But if they want great lives, they need to get the details from a relationship with Christ. It is in relationship with Christ that human beings find real fulfillment and success.

 

God Answers the Prayers of the Persecuted

Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pan...
Hagia Sophia ; Empress Zoë mosaic : Christ Pantocrator; Istanbul, Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

 

Christ’s call to each of us to deny self and take up our own cross and follow him clearly teaches us that the ability to follow him does not come from personal will. If I deny self, then I can’t get my power to go forward from self; it must come from somewhere else. After I deny self, I am called to follow Christ, and that is where I get the ability to pick up my cross and go forward. If that were not enough to teach me that faithfulness in the Christian life is not about me, then Paul’s experience makes that teaching very clear.

Paul had a problem, and he asked Jesus to solve it. He prayed and prayed and prayed. But Jesus didn’t solve it, and Jesus didn’t tell Paul how to solve it. What Jesus did was to tell Paul he would be with him and enable him to endure it. He even said that Paul’s inability to solve his own problem was a blessed means for Christ’s power to work in Paul as Paul endured and thrived despite his persistent problem.

I have a problem like that. I have prayed and prayed about my problem. I have asked God to take it away. I have asked God to intervene and fix what is broken. I have asked God to act in human lives to transform them. But God’s answer is, “My grace is sufficient for you.” By God’s grace, I am able to recognize that Jesus keeps his ascension promise and goes with me through everything. It reminds me where my own power comes from. I have learned that face to face with challenges to my faith, I have very little power. It is good for me to know that my weakness becomes a vessel for the power of God to work through me.

We like to believe that when we pray in faith, God will give us exactly what we want. In fact, we read the words, “Ask, and you will receive,” and we think that is how it works. We want those words to stand all by themselves on top of a great mountain of personal gratification. We want what we want, and we want to claim that these words promise us what we want. The Bible, however, is a complete revelation, and we cannot build a life or a theology on a single word or phrase. The words all form a whole that we dissect to our great harm. These words, “Ask, and you will receive,” must be recalled and claimed in close connection with the words, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Our “power” to ask God for what we need grows out of our weakness and inability to do it all for ourselves, and his answer may not be like a Christmas present off the top of our letter to Santa. God is not Santa Claus. The answer we “receive” when we “ask” may be the grace to live through something we would rather escape.

Christians in countries like Ethiopia and China pray faithfully to God every day. For them, the simple act of going to church for worship on Sunday may be viewed as a criminal act by their governments. It is likely that these Christians pray that their governments will relent and stop arresting, imprisoning and even torturing Christians. Yet so far, God has not granted them their wish the way a genie out of a bottle does. Instead God has answered their prayers with grace – the grace to live a faithful testimony to Christ. They feel weak and battered, but God’s power gives them the strength to testify with their very lives to the Christ who is more precious to them than life itself.

Here in the USA we complain that some people don’t respect Christians. We get angry when a school forbids the valedictorian to thank God publicly for the ability to learn and excel. We take offense when an employer refuses to allow office parties in December to be called “Christmas” parties. We are right to note that our culture is offended by Christianity, but as we take note of that fact, we must remember that Jesus said it would be this way. He warned us from the very beginning that the world would hate us, because it already hated him. We must respond to these reminders of Jesus’ teaching the way he taught us to respond – with love. Just like Christians in Ethiopia and China, we must pray for those who reject and insult us. We must learn, as the early disciples learned, to thank God for the opportunity to suffer for the name of Christ. Our testimony of love in the face of insult will be evidence of the working of God’s grace through our weakness. His grace is sufficient for us and for Christians around the world who are imprisoned and abused in the name of Christ. We must learn to be grateful for the opportunity to make that testimony.