Faith – It’s Personal

creation-of-adam

http://bonniewilks.com/2008/03/25/the-topaz-of-ethiopia-cannot-equal-it/

Judeo/Christian faith is personal, health centered in relationship. The first words of Genesis unveils God’s masterpiece, click the consummation of his creative genius – persons, living souls, created in his image, for his pleasure. God initiated relationship with them. God hung out with Adam and Eve.

Trust undergirded, protected, and maintained that God-mankind relationship. When man/woman chose to severe the relationship, the Creator enacted the fix – a fix set in place before the foundation of the earth. God, himself, would bear the cost to renew the relationship. The choice to go our own way, seek our own good, ignore the righteous claims of Creator  God not only damaged the relationship, it put us at war with the Creator. For God, renewed relation was essential. So at great personal cost, God paid the price for our going astray.

The whole of Scripture chronicles the quest for renewed relationship. The quest is God’s. He is looking for those whose hearts are completely his. He is seeking personal relationship.

One of most personal portions of Scripture is Psalms, the book of Jewish hymns. These songs are full of the personal connection the writers shared with God. Hear my prayer, O Lord. You are my Refuge. Come rescue me. Teach me your way. I will sing praise to my God. You are my God. You are my stronghold. I will tell of your mighty works. The personal pronouns shout relationship, friendship.

The Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth reciprocates the relationship. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. His eyes are on those who fear him. He delivers them and keeps them. The love of the Lord supports me. God sets apart the godly for himself.

I find it a pretty astounding notion – God wants to be my God, my friend. This creator: the one before whom the sea fled, the rivers turned back, the mountains skipped, and the earth trembled (Psalm  114); the one whose voice thunders with power and majesty, breaks the cedars and shakes the desert, twists the oaks and strips the forest bare (Psalm 29). This God desires relationship with me. He wants to be associated with me.

It’s not easy to wrap my mind around the fact that this is personal. But the evidence is clear. This faith, this relationship is personal.

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Life and Faith

I’ve been thinking about the place of faith in my life, rx faith informed by the Judeo/Christian Scriptures.

American culture likes to compartmentalize life. We assign home, ask work, family, leisure, politics, religion, health, education…and whatever else pops up to little life cubbies – public cubbies and private cubbies. I’ve been workin’ on this life thing for awhile, and I can tell you the day ends long before all the cubbies are attended to. What we end up with is not only the demand to classify the pieces, but then, the necessity to prioritize.Dog_Riding_a_Unicycle_and_Juggling_Balls_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_100211-114638-995053

We like our ducks in a row and the balls in the air perfectly synchronized. What a thing of beauty. But then a duck wanders off or you sneeze and miss one of those balls. Life happens.

Yikes. No wonder we are schizophrenic.

We suspect integration would be a good thing, but haven’t a clue how to go about it. Or perhaps we’re not completely clueless, but we’re certainly too exhausted to proceed.

I would like to suggest those life cubbies are, at best, an inadequate approach to life.

I would also like to suggest that faith is intended to integrate us. Even for those who disclaim faith, they do believe certain things about life and how it fits together. What we believe governs how we think and how we act. What we believe shapes our world.

What beliefs shape your world?

Image: http://www.picturesof.net/pages/100211-114638-995053.html
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If God Be For Us

I woke this morning to a song… 

And if Our God is for us, healing then who could ever stop us
And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?
And if Our God is for us, then who could ever stop us
And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?
What can stand against? *

What a great way to wake up.

If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31) God is for me; the stuff of faith and victory. How glad I am that God is for me.

God is for me. This statement begs the question, “Why is God for me?” That is the question, isn’t it? We can’t quite believe it and somehow think there must be a catch. You’re right, there is a catch of sorts. This is so much bigger than just me.

http://screenrant.com/paradise-lost-movie-canceled-legendary-pictures-kofi-150353/
http://screenrant.com/paradise-lost-movie-canceled-legendary-pictures-kofi-150353/

You recall common legend? The hero believes he’s found the fabled paradise. He’s worked and studied until he finally figures out the path to paradise. Finally, his quest successful he arrives, usually with a group of eager followers among who lurks the villain intend on surreptitiously obtaining ancient treasure. The centerpiece of paradise is the untouchable object center stage. It glows and pulsates and draws closer inspection. The temptation to possess this ultimate treasure overcomes our hero or perhaps propels our villain forward and the no touch zone is breached. Paradise implodes, cascading into ruin. Our hero barely escapes with his life sans the treasure and hopefully our villain is destroyed in the ruins. Makings of a great movie, huh?

Though simplistic, folk legend mirrors the story of God’s perfect world. Because of His desire for relationship – not subservience – God’s perfect world held the untouchable, God alone as Lord and King, most high. When Satan declared, “I will be like the most high,” the torrent of destruction commenced. So, too, did God’s plan to set all things right.

God is at work to restore divine order. That effort, in its entirely, is God’s alone, however He has chosen to call out a people who belong to Him; His holy nation who live in His presence, enjoying the blessing of His rule. He is forming an eternal kingdom from the rubble.

God is for us. God’s endorsement brings to us the blessings of His rule. He delights in blessings His people. But, of highest priority is the restoration of His reign.

From Psalm 105
Give thanks to the Lord, make know His works. V1 Sing to Him, tell of His mighty acts. V2 Glory in His name. V3 Look to the Lord and His strength. Seek His face. V4 Remember His wonders, miracles and the judgments He pronounced. V5

He remembers His covenant forever. He remembers the oath He swore. V8

He brought out His people. V43 He gave them the lands of nations. V44 God was for them. Why?

That they might keep His precepts and observe His laws. V45

Paradise was lost. God is working out His plan to restore divine order. Why is He for us? Of all the wonderful promises to those who fear, love, and obey the Lord, the final end is primary. “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Rev. 11:15)

God is for you. You are part of His plan to restore His reign to this earth.

* http://www.sing365.com/music/lyric.nsf/Our-God-lyrics-Chris-Tomlin/5BEE9C4610ED10D7482576E9001703F5
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And You Think You Got Troubles

Now honey, cheap don’t go thinkin’ you’re somebody special.  We all got troubles.

Remember our birthright from the book of Job. Man is born to trouble. Everyone of us is acquainted with trouble. Donald G. Barnhouse observed in his writings: God allows evil to go full course to demonstrate the best evil can produce – nothing but trouble, sales death and destruction. So, shop we know about trouble.

Often the impact of trouble lies primarily in our perceptions.

In Psalm 74, the writer is desperate for God’s intervention. V1 Why have you rejected us?Why does your anger burn. V2 Remember your people. V3 Turn your steps toward your sanctuary, V6 don’t you see your foes destroying your sanctuary and defiling the dwelling place of your name? V10 How long will the enemy mock? V11 Why do you hold back your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them.

Then in V12, his perspective changes, You are my King, O God. You bring salvation. He speaks of God’s awesome power, V13 You split the sea, V15 You open up springs and dry up rivers. V16 The day is yours and also the night. V17 You set the boundaries of the earth. V22 Rise up, O God, defend your cause.

We all know about the glass half empty or half full. The perspective choice is ours.

One of my young friends share the following letter received by her third grade son from a friend in the town they have recently moved from. The names have been changed to protect the innocent or the guilty as the case may be.

Dear mike,                                                                 12/20/12

Things are not going well in music class or normel life. Well, I’ll start of with… You missed polar Express Day. A day where we got hot caco a story, candy canes and we got to watch polar Express. Next I’ll tell you I turned nine on the 19th j0382578Now I’ll tell you just how bad music class can get. Well odviesly Mrs. F does not like us. As soon as we got there she mad us practice lineing up, then she made us walk thru every hall in the school, then She made us stop at Mr. O’s class and told him that we where the worst class in third grade. That made me and sue start to cry and she smiled. And guess who saw u, Sophia and Lauren they lahfed. *        

Then when Mrs. K herd she mak us read instead of resess. Then we had the useuide Christmas play and Lauren thought she saw me watching Sara Smith. Well Lauren thought I was in love with her and I’m not. So by now the whole school thinks I’m in love with Sara. Jason wanted me to tell you a noth funny Sang: Jingle bells batman smells roben layed a gun he shot a tree and made it pee in 1983 hay.

                                                                             Love  Matt Keefer

And you think you go troubles?

*http://www.slps.org/sigeles

 

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In the Throes of the Cosmic Struggle

I am a writer, cialis a fiction writer. Some days this is more of a faith statement than reality. Nevertheless, advice I press on.Damsel in distress

Every story teller knows, the story is everything AND to have a story, you must have conflict, a struggle between the brave hero and the dastardly villain over the lovely damsel.*

During January I have been reflecting on life and faith through the eyes of the Psalter, the hymn book of Scripture. So far most of the Psalms we have looked at are attributed to the poetic genius of David, son of Jesse of Bethlehem, the second king of Israel. You don’t read far before discovering David has people grouped into two camps: the righteous, aka the godly, and the wicked, aka the ungodly, the evil ones. Interestingly enough, though perhaps a simplistic view, the bulk of Scripture agrees with his assessment. Light vs. dark. Right vs. wrong. Good vs. bad. God vs. Satan. By the very nature of the elements mentioned, the struggle grips the cosmos. God is the victor, the victory won before the foundation of the world –  a worthy subject of another discussion.

David writes a lot about his struggle with evil. In Psalm 37, he gives a blueprint for that struggle. I would encourage a cataloguing of what he has to say about the wicked compared to what he says about the righteous.

Psalm 37: 1 – 10
David arms us for the struggle

Imperatives
Don’t fret
Don’t be envious
Don’t be anxious
Trust in the Lord
Do Good
Delight in the Lord
Commit your way to the Lord
Be still before the Lord
Wait patiently for Him
Refrain from anger
Turn from wrath

Don’t fret. David knows about fretting. O Lord, how many are my foes. (Psalm 3:1) Give me relief from my stress (Psalm 4:1) How long, will men turn my glory into shame? (Psalm 4:2) They will tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces… (Psalm  7:2) Three times in these ten verses David, says don’t fret.  The final admonition is followed by …it leads only to evil. (Psalm 37:8) Ruminating over our troubles enlarges them in our mind. So the master fretter says; Don’t fret, don’t be envious, don’t be anxious.

Okay, ixnay** with the fretting. No more melodramatic damsel in distress. “O my, whatever shall I do?” Whatever shall I do? I will Trust in the Lord. I will do good. I will delight in the Lord. I will commit my way to the Lord. I will be still before the Lord. I will wait patiently for Him. I will refrain from anger. I will turn from wrath. Each of these imperatives begs closer examination, but for now it is a good to do list.

What benefit is derived from this activity of the righteous? He will dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. She will receive the desires of her heart. Your righteousness will shine like the dawn and the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. The meek/those who hope in the lord will inherit the land. They will enjoy great peace.

God promises to guard the lives of his faithful ones and deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart. Psalm 97:10, 11

In the words of the recently sung carol:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
(4th stanza of I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day)***

 * Image: http://www.dpchallenge.com/image.php?IMAGE_ID=415604
** Pig-Latin for nix. My condolences to those of you young ones who have never enjoyed the mysteries of Pig-Latin.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pig_Latin
*** http://www.oldielyrics.com/christmas/i_heard_the_bells_on_christmas_day.htm
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Tactics for Trouble

TroubleI am a man of constant sorrow
I’ve seen trouble all my days…

Don’t know if this 1913 folk song would have the same appeal sung to the accompaniment of a shepherd’s harp as it does crooned by the Soggy Mountain Boys. But David had all the credentials necessary to sing the ballad with deep conviction. *

Dissed by older brothers, betrayed by King Saul whom he served as armor bearer and usurped by his son Absalom, David’s could own a personal acquaintance with trouble
. Job, the writer of the oldest book of the Bible observed, People are born to have trouble. And that’s just as sure as sparks fly up.
(Job 5:7)

 Through difficult experience, David developed a posture for facing and getting through trouble. Consider God, Consider the Test, Consider Your Response, Consider Your Confession

Consider GodOne of the reasons David is called a man after God’s heart is because he, first and last, acknowledged the Sovereign Lord. Shout with joy to God. (Psalm 66:1)God, you are awesome, your power is great. Your works are awesome. You rule forever. You watch the nations. (Psalm 66:3-7) An accurate view of God colors everything else.

Consider the Test:  A healthy view of God and His true and loving nature, brings proper prospective to our trouble. He has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. But… You, oh God, tested us; you refined us like silver…you brought us to a place of abundance. (Psalm 66:9-12) The substance of the troubleprison, burdens on our backs, men riding over us, fire and water brings about refining, to bring us to the place of abundance.

Consider Your Response:  Trouble is never pleasant, but at the risk of being cliché, it can either make you bitter or better. David’s response to the refiner’s fire is to worship. I will come to your temple… He brings offerings and fulfills his vows – the promises made when he was in trouble. (Psalm 66:13-15) Sound familiar? We make promises to God in the middle of trouble. “God, if you will get me out of this mess, I’ll …” Do you forget your vows once the trouble is past? David knew the essential value of fulfilling his vows. The one refined by trouble keeps his promises.

Consider Your Confession: Come and listen … let me tell you what he has done for me. (Psalm 66:16) David confesses the source of his help. He cried to the Lord, he turned his heart from sin and God surely listened and heard. (Psalm 66:19) David’s confession is always of our God who is mighty to save.

He will call out to me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in times of trouble. I will save him and honor him. (Psalm 91:15)

Trouble is all around me, but you keep me alive. You reach out your hand to put a stop to the anger of my enemies. With your powerful right hand you save me. (Psalm 138:7)

Are you in trouble?  If not now, then probably soon,you will be because Job was right when he said we are born to trouble. Don’t allow trouble to swallow you. Adopt David’s tactics. Consider the nature of God, consider the test you are in, consider your response, and consider your confession, –  your confession of faith.

Your troubles have come in order to prove that your faith is real. It is worth more than gold… 1 Peter 1:7



[i]   http://www.stlyrics.com/lyrics/obrotherwhereartthou/iamamanofconstantsorrow.htm[ii]“Man of Constant Sorrow” (also known as “I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow”) is a traditional American folk song first recorded by Dick Burnett, a partially blind fiddler from Kentucky. The song was originally recorded by Burnett as “Farewell Song” printed in a Richard Burnett songbook, circa 1913. An early version was recorded by Emry Arthur in 1928 (Vocalion Vo 5208).http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_of_Constant_Sorrow 
 
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When Evil Seems to Prosper

Does it ever seem to you that the guys riding into the sunset – into the happily ever after – are wearing black hats? And you thought the good guys, nurse the ones in white hats, were suppose to win.

riding-off-into-the-sunset“Who can show us any good?” David wonders in Psalm 4:6. The bad guys seemed to be coming out on top.

“O God, hear my complaint.” David implores the Lord in Psalm 64:1 “Protect me from the threat of the enemy.” He is the victim of conspiracy (vs. 2,) of sharp tongues that shoot deadly arrows (vs. 3,) the victim of ambush (vs. 4,) and evil plans and hidden snares (vs. 5,) about which his enemy boasts, “Who will see the hidden snares?”  All around his enemy plots injustice with a cunning mind.

Evildoers say the Lord does not see; “He pays no heed,” they claim. Psalm 94:7.

David knew the sharp pain of betrayal and despair of being surrounded by those who wished his ruin. In the face of crushing opposition David counsels his soul.

David answers:
Does the one who implanted the ear not hear?
Does He who formed the eye not see?
Does He who disciplines the nations not punish?
Does He who teaches man lack knowledge?
Psalm 94:9 – 10

Of course He hears, He sees, He exacts punishment, He does not lack knowledge.

God will establish judgment founded on righteousness. Psalm 94:15

His love supports me.
God is my fortress, my rock, my refuge.
He will destroy the wicked.
Psalm 64:18 – 23

The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry;
the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all;
he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.
Evil will slay the wicked; the foes of the righteous will be condemned.
 The LORD redeems his servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 34:15 – 22

That must have been the sun in your eye. Those are white hats riding into the sunset.

Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord. Let them take refuge in Him. Praise Him!
(from Psalm 64:10)

Image: http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=cowboys+riding+into+the+sunset&qs=n&form=QBIR&pq=cowboys+riding+into+the+sunset&sc=4-30&sp=-1&sk=#view=detail&id=F37020FDE753E8BB571C808F0777ED710EE7E0F4&selectedIndex=6
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Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.

I often begin the year by reading the Psalms according to the pattern that will get me through the entire book in one month.

January 1             Read Psalm 1, order 31, seek 61, 91, 121

And so on.

Today’s reading is Psalm 2, 32, 62, 92, 122

Psalm 2:12           Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.
Psalm 32:7           You, Lord, are my hiding place; You protect me from trouble.
Psalm 62:1 & 2   My soul finds rest in God alone.
Psalm 62:5 & 6   My salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock, my salvation, my fortress.
Psalm 62:7           God is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Finding our refuge – our hiding place, our protection, our rest, our salvation, our fortress, our mighty rock –  in God alone is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a sign of wisdom and acumen. The person who understands his/her need for a refuge and makes God his/her fortress, finds all the benefits of that relationship – favor, forgiveness, rest, salvation.

Psalm 2:12           Blessed are all who take refuge in Him
Psalm 32:1 & 2   Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven; whose sin is covered
Blessed is the man whose sine the Lord does not count against him

We are blessed when we take refuge in God. God doesn’t think less of those who take refuge in Him. Actually, He blesses those who take refuge in Him. The smart choice is to take refuge in Him. In a sense, the measure of blessedness  is in direct correlation to degree to which we lean on the Everlastings Arms.

Lord, you are my hiding place.
You protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of deliverance.

Therefore

I will instruct you and teach you.
I will counsel you and watch over you.
signed, God
Psalm 32:7 & 8

Have a blessed day. Make the Mighty God your refuge.

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Happy New Year 2013 – Reflections by Johnese

 

 

stomach sans-serif;”>Happy New Year from Ken and Johnese Burtram

2013

The ringing phone pulled me from the edges of sleep.

“Happy New Year, Mom.” My daughter in Seattle made sure I didn’t miss the New Year.

I’m glad to step into a new year. The staggering changes of 2012 make this day of reflection poignant in its contrasts.  

God has called us to a place we feel so ill equipped for. But then, how does one prepare for the weight of leadership. These statements are not negative; just fact. We are confident of God’s call and equally aware of our great need of His grace.

Thank you to our many friends and colleagues for your prayers and words of affirmation and encouragement. You are our treasures. Words are inadequate to convey your value to us. We hold you in our hearts.

The losses of 2012 loom large in my reflections. The loss of relationships impacts me deeply.

In September, 2012, my mom when home to Jesus just thirteen days shy of her 90th birthday. In this loss, though not entirely unexpected, I walked into a new season. I am motherless.

I am grateful for the days preceding Mom’s death, days filled with family and remembering. Jeff, Janna, and Jim, I appreciate the gift of sharing this time with you. It is a precious time of inestimable worth. You’re the best. My Daddy’s unimpeachable fidelity to the wife of his youth is forever stamped in my heart. How blessed I am with a wonderful birth family.

In the grief process, I have reflected on the legacy I carry. In all her human frailty, Mom left me a cherished legacy. (“A Mother’s Gift” soon to be posted under Christmas 2012 at http://www.potomacag.org/wim_archive.asp ) I value most her spiritual legacy. The spiritual sensitivity she cultivated came home to me in an unexpected way.

The relationship goes back forty-five years; the incident comes from over forty years ago. We saw Wendell Ross, Ken’s college roommate, and his wife Marilyn at a funeral in New York last week. We spent a few minutes catching up. Upon hearing about Mom Wendell said. “I’ll never forget…”

Wendell and Marilyn were in their first pastorate after graduating from Bible school. The work was challenging and times were lean. Wendell came home for lunch one day. He had a sandwich with the last slice in bologna in the fridge. Marilyn finished the last of the peanut butter.  Their food was gone and so was their money.

Before returning to work, Wendell brought in the mail. He noticed a postmark from Kansas. The letter must be from the Turners, Johnese’s parents. He didn’t know anyone else in Kansas. The envelope contained a check and a note.

Billie Turner couldn’t get the Rosses off her mind. She felt like God was telling her to send them some money. She wrote a check and a note and hurriedly addressed the envelope. “Hurry son. This needs to get in the mail today,” she urged her son out the door to mail the letter.

That check provided for Wendell and Marilyn until the next pay day. And they never forgot it.

Mom heard God’s voice. I’m glad she listened and heeded that voice. I’m especially glad for the heritage that makes me comfortable with hearing His voice. Someday, I hope a similar story can be told about me. I also hope the same sensitivity is part the legacy I leave with my children.

2013. A new year – hope for new beginnings. We turn the page to an expanse of time yet to be marked by successes or failures, sorrows or joys. Happy New Year. May 2013 be a good year.

 

 

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Station – 4, Jesus is denied by Peter

Station 4
Jesus is denied by Peter*

Think about His love …
Think about His grace that’s brought us through
…  So great is the measure of our father’s love
Don Moan *

Jesus warned Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Luke 22:31, 32

Have you ever been sifted? You lay crushed looking up into the bottom of the sieve, your life in fine powder. Bitter tears threaten to wash away the pieces. You didn’t even realize what was happening until it was all over.

Peter, one of the closest friends. Peter, who walked on water right beside Jesus. Peter, present at the transfiguration. Peter, Jesus’ BFF. Confident that he would go even to death for Jesus, Peter failed to regard Jesus’ warning.

Peter denied being in the company of the disciples. He even denied any knowledge of Jesus. Finally, as if an oath added credence to the words spoken, Peter cursed and swore he did not know Jesus.

Then the rooster crowed.

Then Peter remembered Jesus’ words.

Even in crisis, Jesus sees Peter. We can be sure he prayed that his faith remained intact. I can’t help but think the look he gave Peter was one of compassion and understanding. He reached out to Peter, even in his failure.

Those sins Jesus was going to die for: Peter’s pride and subsequent fall. All was forgiven. Peter’s debt – paid in full.

* (Scriptural Way of the Cross, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scriptural_Way_of_the_Cross )
http://www.lyricstime.com/don-moen-think-about-his-love-lyrics.html
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