The God of the Screw-up

“Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob.” (Ps 146:5)

Many times God self references as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs of the faith. And often in the scriptures, when people describe the God they serve this is the title they use. But there are many times when God is known simply as the God of Jacob. I particularly like this shortcut to connection with God.

Why? Because Jacob was a screw up, sure he became the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, but even that accomplishment was more by God’s gracious redemption than Jacob’s faithful obedience. The God of Jacob is my God, the God whose help I need because more often than not, I’ve screwed something up and made a hot mess of things.

Like Jacob I find myself in situations where I need divine intervention. Maybe the situation is the result of my own willful actions, or maybe I allow myself to be talked into something because I’m too insecure to say no, or there are those moments when I am the victim of someone’s else’s screw up. Whatever the source of the trouble, I need God’s help. I need the God of Jacob.

During this series, we’ll look at Jacob and the situations in which he found himself, the ones he orchestrated or was coerced into; and then we’ll consider how God helped him in these very real, very relatable circumstances and/or relationships.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

Who is Jacob’s God?

The God of the ones who need help being born (Genesis 25:26).

In the womb, Jacob grabbed his brother’s heel and was pulled into life. He arrived on the coattails of his bigger, stronger sibling.

Jacob’s God is the one who comes to help you when you don’t have the power to engage in life; when you feel you don’t exist or wish you didn’t. This is the God of the depressed; the one who feels defeated before she even begins; the one who fears that he will not be valued unless he is connected to one with more power or influence or charisma.

While in college I applied for a job to be a youth ministries intern at my church. Of all the job interviews I’ve had over the course of my life this is the one interview where I remember the question I was asked and my exact response. I almost cringe at the memory.

“What are your career ambitions? What do you hope to do with your life upon your graduation from college?”

“I want to be a Pastor’s wife.”

Step inside my 20 year old brain and understand why I answered in such a manner.

I knew I had the gift and the ability to open the scriptures in ways that were insightful; my studies made the Bible accessible and applicable to life. But I didn’t believe I had the right to offer these insights to others nor the ability to communicate them effectively. I believed I needed a husband to whom I could feed my ideas and then he could use his power to preach them. I felt I had to be the woman behind the man, the one who he depended upon for inspiration. I had no right to exist as a voice for God.

This wasn’t necessarily about male/female roles, it was more about my sense of self. I remember doing what I could to escape being noticed, while at the same time longing to be seen. Developmentally, I was a toddler, fearfully peeking out from behind my parent’s back, wanting to engage with the world, but without the strength and skills to pull it off.

I needed the God of Jacob.

Jacob’s God is the midwife that catches you as you are birthed, who says, “You do exist, you may need help to emerge but help is available. Be not ashamed that you are weak in body or character. Jacob’s God hasn’t forgotten you. Jacob’s God will nurse you and tenderly strengthen you for the life prepared for you.”

God provided me with “bigger, stronger siblings” to pull me into the life he had planned for me; friends who called out the truth in me, a husband who cheered my voice, a pastor who believed in me and let me practice my gifts.

Call on Jacob’s God, let this holy brother and mother be your power and nurture. You have been born, your life is intended, cling to the God who makes a way for your life to emerge.

***

Some of what’s coming up in future posts: I know you’ll relate to some of these topics.

The God of the one who isn’t preferred in life by his Father or significant authority.

The God of the one who has taken advantage of others to benefit herself.

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What you need to do today

nadim-merrikh-307897When I was young, more than anything else, I wanted to be a broadway dancer. I wanted dance lessons, but my parents gave me accordion lessons. Not quite the same skill set. I dreamed of dancing in the ensemble of a broadway show. I wasn’t interested in the lead, I loved the idea of teamwork and precision the line required. In theater, the production team sometimes issue a “cattle call,”  an open invitation for anyone who wants to audition to show up and give it their best shot.

Jesus issued a cattle call in Mark 8. It was an invitation to the whole crowd, not just his disciples. “Anybody want to come after me? Anyone?” All are invited to try out. Not just the spiritual (the disciples), but the crowd (those after Jesus’ works and wonders.) Doesn’t matter where you start on your journey of coming after Jesus. It is open to all, the protocol is the same:  Deny self, take up cross and follow. All can try out, but it is a tough regimen if you are going to make the line.

Be encouraged, Jesus calls you. You can start today, all over again, every morning his mercies are new. 

First comes denying self. Do I want Jesus more than anything else. If I am to deny myself, I must first identify what my self is after (other than Jesus.) To go after him, my agendas, my ambitions are not annexed into the assignment, but avoided altogether. Remember, somewhere else Jesus said, “Seek first my kingdom…etc etc.”

Jesus’ demands are not without reward. Seek him and the rest falls into line. All your worries will be addressed within the Kingdom of your loving Father. The promise is God’s joy over you, that’s worth it.

What are my “flesh’s” agendas and ambitions? A life of ease, satisfying my appetites, fame in my world. To avoid them I will need to take up my cross. This means I would: work and be busy with my assignments (in home and in heart), to eat healthily and economically; to offer with abandon the labors of my heart. All with eyes fixed on Jesus (source and goal of my faith.)

What are your “flesh’s” agendas and ambitions? What must you do to avoid them? 

Am I up for it? This morning’s Lectio Divina from Psalm 119 comes to mind as the only source of power if I am to make the line: Oh Lord, “give me life.” Both my power and plan come God’s power and plan.

Dear Lord Jesus, thank you that you see in me the potential for coming after you. Thank you that you give me clear cut definitions of what I am to do to follow you. Grant me the grace to rely on your generous power and your loving face to deny myself, take up my cross and follow. Thank you and amen.

 

a parable

A Parable  – Mark 10:46-52

I wasn’t always blind. I was made blind through the innocent act of my brother. He was attempting a job beyond his skill level and the job got away from him, blinding me. He didn’t intend any harm. He is not to blame, but nevertheless, his need to do the job without help cost me my sight.

You may ask, “Where was our father? Isn’t it the father’s job to guard us, keep us from danger, wisely judging when we were ready for the job?” My brother and I were products of his love, a love that loved well, but not always with wisdom. My father is not to blame, but nevertheless, his hesitancy in saying no cost me my sight.

I am now a beggar. I don’t know how to beg. I used to walk this thoroughfare as a sighted, important person. The beggars on the side of the road were inconsequential to my journey, white noise. Now I am one of them and must learn to beg without even eyes to watch them, to see how it is done.

Yet somehow within me there is an optimism, muted, but real. Not Pollyanna-ish, but a hope that all can be well. Some might call it denial. I don’t. I feel it is a confidence, no that’s too strong a descriptor; it is more a trust in Good. All will be well somehow.

The hubbub of the crowd along the thoroughfare is constant, but I sense its voice changing. It is becoming more focused in its attention. There is someone important coming toward me on the road. I can tell by the tone of the crowd. I hear that the one coming toward me is Jesus. I’ve heard of him. I’ve heard how he has healed. I’ve heard how he sees people the crowd or the important people do not see. Maybe he can hear me.

I yell out toward him, calling his name, reminding him of his heritage and begging, not for alms or aid, but for mercy. I can get alms from any passer-by…but they have no mercy for me. I long for Jesus to see me and realize that my dilemma is not my fault, to maybe use his reputed healing power to heal me. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” My voice persists, in fact it builds. I’m aware of the crowd trying to quiet me. But instead they are quieted as I sense Jesus has stopped. My voice alone is heard – almost a whisper now in the hush. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me. I am Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. I am in need of your mercy.”

In the quiet, I hear your call, your call to come to you. Your desire for me advances to me through the crowd. “Come.” Unchecked, I spring up and rush to you, groping arms outstretched because I’m not sure what’s in front of me, unaware of the crowd, who in retrospect I realize must have parted to make a way for me to follow your call. I come to you and fall on your chest. My head is buried in your embrace. I smell your closeness. I feel your arms. I sink into your strength. I hear your voice, “What do you want?”

“I want my life back. I want a ministry. I want to be used for your work, for your sake, for the Kingdom.” You hold me while I weep into your shoulder. Minutes passed. (Maybe hours, maybe seconds, I don’t know. Time stood still.)

When you finally speak you commend me and say to me that my trust in you, my faith in your power to restore has made me well. I am not aware of any faith on my part. I know only my need to be near you in my desperation. Yet, when I open my eyes, while still tucked in your embrace, I see the crowds watching me lean on you. I can see again. And I see the people observing me depend on you. They see my clinging to you. And you say…”This is your ministry now; let them see your utter dependence on me, let them see your continued leaning on me, clinging to me, relying on my mercy. This is your life and your ministry now.”

I physically let go of clinging to you, so I can follow as you lead. Yet I carry this truth with me. My true self will always be clinging to you. I will let them see my need of you.

How to live near the Kingdom of Heaven

Thoughts on Mark 12:28-34

An earnest, seeking scribe, listened to Jesus’ wise words and asked Jesus the question that was on his heart. “Which commandment is the first of all?” Today some religious people’s test of piety is where one stands on certain issues, say abortion, or sexuality or even smoking. It was the same in Jesus’ day. Religious people broke into groups that favored one commandment over the others – us vs them.

On behalf of all earnest seekers throughout history the scribe asked the important question, out of all the commandments which is the primary one that contains and informs the others? 

Notice Jesus’ answer. It begins with “Hear.” If you’re going to ask a question of Jesus, then you better be ready to listen to his answer. This scribe was. He asked not for the sake of argument, or to prove Jesus wrong, but because he truly wanted to hear from Jesus how to order his life.

“‘The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’”

Contained within his answer is the picture of a united divinity, the Lord our God is one; a united fellowship, the Lord our God is one;  and a united person, love God with every part of your being, your heart, soul, mind and strength.

And then Jesus gives a bonus answer, “The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

That sums it up. And the earnest scribe got it. He heard Jesus’ answer to his question, he acknowledged that what Jesus said was true and that to keep these two commandments meant more to God than any ritually performed acts of worship or service.

Jesus observed that the scribe answered wisely. This is the only time this phrase is used in the entire NT. The scribe listened well. He received Jesus words as the words of life. He was close to the Kingdom.

In such a manner is the Kingdom approached, by earnestly seeking Jesus to learn how to live, by allowing him to be Lord and his words to determine the way I live. Yes, this is my prayer. Thank you and amen

God holds God’s breath

Here’s a suggestion about keeping your daily devotions fresh. Read the scripture in a Bible version different than your usual one. This is how a favorite Psalm recently gave me some encouragement.

In my regular old NRSV Psalm 5:3 reads:

Oh Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you and watch.

It’s a very sweet reminder; regularly present my needs to God and then stand back and watch God handle the situation.

But the other morning I read Psalm 5 from the Jerusalem Bible, and I noticed a different emphasis:

I say this prayer to you, Yahweh, for at daybreak you listen for my voice; and at dawn I hold myself in readiness for you, I watch for you.

“…for at daybreak you listen for my voice.” God doesn’t just hear your case, God actually is eager to hear the words you will speak; almost holding his breath in anticipation of receiving you and your prayers. Yahweh is not indifferent toward you; like a parent listening for the sound of her child awakening in the morning, God stands at the door of your heart waiting for an invitation to enter.

Your response is to “hold yourself in readiness.” The NRSV sounds rather passive, “I watch.” This translation  suggests an alertness, a readiness to spring into action, an anticipation that God will act and you need to be good to go.

Such a mutuality. God, eager to listen; you eager to respond. Yay, God! and Yay, You!

Why I’ll never be a super blogger

“You need a memorable tag line,” adamantly declared one presenter. Another concurred, “You need to have your elevator pitch ready.”

I naively attended a national Christian writer’s conference expecting instruction on honing my craft. Instead, I learned what I needed to do to become a “super blogger.” I didn’t really want to be a super blogger, but they knew better than me, they were published and recognized authors. The world needed my voice, they preached, and how could it find me unless my blog gained an impressive platform, with thousands of followers. So I diligently set out to write a sentence or two that communicated who I was, what I write, why I write it and to whom I write that was deliverable in the time it would take to ride an elevator to the second floor.

And got nowhere. All my attempts, which were many, felt canned, cramped, inauthentic. I gave up on it and contented myself with my narrow, but deep influence on the 150 or so followers who had found me.

Until one day while trolling through facebook I came across a video someone had posted. (Sorry I cannot give credit to the post-er, or the video itself. I’ve tried to find it since with no luck.) The video was of a business consultant who worked with companies and organizations helping them motivate and increase their employees productivity and morale. “Don’t ask a person what they do, that will give you the flat, specific, boring details of their work situation. Instead ask them why they do what they do. This question engages their cherished dreams, their most valued hopes and most important relationships.”

So I asked myself, Debby, why do you write what you write? The answer descended like the fire at Pentecost. “I wake up every morning eager to hear God’s voice of love and then share it through my life, my writings and my words.” Bingo! I still smile when I repeat that phrase. It’s an answer to all the demands of an elevator pitch and beyond that gives me energy, focus and informs not only my writing but all the actions of life. It is my monk’s rule!

I almost live a monastic life. My husband and I recently moved from a 900 sq foot condominium in the heart of San Francisco, to a two acre farm in the Hudson Valley of New York. I wake each morning and eagerly await God’s voice of love. I encounter it in the quiet of our home before anyone else is awake. The scripture I read and the songs I sing, alternately whisper or shout “God is here, God sees, God cares, God needs you.” My journal pages capture the heartbeat of God’s love and I often share it with the world through my blog. My dogs greet me with great affection, presumptuously finding their way onto the center of my lap. What wonderful reminders of the welcome that awaits me in the lap of my loving God. My husband joins me and we enjoy companionable coffee, share our plans for the day and I recall the companionship of the Trinity.  The constant changing of my garden teaches me almost all of what I need to understand about the spiritual life.

Trained in the Ignatian mode of Spiritual Direction, I am particularly fond of Imaginative prayer, putting myself in the gospel story, becoming one of or interacting with the characters. Such a prayer practice evokes deep and often hidden beauty and wounds within my soul. Once while praying with the gospel account of Jesus preaching to the crowds while standing on Peter and Andrew’s fishing boat, I was prompted to “be the boat.”

I felt such humble gratitude that Jesus would use me as his platform for speaking of God’s love. I basked in the joy of that privilege for quite some time. And when Jesus invited Peter and Andrew to become fishers of men, and they then left their boats and followed him, such an anger erupted within me. “What, you’re going to leave me behind.” I never knew there was such pride hidden within my heart. This prayer shed light upon it and allowed me to welcome my need to be needed into the loving and healing presence of God. I can now more easily rejoice in God’s creative use of all kinds of people and things to communicate his great love for the world. Me included!

My parish may be small, but I am its pastor. And the more I let myself be loved, the more loving I become. It’s my life’s journey.  It is how I am a monk in the world.

With you on the journey,

Debby Bellingham

(This was first published on the website: Abbey of the Arts)

Advent Retreat update

Sadly, I have to report that the Advent retreat, scheduled for December 2nd will not be happening. (sad face). But if you would like to receive the Advent devotional that you would have received at the retreat, please sign up for it below.

OR, if you would like to receive the advent devotional, even if you weren’t able to make the retreat, sign up below.

With you on the journey,

Debby