Friday, December 30, 2011

Heavenly Citizenship

Our commonwealth has its existence in heaven, from which also we await the Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour, who shall transform our body of humiliation into conformity to his body of glory, according to the working of [the] power which he has even to subdue all things to himself.  --Philippians 3:20-21 (Darby)

Glory is that amazing word of blazing light and transforming power through which God's unmistakable presence is shown.  The angels on the first Christmas appeared in glory to sing: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace..."  Christ came down, dwelling in a common human body, but showed himself to be much more glorious than any imagined.  Not his mother, or his father, or the shepherds or the Three Kings could even begin to imagine the changes this little baby Jesus would bring.  Consciously or unconsciously, all humanity had awaited this affirmation of God's eternal covenant, and here he was: Jesus Christ our Savior.

Jesus Christ made real the distinctions between this life (bound in our "bodies of humiliation") and where our truer lives were gathered: in heaven.  Paul says when Jesus comes we become, in essence, citizens of two realms.  The one foot is firmly planted in heaven; the other in this mortal earthly life.  Christ is the turning crux of life between these two places.  Belief in Him will transform our mortality into the full glory of God's own presence.  Being fully aware of this transforms our definitions of how to be and live while in this earthly existence; it brings the heavenly commonwealth closer to all we meet.

Holy God, transform our shallow grounding in the things of this life into the magnificence of your heavenly realm, and let it be shown to all those around us.  Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

Therefore will the Lord himself give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and shall bring forth a son, and call his name Immanuel.  -- Isaiah 7:14  (Darby) 

There is a part of modern society that depresses me, angers me, and frustrates me.   It is that part of society that finds humor in the holy; it is that part that casts educated, scientific disparaging cynicism on the Holy Mystery.    For instance, the crude (and rude) joking about the Immaculate Conception.  It is that part of society, even found inside the walls of the church, that finds a quibbling energy to cast doubt and dissension by trifling over minutia.  For instance, I have sat through more discussions than I care to remember over whether the word "virgin" means virgin in the sexual sense, or more in the na├»ve or young girl sense.  Does it really matter?  To quibble over that nuance of meaning is to lose the real meaning to which the words point.   The meaning embedded in the Mystery of the Christmas story is lost In the arguing over details or in the making light of the larger story because we find in it a possibility for immature prurient humor.  I would hope it would make everyone sadder and a little angry. 

Look!  Hear!  A Love which knew no bounds threw itself down on the stage of broken human striving.  We were/are striving to make sense of war, of loss, of grief, of shame, of misfortune, of illness, and of death.  Humanism says "Work harder.  Never give up."  The Christmas witness says, "There is grace, a Presence With that does not take your worthiness into account."  We strive to claim more - more land, more resources, more rights, more freedom, more money.  Humanistic "common sense" says, "Take, Take, Take and keep it locked up tightly."  Christmas witness says, "Take me, love me and that will be enough." 

Love comes down at Christmas.  It is a love that we humans had dreamed about for generations; a love which all generations need, especially today's.  That love is a King, a servant, a teacher, a crucified lamb who takes away the sin of the world.  He doesn't quibble over his origin - He is from the Father in heaven.  He doesn't hold a gun to your head, only beacons gently for you to come and follow him.  He doesn't punish for all the rudeness and impoliteness you might heap on his head, but only forgives and promises, "You'll be with me this day in Paradise." (Luke 23:43) 

When Love came down it took the lowly place of a manger.  He didn't take up swords and violence, or power.  He took up gentleness, quiet reason, and capable discourse.  Then, he willingly swallowed the bitter pill to eternally cure you of your all human weakness and failings.   Yes, Love came down at Christmas... "Love shall be our token; love be yours and love be mine;  love to God and all men, love for plea and gift and sign." (Christina Georgina Rossetti, stanza 3, Love Came Down at Christmas, 1885) 

Forgive us Lord Jesus, when we lose our senses and fall off our sensibility into the vulgar ways of secular humor or mindless debates.  Keep us focused on recognizing the Love you've sacrificed for us that we might be love in return to others.  Amen.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Messiah Comes

All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way; and Jehovah hath laid upon him the iniquity of us all.  -- Isaiah 53:6  (Darby) 

The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is the quintessential chapter in the Bible that lays out what the anticipated Messiah is going to bring to humankind.  It is a chapter that has been around for thousands of years and embodies the very depth of traditional religious meaning for two religions - Judaism and Christianity.  Much of the chapter should ring familiar to anyone raised in either faith. 

Christians believe this Messianic person is coming in the person of Jesus Christ, whose birth we will be celebrating in just a few days.  The description of the Messiah's earthly work is fraught with suffering and pain.  Christmas is normally celebrated as the "Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas" holiday of fat Santa, the prancing and pawing of each little hoof, brown papered packages tied up with string, and the romantic cuddling under warm blankets since we've no place to go - let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.  This might be the romantic comedy side of Christmas.  It would be a shallow simpletons holiday, however, were it not for the Messiah's coming of Isaiah 53.  Isaiah 53 brings the divine tragedy to Christmas.  It is the grim reality that humanity has a dark side, lives in a society that is sprinkled with evil, misery, and death and that there comes a remedy to cure all of that, that gives the deep grace and light to Christmas such that its romantic comedic side can establish peace and prosperity to all. 

Without the reminder in Advent of the cross, to which is nailed our sins and our failings, and from the root of which comes our forgiveness and our very salvation all the shallow Christmas cheer of 10,000 Christmases would not be enough.   All the gifts Santa could bring off every list of every girl and boy could not match the Love that God infuses into the human story when Jesus takes the manger.  When the Angel Gabriel touches Mary and God incarnates into human life humanity transforms from vile banality to transcendent spiritual force that creates a people who walk by faith, hope, and love.   At Christmas Love came down.  He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, yet with his stripes we are healed.  Don't let the shopping malls near you drunken you with so much cheer that you forget the deeper, quieter, more serious reason we're celebrating! 

Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you gave yourself for us.  Help us to not trivialize your saving power by mistaking gift-giving and Christmas celebrations for why you came.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Soon and Very Soon

And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.;  -- Isaiah 2:4 (KJV)
Advent is not just about personal looking ahead to the Messiah's coming.  Advent is also about our communal looking ahead.  We live within a society and culture that has grown addicted to violence as a solution to our problems.  Whether it is addressing terrorism with bombings and assassination, or using the death penalty to rid society of murderers, or gangs offing rival gang members with drive-by shootings, or drug cartels gunning down rival dope dealers, or a husband shooting his estranged wife and then himself, or little Johnny bashing obnoxious Suzy in the jaw we're all prone to look to violence to fix our disputes when we can't get our way any other way.

Christianity sets itself apart from this Darwinian escape to destruction.  In response to a question about the age-old Hammurabi Code of "an eye for an eye," Jesus says, "No.  Turn the other cheek.  Go the extra mile.  Give your shirt and your coat."  The coming of Jesus reminds us of the need to move away from simplistic violent solutions and to pursue other avenues of dialogue and response to thorny questions/problems. 

"He shall judge among the nations..."  We don't think very often that we'll ever be judged, because we would like to believe we are so pure in our motives that nobody could find fault with us.  Yet, we need an awakening from the deep troubled nightmares of fear and trepidation terrorism and violence pose.  The knee-jerk reaction to violence utilizing violence only escalates the conflicts as a rule, puts us on a par with the evil ones who first attacked, and leaves the whole world more blind.  Looking forward to the arrival of the Messiah we can pray for the end of all war and violence.  If Isaiah is to be believed, it will happen, sooner rather than later, O Lord!

Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King.  Save us, Lord Jesus, from ourselves.  Fill us with the peace and love that knows no ending.  Judge us quickly and safely.  In Christ our shield.  Amen.   

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Children of Light

...and they will look to the earth; and behold, trouble and darkness, gloom of anguish; and they shall be driven into thick darkness. -- Isaiah 8:22

As winter closes in on the northern latitudes, and October winds toward the annual changing of the clocks to Standard Time, darkness falls upon us for an increasing length of time every day.  Add to it the gloomy darkness of rain/snow clouds and I know more than a few people who get very depressed.  Winter, or the dark season, was one of the reasons the Christian Church way back yonder in time chose to place the date for Christmas where we have it.  Near to the longest night of the year we have this huge Christian celebration of Christ's coming into the world.  Christmas, as it has become celebrated (apart from the commercialism) is a celebration of lights. 

"A light burns in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it." (John 1:5)  Immanuel's entry into the world, with the truckload of promises it both fulfills and creates new, lights up the darkest corners of human existence.  We were cast in a dark well, striving to fulfill The Law and be good enough.  Light came, the well was opened, the ground leveled and we now walk with an assurance of grace and forgiveness.  The struggle to accomplish our goodness is transformed from personal lonely endeavor to a partnership completed with and by Christ.

Preparing for Christ's coming is a preparation in releasing oneself from the lonely guilt of not feeling good enough for Him to come into your spirit, your life, your house, and your church.  Find creative ways to use lights such that their presence is a daily reminder of the cleansing of that unworthiness, and God's adoption of you as a son or daughter.  Light candles.  Decorate with lights.  Feel the nearness of God bending low to earth and wiping away tears and darkness everywhere.

God of Light, erase the gloom of anguish and the thick darkness of whatever troubles we face.  Lift us to your heart and embrace us there as your children of the Christmas Hope.  Amen. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Making Our Way Up Zion

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth!  -- Isaiah 52:7 (KJV)
Marcus Borg tells a parable about faith development using a mountain.  People live all around the mountain in different places, different cultures, different languages.  They are all making a pilgrimage to the mountain top.  Everyone starts from where they are, and have to get there in their own way.  Some will take an easier route by following the spiritual path others have taken.  Some will be rebellious and machete their own ways through the brambles.  Regardless of the route and method all will arrive at the top and stand on sacred ground together.  I like to think that the trip up the mountain will be made up heavily of people who reflect this verse of the Bible.  People who, with intent, bring "good tidings, proclaim peace", do good, and proclaim salvation, singing, "God rocks," making the journey a fun one with good comradery and aid to those who find struggle on the way.

One way to prepare for Advent is to explore how others find spirituality in their daily lives.  Ask friends how they understand spirituality?  How do others nurture spirituality?  Visit some other spiritual traditions - Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, Roman Catholic, various Protestant denominations -- you have nearly 3,000 from which to choose!  How can you incorporate simple rituals into your family/home that serve as reminders of the Holy and Sacred?

God of us all, nurture each of us in peace, good tidings, and salvation.  Direct our footsteps each day as we attempt to move in concert with your will.  Through Christ's leading way.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Where Should Christ Be Born?

“And, assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ should be born. And they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judaea; for thus it is written through the prophet: ” Matthew 2:4 DARBY
Where should Christ be born?  In the now ancient and familiar story Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.  Most of us are very acquainted with the story.  Mary and Joseph took their donkey and walked down to Bethlehem for the census.  While they were there, Mary had Jesus.  The shepherds came.  The star shone.  The wise men came with gifts.  Nice story -- "lets tear into those presents!"  "Honey, did you get the stocking stuffers at Walmart?"  "Where's the cheese fondue?" "Give Aunt Zelma a call and see when they're getting here."

I ask again, where should the Christ be born?  Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year.  The agenda fills up with so many things and people.  While getting together with people we haven't seen for awhile, and getting to eat favorite foods you may only prepare once a year take center stage it is easy to leave Christ shoved in the closet under the stairs.  Christ comes to dwell near you; to be part of your life and for you to be part of His.  The Indwelling Christ lives for this time of year where the reminder of His Coming is so prevalent and frequent.  The Indwelling Christ is joyful for your welcome and your hospitality shown Him.  Don't forget to plan for and prepare a place for Him to come into your family's midst and to eat with you.  Do this in remembrance of Him.

Open our doors and our hearts Lord God, to the drawing near of your incarnate presence.  Help us to remember to share your gifts and your life with those who come spend holiday time with us.  In Christ's name.  Amen.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Look Up

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, come of woman, come under law, that he might redeem those under law, that we might receive sonship.” Galatians 4:4-5 DARBY
Time is pregnant.  There are pregnant pauses, time pregnant with anticipation, ripe time.  The time could be now; it may be not until tomorrow?  The time is marching onward toward fulfillment.  Are you anticipating it?  Look up from your trudging feet; shuffling through your day filled with irritations, anxiety, to-do's, and worries.  Look up from that nose being flattened by the old grindstone.  Look, and see!  

God sent forth his Son - Light of very light; from out of the darkness comes a brilliant light to illuminate dark lives that are filled with boredom, despair, illness, and misery.  A Savior has come to lift you from mundane to certainty and assurance.  This is the assurance we receive soon and very soon: that we aren't empty, worthless creatures but children bearing the image of God, adopted into God's own family where God cares for us like a parent.  The time is pregnant with anticipation for this coming -- the coming of age of this certainty in you and for your life.  Look up for that light, and wait for it; blessing is nearer than you can guess.

Open our eyes and hearts dear Lord, for the coming of your Son into the world.  Bless us in our anticipation and free us to dream the dreams you have for us.  Amen.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Simple Behaviors

Rejoice always; pray unceasingly; in everything give thanks, for this is [the] will of God in Christ Jesus towards you;  -- I Thess. 5:16-19 (Darby)
Behavioral advice for Christians is frequent and so simple in scripture.  So, why is it that this simplicity is so rarely seen in action?  I mean really!  How difficult is it to rejoice always, pray unceasingly and give thanks?  Yet, the opposite seems almost the more universal experience: always finding fault, whining unceasingly, and wishing for what we don't have.  Do you ever weary of your own negativity?  Do you ever have moments of seeing yourself in some metaphysical mirror and think, "Jeepers, I see why people around me seem backed away.  I am a gifted, whiny critic."

I wish for your Advent that you can spend some brief moments seeing yourself in the mirror as God sees you.  I pray that in the back light of this mirror you also can see the person God created you to be and desires you to be so much so that it was worth God becoming human for your sake.  God made Himself an Incarnate human being not simply out of some broad disconnected plan for eternity, but because it was that important to God to partake of human life; to partake of your life and to love and lift you up into God's eternal grace and everlasting home.  Preparing for the reality of this Incarnation of Christ should be cause enough for eternal rejoicing, unceasing prayer, and giving thanks for everything.

Dearest Lord, we give over our complaining and negativity and simply say, 'thank you' for everything you give us, for everything you think ahead for us, for everything forgiven in our lives.  Amen

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Heaven and Earth Shall Pass Away

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be?  You ought to live in all holy conversation and godliness;  -- II Peter 3:11 (KJV, self-paraphrased)
The lead-in to this verse has heaven and earth melted down and evaporated, so what is left for humans to be or do?  This could be viewed as a frightening word of prophecy.   Lord, can't we all recall how it has gotten misused this way to convert wayward sinners?  There is within this frightening scene, however, a powerful affirmation.  It is based on the unspoken understanding that human beings can and will survive this apocalyptic destruction.  Our Christian belief is that even when our physical bodies meet their earthly end our spirits pass on to eternal life.

The following verses of this passage supply the Advent passwords; "Watch!  Wait."  The passage instills the sense of immediacy.  Indeed there is some immediacy!  We do not know either the time or the hour when all physical life could pass away; whether this is for the planet as a whole, or for me personally.  Astronomers have not instilled a great deal of confidence in their ability to do much more than warn us before asteroids hit earth; nor do we know when a heart attack or stroke could fall us.  But, there is a certainty in our being, a certainty in our knowing that a presence with our spirits has full possibility and hope of carrying on regardless of what happens to us physically.  The writer asks, "Of what manner of person (or character) ought you to be (if you are being sincere in your watching and waiting?)  His answer, "Live in all holy conversation and godliness."  Do not slander, do not judge, do not call names, do not be petty and small.  Be magnanimous, grace-filled, considerate and forgiving.  Remember the love with which Christ first loved you and practice finding the capacity in your heart to love others likewise.

Lord, cause us to remember that we are watching and waiting for Your Presence to encourage us to greatness of spirit and choice.  Enable us to practice our holy conversation and godliness for Your glory.  In Christ's name.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Judge Not That You Not Be Judged

Wherefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest. For wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself. For thou dost the same things which thou judgest. -- Romans 2:1 (Douay-Rheims 1899)
Being judgemental is a common human trait.  It has evolved to the state in America of an expectation in everyday conversation.  Individuals earn their livelihoods by being critics; we are commonly called upon to issue opinions about others.  So much judgement gets tossed around that it is difficult to avoid it.  This has got to put an ache in God's heart!

Paul's astute observation is that if you judge others you will only be condemning yourself.  My father would say, "Point that finger at me and see three others pointing back at you."  Another cliche is, "It takes one to know one."  Being judgemental is wrong simply because it violates grace.  The acts of which we may accuse someone are not the issue; the issue is the act of judging others and the corrupt state of our own heart that judging demonstrates it to be.  The vast majority of judging acts boil down to petty attempts to raise our own worth or value above those around us.  When we have to engage in demeaning others to raise our own worth we have grossly forgotten the saving grace through which God adopted us.  It is a spit in God's eye when we have to say, "I'm good because (so & so) is doing (these bad things.)"  God says, "But what about your goodness that I paid for on the cross?  Does it not mean a thing?  Why must you condemn others, when that condemnation was yours as well before I bought you back?  GO - and sin no more."

The grace that bought you your safety and assured eternal life is the same grace that assures and embraces the person you may be tempted to condemn or judge.    Remember that today!

Grace-filled Creator, grant us a powerful appreciation for the gifts of acceptance and the deep abiding grace of our salvation from pettiness, darkness and sin.  Grow us in benevolence and retard our arrogance.  In Christ's name.  Amen.     

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wake Up

Take heed, watch and pray, for ye do not know when the time is -- Mark 13:33 (Darby)
This is the first Sunday of Advent.  The watchword for Advent is, "Wake Up."  Life in these United States is largely about sleeping.  Most of us hate getting up, not wanting to face our day.  We have gotten anesthetized to being alive and alert; so many things numb us out.  Shopping is a fix to remove us from troubles; alcohol deadens the senses; busy-ness helps distract from all the demands of which we do not want to think.  There are problems galore and we simply don't want to know or see.  But, the coming Christ admonishes us to, "Wake up!  Watch!  Pray, for we do not know when the time is."  Yet, we don't wake up to His coming.  Is it because we don't believe it's immanent?  Don't have time for religious hocus pocus?  Can't find the time for watching meditatively?  Sleeping is easier.  Is it?

Is sleeping easier than hope, than peace, than joy, than love -- the traditional virtues represented by each lighted candle in the Advent wreath?  Is sleeping more desirable than waking up to the healing, transformation, and assurance Christ brings into our lives and the world?  This Advent let go of your sleepiness and all the things that help you stay asleep: consumerism, work, substance abuse, and busy schedules.  Take time to evaluate your life.  Light an Advent Candle and ponder the "eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father."(1)

Dear God, open our eyes to see and our ears to hear the wonder of heaven touching earth.  Amen.

(1) Words from the traditional "Nicene Creed."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Have Grace

Wherefore let us, receiving a kingdom not to be shaken, have grace, by which let us serve God acceptably with reverence and fear.  --Hebrews 12:28 (Darby)
Grace is a spiritual foundation around which life revolves.  If we were fish, grace would be the water, and the sides of the aquarium would be the kingdom.  We are surrounded by the safe walls of God's kingdom.  Living in the kingdom, we live and breathe the grace of God.  If we live conscious of what is ours through grace, we look at each one around us with supreme reverence (they too live because of grace!) and embrace the sheer out-of-control power of God who cares for us in ways we can't imagine. 

Grace-filled Master care for us and each of those we meet this day.  Help us to see others and all situations as your creations; let us behave accordingly.  Amen.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Blessings

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. --Psalms 100:4

Henry W. Baker wrote "The King of Love, My Shepherd Is" in 1868.  One verse reads:
Thou spreadest a table in my sight;
thy unction grace bestoweth;
and oh, what transport of delight
from thy pure chalice floweth!
I was caught by the words: "unction grace."  Unction means "the shedding of a divine or spiritual influence upon a person." (1)  As we sit down to the tables we spread, let us each be aware of the unction grace that God instills upon and all around us.  Let us take pause and think of the blessing Jesus Christ placed on that chalice centuries ago, remembering His sacred acts, and all the hands and all the lips across which covenantal wine has flowed, even to ours and our beloveds.  He is our God and we are His people!

Be Present at our table Lord; be here and everywhere adored.  These mercies bless, and and grant that we may feast in paradise with thee.  Amen. 


Monday, November 21, 2011

The Good Shepherd Is Seeking You Out

 For thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out.
 As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. -- Ezekiel 34:11-12 (KJV)
When I heard this read I almost thought it was a passage from one of the Gospels.  Yet, it's from the Old Testament prophet, Ezekiel.
I think about all the people in tough straits this year.  Like little scared sheep hiding under a bush rustled by the wind they hide.  Huddled uncertain from where their next meal is coming, wondering whether they will have a roof over their heads, lost in the maze of mental illness, or even more simply just blue or sad over the approach of the holidays and God comes seeking.  No matter where you might find yourself hiding, God actively seeks you out to deliver you from the dark cloudy space in which you find yourself.  God is not seeking you out for reprimand or criticism, but God places you over His shoulders and walks you right out of the darkness into the light of security and protection.  That is the nature of God's love, and how God's character of His shepherding is.

As Thanksgiving nudges itself closer let yourself have some grateful moments where you listen for the Shepherd's voice calling you out of wherever you're hiding yourself.  Recollect that God's hand appears to hold yours when things are awkward, hard, scary, uncertain, challenging, or empty; you only have to take it and give thanks.

Gentle Shepherd of our souls, allow us not to live in the blind delusions of self-imposed exiles from you.  We lift up to You whatever has befallen us and pray Your strength and healing to be present for us in strong and certain ways.  In Christ's abiding presence.  Amen.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thou Art From Everlasting

Thy throne is established of old: Thou art from everlasting.  --Psalm 93:2

We possess, and have within our control, a powerful relationship with God.  God established the universe, the light, and all that is; down to, and including, the fingerprints on your very fingers.  Our relationship with God is ours to work as we choose.  God meets us wherever we are.

The thing we should know about God is that through the love God shared with humanity through Jesus Christ we can be completely certain that love never fails.  If we are going through tough times, we can turn to God.  If we are going through good times, God will rejoice with us.  The love of God never fails.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Spiritual Food

I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world.  -- John 6:51-52 (Douay-Rheims 1899)
Spiritual Food

Manna                    Living Bread
Balm of Gilead             Water turned to wine
Eucharist                 Communion
Baptism                Gathered Worship

Divine Presence
A Widow's measure of flour and oil
Loaves & Fishes                   Last Supper
Quail           Scripture
Prayer               Lamb of God
Anointing Oil        Cup Overflowing


Friday, November 11, 2011

Cleaning from the Inside

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.  Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.  --Matthew 23:25-26 (KJV)
The 23rd chapter of Matthew is filled with "woe unto you" phrases aimed at the Pharisees.  This particular woe-unto-you couplet has advice for us - namely how to change our lives.  True change needs to happen from the inside out.  Change can't happen from polishing up our exteriors, putting on a fine suit of clothes and a spot of makeup.  Change must come from the inside, mending a tarnished, excessive, selfish heart.  Napoleon is said to have said, "Only people of the Spirit actually change things, the rest of us just rearrange them."  Fixing what is wrong with our lives and mending our hearts does not happen through our own hard work, it is a Spirit movement.  To attempt change only under our own powers will only superficially rearrange how we think of ourselves, not actually transform our thinking.  Life engaged with the Spirit is transformational; self-help does nothing.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Conspiracy of Blessing

Blessed they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. --Matthew 5:6 (Darby)
Human beings are a mixture of physical and spiritual.  The physical element, because it is so tangible, steals more of our attention while our spiritual element probably occupies more of what is important in life.  The spiritual element is built of God's blessing.  There is a thin veil that separates our spiritual awareness from the physical; a veil that can be crossed through prayer, word, and sacrament.

Jesus lists a host of positive, gentle attributes that reflect the basic (default) blessing that is present just across the veil.  When we speak a blessing to another the reality of the spiritual support that is our foundation becomes conscious.  Consciousness of blessing brings out all of the attitudes Jesus mentions in the Beatitudes.  Consciousness of our blessing in Christ brings us peace, humility, comfort, purity of heart, etc. (See Matthew 5 for the whole list.)  

We can make the world move closer to a Kingdom of God, Beatitude place through a conspiracy of blessing.  Saying "Bless you," or "God bless you," or "Blessings on your day," invokes the love of God and generates a "blessing wave" that ripples in concert or harmony with Christ's redemptive intention for all the world.  Praying for people -- just random blessing prayers for the innocent person just standing there in front of you minding their own business has unknown effects - if not for the person prayed for, then for you; for in the act of praying you cross the physical/spirit veil to touch the healing presence of God's love.  Go about your day participating in the conspiracy of blessing and see how God works through it.

God of Blessing and Love, set aside my solitary focus on the physical aspects of life.  Allow me to touch multiple times today the blessing of Your power by remembering how Your blessing surrounds me.  Make me a conspirator of Your love by helping me to remember to bless those around me.  In Christ's steps and way.  Amen.

Friday, November 4, 2011

For Love of God

O sing unto the LORD a new song: sing unto the LORD, all the earth.
Sing unto the LORD, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day. (Psalms 96:1-2) (KJV)
"Often in these times we seem to be grasping at straws in our weak attempts to meet the terrifying demands of a world seemingly at odds with creation and its Creator."(1)
This is the opening line on the jacket cover for a book by Brother Lawrence entitled, The Practice of the Presence of God.  Brother Lawrence was perhaps one of the more humble men in Christian history, spending most of his latter life as a cook in a monastery.  Brother Lawrence is the guy who integrates his work with prayer so tightly that they become one activity.  Brother Lawrence spoke unceasingly about doing everything for love of God -- every thought, every action, every deed, every word should be done out of love for God.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Word

In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  -- John 1:1 (Darby)
                  Word of hope.                   Word of healing.
                 Word of blessing.        Word over sorrow.
                     Word over conflict.     Word of love.
                    Word of peace.     Word over stress.
               Word of unity.       Word over war.
                    Word over insanity.     Word of triumph.
                        Word of connection.   Word over fear.
                                                  I AM
                      Word of birthing.     Word over dying.
                Word over Crucifixion.     Word of Nativity.
                    Word over sin.           Word of Resurrection.
                 Word of miracle.      Word of sight.
                                  Word of released captives.  Word of joy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Growing Along the Way

5But for this very reason also, using therewith all diligence, in your faith have also virtue, in virtue knowledge,6in knowledge temperance, in temperance endurance, in endurance godliness,7in godliness brotherly love, in brotherly love love: 8for these things existing and abounding in you make [you] to be neither idle nor unfruitful as regards the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; 9for he with whom these things are not present is blind, short-sighted, and has forgotten the purging of his former sins. -- II Peter 1:5-9 (Darby)
We can take note of the progression of characteristics Peter lists here.  He starts us out with faith as the assumed beginning point of relationship with God.  Without a faith in God, we are nothing, and until that is present there is no outward or inward growth in our spiritual lives.  Beginning with faith the next step in growth is in virtue - or doing right.  Oftentimes, virtuosity takes on a quite legalistic tone... as the Pharisees were prone to do.  Living life only by the letter of the law is a step on the Way, but there is so much more to God's ambition and intent for us!  Beyond living virtuously or by the rules comes knowledge.  We come to know the Lord in a more intimate way that expands our

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Treasure Within

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassingness of the power may be of God, and not from us.  -- II Corinthians 4:7 (Darby)
Our bodies and our lives are filled with a great treasure.  Treasure doesn't typically just lay about on the surface where anyone can just come along and pick it up.  Treasure is normally hidden and it must be searched out in order to possess it.  With a few legal exceptions the rule of "finders keepers, losers weepers" holds true.  So, within the earthen vessels (our bodies) God gave us rests a treasure.  What is it?

Truth be told there are a lot of treasures we walk around with everyday, treasures of which we might not even know.  There is the treasure of being alive.  Nobody can explain what life is exactly - whither it comes or whither it goes, it just is.  Most of us effortlessly take a breath and never think about it.  Breathing is a treasure.  Like so many of our treasures, we may not really appreciate their value until we lose them.  I've watched people not being able to breathe.  Breathing without having to think about it is a real gift!  People in our life are a treasure.  Sure they may be difficult at times, or we may not really think of them as a treasure - but again, when they're gone we may well think otherwise.

The power of The Spirit, of salvation, of spirituality, and the sensed sacred presence of God in our lives is a treasure.  We can't take credit for any of it.  God thought so much of us that Our Blessed Redeemer buried a profound treasure within our hearts and then left the Bible behind as a treasure map for finding that treasure -- God With Us.  Some of us work really hard to bury that treasure and keep it hidden, from ourselves and even others.  A few of us are a little too brash throwing the treasure out there bragging on it, as though it was our accomplishment or our doing.  (It is not.)  Most of us however, I think, could do ourselves well to spend some time in a quiet place thinking about the treasure God placed within us.  Hold that treasure in the hollow of your hand for a bit today, give thanks, and let it's richness lift your spirit, heart, and mind.

Eternal God, you give us grace to live our lives as we deem fit and appropriate.  Help us to find a time each day to cherish the treasure of you and your son have left for us.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Original Conception

And in that day thou shalt say, O LORD, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me.
 2Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.  -- Isaiah 12:1-2 (KJV)

There is a a substantive block of Christianity that carries a dim view of human beings.  The proclamation of God in Genesis 1:26-31 that human beings are created in God's own image and that everything God made is good - got tossed in the trash when St. Augustine of Hippo (and others) came in during a very dark period of human history.  They managed to convince the majority of decision-makers in the Christian Church at the time that human beings were woeful, pathetic creatures incapable and unworthy of anything good.  The contrived explanation for this got labeled, "Original Sin."   To this day more time and energy is spent in the Christian Church dwelling on Original Sin, the sins and the corruption of human kind, than is spent on God's Original Conception -- "So God created man in his own image... And God blessed them." (Gen. 1:27-28)

The Prophet Isaiah says, "In that day," what day?  In the day that the Lord has made.  There is no question whatsoever that human beings can do wrong -- even seriously, sinisterly, with shocking evil wrong.  The Old Testament is a witness that human beings can err, and fall away from their ties to the Living God.  There is ample witness that, like any parent, God can be angry with the kids.  Yet, in order to bring all of those kids back into the folds of God's loving apron, God will go all out.  When a patient adherence to the Covenenat to be their God does not win their loyalty, God sends His own son to hand deliver the message: "You are forgiven.  Understand my love.  Understand what I am giving you."  It is another sad day in the faith journey then when THAT message is sullied by the focus on unworthiness, guilt, and feeling sorry for ever being born because it insults God's honor to breathe.

Christ died for you - to make you worthy; to restore the Original Conception, as God made you.  Grateful walking in The Way of Christ, transformed by God's abiding love, and sustained in the Holy Spirit's guidance and gentle leading should be the object of your hourly praise and trust.  Do not be afraid.

Creating God, you established us in your will to be yours.  Help us to adopt the reality of our foundational goodness rooted in you, that we might be your love and forgiveness to the world.  Through Christ we pray.  Amen.



Thursday, October 13, 2011


LORD, you establish peace for us;    all that we have accomplished you have done for us. --Isaiah 26:12 (NIV)
Life accomplishments: My daughter is doing a resume in hopes of getting a job.  She is trying to think of all the ways she qualifies for the jobs she is applying.  At fifteen, her accomplishments are not as numerous as she would like.  When any of us do a resume, seeing our accomplishments on paper can make us think, "Is that all there is to me?"  The myth is that we all have the capacity to accomplish whatever we want; that we have such control that whatever happens, if we are competent enough, we can have whatever we work hard enough for.

The fact is, sadly, that we don't ever have that much control over anything.  We certainly don't have the ability to establish peace, or love, or charity no matter how hard we might choose to work at it.  We don't have the capability to make life smooth when it is rough, to make everything go our way, to bring life out of death.  But, God does.  Everything that we do, God is the mover behind it all.  God accomplishes everything for us from sending His Son to walk with us, to His establishing peace, to the forgiveness of sins, to preparing a place for us when life on earth comes to its close. The whole overall scope of our life has God focusing it.  The little details of what we accumulate or accomplish in the course of our lives is not so important as is the important acts God performs -- love, peace, charity, and faith.

Help us, Holy God, to keep our eyes on the Real Prize, not the mundane things of this world that we can't take with us.  Amen.


Mutual Weakness

For he bringeth down them that dwell on high; the lofty city, he layeth it low, he layeth it low to the ground, he bringeth it even to the dust.
The foot shall tread it down, -- the feet of the afflicted, the steps of the poor.  --Isaiah 26:4-5 (Darby)
Liberation Theology is a Christian perspective that God sides with the poor and oppressed.  It is rooted in the Old Testament prophets who confronted the wealthy for their insensitivity to the needy in their midst.  The above passage is a specific example.

Some use Liberation Theology as a justification for class warfare, justifying the rising up of the poor to oppress the rich.  But, this is a misunderstanding of faith.  God does not turn a blind eye to the rich, for Christ was sent as a Savior for all.  What it does speak to however, is how much easier it is for wealthy people to put themselves in control of life.  Most of us living in the First World could find ourselves in the place of building fortresses (IRA's, insurance plans, gated communities, alarmed entry homes...) and raising the boundaries around us such that we don't have to see the homeless or less fortunate.

Yet the needs of the poor are with us always, something Jesus himself said, and everything that separates us from God impoverishes us.  The perception that we can control our own destinies and manage our own problems without a relationship with our loving God brings us emptiness.  But, when we take up the journey with Christ the paths get smoother and easier, and we see ourselves as one very large inclusive family under God's overarching roof.  So, whether we live in a million dollar mansion or a cardboard box we share a profound lack of control over our lives.  But, we also belong to the Lord and that transforms our held-in-common helplessness into the Love that never ends.

Help us O Lord, to know our weakness without You, and to trust You beyond all else.  With Christ's perpetual love.  Amen. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Trust in God

Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD! -- Isaiah 31:1 (KJV)
The Old Testament is filled with passages that pose a near-on insult to our Christian conceptions of a loving God.  In numerous places in the Old Testament wholesale slaughter is used either to put the Jewish people on top, or to level them to humble dirt for their transgressions.  Isaiah is written in the time period when Assyria and Babylon were obliterating cultures and building empires.  Egypt was a fairly strong power in the Middle East then.  When Israel/Judah found themselves on the short end of the military prowess scale, forming an alliance with Egypt to protect themselves from Assyria probably looked like a good plan.  Isaiah says, "Sorry, it isn't."  Essentially he argues that you can not place your hope or trust in military might, but only seek the Lord.

Placing trust in God seems to be a difficult proposition for most humans.  We can give it lip service - like on our money, or in the Pledge of Allegiance; ironically on two of the objects that we are more prone to putting our trust in than God!  As a society we have turned more trust toward the Federal Government to bail us out of trouble than we do our churches.  We are also living in tumultuous economic times where the tighter we hold our money in fear, the more slippery it feels.  Government programs and fat savings accounts are the equivalent of Egypt here.  Don't be one of the ones who flee to worldly protections when our Messiah comes and lives with us.

Putting faith and trust in God lifts our perspective out of the routine ruts of stress and worry we carry.  There is higher ground to stand on in order to see the smallness of our troubles.  There is an everlasting hand stretched out to take us into more peaceful spaces than all our human efforts can provide.  You have to work at taking the hand though.  Turning your spirit in the right direction to catch the living water is essential.  Try taking the top of every hour to put down everything you are working on or thinking about and say the short prayer below.  Five short sentences once an hour, pretty easy, huh?  See if it doesn't change your day!

Encircle Me, oh God with your mercy.  Drive stress away.  Create peace within.   Push away darkness.  Pull light to me.  Amen.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bought Back

Strengthen ye the feeble hands, and confirm the weak knees.
    Say to the fainthearted: Take courage, and fear not: behold your God will bring the revenge of recompense: God himself will come and will save you.  -- Isaiah 35:3-4 (Douay-Rheims 1899)
The context for this passage is filled with the hope of God's coming.  Once again famous lines from Handel's Messiah ring from verses 5 and 6 following this passage - "Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped..."   

If you feel weak and shaky, lacking in courage, worrying your head off - fear not.  But in the middle of these two verses is a phrase that sounds quite jarringly scary -- "God will bring revenge of recompense."   We have been so often pelted with the historic bricks of hellfire and damnation that we can immediately get distracted from all the positivity to think, "Ah, there is a catch to all of this upbeat stuff."  Commentators like John Calvin say this refers to the evil doers and that believers have nothing to fear.  Given the context around which the phrase is surrounded, perhaps a slightly different idea is warranted?

Recompense is a means of paying for something.  The suggested state of the human here is that we are weak and frightened.  Largely true, as so often life swamps us with things far bigger than we are!  But, would it not be logical given the surrounding words, that what God is bringing will buy back your fear and weakness with a vengeance?  God so hates what brings you fear and weakens his faithful ones!  God loves us with a vengeance.  God brings us a love in the embodiment of Christ that knows no other!  When Christ touches us the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame dance.  Whatever is causing your heart to be faint is lifted up by God who comes and buys back your weakness and sin and replaces it with Christ's saving grace.  Good news!

Blessed God and Redeemer, come meet us soon with your powerful avenging love for all that causes your children pain or worry.  Through Emmanuel, the Christ.  Amen.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Careful What You Brag Over

And he said, What have they seen in thy house? And Hezekiah said, All that is in my house have they seen: there is nothing among my treasures that I have not shewn them.  --Isaiah 39:4 (Darby)
 Hezekiah was the king of Judah between about 715-686 BC.  The Assyrians had laid waste to Israel, but in their campaign against Judah they had lost badly.  History puts at least part of the blame on a plague that ravished the Assyrian army, but Hezekiah gets some credit; or, more precisely, God helped Hezekiah out.  This delighted the Babylonians. They sent envoys to congratulate Hezekiah, and more likely, to do a bit of spying out of what kind of opponent he really was.  Hezekiah, it sounds like, gushed all over himself about everything he had bragging up a storm in the process.  When Isaiah arrived in his court, Isaiah was not happy or amused at the befuddled thinking his King had demonstrated, nor does it seem was God.  Isaiah tells the King the Babylonians are going to take everything, and they did.

Various commentators explain this "wrath of God" that is rained down on Hezekiah's head by blaming Hezekiah's vanity.  They talk about how because of his vanity Hezekiah is punished.  Would God really punish an entire race of people because their (unelected) leader was vain?  There is a deep theological problem with that!

There is a fact of life we would all do well not to ignore: we are living every day on a treasure map.  Every day of our lives, if we look carefully, thoughtfully, diligently for them we'll see our lives are sprinkled with blessings, or small divine diamonds.  God richly sows our life with many good things and they are present even in the worst circumstances imaginable, for anyone who cares to put their victimhood aside and see.  If we carry the knowledge of our blessings close to our grateful hearts, we feel our wealth in Christ and we also know in humility the One who should get the credit for us having everything.  Those diamond blessings are ours regardless of circumstances, and regardless of errors in our ways.

Hezekiah was flattered to pieces to have the attention of a powerful nation.  He spilled all his treasure out to some cutthroats who had no good intentions whatsoever.  But, it was not this naivety or vanity that brought the destruction of Judah.  Babylon already had designs on Assyria as well as every other nation-state.  Bragging about his treasure with Babylon revealed Hezekiah's misplaced trust in Babylon, not in God; making the inevitable Exile and destruction of Jerusalem all the more poignant and painful.  As Jesus said, do not cast your pearls before swine; and when you pray, go into a closet by yourself.  Hold your blessings dear and close with lots of gratitude and prayer, and keep looking for more treasure of God's faithfulness to you.

Holy God, do not allow us to become so jaded to the good things you put in our lives that we put our trust in our possessions rather than you.  Amen.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Kind Shove If You Please?

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. -- Isaiah 40:31 (KJV)

I've long had an on-going debate in my head about the nature of this "waiting upon the Lord" business.  On the one hand, when one considers that here you have the Lord, whose knowledge and timeline extend millions of light-years beyond my tiny blip on the scene, the contest to wait on Him seems incredibly one-sided.  In the time it might take God to turn around my life could be over by hundreds of years.  So, my imaginary skeptic says, "Sure, sure God would have you wait; wait until you're dead!  Isn't it time to take control and just do it?"  But, then taking control and working oneself to death trying to make a worthy life work brings inordinant tiredness and weariness to the point of fainting.  I have had the experience of waiting for God to help, only to see the matters that stress me and for which I'm praying for God's help only creep progressively worse in the waiting.  Is there not a limit to the amount of time one can wait?

A friend likes to throw in my face the "sage" advice of "Pray like everything depends on God, work like everything depends on you."  Is working like everything depends on me the same as waiting on the Lord?  I suppose there is too much of Maynard G. Krebs (the old Doby Gillis TV show) in me --"WORK??"  What if the work is going in the wrong direction though?  Well can not the Living God redeem whatever work you've done in the wrong direction and make it okay?  Maybe, I think, sitting here waiting...

Lord, renew my strength for waiting and give me less subtle shoves to get where you want me to be.  Amen.  

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Magnificent Gift

Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding.  -- Isaiah 40:28 (KJV)
Isaiah 40 is the basis of so many pieces of Handel's Messiah.  The words, "Comfort, Comfort ye, my people" can elicit an internal Mormon Tabernacle Choir in anyone familiar with it.  The complete fortieth chapter lifts up the reality and belief that God is larger than the universe, wider than the stars, and more widely capable of managing eternity than anything we can possibly conceive on our own.  While humans can wear themselves thin striving to know and understand the machinations of interstellar galaxy expansion, God never wearies of creating with a simple twinkling of an eye.

Yet alongside God's Vast Competency at creating is the very personalized, very individualized, very tightly focused caring of a human being, small as "a grasshopper"
opines Isaiah in verse 22.  God may be able to spin universes into fruition, but God's real heart is directed to the people with whom He keeps a covenant to love and nurture.  The underlying question after reading this chapter is how can anyone doubt their safety in eternity when the very Creator of it all still works diligently, without fainting or growing weary, to hang onto you through all the twists and turns of life?  Have you not known?  Have you not heard?  How can you not have?  How can you doubt it?  Don't try and understand it, you can't and you won't.  Just trust it and believe it.  It is a magnificent gift, as big as the stars.

Creator God, small as we are we can cry to you and know we will be heard.  Embrace us and keep your strong up-lifting hand beneath us always.  In and through your son's name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Abiding Forever-ness

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, for the breath of Jehovah bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.  The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God abideth for ever.  -- Isaiah 40:7-8  (Darby)
The opening verse in this passage is offering withered grass as a metaphor for people.  We don't particularly like being reminded of our mortality.  In verse 7 the grass withers at the touch of God's breath blowing on it.  Another simple way to condense these two verses might be, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away."   We think of these words as the words heard at funerals we may have attended.  Yet, withered grass, is not dead grass.  With water, care, and the removal of obstacles to its sustenance grass is quite hardy, as are people. 

What kind of things cause you to wither?  What obstacles, crises, and challenges blow into your life giving you pause to sigh, "Life it too much for me?"  Does the thought that your challenges are put there by God make you feel better about them or worse?  Truthfully, thinking that God is large enough to see further ahead of my development and is providing me experience and in-depth experiential learning makes it a little easier.  More than that, however, is the immediacy with which the second verse of the passage follows the withering -- namely, the promise that God's word is abiding forever.

WIth the Messiah's coming arrives the living water that keeps our lives rooted in Abiding Forever-ness.  Staying rooted and grounded in Abiding Forever-ness brings the sustenance to endure the withering ocassions and lessons that fade our hope and yet stretch our faith.  Remaining connected to Christ, reminding ourselves perpetually of the Christ's inside knowledge of us, taking HIs hand and surrendering to being led keeps our own abiding-ness engaged  Our spirits, at times, may be withered and faded, but holding on through the droughts keeps us eternally safe.

Master of Hope and Abiding Presence, grant us the serenity of resting in you throughout all that we might be pushed to learn.  In Christ's name.  Amen.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How Low Can You Go?

Fear not, thou worm Jacob, ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith Jehovah, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.  -- Isaiah 41:14 (Darby)
How weak, imperfect, and low can we be and still have God help us?  As low as a worm says Isaiah.  Redemption is a word that means to buy back, so a redeemer is one who does the buying back.  God, the Holy One of Israel buys back even the lowliest of worms, and then without hesitation stands solidly with this ragtag group of misfits, who seem to have trouble staying on the straight and narrow.

Staying on the straight and narrow seems to be the "stuff" that parents, priests & clergy, moralitsts, and the smugly righteous all seem to think is life's goal.  Yet if this is so, if it were within our power to do that, why is scripture so littered with the examples of those who couldn't?  Why does it say in multiple places, particularly in Isaiah, that the crooked ways will be made straight and the rough places smoothed by the Messiah who is to come?  Why are the first words uttered by heavenly beings and the Divine, "Fear not?"  Because the legalists and righteous can be so rigidly unforgiving and unaccepting perhaps, that it is what we've come to expect from angels and the Savior?  

No.  The Divine model in this verse, and in hundreds of other examples, points to a God who is willing always to help, love, and forbear.  Model behavior, precise moral tip-toeing and devout uprightness bringing you to the epitome of Perfection is not embraced any more deeply than is the lowly worm who struggles to extract itself from the wet mud before it drowns.  All are beloved ones, all redeemed by The Master, all accepted into the circle of the sacred family of God.

Help, help, help us Lord not to be afraid to walk the crooked, twisting paths while Your Son goes before us making a new way.  Amen.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Letting Go of Lostness

And I will lead the blind into the way which they know not: and in the paths which they were ignorant of I will make them walk: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight: these things have I done to them, and have not forsaken them.    --Isaiah 42:16 (Douay-Rheims 1899)

Floundering or "feeling one's way along" is a fairly common human experience.  The Jewish people had landed in Babylon and suddenly they were no longer sure of who they were.  It is a difficult thing to hold onto one's identity when everything familiar is stripped away.  For a time nobody knew where to turn.  They looked for guidance, but there was nobody to be found that they could respect or trust.  The Prophet Isaiah comes on this scene and tells them God does know you are here.  God knows how you got yourselves into this pickle.  You've walked very arrogantly without God, and now you are in a tough spot.  But God is keeping up the Promise and is sending one who will bring light, and straighten out this mess.

Many of the verses in the 42nd chapter of Isaiah strike Christians as foretelling of the Advent of Jesus the Messiah.  Without the Messiah's coming becoming blind on the crooked path of life is almost a certainty.  Jesus comes to us and shows us a new way.  The shackles of sinful failure are cut loose.  The gift and grace of forgiveness lifts the scales from our dismal view of ourselves.  Hope comes into bloom again.  God has not forsaken us at all.  

No matter how bruised and beaten up in life you are; no matter how lost or struggling God does hear and sends the help meant for you in particular.  Hard to believe at times, yes; but certainly God's enduring presence is the promise given from scripture.

Dear Lord, no matter what our circumstances are be with us.  Lift the low places in our road, smooth out the rough places, and carry us safely into sacred space with You daily.  In Christ's name.  Amen.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Time Shapers

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.  -- Isaiah 43:19 (KJV)

Human beings have a tremendous power: we can bend time; we can shape it to fit us.  Children can do it -- Parent: "Come on, it's time to go."  Child: "Give me a minute."  Adults can do it -- "Who cares if we're a few minutes late?"  

We can alter time over our entire lives.  A painful or difficult event occurs and we can forever let ourselves be defined by that event.  It's called living in victim mode.  Israel and Judah had been carried off to Babylon, their homes burned, the Temple destroyed.  For a time living in exile, they even struggled with thinking God had been wiped out when the Temple came tumbling down.  They sat by the waters of Babylon and cried for weeks over what they had lost.  Time stopped, and remained stopped.  Then the Prophets began speaking.  Isaiah in this chapter brings very uplifting words of hope and encouragement to a desolated people living in victim-mode.  God is bigger than the four Temple walls.  God stands present in the entire world.  Just because this horrible calamity happened to you doesn't mean that God isn't doing a new thing.  Open your eyes and see it, people! 

When a potter is shaping a vase it can get out of whack such that it does not fit the image the potter had in mind for it.  The potter may then smack it down and start all over.  When we are in the midst of something very difficult it is a healthy thing to try and remember the potter, and these words from Isaiah: "Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it?"  We can choose to freeze time in our tears by the waters of Babylon and use all the bad things that have happened to us as the excuse for why we aren't lifting our heads and moving forward.  We have that choice and power to live our past.  God, however, wants to remake every past moment and put us on a better track of staying with a God, who never stays still but is always leading to something magnificently better.

God of all time, it's a totally amazing and praise-worthy thing how You can take the worst and transform it to good.  Stand steady with us when we get hurt and even wiped out.  Heal us and gird our wounds such that we don't get focused on them.  Help us move forward with You - the future with You is where we belong.  Amen.