Thursday, March 31, 2011

Endurance III

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD
   in the land of the living.  Wait for the LORD;
   be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.
-- Psalm 27:13-14
So, here we are on day three of talking about endurance.  I'd encourage you to go back and read Endurance I and II, but it's not essential if you haven't the time right now.

Meister Eckhart (c.1260-1327), a German Christian mystic, told this story that I think illustrates a unique twist on how we perceive our troubles, as well as providing a compass for enduring, bearing, and hoping.
A sick man was once asked why he did not beseech God to make him well again.  He replied that he was unwilling to do that for three reasons.  The first was that he was convinced that God in His love could not permit him to be ill if it were not for his own good.  A second reason was that a good person necessarily desires what God wills and not that God should will what it is that they want, for that would not be right.  (Meister Eckhart: Selected Writings, p. 91)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Enduring II

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  -- I Corinthians 13:7
Yesterday I wrote about endurance and trusting God's love.  I want to continue that thought with what I think is a unique application of enduring in real life.

Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1327), a German Christian mystic, wrote the following story.
A sick man was once asked why he did not beseech God to make him well again.  He replied that he was unwilling to do that for three reasons.  The first was that he was convinced that God in His love could not permit him to be ill if it were not for his own good.  (Meister Eckhart: Selected Writings, p. 91)
In a church and time where intercessory prayer is so often aimed at praying for healing sickness in others, it should give one pause to think of what this story suggests about bearing all things and enduring all things.  Now I suppose there is a huge difference to start with between praying for others versus praying for oneself.  So perhaps I push the lesson of the story too far to ponder whether I should pray for others' troubles?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Enduring I

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  -- I Cor. 13:7
The 13th chapter of Corinthians gets used so often for weddings that I think the first reaction most of us have to the chapter is that it's talking about human love.  I do not think this is accurate.  I think it is talking about the character of God's love, especially in the middle section.  Picking up from a sermon I heard Sunday, trouble always comes, and we cannot grow into mature faith-filled adults in Christ without trials and troubles.  A line from that sermon has stuck with me: "We may never overcome our troubles, but we can endure our troubles living in the spirit."   Believing in God doesn't guarantee the absence of trouble, it guarantees us eternal abiding love and presence; a hand always to hold.  God doesn't leave us in our troubles, God walks with us in our endurance of trouble.  

We don't believe in Christ because He makes our way easy, keeps us safe, hands us life on a silver platter, or erases all pain, grief, and suffering.  It doesn't work that way.  We believe because His love endures our pain, our sin, our struggle and He gives back to us the assurance of the salvation of hope and endurance to the very end of time.  Endurance forges character stronger than steel.  God's love lifts us up for endurance in the battles of life. Through God's love a brand is burned on our character, His brand.  Our need may be great, in fact, it may be huge but perseverance in the love of God keeps us patient and kind and waiting for perfection to come and the impartial to pass away.  We dare not ever lose sight of this if we care about the strength of our character at all!  Feel Christ's brand of possession on your character and on your whole person and trust your faith in Him.

Monday, March 28, 2011


   Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.”
   But the king said, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’”
   David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. It may be that the LORD will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.”  -- II Samuel 16:9-12

I remember coming in the house from school upset because of having been jeered or called names at the bus stop and complaining to my mom basically that my feelings were hurt.  She would invariably say the sing-song little rhyme: "Sticks and stones may break your bones but names will never hurt you."  I didn't like that answer, part of me still doesn't.  Yet, I see in our world today that we've grown as a "touchy feely" culture such that NPR did a segment a while back about how difficult it is for employers to keep younger workers because they all wear their hearts on their sleeves and need extraordinary recognition and pats on the back to keep their heads in their jobs.  There is an irony in this culture that I frequently do not know how to reconcile.  On one hand we seem more sensitive about our own feelings being hurt, but on the other we have no compunction whatsoever of tearing someone apart who hasn't done what we want to our standards.  Good come backs and rude insults are honored humor, yet simultaneously when directed at me, my feelings are hurt? 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Armors of Light

The daffodils always remind me of trumpets blaring the arrival of Spring.  They always seem to be just completely and blissfully rejoicing in the handiwork of God's creative genius.  They celebrate what I spoke of about a week ago how the trees are living out their true selves by being all they can be.  Daffodils don't hold back or hide themselves shyly under bushels.  I think they are among my favorite flowers in the world.

The night is far gone, the day is near.  Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  -- Romans 13:12 

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Profession of Faith Day

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,” - Philippians 1:29
  While in seminary one of the references we had amongst students was that Jesus was crucified when he was 33, so turning 33 was referred to as reaching your messianic year or your crucifixion year.  It was a little unsettling to ponder as your 33rd birthday loomed: just what crucifixion was waiting for you in that year?  It was not intended to make light of the crucifixion, but I think it highlighted much more that as "on top of our game" as 30-somethings may feel they really haven't done much with their lives.

So this Verse of the Day pops up on Bible Gateway this morning and I'm stuck here thinking about: what does it mean that it's not enough to just believe in Christ but that we're "granted... to suffer for him?" It sounds almost like a right or, at least, a privilege.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Trust the Healing

The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Matthew 11:5
Think about it.  Is there really much else to say?  What more could we want or need?  A good and gracious Lord has a steady hand steering everything we can find to worry over.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Pondering Thought

A.J. Russel writes "Seek not to know the future.  Mercifully it is veiled from you.  Faith is too priceless a possession to be sacrificed in order to purchase knowledge."

How frequently knowledge is lifted up as the quintessential value for human beings to possess.  The human knowledge base is expanding exponentially in all directions.  Yet, deep contentment and profound happiness remain elusive.  Christianity and other faiths are looked at askance by the science/knowledge folks as though faith folks are neanderthals from the Stone Age of superstition and voodoo.  Since being in naturopathic school I have known there are two ways of knowing.  One way is through knowledge and science (double-blind, placebo studies.)  The other way is through experience and life lessons learned (my grandmother used to use horehound to stop my cough.)  I believe faith is a) given by God, and b) acquired through life experience.  The Bible itself is testimonial stories of life lessons learned, not experiment results from God-Over-The-Bunsen-Burner lab tests.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

God's Control

But the  Lord is faithful, who shall strengthen you and protect you from evil.  -- II Thessalonians 3:3

Today I'm embarking on another cancer journey with another patient.  There is nothing like cancer to set fire to one's ego, and perhaps that is cancer's purpose in life?  I prayed with the man and his wife last night.  The words just tumbled out of my mouth - "Give us the wisdom to know what to do and open our eyes to see the lessons that You are intending for us to gain."  A song I heard the other day speaks pretty succinctly of cancer's message: "You think you're in control?  I think you're crazy."  God needs to remain in the driver's seat in our lives.  There is only One who is competent and able to be trusted in whatever life has, who has the control needed to handle the difficulties for us that are thrown in our path.  

Lord, we give you the control of all we live today.  Take it make it blessing to others, and that in all we do You would see our praise and thanksgiving.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Glory of Trees

But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” - Jeremiah 17:7-8
I have Thomas Merton, late Roman Catholic teacher and mystic, to thank for giving me a powerful association with trees.  In The Seeds of Contemplation, Merton talks about how all things are created to give glory to God, simply by being what God made them to be.  He uses the example of a tree; by being a tree, it celebrates God's brilliance and presence in this life.  I know I've been ridiculed for finding so much depth in a tree, and then lo and behold, Jeremiah apparently shares my interest and positive images of trees.

Ones who trust in the Lord are grounded solidly with roots sunk deep, where nothing will uproot, weaken, or destroy.  The Living Water of God's grace nurtures and sustains us more and more as we toss worry, anxiety, helplessness, and stress out and just throw everything on God's shoulders to handle.  In addition, when we throw our trust on God we are being who He made us to be and that, therein, gives God great satisfaction, praise, and glory.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Leaning on Simplicity

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. -- Ephesians 2:8-10
The Christian faith, across the board, has had the habit of being extremely legalistic.  I don't know if it is because of the large number of folks who just HAVE to have control over others, or what?  To hear many speak of the Christian faith, on television or elsewhere, the strong impression is given that if YOU make up your mind to "get your heart right with God," you will DO A, B, C, D, E... THEN God will love you and bless you and give you the world... "Ask and it will be given..."

Such an outlook on faithful living is not the cross (crux) of faith.  I'd refer you to the whole of the second chapter of Ephesians.  I think it speaks strongly of the Real Christian faith.  The focus of our faith in God, is not on what I've done wrong - by some outside definition imposed - and then covered with a band-aid of guilt.  The real point of faith is the grace God instilled into the equation through Jesus Christ. In fact, in the above verses, God instilled the desire and will to do good works in us by design, and therein is the life we walk with God.  There is no directed moral code that demands adherence as much as there is just this invitation to be good and, as Jesus said it, "love your neighbor."  The simplicity of that is astounding.  Just be good and trust God's gift through Christ's death to make everything okay.  Just lean on this promise.  It will be enough.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sweating the Small Stuff

"Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe." -- John 4:48
  We tend to get wrapped up in our spirituality with a need for evidence.  We look for the answered prayer -- answer being, of course, what we want to see happen in a particular situation.  If the prayer we say gets answered to OUR satisfaction, then God is real, God loves us, and our faith is vanquished such that we can continue in it.  But, we forget that God is infinite, with a knowledge that far exceeds even our capacity to imagine.  We can not usually even see what a good answer would be from the vantage point of the Eternal.  I was reminded of this by Julian of Norwich.  She wrote:

Friday, March 18, 2011

Lack of focus

37-40When they came down off the mountain the next day, a big crowd was there to meet them. A man called from out of the crowd, "Please, please, Teacher, take a look at my son. He's my only child. Often a spirit seizes him. Suddenly he's screaming, thrown into convulsions, his mouth foaming. And then it beats him black-and-blue before it leaves. I asked your disciples to deliver him but they couldn't."
 41Jesus said, "What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring your son here."
 42-43While he was coming, the demon slammed him to the ground and threw him into convulsions. Jesus stepped in, ordered the vile spirit gone, healed the boy, and handed him back to his father. They all shook their heads in wonder, astonished at God's greatness, God's majestic greatness.  -- Luke 9:37-43 (The Message)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Song in Your Heart

1TO YOU belongs silence (the submissive wonder of reverence which bursts forth into praise) and praise is due and fitting to You, O God, in Zion; and to You shall the vow be performed.
    2O You Who hear prayer, to You shall all people come.
    3Iniquities and much varied guilt prevail against me; [yet] as for our transgressions, You forgive and purge them away [make atonement for them and cover them out of Your sight]!
    4Blessed (happy, fortunate, to be envied) is the man whom You choose and cause to come near, that he may dwell in Your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple. --Psalm 65:1-4 (Amplified)
 "Blessed is the man whom God chooses and causes to come near..."  I find comfort in the fact that if I am sitting silently, turning my attention, awareness, and thoughts toward God, that it is due to God causing me to come near.  This psalm promises that when I have this brought near experience then I dwell right then in the goodness of God's residence and find all the goodness of the Holy Temple poured out before me.  All issues, problems, feelings, inadequacies, sadness, and guilt are purged and are removed not only from between God and I, but from myself as well.  What a wealth of wisdom, power, and affirmation a powerful King can lavish upon ones - even me - who He welcomes and calls my child, heir of the kingdom.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

When I Have Lost Everything

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?"  --Matthew 6:25
CNN did an interview this morning with a Japanese man who had been in his car when the tsunami swept him and his car away.  What struck me was they showed his hospital tray table where displayed was the sum total of everything the man had left in the world.  It did not look much different at all from the few credit cards, driver's license and business cards I have in my hip pocket all the time.  I had an identity moment with the man, a moment of shared hip pocket possessions.  I also thought what would I be feeling if the contents of my hip pocket were all I had left in the world?

A number of 10th, 11th and 12th century Christian mystics speak of the vice of material love: the attachment to things - our cars, our houses, our thousands of items that seem to bring security.  I like to think of myself as some simplistic person who doesn't need a whole lot, but I saw on that Japanese man's tray table the lie I tell myself.  I'm as attached to my stuff as anyone.  I wondered, from where would my security come if everything I had was swept out to sea?  I read these words from Julian of Norwich:
"Our Lord Jesus said to me repeatedly, 'It is I who am highest; it is I you love; it is I who delight you; it is I you serve; it is I you long for; it is I you desire; it is I who am your purpose; it is I who am everything; it is I that Holy Church preaches and teaches you; it is I who have shown myself to you."
 When all has passed away, Christ is all that may be left behind, and I trust He will be enough.  That's certainly my prayer.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Trudging through a Monday

Good Monday to you.  Monday's are, for many, the most difficult day of a typical week.  I have to admit to waking up this morning with a bad case of mental fatigue and resistance to facing this day.  Yet, in the same way that people will say, "I don't know how I could face that..." - is there really a choice?  The day comes upon us with whatever that day holds and like it or not we have to trudge through it.  THIS morning I could not help but slap myself with the reminder that at least my house is standing, I have running water and heat, my loved ones are all safely doing what they normally do and in this corner of the world the routine continues.

For what they're worth, I came across two thoughts in my pondering and searching this morning that I will pass on to you.

1) "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; they shall walk, and not faint." -- Isaiah 40:31

2) "You should give up your all to God, and then worry no more about what He may do with what is His." -- Meister Eckhart

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Your Refuge

2From the end of the earth, I will call to you, when my heart is overwhelmed.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
3For you have been a refuge for me,
A strong tower from the enemy.
4I will dwell in your tent forever.
I will take refuge in the shelter of your wings.  --Psalm 61:2-4
Retreating to a sacred place has always been a habit of mine when life events get overwhelming.  It is one of the things I have appreciated about hospitals - how they invariably have a chapel somewhere onsite.  It is one of the things I have decried as crazy on the part of churches that lock their doors.  Fully comprehending the irrational acts of vandalism that churches endure, I remain steadfast in my belief that their doors need to remain open.  Retreating to a sacred place is often a last straw coping tool.
This Psalm is comforting in the sense that it affirms this habit.  No matter how difficult things can get, there is a refuge, a rock,  to which we can flee.  Now more perfect people than I may be able to just "go into" communion with God at those difficult times.  But for me, I have to physically pull myself out of the space I'm in and move me to a quieter space, and if I can associate that space with the sacred it's way better.  It's one of the reasons I have tended to make altar places at home and office.  They provide a centering point and a reminder of keeping The Holy nearby when many things can swirl around and spin us away from the Refuge of our lives.  So, when things get chaotic, and they often will at some point, get to a place of sacred quiet and remind yourself that someone bigger is in charge.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Earthquakes and Tsunamis

7 Deep calls to deep
   in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
   have swept over me.
 8 By day the LORD directs his love,
   at night his song is with me—
   a prayer to the God of my life.
-- Psalm 42:7-8

Remember today in your prayers the people in Japan and those affected by tsunamis.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Create in Me A Pure Heart

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
   or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 
                                               -- Psalm 51:10-12

Some times it's easy to gloss over scripture and make unexamined assumptions.  For instance, without reflection one can assume that a willing spirit, or a pure heart is already ours.  Lenten liturgies that use these verses often communicate a subtle presumption of our holiness or purity.  A prayer, a cross made on the forehead with ash and we're good to go.  But do we really pause long enough to check if we feel the pure heart, the steadfast spirit, God's presence, the Holy Spirit, or a joy in our salvation?  I think liturgies can, at times, communicate a hurry-up expectation; where the words are rattled off and absolution and blessing - like a magician's "abracadabra" restores our perfection -- benediction complete, "go in peace."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

An Eagle and Steadfast Presence

Those who hope in the LORD
   will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
   they will run and not grow weary,
   they will walk and not be faint.
                    --Isaiah 40:31

I live in the Pacific Northwest.  Pantheism, a belief that God is nature, is probably extremely common in my corner of the world. Pantheists don't need church, they just need a hike with Mt. Rainier in view and they're in God and all spiritual needs are vanquished.

The Celtic Christians have a belief in panentheism.  The extra syllable changes the meaning to belief that God is IN nature.  Nature is a testimony and witness to the majesty of God.  I thought of this distinction this morning as a drama played out on the river outside my office window.  A belted Kingfisher fell from

Monday, March 7, 2011

Resting in God

Remember Your word to Your servant;
You have given me hope through it.
This is my comfort in my affliction;
Your promise has given me life.
The arrogant constantly ridicule me,
but I do not turn away from Your instruction.
-- Psalm 119:49-51
When God owns the universe what can any one of us possibly give God, other than our attention and devotion?  We might feel harassed and hounded by bill collectors or bosses demanding more from us; by those who have more and who find us strange for not striving for better "stuff," but nothing on which our hands fall is really ours.  All we have is God's.  When we come to God that is our service.  We have pauper status in the material sense, while possessing an infinite inheritance as beloved children of The Most High, gained through Christ.  This is our promise.

From Celtic Devotions this morning were these lines:
Bless, O God, the thing on which mine eye doth rest,
Bless, O God, the thing on which my hope doth rest,
Bless, O God, my reason and my purpose,
Bless, O God, Thou them, Thou God of life.
 When our eye "surveys the wondrous cross," and hope rests in our eternal inheritance, what worry is too great?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

An In-Between Space

3 Indeed, if you call out for insight
   and cry aloud for understanding,
4 and if you look for it as for silver
   and search for it as for hidden treasure,
5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD
   and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom; -- Proverbs 2:1-6
Wisdom cannot be discovered when life is so frantic that one can only run all out to keep the pace set by the treadmill on which we're strapped.  It can also not be found retreating to hide in a corner and never interacting with real life; for real life is the crucible out of which wisdom is born.  As Octavio Paz writes: "Wisdom lies not in fixity nor in change, but in the dialectic between the two."

The space between the two is meditation and awareness of one's place in relation to the Divine One who guides all creation to it's perfection.  It is the space where shoes are removed --removed so that racing fast and hard

Saturday, March 5, 2011

God's Persistence

The Fourth Chapter of Jonah is one of my favorite passages of scripture for the stark portrait of the human heart it snaps.  I have not included the whole chapter here, trusting that you're capable of locating it in your Bible to read for yourself.  (But, if you want it onscreen now click here.)

In the briefest of nutshells, Jonah ran from God's direction, got thrown overboard in a storm to appease the angry gods, got eaten by a great fish, got spit out on the shore, followed God's original direction.  Then, the fun in Chapter 4 begins because God shows compassion on the people Jonah can't stand.  He goes into a snit and tromps out of town to pout where God puts a vine to grow over Jonah's head for shade.  Jonah is very happy with the vine for the comfort it gives him, then the vine dies.  You read the rest.

How fickle (and almost selfish) the human heart can be!  When things go

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reflections on Humility

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known -- I Cor 13:11-12

When I was in my 30's in seminary I was, I realize now, quite beyond arrogant in my knowing what I thought.  I had literally ACHED to be 18 and then 21 and be a "real adult."  I turned 21 and really thought that I had assumed a position in life where I could control and run my life.  Into my 30's, and on into my 40's, I carried the unexamined assumption that I had become a man and was seeing clearly in the mirror and I was meant for saving the world.  It's embarrassing and laughable to see this admission come out of my fingertips onto the screen! I notice with considerable chagrin how I named my health blog -- healtheworld-mof.  I leave it named that now as a painful jabbing reminder to my ego of my youthful arrogance.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Refiner's Silver

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver;

                         -- Malachi 3:2-3

A year ago I had a friend who died after a fairly short, very intense battle with cancer.  He was in his 40's, had a wife and family and this wasn't supposed to happen.  It was wrong; there are so many, many ways it was wrong. It's been a watershed experience.  The confident, certain-of-it-all Mark has been replaced by a Mark that is confident of only one thing: that he knows nothing.  I've been broken down to the most humble of all empty places, that of not knowing - anything.  I wonder if all people, as they get older, come to realize how little they know versus the exuberance of their youth, when the world was a tiger that only needed it's tail to be grasped and slung the right way and life happened Right.