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.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Forget Me Not

Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for thou art my servant. I have formed thee, thou art my servant, O Israel, forget me not.  --Isaiah 44:21 (Douay-Rheims 1899)
Throughout chapter 44 Isaiah explains how different craftsmen take different natural elements and use them for the things they need, but also use a part of what they collect/harvest to create idols.  The prophet points to these idols and says they are no different than the element out of which they are made.  This natural element made into an idol and worshiped as a god will decay and disappear.  Yet, what God makes; who God is lasts.  Furthermore, there is creative power with God, whereas the idol just sits there lifeless.  The conclusion is: so why do you bother with idols?  How can you find meaning to life through any other source besides God asks Isaiah.
Indeed!  God forms us, walks with us through this life, establishes a plan for our eternal life, and will be there long after all things have passed away.  Whatever you make, create, or buy to supply security or forestall infirmity and death is never going to match the caring power and abiding compassion or strength that God wants to be in your life.  God can spin a universe out here, or raise a galaxy there,  lift a king to a throne, or can just see you through another day.  Why would you ignore or forget this?  Remember these things, thou art my servant, forget me not.

God of Jacob and Israel, for your abiding ever-present love, we give you thanks.  Lift up in us the reminders of our true security in you and permit us to share this peace with all we meet this day.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Carrying-us God

I am the Lord, and there is none else: there is no God, besides me: I girded thee, and thou hast not known me... -- Isaiah 45:5 (Doulay-Rheims 1899)

These words are spoken to Cyrus the Great, king of the Achaemenid Empire in early to mid-500 BCE.  He was not Jewish, and like many of the powerful kings that came along he was working at taking over the known world.  It is quite startling, therefore, to find Isaiah speaking very positive words about how God is going to help Cyrus - even over and against Israel itself! 

Help from God frequently comes from strange quarters.  Often God's help comes from unexpected places, in unexpected ways from outside the usual boxes -- like how Christ came as a baby in a manger!  As Christians we can get very arrogant in the things we think we know.  We think we know how God works, and too frequently we see it as a Christian Duty to tell others how they should be living so God will work better for them.  We might say for instance that if Cyrus is good to Israel then Cyrus will be blessed.  But, Cyrus wasn't being nice to Israel at all!  In fact, Isaiah is saying that God is going to bless Cyrus abundantly and Israel be damned.  What a mind twister.  Yet, the story finds its way into sacred scripture as having some lesson.  It does.  Two lessons: first that God helps God's beloved people according to a plan larger than we can see from our tiny boxes on the hillside; second, lessons don't come only from pink clouds and rainbow niceties to "chosen" people.

The word "emergency" comes from the root emerge.  Insights, awareness, life lessons emerge from the crises and emergencies that befall us.  Sensitivity, growth, compassion emerge from the emergencies, bitterness and strife we see.  Cyrus destroyed life as Israel had come to know it.  Outside their comforting pastoral life box, through societal annihilation and exile, the deep abiding Carrying-Us God emerged.  God is big enough.  There is no other God, and God girds each one of us for the life we have today -- come what may.

Carrying-us God, keep us upright and moving forward with you today.  Thank you for knowing me.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chucking Your Idols

Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast.  --Isaiah 46:1 (KJV)

Idols are a big deal.  They rank second in the list of Ten Commandments.  A golden calf made from collected jewelry after their hasty departure from Egypt earned a generation of the Hebrew children 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.  Here in Isaiah, God's word to the people about their idols is more of an expressed sincere disappointment than a punishment.  Bel and Nebo have collected so many idols that they need a farm menagerie on which to carry them all.  One belief then amongst "ignorant ones" of faith was the more idols you had the safer you were.  The Jewish folks weren't above having one or two "for insurance," "just in case" God didn't "work out."

In 21st century America we probably don't think too much about idols - unless you're glued to your TV each week to see American Idol.  How crazy is that?  The suggestion that we could have a talented person that we looked up to so much that they replaced God...? That is what an idol is.  It's something/some person that you hold in such high regard that God is immaterial and unimportant.  What idols do you have - what things do you own that possess you -- things so important that you think you'd DIE without them?  What things/people in your life do you struggle with imagining giving over to God, were God to ask for them?

Isaiah 46 is a tender chapter and I'd recommend reading it if someone or something has an overwhelming hold upon you.  (Click here to go to it.)  God makes a sound case for not weighing yourself down with idols when God is far more available and capable of caring for you than a bunch of wood, stone, metal, or even flesh and blood.  Idols have sneaky ways of getting inside us and taking over our hearts often before we are even aware, sometimes even when we don't want them to be there.  Isaiah 46 is a sweet reminder that God, though jealous, is also understanding and knows why we misplace our trust in the tangible.  In spite of straying, God keeps hold tightly of the covenant to hold onto us tightly.  It is a gracious and glorious Maker who takes us and keeps us into the Everlasting.

Forgive us O God when we stray with our trust, giving it over to the things we create and control for our own security.  Release us from our dependency on these less than capable objects and help us surrender our whole being to You.  In and through Christ we pray.  Amen.  

Monday, September 26, 2011

Enduring Presence

Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know.  -- Isaiah 47:11 (KJV)

The sum total of the 47th chapter of Isaiah is a condemnation God decrees against Babylon.  It's a witness certainly against Babylon.  It simultaneously serves as an affirmation to Israel and Judah that Babylon will get it's "just desserts."  We could read it, move on ignoring it as just for them, but it also has a word of truth for us today.  But, I don't think the word for us is straighten up and fly right or calamity will destroy you.  The hardest of truths is that life itself brings calamity, misery, and sorrow everyday to someone.  We like to think that we're living right, doing everything right and have full control of our life plans, "God is richly giving me all I deserve," but then bad things befall. The abundance/reward theology is a sadistic plague in our churches and our society.  We do not get rewarded for being good, or for playing the life game better.  Disasters still strike.  Bad diagnoses still kill.  Car accidents still happen.  Like the rain, they fall on the just and the unjust.  None of these can be prevented by having the right faith, the right morals, or the right anything.  

On the flip side, many have also gotten very good at pointing fingers of blame for weaknesses and failures and for just not trying.  We wear victim-hood like a badge of honor, excusing ourselves from the race that life lays out before us daily because we've had some unexpected obstacle thrown in our path.  Like the paralytic that laid by the pool day after day, quasi-whining to Jesus that he just couldn't get into the stirred up waters in time, victims find their traumas a crutch and will even fight with someone who tells them to put it down and get up and walk again.

The Word of God, outside and all around this 47th chapter is a word of Enduring Presence.  Life is bigger than anything in particular going on with you.  God is bigger than anyone you can imagine, with larger plans and a much larger perspective than any human can imagine.  God's primary focus on you is your eternal life.  That is the Big Race that we take the starting line for every morning.  The promise of Jesus Christ is that with Him racing beside you that you do not have to be afraid of what may happen, nor do you have to limp with your spirit defeated, whining helplessly.  Christ gives you the courage to live another day with any circumstance that you face.  Run with Him in your heart.

Lord Jesus, we lift up to you all the hurting, sick, and tired people.  So many endure so much, yet you are our strength, our constant, our hope.  Connect us to you and help us win today's race.  Amen.

I Trust You

Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.  Psalm 143:8 (KJV)

There are few human emotions more pleasing than to know you are trusted and that you can trust someone else.  On the surface of it, one would think that trusting God would be the easiest of matters.  Yet, distrusting God, doubting God is probably the prevalent feeling most people carry.  Adults turn jaded quickly when things don't go our way.  The more things that go wrong in our life, the more we blame God for ignoring us, or not being there for us to the point that we begin thinking, "What's the point in believing in God when God is never there for me?"

Oddly, though we are way more capable than God at finding ways to separate ourselves from Him,  we also find it easier than melting butter on a hot day to blame God as the one for leaving us.  "My prayer wasn't answered, so I can't believe in God anymore."  "What's the point of following God?  Good things happen to the bad people all the time."  But, God stands firmly and steadfastly by the covenant, and without any rational grounds or evidence whatsoever still says, "I place my trust in you."  Day in and day out God renews this trust even though every day we find a way to betray the trust.  So, why is it right to reject God the first time we don't get our way?  Holding onto God's trust is a matter of finding the right road upon which to place ourselves.  We can't hang out with doubters, non-believers, and people critical of our beliefs and expect for their anti-God attitudes not to rub off on us.  Daily we need to be waking up and saying to ourselves, how can I trust God more today?  "Let dawn bring news of your faithful love..."

Dear God, help me to place my trust in you.  Help my trust Thee more deeply, Love thee more dearly, hold Thee more tightly.  Amen.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

What We Know

Thou hast heard, see all this; and will not ye declare it? I have shewed thee new things from this time, even hidden things, and thou didst not know them. -- Isaiah 48:6 (KJV)
The coming of the Messiah brings a new way of knowing.  Christ's coming brings us new faith eyes through which to see ourselves and our relationship with the world.  The great mysteries of God's workings in the world, defy worldly rational explanation, yet through some internal way of seeing we know these hidden things even when explanation of them defies all our verbal skills.
How can we explain the prodding of God for us to do some particular thing with our lives?  How does bread and wine transform our place in the world?  How does water move us into a heavenly family?  How can we find the compassion and generosity to love our neighbors as ourselves?  When do we just do things because we know them to be right, even when logic would say, "Danger, Danger!"   Why do we continue praying even when our prayers may seem dashed upon stones in a thousand crumbled pieces?  Because we have heard and seen beyond this world's veil into a larger dimension that controls existence, reality, and truth -- an existence founded in our chosen acceptance and belief in Jesus Christ.  Our future is grounded in Christ's saving act and because we know that, we know we're living in eternal life daily.  Death has lost it's sting.  Ultimate security surrounds us!  Thanks be to God.

Dearest Lord,  You claim us and we are yours.  Cast aside the worries of our hearts and draw us into reveling in Your knowledge and instructions.  In Christ's name we pray.  Amen.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Let the Light Loose

And he said: It is a small thing that thou shouldst be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to convert the dregs of Israel. Behold, I have given thee to be the light of the Gentiles, that thou mayst be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth. -- Isaiah 49:6 (Doulay-Rheims)
The Old Testament witness of the workings of God among the Jewish people is extraordinary in its own right.  Monotheism in that day and time was an anomaly, so it's not surprising that the Jewish religion developed within a pretty exclusive, set-apart group of people.  The prophets began planting the seeds for opening up the closed religious society to outsiders long before God actually lit the fuse and used Judaism as the launching pad for a much larger worldwide mission, namely everyone's salvation.

The words of the prophet Isaiah can be pondered from a number of directions.  First and the most literal, taking-the-text-only-on-its-face way is these were words from God specifically for Isaiah.  Isaiah was to be the light to the Gentiles.  He was being told not to be content with just spreading God's passion for humanity among the two remaining tribes of Israel.  "Think bigger, man!"  Perhaps a lesson in that for us of not letting ourselves be bogged down in thinking too small in what God calls us to do?

The second facet we can see shimmering in these words is to imagine them into the future a little from their point with Isaiah to the words being also given to Jesus.  Jesus had been worked hard at home and in synagogue as even at age twelve he reads from Isaiah when he gets accidentally left behind.  Surely he had read these very words and felt the moving of God's intent for him!

Third, they are words that clearly grabbed hold of the Apostle Paul. The debate in the Jewish Christian church between Paul and Peter, recorded in Acts 15, reflects Paul's "getting it."  God wanted salvation and light brought out from under the bushel in which Judaism had kept it.  Salvation and light are for everyone, not just a select few.

Finally, they should be words we hear for ourselves.  The Light HAS been given to us.  We who have heard and responded to this Light ARE the harbingers of salvation everywhere we go.  What is the message you are sending with your life?

Holy God, you have stood beside humanity for a very long time.  You continue to be God to us even when we've been sinful, prideful, and petty, shrinking your grace and salvation to the size of our puny little hands.  Help us to open our hands and let out the Light you have given us in the sending of your Son, Jesus Christ, our hope and our salvation.  Amen.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Accept One Another

Wherefore receive ye one another, according as the Christ also has received you to [the] glory of God.  -- Romans !5:7 (Darby)
In older English there was a term that we don't often hear so much today.  When company came to your house you could say "We are receiving guests."  This would be synonymous today with accepting or entertaining or welcoming.  The NIV translation, in fact, uses the word accept in this passage.

Paul was a strong believer in sincere hospitality to and acceptance of everyone. Feelings of racial or ethnic superiority have always been a human temptation, yet the Apostle Paul stepped out of his life space of supervising blatant anti-Christian slaughter when he met Christ on the Road to Damascus.  His encounter with the Risen Christ who welcomed even the likes of the murdering Saul transformed Saul to the Paul who we know to be one of Christiandom's most accepting advocates for expanding the boundaries of The Church the world has ever known.

If Christ can accept Saul/Paul, who so violently persecuted Christians then Paul should know of what he speaks when he tells the Roman church to welcome one another as Christ welcomed him (and you.)  Christ knows and loves you strictly for the you only God can see.  Everything you do, everything you feel whether good, bad, ugly, or indifferent does not register in the reception Christ prepares hourly for you... just the you as you were born.  Paul's advice is to strive to accept the people you come across in the same way.  What an assignment!  Good luck and Godspeed!

Light of God, blind us to all of our prejudices so that we can both experience Your foundational love for us, as well as for the persons we meet everywhere we go today.  In Christ's name, Amen. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Make Not Haste

For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight; for Jehovah will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear-guard. -- Isaiah 52:12 (Darby Translation)
The pace of life in 21st century America is oftentimes frantic.  Driving into Seattle this morning I-5 was a wall of cars, all jockeying to get into a lane that was moving microns faster than the one in which you were already; trying to get somewhere quickly on time, but obviously not going to be.  The impossibility of trying to schedule an appointment when teenagers need to be dropped off and picked up at randomly mandated times illustrates the pressures and insanity of the haste and flight by which we find ourselves living.  Few adults can live without their calendars not just in a pocket, but in their hand -- and children in middle school are being indoctrinated into carrying a planner everywhere because life is so full that nobody can be expected to carry in their heads everything that needs to be done in a day.

If you're here reading without a calendar in your lap then I congratulate you!  We all must have a daily respite from the haste.  Isaiah was written thousands of years ago, but has a commanding reminder for driven 21st century Americans --don't go in haste, don't fly like a chicken with your head cut off, but know that God is preparing the way before you and is watching your back always.  Taking time to reconnect with a God who loves us enough to surround us -- front, back, sides, above, and below -- can help us find the peaceful oasis of living water in the midst of swirling dust and insanity.  It also gives us the space to be that oasis of caring and attentiveness to the frantic who swirl past us, micro-managing many things that in the larger scheme of forever matter not.  The Lord goes quietly before you in firm control and God is bringing up the rear; be at peace.

All Surrounding Merciful God, release us from the overpowering hourly sense of responsibility and rush to be all things to all people.  Help us to remember the only true responsibility is to You, and that attentiveness there restores and corrects all else in our lives.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Precious Stones

For the mountains shall be moved, and the hills shall tremble; but my mercy shall not depart from thee, and the covenant of my peace shall not be moved: said the Lord that hath mercy on thee.
    11O poor little one, tossed with tempest, without all comfort, behold I will lay thy stones in order, and will lay thy foundations with sapphires,
    12And I will make thy bulwarks of jasper: and thy gates of graven stones, and all thy borders of desirable stones. -- Isaiah 54:10-12  (Douay-Rheims 1899)

I remember sitting for long hours in the sun on the beach at Kootenay Lake, British Columbia finding a variety of different stones that I could use to pave a scene in the beach sand.  Arranging the different colored stones I could spell words, or create roads for a city, or a mountain retreat scene.  All thought of a life or world outside of that small construction project vanished, and in that space was peace, solitude, and reflection.

Here in Isaiah the Lord is promising that when your world turns upside down God is going arrange your stones in order.  God will use beautiful stones - stones worth something to put into place the main supports your life needs.  Thinking about my care-free days on the lakefront it is comforting to think that I'm the one in the scene that God is creating out of His own solitude, retreat, and reflection.  He sits quietly, speculatively ordering the rocks to which I need to cling - verses, hymns, Presence, people, and of course, Christ himself.

Dearest God, you brush the sand of my life smooth, you break down the larger boulders, you toss out the sticks and junk, and you organize the scene that is my life even when I'm not aware.  Thank you for being here.  Amen.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Matter of Perspective

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  --Phillipians 2:3-4
The coming of Christ changed the world.  It opened up the vision of a world where people could be thoughtful, could be generous; where we could imagine a world where everyone put the needs of someone else first.  Christ gives us an image of a new world where giving is at the center.

This vision cannot arise out of a pure force of will, or out of an idea of - "Hey, that's a nice thought," but it must arise out of the renewing and rebirth of one's heart and spirit.  The Holy Spirit needs to be allowed to take hold of you and transform your perspective from a "isn't that a sweet thought," to "this could work."  

Sadly, Christians who adopt the generous attitude get labeled as nutty gullible people.   Admittedly, a lot of those living with the old spirit of selfish ambition will take advantage of generosity.  This does not take away from, or make thoughtful generosity not worth pursuing.  It only raises the question of why hasn't Christ's message been heard?  Where does His Word still need to infiltrate?  Who can instill this Word to the hurtful and hurting world?  And the larger question is, out of which perspective are you living your life?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Be Imitators

Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children,  -- Ephesians 5:1 (Darby Translation, published 1890)
When I was a young boy I had a small peddle car.  I drove it all around the driveway and sidewalk pretending to drive like I had seen my dad do.  We each grow and learn by watching and trying to duplicate what we see our parents or adults do.

This verse is a bold proclamation.  It is a bold presumption that we know enough of who God is and what God does that we can actually imitate Him.  We're beloved children and have a parent we call Father.  We can imitate the love He has for us.  We have to want to love as God loves.  We have to believe that we can love as God loves.  But, I'm doubtful that the Apostle Paul would issue an order for us to do something that could not be done.  Believing we can imitate God's love is the largest hurdle.  Once that hurdle is jumped then we can set about proving it.  How do you want to go about proving it?  How have you been loved in Christ?  How can that be demonstrated to one other person today?

Heavenly Father, you have claimed us as your beloved children.  Help us to be imitators of Your love, showing the world the power of your Presence with us.  Amen.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Here Am I

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward.  9Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am  --Isaiah 58:8-9a (KJV)
 This is a turn-about verse from that of the story of Samuel (See I Samuel 3.)  In that story, when Samuel hears the voice of God Samuel is the one who is supposed to say back, "Here am I, Lord."  Here in Isaiah, however, it is God saying, "Here am I."  Which just goes to say that with God the relationship goes both ways.  Each of us - God and human - are here for one another, in this time, in this place.

The coming of Jesus Christ is God's response to the human plaint of, "God, where are you?"  Clearly when we call to God, God listens and He responded decisively with healing and glory in the sending of Christ to live amongst us.  Christ comes bearing the message from God that the Father is here and hears.  Love came down and touched the earth.  In that love is God and God is in that love.

These verses, however, also follow immediately on the heels of words (see verses 6 & 7) that called upon us not to turn away from the cries for help that we hear; to be God's word of presence to the less fortunate next to us.  It is never enough for us to sit back expecting and waiting for the Almighty to dump heaps of grace and blessing and abundance in our laps.  The mere spoiled rotten arrogance of such a thing!  Rather, through fasting Isaiah says be sensitive to the fact that we are here for God as well, doing His bidding and work to overcome poverty, hunger, and the lives being lived of quiet desperation all around us.  Be here for God, as God is here for you is the word of Hope here.  Prepare for His coming by holding hope when others despair of trying.

Blessed Lord, here am I.  Show me how to be what you want the other across from me to be.  Through and in Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Savior Comes

The LORD has made proclamation
   to the ends of the earth:
“Say to Daughter Zion,
   ‘See, your Savior comes!
See, his reward is with him,
   and his recompense accompanies him.’”
12 They will be called the Holy People,
 the Redeemed of the LORD; -- Isaiah 62:11-12
The words, "Say to Daughter Zion, 'See your Savior comes!'" bring so many images to mind.  On the one hand the words are so powerfully reminiscent of Palm Sunday that one can almost hear the crowd shouting Hosanna here.  On the other hand the words, particularly coming after the making straight a highway (v. 10), remind of Handel's Messiah and the baby Jesus' appearance on the earthside scene.    Isaiah is a book about bringing hope to a despairing exiled people.  It is a book about the Savior coming into our midst - Emmanuel, God with us.  Note His coming brings automatically His reward, and His saving grace accompanies Him.  When He comes the name of the people changes to Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord.

Christian folks are a people living under a new name, for the Savior has come.  We often find ourselves despairing but the Savior still comes.  We may be confused and downhearted but the Savior still comes.  Finances may have dried up and we don't know from where the next payment comes but the Savior still comes. The Savior comes and our names change.  Changed names reflect changed lives and with these changes we find ourselves waking up in the Kingdom of God wrapped in hope, transformed by The Love that came down to us with arms spread wide, like a mother's around her baby, or the arms of a Savior on a cross.  Arms spread to embrace you; that lift you up wherever you are and no matter how bleak the circumstances.

Holy One of Israel, we are your people.  Bless you for coming to us.  Bless you for changing our names to Holy and Redeemed people of God.  Bless you for lifting us up when we are depressed, broke, burned out, frightened, and lonely.  You are a good Savior and we'll do our best to remember your mightly saving acts.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Following a Contrite Heart

I made all this! I own all this!"
   God's Decree.
"But there is something I'm looking for:
   a person simple and plain,
   reverently responsive to what I say. 
--Isaiah 66:1b-2 (The Message)
What is it to be plain and simple so as to attract God's notice?  A lot of people in our society strive to be noticed.  Whether it's their enormous SUV, the purse, the walk, or the talk so many like to be viewed as well off and sophisticated.  God doesn't pick the ones flush with cash and an attitude, though.  God already owns the universe, He doesn't really need ostentatious made-up people putting on airs.  Humble people with contrite spirits are who God is looking to use to bring the Kingdom of God into reality.  Mary was the kind of person for whom God was looking: plain, simple and utterly responsive to a even the largest mind-boggling propositions.  In Jesus' mother, Mary, we see the profound simplicity that God was after.  She was young and just minding her own business before the Angel Gabriel put her in the spotlight at the center of the world religious stage.  Her dialogue with Gabriel was humble and demure.  Yet, we see through Jesus' life into hers - a courageous woman, standing firmly supportive, quiet and quick to serve, and able to endure watching a gruesome Roman execution of her oldest child.

The thought of being chosen to fill such an ambitious role in God's plans is daunting; yet having the thought reveals my own lack of a contrite heart.  A contrite heart would say, "I am not significant enough to worry about it, and if God chooses me then He'd better supply the means: 'Let it be to me according to Your Word'."  So, with my less than contrite heart I bow my head and try again.  As John Wesley put it, "I am no longer my own, but thine."  Put me to what Thou will.

Bless my heart O my Soul, create it clean and empower it to be amidst the people responding to them with Your care and affections.  Amen.   

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Security in the Shadow

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
   will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
  --Psalms 91:1 (NIV)

It perhaps goes without saying to people of faith, but the things of this earth are ephemeral and in many ways not entirely real.  Yet, we stress and worry up a storm about ten thousand items all day long.  When we are living on an eternal time line the little things that disturb us for a day or a week or even a year barely make a mark at all on the time line.  Our entire earthly life combined doesn't really occupy much space.  Living into the conscious awareness of forever with the Lord is what it means to dwell in the shelter of the Most High.  The Most High's shelter is eternity spent with Him.  

Ten years ago the United States was attacked by radicals who killed thousands and changed most American's sense of security.   The world fell into feeling that the world was a foreboding dangerous place.  A large proportion of people don't really trust anyone or anything to keep them safe.  But scripture brings home the point over and over again that we walk with God, rest in the shadow of God, are lifted up by God, and that God never leaves or forsakes us.  When eternity is already a given, feeling secure in the power of the Most High is something steadfast and rock stable.    

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Unclean Spirits

17And coming down with them, he stood in a plain place, and the company of his disciples, and a very great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and the sea coast both of Tyre and Sidon,
    18Who were come to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases. And they that were troubled with unclean spirits, were cured.  Luke 6:17-18 (Douay-Rheims American Version)
This passage comes from the abbreviated version of the Sermon on the Mount found in Luke.  Jesus has just gathered and appointed his disciples on the mountaintop and has come down to a level place to stand amidst the people gathered there from all over the nearby known world.  In this much regard it resembles the Day of Pentecost after the Resurrection.  People who were sick were brought.  People who were curious as to what Jesus would say came.  People troubled by unclean spirits came.
What is an unclean spirit?  I think we typically associate those with unclean spirits as those with screws loose in their psyche, which causes them to do and say odd or scary things.  It was a colloquial term for "mentally ill." before it was viewed as an illness.  Then, it carried the same degrees of hostility, curiosity, rudeness, and insensitivity that it engenders today.  While this is the meaning of the text to the best we can understand it, and the care and attention given to the mentally challenged is a struggle we still experience in the Church it can also be more broadly generalized to include most of the rest of humanity.   Without spiritual nurture and support, spirits get tarnished, disheveled, and disordered - in need of a cure.  The cure is to feel yourself on the same level plain as Jesus and to let him work His magic on you.  To leave your home or your safe ingrown places and travel a far distance if necessary and meet Jesus.  Meet Him and ask him boldly and directly for what you want or need.  Time spent with Jesus brings healing for the physical body and cure for the soul.  Trust Him for raising you up.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Keep the Good Trust

Keep the good thing committed to thy trust by the Holy Ghost, who dwelleth in us.” 2 Timothy 1:14  (Douay-Rheims 1899 American Version)
When we get separated from our spiritual resources, a common feeling one can get is that of being weary and empty, or burned out.  We can look ourselves in the mirror and slap our faces and say, "Jeepers, snap out of it already!  Why are you so tired?"  Then we turn and try our hardest to just continue plowing on using our own thoughts, power, and resolve.  Admit it -- that gets tedious and really tough!

So take pause for a moment here.  Sip your favorite tea, or some coffee and look off dreamily toward the hazy horizon; the hazy horizon of your spiritual landscape -- you know, out there to where you've pushed God.  Let this verse for today soak into your awareness.  There is a "good thing" -- the New International Version says a "good deposit" -- placed within you in a trust established by God.  You carry inside yourself a safety deposit box that God rents, into which He places His goodness for you.   You can think of this place in your body being inside your heart or inside the center of your abdomen, or any place else you choose.  Place your hands over that place and just think how God has instilled within you something about and for you that is of immeasurable worth to Him.  God has entrusted you with this good thing both as a divine gift to you, as well as to be a gift that can pour out His love, grace, and encouragement to others.  Nurture this deposit by caring for this profound spiritual treasure.  Take time to get inside your spirit and talk with God about how things are with your soul.  God aches to hear.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

God Our Alchemist

Thus saith the Lord thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the Lord thy God that teach thee profitable things, that govern thee in the way that thou walkest.  --Isaiah 48:17 (Douay Rheims 1899 American Edition)
 A new day of walking with God in your shadow has dawned.  The prophet Isaiah reminds each of us that whatever happens (in this day or any other) that the Lord is our redeemer.  Whatever happens God is in the business of taking what happens and changing it into what is good.  Regardless of how bad things may be or get, the redeeming transformative powers of God are at work to restore and pull events back to being useful to the purposes God has.  Another word for this process could be "alchemy."  God takes the dross and worthless junk and changes it through an immutable process into God's silver and gold - including even your very being!

And so, we walk with God each day.  Whether we fly, run, walk, crawl or grovel through the lessons we are presented with by life, each experience is part of God's lesson plan and part of the alchemy God is working to move us from our separated brokenness into wholeness and shine.  Today is today with it's attending mistakes an almost sure guarantee.  Some things we will get right and it will be good.  Some things always will not be right but God governs our steps and through faith we keep up "the race that is set before us through Christ the perfecter of our faith" (Hebrews 12:1).

Friday, September 2, 2011

Strengthen Thou Me

My soul melteth from heaviness; strengthen Thou me according to Thy word.  -- Psalm 119:28 (21st Century King James version)
 I think what many appreciate about the King James translation of the Bible is the more poetic language it uses.  This verse, for example, is like few of the other translations and it stands out -- have you had your soul feel melted from heaviness?  I have.  The poetic use of words accurately describes the feeling I've had and I knew it instantly when I saw the words, yet would not have had the words for it myself.  As Matthew Henry says, it can be a heaviness brought on from the guilt of sin or it can be from the weight of the afflictions we face.  In either case, the soul tires into a puddle; brain fatigue sets in, emotions are raw and exhausted, and even the physical demeanor droops from the heaviness of enduring another day, another hour.
Out of the Psalmist's melted, heavy soul comes a prayer: strengthen Thou me.  Then he injects  the promise like an old man clutches a cane to steady himself -- "according to your word."  God's Word is ever-present - more firmly than a cane or crutch.  From "In the beginning God" to "I will be your God" to "It is finished" to "I will be with you to the close of the age," God's words of promise to us supply the strength even when heaviness melts us to our quick.  So, take the Word and wrap it as a cloak around your tired, hurting, afflicted, weary soul and feel the resurrection rising up the tide of restoration in your being for another go at it.  Dear God, strengthen Thou me.  Amen.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It's Off to School We Go

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6 NIV
So kids are going back to their learning slots and summer 2011 is getting the epitaph written on it.  As they pack up their notebooks and pencils and start the task of putting together the 40-pound backpacks remember to put them on the right foot:

Students:  Say your prayers.  Always think about what you would like for yourself and then work hard to help others around you to get the same thing.  We are all more alike in our needs than we are different.  Don't be afraid to ask for what you need.  Be polite and the world will open up to you.  Be encouragers and do-ers.

Parents: Say prayers with your children.  Remind them to go with Jesus when they get on the bus or out of the car.  Send notes in their lunches of not only your love, but God's.  When worried and wanting to hold them back close tight to you remember they are God's children first -- always.

Teachers: Hearts and prayers go out to you.  Education is no longer the Three R's.  You've been saddled by the avoidance of care in homes with raising kids; where feeding, clothing, nurturing from teachers are the only parenting they get.  Remember your prayers as we all remember to pray for you.  Your modeling of Christ to your students carries with it the most powerful testimony of faith that there is. There are two kinds of teachers we remember -- the truly exemplary and the truly awful.  Strive to be exemplary Christian examples and the Holy Spirit will transform not only the children you're called upon to teach, but you as well.

Go with Jesus everybody!