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.