Thursday, December 27, 2012

Who Is Like You?

Who can be a God like You?  You forgive iniquity and pass over the transgression of your remaining heritage? You retain no anger forever, because you delight in mercy and loving-kindness.  You will again have compassion on us; You will subdue and tread underfoot our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.  -- Micah 7:18-19 (self paraphrased)
While the Prophet Micah lived a very long time before Christ (about 700 years before), and Micah was sharing God's encouraging word to a people decimated by the Assyrians and Babylonians, This Prophetic Word became flesh, dwelt among us, and brought to us the same true message 2700 years later.  This is an example of the longsuffering nature of God, as well as the long-enduring veracity of scripture teaching us to remain on track.

God has worked for thousands of years to get across the message that grace-filled saving is job #1.  God early on worked directly with humanity to "cast all our sins into the depths of the sea," to not hold an enduring grudge against the many ways we can find to err against God.  But this was not enough.  Then God closed the distance and sought us out in human form preaching the same message, demonstrating the same commitment, and lifting all humanity for healing and purification of our souls.

Look ahead into the New Year and beyond.  See there the continued leading of lovingkindness and feel the lure of transforming peace, security, and gentle shepherd-leading.  Who could be a God like this?  Adopt a new resolution of appreciation for this longsuffering God and be determined to follow in the steps of all the saints and martyrs who have gone before.  Each day of following, each day filled with the prayer: "Lord, have mercy on me," is another day embraced in the everlasting arms.

Prayer:
Sustain my faith, embolden my journey with you O God of the ages.  Embrace me as you have embraced all my ancestors and direct my feet into the life eternal.  Through Christ, in Christ, and with Christ.  Amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Where is the Promise?

Scoffers say, "Where is the promise of Christ's coming?  For from the time our ancestors fell asleep all things remain thus from [the] beginning of [the] creation."
But let not this one thing be hidden from you, beloved, that one day with God [is] as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
God does not delay the promise, as some think of delay, but is longsuffering towards you, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.  -- II Peter 3: 4, 8-9 (Darby, modified)
So, no small surprise: the Mayans' calendar had no catastrophic power over the entire earth.  No magical properties, no special influence - just a human-designed marking of time for their time and their culture.  Humans continue to strive to make themselves - their projects, their work, their goals, their opinions - matter more than any, even God's.  We have survived yet another hyped-up phony apocalypse.

We stand on the brink of observing another year of the birth of the Christ Child.  Scoffers and cynics say, "You Christians do this ritualistic observance every year.  Where is the promise of Christ's coming again?  When are you going to stop with this annual charade?  Why do you bother?"  The shortest possible response is because God is longsuffering towards us; God wants us to get it right and to BE right.  Secular society, merchants, and economists continue the clarion call to pull us into a rank materialism where we buy everything that we do not really need on some quest to find meaning, togetherness, and happiness.  The lie showing itself after Christmas when the wrapping is torn off and all the bells and whistles silent from the planned obsolescence built into the goods that you will  again next year have to race to the mall to get all over again.  Is THIS annual ritual any more fulfilling than the real reason we observe Christmas, any more fulfilling than the Hope of Christ's return?  The difference between God's Promise and a mall's Christmas promise is huge. 

God's New Covenant sealed through the birth, life, and death of Jesus Christ promises eternal salvation, eternal peace, and eternal rest.  It is so important to God that all people receive this gift that God chooses to tarry awhile in longsuffering with human arrogance and ignorance so all can be embraced.  Another Christmas is here.  We have another Christmas to celebrate all the people who have come to a new understanding of the peace and healing Christ means for their lives.  We have another Christmas to long for the fruition of the Promise delivered by God's Promised One, Jesus Christ.  We have another Christmas to hope in The Everlasting Hope, the Everlasting Promise of Emmanuel, God With Us.  Do not be suckered into the false hype of shallow materialism, phony apocalypses, or avoiding fear of anything.  Jesus Christ is born!  Do not be afraid.  Hope!

Prayer:
Promised One, we surrender our fears, our misconceptions, our ignorance to You and ask that this Christmas Your Hope will fill us with the assurance and courage needed to walk another year, if that is what it takes, until all can be brought to You.  In Christ's precious name.  Amen.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mary, Mother of God

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. -- Luke 2:6-7 (KJV)
Protestants have a short attention span for the "theotokos" doctrine.  Theotokos is the Greek title used for Jesus' mother, Mary.  It literally means God-bearer in Eastern/Greek Orthodoxy and Mother of God in Roman Catholicism/Anglicanism.  Mary is a powerful piece of the Jesus story.  The meaning of Christmas would be massively impaired without her faithfulness, her ability to adjust to a radical life departure, and her responsiveness to a new direction for her life that came flying in out of far left field.  How many of us would be able to get our heads around an angel appearing to us, let alone step away from our life plans and actually pursue the direction an angel handed us?  Most of us today confronted with such an event might instead conjure up the belief we were going schizophrenic and seek out medical help for the "hallucinations and voices."  Instead of  that Mary willingly became "God-bearer."  She bore the child, delivered the baby in the simplest unsupported means possible, wrapped the precious bundle in swaddling clothes and spent all the rest of her days supporting our Savior.  Like a million mothers out there Mary deserves respect for all the untold silent grieves she bore.

Yet, I do not think it is the borne grief of motherhood that makes Mary noteworthy, or that gives her the title Theotokos.  It is far more her receptivity and response to a faith event that she embraced almost without a thought, without a worry.  She wrapped the new baby Jesus in swaddling clothes and held Him safely to herself in the same way that I envision her often doing for me.  Life can be very hard -- painfully hard, and prayers and faith can go dry and feel empty.  "Is anyone out there listening?" we can wonder.  Our prayers sometimes look for an inn where they will be heard.  There are many times when no inn is found for them.  Yet, in a manger, in a stable/cave, in unlikely deserted corners Theotokos gathers up our "made in the image of God," and bears us, swaddles us, holds us safely and warmly to herself while we struggle with the sad silences and sharp emptiness.  Mary keeps us bound tightly, nursing us along until the thawing of our desolation.  That thawing DOES come because it is a promise from our Most High.

This Christmas remember Theotokos, Mary - God-bearer, Mother of God as she too awaits her deliverance from the curves life and faith throws.

Prayer:

Master of the Inn, hear our prayer.  In your great mercy accept our gratitude for Mary - her witness, her faithfulness, her courage, her presence with us even today.  Help her to hold us in safe places while You are working out the unseen details of our difficulties.  In Christ's name.  Amen.   

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Holy Faith

But ye, beloved, build up yourselves on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Ghost.  Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.  -- Jude 1:20-21 (KJV)
Advent continues to unfold and time continues to march forward.  The time of awaiting and preparing takes on a sad and somber tone when news of mall shootings, wars, fatal car accidents and terminal illnesses whisk people out of this life in cruel unexpected ways during this season.  We talk about hopeful expectation during Advent, only to have hope assaulted by the plague of sadness and loss.  Hope in the throes of loss is true hope, true holy faith.

A suffering God - suffering under the weight of observing a world dominated by misery, violence, sin, and loss - put aside the mantle of Holy Transcendent Otherness and entered into a human connection.  God, who had stood outside of creation, comes down to earth to become part of the very humanity that had until this moment only been a spectator sport.  Emmanuel, God with us, is born into a living, breathing body capable of pain, hunger, sorrow, joy, pleasure, frustration... God came to know first hand what we all know: life is at times very hard and painful.  With God's coming new mercies, a new depth of prayer's meaning, an expanded new love, and a more vital holy faith were born.

Build yourselves up in this season of hopeful expectation through a reliance on the Holy Spirit who prays, with the God who loves, and in the mercy Jesus Christ offers.

Prayer:
Holy God, lead us into ever deepening hope and faith in you.  May this season infuse us with the sense of your presence, the light of your assurance, and the promise of our eternal life.  Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Stand by Me

I love thee, O Jehovah, my strength. Jehovah is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; My God, my rock, in whom I will take refuge; My shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower.  --Psalms 18:1-2 (ASV)


Winters in the Pacific Northwest bring surges of heavy rain and strong winds.  The ocean off the Washington coast gets storm tossed with high waves that crash in with a force that brings awareness of the power God has placed into nature.  Only the large rocks on the beach stand firm against the pounding waves.  I think of these rocks when I read: My God, my rock, in whom I will take refuge...

God gives us a fortress to hide within when the storms of life rage.  We can pull ourselves into a quiet place and hide ourselves safely held with an anchor and rock from whatever besets itself on us.  But more than just passive protection, God takes an active part in defending us with a shield and calling help for us with the horn of salvation.

When we find ourselves in the throes of anxiety or feelings of being overwhelmed take time to cling to our stalwart God and hang tough trusting the help we need is coming.

Prayer:
When the storms of life are raging, stand by me.  When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea, thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me.  Amen.  (Hymn by Charles Albert Tindley, "Stand by Me")

Monday, November 26, 2012

Coping With Anxiety

In nothing be anxious; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.  -- Philippians 4:6 (ASV)
One of the easiest things in the world that I find to do is to be anxious.  My father was a worry-wort and claimed it to be a great spiritual gift by saying worry was a form of prayer.  I have known many worriers.  Almost all claim it is inherited from their parents.  Many claim to be from a long line of worriers.  The fact is we are not born worrying, we LEARN worrying from those around us.  We learn to worry and fear what is out of our control.  Worry creates stress which begets anxiety and before we know it some doctor is handing us anti-depressants and tranquilizers.  Worry, stress, and anxiety put a tremendous weight on our bodies to cope -- often this weight is literal.  Many writers of the Holy Bible speak indirectly of this physical damage to our bodies and souls from worry, and they offer the answer.  Worry is a sad condition considering that often the very people who lead us to faith in God are also the ones teaching us to worry.

Paul says the cure for being anxious is to put that all aside and focus on praying with "supplication and thanksgiving."  Supplication is not a common word in the modern English language.  Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible talks about supplication this way:
Supplication - continuance in earnest prayer. With thanksgiving, for innumerable favors already received; and for dangers, evils, and deaths turned aside. And let your souls be found in this exercise, or in the disposition in which this exercise can be performed, at all times, on all occasions, and in all places.
When we are told to pray earnestly and continually many find a problem with it.  I think many of us equate prayer with petitioning God and wonder how much petitioning one can find to do "continually."   YET, we can worry the same thoughts over and over for hours on end and it seems "normal?"  Paul, I think, is suggesting that we find a way to "repeat play" God's assurances over and over in place of the worries.  Place your heart and anxiety on God and stay on God for your focus.  There are at least a couple of ways to work at this goal.  

First, we can learn verses from the Bible and say them to ourselves over and over.  Each time they are said our brains hear it and grow to accommodate the tone and belief.  Modern science tells us this retrains our "neuro-pathways" so the habit of worrying and feeling anxious is changed.

The second is repeating a short prayer over and over.  An ancient prayer of the church is, "Lord Jesus Christ, son of David, have mercy on me."  The Lord's Prayer can be said.  The rosary can be said.  You can make up your own prayer that resonates with you.  Listing things you are grateful for like, "Lord, thank you for __________," can fill a day all by itself. 

Prayer:
Thank you Lord for season changes, for the beauty of your creation, for life, and help, and daily food.  Amen.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Discipline of Thanksgiving

Enter into the Holy One's gates with thanksgiving, And into God's blessed courts with praise: Give thanks to our Creator, and bless God's name. For Jehovah is good; God's kindness and affection endures for ever, And God stays faithful to all generations.  -- Psalms 100:4-5 (ASV - paraphrased)

The American holiday of Thanksgiving has always been a little bit of a mystery to me.  It's a good thing in that it reminds us to be thankful.  At the same time by it happening only once a year, it is implied that being thankful once a year is adequate.  This is far from the truth.  I'm in the midst of a great gratitude experiment, and am finding that being thankful is a powerful spiritual discipline that has changed me.

More than two months ago I caught a program on PBS about how to find happiness.  One of the items the lecturer suggested was keeping a daily listing of five things for which you were grateful.  I started then.  Since then I have been swamped with messages from a large variety of sources that being grateful is vital to maintaining sanity, managing anxiety, and finding happiness.  The more I practice thanksgiving the more things for which I find to be grateful.  Being grateful has become nearly a minute by minute activity.  With the gratitude comes a mindfulness about the extensive interconnectedness of creation and life.  I am learning to "pull back the curtain" on the negative and scary things that an anxious mind can create, and instead look for the positive side of each thought/event for which to be grateful.

When we take time to be thankful with just a brief whispered phrase of gratitude to God for whatever crosses our path we are remaining in constant relationship with God.  Instead of frantically begging God for solutions and answers to desperate petitions, prayer changes into pouring out one's thanksgiving.  This change pries open our clenched fists surrendering our control back into the trustworthy arms of a God who has been faithful to all the generations clear back to Adam and Abraham.

I'd encourage you to work diligently at finding the things to be grateful for in life.  Start your own gratitude experiments.  You can start as I did - by just sitting down with a little notebook and listing five things in the course of a day I was thankful for.  Not too soon, however, you will start noting very small things from a droplet of water to the smell of coffee to a bird's call to the large saving graces bestowed on us daily for Jehovah is good -- always!

Prayer:
Wise and Trusting God, help us in the huge element of being grateful.  Through all that you give and all that you bless, aid us in knowing it is you carrying us forward.  In Christ's name.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

On The Day After An Election

I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men; for kings and all that are in high place; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and gravity. -- I Timothy 2:1-2 (American Standard)

On a day after the elections in the United States, I have heard and seen multitudes celebrating the wins of their candidates, as well as masses crying for the losses.  (Both of these responses bother me.  After all, is not God fully in charge?)  Today is a new day.  The Apostle Paul gives some good advice for this new day.  With deepest humility we should take frequent timeouts to pause and use it for a prayer break.  There is much to be grateful for in a nation so abundantly blessed.  There are plenty of problems the nation faces which need intercessions.  There are plenty of leaders (new and old) who need our supplications and prayers.  This verse affirms what the reward for our prayer is.  After all the turmoil of the past couple months in our national life, the words: "tranquil" and "quiet life" sound especially good.  Are you ready for some calm and tranquility?  Then put aside whether "you" won or lost in your votes and simply pray for them; pray for them ALL.  The losers have as much to contribute as the winners, and without a solid ground encircled by God's gravity and centering we will devolve into bickering, upset and increased trouble.  The nation does not need self-centered interests, animosity, and arguments as much as it needs the godliness and quiet life that true and regular prayer will bring.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pour Out Your Heart

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us. --
Psalms 62:8 (ESV)
Learning to pray constantly requires ever-present practice.  I gained a good insight into this from Alexander Whyte's sermons (Lord Teach Us To Pray, Christian Ethereal Library.) We sail through our days and we find all kinds of things happening to us and around us.  Who does not go through a wide range of emotions in a day -- joy, gratitude, peace, and being tickled to worry, dread, anxiety, anger, fear, and frustration?  Sometimes other people are there and might even be the cause of the feelings.  Frequently, we may find ourselves alone with these feelings not knowing what to do with them.  This is powerful verse in the advice it supplies.  "At all times" with everything that might be going on within us there is a place to "unload" it.  God is always and everywhere prepared and ready to receive whatever we're thinking or feeling.  As we pour out our hearts to God, God turns God's heart around and sends back to us faith, peace, and assurance.

Recently, I've been working with praying the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.")  There is an interesting calm that comes to my soul after saying it a few dozen times.  I have reflected occasionally however, wondering if God might get a little bored (inattentive??) with the repetition.  Suddenly, thinking about prayer as pouring out my heart opens up a lot of other (significant) things to pray in a less repetitive way that God happily hears and embraces in WHATEVER I think or feel.  But, the things of my heart are not like putting out the trash.  I mean I'm not just dumping them at God's feet - I'm putting them on God's own heart.  God cares enough that if something is weighing on my heart and interfering with my walk with God enough that I have to share it, suddenly God feels what I feel too.  Out of the depths of God's compassion then flows the very divine care, love, and support that only God knows.  After pouring out my heart long enough -- until I'm "spent," the best calming assurance comes.  It feels like a true refuge.  So much so that it can be hard to want to leave it, which, of course, we must.  But, even that gets you to once again enter into praying and pouring out your heart all over again.

Prayer:
God you made us, and did not just hurl us off to fend for ourselves.  You stay interested and in love with us, wanting to hear everything about our day.  Help us find the safe refuge in you to pour out our failings, our successes, our worries, our joys and do it through Christ, by Christ, and in Christ.  Amen.  

Saturday, September 22, 2012

What Can You Be?

God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" – Exodus 3:14 (English Standard Version)

In this often read story, Moses is out tending his sheep minding his own business when he notices a fire.  As he approaches the bush that is on fire a voice speaks and tells Moses to take off his sandals as he is on sacred ground.  Moses complies.  Then God tells him the big plan: you’re going to go to Pharaoh and lead your people out of slavery.  Moses replies, “Who am I that you’d want ME?”  After some discussion about that he then asks, “And just who are YOU?”

This is an exchange that we could well be having every day.  Who am I?  Who are you, O God?  You and God are inextricably bound to one another.  Whether we are consciously aware of the bond or not, God is ever alongside of us.  As the book of Jonah testifies, this bond is inescapable.  So, what impact does this awareness have on your day?   First, there is not a one of us who is completely capable, competent, and wise.  God has a bigger estimation of us than we can have of ourselves – even on our best day.  Up against that high estimation of our abilities we might all say, “Who am I?  How can you think I can do THAT?”  It’s pretty easy to get that God is who God is – defying all concept, definition, and mysteriously greater than we are capable of imagining.  So, some other questions might well be: Who are WE together?  Who am I with God?  Who would I be without God?  Which feels better to you?  Facing your day with our Infinite God working on your side, or slogging through it without that help?  What is God wanting you to do with all the assistance God is willing to give you?  Or, have you just settled for living within the smaller world that you can control and manage alone – content with your excuses?

I believe Moses could have walked away from the job God laid on him.  That is the quality of free will.  Moses chose to be persuaded by God.  On the other hand, it is obvious that God does not need thousands of Moses’ to be historically significant and epically famous.  But together, who can you be?  What does God want for the two of you today?

Prayer:

Lord, I’m sitting down with you for a few minutes here this morning.  Help me to feel what we can be together today.  Amen.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Guard the Treasure!

Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us. 2 Timothy 1:14
When I first read this verse my first reaction was,”Well what treasure do I possibly have?”  So I suddenly was caught and swept away to places of deep thought ruminating on what treasure I have.  More, what GOOD treasure do I have? Then, presuming I have some, in what ways am I entrusted with it?  And, as a steward of that trust, am I caring for it properly?  Finally, in what ways can I rely on the Holy Spirit to help me more?  What a lot of ponderings from a 17 word verse!

What good treasure do we have that the Holy Spirit has helped us acquire?  A lot of our material possessions count, but they are superficial.  They are like the hermit crab's shell.  Possessions surround us and in some ways protect us - food, shelter, clothing, (big screen TV's?)... the list is lengthy.  A far more profound treasure exists.  We possess our being in Christ.  Before the world was made, while we were yet just a clump of cells en utero, God knew us.  God knew us and loved us.  Loved us so much that God would not allow the sacred treasure within you to be eternally lost.  You in your being-ness are the good treasure.  So guard that treasure!  How?

Guard the treasure by not allowing the negative toxic people and events of life to stain the positive affirmation God has indelibly stamped on your soul through Jesus Christ's sacrifice for you.  Do not allow the treasure to be tarnished or for yourself to be dragged into bitterness, defeat, and destructive thinking and behaviors.  Remember the treasure within you that God purposely refined and molded into you and be grateful.  Remember the treasure!

Prayer:
Separate me, O Lord, from all that pulls down my sense of spirit and holy purpose.  Help me, Holy Spirit, to guard the infinite gift of eternal hope you crafted into me from my birth.  Through Christ, and in Christ, and by Christ.  Amen.

        

Monday, September 10, 2012

Gratitude in Everything

Be earnest and unwearied in prayer, being on the alert in it and in your giving of thanks.   --Colossians 4:2 (1912 Weymouth NT)
I have been getting spoken to a lot the past week or so.  Have you had the experience of coming across a concept or thought and you at first just acknowledge it a little bit. Then, it seems like everywhere you turn that same thought or concept is presenting itself to you in all kinds of ways?  From the sides of buses and billboards to internet folk-isms to books and magazines you pick up it becomes like the idea is stalking you.  Perhaps it is?  Perhaps that is God answering a prayer in God's wonderfully backhanded kind of way?

I recently had to move and I've had a very difficult time making the transition.  I tend to like where I'm planted and the uprooting process makes me exceedingly grumpy and unhappy.  So I've been diligently telling God how unhappy all these changes make me.  A couple weeks ago I was channel surfing and came across a program about happiness.  No, not a Hollywood fiction, but a researched and documented scientific kind of program.  One of the assignments to try in that program was to find three things you're grateful for every day for 21 days.  So, I thought I should try that.  Since that decision the idea of having gratitude has been in my face relentlessly everywhere I go.  Like getting what you think is the rarest new car on the planet only to start seeing them at every stop sign, the necessity to be grateful has stalked me.

This morning along comes Paul saying, "Pray always and be vigilant in your giving thanks."  We all can fall victim to taking what we have for granted and finding ourselves on the treadmill of dissatisfaction if we don't have more and more.  Instead of praying ceaselessly for what we lack, perhaps praying by embracing everything God has already given will bring more satisfaction such that what we're lacking seems unnecessary?  I'd encourage you to try and see.  It does seem to work.

Prayer:
God of sea and sky - we thank you for water, food, and shelter; for bodies that work as they should and know that even without some of these that You are God and capable of embracing all our needs.  Give us this day our daily bread and let us be ever thankful.  Amen.  

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Necessity for Discipline

Besides this, our earthly fathers used to discipline us and we treated them with respect, and shall we not be still more submissive to the Father of our spirits, and live?  -- Hebrews 12:9 (Weymouth New Testament)
I recently picked up a book called Driven to Distraction.  It is about Attention Deficit Disorder.  I realized as I read through the list of symptoms that this has been a life-long problem for me.  One of the listed symptoms that jumped out at me was "trouble in going through established channels, following "proper" procedures."  I have wrestled like Jacob with rules and boundaries.  I perpetually feel hemmed in by "reality."  My innate natural intelligence got me through school --thank God --because I always lacked the self-discipline to sit down and actually study.  If I was told to read certain books, I would glance through them looking for the "fun" parts and then go find other books that I felt were better suited to the cause.

In these later years of my life, however, I have started to awaken to the fact that discipline is a valuable thing.  Discipline and order are necessary components to remaining focused on things that are more important than my whims and endless pursuits for new and exciting.  In addition, as one of the growing "old codgers," I find myself bemoaning the fact that "discipline today isn't what it was when I was growing up."  As the rods have been spared the doors have opened for sassy, belligerent, rude behaviors being the norm.  Respect for a lot of things appear to have slipped.  Personal opinion and individuality have become an authority with full rights to "creative self-expression."  Now I look through a different magnifying glass with knowledge of my attention disorder and see how I, too, subscribed to this free-wheeling liberty.  Now in my 50's I can see some of the ways it has not served me particularly well.

These verses in the twelfth chapter of Hebrews (v. 5-11) speak of how out of God's love God disciplines.  God disciplines us because we are intimately included in God's family as daughters and sons.  I would really hope God's family would have some high expectations for each of it's members.  If we were not being disciplined it would be a sign we were not considered important or worthy of notice; further, that the family itself lacked self-respect and opinion for what others might think of us.  As members of God's family we have a mission in the world, a focus: to spread the Good News.  The love, God's very own love, for the world is real.  God stands beside us and lifts us through the hard times and punishing moments as much as through the good times and uplifting moments.  God is real.  Our relationship as beloved sons or daughters is real.  Be proud you're part of The Family.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Lessons from Bible Characters

Joseph of Arimathea appears out of the blue and just as quickly vanishes.  In the few brief moments that he is in the spotlight the Kingdom of God shines.  What can we glean from his brief appearance?


And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.  And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.  (Luke 23:50-54, KJV)


We don't know a lot about him; all we know is present in the scripture passages.  Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the ruling council.  He had prestige and honor.  He did not agree with the decisions of the Council in regards to handling Jesus.  All the closest disciples of Jesus had fled the crucifixion scene for fear of being caught and pulled into the Sanhedrin's elimination of the Jesus problem.  Mary, the Mother of God, was facing loss of her eldest son with all the attending social questions that attached to a widow in that patriarchal society.  The soldiers had already shown little respect for protecting Jesus' body.  Nobody had a burial plan to our knowledge, as the arrest and trial occurred rather quickly.  The moment was filled with powerlessness and threat to personal dignity and social respect of the dead.


Into such a time and place, set by this vacuum of concern, stepped Joseph of Arimathea.  At the risk of offending and alienating friends and colleagues, he steps forward.  He extends the cloak of his respectability and his position on the Council to surround the body of Jesus and his mother.  In doing so he did the right thing, the Kingdom of God is revealed: the widow was defended from social embarrassment.  The dignity afforded the dead was upheld.  The sacred honor of the individuals involved was preserved.  Joseph takes the body down and, with Pilate's permission, has Jesus' body placed in a grave on his own property fixing the large stone across the opening.


None of us know the time and place when we might find ourselves faced with needing to affirm or demonstrate the reality of the Kingdom of God.  Joseph of Arimathea teaches that we should be ready always to give an answer for the hope within us; to stand with the downtrodden and oppressed.  Be prepared!


Prayer:
Dear God help us to be ready.  We never know when one of the least of these will need an advocate to stand there with them in Your stead.  Help us to see the needs around us and to respond.  In Christ's name.  Amen.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Fighting to Find Your Way

Fight the good fight to retain your reliance on Christ, lay hold on the life eternal, to which you were called, and did confess your profession of faith in the sight of many witnesses.  --1 Timothy 6:12 (self)
It's a simple matter to lose one's way.  I think in particular this morning of all those who were raised in The Church.  Parents took you to church rain or shine and you got out of it only through illness or a noisy house full of crazy visiting relatives (and even then maybe not.)  You sat through more interminable boring Sunday Schools and sermons than you care to remember.  Then the great day arrived that you stood up in front of the whole church at your Confirmation and said "I do" and "I will" in all the appropriate places to "join the church."  Then you went off.  It became easier to sleep in on Sunday.  Life got busy, then it got complicated... then you woke up one morning realizing, "I am lost."  In the noise of culture and independent thinking, in the blizzard of all forms of information media, in the happenstance of circumstance, in the blur of trying not to look retarded or backward, in the attempts to keep up with a goal or others it is easy to get lost.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Pay No Attention To The Person Over the Back Fence

But the people refused to hearken unto the voice of Samuel; and they said: 'Nay; but there shall be a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations; 1 Samuel 8:20 (Jewish Publication Society) 
It would seem that a basic tenet of being human is the burning desire to be certain my neighbor isn't getting ahead of me.  Materialism has been rampant in our culture since at least the 1950's.  If the next door neighbors got a new television, you could be pretty sure my sister and I would badger my parents until we got one too.  Same with cars, washing machines, dishwashers, and a varied host of everything else under the sun.  


The elders of Israel had the same problem.  They were delivered safely into the

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Humbling Treasure

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, was this grace given, so that I might make clear to the nations the good news of the unsearchable treasures of Christ:  --Ephesians 3:8 (self translated) 
I have been pondering the question of humility vs. self-deprecation.  Psychological self-help books suggest that self-deprecation is damaging to one's ability to relate and grow.  It is founded on a humanistic ideal that all people are of utter worth so consequently, if you can't claim your intrinsic value, then you are putting your abilities under a barrel.  This is in opposition to the older Orthodox Christian belief that humanity is fallen and prone to being sin-filled.  Knowing our place in life seems key to our sense of who we are.  I'm not sure there is a substantial difference between humility and self-deprecation.  What differs is where you stand in relation to God.  If you accept the idea that you are a god - maker of your own world and success, then in 21st century developed nations to have humility (be self-deprecating) is to lose out on chances of gaining even more.  On the other hand, if you accept the idea that God is God, and you are simply a disciple or servant, you will view success differently.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Gospel Simplicity

For God has not pre-destined us to meet His anger, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ; who died on our behalf, so that whether we are awake or are sleeping we may share His Life. Therefore encourage one another, and let each one help to strengthen his friend, as in fact you do.  I Thess. 5:9-11 (1912 Weymouth New Testament)

A lot of faulty teaching about the Christian faith gets blasted out over the spongy ears of the masses.  Their ears absorb the misinformation, then they incorporate this viral information into their heads, and let it color all their thinking.  The next thing we know 10,000 misconceptions about Christianity are flying; some of them even amongst those who have been part of churches forever (and should know better.)  So it is refreshing when we come across a short, succinct Bible passage that cuts through all the trash talk and lays it out plainly: God has not pre-destined us to meet his anger.  (Other translations use the word wrath.)  Instead we are destined to share in the life of Jesus Christ... Go strengthen your friends with this news.  How much simpler can the Gospel get?  No tally sheets of sin.  No hoops to jump.  No special prayers or words.  Awake or asleep just share in the life of Jesus.

Now, knowing the life of Jesus becomes the on-going homework assignment.  His first miracle was changing water into wine at a wedding banquet. (John 2)  So, attend church and take communion to remember.  Remember how easily his friends and disciples don't even recognize him (Luke 24:13ff) until he breaks the bread with them.  Jesus healed a lot of blindness in his short three years of ministry.  Don't be a blind person yourself and not see the needs around you.  Share in a Jesus-life of compassion and sensitivity to the troubles and sorrows and misery of those whose lives you cross or pass every day.  All carry some burden or pain.  Encourage, strengthen, smile and uplift always.  Against such there is no law... and in it, awake or asleep, you live out your destiny: salvation through our Lord.

Prayer:
Thank you O God, for meeting us not in wrath or anger but in loving acceptance.  Encourage and strengthen us, and help us do likewise for each person we meet throughout all the day long.  In Christ's name, and in union with His life that we share.  Amen.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Scientific Contributions to Faith?

For I see Thy heavens, a work of Thy fingers, Moon and stars that Thou didst establish.  What [is] man that Thou rememberest him? The son of man that Thou inspectest him? -- Psalm 8:4-5 (YLT)

Yesterday the Episcopal Church was recognizing Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler.  These two men were key players in the scientific revolution that literally turned the solar system upside down in the late 16th-17th century.  Beginning with a shy Copernicus, the previous belief of a flat earth located at the center of a large dome that had the sun and all the stars and planets rotating around it was shattered.  It took more than a hundred years for The Church to accept the new planetary configuration, but it eventually did swallow its objections.

Lest we think this "obtuseness" on the part of The Church a thing of the past, we should note that we still find conflict between people of faith and science today.  Creationists still show up at school board meetings around the United States to argue against evolutionary theory -- a debate that has been raging since 1859 with the publishing of Darwin's On the Origin of Species.  This conflict between church and science raises the question what part does science play with faith?

The problem, it appears to me, is that we are hung up on the goal of propounding a "Universal Truth."  Human beings do not have the capacity to grasp Universal Truth; if there were such a thing, we would have no need for faith.  The wonder and expanse of the heavens reveal a God far larger than anyone's capacity to grasp the way God holds "it all" together.  We are each like the blind men and the elephant - each of us seeing only the (microscopically tiny) slice of "reality" that we can touch -- that the rest of the elephant is there is an act of faith.  What Copernicus and Kepler, et al did, and science does daily, is reveal how artificially (and vehemently) attached we can be to supposed truths and unimportant details of a limited physical existence.  This is in stark contrast to faith, which stretches out beyond the heavens, beyond science, beyond this mortal life to utterly and entirely embrace the God of Love.  "What is man that Thou are mindful?"  Mindful enough for Jesus Christ to come opening The Way to Truth and Life.

Monday, May 14, 2012

What Do You Know?

As thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; even so thou knowest not the work of God Who doeth all things.  -- Ecclesiates 11:5 (Tanakh Jewish Bible)
There are three (apparently) eternal truths in this one verse.  Ecclesiastes is believed to have been written nearly 3,000 years ago.  Take all of our development, technology, and knowledge that has happened in all that time and we still do not know many things.  We still can't say why a wind comes to a particular spot.  We still can't say how a clump of cells build specific tissues or become a living, breathing human being.  If these first two premises hold true even today then the third is also very likely true -- we do not know the work of God.


We like to think we do know God, but the limitation of our understanding betrays our arrogance in thinking so.  In fact, anyone who claims they know all about God is most likely creating a god in their own image.  The handiwork of God's work is an awe-inspiring wonder to start.  We can't duplicate it!  The trail God has us on and where it leads is at best a trail of crumbs.  We know not the time of our journey in this life, nor how, nor why we finally travel the roads we do.  We know God only in the name God uses for God -- I Am -- a present tense verb.  We can't know our future.  We can't change the past.  But, God stands constant in forgiveness of the past, constant in hope for the future, constant in love in the now. 


Prayer:
God of it all -- you know my situation and need.  Have mercy, O Lord.  Amen.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Set Free


Jesus, therefore, said unto the Jews who believed in him, `If ye may remain in my word, truly my disciples ye are, and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'  They answered him, `Seed of Abraham we are; and to no one have we been servants at any time; how dost thou say -- Ye shall become free?' -- John 8:31-33 (Young's Literal)
It comes as a bit of surprise that when Jesus says, "... You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free," that the response back is not to argue about the truth and what it is, but that they are free.  This speaks to the differences in their time and place compared to ours.  We are a litigious, science-based society where there is always a quest for truth -- better studies, better research, better evidence, better sources.  There they lived under an oppressive foreign power.  While we think in terms of proving truth, they lived thinking of the fragility of their freedom.


We oftentimes confuse truth with reality.  Our reality gets filled with daily living things -- things like job, finances, relationships, family, health, marriage, etc.  We get so wrapped up in all the issues, problems, comings and goings of slogging through a day that we accept it all as our "lot in life" -- our truth.  In the same way that the Pharisees lived out the "truth" of their freedom and had difficulty comprehending what Jesus was saying, we too have difficulty.  We have difficulty remembering Jesus proclaimed "The way, The Truth, and the Life."  We easily forget about this trying to balance a checkbook, finish by a deadline, or argue with children.  Jesus teaches a grander Truth, a wider Truth, a Truth that transcends this world, this life.  Through going to church, through taking the cup and bread, through a time of daily prayer and moments counting our gratitude/blessings we remind ourselves that our real life -- our eternal life -- is bigger than the mundane appearances of "important" in our day.  Know the Truth, and in that Truth you will be set free.


Prayer:
Release us Oh Lord to remember again that you walk side-by-side with us and lift us up to a plane higher than that in which we get mired.  By your holy name we pray.  Amen.


(This was the essence of a homily I gave at St. Luke's Episcopal Church's vespers service in Renton, WA.)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Suffering

Therefore, let those who by the purpose of God undergo suffering, keep on in well-doing and in putting their souls into the safe hands of their Maker.  --I Peter 4:19 (self-translated)
I will perhaps over-reach my readers' sensibilities to proclaim that all suffering is of God, even as suffering that comes about as a result of following God is perhaps more noble.  Now you might argue -- then what's the point of believing in God?  The fact is that many of the Bible-thumping preachers today imply, or overtly declare, "If you believe properly, good things will come and suffering will be avoided."  Further, we have been brought up as children of prosperity and abundance to ask the question, "What's in it for me?"  So, we come to our faith and our churches expecting a contract that if we believe in the Good Lord we will be given whatever our hearts desire.  Having faith gets reduced to having belief that I can pray in a right way and get whatever I pray for.  My experience of God does not support this heresy.   There is nothing in the Old or New Testament that has God saying, "This is my covenant: I will be your God and give you whatever you want."  To think our prayer list gives God some cosmic to-do list is just the worst disservice to faith.


All suffering is of God.  But know this: whatever the course we all win with God.  Trusting that is faith.  Logically, even if we could not accept this -- choosing instead not to believe, the experiences of this life will not change.  Faith is about something bigger than this earthly life.  Do you want to be part of that larger eternity?  The only thing for us of faith is, as this verse concludes, to keep on doing well to others and to put your soul in the safe hands of God.  If all the humans in the world would get just that much of the Gospel, what would life on earth be like?


Prayer:
Lord, put us to finding grace in our suffering, magnanimity in our blessings, truth in our faith.  Amen. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Noble Death

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. --  John 10:11 (KJV)
The Greek word (καλὸς), which all English versions translate as "good", really leans more in the translation direction of "noble."  (See Jerome Neyrey, Journal of Biblical Literature, 120/2, (2001) p. 261-191) Neyrey discusses the Greek idea of a "noble death" as being one of sacrificial honor.  The most frequent noble death we hear about today comes from military deaths.  The soldier who falls on a grenade and saves his buddies being a classic example.  The principles outlined in this journal piece says the noble death requires that it be for the benefit of others, be voluntary, be justified, and end in a victory where the one dying is undefeated.  

Jesus' death accomplishes a great deal.  He voluntarily submits to it in the Garden of Gethsemane; it is honorable for our benefit, justified by the shame of our sin; and yet, Jesus is not defeated by death as His resurrection attests.

There is a modern school of theological thought that it was abusive of God to permit (or worse yet, require) His son's death just for our benefit.  Yet, when our sons go off to war to defend a serious threat to our freedom, that higher value makes their sacrificial death noble and perhaps even admirable.  Jesus' death was no less noble.  In our modern (privileged) age, we do not think of our souls being exposed to any mortal danger.  We see faith as an option, but not something on which we hinge our lives.  Yet, God saw the danger and sent His son into the fray to rescue us.  We are that important to God!  Is faith that important to you?

Prayer:
Lord, we acknowledge the intense act of sacrifice you committed for our sake.  There are no words for our gratitude.  In greatest honor and respect for you we pray.  Amen.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Planning for the Future

We plan the way we want to live,
   but only God makes us able to live it.
-- Proverbs 16:9 (Message)

A friend of mine used to say, "If you ever want to make God laugh, just say you have a plan."  My undergraduate degree was in Urban and Regional Planning.  With the wild-eyed passion of a twenty-something I launched my planning career, believing fervently in the social good and rationality of land use, housing, and economic development planning.  I fought the good fights in city and county government offices.  Planning won some of the time; more often, it lost its intent to compromises and lack of enforcement power.  So I grew cynical and changed professions.

I have also watched young married couples sit down and draw out precise plans for their lives.  They define exactly when they'll have their first job and where, where to buy a house, when to have children, how far apart to space them, etc.  Amazing to me, a rare few actually stay precisely with their plans as drawn out.  More often though, the best laid plans of mice and men get fouled up by life itself.  An "F" in a course, accidents, cancer, death, infertility, economic downturn, and thousands of other events alter the plans we set.  A disconcerting fact of life is that we really can't know the future.  So is our hope based in the brilliance of our plans for the future and our power to implement them, or in something more solid?

There is something more solid in life than our plans.  In the central creeds for the Christian faith after affirming belief in God, Christ and Holy Spirit, they say, "I believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, in the resurrection of the body, and the life in the world to come."  These enduring fundamentals of faith do not change whatever befalls us!  Even the greatest doubt you might possess can't change them.  God stands outside of this time and space and holds us safely, even when all we may see is the burning ruins of what we had envisioned for our lives.  God holds tight, and on that fact you can hold tight as well.

Prayer:
God of mercy, Christ of mercy be there for us.  Empower our faith to withstand the throes of all that destroys our best laid plans.  Help us to find you as the center for our peace.  Amen.

 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Find Mercy Space

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. -- Psalms 51:1 (KJV)
There is a spreading heresy in society; actually, there are many heresies.  The one I think of reading this verse is the one that attacks The Church as being too negative.  The claim of many self-help workshops, books, and teachers of this heresy is that we have no transgressions.  They say that our problem is that we think too lowly of ourselves; that our parents or church or school beat us down to worthless, and we need to rise up and reject all the notions about being sinful.

Committing transgressions against others is impossible to avoid in the global village in which we live.  Whether it's an interpersonal rudeness or non-Fair Trade product purchases, injury to another happens.  The transgressions we all commit in life are the very substance by which relationships fracture.  This is no different in our relationship with God.  There are a thousand ways to hurt or separate ourselves from God, the easiest simply is by ignoring what God does for us, every minute, every day.  While God's love is perfect and ever-biding, our love is so imperfect.  The best we can do is place ourselves into the space of mercy.  It is a space created through a prayer circle where we ask for God's mercy, confess our transgressions, and rest in God's love.  "Have mercy upon me, O God."  Then we can perceive and grow from God's lovingkindness and tender mercies.  Then we can find more love, more humility, more forgiveness, more gratitude.  Then we are living from the holy mercy space where transgressions are blotted out and redemption is a daily experience.   

Prayer:
Lord have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord have mercy.
  


Monday, April 16, 2012

Love One Another

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. -- Romans 13:8 (KJV)
There was a big lottery win not too long ago.  In the days leading up to the big prize there were a lot of people who talked about using their imagined winnings for getting out of debt.  Apart from financial debts what kind of debts are you running up in life?  From this verse it could be implied that you incur a debt whenever you do anything but love your neighbor.  We come into the world debt-free.  We owe nobody anything.  A child is baptized, then raised in the ways they should go.  They grow up and somewhere in all that innocent (debt-free) children grow into adults who are cynical, skeptical, hurt and hurtful, vengeful, uncharitable, cold and mean -- racking up tremendous debts of sin, shame, and guilt.  Even if these adults are successful in killing off their consciences and all sense of the Holy the debts pile up.  Paul tells the Romans, "Quit racking up the toll to human dignity and respect, and just love others as you love yourself."  I John says, "We love as He first loved us." (I John 4:19)  And further, "Children, let us not love with word, nor with tongue, but in deed and in truth. (I John 1:3)  

When we think of the only debt we have is to love it sounds tremendously simple.  Easier said than done.  Yet, it is a worthwhile and noble endeavor to attempt always to love.  Whenever we love others the debt of meanness in the world gets paid down.

Prayer:
Dear Lord, perfect our ability to love others in deed and truth.  Give us the strength to pursue the debt-free life.  In Christ's love who loved us completely.  Amen.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

Easter Hope

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead... -- I Peter 1:3 (KJV)
Science and space exploration have introduced a certain skepticism into the Biblical cosmology.  Once upon a time, before the Renaissance, everyone knew heaven was up, hell was down, and we were somewhere in between.  Along came Isaac Newton and the physics of gravity and suddenly space was full of "stuff" and rational people began to wonder -- where has heaven gone?

Easter is the celebration of restored hope.  Heaven has always been a limited figurative form of speech to talk about an inexpressible hope in the eternal life.  Faith and hope are linked powerfully.  We have faith in eternal life through the witness and instruction of Jesus Christ, and through faith comes the hope in a far better tomorrow.  Christ's resurrection appearances confirmed the hope within us.

Heaven's hope is in the divine/human Jesus.  Heaven is present in a different dimension from time and space; it is in a location our minds struggle to take us to, yet spirits fly toward at death to join the communion of saints there in eternity.  It is very very near, and with quiet devotion and meditation you can sense its nearness.  Keep trying.  Faith will one day win over all skepticism.  "If you don't believe today, you will someday," is the only guarantee Christians need hold.  Trust God's abundant mercy to show you the way.

Prayer:
Lord, I believe.  Help Thou my unbelief. Rescue me from doubt.  Instill me with hope and faith.  Joined to Christ this is my prayer in His name.  Amen. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Quiet Empty Prelude

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.  --Galatians 2:20 (KJV)
The morning after Good Friday must have been startlingly silent.  To have awakened the morning after a full day of yelling, jeering, screaming, and powerless tears must have seemed surreal.  Could all of that really have happened?  Look out the window.  There on the hill... the crosses still.  Oh it was real.  Now what?


Holy Saturday, the quiet empty prelude.  Who are we now as a people?  What now do we do with our lives that have been so preoccupied with The Ministry?  Where is the future now?


Many people live a quiet empty prelude every day.  They go through the motions of living because life demands moving somewhere, but they don't really have an aim, a purpose, or destination in mind other than to check off another day.  Christ is perhaps the missing link if life seems too much like a dead end.  If you just plug in to doing what you've always done, are bored and weighed down with monotony, frustrated with stuck-ness maybe it is the quiet empty prelude?   While silence and disbelief stunned the followers and disciples of Jesus that first Holy Saturday, the Apostles' Creed says, "He descended into hell..."  An extremely powerful exchange took place on this day -- Him for you.  The hinges on the gates of hell were broken and The King did, in fact, conquer a realm that none of us need visit -- unless in rebellious stupidity we just insist.  Enjoy the quiet empty prelude.  Ponder the prisoner exchange that takes place in this prelude and be grateful for the morrow.


Prayer:
In quiet solitude O Lord, what we have seen, what you have done seeps into the depths of our cracked insecurities and worries.  Explode our dissatisfaction with life and replace it with the settled peace of your coming, and the guidance of the Holy Counselor.  Amen.       

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. -- I John 3:1 (KJV)
On this Good Friday one of my favorite hymns is O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.  On this day we consider the reality of the crucified Christ.  Spend time today at the foot of the cross and ponder what he did for you.

"O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crown;
how pale thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish which once was bright as morn!"

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fighting the Fight

And therefore we also having so great a cloud of witnesses over our head, laying aside every weight and sin which surrounds us, let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us:  Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who having joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God. -- Hebrews 12:1-2 (Douay-Rheims)

Every day there is a stress of one kind of another -- sometimes many!  Every day there is a challenge to maintain your center/your calm/your patience.  Every day there is a point that you must pull up the reins on yourself and look at what your faith requires of you.  In the calm center, taking in a breath, we should lay aside all that troubles and all that weighs us down.  Just set it down and discern the huge cloud of witnesses who also struggled through life -- many with the same problems and issues that are meeting you.  Feel them cheering you on?  You might say, "No.  I don't know how to keep doing this."  Consider that you have been placed where you are because you are the best person for that place.  It is the place for the "fight proposed to (you)."  Know this: you likely will only receive the courage to continue by looking to Jesus.  You might have gotten yourself into this jam you're facing, but faith is going to get you out.  You have to see further, reach further, hear further than the situation before you -- to someone, like Jesus.  Like Jesus, you have to look to the joy that comes after you've endured, after you have put aside shame, after you've let worry dissipate.  Breath deeply.  The cloud of witnesses, Jesus too, went ahead of you.  What they did, they give back to you... strength to carry on the struggles.

Prayer:
Lord, whatever is troubling, whatever is a burden, whatever is weighing me down I know you know.  Have mercy on me.  Help me run with patience and endurance this fight you share with me.  Amen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lovingkindness

For great is thy loving-kindness toward me, and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest Sheol.  -- Psalm 86:13 (Darby)
I would call this passage a "coin verse."  It is a passage worthy of being placed in the palm of your hand and studied, or pondered; taking time with each side and slowly turning it over and over.  On its two sides rest all the basic tenets of faith. On one side is me, the personal concern for my future/my soul.  On the other side is the basic nature of God and the covenant relationship between me and God.  

Let's put a light on loving-kindness as that word speaks to what God has with each of us.  The word loving-kindness came about late -- in the mid-16th century.  One definition is "tender kindness...expressing affection." (Dictionary.com)  Other translations use mercy, love, or promise.  One could add agape or deep marriage-like covenant.  What do all of those words connote about God's greatness reaching toward us?  Turn the coin...

My soul slips from the grasp of this merciful hold occasionally, sometimes frequently.  It's been known to fall quite precipitously in bad moments to a Sheol.  Sheol is more of a dark or empty place.  Sheol is a term bound up with ancient Hebrew culture -- a place of afterlife, though more like a shadow-filled non-place/non-existence.  (Only more modern interpreters throw foreigners' cultural conceptions of a fiery hell into the mix.)  My sin, my preoccupations with myself, my worries will replace God's loving-kindness if I allow them to take over my thinking.  Deliverance from myself, from my penchant for thinking about me, me, and me comes about by turning the coin from myself back to reflection on the greatness of Loving-kindness toward me.  What worries, what selfish attention is occupying your words/thoughts pulling your soul from the grasp of Mercy?  Loving-kindness, deliverance, covenant, my soul...

Prayer:
My soul gives glory to my God for all the bountiful mercy and kindnesses extended through blessings on this sacred ground.  Hold me tightly in the sway of all the great promises bestowed by grace alone.  Amen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Completed Love

No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.  I John 4:8

This is a brief encapsulation of the mystery and crazy depths of Christian faith.  Take a few minutes and just work through this one verse phrase by phrase.  Use what's called the Lectio Divina method where you simply breathe consciously and listen intently as you mull over what each phrase means and implies about life.
  
I recognize the intrusiveness of throwing in my own thoughts, so you need go no farther if you wish to do this process on your own with God.  But, if you wish to hear some inadequate ramblings of my listening carry on.

No one has ever seen God... I get so weary of arguments that wage over non-existence of God simply because no one (living) has seen God.  Yet, I know we can and do discern the Living Presence of our Divine Lord.  We CAN know God is there by a partaking or drinking in of The Spirit that creates and makes moist the dry places in our lives.

IF we love one another... Loving others is a choice.  We choose how we're going to walk out the door in the morning -- will we put on our galoshes intent on tromping right on through all the stupidities and insensibilities of which others are vastly capable, willingly wrapping the cloak of forgiveness around the shoulders of these same whacky children of God?  Or might we be bitter and angry toward the "idiots" castigating them as subhuman?  IF is the word there's a choice to be had... choose wisely.  To violate the IF clause negates the THEN clause and here you lose something huge.

(THEN) God lives in us.... Are ye able to open the door by loving intentionally to welcome into your very being the completeness of God?  What would it mean to you for God to be fully and completely alive in you?   Alive in others?  Alive throughout the world in every living soul?  It is prevented from happening simply because too many reject the IF you love one another part.

His love is made complete in us... When we think of God's love we think of something so large and encompassing that it fills not just our world, but that of the universe as well.  "Let there be light" was a love pronouncement that emblazoned itself upon ALL creation; and yet, the power and range of love from that moment onward is in us and propelled onward from us into those around us, into those not yet born, and perhaps even into those who have gone before us.  Complete love knows no bounds of time or space; and it IS ours in this promise from scripture.

Prayer:
God, through your loving our loving brings you to completeness.  Help us to not fail in making you a real and living presence in every aspect of life on earth.  Amen.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Hope You Have

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. -- I Peter 3:15 (KJV)
Scripture is so deep because of the implications and hidden assumptions.  In this verse this assumption is that you are demonstrating so much hope that someone else could notice and ask you about it.  How do you demonstrate hope?  Belief in Christ does provide a capability of looking to the future unafraid.  The future has been handled once and for all.


Hope is defined as "the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best." (Dictionary.com)  People demonstrating hope can sometimes be obnoxiously Pollyanna.  You know the kind of person.  They are the ones who no matter how bad things are they say things like, "It will all work out in the end."  "Don't worry, be happy."  It can be a superficial optimism in some.  In others it is based on a sincere belief system that gives them a true trust in all things working out for those who love Christ.   Because of the admonition at the end to explain your hope with gentleness and respect, it IS possible to be just blatantly irritating with your bubbly hope and well-being, or to be so forcefully evangelistic about it that the person turns you off quick as a light switch.  The future has been handled by a God who became human and took our guilt and sin with him when he departed.  What can hurt us now?  He sits at the right had of God and we are His.  So spread this hope gently and respect the gift Christ has given to all.