Saturday, April 28, 2012


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?

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?

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.

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.   

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.