Sunday, December 29, 2013

Overcoming the World

I have said these things to you that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.  --John 16:33 (ESV)
God did a unique thing for us at Christmas that gets lost in our celebrations often.  It was not that Wise Kings from the East brought gifts and gave us the practice of exchanging gifts.  It was not that Angels sang and gave us Christmas Carols.  It was not that we over stuff ourselves on every kind of rich food and inch our midsections toward heart disease -- just where did THAT come from?  What God did that was unique was to enter into the birthing process and take on flesh exactly like every single person on the planet who has ever lived.  God joined with human flesh and blood to see the world through our eyes and understand us a bit better and deeper.  God cared that much that God came to visit us in how we live.  Through this joining God experienced sadness, grief, anger, accomplishment, and defeat.  Through God in Christ we can know that God gets us.

Do we get God?  It would be impossible for us to pull off what God did in reverse.  We obviously can not become God, but we can take on the Christ.  By spending time soaking up the words of the Gospels about Jesus' life we gain insights into how God operates in human form.  God clearly strives to bring us peace.  God clearly strives to overcome the world filled with tribulation and strife.  The God nature through Jesus shone a light on a different way to be human that was grounded in peace, compassion, and healing.  That we have a God-living-through-human example should inspire us in our quest to experience God living through us.  It may begin in your gospel reading.  It might continue in partaking of the elements of Holy Communion.  It might expand when we reach beyond the focus on our needs to helping those at the margins with their needs.  Perhaps when Jesus says, "Take heart, I have overcome the world," he means that we can also overcome the world?  If so, then what is stopping you?  Read, pray, serve -- and stop worrying over the tribulations.

Dear God, there are many troubles all around but you know what that's like, don't you?  In awe and gratitude we give thanks for how you overcome them all and  for handing us unity with you.  Amen. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Hearing of Faith

This only would I learn of you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  --Galatians 3:2 (Douay-Rheims 1899)

Scientific tangibility is reality for most people.  If we want to know what is real or what can be believed with certainty, we turn to science (along with all its laws.)  Scientific validity creates believable fact, a world upon which we can base our life.  An adherence to such certainty is the center piece of belief in the present age.  In the days of Bible writing the Law of Moses had this same solidity of reality and certainty.  It was deeply believed that violating the Law of Moses would lead to your demise.  Being a good person and following the letter of the Law brought you righteousness, or togetherness with God.  There was a "legal tangibility" that made clear how one could and should live.  Even when God felt absent you could continue through the motions by following the law and what you easily could know by listening to the rabbi.  Then entered a short time of The Spirit.

In the book of Acts the Holy Spirit arrived on the gathered masses on Pentecost.  While not deconstructed or destroyed, the chains to the Law of Moses were loosed.  The believer was set free to believe, to trust, to have faith in a deeper reality: that God eternally loves and redeems wrong and the wronged.  This reality is more like an intangible fact -- the base on which science or legalities rest.  How do we know it is there, or real?  Because we trust that it is so -- convinced that the mystery of God is holding up the world and its future whether we can reach out and touch it, dissect and understand it, or not.  Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?  A modern rewrite of the verse would be "Did you receive the Spirit by the certainty of scientific method, or by hearing of faith?"

Many today write off faith.  If it can't be satisfactorily proven, measured, or the workings thereof elucidated it is of no value.  Faith, the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, the Church, and even God get tossed.  Yet, if these are all tossed then so must all their fruits including "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23)  Having experienced and witnessed each of these "fruits of the Spirit" I cannot conceive of or agree to live in a world with them outlawed by a law or a science that does not account for what I have heard of faith: Christ died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

God of faith, stand by us when uncertainty and other unknowing voices try to convince us that our beliefs are "silly superstitions."  Help us stand near you, O God as well.  Amen.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Loving God

Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind.  --Matthew 22:37 (Douay-Rheims)
Loving God is a simple, yet challenging, task.  It isn't really accomplished through so many common everyday avenues -- avenues like following what is legal or following what the society/culture accepts as "normal" or necessarily even adhering strictly to what your church, teachers, or parents taught.  To love God requires a spiritual awakening within your soul that attunes itself to that wee small (but strong) presence.  All the other avenues while possibly helpful in the quest to love God, really don't accomplish the whole task.  I don't believe we fully love God only by being busy for God.  By being busy for God I mean having the to-do check-list -- you know the one: 

  • Went to church
  • Taught Sunday School
  • Fed the hungry
  • Said nighttime prayers with the children
  • Said mealtime prayers

Check, check, and check.  Those things are not bad (and are even helpful) but there is something more and richer than doing for God.  There is being with God.  Being with God is being still and knowing the nearness of God to you.  That nearness is ever-present, yet flurries of activity, or worries, or busy thinking keep us at arms length from experiencing it.  Pausing from all the bustle of living, in the quiet dark of night and feeling our own personal loneliness in our soul as a unique individual who is beloved by God allows in the sweet living spirit that nourishes the love between Lover and beloved.  The way to love God with your whole heart, soul and mind is to plumb the depths of silence for the One who carries you eternally forward in time -- to sense the depth of intimate caring and concern that God has for you and whatever you are enduring.  Be still, know and love God.

Merciful Lover of our heart, soul, and mind, release us from all our doing and busy-ness to find and have moments and moments every day where through our silence we sense -- touch, feel, hear, or see you more clearly and dearly.  Amen. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Your God Is Too Small

And it shall come to pass, when ye are multiplied in the land and become fruitful, in those days, saith Jehovah, they shall say no more, Ark of the covenant of Jehovah! neither shall it come to mind, nor shall they remember it, nor shall they visit [it]; neither shall it be done any more.  At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of Jehovah;  -- Jeremiah 3:16-17 (Darby)
J.B. Phillips wrote a book entitled, Your God Is Too Small.  It became a favorite saying of my parents.  The Bible reveals a growth in the concept of God.  Abraham owns private household gods, which he packs up and moves with him wherever he goes.  God grows a little bit when the nomadic Hebrews put a larger God in a box - the Ark of the Covenant.  Everyone worships at the Ark of the Covenant.  Then they settle on the land and King David comes along to build a Temple from which flows the blood of many sacrifices offered to a God (and a priestly class) who apparently need to feed a lot off the sins of the people.  Jeremiah proclaims that the people will forget all about the Ark of the Covenant and flock to Jerusalem where this temple is the Throne of God.  The Assyrians attack and then the Babylonians level the Temple and take the leaders into exile.  God grows again in this forced removal of the people away from the geographical location of God.  God for the first time goes out to the people, rather than them always coming to God.  God steps out of the limited sacrificial rites by incarnating into the person we call Jesus.  Through God in Christ we learn of an expansive God grounded in love.    We have forgotten the Temple now.  Today we live with three emblematic reminders of God who we serve as much as who serves us... 1) The Holy Spirit, 2) The host and cup, and 3) The body of Christ, the Church.   We live out our faith outside church walls... taking the Love of God gained through our relationship with Christ into the streets in acts of mercy and justice.  Instead of a partisan God who only blesses the Baptist, the Methodist, the Anglican, or the Presbyterian... God is the Spirit who blesses all and fosters a viable working cooperative relationship in delivering food for the hungry, clothes for the naked, visits to the prisoner, and homes for the homeless.

If you don't get out much and see the acts of God for the people of God, perhaps your God is too small.  If you haven't experienced the grace and acceptance of a loving God through the voices and lives of the alienated, the disenfranchised, the immigrant, the abused, the homeless then perhaps your God is too small.  If you can only find God when you go to your church, sit in your pew, and pass the peace only to those you know best, or who look just like you perhaps your God is too small.  Get out there and find the moving, changing, growing, and transforming love of a God bigger, wider, higher, and deeper than any you may have ever encountered before.

Move us out O God, from our staid, small boxes and walled vaults into work expanding your heavenly Realm.  Through Christ, in Christ, and by Christ make us one with each other, and one for all the world.  Amen.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Praise Our Consuming Fire

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.  Hebrews 12:28-29 (English Standard Version)

I have been doing some battles with moles in the yard.  The pesky creatures are blind and they dig around just under the ground.  Every now and then they push all the dirt from their tunnels out into these big mounds that the lawn mower doesn't like and they ruin the smooth flow of my verdant green lawn.  Sometimes when cursing these critters I am pulled up short by a random reflection that human beings are not a lot different.  We keep our noses to the ground and stay focused only on our tunnel business.  We get all stressed out by the rocks and roots we run into and stumble around with very little awareness that there is a much larger world filled with light and beauty.

The Apostle Paul felt the coming of the kingdom -- that larger world filled with God's light and inestimable beauty.  He didn't express the coming of this heavenly realm in futuristic terms, but more in language such as: "LOOK!  We are receiving this sacred place NOW and it can't be shaken."  The ONLY response to this event is to worship.  God is our consuming fire who is refining all that's wrong in life; the dross and chaff from the world is being burned up and making it as the Prophet Joel proclaimed:
  " I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit."  Joel 2:28-29 
 This transformation from moles to a redemptive celebration is happening!  It is where God is steering this boat; the course of it should result in reverence and awe.  St. Ignatius of Loyola believed that we had but one purpose in life and that was to praise God.  "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what are humans that you are mindful of them?  (Psalm 8:3)  Praise is all we can return to such a magnificent God.  Come out of your tunnels and look up.  See!

To you O God, be all power, majesty, and honor.  To you, blessed redeemer. we give all our small pettiness and ask for you to open to us the strong sense of your sacred presence.  Amen.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Vineyards That Are Our Life

Now I will sing to my beloved a song of my beloved concerning my vineyard. My beloved had a vineyard on a high hill in a fertile place. And I made a hedge round it, and dug a trench, and planted a choice vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and dug a place for the wine press in it: and I waited for it to bring forth grapes, and it brought forth thorns.  And now, ye dwellers in Jerusalem, and every man of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What shall I do any more to my vineyard, that I have not done to it? Whereas I expected it to bring forth grapes, but it has brought forth thorns. -- Isaiah 5:1-4
 The Prophet Isaiah here is speaking for God, as though he is God.  God is singing a song to God's beloved -- the humans firstly in Jerusalem, and by our Christian outgrowth to the whole world.  In the second sentence it is the humans (the beloved), who have a vineyard.  However come to find out, the vineyard is not anything the humans have built or planted.  The vineyard is on high fertile ground; the kind that grows tender sweet grapes and the best wine.  God has done all the work to prepare it, protect it, plant it, and prepare for it's future production.  God prepared it all for us, gave it to us, and then waited.  What grew was not the sweet incredible grapes any farmer would expect from such attentive caring, but rather thorns came to occupy the fertile space.  Various translations of בּאשׁים render it - wild grapes or sour grapes; when it got translated to Greek it became thorns.  It is not what anyone would have expected either way.

There is a "rogue" element in the goodness of humankind.  For the most part, human beings are good natured.  I want to believe this.  One needs to believe this to prevent falling into fearful suspicion and deep distrust of everyone who is met.  But, none of us -- no, not one -- is good all the time. It is the rare one of us who grows into a complete virtuous person (i.e. sweet grapes.)  Hence, what is God to do?  God can prepare a place for us in the most fertile of places, give us all the advantages and privilege possible, defend us from all affronts and we still cry about and become ourselves "sour grapes."

Perhaps the key word in the passage is "beloved."  "I will sing to my beloved a song..."  It is difficult to fully imagine being truly God's beloved.  We live day in and out with our failings.  I think most of us know just how scarlet our sins are, and think long and hard about how intractably attached, stuck, and welded to them we are. Oh, that we COULD just let them go and watch them drift away, but here they rest again another day!  We think because of that that there is no way we could be beloved.  Yet, through faith, hope, and love we can catch instants where we taste our own sweetness, or that of someone else who offers us a helping hand, an encouraging word, or a kind act totally independent of our woeful character.  "I will sing to my beloved a song" and I will give them a vineyard in which they can grow and produce sweet wine.  I give you your life.  Grow dang it!

Dear Lord and Protector of my vineyard, help me to grow into the person you most desire me to be   Show me the way to be rain, fertilizer, and sunlight for each of those around me.  For thine is the wine press and the sweetness of us all. In Christ's name.  Amen. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Be humbled by God's power so that when the right time comes God will honor you.  Turn all your anxiety over to God because God cares for you. Keep your mind clear, and be alert. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion as he looks for someone to devour.  Be firm in the faith and resist him, knowing that other believers throughout the world are going through the same kind of suffering.  -- 1 Peter 5:6-9 (God's Word1)

Humility is the virtue that is halfway between the twin sins of pride and being a doormat.  Humility is knowing whose you are, knowing who holds the power in your life, and respecting that.  "Be humbled by God's power;" know you are God's beloved, honored by God.  Turn all your worries over and stay on your guard.  The sinful slopes are slippery and it is part of human frailty easily to slide from the virtuous into the cold choppy waters of sinfulness (i.e. separation from God) where worries invade and conquer.  Without careful tending of our attitudes and spirits we can slip into haughtiness -- thinking since we are God's children, that we are superior to others (not even needing God); or slip into woe-begotten worm-hood -- feeling so inferior and unworthy so as not even to be able to pray.  The devil, the thought-source that maligns balance, decency, and level-headed thinking is stalking you.  Be firm in faith and hold tight to the respect you hold for God's power in all things.  People the world over are going through all kinds of suffering -- many far worse than you are, yet they are holding tight.  Do likewise.  Rest in humility and trust the outcome in all things to God.  

Help me, O God, to set aside my self-centered preoccupations with myself, to surrender my worries, and truly to rest in you.  Amen.

1Scripture is taken from GOD’S WORD®, © 1995 God’s Word to the Nations. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Giving Up Something for Lent?

...Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses... -- Matthew 6:11-12 (KJV)

Lent started officially yesterday.  It is a common practice for people to think of something to give up for the six weeks until Easter.  It is done as a part of the historic spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and self-denial.  There is a certain frivolous aspect to the things people choose to give up.  For instance, take a look at this one-minute video on Facebook: First World Problems.

If we think we are associating ourselves with something sacrificial and thereby have insight into the sacrifice Christ made for us - think some more.

If we think we are earning something by giving up chocolate or overeating without putting more time into prayer, meditation, devotion, and service - think again.

If we come to the realization that ALL we have is not ours, that more than 95% of what we do have or want is not necessary then we are beginning to see the beginning of the spiritual journey.

Jesus Christ, son of the God of Love, spoke to us and listed the three things that we each need when he taught us to pray the prayer many of us recite every time we go to church:
  1. The time we have today.
  2. Bread enough for today.
  3. Forgiveness.
If we have these three everything else is superfluous and COULD be given up.  As Jesus said to the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16-23), following Christ was most important over everything else the man had or could do.

If giving up something for Lent helps you in a symbolic way to be reminded that everything belongs to God, then give it up.  But, what is really required of you is to follow.  Spend the hours of today that you have been given being kind and serving Christ.  Enjoy simple meals to sustain your body; forgive, forgive, forgive.

Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.  Amen.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Give Us This Day

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not from ourselves; We are pressed on every side, yet not crushed; perplexed, yet not unto despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not destroyed; always bearing about in the body the dying of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be manifested in our body.   2 Corinthians 4:7-10 (ASV)
 We wrestle with our two natures.  We have a here-and-now-present nature that we could label our physical self (our earthen vessel.)  Second, we have a spiritual nature that allows us to "time travel;" that is, to look ahead to the future and believe that we can "see" what is going to happen.  Our spirit nature is the source of worry; it is the source of our thinking we have more power to dictate the future than we actually have.  Only God can be the Director of the future, but we often wrap ourselves in a battle against a future we dread, or chase after a future we crave.  

Sarah Young has written Jesus Calling.  A sentence in her devotion for today spoke to this ever-present way where we launch ourselves into the future: "How ridiculous to grasp for future gifts when today's is set before you!"  Give us this day (pause), (and) our daily bread could be another way to put the line from the Lord's Prayer.  Stay in today.  Daily Jesus Christ is born into our hearts, dies for us, rises again, and sends the Holy Spirit.  To the degree we worry only about today and stay present in just today we live out the life of our Savior's grace poured out for each of us.  Don't borrow worries from tomorrow where there is plenty of pressure, despair, and misery living in our imagination.  Today has all the resources through Christ we need for this moment's challenges.

God in heaven, hallowed by your name.  Give us this day.  Give us today's bread.  Let your will be ours on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Love One Another - A Practical Practice

Beloved, let us love one another; because love is of God, and every one that loves has been begotten of God, and knows God.  Anyone who loves not has not known God; for God is love. -- 1 John 4:7-8 (Darby)
Love gets a lot of attention in almost all Christian circles.  This verse and the "love chapter" in 1 Corinthians 13 are perhaps the two key informing verses to all this attention.   Recently, I picked up a book on Buddhist meditation and one of the meditation forms I came across was Tonglen.  Tonglen is a meditation of taking and giving.  Through Tonglen meditation suffering is taken in and love is given back.

The very first place love is needed in the world is inside ourselves.  The cartoons that have a little devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other are humorous to us because we all have this sense that there is a good person and a bad person inside ourselves.  The Apostle Paul said, the good that I would do I do not and that which i would not that I do.  We wrestle daily with our internal contradictions of what we preach and what we practice.  Rather than just hating the bad parts and our failings, we can use a Tonglen meditation form to transform it.  Using the Tonglen meditation form we can acknowledge the misery or suffering we experience within our negative self.  Confess our negativity and how it blocks God's love flowing through us. We can then take this Bible verse, recognizing that our negative self IS the other (which we would like to deny exists) and embrace that part of ourselves with love.  Let us love even the sinful and difficult side of ourselves first.  If we cannot love ourselves there is no love that can be transmuted anywhere else.  Know that because God first loved us we also can love ourselves.

Once the love has enveloped our good and bad sides we can then turn to praying our love/God's love to surround whatever other people and places we know exist.  Breathing in the awareness of the pain/difficulty and breathing outwardly the assurance of Christ's infinite love for all. God is love.  Love is the leavening that expands and grows pushing away all instances of misery, suffering, difficulty, and sorrow. I encourage you to take this "foreign" insight and shape it to fit your own Christian understandings to pray in a different way.  I pray as you do so that your own spiritual life and your effectiveness in growing God's love in the world will expand.

Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on us and bless our meditations, prayers, words, and thoughts that the world might know you more deeply and dearly.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Response to Uncertainty

As for me, I will look to the Lord, in confidence I will keep watch and in hope and expectancy wait for God my Savior, my God will hear me.  -- Micah 7:7 (verse from memory)
Micah supplies these words of personal resolve in response to his assessment of society expressed in the earlier verses of chapter 7.  He has just finished proclaiming that there is nobody anywhere who can be trusted, nobody that you can look to for help, and murder is common.

When listening or reading the news I frequently find myself starting to bemoan: "What is happening to society?  It is getting worse..."  But I usually pull myself up really quickly and remember some of these words tumbling out of my mom's mouth when I was younger.  For example, she would say things like, "I don't know what to make of the youth of today."  So, not wanting to be like my mom I stop myself, but I still find myself thinking it.  Then, I see that Micah and other prophets felt similarly clear back 3000 years ago.  In fact, is there an older generation anywhere who has not puzzled over the quirks and oddities of the younger generations, or the problems a society meets over time?

One constancy and hope is the eyes and hands of God never stray.  Difficulties come along, many of them extremely hard to bear.  The future is frequently murky and uncertain.  The response to have is to rest in the promise: "my God will hear me."  God WILL hear.  God will act and is on duty at all times steering eternity such that it will end up hopeful and be kindly toward us.  This is faith: to look, to keep watch, to wait.

God, in your mercy, hear my prayers.  Help me to rest patiently in you and wait expectantly to see the magnificent solutions you create.  In Christ and through Christ we pray.  Amen.