Thursday, December 4, 2014

Stretch Your Thoughts and Ways

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord."  --Isaiah 55:8
How often does it happen that we're faced with some situation that needs prayer?  We gather up silent space and begin praying for the positive outcome we want.  Sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, the prayer is answered in exactly the way we desire.  Fairly frequently the answer is not what we had hoped.  Sometimes, the answer is even the direct opposite of what we needed.  Or, how often do bad things happen to good people?  Or, how often do you find yourself in the troubled space of wondering whether God really can or will protect us or our loved ones?  This verse from Isaiah is a good one to memorize and keep in our quiver of arrows to shoot at the doubts that creep into our minds.

We humans like to fancy ourselves as having control.  Some non-religious types, who reek control, drive us crazy with their bossiness and need to be right.  More religious types might carry an indirect righteousness of control; namely, by being good enough God will do their bidding.  The reality, however, is that nobody has the experience, perspective, or scope on life that God holds.  God's thoughts and ways are seriously nothing like mine, as pure as mine might seem from time to time.  The truth is, I don't get it and never will in this life.  All I can do is remember that my thoughts, understanding, and ways are forever going to be getting stretched if I am sincerely surrendering to the full Wisdom and Majesty of God.

We can get angry with God over suffering.  We can claim doubts about God's presence.  We can even say we are done with God.  We would not be the first ones to do so over all the expanse of time and space.  "Scoot over all you millions of disgruntled people, let's commiserate."  We aren't going to be the last.

Hope and faith share a common factor.  That factor is that when what we have faith in or hope for is visible and always proven through a preponderance of evidence, it is no longer faith or hope that we have.  Faith and hope are founded on an invisible, and yes, at times disputable, fact that God is.  This majestic divine presence who has called us out of our wee humanness invites us to stand back in life as witnesses to the suffering, pain, glory, and power of living firmly resolved to hope and have faith.  Your life, your period of suffering, is but a blink of an eye in the eternal embrace of God's overwhelming Light and Love freely given to you.  So, when overwhelmed with loss, sadness, misery, or mystery stretch your thoughts out on the rack of eternity and with a blind assurance of God's love just stretch.  Stretch wide until you can foresee that glimmer in the east -- Love does win in the end.  It always will!

Dear God, relax me into the stretch to feel your eternal mercy at all times.  In Christ, through Christ, and beside Christ we walk and pray.  Amen.




Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Loving Ourselves Into God's Presence

God has told you, O human, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you: God wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God.  --Micah 6:8 (NET)

This is probably one of the best known verses in the Bible, aside from the Charlie Brown gang's Christmas pageant quotes.  This verse is an answer to a question asked in verse 6 -- "With what should we enter God's presence?  With what should I bow before the sovereign God?"  The question is on the minds of the people because they're in the religious context and habit of needing purification with sacrificial offerings prior to God entertaining their prayers.  Micah, being the prophet he is, totally reframes the requirement.  In essence, it goes from offering things to offering oneself.  Three ways of offering ourselves to God are lifted up.

Promote Justice:  How do we promote justice?  First off, we have to know right from wrong and be able to recognize when justice isn't happening.  There are many benefits and positive attributes about American culture.  Unfortunately, many times all the benefits cloud our ability to see all the injustice going on around us.  The justice we seek is not limited to the very thin slice of the pie dealing with crime.  It extends much more widely to embrace how fairly the various systems and institutions in society treat people.  Is the economic system, the educational system, the medical system, the religious system, the environmental system, the agricultural system, the court system.... treating people equally, fairly, and justly?  Nobody can kid themselves!  None of these human institutions are.  What we bring before God is our labors to promote change that balances the playing fields in all of life's arenas.  And, even if you are one of the least in society and enduring injustice yourself, there is an offering to God you can be making.

Be Faithful:  In 1352 Julian of Norwich said this: "It really honors God more, and gives more joy, if we ask God to answer our prayers through God's goodness and cling to that by grace, true understanding, and loving steadfastness than if we approach God through multiple intermediaries and our own need."  Being faithful to God means fully embracing and completely assuming God's goodness is present in total abundance -- even when we can't see it or feel it!  To approach God and to be in God's presence we must come before God with the radical all-encompassing belief that God's goodness precedes us.  It must be the absolute most basic tenet we carry.

Live Obediently: Obedience is not subscribing to or keeping a laundry list of "thou shalts" or "thou shalt nots."  Obedience is not following a moral code of some humanly prescribed form.  The ultimate form of living obediently is how consistently and intensely you can love.  Jesus spoke of the greatest commandments.  "Love the Lord your God...and your neighbor as yourself."  If you are loving God and all people, regardless of your problem(s) with them, all the laws and morals in creation are covered.  The issue of obedience creeps into life because we don't want to love obediently.  We want exceptions and excuses to hate, those who do us wrong.  We want a list of all the ways people should treat us.  That's legalism, and it is a far cry from obedience to love.    

To summarize it all, what God wants from us is to be loved back, wholly and completely, to love everything God loves, and to work for love's sake in everything we do.  

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Watching Evil Melt Away.

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others.  -- Colossians 3:12-13 (NET)
In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, "You have heard it said,'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I say to you do not resist an evil person."  We all have a serious problem with evil.  Most often we might think of it only in terms of others' actions, rather than our own!  When we discuss evil, we usually conceive of ourselves as the ones in the white hats while tremendous atrocities spring to mind - invariably Adolph Hitler is among them.  Those who mock this "impractical" Savior's words: "Do not resist an evil person" will say, "That's EXACTLY what Neville Chamberlain did and look at the World War it caused!"  Forget Hitler for a moment, we are a society chock full of millions of people who all see supposed affronts to their rights as "evil," and they strike back at it.  Some people will contemplate murder, some will actually commit it.  So much for not resisting!  Race to it then.  Take up your arms and exercise your own brand of justice against all evil doers.  Now, is the world a better place because of your actions?  It might be better for you.  Is it better for those who see and adopt your model of living?  M. Ghandi said something like, "An eye for an eye only leaves the world blind."

The unhealthy emotional condition of society, the spiritual malaise of the masses is perhaps related to the generalized rude, impolite, unkind, rough way we bump, jostle, and smack down everyone else in order to get our way.  When I read Paul's words to the Colossians printed above, the first encouraging thing that grabs my attention is the "elect of God, holy and dearly loved." Yes, I consider myself Christian..."holy and dearly loved" feels like a notch higher.  If I don't feel that, I sure would like to!!  To feel it perhaps we have to dress like it then?  Smiling in spite of how we are feeling will improve our mood.  Dressing better raises our self-image.  Clothing ourselves in "mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness patience and bearing with one another and forgiving" should then result in us feeling that way and therein more holy and loved.

So what about the evil people?  First, they just might not be evil but carrying a boatload of misery and heartache from many years of being kicked around.  Second, if they were met with encouragement and all those attributes in the Colossian's list - mercy and such - by EVERYONE, how long could "evil" stand?  I would contend that Hitler succeeded because the "good Christian" people around him bought his gospel of fear and blaming and just with a knee-jerk reaction followed his lead.  Where would Hitler's support have come from if all Germans were living out the reality of "holy and dearly loved?"  Where would there have been room for a Hitler if the world had treated the German people following World War I with more humility and gentleness?  Holy and beloved people don't need to blame.  We don't need to be fearful.  We don't need to fight for our way.  We only need to rejoice in the right.  We follow a risen Savior who is real and who has our common good solidly in hand.  Hold up that word and principle for your neighbor, your friend, your family.  Watch evil melt away.     

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Shine Like Stars

Do everything without grumbling and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world. --Philippians 2:14-15

I like the Amplified Bible's translation of this - "Do everything without grumbling, fault-finding, complaining, questioning, and doubting."  We have become a society that thrives on what is wrong.  So called experts on every topic fill the airwaves and our electronic devices with criticisms and objections to everything.  If there were a global meter to register the degree of negativity reverberating through a country, I wonder just how high it would be in the United States?  How high in our churches?  How high in our families?  By teaching and adhering to our propensity for fault-finding are we not generating the opposite of grace?  Do you feel uplifted and blessed when others get together and "whine and moan" about everything that is wrong, frightening, messed-up, and frustrating

The Apostle Paul addresses this disunity and fracture in the Book of Philippians.  He gives a concrete set of to-do's and, therein, lifts up just how different Christian community ought to be.  Don't grumble.  Don't argue.  Don't gossip.  Don't fret or be anxious.  (Don't be afraid.)  DO focus on what is worthy of reverence.  Focus on what is honorable, just, lovely and lovable, true, pure... (see Phil. 4:8.)

This does not mean that there is never any room for prayerful, compassionate, and honest evaluation, but like an unhealthy diet that is nothing but sugar and junk food, our evaluations should not be full of negativity, bitterness, and complaining.  That is unhealthy and kills the Spirit.  No matter what we are evaluating in ministry there is a positive side, good reasons, sound intention, and dedicated effort.  Any Christian evaluation (be it of ourselves or others) ought to be filled with more affirmation than negative recrimination or destructive tearing down.  In any group of people going bad, resolve to be the spiritual star that shines like the one that illuminated the Bethlehem site of our Savior.  Develop the reputation as being able to see the bright spots, the best spots, the holy in all endeavors -- your own as well as all those with whom you share this life.


Gracious Redeemer, make us whole and allow us to see not just the dark and negative, but even more brightly the light and holy reverent.  Amen.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

"What Does This Babbler Wish to Say?"

 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.  -- (Acts 17:16-34)

This morning's daily lectionary passage rang a bell with me.  On the day after the masses swarmed to stores all over the United States to pick up their newest iPhone with the simultaneous massive uptick in money exchanging hands, I couldn't help resonating with the word "idol." When ISIS, the current Middle Eastern purveyors of fear and violence, is rampaging across their countryside beheading people we turn to the real place our faith is at - drones, laser-guided missiles, and weapon sales to supposed would-be allies in dark alleys.  When learned medical people stand before the masses and declare the coming health apocalypse of Ebola, diabetes, obesity, or antibiotic resistant diseases, and they want us to throw our faith into multi-million dollar research for drugs that will largely benefit only the wealthy Caucasian population centers of the world.  When seekers for spiritual truth throw aside the traditions of "religion" as too archaic, patriarchal, superstitious, and/or worn thin on truth and pursue a quest for something more spiritually fulfilling in the stars, wind, or sky there is a powerful resemblance to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers of Athens worshiping the statue to "the unknown god."

Salvation from all these mentioned "realities" of worldly daily life is not something that is in our hands.  Peace and a true sense of safety will not be found where we are looking for it -- namely from our own human will and effort.  Those efforts might rescue our mortal bodies or assuage our anxieties by hearkening to electronic bells and whistles that enable an anesthetized denial to shroud our worries and fears, but they will not truly release us from them.

Paul went with the men of Athens to the Areopagus.  The Areopagus was where the Greek court of appeals met to hear arguments of criminal or civil law.  Paul stood in their midst, in their court of law, and declared how the living God was known through all that has been created and by the revelation that was brought through God's son, Jesus Christ.  Through Jesus Christ we find a sure and certain peace, perspective on love, and lessons on the way life is intended both in this world and in the eternal life promised far beyond this life.  "Because Christ lives, we can face tomorrow."  We can get our worry-bugs wrapped around the fear mongering flag pole that pulls us into a panicked rush to the idols human leaders put up for us to worship.  Or we can believe and have faith in the stronger more eternal truth that Jesus Christ truly saves now and forever.

Eternal Keeper of Peace, we pray for healing of our fractured world, the cessation of anger, worry, and violence and ask your help in worshiping you, the one true God.  Amen.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Finding Patience in Hectic Places.

Have patience, therefore, brothers and sisters, till the coming of the Lord. Behold, the farmer awaits the precious fruit of the earth, having patience for it until it receive [the] early and [the] latter rain.  -- James 5:7 (Darby)
Got patience?  My experience has shown me that impatience is my default setting.  We live in an impatient world with instant everything.  Who has to wait for anything?  Yet, I'm sitting here at my desk listening to CNN with one ear hearing about day 10 of the lost Flight 370.  Those families know impatience.  Like the produce that ripens on its own schedule in our garden, these kinds of things that are out of OUR control bring us impatience.  I wonder if the farther we've gotten from agricultural lifestyles the worse is our impatience?  Modern, urbanized folks are addicted to fast and instant, and waiting makes us nuts.

One aspect of patience involves time.  Kairos is a Greek word that is found a fair number of times in scripture -- 86 times.  It refers to time that is suitable, or the right moment.  It is often used to refer to God's time.  The apples will be ripe when the time is right.  God spoke when it was time.

The other aspect of patience is suffering.  An older word often that was used in place of patience was "long-suffering."  There is an element of patience that implies a degree of suffering, or at the very least a holding back of oneself or one's expectations or hopes.  So, James is saying, "Hold yourself back for the right time."  The right time will be in God's good discretion and will be the best outcome.  Be still and know God.

That is easier said than done.  One method of helping yourself find patience is through mindful breathing.  Sit yourself down in a comfortable place.  Begin by noticing your breath.  Think of your favorite name or image for God, and every time you breathe in say or think that to yourself.  As you breathe out release your worries and busy self-chatter.  Imagine your image/name for God filling you a little fuller with each breath inward and your own "stuff" growing smaller with each breath outward, until you are just sitting quietly with God -- outside, inside, above, below, and all around you.  This is your patient space.  Repeat this to yourself numerous times: "This is what patience feels like."  By doing this you are teaching your brain how to find this space once again when you need it again.  At those times, you may be able to simple say to yourself: "Remember what patience feels like," and you will immediately move in that direction.  This is good spiritual training in practice!

Ever patient, loving God grant us the space and generous time to find ourselves basking in your tranquil presence.  Give us patience to face this day.  Amen.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

Share Your Good Fruit

Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit. -Matthew 7:19-20 (HCSB)
Harsh sounding passages of scripture might often cause us to pass them by for passages more soothing to our spirit-hungry ears. Frequently however, we can meditate on a hard scripture until Holy Light shows it only to be a shadow side to those good passages we suck up so readily.  It could be likened to feasting only on cookies, when a kale/spinach salad would be better for us.  Such was my experience with these verses, actually beginning at verse 7:17 with this talk of bad trees and good trees.

I can't really find a way to interpret this passage as anything but a pretty condemnatory, guilt or worry-raising passage written from a superior one (good tree) talking down to the riff-raff (bad trees.)  It is also difficult to make it anything but an analogy about people.  Are you a good tree or a bad tree?  Matthew says, "You'll know by the fruit you bear."  What fruit are you bearing?

Galatians 5:22 lists nine fruit of the Spirit that we might ought to be displaying: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.  The way Paul puts it in Galatians, those nine character traits are not separate but just one kind of fruit.  Meaning, we don't pick and choose which of them we want or do have, but they all occupy a place within our Christian character.  If this fruit is visible, says Matthew, we are good stock and won't face the fiery furnace.

Two realizations arise from this knowledge.  FIrst, how is your Christian character with those nine attributes?  I'd offer the suggestion that you write each one down and weigh carefully how much you feel that attribute in your heart.  If you don't feel it, where is it in there?  Because, my second realization is that these nine attributes are given to you when you check yourself into Hotel Christian.  You took on your new life with Christ and part of the grace-filled room service you got handed on the silver platter was this fruit.  So, if you are right with Christ those nine elements are in you somewhere.  Why would you not be aware of them?  The world, and all the people around you, need more of that fruit being harvested.  If you look and look inside yourself and just can't locate any of this fruit, then perhaps your heart isn't as right with Jesus' heart as you might like to claim, and THAT should get your undivided attention ASAP.

Help us Dear God to share all our good fruit with you and our neighbor.  Through Christ we pray.  Amen.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Worry Is Where Your Treasure Is

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  --Matthew 6:21

My father was a great worrier.  When asked about why he worried and fretted about so much his pat answer was, "Worry is a form of prayer."  Well, thanks be to his dear resting soul I learned from him how to worry, and for most of my life I have carried the same self-serving excuse.  At 58 years old, however, I have arrived at a place where I am sick of worrying about everything and sick of how it makes me feel insecure at all hours of the night especially.  We live inside our mindsets, another word being our paradigms.  If you live thinking worry is well and good and even noble, you will struggle to accept worry as anything but well, good and noble.  "It's just what I do."  When you start to open the door a crack and allow yourself permission to question the legitimacy of some of your paradigms, God can put a foot in that door and reshape your thinking.  Such is what has happened with me and worry.

No more do I believe worry is a form of prayer.  Here is what worry is: it is a sign of where your treasure is.  When I am worried, my heart is with whomever, or whatever I treasure.  Worry takes me to them/it and causes me to lose hours of sleep dwelling on, basically, what I will lose if something happens to them/it.  That treasure is not where my heart should primarily be!  In fact, if my heart is where my REAL treasure is, then I won't likely be worrying about all those things of this life.  Treasure based in this world's currency: romance, money, property, physical health, food, bills, beauty, etc. "where moth and rust destroy" cannot ever give you the peace and tranquility that trusting God will bring.  For worry-warts I realize I am really pushing their envelopes because we're attached to our worries.  In some perverted unhealthy twist of logic we think we're protecting our loved ones or being responsible for all the possible calamity in the world.  But all the calamity, danger, and loss we imagine in that early pre-dawn light rarely (if ever) happens and worse, it is the antithesis -- that is the OPPPOSITE, of loving God.  Worry is a slap across God's face for all the support, love, benevolence, hope, charity, and providence you've been shown.  So, don't slap God.  Don't worry.  Nestle yourself right down in the hollow of God's hand and try to discern the beating of God's heart, and breathe with it.

Journal Questions:
1.  It is widely believed that worry is something we learn from our parents.  Is that true of your experience?

2.  To what degree are your prayers "worry-based?"

3.  Do you practice any kind of "trusting God" forms of prayer?  If you'd like to share them here, please feel free!

God, we whole-heartedly put our complete trust in you, for we do affirm that our hearts are your heart and your heart is ours.  Through the name of Christ.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Guard Your Heart

Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life. -- Proverbs 4:23 (NET)

Thomas Keating introduces the Guard Your Heart practice to contemplative prayer.  It is the act of not allowing negative events or thoughts to cause you to dwell on the negative spin your mind might like to put on it.  You have probably experienced this.  You get a reprimand, or someone gives you some negative feedback on something you did.  You walk away dwelling on the unfairness of it.  Your mind travels down a sad, self-deprecating, or perhaps even an angry path, imagining retaliation.  One of the things you probably don't think to do is set it aside and pray.  Keating says you should do anything it takes to prevent yourself from obsessing about it.  The sad things that happen to us do not improve by letting our minds trash talk ourselves or others.  You are, in a spiritual essence, stabbing yourself in the heart.

When we dwell on our rejections, mistakes, weaknesses, and failings our hearts fall farther and farther from God until it is we who have removed ourselves from God, not the other way around.  There is no joy and no life to be found sucking on bitterness.  Pity parties are for Unbelievers and they hurt our heart, emotionally, mentally, and physically.   Instead, guard your heart.  Shut off all thinking about what happened, even if you have to do it through distraction.  Don't talk about it.  Surrender it to Christ, who intimately and effectively cares for everything about you.  Make what corrections are necessary to amend the problem as soon and as much as you can and move on with your Christian faith intact.  In Christ, life always moves forward, and the past is water under the bridge and gone.  Guard your heart with vigilance.

Eternal Christ, shine a light on the path we can take to guard our heart, to avoid dwelling on all hurtful thinking.  We claim your instruction: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29)  Amen.  

Friday, February 21, 2014

Sheep and Goats

The Sheep and the Goats -- Matthew 25:34-40

The righteous and the unrighteous are separated and labelled sheep for the former) and goats (for the later).  Did this guy's mother never tell him not to call people names?  

I think of John L. who is a man who lives amongst the homeless and considers himself their advocate. This is his FAVORITE verse and he is more than happy to tell you his exegesis of this passage: Church people who don't give up their homes and move into homelessness are goats and are going to burn...   Until I met John, this passage had much redeeming social value for my liberal do-gooder soul.

The passage is about kindness and generosity. Kindness toward the less fortunate, or does luck have anything to do with it?  Are they just inept, or lacking in some essence of common sense or "normalcy," or are they the rebellious, the boundary crashers, the willful children who have gone awry?  Kindness toward them just the same... But why?  If it is their own fault?  Should not consequences fall on the sinners, the penalty for mistakes?

"What mistakes?  My parents put me out in this God forsakeness to fend for myself at 14.  What do you expect?"  Or,
"The mental hospital closed down whole buildings to cut expenses throwing me onto the street.  Is that MY fault?"  
Kindness toward them just the same?  Minds eaten by Meth, heroin, crack, crank, alcohol... many drugs of choice -- victims or willing participants in their own demise?  Do the willing  participants deserve my kindness, my generosity, my sacrifice?  I would say yes.

The passage is about kindness and generosity.  Generosity toward those also made in the Divine image.  How much generosity is enough?  Why do I feel compelled by this passage toward being sacrificial - I mean cutting into my finances so deeply that it actually creates problems for me to pay bills?  What is wrong with the hundreds of others I see driving big cars, wearing expensive clothes or jewelry, paying for goods or services I could only dream of having in an afterlife?  Where is THEIR generosity, their sacrifice?  So often I have recognized that church budgets are financed on less than 3% of the median family income.  Where is their tithe of 10%?  What could be done with that much more to work with?  Then again, what of dependency - unhealthy dependency.  Why SHOULD more be provided to the needy when some won't lift a finger to help themselves and do little more than complain about how imperfect is their free load? "You give us cheap scrambled eggs, where is our banquet feast, our warm shelters, our safe houses, our lockers, our showers, our transportation, our entertainment"...our drugs, our predatory sex, our abusiveness toward another, our self-absorbed selfishness?  Really!  What all of it does the church (or anyone else) fund?  Where does generosity end and supplying gluttony or living stupidly begin?

The passage is about kindness and generosity, or is it?  What if it is about guilt?  As in putting a heavy load of guilt on the unrighteous?  Or, what if it is about pridefully beating oneself on the back for being good -- of being that Pharisee doing loud and opulent works to show the world their "goodness" (while hiding the uglier, selfish, not-so-pretty sides of themselves in closets at home?)  The unrighteous are going to burn in eternal damnation for not recognizing the Christ in the faces of the needy.  However, wait a minute.  Just who is needy?  Are we not all needy?  Are not the unrighteous even more needy of Christ than the goody two-shoes who do everything right?  This is a miserable passage propping up a Works Righteousness that is typical of Matthew.  I thank John L. for being so obnoxiously out there with his exegesis that it caused me to stop looking at it through rosy liberal eyes.  I'm not sure how to X it out of the canon, but it does need something seriously weighty to counterbalance the hurt in it.  The hurting of the truly needy, the hurting of those who sacrifice to help and sacrifice again only to be taken for granted or advantage of, or the unrealized hurting of the spirits of those rolling in wealth and materialism to the point the rest of humanity is cheated by their lack of social conscience.

This passage is about kindness and generosity, or is it about all that is wrong with the world?  Is it about shame?  Shame on you for using well-meaning Christians.  Shame on you for not helping the poor and needy.  Shame on you for helping so much that independence is turned to sick dependency.  And, therein is shame enough, guilt enough for all that only a Savior, the likes of Christ, can redeem us all from our dysfunction and failings.  There is only one sheep in this story, Jesus Christ.  All the rest are just goats, and in Christ that is just all okay.  Lord, have mercy.  Christ have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Thank you dear God for losing the one sheep and therein rescuing all us goats.  Make us more sensitive, more aware, more humble in our interactions with all who are needy, and yes, even me.  Through Christ we pray. Amen.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Seize the Day!

For all things are yours; whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours' and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's.  -- 1 Corinthians 3:22-24 (ASV)
"All things are yours," or all things are in your grasp, or under your control.  The wording is reminiscent of Romans 8:38, but while the Romans verse is about not getting separated from God, this is about the possession of all things through Christ.  I quoted this to my daughter going out the door this morning and I said, "You know what that means don't you?  SEIZE THE DAY!!"

I have to confess to being possessed by anxiety; yes, as in what almost feels like demon-possession.  It frequently strikes very early in the morning and, irritatingly, it seems to fly in and startle me awake.  I'm batting about .300 with this dragon.  Some mornings it can be suppressed through mindful breathing and prayer, and I can get back to sleep.  But, most mornings I have to give up and get on with my day.  I get quite discouraged about it at times, especially when it leaves me with only three or four hours of sleep.  These verses put a new spin on it all.

Anxiety arises out of feeling helpless, or that some thing(s) are out of your control.  Anxiety is frequently the disease of "what ifs?"  If the "what if's" are pursued and dwelt upon enough, the anxiety can become panic.  But in anxiety disorders, it IS mainly one's active imagination that puts one in an anxious state.  Thoughts, we must remember, do not equal reality.  What we have here in 1 Corinthians is not our imagination but a scriptural promise.  Rather than running 40 yards down an imaginary slippery road to an imaginary colossal failure to an imaginary end of the world, why not stop it in the first six inches with Paul's words: "Everything is yours...because you are Christ's, and Christ is God's."  Everything is yours.  What stands outside of everything?  Nothing at all.  "Everything is yours," close your eyes and say it over and over to yourself until you grasp it.  Everything is yours.  You're Christ's, Christ is God's and together all is yours.  Go seize your day!

O Most High, thank you for putting all things under Christ's feet and for likewise putting all that under our feet as well.  Give us the minute by minute reminder of whose we are and what we have in you and through you and by you.  Amen.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Born Into Life

"The Father has life in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son."  -- John 5:26

I remember in a biology class spending almost an entire class period talking about how to define "life."  Life is somewhat of a mystery it turns out.  While we know how life is initiated at conception, we do not know exactly at what moment the combination of chromosomes results in "life."  It is almost easier to define life by what it isn't -- as "not dead" -- than to try to define what it is.  The signs of life, e.g. breathing, pulse, motion, etc, also do not explain what the actual animating energy is that causes a person or creature to "start ticking" or to be alive.  We know neither when or from where that "spark" comes, or where it goes after death.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Walls of Safe Space

 Raising of Jairus' daughter -- Mark 5:35-43  "She is not dead, but asleep."

Eugene Peterson in The Message calls the crowd at Jairus' house gossips and casserole bringers.  These people at his house laughed at Jesus when he said she's sleeping.  These people had also told him to quit bothering the teacher.  A dismissive, unbelieving bunch of sarcastic folks.  "Poo, she's dead. Isn't that too bad?  Sucks to be them."  So, Jesus shoos them all out, keeping with him only his 3 disciples, Jairus, and his wife -- the ones who could love, the ones who could believe. How often we die in response to ridicule and shaming! How often those who are supposed to care can cause our hope to wither, our belief to be scorched to ash in the face of heated criticism.  How often we give up when our peers laugh at us!  Jairus sets out to bring Jesus to heal his daughter.  They are worried sick and scared. The crowd follows him only to see if he'd really follow through with his hair-brained scheme.  The hecklers shout, "She's a dead duck, Jairus.  Quit bothering the Teacher."    "Don't listen to them.  Trust me," says the quiet rebel man that Jairus and his wife have gone out on a limb in desperation to pursue.  We must save our daughter's life.  I'm a leader of the synagogue.  I'll be laughed at by everyone...but our daughter.  Our beautiful daughter.  A faithful Jew surrounded by cynical, doubting peers.  A dead daughter.  "Trust me."  Then, "Shoo, shoo you blind doubters."  A safe space created.  Loving walls surround a loving hand up, and the sleeping wakes!  This is no ghost, for she can eat.  Faith has made her well.  Love wins.  Parental love triumphs.  Cynicism is put down, scoffers denied.  Don't buy cynicism.  Be love.  Be trusting. And, as our Heavenly Parent protects the frightened and lonely let us,too, put up the walls of safe space so love always wins, even when it looks impossible.

Journal Questions:

  1. Recall a time when you were scoffed at or laughed at for what you believed or thought was right.  How did you feel?
  2. Did anyone come to your defense?  Knowing what you know now, what might you do to create a safe space for someone who might be caught in a similar circumstance?
  3. How likely are you to hold out hope in seemingly hopeless situations?  Can you, or do you join the doubters who throw in the towel early to protect yourself?
Create in us, O God, the skill to build safe space where love can win out.  Through Christ's power and with Jesus' light.  Amen.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Abundant Living

The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy: I came that you may have life, and may have it abundantly.  -- John 10:10 (ASV, modified)

Negativity is an expansive, easy-to-find energy into which we can easily find ourselves pulled.  Negativity often feels like it is the default switch on which society and the world operates, and daily we have to work to unplug from it.  What do I mean?  Take the worldly obsession with possessions.  Radio, TV, print media, internet -- as long as we are plugged into the news of the world we are bombarded with the messages that a) theft, murder, and destruction abound, or b) that what we have or possess is shabby and second rate if we don't have the newest and most advanced products.  The barrage is constant and we feel it in our spirits.  The negative vortex to be pulled into despair and emptiness is powerful, and the clarion call to join the lines at department stores & their websites to buy more and more to assuage our inferiority and pathetic existence is ever present.  As James Forbes has said in his sermon, "No Justice, No Righteousness," the sin of consumerism and materialism chokes us all. (Rev. Forbes sermon)

Often when TV evangelists preach on this passage they add to the angst that our existence is too meager and pathetic for good decent people.  They preach that by believing in Jesus Christ your life will magically improve and you will suddenly come into untold material abundance (as though we have none.)  The most blatant examples of this "abundance theology" offers that simple prayer will bring you all the wealth and happiness any person could dream, and if that doesn't occur, there is something wrong with your faith.  Considering that our "want lists" are driven, constructed, and pursued endlessly at the ever-present clamoring of advertisers working to make us feel bad about ourselves if we don't have their particular product we are doomed when the "word of the Lord" supports us in wanting it all through prayer.  It doesn't work that way!

Our faith in Christ is alone our abundance.  The antidote to the media and cultural blitz to feel scared and inferior is to turn off the sources of those messages to us.  The antidote to the static buzz in our heads that we don't have enough is to stop dwelling on what we don't have or on what bad thing might happen to us.  In it's place dwell on the abundances you already have!  Perhaps that sounds odd to you... what abundances?  First, note it is plural -- there are many.  When I start feeling overwhelmed by all that I might not have, or lay awake worried about what is going to happen, I have found it therapeutic to begin listing what all I have in abundance.  I have an abundance of warmth and comfort in my soft bed.  I have an abundance of food in my cupboard (so much that some of it I'm not even interested in eating!) I have an abundance in the car and gasoline that takes me where I want to go.  I have an abundance of people who care about me and love me.  The outside messages are so strong that we shouldn't be happy we might have to work at getting our thinking pulled out of the negative "what you don't have" and plugged back in to what you do have.  The most basic abundance you have at the center of your being is the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ... already there!  Christ has come and has brought you abundance.   Go there when you feel discouraged, or inadequate, or dissatisfied, or worried.  Dwell on your many abundances.  Dwell on Christ.

Journal Questions:
1.  Is there some material want that is relentlessly pursuing you to buy?  Is it really a necessity or have you been brainwashed to THINK you need it?

2.  Is shopping an addiction for you?  Meaning, do you find yourself wandering stores in search of something/anything to buy and feel a happy rush when you get it, only to have that rush fade in hours or a day?

3.  Try making the list of abundances.  If it is difficult to think that what you have is abundance, consider a primitive tribal person surviving in some almost inhospitable environment.  They often have a happiness and lack of care that all of us in modern society can't find and can't imagine.  What abundance do you have alongside that?

God of all creation, Christ of all granting abundance, Spirit of all satisfaction and healing grant us peace from our frenzied wants and rest us in the arms of your perfect peace.  We pray in the name of the Christ at our door knocking, open us to Christ.  Amen.