Friday, February 29, 2008
Life is interesting, unexpected and often rushed. On Wednesday, after the meeting about our trip this summer and after UMY and after hanging out with Devin, Emily, Danie and Raymond and after cleaning the youth kitchen, I got home about 10 p.m.; and, my mind was racing. I got online and began to search for answers to the questions about transportation to Washington, D.C. Then, I made the slides for Joy Connection for Sunday. Then I made some slides for the UMW meeting on Thursday. Then suddenly, it was 3:30 in the morning. Then even more suddenly, it was 6:45 and Rachel was picking me up at 7:00 for K-Life. Fast forward to church, UMW meeting, clean-up, more research on the trip, conversations with parents, emails to the church family reminding them of Trivia Night, a trip to the grocery store, cooking dinner, watching American Idol, instant messaging Ariel, and then the hunt for trivia questions was on. Then suddenly, it was 2:37, then it was 3:00, a couple more, 3:31. Lights out. Then suddenly, it was 8:00. Getting ready for the day--hair, makeup, dressing, packing up laptop, books, etc. Fixing breakfast, talking to Jared, taking Mom to work, going to the $ Store for stuff for Trivia Night tonight, going to the ecumenical Friday Lenten Service, driving home, and here's where it gets interesting...or gross...or horrifying...or something...I have a coughing fit and vomit on myself and the passenger seat and the console while driving down Joe Bald road. Sick. I know. I mean, I don't feel sick--not anymore. But, sick! I haven't vomited on myself in the car for more than 35 years.
And did you notice in all of that activity, there was not reflection, devotional time spent with my Lord, no scripture reading--not until 10 a.m. this morning at the service--but nothing of my own personal quiet time with God? No blogging, no thoughtful contemplation. Meanwhile, I still have 6 more categories of Trivia Questions to come up with. I still have to make score sheets. I still have to organize, sort and set up prizes, snacks, etc before the youth arrive this afternoon. And, of course, I'm doing laundry. I'm wearing my Todd Agnew, Are you Sure? t-shirt tonight! It just needs a little cleaning, along with my hoodie and my pants.
Three little words. I vomited myself. I haven't studied. I'm doing laundry. I haven't blogged. It is I. Peter lost focus. I lost focus. I am He. Kingdom of God. Walk on water. Come and see. Why did you doubt? Three little words. Words that can change the course of your day. Words that can wreak havoc on your spiritual well-being. Words that can profoundly alter your life. Words that bring hope and peace and comfort and curiosity and questions and truth and reality. Three little words.
When I read the story of Jesus and Peter walking on water, I am reminded of Rob Bell's words on being a disciple. About how Jesus believes in us. Jesus believes in me. Peter began to sink when he shifted his focus from Jesus to the waves crashing around him. In the same way, you and I will sink in our frustrations, our busyness, our jobs, our good things, when we too lose focus. It's a struggle to make spending quiet time with God every day a priority. Oh, but the rewards! The peace, the comfort, the grace. Jesus so overpowers the rest of life that I must not lose focus. I must not forget my Savior.
The Kingdom of God is like...
Did you notice that none of the things that the Kingdom of God is like are things that are fast, or powerful, or flashy or whatever. Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like someone who sows good seed in his field, like a mustard seed, like a treasure hidden in a field, like a merchant in search of fine pearls, like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind, like a master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old. God says that we are like a tree planted by stream. All of these things are things that take a long time or things that take intentional pursuit or patience or endurance or an openness to diversity.
Most trees take a long to time to fully mature. I'm thankful God is patient. I'm thankful God knows it's going to take a long time for me to fully mature. I'm thankful that God is my stream. I'm thankful for three little words.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
So there are things that we know about ourselves...things that frustrate, annoy and depress us...yet we go on doing them. Why is that? It seems so simple when we see it in others. We want to tell them how to fix it. We wonder, sometimes aloud, why they do this to themselves. Yet if we look upon our own lives we must see ourselves doing the same things. Things that frustrate, things that annoy and things that depress us. After such incidents, we find ourselves angry, irritable, confrontational, defensive...because we failed again, we screwed up again, we've disappointed ourselves again. And as a result, we hurt people we love, we're indifferent to those in need, and we build a wall around ourselves that no one can penetrate. So then the question "Why do we keep doing the things we despise?" leads to more questions. Like, "Why are we so self-focused?" and "Is there any hope for fools such as us?" and "Why, oh why would the God of the universe place such important tasks in our hands?" It's a ludicrous plan really.
And yet...God so loved the world. Not the saints, the righteous, the infallible, but the world. God so loved the world. Even me. Even you. "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...If one member suffers, all suffer together with it"--especially, I think, when that suffering is self-induced because with that comes a whole lot of other guilt and shame. "If one member is honored, all rejoice together with it." This, my friends, is why we share our joys and concerns in Worship. And how many of us are guilty of not experiencing joys and concerns with one another? We complain because it takes up too much time in the service, we can't hear the person talking, we don't know who's talking, etc, etc, etc.
Verse 27 says, "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it." I think my favorite word in that sentence is NOW. NOW I am the body of Christ. NOW you are the body of Christ. Not tomorrow. Not someday. Not when we get to heaven. NOW. The Kingdom of God is at hand, because we are the body of Christ. Even in our failings and our frustrations. Even when the plan seems ludicrous. God is. And, we are. We are the body of Christ, and God is our safe harbor.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
No, Kendra did NOT fall off the face of the earth...she just went to Disney World, and she was greeted by the rude reality that the Wonderful World of Disney was NOT the Wonderful World of Free Internet.
So instead of paying the $9.95 a day to update her blog, she asked me (her very smart, witty, intelligent, and blog savvy friend Rachel) to update the page and let you all know what she is meditating on while she is away.
So...no excuses (Raymond)...open your Bible and check this stuff out.
Ok Thing 1...The Sermon on the Mount. You'll find this in Matthew 5:1-7:29. This might seem like a big chunk of Scripture, so feel free to split it up. Decide how much you'll read a day for the next 4 days and go with it...(I think Kendra gets back in 4 days.) Or read it all tonight and go back and pick out sections that stood out and read those on the following nights. I'm sure there's plenty to keep us all pondering. There are stodgy old theologians, who think they know everything, who have spent years and years studying this sermon of Jesus and are still finding it applicable to life today. Here's a little info on the Sermon to whet your appetite. Basically there are three types of material in this sermon...Jesus gives some declarations of blessedness (maybe you've heard them referred to as the beatitudes...they're beautiful.), He also touches on some ethical things....like murder and adultery, and He contrasts between His ethical teachings and the legalistic traditions in the Jewish religion.
No doubt that Jesus' call to moral and ethical living in this sermon is a high call...it's not an easy call, nor is it one that can be met by our own power. Guess it's a good thing that we have Jesus on our side! At the end of His sermon it talks about the people being amazed by the authority with which Jesus spoke...pretty cool.
Ok...and on top of that turn to Psalm 27. It's a little shorter than the Sermon on the Mount! I think Kendra said she's reading through this every day, so feel free to journey with her!
So there you go...now you have a list o' stuff to read while Kendra is gone enjoying the lovely warm Florida weather. But in her absence from MO, you can know that someone is praying for you and that God would open your eyes and heart to His Word...and that person is me! : )
Saturday, February 16, 2008
"Indeed the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)
Since Ash Wednesday, I have been looking at scripture through the eyes of my sins, my confessions and my forgiveness--experiencing again the joy of my salvation. These words from Hebrews are so true--God's word is not just some ordinary book to be placed on a shelf or displayed on a coffee table. God's word is living and active. Sharper than any two-edged sword--it gets under our skin and into our hearts in a way nothing else can. I've found that the more I read it, the more agitated I get about injustices--poverty, hunger, suffering--and the more peace I find for my own inconsistencies, sins and frustrations.
"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit." (Psalm 51:10-11) There is so much packed into all of Psalm 51, and I know I've talked about it already this week. But this little section packs so much in and of itself that I thought we needed to look at it again--to discover our need for this prayer in our own lives. David has given us a model for seeking forgiveness, restoration, God's presence, and the joy of our salvation! If we don't have joy about or over our salvation, perhaps we don't fully understand it or the extent of the tremendous amount of pain Jesus endured. The joy is not in the pain or the suffering, but in the love expressed. The incredible, unmerited love.
When we really begin to consider that love, we begin to wonder why it's taking God so long to come back for us. We sing songs about when we will see Jesus face to face. I can only imagine. Peter explains to us "The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance...Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation."
"Our great God has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves." (Listening to Lent)
Friday, February 15, 2008
The Choice. Should I stay or go? Talk or remain silent? Paper or plastic? For here or to go? Smoking or non-smoking? Fresh or frozen? Hillary or Barack? Huckabee or McCain? Ron Paul, anyone? Toasted or plain? Cable or satellite? We are bombarded each and every day with a multitude of choices. Some significant, some trivial, some too difficult to ever have to decide.
At times, I have called myself "the Queen of indecision." I often have a tendency to over-analyze things. I try to look at things from a million different perspectives imagining how my decision might effect someone else--never considering how my lack of a decision might effect others. Then, there are other times, when I make decisions too quickly--too impulsively, and I then suffer the consequences far too long.
Hereth said today in Listening to Lent, "God binds us to himself with forgiveness...But suffer God does, in order to have us be his." How that must be true. God loves us so much and forgives us time and time again. God's mercies are new every morning, but what of our mercies? What of our forgiveness? Far too often we are more like Adam and Eve--blaming others for our mistakes. Far less often are we like the psalmist who confesses and then receives forgiveness. We like to justify our actions. However, the scripture from 1 John challenges us to live in the light.
As I've written this post, I keep going back to the title of the day and 1 John 2:6. The New Revised Standard Version says, "whoever says, 'I abide in him,' ought to walk just as he walked." And, I guess that's the choice, isn't it. We so often talk of Jesus living in us, but this text talks about us living in him. I'll close with a really beautiful prayer that I read a few weeks ago from A Guide to Prayer for All God's People. It seems most appropriate.
"My God, in all the great and small choices I will make this day, be in my heart and in my choosing that I may come to day's end knowing I have chosen wisely--for you. Amen."
Thursday, February 14, 2008
So, it's after 10 p.m. -- more than 12 hours later than I planned to write this! I planned to do it this morning before K-Life. Instead I packed. I planned to do at church before I got to work on my projects. Instead I got caught up with others. I planned to write it as soon as Mom and I checked into the hotel in Bentonville, AR, as we were planning to begin our vacation tonight. We got about half way there...Eureka Springs, and EUREKA! We realized we forgot our Disney passes/airline itinerary/AAA packet. So...we turned around and drove home imagining that our 2 hour trip was now going to be 4 hours, and that we would be Bentonville by 8:00. So, we got home, got the packet, got back in the car and I decided to make a quick stop at Dollar General. As I dug through my wallet, I discovered that I did not have my check card. Retracing my steps of the day, I determined that I must have left it in the ATM machine. I called the 24-hour banking center, reported the problem only to learn that I can fix it at any bank branch...in Missouri. Not Arkansas. So, I called the hotel canceled our reservation for tonight, and have plans to be at the bank when they open in the morning. I'm not sure why, but I don't think we were supposed to be in Bentonville tonight. Maybe we weren't supposed to spend the money. Maybe we would have been in an accident. Maybe it doesn't have anything to do with Bentonville or us. Maybe it's just circumstance or chance or old-fashioned stupidity. So, finally, I'm home. It's 10 p.m., and I open my Bible to read this:
"My brothers and sisters, whenever your face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have it's full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing." Now, I know that the problems that I faced today are so insignificant to the problems that so many of God's children face. In fact, I have faced much greater worries in my own life. However, I was struck by the word "any." Any kind of trial--large or small. I can honestly say I wasn't angry about the events of the day, but I certainly did not consider it joy!
It would seem there was a coup d'etat on our plans for the day. I love that today's title is French. It literally means "strike to the state." According to freedictionary.com it means " The sudden overthrow of a government by a usually small group of persons in or previously in positions of authority." Hereth, in Listening to Lent, likens a coup d'etat to when we're seduced by all that glitters thinking that the more we amass the more like God we'll become--or at least the more invincible. The reality is the more we try to be like God--try to create our own happiness--try to control others--try to be in charge of everything--the less like Jesus we become.
Wouldn't it be great if Jesus suddenly took over our lives and became our authority? Soloman, in all his wisdom, said "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction." Fear of the Lord comes only when we take the time to consider the full magnitude of God. It happens when we take time each day to reflect on God's greatness and our smallness. When we praise God for who God is. When we humble ourselves before God and others. Joseph could have lorded his position over his brothers. He had every right to abuse them for what they did to him. After all, it would have only been fair, right? God doesn't call us to be fair. God doesn't call us to tolerate one another. God calls us to humble ourselves. God calls us to love. God calls us to serve. God calls us to care for the widow and orphan, to visit the imprisoned, to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. God doesn't tell us to visit the innocent in prison, to care for the ones who have tried to care for themselves, to feed the hungry who work. In other words, God doesn't call us to care for those who deserve it. I don't think it matters how someone got into a difficult situation. What matters is that when we see someone hurting, we're called to alleviate that suffering. When God's children ache, we also should ache.
A few nights ago, I spent the evening with some friends discussing how we could help in the fight to end world poverty. My friend Jeff said that if one of his children were in another country dying of hunger he would do whatever it took to get to that country to save his child. He said there would be nothing that would stop him. And he wondered how it must also break God's heart when so many of his children are suffering while so many of his children do nothing about it. Hmmm. Good question.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Isn't it strange how everything seems to be flowing together in our scripture readings as if I or the writers of Upper Room, Listening to Lent or A Guide to Prayer for All God's People had a plan. As if they were all written at the same time by the same authors for the same purpose. God is good.
"I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart...On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul." Here, David gives credit where credit is due. He thanks God, calls on God, and the strength of his soul is increased. I don't even know what that means, what that would feel like. It reminds me of the old hymn, It is Well. It was written by a guy named Horatio Spafford after some tragic events in his life--including losing his business in a fire and his children in a shipwreck. The words are so powerful.
It Is Well With My Soul
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
WOW. This, to me, is the lesson for the day. This must be what it's like to have your soul strengthened. How easy it would have been for Spafford to "curve" in on himself. To wallow in the mire of self-pity. And who could blame him?
"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life...do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today." Oh Jesus, if only we could heed your words. If only we could be more concerned with the needs of others instead of ourselves. If only we weren't seduced by our own righteousness. If only we weren't so obsessed with others being "good Christians," and instead focus on our own paths to following you. If only we didn't take your grace in vain. Even so, it is well with my soul.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Priorities. Each day, if we're to be productive, we prioritize what we need to get done. If we have a test in 3rd hour and 7th hour, we probably study for the test in 3rd hour first. If we have a meeting on Tuesday night and Thursday night, we prepare for the meeting on Tuesday night first. If we're going on vacation, we decide our budget, choose our destination, ask for the time off, plan our transportation, then our lodging, then what we'll do when we get there, what we'll wear, what we'll need--toiletries, books, shoes. Then, as the departure date looms, we start doing laundry, we shop for travel size items, we may consider the weather both at home and at our destination. What started as a joy begins to be an unending list of things to do and prioritize.
We prioritize everything. Even simple everyday things like when we brush our teeth in the morning or when we check our email. Scriptures tell us to "strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness..." (Matthew 6:33) Easier said than done. As I consider the scriptures for today, the Psalms reading is very resolute. I will do this. "Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain." "I will keep your law continually, forever and ever." Yet we find in the Nehemiah text that that simply isn't true. We recount all the things that God does for us, and still we turn away. We are so very blessed and we forget the goodness and abounding steadfast love of our God. "...we're not mindful of the wonders..."
I was reading in Radical Renovation, Living the Cross-Shaped Life by James A. Harnish that Saint Augustine used the Latin phrase "homo incurvatus in se" which means "man curved in on himself," and that Martin Luther said of it "Our nature...is so deeply curved in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them...but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake." WOW! If this is our nature, to be turned so inwardly, to prioritize our days to focus on ourselves, what is there to say of Jesus' words "Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it."? Or the words of Hereth in Listening to Lent, "Is what you hold dearest your greatest temptation?"
Thankfully, we have a God "...ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love..." Thankfully, we have a God who "...proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us." Thankfully, Jesus didn't lose sight of his priority--to save us and to reconcile us to God. "...we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life."
Priorities. Strive FIRST for God's kingdom. What does that look like? God's kingdom has no suffering. God's kingdom has no hate. No war. No disease. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth, as it is in heaven. This day, may our suffering produce endurance, our endurance produce character, our character produce hope. And may our hope not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Let experiencing God's love and sharing it with others be our priority this day and all the days of our lives.
Monday, February 11, 2008
Bottom line is, I've been staring at the screen for more than an hour. Bottom line is it's much easier to write in my private journal than on this blogspot. Bottom line is that today's scriptures bring both trouble and peace. I suppose that's the way it is with Jesus. If we take seriously the words of God, they begin to eat at us.
I hate to quote Shane Claiborne again, but I think he tells a great story in his book, The Irresistible Revolution. He says, "You may recall the old comic in which two pastors are talking, and one of them asks the other, 'How's your church?' The other pastor boasts, 'Quite well, I should say. When I got there, we had only thirty members, and I have been there only a year. Now we are seeing over four hundred people on Sunday morning. And how's your church?' The first pastor says, 'Well, I don't know. When I got there, we were seeing about a hundred. I've been preaching the gospel, and I've preached that ole church down to ten.'"
On the other hand, we hear throughout scripture about the crowds that followed Jesus. One of my favorite scriptures is in today's gospel reading. It's Mark 1:37. Jesus had gone off to a deserted place to pray, and when his disciples found him they exclaimed, "Everyone is searching for you." I think that's still true today, and I also believe we live among one of the toughest mission fields. We live in a wealthy society preaching a gospel that says it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to get into heaven. Claiborne goes on to say, "Certainly, thousands were added to their number in the early church--the poor, outcasts, people fed up with the world. They were the scum of the earth." (See 1 Corinthians 4:11-13 for specifics.) Jesus met up with one such person in Mark 1:40-45. It's so beautiful. Jesus didn't dismiss the leper. Jesus didn't heal him from a distance. "Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him..."
Bottom line? The Christian gospel doesn't always draw a crowd. But it calls us to touch others. Bottom line. When we begin the really hear God, and stick around, we're not satisfied with the status quo. We have to do something. We have to live better. Express love more freely. Extend grace more soundly. Touch others. Serve and forgive. Serve and forgive. Serve and forgive. Bottom line.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
The serpent. The tempter. The deceiver. Satan. We don't talk much about Satan, at least not in Methodist circles. Yet, I know that many pastors spend a great deal of time teaching about him. Today's readings remind us of his craftiness...and most importantly of his existence. There are some believers who deny even the existence of Satan, I suppose wanting only to focus on God's love.
For me, God's love is made more real, more tangible in the reality of sin and deception. As we move closer to Easter, there is a temptation to disregard Holy Thursday and Good Friday. And why not? They're downers. We don't want to see Christ's journey to and upon the cross. That's why our churches aren't packed to the brim on these nights. Oh, but come Easter morning! Now, that's a different story. Some of us are even willing to Worship in the cold, dark outside at 6:45 in the morning to celebrate the Son's rising with the sun rising! But on Thursday night at 7:00? or Friday at noon? No thanks. I can't work that into my schedule. Or, what is Holy Thursday/Maundy Thursday? Good Friday? Why is it good? But what does the resurrection of our Savior mean, if we don't know the truth about the cross. The truth about the cross is that Jesus died not because of his sins, but because of ours.
Shane Claiborne says in his book, The Irresistible Revolution, "When the darkness of our world, and all the fears we hold in that darkness, are pierced by the light of God's love and by the possibility that God has other ideas in mind for how we are to live, something liberating happens. But there is also the danger of our becoming mesmerized by the dazzle of the light. It can become quite comfortable, like a campfire. We can crawl up into the hands of God and fall asleep in the sweet aroma and cozy warmth, asleep by the fire. And so much of the world lies in the cold, clammy darkness of human suffering, oppression, inequality. My friend John Francis Maher sings a beautiful song that whispers to the groaning masses, 'Don't let your eyes adjust to the dark.' Perhaps we could also add for those by the fire, 'Don't fall asleep in the light.' We must neither get used to the darkness of human suffering or fall asleep in the comfort of the light."
Easter is light! It's joy and salvation! We love to be in the light. To bask in its joy and experience its grace. We love to be unaware of the suffering around us. We say, "Ignorance is bliss." And, it is. As followers of Jesus Christ, let us not fall asleep in the light. Let us not bask so long that we ignore, dismiss, and alienate others from experiencing the peace that passes understanding, the love that knows no bounds. Let us remember the cross. Let us remember that it was us, me and you, who put Christ there. Let us remember so that we may rejoice.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
"You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might." I love this scripture! And, I love the English language. (I love all languages, actually. I can sit in a room filled with Italians or Russians or the French or Navajos or whatever and simply listen to them speak their languages. It's quite beautiful.) Anyway...I love this scripture for the promise it holds. The word shall means many things. It can be an order, a promise, a requirement, an obligation, a must. It can also be the will to do something or have something take place. But it can also mean something that is inevitable, something that will take place, something that will exist in the future. It is this meaning that gets me excited.
Since Wednesday, we've been looking at our sins. Considering what separates us from our God. David knew what separated him from God. He had just committed a multitude of sins--lust, envy, sexual promiscuity, lies, denial, and murder--to name a few. He begged for mercy. He begged for cleansing. He said, "I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight." His repentance included sorrow, confession, and a commitment to sin no more. A beautiful model for us. But we don't like to look at our sin. It's uncomfortable. Depressing even. We live in a culture that teaches us not to feel guilty, to only feel good about ourselves. We live in a society with more affluence and yet more depression than any other.
Bishop Sally Dyck said, "...people in our culture need to confess their sins and receive the good news that they are forgiven. We all live in the pressure cooker of expectations and demands, where nothing is ever good enough for us or from us, and where our perfectionism, excuses and need to control take over. Confession and words of assurance bring exquisite relief..." (www.umc.org) The problem is getting to the assurance of forgiveness. We have to face our sin first. We have to confess our sin. It seems the closer I get to God, the more aware of my transgressions I become. And with that, the more filled with thanks I become for God's unending, unexplainable, unbelievable love. And, yet, I do believe.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. I shall. Someday. Everyday more. Oh what a day it's going to be when I do love my God with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my might. When I can love myself, my desires, my things, my satisfaction...less. I shall. Because I have been given a clean heart. Because a new and right spirit is within me. Because my transgressions have been blotted out. I shall love my God with all my heart, and with all my soul, and with all my might. I shall.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 118:29)
Friday, February 8, 2008
As I sit here sipping a hot chai tea latte, feeling full and satisfied from a delicious meal and lovely conversation at the local Chinese Buffet, I wonder if I've spent my day realizing that Now is the Hour? After an odd sleeping pattern and late start this morning, I read the above scriptures, but found myself without thought or idea. Without inspiration or a word from God. I went to the Ecumenical Lenten Service at the Presbyterian Church at 10:00, hoping for revelation and guidance. The pastor read from Matthew 4 when Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights being tempted by Satan. He was about to begin his ministry, and He wasn't led astray or simply decide to go camping. He was led by the Spirit into wilderness to suffer. The pastor encouraged us to "make good use" of our 40 days of Lent...to examine ourselves fully...and to "remove anything that separates" us from our loving God. Now is the hour.
Now is the hour. What if I'm not ready? The scripture from Judges finds Gideon saying to an angel of the Lord, "But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us..." I find that we're still asking the same questions. They may sound more like, "Why did you let this happen to me?" "Where was God when tornadoes destroyed entire city blocks?" or "If this is what a life lived with God looks like, then I want no part of it." Sometimes we believe that when we accept Christ only good will happen in our lives. In fact, there is even a commercial running for a televangelist couple that says, "If you obey God, good will happen." And, that's simply not true--at least by our standards of good. John the Baptist obeyed God, and his head was cut off and served on a platter. Stephen obeyed God and was stoned to death. Paul obeyed God and was imprisoned and beaten repeatedly. Scriptures show us time after time after time when obeying God was not the easy, comfortable or "blessed" road. I don't think it ever is. There's a great song by Christopher Ames called The Remnant that talks about this very thing. (Check it out at: http://www.myspace.com/christopherames)
So why don't we believe God when he says, "See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!"? (2 Cor 6:2) Is it that we don't believe it, or that we're not ready for it? We want everything instantly, except that. Instant cereal, instant messages, instant credit, instant tax returns, instant winners. We're ready for stuff, but we're not ready to highlight the section of our Bible that says, "...as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger..." Because we want no part of these things. We want only to be blessed by God. And indeed we are. We don't want to be blessed to be a blessing. We simply want to be blessed. And the moment things don't go our way, we find ourselves asking "Where was God when I needed him?" OR instead, we might begin search for piety. We think we can control things. We make bargains with God. "I won't do this or that any longer, if you'll bless me." And so we begin. We consume ourselves with trying to live in "purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God" all the while judging those who aren't, who don't, who can't. The truth is, we can't either. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. God set us free from that life. So, why don't we live in that freedom? Behavior, we can control (at least for a little while.) We can understand "earning our way." We can't understand grace. And we don't understand how afflictions, hardships, beatings, sleepless nights, hunger...are part of God's plan for our lives.
We're reminded again of suffering in 1 Peter 4:1, "Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention..." If we are to be true followers of Jesus Christ, we must also intend to suffer. We must also intend to suffer? Is that what that said? Then verse 2 "so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God." And what are our earthly desires? Well, suffering we do not desire. What do we desire? For what do we toil? For a nice car, a nice house,a nice job, a nice family, nice clothes, a nice church, a nice neighborhood. You know, I can't recall the word nice used in scripture, and it's not in my concordance--I just checked. How did pleasing ourselves become our top priority?
Still, there is hope. Peter goes on to say, "Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received." Constant love. A multitude of sins. Without complaining. Stewards of the manifold grace of God. Serve one another. Now is the hour. Love now. Stop complaining now. Offer grace now. Now is the hour. Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation!
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Today's reading from Listening to Lent, refers us back to Matthew 6:6. "Whenever you pray..." I just counted in the reference section of my Bible, more than 100 references to prayer. It's a pretty big deal, prayer. We're given opportunities for prayer over and over again throughout the day. Chances to pray for hurting people. Chances to lift friends, enemies, and others up to God's grace. Chances to soften our own hearts to the plight of others. Chances not to judge, but to love. Tuesday night, when tornadoes ripped through towns south and east of us, many people lost everything. Everything that seemed important to them--clothes, computers, photo albums, collections, grandma's recipes, favorite earrings, cds, dvds, televisions, recliners, lamps, family heirlooms...everything. Some, 52 I believe, lost their very lives. How might our prayers change in the face of such devastation? I have a friend, Ryan, who lived in the dorm at Union University in Tennessee that was destroyed. He lost everything. His classes have been canceled for the next 2 weeks, as people begin to pick up the pieces of what's left. He's asked for prayers for he and his classmates. When I went to his facebook, I had an eerie feeling when I saw that he had posted pictures from his birthday just the day before. Life is fragile. We're not promised tomorrow. I don't want to miss sharing any more moments with my creator. I don't want to miss any more opportunities, any more chances to lift others up to God's grace and love.
Psalm 19 ends with "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer." Shouldn't this be the goal of spending time alone with God? Not just in those quiet moments, but throughout our days. In the middle of every conversation. In the middle of every private thought. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you.
Have you ever called someone or something lame? In light of today's meaning, Hebrews 12:13 also has new meaning. "...make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame by not be put out of joint, but rather be healed." Let us pray for healing...healing of all that is lame in our lives.
Wednesday, February 6, 2008
In this gospel text, Jesus talks of three things we (as followers) do: Give Alms, Pray, and Fast.
Giving Alms: It seems we don't like to talk much about giving alms...giving anything really. We much prefer to get. In fact, I've never asked, What did you give for Christmas? And why is that? We live in a me first society. What's ours is ours. We earned it. We deserve to have it--whatever it is. But Jesus calls us out of that. Jesus frees us from that, and yet we seem to prefer what we know to the better life God has in mind for us.
Prayer: we pray. That's for certain. Yet, we often do all of the talking. And what do we talk about? Ourselves. Lord, help me. Help me win. Help me get an "A" on the test. Help me get the guy or girl. Or, maybe our prayers are more pious. Maybe we pray, Help me be a better Christian. Help me read my Bible more. Help me get up in time for Worship. Still, they are often all about me. God could answer our prayers, in fact, God does answer our prayers. But how often do we hear? How often do we find ourselves asking for the same things over and over? How often do we tell someone we'll pray for them--assuming we know what they need? Instead of asking, How can I pray for you? Can I pray for your right now? How often are we so concerned with how we'll sound, what we'll say, how we'll appear to someone else--that we don't answer God's call to pray? (even now, even in the moment) To pray...without ceasing.
Ahhh fasting. That is why Lent can be such a sacred time. We can be more intentional, more focused on fasting. Fasting from food, absolutely. But also fasting from other things that keep us away from God. Things that fill our minds and hearts. MySpace, Facebook, movies, television, sports, music, gossiping,sleeping, reading, etc, etc, etc. You name it, we can avoid God with it. But if we give it up (whatever it is) for an hour, a day, 40 days...How then, will we fill the void? How can we end our constant need to be entertained? I believe as simply and as impossibly by allowing God to love us. To love us...even when we don't feel worthy. To love us...even when we've been unlovely. The truth is, God loves us whether we allow it or not. We just need to spend our lives in God's presence enough to experience it. We have to stop running. We have to stop going back the life we understand for fear of the life God has for us. Let us, this Lent be mindful of the way we live, the way we love, the way we respond to the extravagant love and grace of Jesus Christ. Because...
ANYONE in Christ is a new creation. Anyone. Even me. Even you. Lent gives us the time and motivation to examine ourselves and our sins, but it also allows us to realize our new identity. AND, to recognize it in others.
"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us." (bold added, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19) RECONCILE. Synonyms for reconcile are settle, resolve, merge, square, reunite, patch up. Merriam-Webster.com says that reconcile is to restore to friendship or harmony. So, through Christ, we've been made right with God. Harmony has been restored. We've merged, been reunited, our relationship has been patched up. GOOD NEWS, right? We can't stop there.
In Christ, God is bringing the whole WORLD to himself, and we've been given that ministry and that message! What are we doing with that ministry? What are we doing with that message? When was the last time someone you know experienced God's love through you? Did you even know God gave you this ministry? When was the last time you asked God about your calling? Your ministry? When was the last time you heard a Christian on the news telling the world about the love God has for the world? We have to stop condemning the world. God made the world and called it good. We're so busy telling people how to live--don't touch, don't drink, don't listen to that, don't wear that, don't watch that--that we've forgotten to show people the love that has so lavishly been poured out on us. We can talk about it all day long. We can say, God loves you. We can say Jesus died for you. We can say come to church with me. But until we live the love we've received, our words are empty.
As I consider this and consider the Holy Season of Lent, I proceed in this blog with caution--not wanting to simply add my voice to an already loud and cluttered world. My hope is that followers of Jesus Christ will take some time with the Creator. Slow down. Stop. Listen long enough to hear God whisper. I hope that you will read the scriptures listed. Reflect on them and hear what God has for you. Then, and only then, do I invite you to read how I have heard our God speak on this day.
Throughout Lent, I will use Listening to Lent by Robert C. Hereth as a guide for Scripture reading.