Saturday, February 28, 2009
my going down into the pit?
Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim
your faithfulness?” (Psalm 30:9.)
Many years ago, I watched helplessly as my father was struck with
three major health crises in the period of a few months. The strongest
and smartest man I knew was suddenly weak and helpless and at
the mercy of the medical professionals around him. As time went
on, it became clear that, while he would heal to a certain degree, a
part of him had “died” and would not return. It seemed so unfair
that someone who had served his family, his church, and his community
with such devotion should be put through so much pain and
suffer so much loss. What could possibly be the point?
As time went on, it became clear that this was not a one-time
“lesson” intended to make a point, but rather another event in the
ongoing life of a man with so much to give. Despite limited mobility
and endurance, he continues to serve his community through
supporting an ESL class, serving on the City Council, and leading
his church through membership on its governing board. Oh, and
he’s the best grandfather in the world! God really had no lesson for
him that he didn’t already know – bad and painful things happen to
all of us, but only God decides when we’ve had enough. We cannot
serve God if we focus on our pain and loss, but we can serve him
by utilizing our experiences, both good and bad, to shape the way
we serve others and to glorify God on earth.
Friday, February 27, 2009
old, sitting on the couch, sobbing because my parents had
just left the house, and I was all alone. They were going to church,
and I had told them I didn't want to go, so they just walked out. In
my four-year-old mind, I didn't realize that they were standing on
the other side of the door, laughing. So I wasn't angry when they
came back in (obviously because they realized that I was really
traumatized and that was a terrible thing to do to a poor little kid
like me, and not because they just wanted me to come with them).
I just felt comforted that they were there; they were with me; and
they were willing to accept me again as though nothing at all had
gone wrong. I still remember what it felt like: that warm, blushlike
feeling that spread across my face, like feeling returning to
your cheeks after being outside in the cold. It was a burning feeling
on my face, but it wasn’t one of embarrassment. It was a feeling
of love and comfort, sort of beginning in the middle of my
chest and spreading throughout me. To me, that’s the feeling of
salvation. I believe that because it’s the same feeling I get whenever
I ask Jesus to come into my life again. Knowing that He is
there, present through my darkest times (as well as responsible for
my brightest) makes all of the difference for me. That is what God
was to David in Psalm 31, and that is what I feel He is for me.
The feeling of salvation is one of the most wonderful I have ever
Thursday, February 26, 2009
that word “why” is at the heart of Lent and Easter. Why, why me? In
today’s reading in Deuteronomy God explains why. He loved His people
because He chose to, not because we aren’t a sorry lot. For me it’s
easy to forget that I’m not a deserving candidate, a contest winner to
win God’s love. Rather, He just decided to love me. We, like the Israelites,are God’s treasured possession (Deuteronomy 6:6.), but only because of God’s character, not ours.
Psalm 37 exhorts us to trust God’s character and have patience even in
the face of evil. We can build on our knowledge of God’s character to
follow the encouragement in Psalm 37: “delight” yourself in the Lord
(v. 4), knowing that He loves us and we’re His treasured possession;
“commit” our way to the Lord and “trust” Him (v. 5); and lastly and
hardest, “be still” and “patient” (v. 7). Psalm 37 is a Psalm about the
shadows in the world, caused by the evil that men do (and this includes
all of us). It’s an admonition to have patience, knowing that God sees,
understands, and will make everything right.
The beginning of Titus, chapter 1, reminds us of another aspect of
God’s character: He does not lie (v. 2). I thought it interesting that
Paul would insert this phrase, as if to remind us that humans lie, Satan
lies, but God does not lie. He promised long ago that He would come
to take the shadows out of the world, and this is what we wait for during Lent.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Now, on to today's reading.
Today's reading has some famous verses that I would bet you all have heard before. "Endure hardship as discipline... For what son is not disciplined by his father? (verse 7)
"God disciplines us for our good,..." (verse 10)
What do these verses mean? God disciplines us? Do we worship a mean God? These verses have prompted these type of questions for a long time. People who wish to discredit Christianity and the Bible point to these verses indicating that God does not love us. I respectfully disagree with those who point to these verses with that motive. Let me explain why.
When I was growing up I played many sports, basketball, baseball, football. I remember a particular basketball coach who would scream at some of us and not other. I remember a football coach who would grab my face mask and shake my head while screaming at me. Why did these coaches do these things? At the time I thought it was because they hated me, or were evil in some way. One thing I noticed is that these coaches behaved this way to some of the players but not to all of them. Did these coaches just hate us and liked the others? It sure seemed that way.
One day I had the opportunity to discuss something with one of these coaches in his office. As our discussion was drawing to a close I summoned the nerve to ask him why he did what he did. He responded that he only spends his energy on the players that had potential. The players that could be good. He did not want to expend energy, time, and effort on those that would not improve. On players that did not care.
This coach's explanation, I feel, is fully in line with today's reading. Like these coaches, God only disciplines the ones in which he sees potential. The ones he wants to make better. The ones in his circle.
The next time you feel God is grabbing your facemask and shaking your head while screaming at you, remember "God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness." (verse 10)
my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.
I’m a morning person – always have been. Even as a child one of my
favorite pastimes was listening to my parents’ morning routine. At
5a.m. their alarm would sound and, like clockwork, Mom was up,
dressed, and in the kitchen preparing coffee and packing Dad’s lunch.
Dad stayed in the bedroom a little longer, dressing, making the bed,
and putting on his heavy work boots. I’d doze on and off until I’d
finally hear it -- the slight scraping of the chairs on the kitchen’s linoleum
floor. They were sitting down to share a steaming cup of coffee
and a few minutes of conversation before Dad’s ride to work arrived.
Fully awake, I’d pull my covers to my chin and lay perfectly still,
straining to hear what they were saying. Maybe I’d hear them talk
about us, me or my brother or one of my sisters. Maybe they’d relive
something humorous or clever or mischievous we’d done. But, not
wanting to wake us, they spoke in soft voices. So, most of the time, I
had to settle for snippets of their thoughts and the tender tones and
inviting inflections of their voices. Laughter was always a plus, causing
me to drift off into my own imagination about what we’d done to
make them laugh. And although I never clearly heard their words, no
matter how still I lay or strained to listen, their love and concern for
us came through to me loud and clear, even in their whispers.
Heavenly Father, every morning this Lenten season, may I learn to be
still and to pray and to listen closely to your whispered word. “…
Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” Amen.
Monday, February 23, 2009
As you recall, the Church Year begins with Advent. This is a season where we think about the Light that will come into the world in Jesus Christ, seeking to prepare our hearts in such a way that he will find himself welcomed there. Next comes Christmas, wherein we celebrate the coming of that Light in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
After Christmas is Epiphany, a season in which we have been considering what it means to live in this Light which has come into the world. What does it mean to walk in the Light instead of in darkness? It is a season where we are meant to realize how very important this Light is; to realize its true nature and identity.
That is precisely what this first chapter of Hebrews does. Recalling both Genesis 1 and John 1, we are presented with Jesus as the Creator. But that idea is expanded, as we see that Jesus did not just create but also sustains the world, filling it with God’s Light (glory). We learn that the very Life Force with which the universe pulsates is personal and has a name: Jesus Christ.
These verses do not ask us to do anything so much as realize who Jesus is. As the book develops, everything else will flow from that. So we might ask—have we this Epiphany had a deep and profound encounter with God in Christ?
To the degree that we have, that is something to be celebrated in worship and praise and life well lived. To the degree that we haven’t—well, that brings us to Ash Wednesday and Lent. That brings us to a season that now asks us to consider why, given the glorious and beautiful nature of the Light given us in Jesus Christ, we so often fail to recognize him and act accordingly.
Friday, February 20, 2009
Leaders were to be treated fairly. On the other hand, Paul says, no one should be ordained hastily.
Paul discusses a couple ways in which we are to be thoughtful and careful. Regarding the instruction not to “ordain anyone hastily” (v22), it’s easy to be tempted to quickly chose a church leader or to chose someone in haste just to fill a job in the church. Paul continues in verse 22 that we are not “to participate in the sins of others.” This is just as hard when we think of how we are tempted to conform to the world around us.
As we think of God’s love for all in the church let us pray for our church leaders, clergy and lay and all the ministries they lead. I thank God for the “conspicuous good works” (v25) and the many good works that are hidden (v25) which are done in the church.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Someone, for instance, mentioned the other day that the birds have started singing again. I hadn’t noticed. But this morning when I went out, I listened. I paid attention. And yes, they are starting to sing. It lifted my heart and soul.
Maybe you would benefit from such mindfulness too? Are there other ways you can grow in gratefulness?
Or how about “train yourself in godliness”? Training is something I know a fair amount about, and the analogy to the spiritual life is a rich one. We don’t simply try to be good Christians, we train ourselves for godliness. We structure our lives and commit ourselves to the regular practice of disciplines that inevitably produce a desired result.
Next week the season of Lent begins. It’s a great time to undertake an intensive “40 Day Training Program” of spiritual development. Perhaps it will include fasting, sacrificial giving, secret acts of service, daily fixed hour prayer, Bible study, or other similar exercises.
What will you do to observe a Holy Lent? What is your regimen for living a godly life?
Or maybe I should focus on the command “do not neglect the gift that is in you.” What is the one thing that really matters—our single best chance to impact the world with the love of Christ? What is our gift, and how are we developing it and employing it? We are all so very busy, with so much on our plate—it is all too easy to neglect not only our specific gift (whatever it may be) but also service in general.
There is so much in this passage. What is God saying to you?
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
These are all fine qualifications for church leadership, or for any leadership for that matter, but these are not what stood out to me in this passage. Verses 4 and 5 are the key passages in my opinion. "He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)" These verses apply to leadership in a church or business. Our first, or at least an equal, obligation is to our family.
If one is a volunteer, these verses tell us not to allow the volunteer activity to detract or distract from your family responsibilities. Sometimes Christian volunteers can make the mistake of thinking working for God at the church is so important it is all right to ignore their family. The same can be said of careers, one can make excuses as to why they need to work hours that cause them to neglect their family (e.g., to provide a certain life style for my family), but Paul reminds us that a primary obligation is to our family.
Using one's God given talents and abilities is extremely important to advance the Kingdom on this earth. Paul's message was not meant to be an excuse to get out of helping to advance the Kingdom. However, Paul's message was meant to remind us that we must maintain balance in our live. Balance between volunteer service in the church and a good and health family life.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Monday, February 16, 2009
That is how Paul refers to Timothy in today’s reading; as his “true son in the faith.” That Paul sought to mentor Timothy and other young men like him tells us something about how Paul saw the faith. He didn’t just see it as a set of propositions to be believed; he saw it as a way of life to be learned.
Of course, that is how Jesus seemed to understand faith as well. That is why he had disciples; his followers were people who didn’t just hear him speak, but who observed day in and day out how he did life and sought to emulate him accordingly.
When we realize the truth of this—that Christianity isn’t just something to be embraced only in the private and personal confines of our heart and head, but lived in very social and public ways out in the world, then we realize how important it is that we follow both Paul and Jesus’ example of being mentors too.
Clearly this does not just pertain to men, but also to women. The point is that we invest ourselves in the lives of others as together we help them live the faith. Who are you and I mentoring?
Finally, I’d also point out these verses also include the beautiful passage included in the “Comfortable Words” that follow confession in the Episcopal Rite 1 Liturgy for the Holy Eucharist: Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. To that we can only say, AMEN!
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Bound up in a letter from a prisoner
To one who'll carry on when he is gone.
Love is not blind on the backslope of life:
Love is bound on a life's mission from God.
Love is not blind to suffering; its generosity
Love is not blind to hurts received. Love is
Bound to forgive, and forgive, and forgive.
Love pours itself out as an offering; love
Love wears a crown, but love is bound
To serve and not be served. Love is
Bound up in rings on interlocking fingers.
Love is bound on the side of the truth.
Love is bounded by faith and hope,
Love longs for the Bridegroom's return,
And the blinding radiance of the Bride.
Matthew L. Brown
G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (1908)
Thursday, February 12, 2009
I’ll admit that although I think The Message sometimes misses the whole point of a verse and gets it exactly wrong, there are far more times where it brings a verse alive in a new and wonderful way.
I love, for instance, the way The Message begins today’s reading: Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out…
Boy, that’s good, isn’t it?! It hits the nail right on the head, not just getting the word right, but also the feeling behind them: It just wears everyone out. I know an awful lot of worn out Christians. I expect you do too.
And it’s not serving that wears them out. It’s not giving of themselves generously and sacrificially that wears them out. To the contrary, these are the kind of thing that brings life and vitality to our faith.
No, what wears them—and us!—out is often the “nitpicking”; getting caught up in lesser things and the constant bickering that can then occur.
Nitpicking! It’s so easy to do, maybe because it seems like such a small thing, such a tiny sin in the face of things like lust or greed or violence. But even small things can do great damage, “chipping away” over time. What’s the old joke about how you eat an elephant? One bite a time…
Are you a nitpicker?
Am I? Sometimes, for me at least, the answer is yes.
May God forgive me, and in the future grant me grace to choose a better way, doing the work he has given me to do instead of complaining about what’s not being done or not being done just right…
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
In this letter to Timothy, Paul urges Timothy to remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ and to continue to spread His word. Paul tells Timothy that as he preaches and teaches, he will face suffering but will be able to endure. This is as true today as it was 2,000 years ago when Paul wrote this letter. I would bet that we all know individuals that think Christianity is a waste of time - that it is foolish to believe. These individuals may make fun of Christians. Now I would not think that many of us have faced the abuse that Paul was facing when he wrote this letter (after all he was in prison for his belief) but many of us have probably faced some sort of abuse in the form of name calling or being shunned because of the way we live our lives. This type of treatment can be hurtful, but Paul urges us not to let this treatment cause us to give up. "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." (2:3)
To illustrate his point, Paul uses three analogies - a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. All three of his examples must discipline themselves and be willing to sacrifice to achieve the results they want. Many of us may have been one, or more, of these in our life times. If you have been you know about discipline and sacrifice. Soldiers endure rigorous discipline and training and sometimes, like in Iraq or Afghanistan, might be called upon to place themselves in harm's way. Athletes must train hard, eat right, and dedicate themselves to achieving their goal. Farmers work hard to prepare the soil and tend for crops and must have the patience to wait for the crop to develop. Paul indicates that each of his examples endures because of their vision of success.
So what helps the Christian, you and me, endure? I submit it is the same thing - vision of success. The vision of loving God, loving our neighbors, spreading the Word, and one day living eternally with Him. Keep going my brothers and sisters - the prize is definitely worth it.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Hopefully that happens in all of our families. Hopefully we are all finding ways of teaching our children and instilling in them our faith and St. Matthew’s is supporting us through our children’s program, Church school on Sunday mornings.
I’m reminded of my own grandmother who was a devout Southern Baptist woman. When I was 10 years old, my mother, sister and I moved in with her. She immediately insisted that we start attending church and enrolled my sister and me in Vacation Bible School. I didn’t mind that so much, but what I didn’t like and really didn’t want to do was the pageant they held on the last day. At the end of the week, in the evening, they had all the parents, grandparents and relatives come to see what we kids had been doing all week. I was in the oldest class so I had to memorize a bible verse. They were passed out at the beginning of the week by drawing the verse out of a hat. I was so upset! I had the longest one! I didn’t know how I was ever going to memorize that verse, nor did I understand why it was so important.
The truth is that verse became key in my life “For God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that whosoever believes in Him, shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Every time I’ve hit a rough patch in life, this verse instantly comes back.
Our kids don’t always want to do the things we ask, like going to church, but while they are growing up, they don’t get to make all of their own choices – some things are necessary for them to learn, like reading, math, science and faith. It is our job to teach them. Just as Paul attributes Timothy’s faith to his mother and grandmother, so we too must influence our family.
Monday, February 09, 2009
While I have not suffered for the Gospel anywhere near the extent Paul did, and certainly have never physically suffered for it in such a way that my body has been scarred by it, I have suffered for the Gospel none the less. If you are serious and faithful in following Jesus, I expect you have suffered too. These are suffering times.
Because I have suffered for the Gospel, I think I know exactly how Paul is feeling when he makes this statement. We work so hard for so long to do what is right, and what do we get for it? There is reward, yes, but there is also heart ache, pain, and vast reservoirs of grief. Not exactly what most preachers will you tell you awaits if you decide to follow Jesus, but there it is.
And so I want to say with self righteous anger, “Let no one make trouble for me!” I’ve had more than enough trouble. Just leave me alone. (Never mind the fact that I have done more than my share in making needless trouble for others.)
But I don’t think I’ve yet earned the right to say that. In fact, I think maybe we never do. It is interesting how the Message translates verse 17—it gives it a whole different sense:
Quite frankly, I don't want to be bothered anymore by these disputes. I have far more important things to do—the serious living of this faith…
That I think I can say. Maybe you can too. Maybe it is exactly what needs to be said in these suffering times as we speak to similarly suffering people.
And just in case we miss the spirit of what Paul is saying, that he is not being angry or bitter or resentful, we would do well to read the last line as well: May what our Master Jesus Christ gives freely be deeply and personally yours, my friends. Oh, yes!
Maybe that is the most important thing to be said and share and lived of all.
Friday, February 06, 2009
In pondering the list I came upon the word kindness (verse 22). To me kindness is a choice that someone makes; it involves deciding to do good. (For me being judgmental may get in the way of being kind). This is something I’ll never forget that happened to my daughter and I when she was ten.
My daughter was playing in a softball league. She was a beginner and very frustrated that she wasn’t able to master batting. Towards the end of the season she was up to bat and not doing well. One of the team fathers was the umpire that day. He noticed that my daughter had tears welling up in her eyes. He called time out. He stepped out from behind the plate and bent down to speak to my daughter. I heard him ask her if she was okay. She nodded and he resumed the game.
Kindness means bending down to help instead of ignoring. It means being patient enough to make an effort. I will always be grateful.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
And it remains an important message even now. In my family there were five kids, and I can still hear my mother’s constant refrain, “No fighting, no biting!” Clearly, if there were occasions to disagree in a family of five, there are going to be even more such occasions in a family as big as a church! And to those of us who are brothers and sisters in our Lord, the apostle Paul says, “No fighting, no biting!”
I’m also struck that consuming somebody through biting is to devour them one small bit at a time. It’s not a pretty picture, but I think it accurately captures all the little niggling ways we negatively relate to each over that over time become are so hurtful and destructive.
Yes, there will be conflicts. But that doesn’t mean we need to resort to violence, using our words as instruments aggression, speaking in such a way that we hurt or wound or disrespect our brothers and sisters in Christ.
What a powerful line verse 13b is: Through love, become slaves to one another (NRSV). Slaves are bound to their masters. In other words, our freedom from the law of which Paul has been writing does not free us from our bonds to each other in Christ. We’d best learn to get along.
And that means: No fighting, no biting!
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
At this point you may be asking yourself, where is this going? That is a very good question. Let me try to tie Paul's allegory back into the message.
Sarah and Hagar illustrate the conflict between law and grace. These two women represent God's two covenants. These covenants are of course the Mosaic Covenant, or the law, which is represented by Hagar, the slave woman. The second covenant is the Grace Covenant, the free gift that God gave us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This second covenant is represented by Sarah, the free woman.
In verse 26, Paul uses the phrase "she is our mother" to describe Sarah to show that faith, not adherence to the law, is the source of our salvation. While some Jews were claiming that one had to be a descendant of Abraham and adhere to the law to find salvation, Paul was arguing to the Galatians that they could be descendants of Abraham through their faith in Jesus Christ as their one and only savior.
Just as Isaac's birth was a miracle of God, so Christianity, by offering people the opportunity to be born again, is a miracle of God. Just as Isaac's mother, Sarah, was free, Isaac was free, and so Christianity offers true freedom because it depends not on our actions but on God's unchangeable promises to us.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Isn't that true in our lives sometimes? Things seem to be moving along quite nicely and then something happens, someone says something that is surprising or even shocking and then suddenly everything is different. We look at that person differently, maybe we are even disappointed to the point of looking at the world differently. We wonder where that thought came from? Why was that statement said? We feel betrayed by it. How is it that someone we care about could be so callous ... so mean? We have been turned on.
This is how Paul felt and Paul responded with the letter to the Galatians. In it he recalls the strong relationship he has with that church, he reminds them of when we first arrived in Galatia and how he was so overwhelmingly welcomed and fundamentally that regardless of our differences we are one Body in Christ. We all must work together for the Gospel - certainly not fight among ourselves.
Our response when we have these experiences could be the same - to remember why we are in relationship with those with whom we are in a disagreement. Remember how we started, what drew us to each other in the first place. Remember the fundamentals. If we remember why we care for each other, the reason we are arguing will really seem minuscule in comparison. We are all different. We don't always behave in ways in which we are proud, but in the end we are one. We need to remember what is important, forgive each other, and move on.
Monday, February 02, 2009
As to today’s reading, one of the dominant themes of the book of Galatians is clearly freedom. The old battle cry “Live free!” might well characterize Paul’s purpose in writing this book. We’d have to add two words, however:
“Live free IN CHRIST!”
Because for Paul, the only way a person can truly be free is through faith in Jesus Christ. Otherwise, we are always anxious and afraid that we are not doing the right thing to please God. We engage in religious practices hoping to somehow put ourselves in God’s good graces.
The alternative, as Paul has made clear, is to trust that Jesus has already done that for us. Of course we still engage in religious practices, but now we are free to do so from the love that is in our heart. That is very different than by being enslaved by religion to do certain things in the hopes of getting rid of guilt and fear.
What still holds you and I captive to our old ways of thinking and behaving? How do we need to be freed from the guilt, fear, and shame that do not bring us into God’s presence, but actually keep us from it?