Sunday, December 18, 2011


Readings: Jeremiah 11:18-20; I Timothy 6:12-14; John 12:37-50

Ever been blindsided? Think of the poor kiddo in the ever-popular Christmas movie A Christmas Story. He receives gifts annually from a far-away aunt, and this year is no exception.  Ralphie receives that wonderful big box in the mail addressed just to him, and he tears into it with great gusto knowing it will be something absolutely wonderful. And it would have been--if he were four. There, laying in the box, is a big, fluffy pink bunny suit. A bunny suit! Ralphie was blindsided. Really blindsided.

We've all been blindsided throughout our lives; maybe not with a bunny suit, but definitely blindsided. Sometimes we're greatly let down by a loved one, a friend, or a situation. We think things are going along fine and Wham!--blindsided. We are, at first, dazed and wondering just what in the world happened. Then, once we are over the initial shock, we start questioning and asking why it happened. This is when hurt and anger can consume us. In the book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah himself was blindsided--there was, in fact, a plot against his life. He said he felt as though he was "a gentle lamb led to slaughter" (v.19). How did he handle this horrible situation? He put it to God. "But, O Lord Almighty, you who judge righteously and test the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause" (v.20). Jeremiah didn't feel that he needed to be alone in this; he was not by himself. He was, unfortunately, blindsided for doing God's work. Yet knew that God was on his side. He trusted in God.

The book of I Timothy gives us good guidance on how to handle situations when we are blindsided throughout life. He tells us to "Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. Keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ" (v.12 & 14). We don't need to fold to those who blindside us, but we're not called to fight the fight of mere mortals with fists or ugly words, but through the fight of faith. Christ is with us, even when we feel the most dejected, the most deceived, the most humiliated by our earthly peers. But Christ never leaves our side. He's there; we just need to reach out and then we'll be well-prepared to "fight the good fight of faith".

In John 12:47 & 48, we hear Christ's words: "... For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it. There is a judge for the one who rejects me, and does not accept my words; that very word with which I spoke will condemn him at the last day." Christ's living forever in our hearts is not based on judgement; it is based on saving us and always being there for us upon our acceptance of him. We'll never be blindsided by Christ. What a wondrous message.
Peace be with you.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Readings: Isaiah 50:5-10; I Peter 2:21-18; John 12:1-36

It seems that bullies and the act of bullying is sprinkled throughout the news on a pretty regular basis these days. Schools are trying to figure out how to handle the bullies as well as the bullied. It's miserable to be bullied, but it's certainly nothing new. Bullies have been around for ages. 
Happily, we have a good guide already in place on how to handle these incidents. It may not be exactly what we'd like to hear, but it certainly is what we need to hear when we're on the receiving end of a bully.

Isaiah 50, verses six and seven tell us, "I offered my back to those who beat me--cheeks to those who pulled out my beard--I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me. I will not be disgraced. That seems like a pretty tall order not to retaliate, but what we tend to forget when we're sitting there at the mercy of the bully is that there is someone watching every move the bully makes...and every move we make as well. And we will be helped and protected. Maybe not by earthly, everyday standards, but by heavenly standards.

In the Book of John, we find Jesus and Lazarus having a meal in the home of Mary and Martha after the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Outside, the crowds are forming; this miracle has opened the hearts of many of the townspeople who have now chosen to follow Christ and his teachings. This, of course, doesn't set well for those who are against Christ and all he stands for. So, the plotting and bullying begins. As we know, Christ paid the ultimate price for all of us and all our sins. He was mocked, beaten, and tortured for all of us. Yet he didn't fall to the bullies; instead he gives us these words, "Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant will also be. My Father will honor the one who serves me" (v.26). To be honored by the Father for serving Christ...those words can belittle the biggest of the bullies' power over us. Christ then tells us to "Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light" (v.36).  It's difficult when we're being picked on, ridiculed, or having our lives made miserable when we don't see that we've done anything wrong--and many times we haven't. It just happens; as long as there are people on earth, there will be bullies.

The good news is that, like the little kids say on the sidewalk when nose to nose, "My Father is stronger."

And we know that for a fact. Peace be with you.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

No Showy Needed

Readings: Zachariah 9:9-12; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 21:1-9

The lowly donkey. The poor cousin of the majestic horse. In the equine world, the donkey is the country bumpkin. In a nutshell, the donkey exemplifies all that is under appreciated for its good works in the world.
But once in awhile, the lowly donkey has its moments. I've always thought that God sees something special in donkeys that the rest of us miss. Think about it--who brought the lovely Mary and the soon-to-be-delivered Christ child to the stable? Not a grand horse, but a donkey. In Matthew, Christ instructs for a donkey and its colt to be brought to him. "'Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and being them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell them that the Lord needs them and he will send them right away.' This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet" (21:3-4), the prophecy in Zachariah, "See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (9:9).

But why a lowly donkey? Why not a fantastic while stallion? Because God doesn't do showy--we humans invented showy. With God, there's no need to show off. In fact, in Philippians, his words are "Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equity with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness" (2:6-7). God sent us Christ as a helpless baby, not a magnificent jewel-robed leader on an over-sized throne. We are shown through this act of humility how we are to live while here. These words follow the wonderful theme throughout the Bible that the least shall be the greatest. A lowly donkey played an important part not once, but twice in the history of Christ's time here on Earth. And, in this loving gesture, it gives us all hope. We don't have to be high and mighty to be accepted and loved by God. We just need to live humbly before God, love him above all others, and above all things. And, just like those donkeys, by being true to ourselves, to others, and, most importantly, to God we will thrive. All creatures, great and small, are indeed beautiful in God's sight.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Biting the Hand that Feeds Us

Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; Hebrews 9:11-15; John 8:46-59

We've all heard that old saying, but what does it mean? Pretty much just as it says. We get to the point of taking for granted what is done for us and, in return we don't appreciate or even sometimes turn against the very source of our livelihood. We heard it said and are probably all a little guilty of it ourselves. We don't like the way a decision goes at the workplace, at school, or at home and we growl a little that we're being picked on or that those in charge just don't have the good sense to run business or a classroom or a household. Usually, we get over our little rants (or we have the good sense to not growl too loudly or to the wrong person) and all returns back to normal and we go about our day. But, once in a great while, someone lets the rant continue a bit too long and while biting the hand that feeds, the feeding ends. Oops!

That very thing was happening as the Israelites continued in their journey across the desert. Once again the grumbling was increasing along with the angry words. This time they went too far. The daily manna, their literal daily bread, was being cursed. This went beyond the usual complaining--this was an out and out insult against God's grace. They bit the hand that fed them. And they paid dearly.

God sent out poisonous snakes throughout the Israelites; many were bitten by the snakes and many of them died from the bites. In a panic, they pleaded with Moses to ask God for relief. Moses prayed to God and God, in his unending patience and love, told Moses to build a pole with a bronze snake on it. Anyone who was bitten could look at the snake on the pole and be healed. God's grace supplied once again to the people.

In the book of Hebrews, we are reminded that many times we tend to "bite the hand that feeds us" by not being eternally humbled by the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for each and every one of us. It speaks of the new tabernacle. "For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant" (ch. 9, v.15).  It's a bad habit we have to take this precious gift for granted. No longer do we need to go through the laborious ceremonies of cleanliness in order to even be considered to give sacrifices to honor God. It is all so simple now. Christ made sure of it. We pray to our loving Savior who intervenes on our behalf, time after time, to God. Christ is the new covenant. No more rituals; no more pilgrimages to foreign lands and temples. Just earnest prayer. Yet how many times do we growl, pout, or feel that we're not being treated as we like to be? It's not Jesus doing the mistreating. It is our brothers, sisters, and circumstances of an imperfect world. Christ, during his time on Earth, told the believers as well as the disbelievers that "I tell you the truth. If anyone keeps my word, he will never see death" (John 8:51). All we have to do is believe and have faith.

...and remember not to bite the hand that feeds us with eternal life.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Full Bellies...Starving Souls

Readings: Isaiah 55:1-7, Galatians 4:21-5:1a, John 6:1-15

Come Thursday, we in the United States and Americans throughout the world will celebrate Thanksgiving, a day of eating, visiting with family and friends, and, as the name of the holiday implies, giving thanks for all we have. And we do, even in a down-turned economy, have plenty. At the end of that food-filled day, our bellies will be full. 

But what about our souls?

Our souls have fallen victim to the same fate as our bodies--we feed on "junk food" in our food, drink, as well as what we read, view, and hear. Then we expect our bodies and souls to feel nourished and stay healthy. As we now know, this simply doesn't work. This wasn't the way we were created. God created us in his own image--no junk there. And, we know better; we just don't follow through very well.

In Isaiah, God invites us to come to him to satisfy our thirst and hunger, not just the hunger that makes our bellies growl and our throats dry--God gives direction to fulfill that through our earthly labors--but true hunger and thirst in our souls that needs to be satisfied as well. God asks us to come and listen, to seek him and call on him for guidance. He tells the wicked to forsake their ways and for the evil to turn away from evil thoughts. In other words, lose the "empty calorie" diets of being a part of the world that has lost all spiritual direction. We can regain our spiritual health with a steady diet of His love and guidance. "Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon" (v.7).

In Galatians, we hear the story of Hagar and Sarah, but from a little different perspective this time--the story relates to our lives in a way of gaining freedom from a state of slavery. And not slavery in the conventional way we think of slavery. This type of slavery is where we find ourselves if we're not mindful of keeping our souls on a healthy diet. Before we know it, we're into the "fast food" of falling for every earthy pursuit that keeps us in a tailspin of slavery through seeking earthly gain at the expense of giving up our focus of being  free from these limited pursuits. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by the yoke of slavery" (Ch. 5, v. 1a). How wonderful when we come to the resolution that what the world offers is not necessarily on our "diet" of spiritual health and we become truly free.

We all remember the words of the third reading today, from John--the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. As the crowds approached, Phillip was asked by Christ (somewhat as a test) "Where shall we buy bread for all of these people to eat?"(v.5) Phillip had no idea, but then saw a young boy with five loaves of bread and two fishes. Christ directed them to divide these up and to start passing them out among the massive group. And, as we recall, there was bread left over after all were fed. As was Jewish custom at the time of not allowing any scraps of bread to remain on the ground in honor of God's giving the gift of bread, Christ had the disciples pick up the extra that had fallen to the ground and, as a result, there was still a basket full after all were fed. Jesus gave the message that day that also fed some of the souls there; unfortunately, many still did not get beyond being physically full and missed the spiritual food that day. They still saw him as a prophet; not the Son of God come to save the world. They left, unbeknownst to themselves, still hungry.

So what do we do to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst? A healthy dose of daily Bible reading is the first course; being in an environment that affords "moral fiber" keeps us spiritually healthy as well. We need to go extra light on the "snacking" when it comes to getting caught up in all the world's worries, judgments, and wants--it doesn't take too many tastes of these to develop a real craving. And although it's virtually impossible to steer clear of these, it is in our best interest to measure every "calorie" of doubt, anger, and resentment we consume. If we don't, we become overloaded and our soul can't resume its healthy lifestyle.

We are truly blessed. We have good food for the body, skills in which to prepare it to serve our bodily health, and a loving Savior with an endless supply of food for the soul. Our bodies are indeed temples--our temples to God's ever-lasting love through his son, Christ our Lord.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Don't Shoot the Messenger--Just Heed the Message

The term "Don't Shoot the Messenger" dates back to Sophecles in 442 B.C. It has been used repeatedly throughout history and, it seems to be how we sometimes feel as Christians in today's world when sharing the message of Christ. It is a message of unconditional love; it is also a message of strict obedience. Most people embrace the former--it's the later they can do without. Our job as messengers sometimes gets a little dicey with the obedience part.

Jeremiah was told directly by God to be the messenger. And the messages that were given to him were not the type that make a messenger very well liked. "This is what the Lord says: Stand in the courtyard of the Lord's house and speak to all the people of the towns of Judah who come to worship in the house of the Lord. Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word" (v.2). The words that followed weren't exactly what the people of Judah wanted to hear. "If you do not listen to me and follow my law, which I have set before you, and if you do not listen to the words of my servants and prophets, whom I have sent to you again and again (though you have not listened), then I will make this house like Shiloh and this city an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth" (v.4-6).

Poor Jeremiah; I'm guessing he was feeling that familiar phrase at the time of this delivery of God's angry words...don't shoot the messenger. And rightly so; the false prophets and the less than honest priests who had much to gain from the temple staying rich from the citizens' offerings wanted Jeremiah killed for his honest words. With God's protection, cooler and wiser heads prevailed and Jeremiah was spared. And, as time went on, he delivered many more dire messages to the increasingly sinful citizenry. 

In the book of Ephesians Paul is, once again, the quintessential messenger of news that many didn't enjoy hearing. This newly formed group--these Christians--with this noisy and energetic apostle became quite the irritation. Paul was never shot as the messenger, but he did go to his death as a result of his messages of Christ's teachings. Paul reminded Christians to "Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (v.1-2). He goes on the say "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient" (v.6). A pretty stern message for his contemporaries (and us) to heed.

Finally, in Luke, we read the teachings of Christ when he performed yet another miracle and mercifully restored another person's life free from demons. And, as usual, there was a group of doubters who were quick to say that Christ's work was actually that of the devil. Christ's retort to the accusers was, "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first'" (v.24-26). Not exactly the message the newly de-demonized man wanted to hear; the messenger gave the message nevertheless. And, it's a message we still need to heed today. Once we are restored, we're not iron-clad; evil will forever try to creep its way in the fabric of our lives. 

It's a tough time presently to be a Christian. If we follow the teachings of the Bible, we are to be the messengers of God's word through thought and deed. We are, as Paul stated, "Children of the Light." Most of the time anymore, it seems that the circle of believers becomes more conditional. I'll follow God if I can have lots of material items; I'll follow God if I can live a lifestyle that I want, regardless of His teachings; I'll follow God if the Ten Commandments can be seen more as 10 suggestions.

I don't think those are the options.

We need to gather our strength and our faith and see where we can do good. The world is constantly looking for a hero--a protector. Guess what? We have one. We just need to step bravely a bit more out of the darkness and a bit closer to the light. And yes, it's very difficult these days to be a messenger; God bless those who choose to do this every day in many different walks of life.

So, the next time a fellow Christian shares a message that might make us be a bit uncomfortable, isn't seen as "politically correct", or steps on the toes of others within earshot, gently remind those listening to not shoot the messenger...and to heed the message.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Seeing is Believing

Readings: Exodus 33:12-23, 1Thessalonians 4:1-7
Matthew 15:21-28

As Moses was leading a cantankerous group across the desert in the escape from slavery in Egypt, he had the privilege of speaking with God who gave Moses the beautiful words, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest" (v. 14).

One day, however, Moses wanted more. He wanted to see God. 

And God complied as a loving Father would; he arranged for Moses to see so he could believe, while making sure that Moses would live through the experience, for "no one may see me and live" (v.20). God told Moses where to stand, and then, with a very loving gesture, He covered Moses with His hand until He passed by so that Moses could see God's back. Moses was given that needed bit of reinforcement in order to carry on with his incredibly difficult task. 

Seeing is believing.

In the story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew, we see faith in a different way. In fact, it is the faith alone of the Canaanite woman that allows her to ask Jesus for help for her daughter-in-law who is suffering. In this story, it's the example she and Christ "draw" in their discussion that help the rest of us "see" what gifts we are afforded. As the story goes, the woman's daughter is demon-possessed. The woman approaches Christ and asks for help. Seeing that she is a Canaanite, Jesus says, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" (v.24). She wouldn't give up in her plea for help, so Jesus then spoke to her directly, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs" (v.26). She was not Jewish; in her day she was most certainly considered less than others. But she persisted: "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's tables" (v.27). With this, Jesus was pleased. He told her that her faith was strong and that her request was granted. We, as Christians, might not immediately like what we "see" in this story--that in our history we were, as a people, on a level of dogs. However, being this new religion of Christianity, we have taken those "scraps" and with the love and guidance of Christ and his disciples after him, have become eternal beings, through the grace of Christ and our holy Father.

We know how we are to live; we need to ask ourselves how are we perceived by others. 

1Thessalonians gives us straight-forward directions in how to live to please God: "For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life" (v.7). In the current times in which we live, we are witness to greater and greater numbers of people who aren't following many of the directives given in these passages. We see more and more sexual immorality across the board. We see a lack of control when it comes to the sanctity of one's body--our temples to the Lord. We see more and more people taking advantage of or wronging one's brother in Christ. All these show that we are straying as a whole; we need to encourage our brothers and sisters as well as ourselves to tread carefully in order not lead others astray. Through our lives, we can be strong examples to others to live a holy life. So, remember...

Seeing is believing.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Do We Have It In Us?

Readings: Genesis 22:1-14; 2 Corinthians 6:1-10; 
Matthew 4:1-11

Time after time, when people make perhaps not the smartest decisions, we hear those around them saying, "Times are just tougher anymore; it's not as easy to make good decisions with all the world's pressures."

Today's readings will tend to disagree; in fact, our "tough decisions" these days kind of pale by comparison. Sure, there are still some of those gut-wrenching decisions we all have to make from time to time. But every decision? Hardly.

Let's look at some real tough decisions and see if we have it in us as they did during Biblical times.

For starters, Abraham...

Abraham was tested beyond what most any of us could endure--he was ordered to sacrifice his own son. And, in his fear/faithfulness to God, went through all the steps to do just this right up to raising the knife up over his beloved son who was bound and lying upon the sacrificial altar. To the great relief of us all, God mercifully stopped the sacrifice. Now that was a tough decision for Abraham. In fact, in our modern times, few--if anyone--would be able to put this into perspective and Abraham's defense of being a faithful servant of God would be no more understood than speaking in an ancient tongue. Those types of tests don't exist anymore--for that we are truly thankful. However, it also shows that our faith is not what it once was.

Jesus himself was not beyond being tested to the literal ends of the Earth. In Matthew, God and Satan agree to testing Christ through a series of extreme challenges and taunts that would bring the strongest of us to our knees. Satan pulled out all the stops--physical thirst and hunger, offers of universal power, psychological stresses--and yet Jesus was able to overcome through his faith in his Father. We today sometimes get pushed to the wall with offers of quick money, power, and unfortunately, our greed wins out and we fold. Those, in perspective of what Jesus endured, are walks in the proverbial park. We're pretty weak these days.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul laments all the difficulties faced by those called to share the Good News of Christ and the grace of God's love to give us eternal life. He warns his followers that start sharing the "good" news that they will be mocked, physically attacked, imprisoned, and perhaps killed for their beliefs. It was not a safe time for this young religion; it seemed that everyone was against them. Yet they persevered and, as result, we still have Christianity today--the rock of our being.

There are many evils in the world today; as we can see from these three instances in the Old and New Testament, the evils have always existed. The question now becomes...

"Do we have it in us?"

Time for us to look within, question our faith at its core, and pray for the guidance and strength it takes to rediscover the strength and endurance shown to us by our ancestors of long ago.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Transparency or Light?

Readings: Joel 2:12-19, 1John 1:5-9, Matthew 6:16-21

It's an understatement to say that we have become a "transparent" society. We live our lives in a fishbowl, whether we admit it or not. Through a growing number of social media opportunities, people transmit out to others--family, friends,acquaintances, strangers--their most every thought, disappointment, purchase, happiness. 

Is this necessarily a bad thing? No. However...

One doesn't have to read too far down through a typical day on any social media posts before seeing the usual predictable items: what I bought, what I want, how I feel. Sometimes I say to myself, "Yikes...too  much information." Few filters are used. Balance is needed.

For that, we can look to the original social media tool--the Bible.

We are given a very clear set of instructions as we go about our lives, whether or without the immediate posting option. 

In Matthew, the filters are applied: with this instruction, Lent comes to mind. During Lent, many choose to give up something in order to meditate upon the word of God and teachings of Christ during the time that would have normally been spent on the item or time given up. It's very tempting to broadcast the fasting--but our instructions say no. This is a personal issue between a person and God; use a filter and keep it personal. 

Really? No posting, no blogging of progress?

Nope. Just you and God. And...a bit more instruction. Not only no broadcasting, but no outward signs of denial. All should look as it does every other day of the world. Wow...not what we've become accustomed to in our world of telephones, email, and social media.

Another no no? All that earthy collecting. Our instructions in Matthew go on to tell us not to gather up treasures on Earth. They're guaranteed to fall apart or wear out, and eventually lose all their value. Also, in the age of transparency, people tend to get a little cavalier with sharing information with the world. It's not unusual for someone to post, in a space of a short amount of time, the fact that they are the proud new owner of __________ AND they'll be vacating the house at __________. To those who walk in the open invitation. Apply filters, folks. Don't help with the temptation business. And, while on the topic...maybe ease up a bit on the excessive "I need"; "For wherever your treasure is, your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21).

Now that filtering "God style" has been covered, how about some transparency "God style"? 

In Joel 2, here's a little known man, with little known background, that wrote or helped write a book in the Old Testament that carries, in few words, great meaning that many regularly recite in their chosen church's religious services: "Return to the Lord your God for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love" (v. 13). That's something worth a share. Another well-known verse in 1John that is recited as a confession, "If we claim to have fellowship with him, yet we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth" (1:6). God not only asks us to share the message of transparency; he asks us to live transparently--or, perhaps, more correctly, in the light.

"God is light; in him there is no darkness at all" (1John 1:5) We're invited to have that relief of clarity every day, living in a space where all the dark corners of the room are well lit with no troublesome shadows. To those of you in the 40+ group, you understand the frustration of being in a dimly lit room and trying to read something. It seems the shadows make seeing the text almost impossible. What a relief when the lights are brightened and our eyes can readjust. With this blessing from God, it's not just our eyes that feel that wondrous relief--it's every ounce of our being. He invites us to live lives that are free from needing to hide our darker side since it will no longer exist. That's God's version of transparency.

So, in our social media world, with our instant news releases, let's remember to follow the advice of the ultimate social media specialist. The next time we start to practice transparency, let's instead practice sharing the light.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Getting Back in Season

Readings: Jeremiah 8:4-9; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 
Luke 18:31-43

As I sit and write this morning, the windows are open and a crisp breeze is coming through the screens; not the chill that we relate to the first days of frosty weather, but rather the type of breeze that has a bit of refreshing coolness to it while there's still some heat left in the sun to keep us balanced out. 
Pretty amazing, huh? Think of how difficult that would be to replicate in a lab, yet we enjoy that miraculous balance in our everyday lives just by stepping outside or opening a window.

God must certainly be in the details. And he must love us very much to give us this enjoyment.

Living in a geographic area that is very seasonal, I witness extremes--sapphire blue skies, striking colors of fall foliage, more variety of greens in springtime than one could create names for, and the ultimate silence of a frigid, snow-blanketed morning. I also witness, as is shared in Jeremiah, the wildlife who, so beautifully in tune with the seasons, come and go using that undefinable sense of instinct. Recently the last of the hummingbirds left abruptly; the robins passed through for a few days; raccoons show up in droves for a short span of time. They're all hearing loudly what we, in all our sophisticated splendor, have lost to varying degrees--our simple yet blessed direct connection to the glorious nature given to us by God. We become too wrapped up in our worldly details--quite minuscule and mundane, actually--and we lose sight of that deep sense of spirituality and oneness we feel when we are in true communion with God and all the gifts of this glorious planet he has given to us. We busy ourselves with the business of man, paying little heed to the fact that we have, over time, allowed the "lying pen of the scribes to handle it (the word of God) falsely" (v.8). God's laws are very clear; we're the ones who have made them convoluted to the point of misery.

How can we go wrong when the initial "laws" we have been given by God all deal with love, pure and simple...

1 Corinthians 1-13 is the much used, much shared, and much read chapter known as the chapter of love. And, as with most directives that God gives us, it is simple and straightforward. We can be the most gifted person in the world in the areas of knowledge, intellect, skill, or craft--but if we fail to filter all these gifts through the filter of love, they are worthless. Perhaps that's something we fail to remember?

It was amusing the other day to pick up a magazine only to see every story telling about the "worth" of this person or that person, solely based on monetary value. In all our learning, all of our growth intellectually, we still are led by our collective noses by the unholy alliance of measuring a person's worth by a bank account. 

God never mentions bank accounts...

He does, however, through the various prophets and scribes of the Bible, remind us repeatedly the simple message to love, to care for, and to share with our fellow humans, the wonders of this temporary world in preparation for the next. Paul shares in 1 Corinthians "Now we see a poor reflection, as in a mirror" (v.12). But we are more than assured that murky reflection will become clearer and clearer as we grow nearer and nearer to center of transforming into the true spiritual beings as we are designed. We are given the opportunity every day to, as the man who told Christ when he was asked what he wanted, replied, "Lord, I want to see" (v. 41). 

It's time we all take the time to sit back, re-visit our current system of beliefs, and decide how murky and out of season our sense of spiritual direction has become. God makes it simple; we can take the example of the stork in Jeremiah 8 and realize that "even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons" (v.8). Time for us to listen not from the outside world on how to live, how to think, what to do, but from within. 

God is unconditional in his love and always in season in his support of us...we just need to clear that murky view and fall into our instincts...we couldn't want for a better guide.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Awful Silence

Readings: Amos 8:11-12; 2Corinthians 11:19-12:9;
 Luke 8:4-15
I find myself in a quandary. Yesterday I listened to the peaceful words of a Buddhist monk and this morning I write of dire warnings. The last thing I want to do is drive away those looking to or seeking God's words of wisdom. But, from time to time, Christianity becomes the heavy in the good parent/bad parent scheme of things. But the beauty in all of this is that when the loving parent has to take on the role of the one to get us back into line, it is done with a great deal of unconditional love. Unconditional. 

In Amos, the words speak of Israel facing a famine of the worst kind--a famine of hearing the words of God. Not a famine of food or drink as we usually presume constitutes a famine, but a famine where there is no connection with all.

Think about it.

And why this famine? Because at this point in history, the Israeli people were militarily strong, and were quite comfortable having enjoyed prosperity for a period of time in all facets of economics, pleasure, and luxuries. In all this, God was less and less the focus; corruption, immorality, and pursuits of the secular world's yardsticks of success were the daily focal point. And, with all this, God said, "Enough."

...the awful silence of praying to God and feeling or hearing nothing. Of meditating and speaking to God only to be met with nothing.

The awful silence. The loving parent bringing His children back to center. Those of us raised by parents whom we honor can only imagine the horrible feeling of silence and separation. Worse than hunger or thirst, the separation of one on whom we depend upon daily--there, but not responding.

In Luke, Christ relates the parable of the sower. Tossing out those seeds, some fall on the path, are trampled, and the birds flock in to devour them. God's word is shared with us, but the daily "devil in the details" gains our attention, and the seeds of good words and deeds are lost. Others seeds tossed out among the rocks where they wither and die from lack of moisture; we hear, but at the first inclination to pay heed to a bad habit, we give in and the good words and good deeds "dry up". Yet more seeds fall among the thorns. They're able to grow a bit, but once they start to really grow, the thorny issues of worries and pressures of being accepted by our friends, neighbors, and strangers by appearing successful start choking out any sprouts of good works and good deeds. 

The result? The awful silence continues in the lives of many who never get the chance to know they are loved unconditionally.

The good news in all this trampling, withering, and choking? Some make it. The seeds are planted, they survive all the obstacles, and the good works and deeds thrive. With these, the awful silence can be avoided, and the love of God is recognized.

In Luke 8:4-15, Paul reminds us of the sacred words said by Christ during the Last Supper. This most sacred meal in meditation with Christ allows us to immerse ourselves in the unspeakable beauty of unconditional love. When we come to the table, we are given the undeniable right to leave behind all the worry, the competition, the pressure, and the thoughts of the ridiculous rules of mere mortals. As we leave the table, we are asked to not pick them back up... 

We humans have the gift or, perhaps, the burden of free choice. In this country we have, for over a century, been given luxuries, economic power, military strength--all the worldly pleasures. Yet, have we been trampling those seeds of God's word along the way, allowing them to fall among the thorns to be choked out, or among the rocks only to wither?

Are we on the pathway to the awful silence?

We don't have to be--our loving God awaits; the ultimate patient parent. But we need to act as well. More than a moment of the awful silence would be too much.

Peace be with you. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Everybody DOES Get a Trophy

I am not a fan of the latest habit that has developed over the past decade or so when, no matter how poorly kids perform in a sporting event, everyone gets a trophy. Don't want to hurt anyone's feelings, after all...right? Well, after a decade of propping these little folks up for even demonstrating interest, we've hit a point, statistically where they perform very poorly on every academic test known to mankind, except one...feeling that they'll do a good job on all the above-mentioned academic tests. Yep...we've raised a generation of "I feel special" folks. And, for all our earthly pursuits, it's just not working out too well. We've lost one important element when making sure that everyone feels good about him/herself--there is work involved that requires a great deal of self-discipline. Great soccer players don't just wake up one morning to find they have magnificent skills; great performers don't just start singing one day and have the skills of an accomplished artist. It takes training and a true sense of direction and dedication. The prize shouldn't come too easily, or the path to honing the skill becomes aimless and the work ethic is lost. 

But leave it to God to figure out a way to have the best of both ideas...

In the three readings today, we see a different approach to winning and getting those trophies, prizes, and, as the reading mentions, crowns. But these aren't for soccer...this speaks of a different kind of earthly pursuit. This involves running the race to eternity. And, we can all get a trophy...but the same rules apply.
In I Corinthians, Paul speaks of this by telling his listeners that although many runners run a race, only one will get the prize and, more than likely, this winning runner has trained very strictly with that prize in mind. Alas, runners get older and are replaced by new runners who run faster; the prizes are fleeting. But the good news is that if we train and prep ourselves throughout our "run" through earthly life, we can all get a trophy--one that matters. The prize of eternal life.  And Paul reminds everyone that this is not the "make everyone feel good about themselves" kind of trophy. Nope. He warns that ignorance won't even begin to work as part of the training; this winning won't just happen conveniently. He reminds the crowds that even when God led his chosen people out of Egypt covered by the cloud of protection, thus making the run to the prize that much easier on them, some still strayed, messed up, and didn't get to the finish line. We have no cloud of protection and at times the training will be exhausting; but what person that's ever trained for anything doesn't reminisce later that the pain was worth it?
And what about those who finally, near the 11th hour before the race is coming to fruition, suddenly decide to give it their all? There are trophies there, too--God's rules. Remember the parable in Matthew 20 of the vineyard owner who got up early one morning and found workers for the vineyard? He then went out later in the day, found more, and sent them to work. And, near the end of the day, he found yet more, and sent them to work, even though the day was nearly over. When it was time to be paid, all workers received the same pay. Why? Because everyone gets a trophy--even those slipping in at the 11th hour. In Christ's world, it's giving your all at some point in time; not necessarily being the first to show up. Everyone finished at the same time at the end of the day. That's what mattered; all were present when the "day" ended. Does that mean to go out and raise a row all your earthly life only to change at the last moment? It might, but do you know when your last moment will be on this earth? Didn't think so...better be wise...and while you're at it, humble.
How does humility fit into all this hard work and dedication? It's always the underlying lesson to us all. "This is what the Lord says, 'Let not the wise men boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength, or the rich man boast of his riches. But let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the Lord." These are probably the areas that most of us need the most training in anyway, I'm guessing. Humility is tough; it requires discipline and training to keep it in check.
But getting the trophy when all is said and done is worth the work, don't you think?

Peace be with you.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Don't Be a Weed

Readings: Ezekiel 33:10-16   Colossians 3:12-17
Matthew 13:24-30 

Being married to a farmer for a number of years, I learned a whole new definition of the word "weed". Before, when looking out over a field of soybeans and seeing the occasional single corn stalk rising above here and there, I would simply think how healthy that corn plant looked, albeit out of place. Then I learned that anything that didn't belong was a weed, regardless of its worth in another location. So, the corn stalk among the soybeans was a weed.
A new way of thinking...or maybe not.
Whenever I have a little garden in the yard, I draw the line of where I think the grass is welcomed and where it's not; a couple of inches inside the garden and I look at that same blade of grass with a great deal of disdain and attack it as the enemy. 
Let's face it--we're just wired to not like weeds.
So why do we allow ourselves to be "weedy" from time to time?
In Ezekiel, the idea of self-ownership of one's own sins is defined. Up until this time, there were a myriad of excuses used to explain being a "weed" in the "garden of good". Before now everything was blamed upon the sins of the fathers--he's just like his father was a commonly used explanation. But now each person came to the realization that if you're known as a good person but doing bad things, you're just being a weed. And, as stated in the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:24-30, the weeds of the world will be allowed to exist among the garden of good in the world until it is time for the harvest. At that time, the separation will take place and the "weeds" will be cast aside.
Feeling pretty weedy right now? Only we, unlike those intruders out in the garden or in the field have a chance to transform back into a lovely productive, useful member of the garden of life. In Colossians we are called to "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God" (16). 
We have the opportunity, every day, to be a weed or to be a thriving, growing, and productive member of the garden of life.
Don't be a weed.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Simple. That's it.

The word "simple" has received a bad rap in our vocabulary. If someone is less than academically inspired, he or she might be spoken of as "simple"; if something is straight-forward, the suggestion of "so simple a child can do it" might be implied in a negative way. So, in today's sophisticated society, we tend to shy away from the word "simple"--pity, really.
One of the greatest American philosophers, Henry David Thoreau pleaded with his contemporaries to "simplify, simplify, simplify"; a simple plea that carried volumes of worthwhile advice. Nevertheless, even back in days with no modern machinery, tools, or technology, people felt being too "simple" was a sign of lack of inspiration and, of course, living simply could infringe upon the all-important human characteristic of the outward signs of monetary wealth.
Stepping back into the readings from today, I kept hearing the word "simple" over and over again in my mind as I read the story of the exodus from Egypt, the discussion of the laws of God, and a stormy time in a boat for the disciples.
It was all so remains so simple today.
When Moses led the Israelites from Egypt, they had one major barrier--the Red Sea. It was in the way. Too many people and too few boats. Left up to humans, the gaffes in the planning alone to transport that many people across that body of water would have changed the course of history. So, God simply parted the sea. Many people have a tough time believing that actually happened--it's too simple. Where's the drama? 
Where's the drama? 
Through a tremendous amount of faith on the part of Moses in God and an equally tremendous amount of faith on the part of those following Moses, the simply sublime happened--a door was opened, or, in this case, a sea was parted. No boat docking schedules, no missed launches, no nothing. One parted sea--simple.
Later, in Matthew, we revisit the story of the disciples in the boat with Jesus. Jesus falls asleep; a storm comes up. The disciples panic and wake Jesus. Jesus calms the storm and then, in a somewhat incredulous manner (according to translations) simply replies to them, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" (8:26) Jesus was with them; nothing was going to happen to them. Yet, being good humans who tend to complicate things, panic and impatience entered into the picture.
The reading in Romans takes us no where near water, but it does take us to the shores of the simplicity of our spiritual law: "Let no debt remain except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law--All others are summed up: Love your neighbors as yourself" (12:8-9) 
How much more simple could it be?
Over this past week I've been a bit more clued into just how well simplicity works. I decided to simplify my eating in order to be a bit healthier or to at least keep the pharmaceutical companies away from my doorstep as long as possible. In taking a look at healthy eating, I see that God, in all his infinite wisdom, has made that very simple for us--we're the ones who make it indefinably difficult. God gives us vegetables, fruits, grains, and simple proteins. Exercise? He gives us feet and places to walk. No need for complicated eating plans, spas, gyms, or meetings.

Being the backporch philosopher, I have, for some time, thought about how complicated we make daily living. I've read the Bible from cover to cover a few times now and not once do I recall reading about needing to grab all the gusto in life, not missing any chances for adventures, being sure to buy only the best...none of that. What I do read consistently is our need to love one another and to care for one another. In our geographic backyards; in our global backyards. Simple. The simple joy that comes from knowing we've been given the opportunity to put food in the hand of a hungry person, to put shoes on the feet of one with no shoes, to give clean water to a village where there was none before...what more do we need?
Our world is complicated--'ol Scratch is loose and makes sure it stays complicated to make sure we lose sight of what truly matters.
And then God makes it simple all over again and we regain our path on the journey.
Simple...that's it.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It's Easy--Just Follow the Directions

We humans tend to have a love/hate relationship with directions. I can remember that when something arrived at our house that needed to be constructed, my dad would carefully pull the direction sheet(s) out of the box and lay them neatly as far away from the project as possible. He liked the challenge, he said. He was living proof of the saying, "If all else fails, read the directions."
I think he kind of had the right idea. Most things in nature and life shouldn't really involve complex "fit slot A into section BB" directions to get something done. The form is there, as is the ultimate function. It's we humans that have trouble translating the step-by-step...we tend to make it overly complicated to the point of distraction.
After recently dipping my toe into the world of technology, I am immediately looking at many different systems with new eyes. Wow...can we complicate simple things. We blame the computers, but they're just machines. It's the human behind the keyboard that's inputting all the superfluous instructions that keep us all tensed up. Our response? Stupid computer! Hhhmmm... 
We, for some odd reason, like to make our paths in life as complicated as possible, while, at the same time, debating and ranting that things should be easier. Take, for instance, our health. It's pretty simple...don't smoke, exercise, drink alcohol sparingly, don't eat processed foods, keep fats within reason. Not exactly rocket science. Yet we spend billions each year on health care because we didn't follow the simple "form and function" rule of our bodies' health. As a result, too many become shackled to a litany of drugs with accompanying direction/side-effect sheets of paper that do require a degree in rocket science to translate. And then we hear in commercial after nauseating commercial on TV, "It's easy...just follow the directions." Yikes. 
In 2Kings, we find Naaman wrestling with the concept of easy directions. Poor Naaman. A mighty warrior, but plagued with leprosy. He heard through the grapevine that there was a healer in Israel that could rid him of the horrible disease. He told his king, who, in turn, sent him on his way carrying all kinds of payment for the cure. When he arrived and started asking around, it led him to Elisha' doorway. Elisha heard the message through a household servant, gave the cure to the servant who then simply told Naaman to go wash himself in the Jordan seven times and he would be cured.
That's it?
Naaman was livid. Washing himself seven times in the Jordan? They had much better quality water back in Damascus. He thought, at the very least, this guy would come out, wave something over him, do some fancy maneuvers, and then yell, "Heal!" But just go wash in the Jordan? That's too easy. There needed to be more complicated directions. Finally his servants convinced him to give it a try. Their winning argument? Helping him realize that he would've jumped right in to the river if Elisha had given him much more detailed instructions; why not just give it a try with the simple "Insert self into river and wash seven times" ? 
And so he did...and so he was healed. 
Later in the Book of Matthew we see the proof that not everyone needs to have complicated directions...some have faith, the simplest direction of all. The Centurion that spoke to Jesus on behalf of a servant asking his his healing was a beautiful example of the simple perfection of faith. Jesus said he would come to the home and heal the servant, but the Centurion said it wasn't necessary. He knew that if Christ only said the word that the servant would be healed.
And he was. No directions needed. 
In Romans we are once again reminded that we shouldn't look down on our brothers and sisters. It seems that in all the complications of the world and its reams and reams of directions, we sometimes build our proverbial soapboxes on these stacks of red tape, road blocks, and general mayhem. We lord over those who just "don't get it"; we have short tempers with those who, seeking help, don't read non-sense instructions with the fervor those in charge do. As a result, we don't love our neighbors as ourselves; and we certainly don't help as humble servants.
So, for today, for this week...let's just make it easy. Are all those directions really necessary? It seems pretty straightforward, after all...10 simple other Gods before our one true idol worship...don't misuse God's holy name...remember to rest and give praise...honor mom and dad or whomever raised or is raising you...don't murder, commit adultery, steal, or lie against your neighbor...don't want what others have that isn't yours...and love that neighbor as you love yourself.
It is easy...we can just follow those directions. The rest of life will fall into place as long as we don't complicate it for complication's sake.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bringing Out the Best

Readings: Isaiah 61:1-6; Romans 12:6-16a; John 2:1-11

Humans are generous by nature, but, from time to time, we all have a tendency to hold back the best for those "just in case" days. Interestingly, those days seldom come; it seems that in our everyday existence we have those days without fanfare or usually even recognizing them until they become discovered after the fact in our recollections.

We have many possessions, many gifts, and many talents to share. In Isaiah 61, we as servants of God are called to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort those who mourn, and, in doing so, we can build up those who are down and out.  If individuals are then returned to a state of grace, what's to say that this can't move on to neighborhoods, towns, and cities? 
It all starts with sharing and not holding back...bringing out the best.

This is further illustrated in Romans when Paul speaks to those around him concerning the gifts we have in accordance with the grace we're are given. Paul stresses that we should freely and without hesitation use these gifts for the betterment of others and ourselves. 

It's easy for us to hesitate to share our gifts--how do we know we even have them? That's pretty easy; if the gift is there, others will notice and let you know. Good teacher? You'll know. Good nurse? You'll know. Good person to visit shut-ins? You'll know. That's part of the plan. Just don't not share while wondering...bring out the best.

Perhaps the best illustration of this is found in John 2:1-11--the wedding in Cana. Jesus arrives to find that all the wine is gone; at his mother's request, he then goes and directs the servants to draw water; as we know, the water was then turned to wine. And not just any wine--according to the master of the banquet, it was by far the best. Not the usual practice of sharing the best only to then share the weaker and cheaper once the guests had been drinking and wouldn't notice. No, this just got better and better.

So the thought is this: We are all called to share our gifts and our talents. And it's not just enough to say we're sharing. We give our best and, as we've heard before, our best only gets better.

Kind of sounds like something God would do, eh? Perfection.

Peace be with you. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Roles of Teacher and Steward

Readings: Ecclesiastes 12:1-7; Romans 12:1-5; Luke 2:41-52 
This week, after a five year absence, I walked back into the role of adjunct instructor at a couple of our local universities to teach Education classes to aspiring teachers. It's exhilarating--and tricky. I spend time on the road getting to each location, so some of that time is spent in talks with myself on how to tell them in all earnestness that this will be an over-whelming task they are taking on while tempering that realization enough to keep them in attendance for the next class session. It's enough to scare a person out of a seat--literally.
We're losing the race in education of our students in the United States. More importantly, we're losing the focus of what teaching truly is--a very fine-tuned knowledge of craft and a deep desire for stewardship to others. It has to be both to be effective. Need proof? One need not look far. 
The need for renewal in how we share information with others or it will wither away is expressed by a great teacher, Solomon, in Ecclesiastes. He speaks, in a very poetic way, of how aging affects structures, leading us to the symbolism that aging will also affect our mortal bodies and minds...and ideas for the future. If teachers aren't continuously paying attention to their surroundings and rebuilding the focus of the lessons delivered, the lessons grow weaker and weaker and finally fall into the chasm of total ineffectiveness. We must keep up with our craft; mankind is counting on us.
Teaching can take on two forms in our lives--the secular plane and the spiritual plane. Paul suggests that we "be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Then we will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing, and perfect will" (12:2) Not only are we called to constant study, prayer, and contemplation of our spiritual selves, we who teach are also called to learn, learn, and learn to become more competent at our craft. What better way to serve?
In Luke 2:41-52, we find the familiar story of Jesus' first trip to the temple with his parents. You remember the over-all details that he was left behind and, once this was realized by his parents, they back-tracked to pick him up. What they found surprised them. There he was, in the temple, listening intently to and questioning with equal intensity the teachers in the synagogue. An exemplification of a student who yearns to learn. To some, a dream come true; to others, a worst nightmare. So many questions! Such detail! 
How humbling to be a teacher at that moment.
This is the equally important part of teaching--stewardship. We are stewards of information and it is our job to serve others to assure they learn the craft and carry on to the next generation. Once I had a professor who, upon his entrance into the classroom, announced that he was there merely to profess his knowledge--it was up to us to grasp it and carry on. 
I don't think he ever "grasped" the true idea of his profession--he was a steward, first and foremost. Paul reminds us in Romans to "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself in sober judgement, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you" (12:3)
So to all the teachers, instructors, and professors out there--never give up. Lead by example as one who hungers to learn daily. Practice faithful stewardship. 
I find it's good to be back; I hope you do, too.

Peace be with you.