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.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mysteries Reveled

Readings: Isaiah 60:1-6; Colossians 1:23-27; Ephesians 3:1-2; Matthew 2:1-2

Most of us like a good mystery; it excites the senses and we become fully engaged in the "what's next?" of it all. We also enjoy the feeling when the final "aha!" appears and the mystery is revealed to us.  Sometimes we can follow the plot closely enough that the final "reveal" is somewhat predictable; other times we are truly surprised when the mystery comes to fruition in its reveal.

Our spiritual lives are full of mysteries...and mysteries revealed.

In all the readings today, mysteries are spoken of and mysteries are revealed. In Isaiah, the first true reveals of a coming Messiah are shared. Although many did not grasp the original message, those who allowed their faith to be their guide knew it was the hope of wondrous things to come. In Colossians there is a reveal to assure us further of God's undying love to us through Christ. In Ephesians, Paul--although once again under house arrest--gives his revelations of how Christ's love is for all...not just chosen groups, but for all. And Matthew shares the reveal of the newly born Christ to the Magi who knew the earlier signs and promises of a coming messiah. 

These mysterious reveals were, I'm guessing, both exciting and a bit frightening. Revealed mysteries are in our lives are much the same way. Any time we are awaiting news, anticipating it to be good or not so good, we are in the former, excited and in the latter, frightened. Mysteries do that. They captivate us on many levels. That is why there are so many of us who are such fans of the fictional and non-fictional genre of mystery. A bit of the unknown in otherwise fairly predictable circumstances is true stimulation for the senses.

Are revealed mysteries always what we want? In this life, no. The news is sometimes not at all what we hope for; the plans don't go as we want. Nevertheless, anytime there is a mystery revealed to us through God's word and through the works of Christ and his disciples throughout time, the mysteries are both wondrous and welcomed. And the greatest reward will be that ultimate "aha!" moment when we reach eternity.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

From Slave to Inheritor

Readings: Isaiah 63:7-16    Galatians 4:1-7     Luke 2:33-40

Mention the word "slave" today, and our blood runs cold. This, of course, is when it is viewed in recent US history. The term "slave", when used in ancient history, had a much broader meaning.

Everyone was a slave at one time in ancient history...everyone.
Even the most royal of the royal.

Childhood back in those days wasn't the marketing dream it is today. Small children were simply seen as little slaves that, if they survived, would have the chance of growing into the title of "son". Kind of harsh, but tough love was pretty much the rule of the day back then.

We won't go where that left the daughters...that's for another time.

However, back to the process.

In accordance with the writings in Galatians 4:1 "What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate," a child had to answer (or be a "slave") to a host of guardians, trustees and, of course, parents, before being deemed by his elders as ready to accept the role of son and heir. 

Now parallel that with our growth in our spirituality--see the pattern? 

We are all "slaves" to so many things of the world; our heads are easily turned. Once we discover the bliss of being truly spiritual, we, for a time, become "slaves" to God's direction through Christ. As we grow, we will be deemed a son and heir. (Thankfully a universal term...all females invited along this time.) Galatians 4:7 "So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir."

Sounds great! Sign us up.

But, it's not that easy...remember those times when the Jews were roaming about in the desert?
There was a reason...this slave to son to heir business is not just something we accept and then move on...we need to live it.

In Isaiah 63: 7-16, the people of Israel were shown some pretty tough love then they forgot the live it part of being inheritors of God's love and kingdom. And, as a good parent reluctantly does, God allowed them to understand the feeling of the result of doing wrong. Tough love. These were God's chosen ones. He showered love upon them as no one can other than God. And yet they turned away in defiance. So they became children of sorts again--slaves. They did a lot of wandering and a bit of pondering...I'm guessing a little whining too. Most kids do if they can get away with it. In their ignorance they just couldn't see why God had turned a deaf ear to them. Eventually, their whining turned to repentance and a plea for forgiveness. The wrongs were realized. And God showered them with love once again...the ultimate greatest parent. 

When looking at the roles of slave or son or inheritor, most of us would more than likely jump right on that inheritor bandwagon. Why be a slave when you can be the pampered one?  

Just be careful...words have many meanings.

When Joseph and Mary took their baby to the temple for his presentation, it was prophesied then and there that  Jesus would, indeed, be a Son and Inheritor. But that same prophesy carried with it the words to Mary, "And a sword will pierce your own soul, too" (v.35)  Being the Son and inheritor would bring the greatest of joys to Christ's mother, but also the greatest of sorrows. Being an inheritor is not always being the pampered one.

So where does that leave us? Starting to think that staying at "slave" status with scads of caregivers and over-seers the safest place to be? It sounds tempting at times. Just hunker down and let the world go by. 

But we're made in God's image...we are inheritors.

Come the bad with the good, the sorrows with the joys, the responsibilities with the perks, we freely accept the inheritance of eternal life and sharing the beyond belief good feeling of being on a higher spiritual plane. 

We all start out as slaves on our life's journey...the inheritance is ours for the taking. 
Be a good heir.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Looking for the Endings--Missing the Beginnings

Readings: Deuteronomy 18:15-19
Isaiah 40:9-11
Philippians 4:4-7
John 1: 19-28

How often do we let anticipation take over our lives?

We get to a long-awaited time of relaxation and immediately our minds time travel to the end of the rest period.
We purchase something new and begin bemoaning the fact that it will, before we know it, be old and out-of-date.

We're just funny that way.

It's almost as if we can't toleratre or allow ourselves becoming engulfed and living in the moment. We're too busy racing through time in our minds to find an end to the moment.

We spend so much time looking for the end, we miss the beginnings...

In the book of John,  the Jewish leaders sent by the Sanhedrin to question John the Baptist about his true identity were convinced he was the representation of the end of time. They became quite agitated when be broke the news to them that he wasn't Elijah returned to Earth, and that he wasn't the Prophet coming to Earth to declare its end. They were actually disgruntled when John informed them he was preceding the Messiah--the true Messiah that wasn't coming to destroy the world, but to save it.

They spent a lot of time looking for the end--they missed the beginning...

In Deuteronomy, God proclaimed  that there would be, as a gentle reminder, a prophet of each generation proceeding Moses that would share the good news of a Messiah that would come to us. And not just a Messiah--the Messiah. Still, as history serves, as soon as one prophet came into being, people immediately started looking for the end of time, fully missing the Messiah's time in their moments of life. And, as in verse 19, in all their searching for the end, they failed to heed God's words, "If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account."

Looking for endings--missing beginnings...

We don't need to dwell on the end. It's in God's hands. We're not in charge of of arranging for the next prophet or the next coming. All the itinerary is taken care of for us. We needn't start that proverbial "first day" of vacation only to dread the end.

And how do we know this?

"He tends his flocks like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young" (Isaiah 40:9-11).

That's why.

We're in good hands. Tender, gentle hands that have only our best interests in mind during our short journeys here on Earth and for our eternal lives beyond.

No need to dread...
No need to worry about endings...
Stop looking for all the endings in life--there are beginnings all around.



"Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again; Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all, the Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God. which transcends all understanding, will guard your heats and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:4-7). 

Peace be with you.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Voice in the Desert

Readings: Isaiah 40:1-8; I Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 11:2-10

Ever feel like you're just not being heard no matter how hard you try? You see a situation rising where someone near and dear to you will be hurt. You try and try to help him/her see how things will turn out, yet it falls on deaf ears. Frustrating?

John the Baptist was that voice in the desert. He shared, he preached, he warned, he pronounced the coming of Christ to mankind's less than pristine world. Did many listen?
Later, (in Matthew) when asked about John the Baptist, Jesus himself referred to John as one of the most blessed; that seems like a true definer of credibility. Did many listen to Jesus about John?
Still later, when Paul was giving the Corinthians a good tongue-lashing, he was--more or less--just another voice in the desert. 
Few listened.

Why do we not listen? Because we're human. Human=fallible. We get to a certain point in our lives and we think we're there...we've arrived. Our consciences couldn't be clearer; we're good people.
Think again...that was God's, John's, Jesus', and Paul's suggestion--to think again, that is.
Is the conscience clear or is it full of self-righteousness?
Remember? Fallible?
Maybe we do need to listen just a bit.

On the other side of the row, what makes these people then and people yet today try and try and try again even though they themselves realize they're just talking into the wind?

Stewardship...pure and simple. We are all called to be stewards; few heed the call. Fewer still are willing to carry on through the suspicious or incredulous looks, the push-back, and the basic dislike received for being a good steward of God. Face it, you're not going to win any popularity contests. You can't be liked at all times by everyone and be a good and aggressive steward...just doesn't work that way.
John the Baptist literally lost his head for it.
Paul spent a load of time in prison for it.
Christ gave his life for it.
Not an easy job.
But we still can't give's too important to others.

And, there's that secret. With more and deeper knowledge of God's plan, comes greater insight to that secret--that wisdom.
It's also our duty; our destiny.

Being good is great--being self-righteous can be time-consuming for everyone involved.
A little humility goes a long way. God's gives us reason for a bit of humility in Isaiah 40:8: "The grass [mankind] withers, and the flower [mankind's glory] falls, but the word of our God stands forever."
His word also speaks of the humbling of the mighty, the self-righteous, the judgmental: "Every valley shall be raised up--every mountain and hill made low--the rough ground will be made level and rugged places a plain" (Isaiah 40:4-5)
We're all on even ground; we're all called to be stewards to one another.

Let's get hopping on that. Let's join our voices together in this desert. Let's learn more of the glorious secret of eternal life.

Peace be with you.