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.