Sunday, January 29, 2012

Nature at Work

Readings: Exodus 13:17-22; I Peter 3:17-22; Matthew 27:57-66

Today was one of those "gift" days--unseasonably warmer and blue skies full of sunshine--wonderfully welcomed during the dreary days of the winter season.  All one needed to do to enjoy the blessings of God's beautiful works of nature was to walk outside and take it all in. Needless to say, I'm guessing many of us did that. To be a part of nature is to never tire of its many wonders.

All throughout the Bible, God has used nature itself to aid, defend, or protect his followers. In Exodus as Moses was leading the people away from Egypt, God instructed that there would be a pillar of cloud to lead them during each day and a pillar of fire to lead them each night. On the darkest of nights, when faith was waning, think of the inspiration of merely looking up and seeing the comfort of the flames never leaving, never weakening.

In I Peter, it is the miracle of water that we see as a saving grace. We all know that our bodies desperately need water internally for survival. We also need water externally to protect us from disease. Additionally, we need the power of the water to save us from missing eternity. "And the water symbolized baptism that saves you also--not the removal of dirt from the body, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God" (v.21). Whether we are sprinkled or submerged, when the cross is placed on our foreheads with water to show to the world that we are sealed with the mark of God, a miracle has taken place in our lives.

And finally, in Matthew, we are shown the power of Christ when we read of the magnificent stone that was used to close the tomb in which Christ's body was lain after the crucifixion. The sheer weight of the huge stone that was rolled in front of the opening would have been more than enough to keep mere mortals at bay.  The chief priests, ever skeptical and still filled with hatred, convinced Pilot to have guards posted and also to have the massive stone sealed. How they marveled later that none of these forces could keep the now-risen Savior imprisoned. What they overlooked was the fact that nature will also work in beautiful concert with God and through Christ.

So, the next beautiful day that finds you wanting to just set down whatever you're doing to head outdoors to feel the breeze and feel the sun--be sure to enjoy it.  Or, if a star-filled sky at night with a magnificent moon beckons you outside for a relaxing look--be sure to take the time. And remember how nature has been used to protect us, guard us, and present us with the blessings and gifts of its wonders. Thanks be to God.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Chaos Comes Creeping

Readings: Isaiah 53: 3-12, Revelations 5:1-14, John 18:1-19:42

I spent a couple of hours on a dreary Sunday afternoon immersed in a movie--the kind of movie I very much appreciate. It had a good plot, was well structured, had strong characters to carry out the story, and a beautiful setting. The movie had all the elements for which I have a true weakness-- lovely, sleepy English villages of stone homes, beautiful yet simple gardens, and quiet charm. Life doesn't get overwhelming often in these places--even when chaos tries to creep in as it did with the bombing of near-by London in the WWII story. Life in this village as was made up of good, sturdy neighbors, small homes, healthy gardens, and a simple lifestyle that was not devoid of surprise and chaos, but those times seemed to appear in much more subtle ways.

The result of life in that village? Perhaps not great volumes of anything of great worldly value of progress ever came from there, but the things that did matter tended to run deeply. Life there gave folks focus; it centered them in a way that they were then able to think upon what was most important--one's walk with God. In that setting, the chaos of the world  always attempted to creep in, but with the smallness of the surroundings, the townsfolk recognized it for what it was and were wary of its presence and effect. 

After the movie ended, I somewhat reluctantly returned to contemporary life--the Sunday paper was full of one dire story after another; television infomercials made one empty claim after another through boisterously speaking voice-overs; politicians were on the airwaves and in the news as well saying whatever it takes to woo one voter after another to see things their way and award them with votes.

Most folks these days tend to go through their lives at break-neck speed, making this change and that, all the time hoping, perchance, that the next transition will be the one that is the best, thus making all the chaos worthwhile. Usually the chaos just creates more chaos. 

Should we be against change for progress? Certainly not. Many wondrous things have come about with change. There is a fine line, however, that we're charged with recognizing when all the progress happens. It is progress for a clearer and closer walk with God or is the progress of the world, which creates more chaos? 

When the chaos comes creeping in this week, take a moment to remember, "He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we were healed" (Isaiah 53:5). A clear and forceful message that we were, through Christ's ultimate act, given peace.  Not chaos--peace.  A gift we need to think about and appreciate each and every day. We are given permission and encouragement to take time to have peace in our lives. 

God offers the deepest, most internally satisfying peace we will ever know. He doesn't tell us that by amassing a certain amount of wealth, fame, or possessions we will earn peace. It is offered to all--period. Our simple acceptance is all that is needed.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Needed, Yet Unloved--The Story of Directions

Readings: Exodus 12:1-14; 1 Corinthians  11:20-32; John 6:28-37

Every time we roll the calendar around to a new year, we feel revitalized and full of hope--this time we'll be a success and follow through on ambitions that have, up to this point, eluded us. We'll learn a new craft, learn a new language, learn a new way to cook. We'll practice a strong sense of discipline in order to achieve these goals...we can do it!

Then reality hits--these new adventures, as wondrous as they sound, are actually very pragmatic in nature. In a nutshell...we will have to follow a set of directions. Yep, those directions that make every shiny new adventure seem somehow tarnished with the drudgery of shuffling through a list of directions. The idea of discipline weakens a bit. 

In Exodus 12, the first Passover is about to take place. God has commanded that this time be recognized as the beginning of the year for his chosen people. Even though it is spring, it is seen anew. A new year, a new sense of discipline. And with that comes directions...very specific directions. Directions that will determine life or death. If the blood of the designated sacrificial animal is not smeared in the doorway of the home, there will be no passover of that home and death will result. In addition, directions to be dressed and ready to leave quickly were given. This was a very dire time in Jewish history...only the love and power of God would prevail. Discipline was of the essence and following directions was literally a matter of life and death. These directions were certainly needed yet other choice was offered.

In 1Corinthians Paul scolds the early Christians for their lack of following directions and, in turn, losing their sense of self-discipline regarding the agape meal shared before the Lord's Supper. Christ gave us all a set of directions during the sharing of the first Supper; once again, directions that will save our lives--for eternity. He told us to eat the bread that was now his body, given for us. Just as manna during Moses' time kept them alive during the trek from Egypt, now Christ becomes our manna, in giving his life for our continued eternal existence. He also told us to drink the wine--now his blood shed for us. Christ gave his life for us so we may live--and what have we done in return? We many times fail to follow the directions because we lack self-discipline. And the agape meal? We're not doing very well with its representation, either. We are to gather together to share our food for nourishment, yet millions starve every day while unruly sets of rules and regulations prevent tons of grains and other foods getting to them; many of these items are left rotting on docks all over the world. We need to go back to our original set of directions...perfection in their simplicity...Christ is in the details.

Even the disciples in the book of John, when sharing the Lord's Supper with Jesus, kept asking for more directions in the form of the "miraculous sign" (v.30) so they would better understand what Christ said when he told them, "For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (6:33). There he was, actually with them, giving them all the answers to the questions they sought, yet their own lack of understanding lead them to question repeatedly. Too caught up in the day-to-day, too worried with the day-to-day to truly hear the simple directives.

And where are we? We're bombarded with "how-tos", how to do things better, infomericals, direction pamphlets, books, and tutorials on practically everything, yet are we any better off? 

We have a new year and a fresh start any time we make our peace with God through Christ. We don't need to wait for a specific calendar to roll around to a specific time. We also don't need any other book of directions other than the one that was given to us long ago and continues to be as useful today as it was on day one--our beloved Bible. The best directions are those that are simple, direct, and meant for our well-being in this life as well as the next. 

Now those are some directions we both need and can love.

Peace be with you.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Greater the Storm, The Greater the Peace

Readings: Isaiah 62:11-63:7, Revelation 1:5b-7, Luke 22:1-23:53

After the initial read of these chapters and verses, I found myself at a complete stand-still; in their complexity, I couldn't begin to figure out a pattern of smooth transitions. In frustration, I put my writing away for the night.

Early the next morning, a bit before the alarm went off, I had a very vivid dream. I was in a huge department store with a number of other people and a tornado was approaching. After asking repeatedly where we should go to find a safer area, we were finally lead to a gigantic storage area that was bare except for some light-weight material that looked as if it could be used to cover inventory.

As dreams go, it was all out of whack in a timeline; I was my age, but carrying our son who seemed to be around 3 or 4. During all this time of peril, he slept soundly in my arms. 

I remember people speaking around me and I became saddened when few felt the need to pray in the midst of this growing storm. By some odd manner, I was able to see numerous funnel clouds descending to the ground. At first I thought they were going to miss us; then it occurred to me that what we were unable to see was a massive tornado that was heading toward our part of the building that was devoid of any windows. As the tornado approached, I remember thinking and praying for acceptance into eternity, realizing that the storm was going to end the lives of those of us there. A great sense of peace came to me.

Needless to say, when I woke up, I was glad to be awake! The dream did make me want to go back to the readings and see if there was any way it could be pieced together.

In Isaiah, there is much talk of giving vengeance and redemption. Perhaps that combination was working in my mind with those around me in the dream. "I will tell of the kindness of the Lord..." (v.7) I was trying to tell those around me, to no avail. "I was appalled that no one gave support" (v.5). I have often heard the phrase that there are no atheists in foxholes or emergency rooms and I tend to still believe it. I also believe, however, that there are a number of people still going on with their day to day lives with little effort to have a close relationship with God through his son, our Lord. Appalling, yes; but more so just sad.

Revelations, as those who have attempted to read through the chapters can attest, gives a person pause. "Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him, So shall it be" (v.7) Perhaps the tornado was brought to mind after I studied the largess of Jesus' return to earth...what magnificent sight that will be...mind-boggling. 

The readings from Luke are the part of the beginning of the end of Christ's mortal life here on earth; I've always found them to be sad as well; they do not speak well of us as a people. Even as Christ was performing the beautiful last supper, those gathered were having petty arguments about who was greatest. As he literally sweat blood through his fervent prayers on the Mount of Olives, those with him kept going to sleep and not watching out for him to have a moment of undisturbed meditation. 

All these readings added up to one great big storm in my mind...

But then, when I read the beautiful words, "They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord" (Isaiah 62:12), I see that no matter how big the storm we confront, God's peace for us is greater. 

The dream was just that; disturbing, but fleeting. God's peace for us through his infinite love is with us always and in such great amounts our minds can't begin to take it all in.

In life we need to remember...the greater the storm, the greater the peace.

Peace be with you.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year, New Beginnings

Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:25, Matthew 1:1-2:12, Psalms 1:1-6, Proverbs 1:1-6

Although most of us are not favorable to change, the chances we're given to make some changes when New Year's Day comes along seem to be welcomed. It gives us a fresh start to shake off the bad habits, bad feelings, and bad moods in favor of starting new good habits, thinking good thoughts, and generally taking a breath of fresh air needed this time of year.

One of my favorite things to do during New Year's Day is to begin at the beginning of reading the chapters and verses for January 1 in my "read the Bible in a year". I've been reading through the Bible using this method now for a number of years. I know what the readings for January 1 will be, yet I always continue to enjoy the feeling of freshness and new beginnings every time I turn the page and see January 1.

And why wouldn't we relish newness and freshness? We were created in a spirit of uniqueness that can only be a result of something brand new. In the beloved familiar story in today's reading, we see that wonderful word, creation, used over and over again--it has to be--every thing was created and created with perfection. Initially, even man and woman were created through perfection as a result of being created in the image of God. The plants, the trees, the animals, the seas...all created in perfection. Newness...Freshness...what a wonder!

When we read the verses of Matthew, we once again see fresh starts. Up until this point in time, man had gone from bad to worse given free reign over his destiny. It was through an indescribably loving act of God that we were given a fresh start...through the birth of a baby. With that very birth, all the sins of the world could be removed and all the sinners in the world were given the chance to turn their lives around to live a life of goodness on earth and into eternity. A beautiful newness and freshness in the lives of all!

Psalm 1:2 gives us a way to "freshen up" and renew our lives: "But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night". Every day we are given the opportunity to stay renewed and revitalized by having a true sense of direction.

In closing, the wonderful words of advice given to us in Proverbs:
"...for attaining wisdom and discipline for understanding words of insight"(2)
"...for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair" (3)
"...for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young"(4)
"...let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance" (5)
All messages to give us Godly direction in our fresh start of a fresh new year.

So, Happy New Year and Happy New Life; let's get back to our roots of life. We have people, ourselves and the great outdoors to care for, and we have the blessings of a loving God to worship through the grace of his loving Son.

Peace be with you in 2012.