Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ah, Wisdom

Readings: Proverbs 3:11-20, Philippians 1:3-11

"Blessed is the man who find wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more Precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is the tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed" (Proverbs 3:13-18). 

Ah, wisdom. It brings us long life, riches, honor, pleasant ways, peaceful paths, blessings...yet we tend to avoid it like the plague. Just what is with us?

Wisdom is not reactionary; we have become a reactionary society. We live in a world saturated by misconstrued sound-bites; a world of snap decisions; a world of confusion feeding frustration feeding ignorance. We have somehow strayed from our intended path far enough that we feel it is right to not listen, to not think, to not be objective. And, in return, we live each day in environments of subjectivity, opinions based on lack of information...and the devil delights in the mess.

In Philippians, Paul wrote the following to a group of folks acting pretty much as we do today: "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is your best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness than comes from Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God" (1:9-11). 

Doesn't that sound like a great way to live? Then why don't we? It seems pretty about we give it a try today...and then tomorrow...and then the day after that. About 30 days makes a habit, I've always been told. Who knows? After 30 days maybe the world just might be a little better place.

Peace be with you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Blessed Forever

Readings: 2 Samuel 7:18-29, Ephesians 6:10-17, John 4:46b-53

In the book of 2 Samuel, King David--one of God's favored--sits in meditation and, after a period of contemplation, asks aloud, "Who am I and what is my family that you have brought me this far?" (7:18) At the end of the chapter, he closes by asking for continued blessings from God: "Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue forever in your sight; for you, O Sovereign Lord, have spoken, and with your blessing, the house of your servant will be blessed forever" (7:29).

Look around your immediate surroundings. Perhaps we could be asking the same questions. We are indeed blessed to know that, with little thought, we will go to sleep tonight in relative safety with few exceptions under a sturdy roof in a comfortably temperature room in a comfy bed. What have we done to deserve this? Do we remember to be thankful for blessings and continue to humbly ask for them to continue? Or do we just chalk it all up to the luck of the draw, that we just happen to be in our current level of comfort due to some lucky moves by our ancestors? If so, then the need for blessings will wane, due to our underlying lack of faith that we are, indeed, being looked after by a greater being--God. If this is the case, perhaps we need to look at the faith of the royal official that encountered Jesus. This official, I think it safe to say, was comfortable in his surroundings and his home. There was one serious problem, however, that he couldn't make better, no matter how much wealth or comfort he possessed--his son lay sick at home and his prognosis was grim. So he sought out Christ and spoke to him. "...and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death...Jesus replied,'You may go. Your son will live'" (John 4:47, 50).

What an additional comfort to us that Christ is always with us no matter what the situation. We are indeed blessed forever.

But what about the times we feel that the devil is in charge? Are we still being blessed? Yes. We have received comfort for those times as well. "Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand" (Ephesians 6:13).

We are forever blessed; all we need to do is accept this gift.

Peace be with you.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Watch Out--Your Pride is Showing

Readings: Proverbs 2:1-9, Ephesians 5:15-21

There's a somewhat ridiculous trend that has taken our country by storm in the past several years. You don't need to look very far to see it--perhaps only as far as the nearest bumper sticker.

"Proud parent of a honor student"

What's wrong with this, you ask? 

Pride--a word that has run rampant in this country and not for the good, unfortunately. 

Look at the Bible for references of pride...did they ever turn out in a good way? Not exactly. In fact, in chapter after chapter, verse after verse, we are told that humility, not pride, is our chosen path.

Pride has become the catch word for life in our society. I'm proud of this; I'm proud of that. I have pride in my work; I have pride in my possessions. Pride, pride, goeth before the fall...and we're falling folks, we're falling.

Our country is at a cross-roads and we're riding that pride train to our doom. With pride comes a great sense of independence--another word we use ad nauseam in our lives. We're not, if we are truly followers of God and Christ, meant to be truly independent. We are meant to be interdependent, trusting, and faithful to our Father who is in heaven.

Proverbs 2:1-9 gives us the benefits of being good, moral people in a fallible, pride-filled world: "My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones. Then you will understand what is right and just and fair--every good path."

We say we are a nation under God--are our actions exemplifying that? We have a tendency to point out others' shortcomings while, at the same time, overlooking our own in the name of pride. As a result, more and more of our neighbors around the world are looking at us with a very skeptical eye; we're not exactly practicing what we preach. Pick up a newspaper, turn on the tv or radio, listen to anyone within earshot and do we hear humility and a sense of humbleness in daily living? Hardly. We instead hear "how proud I am", or "how much I deserve this" (self-pride). How can we boldly stomp around this planet in the name of being one nation under God while, at the same time, our most basic moral necessity of humility is fading? There are growing numbers of religious groups that see us as hypocrites, as allowing our basic tenets of beliefs being over-ridden by one-upmanship in the workplace to the point of insanity, a lack of interest when it comes to giving more than possessing...simply put, we're not practicing what we're preaching to others. Someone is in need of food, warmth, clean clothing--we decide they don't deserve it, they don't take care of themselves--they don't take pride in themselves or their possessions. Maybe we need to start thinking more about what we can do in humility, not what they're not doing in the name of pride.

We've allowed our sense of pride to ignore our need to follow the words and commands that are "stored up within us" these days--we've drifted. Way, way off course.

We are all graced with wisdom--if we use it. In our wisdom we know that the world, for the most part, is an evil place, full of chest-thumping and prideful nature. In our wisdom, we also know that we don't have to increase the evil--we have the innate ability to think. We're not a bunch of those notorious lemmings that blindly line up and follow where those with a little quicker wit and sharper tongue will encourage us to go in the name of being #1. Don't like what's going on around us, locally and/or nationally? Then do something about it. But remember to look with a very objective eye at every situation before speaking out...then speak out after prayer for God's wisdom. Make sure your ideas come from God, not from man. And allow all thoughts and deeds to be humble...not "I'm proud to be doing this, but rather I'm humbled to be doing this.

Then we're back on the right road and the journey becomes smoother. We give the glory where it needs to be given--to God and not to ourselves.

Peace be with you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Readings: James 2:1-11, 13-17

This morning I participated in the final celebration of our church's 50th anniversary--it's been a season of different events that have encompassed the past 50 years of the its existence. The sermon as well as the readings worked beautifully with a portion of the church's mission statement: "Living life abundantly through the worship of God and service to others". The "worship of God" comes to us pretty normally, living in a spiritual environment. The "service to others" however, sometimes becomes a bit muddled. I found myself questioning my ability to be in service to others as today's readings were shared: James 2 speaks of two qualities that we as Christians are expected to possess and practice--no favoritism based on wealth or power and diligently doing good works. 

We try, but how well do we succeed?

"For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, 'Have a seat here, please,' while to the one who is poor you say, 'Stand there,' or, 'Sit at my feet,' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors" (3-4, 9). Why is it that we tend to lean toward favoritism to those who are clean, well-dressed, or nice-looking? Perhaps it's because we, for whatever reason, feel a bit more safe and comfortable around people who are more like ourselves. We are out of our comfort zone and don't really know how to react when someone is different from we avoid them. Many times we sit in frustrated silence because we know this isn't right--we feel it in our gut. But, nevertheless, we can't make ourselves take that step. It just all seems too much of a gamble.

This feeling has increased over time in our country to the point of truly taking its toll on different groups of our population. Worldwide, it has become criminal; here at home, embarrassing.

I was reading an article in The Smithsonian that spoke of the book by Michael Harrington. The Other America was published back in 1962--yet its theme rings just a true today. Our poor, many times, become invisible. As Dwight Macdonald wrote in the review of the book, "Everything seems to go wrong with them, They never win. It's just boring." So true. How many times have we found ourselves in varying degrees of concerned conversation about a person with barely enough health care or basic necessities to get by only to surmise that they "just can't catch a break." Doomed to failure. These aren't the folks that we stereotypically picture in our minds, parading about on ridiculous talk and reality shows. These are the good, salt-of-the-earth folks that have tried all their lives to make it and now, they simply can't. This can be person at a time. No big, sweeping reforms. Following the word of God will do it. "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill' and yet yo do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (2:14-17).

This week, if you see or think of someone who is having it really rough (this won't be difficult), help them. That's it. One person at a time, one meal at a time, one lift to somewhere at a time, one good deed at a time. No need to have the big fundraiser...that's too overwhelming. Just one small gesture at a time. And listen to their story. The answers to helping them many times lie in what's going on in parts of their lives we either don't know about or don't bother to know about in this business of life.

One person at a time...peace be with you.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Stairway to Heaven

Readings: Genesis 28:10-17, Ephesians 4:17-28, Matthew 9:1-8

Most of us remember the song "Stairway to Heaven" least parts of it. In Genesis the first use of "Stairway to Heaven" was used by Jacob--he makes no mention of any bustles in any hedgerows. What he did see, however, in his dream was incredible. "He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it" (28:12). Jacob's explanation was "How awesome is this place! This none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven" (28:17). What a vision for us to carry.

So how can we be a part of that stairway? By living as children of the Light as is taught to us in Ephesians. We are cautioned to not live only the mundane lives that the world offers. It's just too easy to get separated from our spiritual self if we do so.  "They are harkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of their ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts" (4:18). Unlike the lady in the song, we won't be purchasing our place on the stairway to heaven with our earthly gold. That just won't do it; our souls need to be in the transition to be as pure as the purest gold. It's not easy, but we can do it, step by step. 

We also need always remember that living as Children of the Light is going to seem odd to many. If we look to and follow Christ's example each day, we're going to make some of those around us uncomfortable and flat out anger others. One of many examples of Christ's difficulties of living as the Light is given in Matthew when he was preparing to heal a paralytic man. The Jewish teachers and keepers of Jewish law were always on the watch for Jesus to break Jewish law so they could levy charges against him. He always, of course, knew this was their plan. He asked them, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins..."(9:4-6) and then he told the man to get up and to go home--which he did. The Jewish teachers and keepers of the law couldn't see that Jesus was beyond their limited laws...his way takes us all higher on that stairway to heaven.

Peace be with you.