More than skin deep

23 Jul

The last two morning of my Benedict devotional have talked about showing up and showing up on time. Benedict is really strict about the monks getting to chapel and meals promptly. This is not just an obsessive/compulsive thing, it is about honoring the community and the commitments we make. When was the last time someone made an excuse about not being where they were suppose to be, OR you made that excuse??

People will often come up to pastors and explain why they have not been in church. (Actually, this does not happen as often as my early days of ministry.) It was if making the excuse made not showing up OK. Yet, if we are not willing to at least show up, how is God going to be able to work any change in us. How can our hearts be penetrated. This is not just about the worship hour, but also our prayer life, and also our attention to God throughout the day.

Of course, showing up is just the first part, being open to the transforming power of the Divine is the big step. Joan Chittester includes this Sufi story.

To a group of disciples whose hearts were set on a pilgrimage, the elder said, “Take this bitter gourd along. Make sure you dip it into all the holy rivers and and bring it into all the holy shrines.” When the disciples returned, the bitter gourd was cooked and served. “Strange,”said the elder slyly after they had tasted it, “the holy water and the shrines have failed to sweeten it.”

The goal of our worship, the goal of our prayer, the goal of our lives is to be changed from the inside out by God’s penetrating power. Sometimes we need to be inconvenienced, to have God’s agenda be at the top of our agenda.

You see, I have been working on my niece’s wedding dress. I love making it with all the details. Yet, as I sew all the pieces of expensive fabric I want her marriage to be the thing that costs the most and has lots and lots of time invested. The wedding dress will be there for just a day, yet we have spent so much money and energy on the pretty outward dress. I truly pray for her and her fiance to spend as much money and energy making their married life as beautiful as her dress will be on her wedding day.IMG_20140720_141252

How shall we grow

19 Jul

This is a question that is often on my mind. For the people of the churches I pastor I think the question is about getting more people in the pews. I understand their concern, yet it is not my primary concern. I want their churches to be a place where people are welcomed and strengthened in their faith. I think if the people who are currently in the pew (and me) are able to grow in our faith, then that’s the important part.

So, how shall we grow. In this morning reading from Joan Chittister’s Rule of Benedict, she tells this story:

“How shall we ever change,” he disciples asked, “if we have no goals?” And the master said, “Change that is real is change that is not willed. Face reality and unwilled change will happen.”

I think we, as human beings, spend a lot of time not facing reality. We think we can do the list of things we have in our head, because we think we have to do them. We stress about what isn’t, instead of embracing ‘what is.’

I remember the first time I went on a silent retreat. It was wonderful. My two sons were young, pre-school age, and I was alone for the first time in years. I realized that who I had become over those years was someone who thought she needed to take care of everything, fix everything, make sure everyone was OK. Wow, it was great to let go of all of that . To face the reality of being a very limited human being instead of acting like I was God. And I knew that if I had not been on silent retreat for 3 days, if I had not had the time to let the Divine Presence show me the reality of the life I was living, I would have continued to run around stressed out and exhausted by the ridiculous life I was creating in my head.

Of course I know there are a thousand more “realities” I need to face about my life. But, I believe that is where God can enable me to grow. When I willing, openly, look to the Divine Presence to see my life, I can begin to understand how my life needs to change. My life can be transformed by God’s grace, but the catch is I have to choose it. It have to choose quite time with God, I have to choose to open my mind to God, I have to choose to listen to God through scripture, friends, the world around me and in my heart.

For me it helps to know that God wants good things for me. It is the life that God can show me that is the best life possible. I want to grow in that life. I want to cultivate a deeper joy, and compassion, and grace, and discipline, and hope through the source of power that is unimaginable.

So, you want to grow?? Try facing the reality of your life through the loving eyes of God. Good luck – I’m praying for us.

Cry “Abba Father”

15 Jul

The reading in the book of Romans includes this address to God; Abba Father. The apostle Paul is writing about the new relationship with God that has been created with God. It is amazing to me that a man who grew up as a pious Jew would be able to change his understanding so drastically. A good Jew would not even say the name of God, only “Blessed be he who. . .” God was powerful and more than a little scary to most faithful Jew.

But now, through Christ, God becomes Papa. It is what the word Abba means. When my children started talking, I decided that men took the first sound a baby could say and decided it was about them. In any case, this shift in understanding about the name and nature of God is HUGE. Eugene Peterson paraphrases it this way.

15-17 This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!

Do you believe that God is “Papa?” Is there a desire/ache in you to be with God, tell the Divine all about your life; sit in uninterrupted time to enjoy communion together? One thing I love about Paul’s writings in the passion in them. Paul’s passion brings understanding to who we are and whose we are. It is God who confirms the very essence of our being.

It is our relationship with God that names and claims us and gives our life meaning. Yesterday I preformed a funeral for a wonderful member of my St. Paul’s church. He was a open, generous, and loving young man – just 37. He was also a husband and football coach. On a typical Sunday morning there have been about 35 folks in church. Yesterday there were about 300. It was quite literally wall to wall people. Many of them young men who had been coached by Adam.

It was clear that Adam was not just a Christian in church. He took his love of God and put it into action in every part of his life; in his marriage where he made sure his wife knew she was first in his life and on the field with “his kids.” He was a truly loving, caring man who enjoyed every moment of the short time he had on this earth.

And I cry, “Abba, father,” wanting to be held by God in times of grief and loss. Yet, I know God has created us, all of us, as family and the time apart is only a brief moment. I resolve one more time to use those moments well; to live the passion of Paul’s writing; as a person of faith completely in love with the Divine. I want to dance to the beautiful music of the Gospel story and let others see what God can do and, mostly importantly, that they are deep loved by God, their Abba father.

Why

8 Jul

I know this question is asked a thousand different times each day and in a thousand different ways. It is asked by small children who wonder at life and seek understanding, it is asked by frustrated people who find their wishes and goals slip from their grasp, and it is asked by those who grieve.

Yesterday I was told of the unexpected death of a dear man from my small church. He was only in his late thirties; Adam leaves a wife and many people who loved him. The question of “Why” looms in many peoples minds. We want to understand why this tragic death would occur to someone so full of life and caring. We want to have meaning in a world that has turned upside down.

It is a question that has been struggled with through the centuries from the book of Job to “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” People have given their reflection on the reason for pain and suffering in the world, and the power of God within that pain.

Although the question “Why” bubbles to our minds and hearts in times of deep grieving, I don’t think it is a useful question. Even if the exact reasons for a death can be answered, the pain remains. I have never believed that God is the one who causes the time of death or that “when your times comes, there is nothing you can do.” I am not a fatalist.

I believe God is with us. I believe God grieves with us, as Jesus wept with his friends. I believe that God is the author of life, and eternal life. I believe God shares the strength of the Divine healing spirit with us through prayers and friends and time.

In my small church we are like a small family. If someone is not there on Sunday we usually know if they are on vacation, or visiting other family somewhere. In my small church everyone has their place to sit and when their space in empty there is usually a reason. I can find no reason why Adam should not be sitting in his spot, I can find no answer to the question, Why. I can only stand with others who are grieving the tremendous loss and seek God’s healing presence.

Peace

Two years later

4 Jul

It is hard to believe I have been posting for two years!! This is post 228! I am amazed I could stick with writing that long.

Once more it is a day to celebrate freedom. I truly believe that freedom is found in our relationship with the Divine. As I plunge deep into the discipline of life in Christ, I rise in the joy and freedom of being a child of God. It is a wonderful life.

The gospel for Sunday is an interesting on. I have thought a lot about it this week. Jesus begins by speaking hardly to the folks who have not welcomed his good news.

16-19 “How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, ‘We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy.’ John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riffraff. Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

Jesus states a universal truth; some people are never happy, no matter what you do. Their dissatisfaction leaves them searching for a perfection they will never find. Their dissatisfaction will give them an excuse to not listen or try to understand the good news that Jesus is sharing with them.

It is interesting that in the lectionary these first verses are matched with verses 25-30.

25-26 Abruptly Jesus broke into prayer: “Thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth. You’ve concealed your ways from sophisticates and know-it-alls, but spelled them out clearly to ordinary people. Yes, Father, that’s the way you like to work.”

27 Jesus resumed talking to the people, but now tenderly. “The Father has given me all these things to do and say. This is a unique Father-Son operation, coming out of Father and Son intimacies and knowledge. No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. But I’m not keeping it to myself; I’m ready to go over it line by line with anyone willing to listen.

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

The last verses are more well know, “Come, to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

I have thought about the connection between the ideas of dissatisfaction and being worn out. It is so true that when we find fault in everything, are unhappy with life, that it can become exhausting. No one meets our expectations; they are not quick enough, smart enough, caring enough, thoughtful enough. And, if everyone would simple be the people we think they should be, everything would be fine in our life. How exhausting!!

The only one we can look to for our happiness is ourselves. The source of my happiness and contentment is God; there is no other. I long ago learned that the only one I needed to please was the Divine Presence, and the only source of fullness and grace was the Divine Presence. It is in that relationship the I can “learn he unforced rhythms of grace.”

Is there someone who is frustrating you, not meeting your expectations, or “making you unhappy.” The only one who has charge of your emotions is you. You are the one responsible for your happiness.

I know the source of my happiness is God. It is freedom and joy and peace to come to the Divine and find peace.

Who Am I

30 Jun

Who am I, the song by Casting Crowns, comes into my mind this day. I have tried and failed at being a more faithful Christian. It is not a big deal, but I had wanted to soften my heart, look with God’s eyes, at a situation that was annoying me. I failed miserably. So, I take solace in the words of this Casting Crown song.

Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart

Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are

It is particularly the turn of phrase in these four lines that always goes straight to my heart. It is not because of who I am that I am loved and made whole by God, but because of the Divine works on my behalf. I am not able to change the fundamental nature of my life, but it is the nature of God the can change everything. God’s love for each of us it the power in the universe that gives us hope in each day.

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
A vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I’m calling
Lord, You catch me when I’m falling
And You’ve told me who I am
I am Yours, I am Yours

Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again
Who am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me

I also like the reality check in the song that we exist in just a moment in time, a vapor in the wind. It is God who is – existing in all of time – continuing to be present to all of creation. And it is the same God who comes to us, to rescue us, and give us our name. We are God’s children.

I think I am no closer to being the open, loving, non-judging person God would want me to be, yet I can trust in God’s love to help me again and again and again as I try.

Praise God that the Divine does not give up on us! Peace.

Spending Time

25 Jun

On what do you spend the precious commodity of time? For the past two years I have had more down time than I have had in a long time. I think about how I spend that time.

In Joan Chittister’s Rule of Benedict, the daily reading in on the ordering of the psalms for the community. One thing that is made clear by St. Benedict is that the community should recite all the psalm each week. Do not do at least that is spiritual sloth. (Joan’s word).

She also writes this:

We are to tap into every human situation that the psalms describe and learn to respond to them with an open soul, an unfettered heart, and out of the mind of God.

So, again I wonder; on what do we spend the precious commodity of time? with what do we fill our mind and our soul? I think reading scripture to draw close to the heart of God has gone out of fashion. It seems that most people I see read or use scripture to prove a point that their point of view is correct and most importantly, God’s will.

Most of the time I am clueless to “the will of God”. I am disturbed when someone says, “it was the will of God,” or “meant to be.” I have never found life that clear cut. I believe the heart of God is to love all of the Divine creation. And love is always a messy business.

I think that on this journey of dailyness that it is helpful to immerse our hearts and minds in the writings of faithful people. Maybe that is the psalms or the writings of the Dalai Lama or the Tao de chings.

One thing our book of faith says clearly is that God desires to be our God and we can be God’s people. What better life is there. To be God’s person. To open ourselves to the Divine love and be messengers of that grace.

I pray you find something wonderful to fill your mind today, and to the spend the precious gift of time you have been given in ways that draw you deeper into the mind of God. Peace

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