Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Have you ever stood on the banks of a river and tried to contemplate how much water is rushing by? Even when I see the actual number of gallons, I can't understand the sheer quantity of God's love. It's beyond what my mind can grasp.
Rivers don't stand still; they are in constant motion, moving tons of water downstream. God's love is like that. It is in constant motion, not allowing us to stray but staying with us, always clinging to us and surrounding us with immense, eternal love.
Have you tried to swim upstream? I believe that it is possible to turn away from the love of God, but God loves us so fiercely that it is very difficult simply due to the quantity and quality of God's redeeming and precious love. To refuse God is not an easy choice.
A river is moving towards something, the ocean or a lake. In the same way, God's amazing love is always moving towards the fullness of time, when all of creation will be redeemed. We are all blessed to be a part of this amazing journey towards creation's goal of full life in Christ.
Thank you for another day. You have given me another day to explore the wonder of your good creation here, and I praise your holy name for that. You have given me another chance to express my love for you, and I bow in humble gratitude for that chance.
Grant me the wisdom to celebrate your amazing love before I seek to fulfill my own wants and desires. Grant me the courage to stand up for what is right rather than bowing before what is popular. Grant me the grace to love freely and let this life be a testament to your grace rather than my pride.
Hold me in your loving hand this day, O Lord, and may I honor you in all that I do.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Your kingdom stretches beyond what we can see, and even if we could see that far, our eyes could not grasp the beauty of your heavenly realm. We long to worship before your throne, but we can only see dimly, for our eyes are accustomed to the features of this world. We do not see the grace that pours forth from your hand. Our ears miss the song of love the angels sing. Our hands do not touch the wonders you have stitched into creation. Our senses are simply too human too grasp your majesty.
Yet our hearts yearn for your kingdom. Deep within, buried inside us, there is a longing to bow before your holy throne. Teach us to submit to your will, to follow our hearts, so that we might be moved by grace and live in a state of worship, constantly in love with you, our beloved Creator.
Monday, September 28, 2009
You hung the moon and taught the stars how to shine. You took a deep breath and exhaled the world into being, your words echoing off the boundaries of the universe and resounding with a holy echo in this palatial galaxy. The song that was sung at the beginning still sounds today, from the rocks to the trees, as creation sings your praises. We learn the song from those who come before us, from the babbling brook and the joyful lark. We learn the song from the distant thunder and the nearby cricket. We learn the song and sing it with our lives, teaching those around us the words to an eternal praise song to you. Glory to God in the highest!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
We do not know the answers to so many questions; our lives are confined within this time and space, and you are bigger and wider than our minds can grasp. Yet you have entered this world, moved among us, within us, and tried to turn our minds to higher things, to deeper wisdom, that comes from you. Give us pause on this blessed day, that we might begin to dream as you would have us dream. Give us the freedom, the wisdom and the boldness to wonder about what life as your children is like, and help us to love and support one another as we go boldly into that future.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Sometimes you just need a meal that is going to remind you of home and bring a wave of emotions washing over you. For me, macaroni and cheese is one of those foods. It's just comfortable; you know what you're going to get, and it's going to make you feel good (unless you decide to follow the directions on the back of the box for 'a tangier taste' and make it with yogurt. Then it will be terrible). Yesterday was one of those days--I went home and made macaroni and cheese, read Calvin and Hobbes, and all was right with the world.
I think God's love is like that. It certainly challenges us and makes us uncomfortable at times, but first and foremost God's love is bigger and greater and more wonderful than we can begin to imagine. God's love wraps its arms around us and consumes us in grace. God's love is the thing that makes everything right in the world; in Jesus Christ we see the fullness of God's love, a love so strong that death and the tomb are not strong enough to bind it. God's love is only true comfort that we do have, and while it should make us uncomfortable, it also is more wonderful than anything humans can imagine.
We cover ourselves in the intricacies of this life; we are swimming in mountains of bills and worries. There are so many things to occupy our time that we often schedule you out; we arrive on Sunday and wonder where you have been this week, when we have not searched for your presence.
Hold us in your hands, remind us of your love, and break through our thick heads. Remind us of your love and grace, awaken us to your merciful presence, and move our hearts so that our feet and hands might be open to a world ready to hear your Word rather than our own.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Why a carpet fan? Mostly because there are two of them blowing here in the church and I can't hear myself think. (We have a bit of a flooding issue. And by 'a bit' I mean that there is a ton of water that is in the carpet and one of the saints of the church is busy vacuuming)
What do industrial fans do? They dry out the carpet after the carpet gets itself into trouble. Even if it isn't the carpet's fault, when water and storms dump all this garbage into the carpet, the fans stand guard as sentries and work tirelessly until the carpet is dried out. The carpet may be a little stained, but it is dried out and the storms have passed.
How is God's love like this?
When we get drenched, through our fault or not, we are often so helpless. We sit and we wait for help, for a deliverer, for a Savior. We are so filled with water we feel as though we might drown; our dreams and our hopes are all sopping wet, twice as heavy as they once were, and we are simply waiting for the end, for the world to swallow us up.
Fortunately, we have a Savior. God often does not prevent the water from soaking us. God does not put an umbrella over us and keep us dry from the rain. Tragedies and storms come and blow us about, and as much as we might long for God to undo everything that has happened, God doesn't work that way. But God never abandons us, even in the midst of the storms. And afterward, when we are sopping weight and the world weighs twice as much as it once did, God puts those loving arms around us and helps us dry out. We still may ask the big questions, but the pieces slowly begin to be put back together. We air out our hopes and dreams, discarding them if they no longer fit and often putting new ones in their place. God is with us all along, helping us to dry, to vision anew, to live once more. The stains are always there, and we never forget the storms, but we are able to live once again, anew, as the children of God.
Bert sent this to me, and I thought I'd pass it along...
THE LORD'S PRAYER
Rather cleverly done in two parts:
the prayer ( in blue type ) and GOD ( in red type ) in response.
Our Father Who Art In Heaven.
Don't interrupt me. I'm praying.
But -- you called ME!
No, I didn't call you.
Our Father who art in Heaven.
There -- you did it again!
"Our Father who art in Heaven"
Well, here I am.
What's on your mind?
But I didn't mean anything by it.
I was, you know, just saying my prayers for the day.
I always say the Lord's Prayer.
It makes me feel good,
kind of like fulfilling a duty.
Well, all right.
Okay, Hallowed be thy name . . .
Hold it right there.
What do you mean by that?
By "Hallowed be thy name"?
It means, it means . . . good grief,
I don't know what it means.
How in the world should I know?
It's just a part of the prayer.
By the way, what does it mean?
It means honored, holy, wonderful.
Hey, that makes sense.
I never thought about what 'hallowed' meant before.
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven..
Do you really mean that?
Sure, why not?
What are you doing about it?
Doing? Why, nothing, I guess.
I just think it would be kind of neat if you got control
of everything down here like you have up there.
We're kinda in a mess down here, you know.
Yes, I know;
but, have I got control of you?
Well, I go to church.
That isn't what I asked you.
What about your bad temper?
You've really got a problem there, you know.
And then there's the way you spend your money --
all on yourself.
And what about the kind of books you read?
Now hold on just a minute!
Stop picking on me!
I'm just as good as some of the rest of those people at church!
I thought you were praying
for my will to be done.
If that is to happen,
it will have to start with the ones
who are praying for it.
Like you, for example.
Oh, all right. I guess I do have some hang-ups.
Now that you mention it,
I could probably name some others.
So could I.
I haven't thought about it very much until now,
but I really would like to cut out some of those things.
I would like to, you know, be really free.
Now we're getting somewhere. We'll work together -- You and ME.
I'm proud of you.
Look, Lord, if you don't mind,
I need to finish up here.
This is taking a lot longer than it usually does.
Give us this day, our daily bread.
You need to cut out the bread.
You're overweight as it is.
Hey, wait a minute! What is this?
Here I was doing my religious duty
and all of a sudden you break in
and remind me of all my hang-ups.
Praying is a dangerous thing.
You just might get what you ask for.
you called ME -- and here I am.
It's too late to stop now.
Keep praying. ( . . pause . . )
Well, go on.
I'm scared to.
Scared? Of what?
I know what you'll say.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
What about Ann?
See? I knew it!
I knew you would bring her up!
Why, Lord, she's told lies about me and spread stories.
She never paid back the money she owes me.
I've sworn to get even with her!
But -- your prayer --
What about your prayer?
I didn't -- mean it.
Well, at least you're honest.
But, it's quite a load carrying around all that bitterness
and resentment isn't it?
Yes, but I'll feel better as soon as I get even with her.
Boy, have I got some plans for her.
She'll wish she had never been born.
No, you won't feel any better.
You'll feel worse.
Revenge isn't sweet.
You know how unhappy you are --
Well, I can change that.
You can? How?
Then, I'll forgive you;
And the hate and the sin,
will be Ann's problem -- not yours.
You will have settled the problem
as far as you are concerned.
Oh, You know, you're right.
You always are.
And more than I want revenge,
I want to be right with You . .. . (sigh).
All right, all right.
I forgive her.
How do you feel?
Hmmmm. Well, not bad.
Not bad at all!
In fact, I feel pretty great!
You know, I don't think I'll go to bed uptight tonight.
I haven't been getting much rest, You know.
Yeah, I know.
But, you're not through with your prayer are you? Go on.
Oh, all right.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Good! Good! I'll do that.
Just don't put yourself in a place
where you can be tempted.
What do You mean by that?
You know what I mean.
Yeah, I know.
Go ahead. Finish your prayer.
For Thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory forever.
Do you know what would bring me glory --
What would really make me happy?
No, but I'd like to know..
I want to please You now.
I've really made a mess of things.
I want to truly follow You.
I can see now how great that would be.
So, tell me . . .
How do I make You happy?
YOU just did.
Two Kinds of Wisdom
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
We’ve been talking quite a bit about purifying water in this church lately. The Living Waters for the World system in Honduras that was installed is designed to do just that: purify water. It is our hope that this system is removing all the impurities from their water and emitting a finished product that is safe to drink.
What kind of impurities are in the water? All sorts of things. Some of it is just dirt and debris, suspended solids, that are in the water simply because it hasn’t gone through a filter of any type. The reason our rivers aren’t blue is because there is all sorts of mud in the water, mud that is filtered out before it ever winds up in anybody’s tap. There are things smaller than mud, however, that are in water, too. Micro-organisms, viruses and bacteria all work their way into some water sources, unseen to the eye but having the potential to be very harmful if they find themselves in the human body. Everything from hepatitis to typhoid can be in that water.
So we work to purify it. We have filters, ozonators, UV filters. All sorts of devices that work to purify our water. We are usually very separated from the process, so often we have no idea how dirty our water is that goes into the system. Perhaps that is a good thing!
Having pure water is a wonderful thing, but establishing a system to purify it is time-consuming and expensive. It’s no easy thing to come up with a way to get bacteria and viruses out of water. Thankfully Living Waters for the World has come up with a fairly basic and affordable way to do it, but obviously the water system for a town the size of Chattanooga has to be far more complex.
Water isn’t the only thing we purify. We purify our air we breathe in our houses and our cars, trying to keep out pollutants and allergens.
Today’s passage from James is talking about wisdom. The write is comparing wisdom from above and wisdom that originates on earth, urging the listener to choose the wisdom that comes from above. Basically, James is calling us to filter our wisdom to make sure that what makes it through isn’t contaminated with impurities.
When we read through this section of the letter from James, it is challenging to keep track of what is coming from where and how it is affecting us. We start out with good works borne of wisdom and done with gentleness, but we immediately jump into envy and selfishness, which is borne of earthly wisdom, which is unspiritual and devilish. Wickedness of every kind follows soon after, but the we immediately jump back to the good wisdom from above, which is first pure, with no partiality or hypocrisy. James refers to this as being sown in peace with a harvest of righteousness.
From our harvest of righteousness we immediately jump back into conflict and disputes, cravings and war. Murder and disputes, with pleasure driving it all, dominate this section.
We finish up with submission to God and resistance to the devil. Draw near to God, James says, and God will draw near to you. Resist the devil, and he will flee.
Everybody got that? I feel like we need a map, some path through this muddle to clarify exactly what we are supposed to do and how to get there.
It’s like life. We feel like we need a map, some way to lead through this mess of information that is pouring into our lives. It is as though we are standing at the output of a river, a mess of information flowing downstream into us, and somehow we are supposed to pick out the good from the bad, the holy from the not-so-holy. To say it is a difficult undertaking is an understatement. Especially when we add in all of the false prophets, the prosperity Gospel preachers, and all those people who come in the name of God but really just seem to want your money or your attention. How in the world to filter out all the trash and end up with only the worthwhile stuff?
If it makes you feel any better, you are not alone in your struggle. Nor are you the first person to go through it. We began to study Paul’s letter to the Galatians on Wednesday night. In it, Paul is addressing the Galatians rather sternly for their failure to follow the teachings he brought to them. Paul taught them about God’s grace and the love of Christ, but some others came along and taught them some other things, and the Galatians were twisting in the wind, reaching out to any who offered help, not able to filter out the trash from the true message. Paul is none too happy with the Galatians for their inability to live according to what Paul taught them. He wants them to follow the true Gospel.
So here we are, thousands of years later, still trying to discern the truth. We have the question that so often sits on our chests like a thousand pound gorilla—what does God want us to do? How does God want us to live? The Gospel says nothing about the internet, or television shows, or the frightening people I keep hearing about in the news. It doesn’t address complicated issues that we so badly want the answers to, let alone how we are to live in middle class America. James speaks about true wisdom that comes from above, but how do we find this wisdom amidst all the noise in our lives?
We need a filter. We need a giant filter to stand before us and filter out all the impurities, all the debris, all the garbage in the world and leave the earthly wisdom, the kind of wisdom that tells us we need to be better, to be successful, to be rich and famous and beautiful and well-dressed and superior to others, behind, allowing only the true wisdom from above to filter through and guide our hearts and minds in this life. We need true wisdom from above that will lead us in making decisions in complicated times, that will inform our hearts and minds and help us to live Godly lives that will testify to our faith in God. We need a filter.
I’ve got great news. We’ve already got one.
We believe that God reveals himself and his will for our lives in three ways: the Word proclaimed, the Word read, and the Word lived.
Today I want to talk about the Word read. For our reading of Holy Scripture is one of the ways in which we discover God’s will for our lives. When we pick up the Bible and read, we read about how other Godly people have lived, and we read about how God has interacted with God’s chosen people. We read about the choices others have made and the results of those choices. We can see how selfish decisions play out and what selfishness looks like. We can read about what humility looks like and how Godly people go about making Godly choices to live Godly lives. In short, the Bible is a giant filter that helps us recognize the gold in the river and sort it out from the trash and debris floating alongside it.
But it’s an active filter. We can’t let it passively work, because it won’t. Our Bible doesn’t do one lick of good sitting on a nightstand or bookshelf colleting dust. It does not work through osmosis, and we cannot download it into our minds. In order for the Holy Bible to help us filter out wisdom from above, we have to pick it up and read it.
It can be tough to find the time. We have to make time. The first order of business is to find a translation you like. I would be happy to recommend some translations to you. There are a few that I adore, that make reading the Bible fun. Find language that you like.
The second is to give yourself time to do it. Read it over breakfast. Get a Bible on tape and listen to it in the car. Download it to an mp3 player and listen to it while you exercise. There is a version of the Bible read by James Earl Jones. Yes, you can have the Bible read by the same voice as Mufasa from the Lion King. Have it emailed to you every morning. There are countless ways to introduce the text to your life. Find one you like, because you won’t stick to it if you are forcing yourself to read the KJV at five AM if you hate it.
Also, try to find a partner in reading. Spouses, friends, children, parents, co-workers, anyone. Develop a reading plan together and talk about what you’re reading. See what they think about this passage in James. It changes the way you think about a text to hear what someone else thinks. You will never see a text the same once someone else tells you what they think. It forces us to engage the text rather than simply read it.
Make it fun. God delights in God’s wondrous creation and wants us to live in gratitude and in worship, but first we have to filter out the trash. God gives us the tools to do so in the gift of the Word revealed, proclaimed and lived out in Christ. God guides us because God loves us, and God is speaking to us through the Holy Spirit, helping us filter out the impurities and end up with Godly lives. Listen to the Spirit, work with the Spirit’s guidance, and may we, as a community, follow the Word of God and listen to the true wisdom from above.
Let us pray.
When I heard the rain I am filled with thoughts of those who have no shelter from the rain. Those who bundle in doorways, beneath overpasses, and under whatever shelter can be found. Lord, embrace those shivering souls, that they may know your love, and empower those of us who are blessed, that we may be overwhelmed with love and the desire to be your hands. Help us to love those whom you love, O Lord, and serve those you came to serve.
Friday, September 18, 2009
I marvel at the wonders of another day. I forget about your willingness to extend your grace and I begin to wonder where you are. I despair, O Lord, and yet you abide. Your love dwells with me, guiding me through each and every day. Give me pause, O Lord, so that I may realize your arms around me, and send me out into the world to love and serve you.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
This seems appropriate today, as rain pours down and the forecast is filled with more rain.
Rain is disruptive. It forces us to change our schedules. I may want to go play golf, and while I might be able to lower my head and plow through, usually I take the hint and do something else. If we want to insist on doing things our way, despite the rain, it is usually far more challenging and can cause all sorts of headaches. We end up driving down the road in the mud, wheels spinning, out of control sometimes simply ending up stuck.
God's love is like that. It forces us to change how we think, how we live, how we act. We can insist upon doing the things we want, but it often ends up so much harder than it should be. God longs for us to live faithfully, but so often we insist on taking the muddy road, and we end up stuck, mad at God, even though it's often our own fault for choosing that road in the first place.
Rain also soaks through everything. After running through the parking lot in a downpour, I find myself sitting the car, breathless, just as wet as I would have been had I been walking. My glasses are covered, my clothes dripping, my socks wet.
God's love does that. Soaks us to the core. It is such a wondrous free gift that it cannot be confined. We can try and hide from it in our man-made shelters, but God's love is too strong. Where can we hide from God's love? Romans 8 says nothing will separate us from the love of God. It will find us and soak us.
Our responsibility is to go forward and live, soaking wet, showering those around us with the incredible love of God.
In the midst of our chaotic lives, you send moments of peace. In the graciousness of a friend or the quiet stillness of a holy evening spent watching the stars, you overwhelm us with your love. When we least expect it, angels bear in your presence and force us to look around and see how blessed we are. May these moments transform us from hurried souls to patient disciples, ready to serve but willing to listen and discern. May courage fill our hearts and empower us to love and serve in unique ways.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
How is God's love like a hammer, a blunt instrument that pounds nails into place, flattens fingers and elicits foul language from the calmest people? Well, as a (very) amateur carpenter, (just ask Shane--my work is not often pretty, but occasionally effective) God is nothing like the hammer I wield. I have bent over and destroyed more nails than I have successfully driven. Of course, my love only slightly resembles God's love. While God's love is perfect and selfless, mine is human and often driven by selfishness and ambition.
A hammer drives in nails that hold things together. It doesn't happen all at once, but takes several strikes. (Unless you're the Karate Kid) The nail probably doesn't enjoy it (I'm not sure nails can enjoy anything, but work with me here), but the nail cannot do its purpose without the hammer. (Or a nailgun, but I don't own one of those, and that's just making things too complicated)
We, too, cannot fulfill our purpose without guidance from God. If we try to succeed on our own, our human, selfish efforts will only lead to our destruction. If, however, we succumb to God's will and God's wisdom, we will manage to live spiritual, Godly lives. It is a question of submission to God's will of the triumph of our own. As it says in James, Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.
This doesn't mean it is easy. It takes work, patience and diligence to commit to following God's will. It can be painful as we tear away the desires of our human wills and submit to God's will. It can feel like we are being pounded upon by a hammer. But it is for our own good. It is the only way we can fulfill God's purpose for our lives. It isn't easy to follow God's will, but it is the only way to truly live a Godly life.
The premise of this book is that grace is everywhere. Often we don't even have to look for it; it finds us, scurrying into our lives when we least expect it. In a rainstorm in downtown Chicago as well as on safari in Africa, grace appears. Grace uses people, events, all sorts of medium to insert itself into our lives. And we are far, far better for it.
The problem I had with this book was its lack of structure. Basically, it's a collection of stories. I don't read many collections for the reason that I get frustrated when I begin a new chapter and it's like starting an entirely new book. Had I known this was a collection of stories, I probably would not have sought it out to read. But I did, and I found myself flipping through chapter that jumped from Memphis to Africa to Montana and back.
The reason that made all this possible: grace is everywhere, in everything. It's hard to critique a book with that underlying principle, because it feels like I'm trying to say something bad about grace. I love grace. Big fan. Without it, I would be up the proverbial river. Thanks be to God for grace, every minute of every day.
But this book didn't really talk about grace directly. It was a collection of stories that served to illustrate how grace appears in our lives. There are probably some great sermon illustrations in here, but I don't feel like I learned anything. I don't feel like I have some new understanding of grace. I don't know any more about the historical views on grace. All I know is that if you go on safari you'll likely encounter a situation which can be attributed to grace. Well, if the theory is correct that grace is everywhere, in everything, then that sure is true. But I'm not sure I needed to read this book to discover that.
Anyway, it's a book filled with interesting stories. Most of them are enjoyable.
May we remember the glory of your resurrection on this day. We often live as though the glory has faded, as though thousands of years could dim the light bursting forth from the empty tomb. To you, that is as a second, and the joy of life and the screams of death's defeat are fresh in your ears. May your glory reign on this day. Teach us to live as a resurrection people, excited by your grace and in love with your love.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Rachel and I watched, on the recommendation of my dad, Revolutionary Road. It stars Leonardo Dicaprio, who I think is a great actor, and Kate Winslet, who apparently is not the same actress from Pirates of the Caribbean. They looked the same to me...
Anyway, the premise of the movie is that this young couple is out to capture the world by the tail. They truly believe that they are destined for great things, to be different, to have a unique life, and so they buy a house on Revolutionary Road, out in the suburbs, and have two children. He works in the city selling computers, she stays at home with the children (at least, I assume that is her task. You rarely see the children, to the point that Rachel and I were both wondering if they were simply rentals or perhaps had been given to the neighbors. This became more and more astounding later on in the movie, for the children simply were never there.)
From what I remember, the movie got terrible reviews. Netflix had it dwelling in the land of two stars, and I can see why. It had a lot of little things that I didn't care for. It is certainly not a movie for children, as it deals with abortion and adultery, as well as having some adult language.
But the heart of the movie is the questions that it forces us to ask ourselves. This is what I found fascinating. Throughout the movie, as you watch this couple struggle with aging and watching dreams pass by without being realized, you are forced to wrestle with questions about your own dreams and your own life. What are your dreams, and what are you prepared to do to make them reality? What dreams can die? What new dreams are born? I think the couple in the movie failed to dream new dreams, instead holding on to old, ambiguous dreams.
This movie asked me to dream big, but it also forced me to think about the things I am doing now to realize my dreams. Dreams are a wonderful thing, but if we fail to follow after them, they simply vanish in the wind, or remain an apparition in the mist, always leading us, never becoming a part of our lives.
It dealt with relationships as well, and as the couple reached out to find physical love to replace the emptiness within, it made me realize how easy it is to let distance grow between spouses. We take each other for granting, failing to be grateful for small things, failing to find wonder in the other. May each day be seen as a blessing, as a gift.
Revolutionary Road was fascinating in the questions it made me ask, in the way it made me think, in the way it tackled deep, deep issues in life.
And no, I'm not talking about sweet tea. Or any kind of iced tea. I love hot tea, drink it every day, even when it's 95 degrees outside and I start sweating the second I get out of bed. I just love hot tea. I go to the grocery store and stand in front of the tea section looking at all the different choices that await: white tea and green tea and oolong tea and tea from Africa and Asia and corners of the world unknown. Each box contains a mystery of scents and tastes that delight.
Tea warms my entire body. I get this warmth that starts in my chest and moves outward to the extremities. It leaves a wondrous feeling in my whole being, as though I am now better off because whatever chill I had has left. It leaves a presence in my body even after I have finished it.
But I have to be careful with tea. I'll often wait ten, fifteen, twenty minutes before I drink it, scared of burning myself due to the extreme heat. Sometimes I'll still be sipping on it an hour after I have made it, only then finding the temperature just right to drink it.
I also forget about my tea. Rachel gives me a hard time because I'll often make tea and then come back much later to find a lukewarm mug of tea sitting on the counter, brewed at some unknown point when it sounded so wonderful, only to become distracted by something else and abandon it on the counter.
God's love shares all these attributes with tea. God's love comes in so many wonderful colors: the orange of the sunset, the green of new leaves, the pink of a newborn child, the deepest blue of the wild oceans. God's love has such texture and richness, and often I stand before it, with no feeling but wonder at all that God has done.
When I get the chance to dive into God's love, it is joy unbounded. I am overwhelmed, and it warms my soul, warmth that travels to the corners of my body and beyond, as I seek to share the love of God with everyone. God's love brings us together so that we might love one another, sharing in the gifts of God.
God's love can be too intense to understand, to comprehend, to draw near. I think of Moses, sheltered by God's hand, only allowed to see God's back. Surely God's love is too much for us to bear in its intensity. When God was revealed to us in Christ, we were so confused by how he chose to live that he ended up crucified on the cross, so different, so intense was the love of God. It has to cool in order for us to grasp and comprehend it.
And I am guilty of forgetting that, as well. I set it aside, leaving it for something shiny, something alluring, those distractions that flit across our minds, capturing our passions and leading us elsewhere. God's love cries out for our attention, but we wrap ourselves in our own delights.
Thanks be to God that, unlike tea, we never reach the bottom of the mug of God's love.
27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
Do you ever feel in over your head? Like you can’t quite grasp everything that is going on and being demanded of you? It’s the feeling you get when you show up to sign your mortgage and they tell you they need you to sign 20 different pieces of paper. Or the feeling on the first day of class when the syllabus is 15 pages long and has an appendix. Or you show up for the first day of work and they begin to describe the duties and you realize that they expect you to do all of them when it sounds like there are enough for fifteen people. They say babies don’t come with instruction manuals, and I think every first time parent knows the feeling of being overwhelmed.
It’s a disheartening feeling. It makes us wonder if we’re good enough, strong enough, capable enough. It makes us question ourselves and those around us. It sends us scurrying for comfort, for home, for milkshakes, and all those wonderful things that don’t ask much of us, just give us that wonderful sensation of home.
I would imagine that’s what the disciples felt like. We find them on the way to Caesarea Philippi. What they were planning on doing there, we don’t know. Caesarea Philippi was not exactly the center of Jewish worship. It was, in fact, the center of the worship of the earth god, Pan. There was a cave there were individuals could toss their sacrifices inside. I would imagine that as they drew closer, the disciples each began to wonder exactly what Jesus had in mind for Caesarea Philippi. What was he intending to do?
It was on the way there that he turned and asked the disciples this unexpected question. “Who do people say that I am?”
It was there that he rebuked Peter for taking him aside and confronting him about speaking of his suffering and coming rejection.
It was there that he first mentioned the cross.
What do you think of when you hear the phrase, “Take up your cross”?
(Nervousness, fear, etc.)
I can’t imagine that we are alone in feeling those things. Surely the disciples must have shared in these emotions. This was the first place in the Gospel of Mark that the cross is mentioned. It’s the first place that Jesus talks about his coming death. The healings and the miracles probably started to look a little different through eyes that were now caught up in images of torture and death. I doubt they had expected this—just imagine how you might feel if you walked into church one day and I told you that you needed to take up your lethal injection and follow me. Well, the image doesn’t work exactly, since I’m not the Son of God. And, well, you’re not following me.
But you get the general idea. Can you imagine the thoughts that ran through the minds of these disciples at this point. Cross? Resurrection? Cross? Death? What?????
I would imagine that everything else Jesus said was lost the moment he mentioned crucifixion. This is the most painful death imaginable. It is a terrible, awful, painful and long-drawn out method of torture. The Romans dreamed it up to discourage others from opposing the empire. This was not something to be taken lightly. The cross might have sent others scattering from this sudden lightning rod of persecution. Take up your cross was asking those following him to accept their coming death and move on with their lives.
I read it this way because of my view of death. Death, as viewed in American culture, is not a good thing. It is an end. It is something we keep at a nervous distance, that I have anxieties about, and that I, to be completely honest, am not very excited about. Death is the great unknown, the mystery at the end of our lives. As Americans we don’t have a very healthy theology of death.
This is not a passage about death. It includes death, but if we focus on the aspect of losing our lives we miss the point.
So when Christ talks to mentioning how we need to pick up our coming death and follow him, it makes us pause and think about death. But what Christ wants is for us not to stop and think about death, but rather to stop and think about life.
Our lives are cluttered with any number of things. Work, family, stress and an infinite list of things become the focus of our moments and our days. We schedule around them and allow them to devour our time and energy as we hope that tomorrow might bring more free time and less stress. We are constantly distracted by telephones that fit in our pockets, computers that seem always present, televisions that drone on and on.
What we read in the Gospels is a plea to turn all of that down. Not to turn it off and go lead solitary lives in the desert, but simply to turn it down and move everything one place farther down the list. We are filled with anxiety and worry about so many things that we forget the single most important thing we are to live for. Christ uses this time, here on the road to the center of pagan worship, to remind us what should truly be at the center of our lives. It’s only appropriate that Jesus chose that place, on that road, to focus on this issue.
We have so many idols, and we are so busy sacrificing our time and our money, our efforts and our love to them that we forget what is truly supposed to be in the middle of our lives. We know it is true, but so often we forget what our first priority is supposed to be.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
When Christ says to take up the cross and follow me, he is proclaiming a powerful truth: our view of life needs to be one that is not lived in fear of death, but rather that we cannot worry about death but rather need to be worried about our lives, about how we are spending our precious days here on Earth. When Christ tells us to lose our lives, he is telling us to stop holding on to life so tightly and to instead hold on to Christ that tightly, and all else will be taken care of. If we can center ourselves around the one who is holy and righteous, then death and the rest of our lives can assume their proper place in our list of priorities.
So how on earth do we squeeze something else into our over-stuffed lives? How do we make God a priority when there are so many other pressing things demanding our time, our attention and our money?
We need to address this list at the beginning of every day. What is it we need to do, and how important is it? What needs to come first?
I challenge you this week to pray as soon as you wake up. To make Christ the center of your mornings. Begin your day with Christ, so that Christ is first on your mind, and go forward from there. Having trouble finding the words? Use the Psalms. There are 150 of them, each one a prayer unto itself. Read one first thing in the morning. Start your day with Christ, and see how long you can keep God in the front of your minds. As you make your list of things to do today, put ‘Glorify God’ at the top. See if you can achieve this. For one day, see if Christ can be first in your mind, first in your heart. Then, at the end of the day, after you have thanked God for another day, go to bed, wake up in the morning, and do it all over again.
Christ is pleading for us to make our lives about Him. Not because what is filling our lives now doesn’t matter, but because God matters more.
Christ has this eternal vision, the ability to understand all of time at once. We don’t have that. We can’t see and understand life as merely a short chapter in the eternal book God is writing. We have to go day by day, moment by moment. Christ is begging us to lose our understanding of everyday life and our everyday duties as the center of the universe. God is asking us to realign our lives so that God sits on the top of our list, and everything else comes afterward. For the sake of Christ, may we lose our understanding of life and adopt his, taking up the call to glorify God.
Let us pray.
Rain falls, and I wonder. I wonder where it comes from, Lord, and why you make the rain water the earth. I wonder when you thought up the rainbow, and why you put birds in the air. I have so many questions, Lord.
How did you dream up the sunshine?
Did you write the song of the birds?
What were you thinking when you designed the cockroach?
All these questions, Lord, and so many more. I do not understand the reasons behind the universe, and I feel swamped by the size of it all. Teach me, Lord, to accept my place, to believe, to ask the big questions, and also to be content with resting in the palm of your hand. You are grace and peace and love and mercy, and even though I do not have the answer to ever question, I know that it all leads back to you.
Monday, September 14, 2009
That our Lord Jesus offered himself a voluntary sacrifice unto his Father for us, that he suffered contradiction of sinners, that he was wounded and plagued for our transgressions, that he, the clean innocent Lamb of God, was condemned in the presence of an earthly judge, that we should be absolved before the judgment seat of our God; that he suffered not only the cruel death of the cross, which was accursed by the sentence of God; but also that he suffered for a season the wrath of his Father which sinners had deserved. But yet we avow that he remained the only, well beloved, and blessed Son of his Father even in the midst of his anguish and torment which he suffered in body and soul to make full atonement for the sins of his people. From this we confess and avow that there remains no other sacrifice for sin; if any affirm so, we do not hesitate to say that they are blasphemers against Christ’s death and the everlasting atonement thereby purchased for us.
Sin. It is a dark, ugly stain upon us and our efforts. It is a part of everything we do. It is a powerful thing, one capable of binding us and restraining us from ever breaking free.
Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ. Despite our sin and our turning from God, God saw fit to send us a Savior who died for us. This was the only way sin could be broken; we could never have done it on our own, and the bonds of sin would still hold us today were it not for Christ. We can never achieve what Christ did upon the cross: our forgiveness. Thousands of years ago a man hung upon a cross, held there not by nails forged by human hands but rather by the love of a God unwilling to let us go. Jesus Christ died and descended into hell for the sake of humanity.
Now that we have a Savior who died for us, are we willing to live for Him?
I thought this was particularly appropriate for a Monday morning! How is God's love like the weekend?
Don't we all long for the weekend? Starting with Monday morning, often even Sunday night, we begin to long for the next weekend. It is a rest from our labors. It is a time to relax and get outside, to break from routines and enjoy God's good creation. The weekend places demands upon us, but often we enjoy them, working in the yard or around the house, getting out to exercise or playing with children. The weekend often isn't easy, but it's a different kind of work, one that leaves us refreshed and renewed. The weekend often makes it possible to make it through the week.
God's love makes it possible for us to make it through the day. God sustains our very being--in Isaiah we read that the Lord has inscribed us on his hands. God's love also isn't easy--it's a different kind of work, a different kind of life that God's love calls us to live. It often forces us to work, to spend time in prayer or service, but I find I enjoy that kind of work more than any other--It leaves me feeling like I'm living the life God is calling me to live. We should long for God's love with the same energy we long for the weekend; we look forward to and treasure those moments where God's love is so clear in our lives, whether it is in the intricate beauty of a spiderweb or the sweet embrace of a child. God's love is a break from all that is going on in the world--God's love never leaves us, but we often have to set time aside to realize its presence with us.
May we celebrate the love of God in the same way we celebrate the coming of the weekend!
You feed us with the bread of life. It is sweet within our mouths, and as we chew your words we wonder how life would be possible without them.
But then we go forth and forget your words, forget your will, even manage to forget your great love, despite it being written across every scene before our eyes. We try to live wrapped in our own worlds of love. We grow hungry for foods that will not satisfy, for breads other than yours.
But you continue to feed us. You send your Spirit to dwell within our hearts, to open our eyes to understand your grace, to open our hearts to continue to receive your nourishment. May we recognize your bread, the true food for our souls, and spend our days gathered around your table feasting upon your blessings, devouring your stories of mercy and covenant love, laughing with delight at your beauty, and basking in the glow of your radiant wonder.
I love you
Friday, September 11, 2009
God's Love is Like...
(I can picture my wife cringing already)
Yes, God's love is like a spider. How? Spiders surprise us. They show up in unexpected places, usually eliciting some sort of reaction from us. Often we recoil, surprised at the presence of this small arachnid, wondering how it arrived in this place to dwell with us.
God's love does the same thing. It shows up in unexpected places. It's what made Jesus so hard for the Pharisees to understand; they kept thinking he would spend all his time in the temple rather than going out and eating with sinners. God's love does the same thing today, too. God's love is in the food banks and the battered women's shelters. God's love resides in the grandest mansion and underneath the freeway overpass. God's love shows up, sneaking in through the cracks in our lives to reveal itself in unlikely ways.
Often God's love makes us uncomfortable, just like spiders do. God calls us to interact with those who are different than us. God's love pushes us to understand this world through a different lens than we are used to viewing life through. God wants us to see all of this world as wrapped in love, rather than just the parts that make us happy. God loves the drug addict and the corrupt millionaire, and often we get all squeamish trying to figure out how to love this world like God does.
Spiders come in every shape and size, just like God's love. You can never predict what it will look like, except for the fact that it will probably amaze you when we catch even a glimpse of true Christian love.
See--that wasn't so bad!
I just finished How Starbucks Saved My Life, by Michael Gates Gill.
Here's an interview with the author:
"Never close the door on opportunity," he says. That's what this book is about. It's about second chances and new life rising up from the ashes of the old. There are plenty of places in this book where Gill could have gone into detail about past mistakes and the reasons for his current situation, but the book was about new life and restoration. He often refers back to experiences from his previous life, contrasting them with his current situation, and it is continuously revealing how empty his previous life was despite all the trappings of 'success' that hung around him.
The question that sits with me at the end of this book is 'what is success'? Is it money or fame? Or is it something deeper, that rests within the soul, that can never be measured? Is success something that only we can measure at the end of the day, based on how we choose to grade it? What are our goals? What do we want in life?
This book does a great job of forcing us to ask ourselves how we see the world. As a Christian, I want to push even farther and force churches to ask how they are defining success. What does 'success' mean in the Christian world, and why are we chasing that rather than the faithfulness God calls us to live? How can we be faithful to the Word of God and let the trappings of worldly success fall away? There is always hope, always a chance at creating once more, letting the old die away and giving birth to something new, something beautiful, in our present lives.
You and you alone call us to be new creations. We toil and we sweat in the hopes that we can build with our own hands, but in your grace and mercy you speak, and new worlds appear. May our hearts not be too busy to hear your words, but may we be grateful for your presence among us, humble enough to let you lead us, and excited enough to speak of the wonders of your love.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Do you ever stop and wonder how waterfalls don't run out of water? I do all the time. For some reason this question has never come up when I stand before a river flowing through a city, but if I'm standing at the base of a waterfall, I'm staring up asking that very question. I know the logical answer, but the reality is that there, at the base of a waterfall, the sheer quantity of water seems so much more real than when I'm staring at a river. Standing before a river I can't quite grasp how much water is in there. I don't see the depth and realize how fast it is moving. Sometimes it seems like it's barely moving at all. But a waterfall forces us to contemplate, to wonder, to stand in awe of the sheer volume of water rushing over the falls. I believe that only at waterfalls do we truly understand how much water is in the river.
God's love is like a waterfall. God's love surrounds this world. God created the universe, and all that is in it. God loves all of it. God is gracious and merciful and wonderful, and God's love extends so deep and wide that we often miss most of it. But every now and then, we have those moments where we get a glimpse of how big God's love is. We realize, in a sweet embrace, in a tender moment, that God's love is bigger and wider than we can even begin to imagine. We get caught up in it and simply have to praise God for having such amazing love.
So maybe God's love isn't like a waterfall. Maybe it would be more appropriate to say that we have waterfall moments in life where we recognize how powerful God's love is.
Thanks be to God for love.