Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween



Moving a little deeper than the death-star pumpkin, though, is the question of how do Christians celebrate Halloween. I hear of a lot of people who avoid it completely because it's 'of the devil'. I also hear stories of the church-haunted houses (I know that's not what they're called, but I forget) where they try and scare kids into making decisions for Christ. I believe that commitments to Christ shouldn't be based on fear, but that's another conversation for another day.

I don't buy the argument that we should avoid it because we don't like it. Personally, I don't care for Halloween. Not out of theological or personality issues, but I just don't like it. Maybe it's because I never was creative enough to come up with awesome costumes. Maybe I don't like candy. I don't know. But plenty of people in the church love Halloween.

The question I think we need to ask is this: how do we engage with Halloween to let the light of Christ shine through us without compromising our integrity?

The church is holding a trunk or treat on Saturday from 12-2. I hope that we will be proclaiming Christ's love by letting kids come to a safe place and see love in action. I hope the kids will see the church as a fun place to come and be with their friends. I hope they will see adults who are committed to fulfilling the promises they made to these kids in baptism--to support them and encourage them in all they do, that they may grow and mature in faith.

How else could we engage with Halloween? Dress as your favorite reformer--when someone asks you who you are, it gives you a chance to talk about John Calvin or Martin Luther, and their passion for Christ. Put a note in the bags of the kids who come to your door on Saturday or Sunday that says you will pray for them (then make sure you actually do!). Bake a your neighbor a savory treat and take it to their house as a gift. Use the holiday as an excuse to call a friend or family member and let them know you're thinking about them.

Rather than back away, let's swim into the midst of culture and be a beacon, pointing to Christ, letting the grace and love of God transform us and showing an alternative way to live to those in need of hope and peace!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Scots Confession, Chapter XX

CHAPTER XX
General Councils, Their Power, Authority, and the Cause of Their Summoning

As we do not rashly condemn what good men, assembled together in general councils lawfully gathered, have set before us; so we do not receive uncritically whatever has been declared to men under the name of the general councils, for it is plain that, being human, some of them have manifestly erred, and that in matters of great weight and importance. So far then as the council confirms its decrees by the plain Word of God, so far do we reverence and embrace them. But if men, under the name of a council, pretend to forge for us new articles of faith, or to make decisions contrary to the Word of God, then we must utterly deny them as the doctrine of devils, drawing our souls from the voice of the one God to follow the doctrines and teachings of men.

The reason why the general councils met was not to make any permanent law which God had not made before, nor yet to form new articles for our belief, nor to give the Word of God authority; much less to make that to be his Word, or even the true interpretation of it, which was not expressed previously by his holy will in his Word; but the reason for councils, at least of those that deserve that name, was partly to refute heresies, and to give public confession of their faith to the generations following, which they did by the authority of God’s written Word, and not by any opinion or prerogative that they could not err by reason of their numbers. This, we judge, was the primary reason for general councils. The second was that good policy and order should be constituted and observed in the Kirk where, as in the house of God, it becomes all things to be done decently and in order. Not that we think any policy or order of ceremonies can be appointed for all ages, times, and places; for as ceremonies which men have devised are but temporal, so they may, and ought to be, changed, when they foster superstition rather than edify the Kirk.
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In other words, we all have the freedom to read and interpret Scripture. We stand together and do so in community, but the general council, or whatever governing body exists, is not infallible and cannot run afoul of Scripture and roughshod over anyone who opposes them. We have the freedom, and I would say the responsibility, to hold them accountable to the living Word of God. When they err, may we point this out, in humility and compassion, and be willing to be open and vulnerable, hoping that our common wisdom might guide us, as we are all willing to be led by the Spirit of God.

I've spoken about this before, but our political dialogue scares me right now--we are so concerned with being right, with winning the arguments, that we aren't listening to each other. I'm worried that this attitude will transfer itself to everyday life, to the church, where signs of it already exist. Are we willing to be humble, to see where we might be wrong, to be corrected by our brothers and sisters, by the Word of God? Or are we so convinced that we're right that we won't bother to listen to other voices?

May we be humble and faithful to the Word of God.

Psalm 13

Psalm 13

I wonder what my future holds. Does it promise prosperity and long summer mornings here in the garden of my delight? Does the beauty that blossoms within promise to shade me from the sun’s afternoon rays, keeping me cool and content as I lie in ease? Will the evening breeze tempt me to sleep as I relax under the beauty of the sunset?

Or will I spend my days on my hands and knees, steadfastly, faithfully pulling these eternal weeds from the fertile soil? Will my days and nights be consumed with these garden pests? Will I find rest from my labors, or shall my every ounce of being be consumed by unidentifiable blights upon the surface of the garden?
How long, O Lord, must I toil in this place? How long will you allow these weeds to barrel forward in their determined effort to destroy the beauty here? How long will my futile resistance hold in the face of such plants? Shall I throw my hands to the air as the weeds cackle with joy and overrun my very being, snaring me in their tendrils of wickedness?

I have trusted in you, O Lord, and I have wailed unto the skies for defense. I know that you are good, and that you will continue to tend to this beauty, but I will freely admit my frustrations with this situation. I have only just now returned to this garden, and already I feel the weight of the task before me weighing upon me. I know that I have a strong defender, but I often feel alone in this place. I have trusted in the Lord who sustained this place while I chased the folly of pleasure, and I shall continue to trust in him. Surely such a place of beauty and wonder could only exist because of his righteous hand, and even my cries in protest of my labors are an act of worship, because my very being is worship.

My every act, my thoughts and words, are lifted up before the almighty throne of God. The weeds I pull and the beauty I admire are milemarkers on the route to God; it is not a path I can walk on my own, but a destination I am striving for and a path that will be lit day by day, moment by moment, as I seek the guidance of the Almighty. I cannot weed this garden alone; I shall never defeat these pests. But I trust that beauty will reign and that my God will stand victorious in this place, for the Lord is good to me.

E-Newsletter

Announcements
Trunk or Treat is Saturday!  Please bring your trunk, ready to hand out candy to kids in the community!  The event begins at noon with a fun run (admission is one bag of candy).  If you could be here early to help set up, that would be great.  Planning will also take place at the Kids Nite Out on Friday, from 6-9.

Red Bucket Offering—totaled $794.20.  Thank you!

Potluck on November 7!  (Please bring 2 canned goods to worship—these will be taken to East Brainerd Elementary to help needy children)  Also—we have a new opportunity to spend some time with our neighbors at The Lantern down the street.  It is an Alzheimer’s community.  We will go at 1:30 and lead a short worship service, than stay and spend some time with them.  Speak to Keith if you are interested in joining us.

Movie Night!  What if I told you that it was possible to grow as a Christian while watching movies?  (Well, maybe not all movies)  Our next movie night will be Cars, a wonderful film about a race car that talks.  Kids are welcome!  Feel free to bring your favorite movie snack, but no meal will be provided.  Showtime will be at 6:00 on Sunday, November 14!  Admission is $1, with all proceeds going to the Newton Center.
ShoesI know that there are a lot of needs we are asking you to meet right now.  Between the food drive, the Operation Shoe Box, the Newton Center Red Bucket offering, and many others, we ask a lot.  What God asks us to give is different for each one of us.  If you are able, and if you are interested, we have the chance to help some kids at East Brainerd Elementary get some shoes that will fit.  Email me if you can go above and beyond and help meet this need.

Pray for…

Linda Brandon

New Hope News

Jan Edwards will be home on Sunday morning.  Please pray for safe travels!

Links


The New Sudan—to be shown next Friday, 11/5 @ 6 PM @ Chauncy-Goode Auditorium, Tenn. Temple University

Somebody let a 20 year old kid climb a 50 foot tower with wind gusts of 60 mph—to film a football practice?  To film practice?  Heartbreaking news out of Notre Dame.


Meditation Moment

God’s command to “pray without ceasing” is founded on the necessity we have of His grace to preserve the life of God in the soul, which can no more subsist one moment without it, than the body can without air.  (John Wesley)

Text for this Week

Matthew 6: 3-4
3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

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New Hope on
Facebook





Thought...

What does life mean?  If the meaning could be put into a sentence there would be no need of telling the story. 

(Henry van Dyke)

Catalyst East 2010: Francis Chan

Snapping Turtles and Sharing God's Love

So there I was...

This morning I was driving to work and saw a man pull over by the side of the road, hop out, and grab a snapping turtle by the tail.  I am assuming the next step was to throw it into the back of his truck, but it brought back fond memories...

Many moons ago, my mother was driving somewhere and saw a rather sizable snapping turtle in the middle of the road.  Moved by compassion, she stopped the car and got out to carry said turtle across the road.  Reaching down as anyone untrained in proper-snapping-turtle-carrying-form might do, she grabbed the turtle on either side of the shell and then--

realized that it's neck was far longer than she had imagined and that it was not at all happy about her attempts to rescue it from the impending danger sitting idling on the road behind it.

As a child, it was a hysterical scene to watch.

As a Christian, it's a lesson for those of us who try to save the world without considering the effects our 'saving' has on those whom might not see the world from the same level we do.

I can easily  make the argument that my attempts to rescue others are the best thing for them, whether they know it or not.  But in doing so, I remove their side of the equation, assuming that my knowledge is sufficient for all parties involved in the conversation.  I can be so busy working I'm not able to hear their voice, their stories, their concerns.

What if, when going forward to 'save the world', we took the first step of sitting down and listening, honestly, to the voice of those whom we are 'saving'?  How would that change the next step?  Maybe we'd see everything a little differently.  Maybe we'd understand the systemic problems that are running roughshod over millions (billions?) of people in this world.  Maybe we'd be a little better about seeing one another as created in the image of God, rather than as objects to be saved by us.

We can't truly save anyone, anyway.  That's up to God.  We can allow our lives to become conduits of God's grace and mercy, and God can work through us, but ultimately we all stand before God as sinners in need of mercy.

May we go forth with humility, willing to wander into the middle of the road, but doing so ready to sit and listen for a while.

Thursday Morning 10/28/2010

Holy God.

Holy, Holy, Holy.  You are higher than everything else in this world.  Your throne ends where the foundations of the earth begin, and your voice emanates from that place with power and majesty riding upon the winds.  All the earth is yours, and from the moment creation began you have been Lord of everything.

And yet, you came to this earth because you hold a love for us deeper than I can ever begin to understand.  You created a path, that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

Still, I turn from this path, believing that I am self-sufficient, believing that I don't know you, that my idols are worth everything.  Forgive my faithless heart, my wayward feet, my humble sin.  Forgive me, Lord, and create something anew within me this day, that I might be changed, transformed, in love with you, this day, and forevermore.

I love you, Lord.

Amen

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Who are the Presbyterians?



From James McTyre @ Lake Hills

Psalm 12

Psalm 12

I stop and ponder the beauty of the garden, here in the midst of the forest. There is a clearing around this place, fifty yards of mellow grass and sweet wildflowers, the type that serve as an accent, window dressing to God’s beauty. These are the scenes that do not shout, only seek to humbly add to the glory of a virgin meadow. Beyond that lies forest, with dense walls of firs separated by towering pillars of strength. There are occasional pockets in this fierce scene where paths enter and exit the woods, meandering through the meadow before punching another hole in the thicket. These are the paths I have blazed while seeking escape from my duties in the garden.

From here is seems as though the forest stops at a respectful distance. There is no logical reason that it does not continue to advance against the placid garden. Surely a determined forest could swallow this clearing hole in a few aggressive years, but it has not. The weeds within the garden have done astonishing work in creating chaos, but outside the walls of the garden there is little to suggest that this place has been neglected by my youthful ways.

For me to suggest that this garden is capable of defending itself would be pure arrogance. I may as well suggest that I was responsible for building the fence and planting the roses. I have not steadfastly repelled the forest’s advances. I have not served faithfully to protect the garden’s desperately needed light from the giants that tower over the forest floor. I have waywardly and irresponsibly assumed that all would be cared for without attention from me.

And yet, in my neglect there is a defender. The same one who created this garden protects it from the advances of the chaos that looms beyond the placid meadow. There is some border, some invisible line that has been drawn in the seemingly uncaring grass that halts the forest and allows it no more progress. As to why such a thing occurs around a space that has been so neglected for so long, I cannot say. But now that I return to the garden of my soul, to the delight of my youth, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for such a thing. Despite my uncaring sin, despite my inattentive mind, despite my disrespectful actions, the Lord has stood firm as my guardian, protecting me as his beloved. He is faithful to promises made long ago, promises tested and proved true, promises that will watch over me all the days of my life. In the heat of the fire and the cool of the winter, the promises have shown to be true, and the fact that I stoop today and pull weeds from the ground is proof that despite my apathy, I have a provider, and one who welcomes me back into the fold with arms wide enough for me to fit my entire being into. The one in whom I live and move and have my being is gracious and forgiving, and for that I whisper word after word of thanks as I realize the threat from the forest is nothing more than that.

The Scots Confession, Chapter XIX

The Authority of the Scriptures

As we believe and confess the Scriptures of God sufficient to instruct and make perfect the man of God, so do we affirm and avow their authority to be from God, and not to depend on men or angels. We affirm, therefore, that those who say the Scriptures have no other authority save that which they have received from the Kirk are blasphemous against God and injurious to the true Kirk, which always hears and obeys the voice of her own Spouse and Pastor, but takes not upon her to be mistress over the same.
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  How tempting it is to try and control Scripture!  How alluring it might be to be able to claim authority over the Scriptures, to aver that we have complete authority over how the Scriptures must be interpreted!

  One of my favorite aspects of the Presbyterian church is that we each have the ability to interpret Scripture, because it is inspired by God and no one has control over Scripture.  I can say what I believe it to mean, but others within the church can claim that it means something else, in which we must both enter into dialogue with humility, recognizing the gifts and abilities of each other.  We do not elevate the pastor above the others; instead we acknowledge our common humility before God!

  It's what makes Bible study so much fun for me--I love to lead the discussion, but it is a treat to hear how others read the Scriptures, how they hear the words and what they mean to them--for so often it means something different to another than it does to me, and in the discussion my horizon is broadened, and I see and understand in a new light.  The Holy Spirit works through us all, as long as we are willing to do the hard work of study, as long as we are willing to be led by God.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Psalm 11

Psalm 11

Beauty wins. It is a glorious thing to know the end of the story. I have often wondered what my life would be like otherwise, if I did not know the ultimate fate of my garden. Would I live in suspenseful fear, standing guard at the gate with pitchfork in hand, fighting valiantly to my last breath in the hopes that I would be able to save this place? Would I cower in the corner, shaking in the fetal position as I waited for the darkness to overwhelm this place? Could I live carefree knowing the end lurked behind every unknown tree, or would the pain of not knowing simply leave me captive to fear and dread?

But I have read the story. I know the end. I know the ultimate fate of the weeds I fling over the garden fence, as well as those that escape my gloved warriors and live to fight another day. Perhaps somewhere, deep within the soil, there are multitudes of weeds preparing their assault on this blessed place. It matters not. If I defeat every one, the enemy remains. If they should burst forth from the fertile soil and ensnare me in their tendrils, it matters not. I know how the story ends.

They may threaten me with chaos and despair, and for a season I may cower as I question the approach of spring, but I have read the story. I know the end.
Beauty wins.

Good prevails over evil and the weeds are hurled into the outer darkness to perish in a chaos far broader than they can imagine. The weeds can retreat until they can go no farther, and still they will be pursued by beauty and justice which shall overtake and destroy them. I know that beauty wins in the end, and for that I bravely fight my battle, day in and day out, trusting in the Lord to give me the strength to prevail where I might and to persevere where I must. I may lost minor battles for virgin earth in my garden, but in the end beauty will prevail and the Lord will triumph. Roses will bloom for time immortal and I will bask in their beauty. In time no weeds shall dare peer over my garden fence, for my defender loves beauty and hates evil, and in time, every time, beauty wins.

The Morning

How hard it is to get out of bed when it's still dark outside. I remember the summer mornings, when the sun was shining so early in the day, and it was actually harder to stay in bed then it was to get up. The sun beckoned me forth.

But now, the days have grown shorter, and it is still the dark of night when the alarm sounds, and everything in my body seems to say that it isn't right to be climbing out of bed at such an hour.

I get to thinking some mornings about how the Light shines in the darkness, how the darkness has not understood it, and I realize how much harder it is to follow Christ in the dark nights of life--when the right thing to do isn't the easy thing to do, when everyone else seems to be following another path that we know not to be the right one. Everything in my body seems to cry out 'stay in bed--stay comfortable!' Yet Christ calls us to the narrow way, where the going is not easy but the destination is richer than we can even imagine.

May we remind one another that, even in the depth of night, following Christ is worth every struggle and demand. As Paul says at the end of 1 Corinthians 12: But strive for the grater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Psalm 10

Psalm 10

What is a weed?

I know them well, for they have risen up around me, surrounding me as though I were an invaluable treasure to be stored in some leafy fortress. Their branches reach in every way, some to keep hold of me while others allow their tendrils to leech outward, to feel for invaders. Little do they realize I am the invader, the conquering hero returning home, once filled with shame but now bursting with joy at the light that shines within.

They have overgrown this once-beautiful garden, believing themselves impervious to the hand of justice. They arrogantly believe they can scale the fence and link arms across the path, impeding the progress of anyone racing towards the true beauty in this place. They seem to think their lives are of great import and their rapid growth deserving of respect, when in fact they have simply seized upon my passivity and sown chaos in their shallow roots. They fill the air with their poisonous offspring, hoping to further drown the beauty of this garden in their devilish arrogance. Any shoots of beauty that begin to reach skyward must wage war with these fiendish chimeras, and I am saddened by their power.

Should they not have died, drown out by the beauty of this place? Should not the sun have punished them with its withering heat, forcing them to expend every last resource on survival until they shriveled in the face of its overwhelming power? Could not the dirt itself have refused to shelter their disdainful roots and invading seed? Was not the path inhospitable enough to reject the invasion of such horrid creatures?

I feel as though any beauty within this garden should have had the power to rise up in the name of all that is good and stomp the life out of the weeds that dwell in the sunlight and shadows, but instead they have overcome any difficulty and swarmed the life in this garden. In my forgetfulness, it appears as though God has forgotten this place to, refusing to tend to it in my stead and allowing chaos to prevail in a place where once, only beauty had reigned.

But as the weeds sail over the fence I remember that I did not return to this place on my own accord. Whatever led me back to this once-innocent place, now overgrown with rampant weeds, did not originate in myself but rather was a gift from God, inspiration to come back and tend to the beauty, to the things in this world that last, that truly matter. My return was not happenstance; God has led my feet to return to the home of beauty within my soul, and my vocation is now to tend to such a place. The hope that now dwells in this garden of my soul is not my own, but rather hope that God has planted there, and in this moment I now see another rose beginning to poke forth from the ground. All that is beautiful comes not from within, but from God. The urge to yank these awful pests from the ground, and the strength to do so, is not mine but God’s, and it is with delight that I continue my way down the path, decapitating those unlucky foes who believed they could withstand the power of God within me. The reign of terror in this place is no more, and justice prevails as order reigns in this garden of my soul.

Luke 10:38-42

Luke 10:38-42
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

***
Busy & Distracted
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So often the Biblical stories we find in the pages of the Gospel seem like they need to be filtered through layers and layers of translation before they can be understood by our modern ears. They come to us as tales from another time, and we wonder how effectively we can learn from shepherds and fishermen.

Take today’s story for example--can you imagine a situation where you were so busy with so many other things that you forgot to notice the presence of the Lord in that place? Can you possibly imagine what it might be like to be distracted by so many things that needed to be done that you just couldn’t find the time to sit at the feet of God and hear the things he has to say? Can you imagine getting frustrated with those who seem to always have the time to just sit and worship, while you’re so busy trying to make ends meet that you feel stretched beyond the breaking point?

Today’s story is a reminder to us that distractions aren’t anything new. Today’s story seems like it is written directly to us, at a time when we need to hear this message, surrounded by an ever-growing list of options and demands upon our time. There is an endless line of things and tasks waiting to stand between us and God—sometimes we grow so frustrated it seems like the question is not whether or not we will worship God but what we will worship instead of God.

Before we dive into the text, let’s stop for a moment and appreciate where Luke has left this text—it’s right after the tale of the Good Samaritan. Jesus has just finished teaching about what we should do when we notice those in need. Now we have a text about making sure that we notice those in need, rather than being so wrapped up in our to-do list that we miss the needs altogether.

So Jesus and the disciples have just arrived in a village where Martha and her sister Mary reside. She opens her home to them, displaying the gift of hospitality and then stepping onto a treadmill that doesn’t seem to stop. Think of all the things she has to do—clean the house and prepare drinks and food and make sure the dog stays out of the living room. She is in danger of being so busy preparing the meal that she misses the opportunity to sit down and enjoy it with her guests. She’s so worried about the dust on the mantle that she misses the enjoyment of the visitors.

Now, pay attention to the fact that Jesus doesn’t reprimand her for the distractions themselves. Nowhere in the text does it tell us that the things Martha is doing are bad or sinful. In fact, the text says that they had to be done. These were important—if I invited you over to my house and failed to cook dinner, I would be a pretty bad host. Had Martha not offered them something to drink to quench their parched throats, dried by the dusty walk, she would not have been very considerate.

In the same way, many of the distractions we have aren’t bad. If you fail to pick up your child from school or soccer practice, that’s a bad thing. If paying your light bill is one distraction too many and you don’t bother to do it, the light company isn’t going to understand your new desire for Biblical living by less distractions. They’re going to cut your power. They probably won’t even apologize as they do it.

It’s the order in which Martha goes about her duties that is at the heart of this story. Martha has placed her preparations first, whether out of pride that her hosting skills will be praised or some sense of duty to her guests. She has put pressure on herself to make her household appear flawless to these guests, whom doubtless she would have heard about, and this pressure has driven her to lose all focus on what truly matters.

How do we do this in our lives? What sense of obligation is driving you? What things are you doing out of obligation? What is it in your life that is sucking the energy out of you, that is devouring your free time, but you hold on to because you feel like the world would fall apart if you no longer did it? What do you do for the sake of appearances, for the sake of others, that leaves you feeling empty and poor inside, that brings you no joy, and that you can’t remember why you started doing it in the first place?

We put these things in our lives, but we don’t set them down because we’re convinced that if we cease to do them, we won’t be worthy or respected. Listen to Martha’s question—“Lord, don’t you care…?” Martha is running this show on her own, and she wants to know why God doesn’t care that she is doing it on her own. She’s expressing one of the deepest needs of all of us—to know that we are cared for, that we are noticed, that our efforts are worthwhile.

Jesus answers her out of a love deeper than any of us can understand. We’ve seen that love on the cross, but at a certain point it is impossible for us to understand the depths of it—Jesus died on the cross because he cares so much for each one of us. It’s that love he is trying to help Martha see when he turns and responds to her. What he is telling her is that he cares deeply for her, but not because of the things she does. Her worth does not lie in her efforts to prepare dinner, or in how quickly drinks are served to the waiting guests. His care for her does not reside in the cleanliness of her house or the temperature of the coffee that is served—his care, his love for her resides in the fact that he made her, and there is nothing she can do to change that, and so the best thing to do is to put him first in her life, as Mary has done. Jesus does not mean that all the duties of the household do not need to be done, or that he does not appreciate them. What Jesus says is that when we worry ourselves crazy and upset ourselves, and probably our guests, because we’re furious that the pot roast is a little dry, we have forgotten our priorities. Mary’s first priority is to worship Christ. Everything else comes second.

This is the one thing that Jesus mentions. “Only one thing is needed,” Jesus says. It reminds me of the movie City Slickers, when Curly keeps holding up his finger and saying that it is the most important thing in life. Billy Crystal can’t figure it out for the life of him why Curly’s finger is the most important thing, but eventually he discovers that what Curly means is that when you figure out what the most important thing is, and you live solely for that, you have discovered the secret to life.

That is the praise Mary is receiving from Jesus—she has chosen her one thing, and that is her relationship to Christ. Nothing else will stand in the way of that. It doesn’t mean that the rest of her life will be spent sitting at the Lord’s feet—it just means that whenever she can, she will worship God and listen to Him. Her one thing is to be near Christ, to show her love and to grow in relationship with God. Throughout Scripture we are told to be still before God—from Psalm 46 Be Still and know that I am God to Exodus 14:14 The Lord will fight for you, you have only to be still, to any other number of verses. Mary wants to be still and listen to God—she knows her one thing.

Martha doesn’t have one thing. She is worried and upset over many things. It’s not to say that she doesn’t love God, that she doesn’t want to grow in her relationship with God, that she hasn’t acknowledged Jesus as her Lord and Savior and been to church every Sunday for her entire life—it’s that she hasn’t put Jesus first in her heart. One of the amazing things about Jesus is that he was able to live with perfect integrity—everything he did was focused on the worship of God. We, too often, are like Martha. We forget about God in the hubbub of distractions and many things, some good, some bad. We don’t have one thing to which we have given our hearts, as badly as we want to give our hearts to Christ.

David Livingstone, the explorer and missionary, sailed for Africa at the age of 27. His mission was to explore the depths of Africa, but the entire purpose of his life was to proclaim Christ to the natives in Africa. He didn’t explore for the glory of fame and fortune—he explored because he wanted to fulfill the great commission, to spread the news of Christ’s death and resurrection, of Christ’s eternal love. He believed that by opening a route from the interior to the coast, civilization and Christianity would soon follow. In response to concerns about the danger of this operation he wrote: "I place no value on anything I have or possess except in relation to the kingdom of Christ." Eventually an exploration was launched to find what had happened to the explorer, which led to Henry Stanley’s famous line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

When he finally died, in Africa, an incredible thing happened. His body was dried and carried by his servants over 1,000 miles to the coast, to the port, so that it could return home and be buried in Westminster Abbey. His heart, however, they cut out and buried under a nearby tree, for his heart had always been completely devoted to Africa, and that is where it ought to have its final rest. Africa had always been his one thing.

When you die, where would they bury your heart? What is the one thing to which you have given your life, your heart, your energies and your passion? Have you made the decision to do so? Or are you so distracted, so worried and upset about so many things, that you have never gotten around to giving your life to Christ?

Let us pray.

Monday Morning

Lord,

  You are magnificent.  There is nothing you cannot do, and every good work in this world reflects your love.  You created the earth from nothing through the power of your words, and you have breathed life into this and every being.

  Work something wondrous through me today.  Use my life, that it might point to you.  May I not seek my own glory today, but rather live with a heart set on you.  My heart is faithless and so often wanders down paths paved with human glory rather than illuminated by your Son, but I desire nothing so badly as to live with a heart and life focused on you.  I pray that as the lightning cracks and illumines the sky, so, too, might your Word light a path before my feet and lead my heart to wander down in, hand in hand with God Almighty!

Amen

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Inspiration

So there I was...


I was driving home yesterday and there's a billboard somewhere along either I-40 or I-75 with Susan Boyle's picture on it and something about inspiration. It got me to thinking about a debate I read about where the reality of the 'shock' on everyone's face at her first performance on Britain's Got Talent. (If you haven't seen it, go here) Apparently there is a good chance that it was all staged.

I stand in the camp that doesn't really care whether it was staged or not. I want there to be magical moments in the world that take my breath away, that leave me stunned and amazed at what I have just seen. It reminds me of the end of the movie The Iron Giant--it's one of those magical endings that reminds you of the power of the cinema. We need moments like this, moments where awe overwhelms us, where life seems too wonderful to behold in our human eyes, where nothing but amazement can speak.

Do we still find this in God? Does the sweeping grandeur of God still amaze us? Does the thought of God speaking over the watery chaos in Genesis send shivers up our spine? Does the reality of God hanging on a cross out of love that we might have life conjure something up, deep within us, that stirs the emotions within? Does the thought of the empty tomb send something indescribable, something beyond joy, racing up our spines? Or have the thoughts become so familiar that they have lost their magic?

I wonder how we as the church might recapture our awe. I wonder how we might become moved once more by the selfless love of God, how the God of creation and redemption might break through our comfort and remind us of how big God is and how loved we are.

I think much of it has to do with our time spent in God's love story, the Bible. I think we have to go back to the stories, so that we turn the pages and see God's love written out in the stories of Abraham and Moses, of Gideon and David. David once danced out of joy and gratitude--shall our souls dance, too, when we remember that the God who loved God's people enough to part the seas loves us just the same?

Psalm 9

Psalm 9

I am so thankful for redemption. Without it, I would have no hope. I didn’t have to be called back to this garden; I could easily have spent my days wandering along the path toward oblivion, mindless of the beauty here, forgetting that what has been created in this garden will last beyond the hands that tend to it now. I could easily have been written off for lost, the beauty within this place removed and passed off to another, more worthy garden. Surely there are others where the rows are immaculate and the roses freshly pruned.

But the beauty within called me back, summoned me once more to the garden of delight. I cannot say why, but whatever life beats within my chest has found new hope, new life in the oldest hope of all: the Lord my creator. No matter how far my path wanders in the future, I will never forget the path back to this place, as though some beacon within is inexorably tied to the center of this garden.

I have spent enough of today wandering and wondering without toiling in this place. Much work remains to be done, and with joy in my heart I flex my fingers and begin to hum a hymn of praise; it has no words or rhythm, it merely goes forth from my lips with no planning or pattern, rising to the heavens as a humble offering of thanks, for God has maintained my life and my being—my Lord sits enthroned forever, and my garden will be a praise offering to him, my toils here in this place a sign of the gratitude within my heart.

Today is a day for the path. I begin at the gate and slowly fold down onto my hands and knees. It is not an easy position, but my humming does not cease, for even in the resistance of my body I find myself rejoicing in my deliverance. My hands begin to creep along the path, far more nimble than my stiff body, plucking weeds by the stem and yanking them forth, offering my opinion upon them and flinging them fiercely over the fence. My eyes land upon the eyesore of my fence once or twice, but that can wait for another day.

Until then my hands will lead me down this path, overgrown but ready to burst forth so that it may serve its purpose: to lead me towards the beauty, towards the meaning, directly into the presence of the purpose of this place. It exists so that I might stride with thanksgiving upon my heart directly into the center of this garden and come to worship the One who has made it. Remembering that, and continuing to hum, I continue to pluck the weeds, each one leaving a tiny scar upon the surface of the path, a reminder of what once was but is no more. They make no sound as they soar high above the fence, for a brief moment framed before the perfect sky, then plunging noiselessly to perish beyond the sanctuary of this place. They are no more, and I am somewhat closer.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Psalm 8

Psalm 8

How majestic is the beauty within. I go about my labors, but I am distracted, constantly turning away, my eyes finding their way to stare at the roses mired within the weeds. How majestic they are. I try to weedeat around the paths, but I cannot concentrate. As my eyes wander so, too, do my hands, and soon my feet are aching from being dealt blows by the weedeater. I turn it off and set it down, in awe of the beauty contained within this place.

I stare into the heavens, and still there is beauty. Clouds drift across a cerulean sky, concentrating in number and writing messages of love and wonder in the atmosphere. The contrast between the perfect blue and the pure white brings awe.

My gaze lingers to this garden and its perfect rows. I wander up and down them, my hands outstretched, gloves removed, brushing the tips of the weeds. Even their rough handshakes cannot distract my awe-struck mind. How majestic is this place.

I begin to realize what a privilege it is to be back tending to this place. For so long I ran from it, wandered away from it, and rarely gave it thought. I have returned to tend to my garden, but only now do I see what responsibility has been laid before me. Who am I that such a garden should have been planted? What am I that I can stand in this place and gaze upon the marvels here? Should I be so blessed as to have the chance to wander through this gate and hold the dirt between my fingers? I am a mere mortal, so far beneath the heavens that I can scarcely imagine the beginning of God, and yet here I am, in this garden, containing such beauty. Here I am, with works of absolute beauty in my charge. I deserve no such privilege, and yet it is here, and I cannot leave it.

For so many years I wandered, and now I see how lost and proud I was, to assume that such a gift was not the greatest thing that could be given to me. My arrogance tended to the weeds rather than the beauty, and for this reason I now have years of work before me. Only my humility could begin such a task, and while I should have crawled back on hands and knees, I instead marched through the gate like the owner of this garden. But I have come to work, and labor I shall. No opportunity could be as great as the chance to tend to this garden while I am here. Even though my arm may throb, even though I may not pull every weed, I devote myself to the tending of this garden, to the appreciation and gratitude for its beauty, and to the glory of something far greater than myself. No other task is worthy of my utmost labor.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Psalm 7

Psalm 7

O Lord, let this garden be a place of refuge. I place great trust in you, O Lord, in the hopes that you might save me from my enemies who pursue me. I could feel their breath upon my heels as I walked other paths; the easy way is a way of deception, a lie that is woven more thickly with every wayward step. My enemies pursued me in the hopes of overtaking me, of dragging me away, of destroying this garden. I could hear their taunting cries, their mocking laughter as I tried to stumble forward, and in my despair I cried out for help. Did I deserve to suffer death at their hands? Had I made my own life worthless? Was my garden unworthy of the beauty you have planted there?

Here in my garden I have always found sanctuary, trusting in your gracious hand to protect me. I now know, as my hand caresses the wound upon my wrist, that all will not be painless, that my task will not be one of ease, but that you will protect me here in this place. My enemies will smash themselves against the fence, but they will not prevail, even though my fence is worn down and rotted in places. Those loose boards are made strong by the master gardener who built this garden and gifted it to me. Their strength I do not understand, but I take refuge in the enemies who cannot defeat this place. It is my strong shield, my protector, my defender.

Lord, I have fled from your wrath. My garden was in such disrepair that I was certain you would destroy me. My wayward paths led through thick forests and swampy marshes in the hopes I could elude you. I imagined you hunting me, weary of my empty prayers and void promises to come and tend to the garden. Surely you had given up hope that I would ever do true work here in the garden, so there was no purpose to my existence. Perhaps this garden could be given to another who would be more grateful, more loving. I certainly had not invited others into the garden to view the beauty of your love; why would you sustain me?

But somehow I have returned to the garden. You have not destroyed me, nor let punishment afflict me. I have fled from my enemies, who pursued me at my heels at times, other times preferring to lurk in the shadows, but you have held me in your hand. I have known others who have been swallowed by their guilt, by their shame, by their self-deceit, but I have amended my ways. It is my life’s promise, the song I pray to sing for the rest of my days, that I will tend to this garden, trusting in you to keep my enemies shaking behind the fence, rattling their chains and chanting their threats, but unable to breathe their threats in my ears. Perhaps the occasional beesting will find me, but I know that is a price I must pay to tend to this blessed garden. My life will give thanks, Lord, and my garden will sing praise to you, Most High. I have fled long enough; I recognize the futility, the emptiness, of life beyond this garden, of the destination of those other paths. They all lead to one place, and I long only to stay here in the garden and praise your name.

Still standing at the gate, the sun now high overhead, my gloved hands find the weedeater, examine its casing to ensure no harm has come to it during the night, and begin to marvel at the power held within. It does not differentiate between weed and wonder, between rock and rose. It is I who must guide it, who must place it in the darkest corners of my soul and let it work, clearing out my weeds and carving a swath where beauty will prevail.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Midori



Rachel & I received some last minute symphony tickets on Friday evening. Midori, the great violinist, was playing with the symphony, and while I had never heard of her, everyone said she was incredibly talented.

And they were all correct. And yet wrong, because immensely talented doesn't even begin to describe her abilities. I have never seen someone's hands move so quickly and so accurately, never seen such passion poured into a musical piece. I was very impressed.

I couldn't help but think about how many hours she had poured into that violin in her practice. It's so easy and tempting to think that she just picked up the violin one day and could play like that. While I'm sure she has the gifts necessary, those were cultivated with hour and hours of hard, grueling work.

I wondered how this world might be changed if we all worked like that. What if we all poured ourselves into our vocations? We can't all play the violin like she can, but we all have a gift, and if we exercised it for the glory of God with all of our passion and might, I believe the world would be a very difference place.

What is your passion? What is the thing that excites you more than anything when you get out of bed? How can you pour your heart and soul, your energies, into that?

Psalm 6

Psalm 6

I don’t remember how long I bowed before that rose. It was an eternal moment, measured not by the hands on a watch or the rising of the sun by simply for what it was: worship. I grew more captivated with the rose until finally my hand began to draw itself closer to that beloved object. When I saw the motion, it was too late. The buzz emanating from the rose’s center rose to a deafening level by the time it collided with my bare wrist.

I do not recall whether or not I ever saw the bee; it may well have lingered to witness the torment it caused, or perhaps it fled the scene of its victory, it matters not. All I can recall is the pain that shot from my wrist through my arm and then throughout my body; I could not differentiate or isolate the pain. My entire body was entombed in a shroud of pain, and I staggered to my feet and moved with violent jerks and wild thrashing as my cries rose to the heavens. My eyes watered in pain as anguish washed over me.

Why, my mind screamed, does such suffering come to one so eager to serve? Why should terror and fear dominate in this moment, when I have finally begun my labors? For so many years I carelessly neglected care of this beautiful patch and no harm fell across my path, but now, as I have started to work, I have suddenly been afflicted with this most violent wound. I stare at the reddening spot on my arm, swelling with fluid, and I moan in self-pity and pain.

Why should such a thing happen here and now, in the moment of my worship, as I admired the beauty the Lord had created? Why do beauty and harm inhabit such neighboring territories? Should beauty not have chased harm far from this place? Is not the presence of these weeds punishment enough? Do physical torment and pain have to accompany the process? I had expected to be weary from my labors, but at no point did I believe that God would let such suffering as this bee sting cross my path.
Questions flood my mind, crowding out the pain and leaving only supplication. I find myself at the gate, the starting point for this journey: my legs have carried me back here, tempting me to flee this place, beckoning me to the easy way, the one with little resistance and no challenge. Surely pain can escape me there. But I peer back at the beauty and know.

Even though it has brought pain into my life, there is no other way. No other pursuit can bring such peace into my life. It is hard to acknowledge this as my arm throbs in pain, but something assures me that the Lord hears my prayers for peace, my longing for safety, and that despite my struggles, despite my pains, the Lord will accept my prayer and continue to lead me forward. I did not expect this pain, nor do I enjoy it, and I do not doubt that it will reoccur, but I pray that the Lord will conquer, will protect, will encourage me to continue to go forward.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’
***
Innkeepers
***

Do you ever have those moments when you realize you’re completely and totally in over your head?  I had a cat that had one of those moments—it used to lay around under the bird feeder and wait for birds to fall into its mouth.  One of those days it actually managed to catch a bird, and about the time it got two feet off the ground I think it had the realization that perhaps this was more than it had bargained for.  It took a while before that cat went back beneath the bird feeder.

I think the same thing could be said for this lawyer in today’s text.  He goes to Jesus, ready for a verbal duel, confidant in his abilities to convince Jesus that he could live without sin.  Obviously he hadn’t read his John Calvin, or he would know how impossible this was.  Regardless, Jesus accepts him as he comes, engages him, and tells him a story that not only teaches him, but reminds us of how radical the grace of God is.  In this story, Jesus elevates to the position of hero a man who would have been reviled due to his social standing.  He challenges the lawyer to look beyond the letter of the law into the heart of the matter, and perhaps by the end of this the lawyer realizes that getting into a verbal debate with the Son of God is a bad idea.

This story is one of the most well-known stories in the Bible.  There is something about it that appeals to our human nature.  From my childhood I have heard this tale told and retold.  Perhaps it is the cause of the lost and the weak.  Maybe it is the unexpected path salvation travels.  Perhaps it is the happy ending.  We know the story, and we know the off-shoots: every state has a good-samaritan law, meant to protect those who mean to help others in dangerous situations from being sued if their intentions do harm, rather than good.  We honor the instinct to help.

In today’s story, we find a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, a dangerous road that descends some 3000 feet, traveling through many twists and turns.  There were plenty of places for evil-doers to wait for their next victim, and it was not uncommon for individuals to be beaten and robbed, left half-dead on this road.  The man, the victim, doesn’t receive a name in the narrative.  He doesn’t speak or have any identity.  He could be anyone—he could be the lawyer, Jesus is saying.  He could be us, attacked by evil in life, left half-dead, in need of mercy, crying out by the side of the road.  When you are in this situation, it doesn’t matter who comes to help—any help will do, as long as its help.  The victim isn’t in a hurry to judge the worthiness of the assistant.

Now a priest, and then a levite, wander down the road.  We don’t know where they going, why they were going, or how big of a hurry they were in.  All we know is that each noticed this man in need, crossed to the other side of the road, and hurried on their way.  In their defense, coming into contact with blood was a huge no-no in those days for the priestly types—they would have had to undergo long, complicated clarification procedures when they returned.  And we can imagine that perhaps they saw so many victims of robbery that they had become immune to such sights.  It’s easy to make excuses for them, mostly because I make them for myself.  We all do—we have plenty of reasons why we can’t, why we don’t, help those in life we see down on their luck, in need of mercy, in need of assistance.  Jesus doesn’t accept our excuses, any more than he provides them for the priest and the Levite.  They passed by their neighbor, he says.  

The one who did stop was the Samaritan, the one who would have been reviled by the Jews, the one who might not have even counted.  He’s the one who no one would have expected to help, and the reason this story would have been so controversial.  But he is the one who comes out looking the best, the one who cleans the wound and takes him to the nearest inn, that the victim might recover.  He hands the innkeeper two denarii, each equal to one days’ wage, and charges them to take care of the man until he returns.

I think there is plenty we, too, can learn from the Samaritan.  We need to learn to stop making excuses and to simply notice those around us who are in need.  But I want to focus on another character in the story today.  I want to talk about the innkeeper.

Not much is said about the innkeeper, and he is left in a bit of a unique situation.  I feel like he’s gotten short shift over the years, and I’m here today to rectify all of your concerns about having never heard a sermon focus on the innkeeper.  Think of his situation—there he is, busy at work, when a man who’s out to save the lost shows up and gives him an incredible task—he’s to care for this man, left half-dead by the side of the road, and he has two denarii to begin with.  Everything else is up to him.  We do hear, however, that this man will be coming back to check and see how he did. 

I don’t want to discourage anyone from being the good Samaritan.  I think we are all called to be Samaritans, to see the lost and the broken, and do what we can, give what we have, to help them in their time of need. 

I also believe, however, that we are called to be innkeepers.

How?

I’ll begin with vocation.  The innkeeper is busy at work, doing the job he has been called to do.  Perhaps it’s the only job he’s ever known.  Perhaps he never thought of it as a ministry.  Perhaps he thought that he was too busy to ever consider himself a tool in God’s toolbox, someone who would be capable of doing great things for God.  Perhaps he thought ministry was only for the professionals.

But then the Samaritan shows up, with a man in need on his donkey.  Ministry has come to him; need is now on his front door step.  He could turn these two away, on account of this being more responsibility then he is ready to accept.  Perhaps he doesn’t have time to care for this man.  Perhaps he simply doesn’t want to do it. 

But the need is there, and he accepts the task.  The Samaritan then gives him two denarii to take care of him.  The innkeeper receives this gift and is charged with using it to care for this sick and helpless man.  He could easily pocket the money, safe his gifts for himself, and tell the Samaritan that nothing much happened since he left.

He’s left with a choice, and all he knows is that the Samaritan is coming back.

Do you see the urgency in telling the story of the innkeeper?  Do you understand why this is so appealing, so applicable?  Do you see yourself in the innkeeper’s shoes?

You, too, have a calling.  You, also, have gifts.  And opportunities show up on your doorstep, like it or not, ready or not, and you have to use the gifts Jesus has given you to care for the weak and the downtrodden that are put in your charge. 

When Jesus returns, what will your answer be?  What will you say when he asks you if you cared for those he has left for you to care for?  How will you answer when he asks you if you used your gifts for his good?  Will you tell him that you hoarded his gifts, or will you be able to reply that you took the gifts he gave you, and in your ministry, your vocation, you cared for those who came into your life?

We all have a choice to make when opportunities knock, and knock they will.  Will you care for the ones on your doorstep with the gifts of God?  Will you answer the call?

Let us pray.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Just for Fun

The Basment

Yesterday, Walt, Peter and I went to visit La Paz de Dios, the primary Hispanic contact ministry on Bailey Avenue. They had asked us to take a look at their basement and see if maybe we couldn't do some work down there for them. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I don't think I was ready for what I saw... that was quite a situation. The basement hadn't been looked at for years. The floors were cracked, and it's going to take some time to think about what we want to do down there. Can we do it? Sure. But it's a lot bigger investment than I had originally thought.

And maybe that's a good thing. In fact, I'm almost sure it is. It's so easy to do something quickly and then check it off the 'good deed' list. This will require an investment of time and energy, and I hope something meaningful comes from it, a relationship with La Paz and perhaps others in need.

I also believe it has something to teach us about our relationships with others. How often is the basement of the soul neglected, malnourished, cracked and moldy? We casually ask 'how are you?' without expecting much of an answer. If we're going to be in community together, we have to be willing to invest in one another some serious time and resources. Christ's disciples followed him through thick and thin, and I am almost willing to guarantee that they didn't expect all of that when they signed up. But because there was such deep love between them, they stayed.

When our eyes are opened and we see the hurt in the world, will we stay? Or will we go looking for other, easier, options?

Psalm 5

I stand in the morning sun, perplexed by the sight before me. There is a row of clean, newly shorn weeds near the fence line, and little order elsewhere. The bench stands firm at my feet, but its strength is unable to ward off the impending chaos. There is no order to the garden, and it begs for my labors, for my sweat and my humble hours, to restore order to the chaotic bramble that has become my soul.

But in the midst of this disorder I pause for a moment, remembering the purpose of my journey here. I have not come to cleanse this place in order to take satisfaction in my labors. I have not come so that I might carve out some chunk of immortality for my human body. I am not here, armed with gardening tools diverse and varied, so that the human eye might be appealed, although I certainly hope that it might. I have come in order to take part in what God has created, and to merge my soul with God’s intentions. I have come to weedeat in the garden so that the beauty God has molded in this place might shine forth for the glory of God.

In my younger days I took the beauty for granted and neglected it, assuming that its brilliance was enough to shine forth through me despite my selfishness and greed. It is only in recent years that I have noticed that God does not delight in my wicked ways. The beauty and delight of God are still present, but I have managed to smudge my fingerprints so densely upon the looking glass that when peering into the garden of my soul one has to strain to see the roses peeking forth. The slow realization of the effects of my chaotic lifestyle brought me to my knees here in the garden, where I resolved to bow in the temple, to be led by my Lord, to straighten out the path before my feet. Only now do I recognize the destruction creeping throughout the garden, in the crabgrass and the clover, ugliness choking me off from life.

Even in the face of such dark power, overwhelmed by the desire to act, to continue my Herculean task here in the garden, I pause, knowing what I must do first.
My feet lead me several feet away from the gate, where my tools lie, to the nearest bed, once neatly bordered with stones, now demarcated from the path by the weeds piled on the stone, where, from the midst of that chaos, beauty deeper than blood winks forth. Here is a rose, colored red by a creator who creates depth I cannot fully comprehend, that is so brilliant in its beauty I cannot move, speak or act. I simply stand before it, trying to come up with words or phrases to thank God for such wonder here in the garden of my soul, but all my songs sound inadequate before true beauty.

In that moment I pray that I may never forget to worship, even in the face of dauntless, unending work. May I never stop to take a moment and simply stand in awe of all that God has done. While my labors here in the garden are important, they pale in comparison to the importance of worship. God desires a heart, a soul in worship, and while it is vital for that soul to be a work in progress, it is also important to remember that I am a child of the covenant, in communion with God, and to remember that at all times I am called to bow before the holy throne of my creator. Sometimes that may look like weedeating along the fenceline, but at other times it may simply be a silent moment, wrapped in delight, a song to which I do not know the words bursting forth from a place buried deep within the garden, worship the type of which I can only take part, I cannot lead. I pray that my life may include more moments before the roses, inhaling the scent of the holy and praising God for the chance to tend to my garden, thanking God for the life that God has planted here, without my knowledge, beyond my power, but for God’s glory, not my own.

TGIF

Holy God,

  I cannot imagine a day without you.  From the morning sunrise to the carpet of stars you throw across the earth at night, your beauty speaks to something deep within my soul, reminding me of how you have made this world and called it good.  I, too, have been called good.  Help me to see the good in this earth, to see the image of God in each person I meet.  Your generosity and your grace speak to unbounded love--thank you.

Amen

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Psalm 4

I am awakened by the breaking of the dawn, soft lights dancing across the artist’s palette, beauty beginning to stretch its way across the still dark sky. All of creation is waiting for this moment, this genesis upon this patch of earth. The story of the day is beginning, and I lie, still as can be, simply watching. What else can I do but stare in wonder at the story being told in the heavens?

As the dawn has broken the night, the birds, too, break the stillness of night and begin calling to one another, bursting forth with song as the entire forest surrounding this place suddenly erupts in song. The trees do not loom near, but it is as though I am resting in their branches, so prolific is the sound.

Something within has awakened as well. My soul stirs, and the garden around me seems to tremble with possibility. The dew is soft upon the upturned branches, upon the roughshod soil, upon my very self. Nothing has been written in the grass or the weedy path as yet, and I hesitate to stir and disturb this universe within the fence. I long for the moment to last forever, to stretch into eternity and carry me with it, wrapped in my arms.
But work remains to be done.

Perhaps I had expected to wake and see the work completed. Perhaps I had not thought my body would suffer the effects of my labors. Perhaps I thought any number of things, but upon my first movement my body screamed in protest. The muscles in my back wanted nothing to do with my desire to rise. The bench that had once been so inviting was now exacting its revenge as my body has suffered by sleeping on its hard surface. The bench’s efforts had been joined by the time spent with the weedeater hanging by its strap; when the muscle’s screams met the vision before my eyes, I once again begin to despair.
How long must I suffer this shame? How long must I be in this distressful garden? When will hope begin to show?

I remember the fleeting moments of hope yesterday, the promising beginnings, but they are lost before my eyes, within my pain. Hope seems to be a luxury in the face of the remaining fortress of weeds that surrounds me. Even the feet of the bench are covered in climbing weeds I cannot identify. Surely hope can be banished for now, until the ground is tilled and the paths reclaimed. Surely hope cannot dwell with aches and pains within me.

But there is hope. I cannot say from where it comes, but indeed it does come and soothe my soul. It is not a balm for my back, not blinders for my eyes, but it is a sense within my heart that all will be well. I was never expected to cleanse this garden in a day; not was there thought given that I could do this on my own. It is a process, a lifelong one that will only be completed when my journey is complete and I have found my way home. Even when it is beautiful and seems spotless I know that there will be weeds taking root, seeking light, seeking water and the chance to exploit my comfort. There is always work.

But there is always hope. The sun is beginning to rise from beneath the covers of the horizon and bathe the world in light; in its light I find light. In its warmth I find warmth. In the path that awaits it I find the desire to walk my own path, to continue my own journey. I feel the dampness of my dewy shirt beginning to give way to a warm dryness that can penetrate far deeper than the cold. I feel the gloves, never removed, beginning to flex with my fingers and watch as the dried clumps of dirt fall free. I feel a gladness welling up from within and I smile as my feet feel strong beneath me. ‘I am hope’, I say to myself as a grin mirrors the light streaking in the morning sky. ‘Today,’ I repeat, ‘I am hope.’

Thursday Morning

Holy God,

  As the dark cedes to the light, I cede control of my heart to you.  I am tired of trying to fight against you, of letting sin guide my thoughts, my life.  Take control, that the life I lead may be one that glorifies you.  Be my guide and my light in the darkness, that every step of the journey might glorify you.


Amen

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Psalm 3

Psalm 3

My eyes adjust to the fading light, here in the twilight of the day. The sun nears the completion of its daily journey as the trees reach up to accept its offering of light and my energy, my zeal, fades along with it. I stand in awe of the beauty stretching across the sky and am overwhelmed by my smallness here in my garden. Trees reach heavenward and dwarf my being; grass races as far as the eye can see; even the garden of my soul is lost in comparison to the size of the forest. Its beauty may be beyond compare, but it does not stand tall and proud like the mighty oak; it does not spread a canopy like the elm; it does not impact the ground the way the ash does. It merely rests, here in this beautiful, sunny spot of delight, and shares its wealth with me and all others whose path leads them near my garden.
The stars begin to wink, one by one, greeting me in their cosmic way, welcoming me into a reality far greater than I can begin to understand. I look up at first in joy, and then in wonder, and then, as I am staring into a mystery I cannot unravel, fear swallows me and I grow dizzy.

I cannot speak to the mystery of the stars, or understand the whirling planets. Who am I to tend this garden, here in this quaint verdant scene, when stars are coming in and out of being across the galaxy? My voice begins to cry out to the emptiness, but before it can escape my throat it dies, lost in the vastness of space, pointless in its very existence; I cannot protest my smallness to the universe—what are my cries to such imposing emptiness?

I look down, to the weedy garden, and even the weeds seem to taunt my presence, for they will continue to grow long after I come to tend to my garden. In my short time they have overwhelmed to the point of despair; even my frantic labors are only delaying the inevitable, right? They number in the thousands while I, a lone, passionate gardener, pluck at their roots with stiff fingers and aching joints. My foes outnumber me, and they intimidate my very being.

It is at this point, the point of darkness, the evening’s triumphal entry, when the garden beckons me inward. I tread lightly, afraid of crushing some invaluable treasure with my clumsy feet in the oily darkness when I am halted by a stone presence. I had not noticed it before, in my busy-ness, but hands inspect this heavy being and I recognize it as a bench, intricately carved beneath my amazed fingers. A craftsman made this, and such an object, while made to be venerated, is also created to be used.

I ease my sore body down onto it, but it beckons me closer, deeper, and as a groan escapes my lips I pivot and recline on the bench until I am completely horizontal, and from within the hard stone a warmth and a comfort emerges and ensnares me. It is as though a shield encloses the bench, and myself with it, and I lie down with such peace that my eyes begin to close and my mind ceases to wonder at my pitiful smallness and instead begins to concentrate on the fullness of the One who created, and creates. I remember that the beauty in the garden is not my own, and it is with peace that I sleep, safe in the arms of the one who delivers me from temptation, from the arms of my enemies, who seek to create despair and sow disorder. Here, on this bench, I find refuge from the storm, peace for my soul, wonder for my mind and love for the garden. It is my sanctuary from the world, created just for me, so that I might remember the Lord of heaven and earth, the Creator, the Redeemer, the Deliverer.

Wednesday Morning 10/13/2010

Holy Lord,

You are majestic beyond measure, beyond compare, beyond imagination. Your power reaches down from the highest heavens and touches the trees, and they turn color in wonder at your power. Soon they fall, for once they have seen you they must surely die.

I am amazed at those who were terrified to see you, for they knew they must die. Out of your mercy you covered Moses with your hand. You spoke to Job from the whirlwind. You provide guidance for us without endangering us, yet I dream of the day I shall see you face to face and live... I have no idea what that dream shall look like in reality, yet I trust that it will be so beautiful I will scarcely be able to kneel.

I love you, Lord, and yet until that day, I shall continue to sin and stray. Teach me, my Lord, to hold onto my hope, to let Christ guide me each and every day, that when I sin I shall have the courage to repent and the desire to follow, that your love and grace might be the strongest force in my life, and I shall be led by you.

Amen

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Peanut Butter? Really?



Hmmmm.... Interesting day today. First a coupon for the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY ends up in my possession. Then I see a video 'proving' that evolution is not real because there is no life inside peanut butter jars.

Speaking of peanut butter, did you know you can buy peanut butter with honey already mixed in? Quite possibly one of the greatest ideas in a long time. Regular peanut butter now seems so plain.

But I digress. Some individuals seem to be focusing so much on trying to prove exactly how life began. I have no idea exactly how everything played out. I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God is sovereign, and that no life can be created without his power. But as to how and when and how long--I have no earthly idea. I will freely admit I am ignorant, and I will continue to read the Bible and be amazed by what God did. I have some questions about evolution (Assuming that things don't evolve all at once, but rather cell by cell, then how is half of an eyeball considered evolutionarily advantageous? And how does the eyeball become connected to something else?? The list goes on), but it just doesn't really matter. If we could focus our energies and money on serving the lost and the lonely, the poor and the homeless, I think we would be proclaiming God far more effectively.

Psalm 2

Psalm 2

Having thrown the symbolic first weed, I feel a twinge of victorious pride course through my being. I have begun, and it is glorious. I would love to stop and celebrate, to eat a picnic lunch here on the suddenly clearer threshold of the garden, but I know that would only push me farther from my goal. It would be setting off, yet again, on those other paths, setting myself as ruler as I have done so often. This task that sits before me may not be the most glorious today, but I know that it is worthy and meaningful, and the beauty that has been created here will outlast any nations I try and establish elsewhere. This garden is not of my creation, but I have been charged with its care, and I have begun my task to care for this beautiful place. I will not abandon it, despite temptation lurking at the gate.

I stand, surveying the garden once more. I reach down for the tool that I have brought this day. It is not the gardener’s first and favorite tool, but for this task it is my necessary friend as I begin. Before I can tend to the delicate beauty within I must weedeat in the garden, for as the Lord terrifies in his fury, as the Lord speaks in his wrath, I, too, must be an agent of destruction to those looming weeds lurking in every corner of the garden. My paths are overgrown, and my feet would trample more weeds than dirt were I to trudge anywhere in the garden, so weedeat I must.

I set it gingerly on the ground, aware of the power within as its weight is already straining my arms. My foot rests gingerly near the top as the head strains at the waiting weeds. I reach down, grasp the cord in my suddenly resolute grip and pull once, twice and a third time, when it roars to life, then settling into a steady hum as I adjust the choke. The sudden sound seems defeaning in the once-peaceful garden, and I smile smugly at the invading weeds as I heft the weedeater’s strap over my shoulder and stand erect. My finger toys with the trigger as I remember: ‘You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’

With that I depress the trigger and swing the head into the nearest dandelion. The once limp string comes to life in a high pitched whine, and what was once harmless twine is now an instrument of destruction, cutting a swath of opponents down by the neck as it pendulums across the face of the fence. Some maniacal laugh erupts as I watch the weeds fall helpless before this power. It is not my own power, but I have been equipped with the perfect tool to begin my task, and my opponents perish before me.

I slowly move down the fenceline, unobstructed by any plants of value here, far away from my roses. These are the remnants of years of laziness, of misuse and abandon. Sunday mornings spent in bed and dust on the Bible fades with every vine reaching for the sun. I can feel the foul language and lack of integrity protesting the whine of my work, but they are no match for what I yield. No longer will my garden be a slave to these sins of the past; they fall before this modern scythe and I can almost feel the extra light reaching my soul. I know that the tangle around the roses still exists, but somehow the petals seem to open a little wider with every falling weed.

I spend an hour passing this shrill fury along the base of the fence. When I once again reach my gate I release the trigger and set down the weedeater, silencing its steady hum with a flip of a switch. Sudden calm reigns again, yet it is different than before. It does not include the anxiety about the task beforehand, but rather dwells in simple peace, with some sense of satisfaction about the task that is now behind.

It was not my hand that completed this harvest, but it my strongest desire and greatest pleasure to watch these helpless victims fall at my feet. Much work remains, but I am happy, because I have begun the work, and because it is a joyous task despite the sweat the has soaked through my shirt. My legs are covered with remains of the task, but for this soul, on this day, they serve as reminders of what once littered my garden and now defaces it no more. My refuge, my garden, is now one step cleaner.