Friday, February 27, 2015

A Confession of What I Remembered

You who fear the Lord
Praise him.
All you offspring of Jacob,
glorify him.
stand in awe of him, 
all you offspring of Israel!

For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,
but heard when I cried to him.

I sat at my desk,
and I read the Psalm,
and I thought,
"Of course that's so.
Why would God ever
hide his face from those
who are suffering?"

And then I remembered
the man on the street
whose eyes I did not meet,
who stood, cold and shivering,
needing help.
And then I remembered
how I had walked by,
ignoring him,
hiding my face.

And then I remembered,
the children on the news,
hungry, abused,
needing help from someone
who cared.
And then I remembered
how I had thought
"What could I possibly do?
The problem is too big;
the solutions are beyond my grasp."
And I hid my face,
and changed the channel.

And then I remembered,
the man in grief.
I don't know what he needed,
or how I could help.
And then I remembered
that I had thought,
"I don't have the words,
I don't know how to help,"
so I hid my face,
and said nothing,
instead of showing love.

Is it any surprise
that the Psalmist is shocked
that God does not hid God's face
to the pain and suffering of the afflicted?
Why would his expectations be any different?
He would not have seen God
in the likes of me.

Two opening stanzas from Psalm 22:23-24

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Judge Not Yourself

Read these words from Psalm 50 (vs 4-6)
He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: "Gather to me my faithful ones, who  made a covenant with me by sacrifice!"  The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge.
I read this in conjunction with a devotional written by Sarah Howell in Disciplines 2015; her thoughts sparked mine.

So often we say, "judge not."  While we may not always follow what we say, I think we understand the ideal that we are to leave the judgement of others to God.  God is the judge; we are not.  We don't obey - we are often judgmental - but I think when push comes to shove, we know we shouldn't be.

Have you considered this: "The light that shines upon us gives us the opportunity to examine ourselves; to seek forgiveness, reconciliation, right relationship with God and one another - but in the end, we judge neither our neighbors nor ourselves."

God shines a light on the way we live our lives, and we are called to repentance - to turn around and come back to God.  This is a kind of grace, not a judgment.  Many of us are very harsh with ourselves, and our self-judgment can get in the way of doing God's work.  God offers grace, but there are times when we turn away and do not accept it because we judge ourselves to be unworthy.  Leave the judgment where it belongs - don't judge other and don't judge yourself.  If you recognize sin in your life, turn back to God, and find the grace that is offered.  And accept the forgiveness that is given to you.  Leave all the rest up to God.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

No Barriers for God

I like to read the story of Elijah in 1 Kings.  In 1 Kings 18, Elijah is challenging the Priests of Baal. The Priests of Baal prepare the sacrifice of a bull.  They pray to Baal to start the fire of the sacrifice, but there is no answer.   Elijah prepares the altar of the Lord (that had been torn down).  After preparing the bull for sacrifice, he has four jars of water poured on the offering and the wood.  And then again. And then a third time.  Water ran everywhere.  Elijah prayed, and the Lord brought fire that consumed the offering and even the water.  

Why did he go through all of that?  Was it to show God's power to the priests of Baal?  Maybe, but is there more?

What can we learn from this?  As I read it, I thought that perhaps it could be a reminder to us that there are no barriers that can stop God.  The altar had been torn down, but is rebuilt.  Even 12 large jars of water can't stop the fire.  Even the doubt of many of the people who are standing there can't stop God.  Even the opposition of people like Jezebel can't stop God.  No matter what we do, God can make a way.

That's a grace-filed and comforting lesson for us to remember

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Transformation in Transfiguration

Have you read the Transfiguration story in Mark 1:2-9?  Probably.  Go read it again, but this time, place yourself in Peter's sandals.  Can you imagine his reaction to what he saw?  No wonder he wanted to build a place to stay forever.  

I think that often, when we read this passage, or when it is preached, we focus on Jesus' taking them back down the mountain, to service. Vitally important, no doubt.

But give yourself permission to sit for just a moment in Peter's awe.  Do we allow ourselves to do that?  The light of transfiguration can be a transformational light for us.  To just allow ourselves to feel that awe and reverence, to recognize once again that God is God, and Jesus is Jesus, is to allow God to strengthen our faith.  Give yourself that gift.  Take just a moment before you head down the hill into service, and stand in awe of God.

It's interesting that Jesus doesn't request or seem to expect any particular kind of response from Peter, James and John.  He just takes them so that they can witness what happens.  Just see it.

God offers us the same gift.

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Friday, February 20, 2015

She began to serve them

When I left home for work this morning, it was -18 degrees.  See the minus sign?  18 degrees below zero.  As my iPhone says when I ask Siri the temperature outside, "Brrrrrrr."


In the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus goes to Simon and Andrew's house and heals Simon's mother-in-law.
Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.  He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.  (Mark 1:30-31)
It's a common assumption, I think, that when the Gospel says, "she began to serve them," that it means she started to do "housewifely" duties - cooking, feeding them, caring for them.  And that could very well be what it means.

But what if it means something else?  According to V. Bruce Rigdon, in Disciples 2015, "The verb used for serve in this case eventually led the church to describe those who served as deacons."  Is there an additional implication here?  Could it be that when she was healed of her fever, she was also changed?  That her healing was more complete than just a medical one, but was also a spiritual one? That what she experienced was dramatic enough that she began to live her life as Jesus lived his?  In service to others?  Could she, at that moment, have become a disciple?  Not one of the twelve, but a follower of Jesus who served others, and became deacon-like?


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ashes to Ashes to Eternal Life

This is the view from my office window.  What this image (which isn't very good - sorry!) doesn't show is that when I left my house this morning, it was 0 degrees.  We've had much snow and now cold weather all week.

Our office is located in a Church building.  Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and the church held a "drive by" imposition of ashes near the statue of the Homeless Jesus.  I was a volunteer from 11:30 to noon.

The pastor of the church was so excited by this ministry that he stayed outside with us.  It was a wonderful experience to watch up close as he imposed ashes and told the recipient that he or she was ashes, but is also created for immortality.  He told us that some of the people he met that day didn't know what Ash Wednesday was, and after he explained it to them, asked for the ashes to be imposed.  And then a few asked about a ride to church.

On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of our mortality, and through Monty yesterday, I was reminded of my immortality.  May it be so for you as well.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Joy in the Other

V. Bruce Rigdon wrote, in Disciples 2015, "Love thrives and grows by finding joy in the other and expressing it in praise and thanks."

That's certainly an excellent reason for praising God, if we needed another one.  Our continuing praise of God strengthens our relationship with God.  It's not because God needs us to list out the ways God is to be praised, but because we do.  We need it.  When we increase our awareness of reasons why we love God, we are changed.  Our relationship to God is changed.  We are then able to love others.

So, how else can we apply that theory?  Where in your life could you strengthen your relationship with someone else by finding joy in the other person?  What ways can you find to express it?  Who needs a words of encouragement?  Can you find - in your perception of that person - something to praise?  Can you find joy in the other person and share it with them?  And can you do it in a way that is authentic?

If you can't, perhaps God can help you (and me) to do it.  Maybe that's part of loving our neighbors?

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Give Praise to the Lord

Psalm 147:1-6

Give praise to the Lord.
Everyone, everything.
Praise the Lord.

It is a right and joyous thing
to sing praise to our God,
for he is full of grace,
and our spirits cannot help but sing God's praise.

God builds up,
God gathers us together,
all of us,
even those we would send away.
God gathers us together,
and hold us in his embrace.

God heals
those with broken hearts,
shattered with grief or pain.
He binds up our wounds,
Kissing them with a healing touch.

God turns and counts the stars
that he has created,
finding joy in each one,
knowing the name
that he has given to it.

Great is our Lord.
Abundant in power,
Full of wisdom and understanding,
beyond anything we can comprehend.
Great is our Lord,
and worthy to be praised.

The Lord reaches out to lift up
the downtrodden,
and protects them from the wicked.
He holds the hands of those in need.

Praise the Lord
with your song.
Everyone, everything,
Praise the Lord

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Grace, even through Jonah

Have you read the book of Jonah lately?  We remember it because the middle of it is so dramatic - Jonah being swallowed by a big fish, and living in the fish for three days.  It's a very colorful image that sticks with us, even as we learn the story as a child.  We might forget some stories in the Bible, but if someone asks, "What happened to Jonah?" we would answer that he was swallowed by a whale.

Digging deeper, though, yields more.  Jonah doesn't want to go where God is sending him because he doesn't want God to spare the people of Nineveh.  And when that is exactly what  happens, Jonah is angry.  Isn't that interesting?  And isn't that just like us, sometimes.  A friend of mine says, "We want mercy for us, and judgment for that other guy."

Have you ever asked God to extend mercy to your enemy?  Wouldn't that be an interesting prayer, and possibly what Jesus means when he tells us to pray for our enemies?  No wonder Jonah ran away.

But what is also interesting is that God worked through a very reluctant prophet.  Do you imagine that Jonah had much commitment to his work?  It was probably a good chance to be angry with the Ninevites, and to tell them how horrible they were.  Even so, it is amazing to me that God's work could be done through all of that anger and hatred.  Lives were transformed.

Just another reason why we call it amazing grace.  Unbelievable that it can work through me, even in my anger toward someone else.

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Monday, February 09, 2015


Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathaniel said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’  (John 1:45-46)

Read the first chapter of John again, especially if you haven't read it in a while.  I love love love the poetry of the writing at the very beginning.  And then, as you get to the end of the chapter, there are two call stories.  What's great about them - or what I am seeing today - is that Andrew brings Simon to Jesus and Philip brings Nathaniel.

I was in a meeting yesterday, and the devotional was centered around the Philip and Nathaniel story. The speaker asked, "Who has been Philip to you?"

Who has brought you to Christ?  Who has been Philip to you?

Who have you been Philip for, bring another person to Christ?

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Thursday, February 05, 2015

Liberty and Love

Think about the passage from 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 where Paul is telling the people of Corinth that their actions, even if "correct," are still harmful to the faith of others.  In Corinth, food that had been sacrificed to idols was later sold in the market.  There were those members of the church at Corinth who would not eat this meat because of its source.  Others ridiculed this stand, saying that idols weren't gods and that eating food that had been used in sacrifice to nothing was not sinful.  Paul says:
But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.  For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols?  So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. (verses 9-10)
What does that mean for us?  Think about the issues that confront our churches, that swirl around our church meetings, that create discord among our congregations.  Does our desire to be right sometimes override our ability to love?  Nancy Neal, in Disciplines 2015, wrote:
We get caught up in blaming, which drives wedges among us instead of building relationships in love... [W}hen we dig in our heels, we can't hear the other's wisdom.  By letting love guide us, we gain an openness to others.
Christ calls us to love each other.  Could openness offered to the opinion of another instead of stubbornly clinging to what is "right" be a way we offer another person love?

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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

A Delayed Thank You

Today, a gentleman named Mark called our office to speak to me.  He was calling to thank me for a scholarship we sent to him from a Trust we hold at our Foundation.  That's a great kind of call to receive, and it reminds me that the work we do here changes lives.

What was even more interesting was that we sent him the scholarship in 2012.  "I've been meaning to call you and thank you or to write a letter."  Over two years have gone by, and still he remembers the scholarship and has a need to thank us for it.  And the truth is, the thank you is just as wonderful today as it would have been in 2012 - maybe even more so.

What's on your mind that you need to do?  Is there a sympathy card you meant to send out, but didn't get to?  Is there a thank you or an encouragement that has stayed on your mind?  Can you follow Mark's example and pick up the phone or your pen or pull out your keyboard, and go ahead and do what God is nudging you to do?  It's probably not too late.  Go ahead.


Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Jesus and the Blankets

There is a new statue outside of my office.  It's called Homeless Jesus, and it is a bronze (I think it's bronze) depiction of Jesus, wrapped up in a blanket, lying on a park bench.  The only part of him that is visible outside of the blanket are his bare feet, with the nail holes being his identifying feature.  My office is located in a church, and a church member made a donation to purchase the sculpture.  It is located outside, next the sidewalk in front of the church building.

Lately, blankets have been appearing on top of Jesus, and a sign has been hung that says, "If you are cold, take a blanket from Jesus.  If you are warm and have a house, can you give a blanket, please?"  The blankets appear, and then they disappear, taken from Jesus by those who are cold.

I think that is a wonderful enactment of the scripture:
...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’  (Matthew 25:36-40)
How can we give to Jesus today?


Monday, February 02, 2015

Changing Unchanging God

From Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
Words by Walter C. Smith

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

We call God unchanging.  We sing about how God does not change.  In fact, there are several hymns that mention it.

And I'm not disputing it.  But just like in so many things that have to do with God, that's only one side of the coin.  God is unchanging, and yet God will change.  Read this written by Amy Persons Parkes in Disciplines 2015:
However, God is not stuck in a predetermined rut of accountability, even if our past choices have been less than faithful.  God is responsive to us as we (made in God's image) can be responsive to God.  The Lord can and will proceed towards the promise of a people who receive and respond to the divine message even if it means God has to make a change in the plan.
God, who is unchangeable, will change - his mind, his plans, his response.  What does not change about God is his love for us, and there is so much else that gets sacrificed for that love.

When we are at our best, aren't we like that?  Doesn't we change our response to people?  Don't we change our goals and dreams when necessary for the sake of those we love?  Don't we let go of our anger and hatred, so much so that we will re-create someone in our minds for the sake of forgiveness? What remains unchanged is the love we hold for that person; the rest isn't as important.

Thank God that God changes because God is unchanging.