Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Extraordinary Moment

In Buechner's book, Beyond Words, as he describes Advent, he first uses three illustrations:
  1. Imagine the moment before the conductor begins directing the orchestra - every instrument tuned and ready, the baton in the air. The room is silent in anticipation of the first note.
  2. Imagine midwinter dusk, and the anticipatory silence of the world.
  3. Imagine walking up to a front door and catching a whiff in the air of what is inside - maybe a crock pot cooking a roast, or a cake baking - but the only clue you have is the fragrance of anticipation.
Those moments are like Advent.

Buechner writes, "The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment."

May you find God in the moment of Advent.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Shocking Silence

When I was reading the passage I quoted yesterday from 1 Kings 19, I read it in both the New Revised Standard version and The Message. 

Look at the difference at the end of verse 12:
  • New Revised Standard: and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
  • The Message:and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.
To me, those are very different phrases.  A gentle and quiet whisper is not insistent. It is a sound that waits for us to look - without intrusion of interruption.  A sound of sheer silence doesn't sound gentle. It sounds shocking. Intense. Radical.

I think God can be either, but I think, in this case, at least for me, the sound of sheer silence is the better phrase to describe what happens. Maybe I only feel that way today, and with another reading, I'll be struck be the gentle whisper.

Where in your life are you confronted by a God that speaks in a shock of sheer silence? What about a gentle whisper?

And we shouldn't ever forget that God, being God, can also come in the earthquake and fire.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Bundled Up

He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.  (1 Kings 19:11-13)
It struck me yesterday that the passage above is in some ways an Advent passage. It's not about the coming of Christ, of course, but it is about waiting and watching for God.  It's about patience and expectation.

Elijah (who is the character in the passage) has run away to the wilderness.  In these verses, he is told to stand and wait.  I read this morning that wait and hope have the same root word in Hebrew.  Elijah, like us, is waiting and hoping for God. 

In this busy time of year, we wait in anticipation to find God. There is much to be seen around us - distractions from what we are looking for.  

Frederick Buechner writes, "The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell. The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move. Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the wind chill factor."

Could it be that we are too focused on the wind, the earthquakes, and the fire - and maybe that is intentional?

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Monday, December 18, 2017

Our Days

Inspired by Psalm 90

We think we are strong.
We imagine, sometimes, that we are invincible.
Invisible to the pain of death.
And then we realize that we are not.

We dwell in your house, O God.
We were born in you - created in you.
As were all who came before us. 
At the beginning of time,
when the mountains rose from the sea,
and the earth was formed,
you were there,
and you created us.

You know, even when we forget, 
that we are dust,
and to dust we will return.
Time is nothing to you.

Hours and minutes are meaningless,
you sweep them away like a dream.
The grass grows,
the grass fades as the sun sets.

When we open ourselves to your presence,
we realize our sin.
Your righteous anger is justified.
Our sins overwhelm us.
Our disobedience overtakes us.
You set it before us.
Shine light on it.
And we cannot avoid it.

All our days pass by
and our years end like a quiet sigh.
Seventy. Eighty. Perhaps.
Even in your presence,
we do not live in heaven.
Life passes. Trouble passes.
And they are gone. And we fly away.

You are God.
Your majesty and divinity are great before us.
Teach us to count our days.
Grant us the wisdom it brings.

Shine your light, we pray.
Grant us grace in your compassion.
Fill us with your unending, loyal love
so that we may find joy
each day we have been given.
Open our eyes to your presence each day we have been given.
Let your favor be upon us,
and may the work we do
be the work you set for us
so that the days we have been given
have divine meaning.

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Friday, December 15, 2017

Perspectives: We see what we see

What do you see? I see a troll in a rock with bushy green hair.  Once I see it, I can't see anything else.

That's how it works sometimes, isn't it? When we see what we see, it is all we can see. It's hard to open our minds after that.


Thursday, December 14, 2017


In Sunday school last week, the teacher asked us to share when we had experienced great joy. The room was silent. Interesting, this is not a group that hasn't experienced joy, I'm sure. There is happiness here, but we all had trouble vocalizing it.

Then, this morning, in the concluding chapter of Peterson's book, Psalms: Prayers of the Heart, he writes about Psalm 150, "In Hebrew the first and last word of this prayer is hallelujah ("praise the Lord"). To what extent is your life bracketed by this word?

So that's the question I bring to you today. How is your life bracketed by the praise of God? Do you begin and end with Hallelujah? 

In the depth and details of each day, I think we lose our ability to see the joy and to find the presence of God. In my bullet journal, I have a spread called Gratitude. Each day I fill two lines of the book with what I am grateful for that day. Sometimes it takes a moment for me to find it - it's not that the joy isn't there - it's that I have to remember to look for it. I'm grateful for the practice of gratitude because it opens my eyes to joy.

Try it for a week and see if you see more joy - see if your days can end on an Hallelujah.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Thoughts about Psalm 73

Have you ever read Psalm 73?  Go read it and then come back.  I'll wait.

It starts out with the writer talking about God being good, but how he almost missed God's goodness because he was watching the rich and their success - the arrogance and flashiness of the people around him

The Message puts it this way:

What’s going on here? Is God out to lunch?
Nobody’s tending the store.
The wicked get by with everything;
they have it made, piling up riches.
I’ve been stupid to play by the rules;
what has it gotten me?
A long run of bad luck, that’s what—
a slap in the face every time I walk out the door.

Couple of things:
  1. First, one can admire the psalmist for writing what he feels - what he thinks. This is an honest complaint to God, and we should all be that authentic in our prayers.
  2. Is this "prosperity gospel"? Is this one person expecting treasurers on earth for faith?

I just thought it was an interesting Psalm to read and think about.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

O God, my God

Reading Praying Our Tears from Peterson's book, Psalms: Prayers of the Heart. The chapter is about Psalm 6, and this poem is inspired by it.

She sat on the floor,
head in her hands.
Her grief was a living thing
surrounding her,
suffocating her.
So she prayed.

O God, my God,
do not be angry with me.
I could not bear another weight on my soul.
Send me your grace,
Save me in my lifelessness.
Heal me, O God, my God.
My bones are shaking with fear and sorrow.
My soul is struck with terror.
I cannot see you.
How long will you be gone?

Come back, O God, my God,
Find me, save me,
if you have ever loved me,
love me now.
In this valley of death I cannot hear your voice.
I cannot remember your presence.
Are you here?
In this hell, how can I find the words to praise you?
How could anyone?

I am so tired.
The moans from my soul are weak.
Every sleepless night I drown in my own tears.
My bed is full of tears.
My eyes are wasting away in the sorrow.
I think I cannot possibly cry anymore, 
and yet I do.

O God, my God,
save me from my own thoughts.
I have faith that you have heard me in this depth,
and that you have heard my prayers.
I have faith that you have brought me close.
I see a small light.

And I know it is you.

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Who we Actually Are

We must pray who we actually are, not who we think we should be.  (Psalms: Prayers of the Heart, Eugene Peterson)

How many friendships do you have that require that you be who you are - not who you think you should be? That is a level of intimacy that we probably don't share with many people. It is a level of vulnerability that is hard to achieve, and it requires a deep trust.

Prayer, when it is authentic, demands this of us. Do we give it?

Do we filter what we pray so that our words, thoughts and requests reflect who we think God wants us to be instead of who we are? Do we pray our pain? Do we pray our hurt? Are we honest with God about our sin? 

Surely we don't hold back because we think God doesn't know who we are?

If we aren't honest in our prayers, is it because being honest and vulnerable before God means being honest with ourselves?

And maybe that is something we need to pray about.

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Friday, December 08, 2017

The Facets of Salvation

Eugene Peterson's book, Psalms: Prayers of the Heart, suggests that we look at Psalm 103 as a poem that expresses the experience of salvation. I read the Psalm and listed what I found as the facets of salvation (from Psalm 103)

The Lord:

  • hears our prayers
  • forgives our sins
  • heals our deiseases
  • redeems our lives from the Pit
  • grants us steadfast love
  • gives us mercy
  • satisfies us
  • stays with us as long as we live
  • renews our youth
  • lifts us up like an eagle
  • works vidication
  • brings justice
  • makes himself known
  • is gracious
  • is slow to anger
  • is filled with love
  • sometimes does not accuse
  • does not keep his anger forever
  • does not deal with us according to our sin
  • does not repay us for what we have done wrong
  • has love that is larger than we can imagine
  • separates us from our sin with a distance that we cannot express
  • loves us as children
  • is compassionate toward us
  • remembers how we are made
  • remembers that we are from dust
  • has love that is eternal, and gives it to us

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Thursday, December 07, 2017

Genesis and Joy

Read this from Genesis 3:17-18:

And to the man he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.

And now read this from Joy to the World:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to makes His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found, 
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

I know, I should have seen that before, but I never have. In class last night, we started an Advent study, and Terry compared these two quotes. She was pointing out how the coming of Christ is the salvation of the world, and how the hymn illustrates how the incarnation is the response to the fall.

As we move through Advent, I thought this would be a great thought to carry with us.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Map vs GPS

On Monday, I wrote about my GPS, and how it sent me on a road I would not have chosen. As I was driving, I promised myself that the next time, I would look at the map myself, before starting out, and I would know the way - I wouldn't be as realiant on the GPS.

It's funny, because on the way to church the day before my meeting, Steve and I were talking about the GPS. It only shows you the details.  You see the road you are on, and the next turn, but that's it - you can't see the big picture. When you use a map, you see the directions, and whole trip.

Sometimes we need to use the map. We need to envision the entire trip - the directions, the roads, the destination - the whole vision of where we are going. Sometimes, we need the GPS - the step by step instructions.

The issue, I think, is that FIRST we need the map - where are we going, and how will we get there, and THEN we need the GPS - the step by step instructions.

In the church, when we fail to do the visioning work, the purpose of the details becomes blurred, and we get lost in the woods. The steps we are taking become the more important than the goal. It could be that this is a point of conflict for some churches. The steps become sacred, but the goal is never thought of.

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Monday, December 04, 2017

A Different Way

Earlier this week, I had a meeting at a church, and was traveling to the church in the dark through unfamiliar territory. I was following my GPS, and the directions took me on a backroad, through mountains and farmland. It was a dark, lonely, twisting, rough road (can you tell I didn't like it?), and most of the time the only reason I kept driving was that I blindly following the directions on my GPS.  

The whole time I was driving - over half an hour in the middle of no where, I kept thinking that there had to be a better way to get where I was going.  I was certain I wasn't returning to where I had started using the road I was on.  I would find a better way.

When we know where we are going, are we sometimes convinced that we way we are trying to get there isn't the best way to accomplish what we are doing? In the church, do we keep "traveling" a path that isn't the best one to use? And do we ever say, "Is there a better way to get there?"

Sometimes the path we are on is an old one - one that we have used many times - and the only reason we stay on it is fear of change.  Sometimes the path we are on is one that is designed by someone else (like my GPS), and we stay on it because we haven't done the research we need to do to find a different way. Sometimes the path we are on is going to the wrong place (my real fear the other night), and we are too stubborn to admit it.

We need to ask the important questions, and then act on our answers - and find the differnet, better way.

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Friday, December 01, 2017

Perspectives: Underneath

This is the ceiling in the Charlotte Airport. Or, I should say - it is what will be behind the ceiling when the renovations to the ceiling are completed.

It's not a pretty picture. There is nothing unusal or impressive about it. I took the picture because it reminded me that what we see in people - or in an organization - may not be the same as what is beneath.

That doesn't mean the ceiling, when it is completed, will be a lie, or that it will be in inauthentic ceiling.

It just means that we have a part of us that is visible to those around us, and underneath that, is a part of us that is private. We need to remember that when we look at other people, we are only seeing the surface. With our closest friends and family, we may know more about what lies underneath, but even then, not all of it.

I think this is a good reminder, though, especially when we deal with acquaintances or those people we really don't know. We don't know what is behind the public "face" of them.

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