random thoughts from sitting and listening to God

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What’s My Purpose?

I saw this quote that caused me to spend a fair amount of time thinking about it:

“Western cultures believe we must be alive for a purpose. To work, to make money. Some indigenous cultures believe we’re alive just as nature is alive: to be here, to be beautiful and strange. We don’t need to achieve anything to be valid in our humanness.”

The idea of having a purpose in life is one of those huge life questions. “Do I have a purpose?” And the related, “What is my purpose?” The idea of having a purpose is then closely tied to our identity. We have a tendency to identify ourselves and others by our careers, which we often think, or at least hope, is our purpose.

The truth is that the idea of having a purpose or calling in life assumes a God who is the Creator. Otherwise, we are all just creatures of chance, and how could chance give us a purpose. We might be born with certain physical or intellectual traits that suit us for certain careers. But if that’s all there is to it then we are just likely to do what our parents did. Kind of feeds into a caste system and not really a purpose.

We think of purpose or calling in different terms than just what we seem physically or intellectually destined to do. We think that there is a spiritual dimension that directs us to something that is beyond those things. We, and others, may or may not think we are suited to what we discover as our purpose or calling. But if it is our purpose or calling, we need to pursue it for real satisfaction and happiness in life. At least that is what we assume.

Let me now redefine things though. I have been using the idea of purpose and calling as identical things. That is how we often understand these terms. My purpose is what I was created and called to do. It’s all in what I do with my life. But what if purpose is separate from calling?

Looking at the quote, it’s seems to be saying we don’t have a purpose, we just are. As a Christian I think that we do have a purpose, and that purpose is to BE in relationship with God, other people, creation. God created us for relationship. In Genesis we are told that God created us and we are made alive by the very breath of God! That’s personal! That’s relationship!

What the quote then challenges is what I would name a “calling.” That we are failing in life if we are not fulfilling our calling, what we are called to DO. I believe we all have a calling in life. As we discover and live out that calling, we may or may not find satisfaction and joy. But if we have our foundation be our purpose, we can find satisfaction and joy regardless.

So, I think I would rewrite the quote to say something like this.

“Western cultures believe that we are alive to accomplish something. That we fail if we don’t make a lot of money, live in a big house, etc. They also believe we fail if we aren’t doing what God may have called us to do.

I believe we were simply created to BE in relationship with God, Humanity and Creation. And there is nothing we can do to fulfill our purpose by the things we DO, but by how we love. We fulfill our purpose in those relationships. We were all created unique and beautiful. As long as we are who God created us to BE, and love, we are successful. It is from this sense of BEING that our DOING flows.”

Time Out

The intro to this is kind of long, but please bear with me.

I still like to occasionally challenge my guitar playing skills by attempting to learn a song I know will be difficult. Most recently I decided to learn a song that I have liked for years. The main part of the song is played on an acoustic guitar, which is what I play. It’s also played finger-style, as opposed to strumming or playing individual notes with a pick, which is my preferred style. But it’s in 7/4 timing, which means that there are 7 beats per measure as opposed to the most common timings of 4/4 and 3/4. 7/4 is just really different.

There aren’t many songs that make it onto the radio that are in 7/4. A few examples are:

All You Need Is Love by The Beatles

Money by Pink Floyd

Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel (which is the one I wanted to learn)

I tried to learn Solsbury Hill a couple years ago, but didn’t really try hard. So I found a video on Youtube a few weeks ago that had a guy showing how to play it, and I set out to see if I could learn it.  I spent a couple hours, or maybe more, working on the song. It has a fairly tricky pattern that is magnified by being in an odd time signature. It was a bit frustrating trying to concentrate on the pattern and the timing. It was quite unnatural for this guy who generally plays in 4/4. But it was using my goto fingericking style. So after practicing for a while I started to believe it was possible for me to play.

After that day of trying to learn the song, I put it away for a couple weeks. When it came to playing guitar, I went back to playing songs I knew or learning others that were much easier. But after that break I picked up the guitar one day and tried to see if I could remember the song. To my amazement, I not only remembered, but it seemed to come almost naturally. What I had been concentrating so hard on before now just kind of flowed. It wasn’t perfect, or even close. But the basics of the song were there. I was playing without even really thinking about it.

And that is where a couple thoughts crept in that have to do with life. And I think they apply easily to our spiritual lives. Here they are:

Sometimes we try too hard to make something happen. There are things we think we should do, and even want to do, but they don’t come naturally. We find books or articles to guide us, work hard and concentrate, but we only seem to get very stilted results. Sometimes there are pieces that work and make sense, but we feel like we are going through the motions for limited results.

I know that often Christians struggle with things like prayer, meditation, and studying the Bible. We try hard to focus on them but they don’t come naturally. We know that others seem to do them easily and believe they should be easy for us as well.

But I struggle to sit still,

            I struggle to be quiet,

                        I struggle with words to say,

                                    I struggle to understand words

I get frustrated and stop.

For some, stopping means never really going back. Or it means stopping long enough that I have to start over when I try again. But I never seem to get it.

But what if we take a break from trying so hard, from concentrating on rules and guides and results. What if we take a break from the frustration and feelings of failure. What it we come back a few days later and instead of focusing on all that stuff, we focus on the goal, which is relationship with God? What if, instead of focusing on the form and structure of prayer and meditation and study, we just come to be with God? Let the conversation, and even the quiet, just come from our spirit. Not trying to accomplish anything but being present with one who is present with us.

I think that if we stop placing so much effort on trying to do something right, we might actually find our song.

Of Masks and Vaccines and How Christians Respond

As someone who dares to say that they try to follow Jesus in some feeble way, I have been watching, listening and reading posts about wearing a mask and getting a vaccine with much interest. Ok, I’ll be honest and say that I sometimes get angry when I do those things. But it’s mainly an anger based in what I understand as a very clear directive from Jesus about how we should respond, and how many Christians are responding. No, Jesus did not speak directly to how we should respond to a pandemic. But he did teach some concepts that we don’t have to stretch to say they apply.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear that this has nothing to do with whether or not a government can mandate anything.

As a Christian my highest loyalty,
and what should direct how I make decisions,
is Jesus.
I really don’t care what a government says about this.
Even if I were to believe that a government can’t mandate,
what decision I make about how to act should be based in the words and actions of Jesus,
not the freedoms I do or don’t have from the government.

I will do my best to not take these words from the Bible out of contest. Here are some passages that I think are clear.

When Jesus was asked about which commandment was the greatest, he responded with this:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Matthew 22:37-40

This is foundational of who we are as Christians. The teaching to love your neighbor as yourself is a command to not put yourself above others. We are to see them, at the very least, on the same level as ourselves. But Jesus had already said something that puts even this into a bit more context.

25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant…
Matthew 20:26

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 
Mark 9:35

So it wasn’t just about loving people as yourself, putting them on equal footing, Jesus actually advocated for treating others better than ourselves. We should humble ourselves and be their servant.

11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Matthew 23:11-1

If we turn to one of the most familiar and beloved stories from the gospels, we find an example of what Jesus meant in being a servant to others.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 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 neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 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. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 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. 35 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.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Luke 10:25-37

In this story, Jesus is explaining who our neighbors are (everyone, even the ones we don’t like), but he goes beyond just explaining that. In this story, the man who showed love and mercy to the neighbor actually went out of his way to show it. He could have just tended to his wounds. He could have just paid someone to help. But he made sacrifices. He tended to his wounds, transported him to safety, took care of him there, and paid for any more expenses that would be incurred in others taking care of the neighbor.

So loving neighbor includes a willingness to go the extra mile (another teaching of Jesus, but we’ll let that go for now) to make sacrifices.

In the gospel of John, Jesus puts a bigger emphasis on sacrificial loving of neighbor. It starts at the Last Supper, after the meal, Jesus gets up and demonstrates what he meant by loving others.

4 He (Jesus) got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him.
John 13:4-5

He then tells them they should do likewise, and that he had set an example for them to follow. Jesus then spends some time giving some final words of instruction.

12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. 13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 
John 15:12-13

Sacrificial love is a foundational characteristic for those who are followers of Jesus. The idea of leaning on my individual right above what would help others, the “greater good” if you will, is antithetical to the teachings and the example of Jesus.

And just so we understand that this is not just my thoughts and interpretation, the Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:1-4

Tan Lines

I have very interesting tan-lines right now. I work a couple of days per week at a country club, mostly mowing lots of golf course grass. Most of the time I wear shorts, but I also wear work boots for safety reasons. I also wear white socks that I keep pushed down to the top of the boots, but it still adds a little leg area that doesn’t see any sunshine. So, I have a tan area on my legs that goes from 3”-4” above my ankle (where the boots and socks end) to 3”-4” about my knee (where my shorts end). My wife and daughter make fun of me because most of the time I wear sandals and shorts when not mowing. It looks like I’m wearing white socks all the time.

I got me thinking about what happens when we expose ourselves to the Son. No, I don’t mean that kind of exposing ourselves. Get you mind out of the gutter! Whether we want to admit to it or not, we don’t intentionally expose everything in our lives to God. Yes, God knows all about us, even those things we try to keep hidden. But God does not intrude into our lives in ways that force change on us. God waits, and allows us to bring our hidden things on our time.

What this means is that all of us have some weird, Son-influenced tan-lines on our lives. There are areas that we place before God and allow the light of Christ to shine on it. Those are mostly safe things that we would be ok if anyone knew about. Yes, some of us do allow bigger, deeper, darker things to be exposed when we hit some kind of bottom or wall. But most of the time, if we are honest, we keep things hidden because we don’t want people to know about our ugly tan lines.

We try to convince others that we have an all over tan, but in truth we have “socks” and “farmer’s tan” and other distinct marking that have never been exposed to the Son’s redeeming, healing, and loving grace. But here’s another truth. Not only can we not hide those tan-lines from God, we sometimes expose those tan-lines to the world, even when we don’t know it.

We expose them when we spend more time looking for other’s markings and ignoring ours.

We expose them when we judge people by their looks and their actions, instead of their hearts and spirits. Actually, when we judge people!

We expose them when we follow the letter of the laws that we like, but ignore the ones that we don’t.

We expose them when we talk like we know all about God/Jesus but we seldom, if ever, go to church, read the Bible, or pray.

We expose them when we act like we are better than others who don’t belong to the right church, don’t believe in the Bible the right way, don’t believe the same way we do about issues.

I could go on, but you get the point. The world can see hypocrisy a mile away.

I have to be really careful on social media. I often find myself judging others because I know about their religious and political beliefs. (Pretty easy to see these days!)  I don’t say anything on social media, but I find myself thinking, “What a moron!” And/or, “I can’t believe they call themselves Christian with those views!” And/or, “I bet they don’t have anywhere near the knowledge of the Bible or faith that I do!” (There, I just exposed some of my tan-lines!)

So…

 God,

I reveal the hidden judgmental attitudes that I have.

I confess that I all too often judge others

    for things about them I don’t like or agree with.

I confess that there are other areas of my life that I want to keep hidden,

    but I’m tired of pretending I can hide them from you.

I want an all-over Son tan from exposing all of my life

    to your redeeming, healing, and loving grace.

Give me the courage to keep admitting and exposing them,

    first to myself, then to you.

Allow, and help, me to continue to grow in your grace all my days.

Holy Week #2 – Re-creation

Isaiah 40:28-31
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

Because of the “Stay at Home” orders issued by many states, US citizens are being forced to slow down. A lot of people are not working or working many less hours and from home. Many of us are finding ourselves with a lot of spare time that we aren’t used to having. There are two big responses that I have observed through this time. One is that people are feeling guilty. In this country we have been trained to believe that to be idle is wasting time. We are supposed to be in a constant state of getting something accomplished. The other is that we aren’t sure what to do and we’re bored. Again, we have a lot of spare time and we just aren’t sure what to do.

I want to suggest something that at first is going to seem counter to everything we have been told about work and being idle – It’s ok to take a timeout!

dani mountains

I know our culture is all about what it defines as being productive, and being idle is not a part of that definition. And you can see evidence of that even in the midst of this pandemic. I have seen numerous article and pictures with “encouraging words” that suggest we need to use this time to learn something new, to create something, to plow through our “To Do” list. In other words, don’t sit idle.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we just sit still and do nothing for the entire time of our “Stay at Home” order. That would not be healthy for us, mind, body or soul. But to just keep busy because we would feel guilty or “less than” for not doing so is not healthy either. What I am suggesting is that, in the midst of this crisis, we make sure we take some time to rest, that we allow our mind and bodies to slow down or even stop for a time.

We seem to forget that one of the commandments from God is that we take a day off. No work!

Exodus 20:8-11
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Here’s the deal. God took a day off! Why do we think we shouldn’t?

The passage at the beginning of this post says that those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength. What I hear in that is, as we slow down and pay attention to God’s presence (like I suggested in my last post), we will be renewed. We will be re-created. Our spirits will be refreshed, our strength renewed, our minds unclouded, our lives unburdened.

One of the things that people have been noticing during our worldwide slowdown is that it seems like the earth is being renewed to some degree. Air pollution is lessening, the ground is coming more fully to life without all the traffic (human and motorized), and bodies of water seem to be renewing.

The same thing happens to us when we take a time out. God uses that time to re-create us. To make us more of what God intended for us to be in the first place.

“… but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”

Becoming Aware

It was my intent to write something for each day of Holy Week (the days leading up to Easter). Monday got away from me so I’ll write two today. These reflections are going to focus on a specific practice that helps us be more spiritually connected to God through the world around us.

1 Kings 19:11-13a
11 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.

One of the questions that people often ask in the midst of a crisis is, “Where is God while this is happening?” The basis for this question is the belief that God is able to fix the situation, but for some reason is either absent or indifferent. The dissonance we feel is because we believe in a loving God who is also all powerful. We don’t believe in a God who is indifferent or absent, so what’s going on?

The answer to that feeling of dissonance is more complex than I can deal with here. But I will say that I still believe that God is present and at work. God does care and loves. But our perspective and expectations often cloud our ability to “see” God. So, I want to suggest something for us to do that might clear away the clouds.

When I was in school to become a pastor, I had a class that dealt with spiritual practices. One day the professor gave us a simple exercise; go outside and find God. What the exercise was intended to do was to get us to look at the natural world with different eyes. We needed to “tune in” with all of our senses. To make a long story short, I found myself in a stand of huge pine trees that looked like columns in an old cathedral. The ground was covered with pine needles and pretty much nothing else. As I felt a gentle breeze blowing through that space, I felt like I was in the presence of God is a powerful way.

If you can, go outside and use all of your sense to get in touch with the world around you. Get a feel for how big the world is beyond our little spaces. What do you see, hear and smell? How might any of what you sense alert you to God presence? What might God be saying through those things? Don’t fixate on one thing too quickly at the expense of the bigger picture. If I had just focused on the beauty of the pines and the feeling of a cathedral, I might have missed the breeze that felt like the Holy Spirit moving in that place. Elijah found God in the sheer silence.

What you find might just give you the answer to where God is right now. God is all around us … if we change our perspective and become aware. And you might also discover that God is at work in this crisis … in and through you, offering peace and calm in the storm.

So, go outside and find God! Then tell me about the experience.

That’ll Leave a Mark

That’ll Leave a Mark!

Galatians 5:22-23
22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

During this time of self-quarantining, I have been playing guitar more than I have in years, maybe even decades. Between 4-5 songs on Sunday morning for our worship time, 1. 5 hours of playing on both Wednesday and Thursday nights, and practice time, my fingers are building tough callouses. As a matter of fact, because of the amount of playing, my fingers now have permanent grooves from the strings on the guitar. That’s common for people who play a lot, I just haven’t had them for a while.

fingers

That reminds of me of another “mark” of guitar players, especially those who fingerpick the strings. I do that a lot when I play. If you are going to play like the folk singers of the 60’s and 70’s, you need to fingerpick. A number of years ago, Nola and I were at a free outdoor, one day music festival. We were sitting at a table eating when another couple came and sat near us. The man all of a sudden said, “You play guitar, don’t you.” I told him I did and wondered how he knew. He had seen my fingernails. My left hand nails are short to press down on the strings, my right hand nails are longer to pick the strings. The mark of a guitar fingerpicker.

Pondering those two marks of a guitar player, I started to think about the “marks” we might have as a Christian. Some kind of indelible mark that lets others know who we are. There are a number of places in the Bible where there are indicators of what that mark(s) might be.
There are places that tell us that joy should be a constant attitude, or maybe gratefulness, or peace, or forgiveness, or love.

John 13:35
35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

There is a quote from one of the early church leaders that says that people who weren’t Christians would say, “See how they love one another.”
Marked by love.

But I want to take this a step further, because, as Jesus said, it ‘s easy to love those who love you. It’s easy to love and care for people who are part of your circle of family and friends. But is the mark of the Christian only visible to other Christians? Are we only to let others see it if they are in our inner circle?

The verses from Galatians at the top of this post don’t mention that these “fruits of the Spirit” are only to be shared with special people. Actually, they have nothing to do with who they are shared with. If you have opened yourself up to the movement of God, to the power of God’s Spirit in and around you, it will leave a mark. And the closer you are the more profound the mark will be. And if you have this mark on you, it will be visible for all to see.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These are not marks that only come out in the right crowd. If they are truly from God, they will be visible for all to see.

The world is desperately in need of people with these kinds of marks on them. People who exude love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control! People who are marked so deeply and profoundly by their relationship with Jesus Christ that they can’t help it. People living as if they have a sign over their head that says, “I want to share myself with you! I want you to know what hope is like because you have seen it in me! I want you to know what love and wholeness is like because you have been around me!”

The truth is that there are times when the marks I carry are quite visible, and there are times when they are marred by my own brokenness. And that is true for all of us. But we don’t have to be perfect, the marks don’t have to be huge, in order to do our best to share them. And what we find is that when we share them, the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, our marks become deeper and more profound. Because in our sharing these marks with others, we are sharing them with Jesus Christ, who is the source of all our Christian marks.

Gimme Shelter

The word “shelter” has taken on some new meaning this week. “Shelter in place” is the order that is ringing out all over our country. Don’t go anywhere unless you have to. Stay in the shelter of your home until the all clear is given.

Some people bristle at the order because it feels like a loss of freedom. Someone is not only telling them what to do, but where they can (or can’t) go. But most people either just resign themselves to the order or see it as a good thing to battle the virus that seems alive and in attack mode.

In the midst of this time, I want to suggest looking at shelter the way it is presented in the Psalms.

Psalm 27:5
For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.

Psalm 61:4
Let me abide in your tent forever, find refuge under the shelter of your wings.

Psalm 91:1-2
1 You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
2 will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”

I want to be clear about something here. This shelter with God is not a promise that we won’t ever experience difficulty, pain or suffering. It isn’t an invitation to do whatever we want because God has my back. The Bible tells us not to put God to the test, which is what I believe some are doing by ignoring the no group gatherings.

So, what are we to make of these “shelter” verses?

To begin with, the language being used is that the “shelter” is really about the presence of God. It’s spiritual language about spiritual places. The tent, the rock, the wings, the fortress, these are not physical places. These are spiritual metaphors for God watching over and protecting us. For a person of faith, this spiritual “shelter” is no less powerful than a physical shelter. We know that we are so much more than physical beings, and that our physical, emotional, and spiritual selves are completely intertwined.

So, even though the physical world seems to be out of control, we can find shelter with God. Even though there may be no physical place we can go to escape this chaos, we can trust that God is with us everywhere and always, and that with God we will get through this. It doesn’t mean that a person of faith will not get sick, or even die. But it does mean that, regardless of what happens, we will find peace and comfort and help.

So, take a time out today, tomorrow, and as many days as necessary, and just be still. Read Psalms 27, 61, and 91. Imagine being under God’s protection. Allow the promise that God is with you everywhere and always to wrap around your fear and anxiety and carry it away. Pray with words if you need to, but just be in God’s shelter.

Psalm 27
Triumphant Song of Confidence
1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
2 When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.
3 Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
4 One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
5 For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
6 Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
10 If my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me up.
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas

Luke 2:8-12
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

I know! It’s the middle of March! We’re about 3 weeks from Easter! Christmas is long past! You can’t even make the case for a Christmas in July! Hear me out …

One of the things that I’ve been seeing going around on Facebook is the suggestion of putting your Christmas lights back up. Just another thing we might do that could bring joy to people. A surprise of festive lights in the midst of this season of darkness. Yes, the days are getting longer, but darkness seems to be settling in. So, put up the Christmas lights and lifts people’s spirits. But it’s one thing to put up Christmas lights and another to share the Christmas story. Or is it?

For those of you who might be unsure, the date for Christmas is not really based on something in the Bible that indicates December 25 was Jesus’ actual birth date. There are some people who go to extreme lengths to try to prove that it really is that exact date, but most of the Christian scholarly community thinks it’s a dubious effort at best. There are various theories and reasons why some people chose that date. But for many of us, if not most, the actual date is way down the list of importance in comparison to the fact that it happened. God came to us in Jesus Christ at a certain point in human history, and the world has never been the same.

And the truth is that Christmas is not really supposed to be a birthday party celebration. Even though we read the story of Jesus’ birth, the reason for Christmas is not to just to ogle a cute baby in a manger. It’s to remember that God came to us in Jesus Christ at a certain point in human history, and the world has never been the same. I know I just said that but I don’t think we emphasize it enough. We were never meant to stay at the manger, cooing. We were meant to get up and go do show and tell. Let the world know that God loved it so much that Jesus came to save us, not condemn us. To tell people about it with words, but more than that, show them by the things we do.

There are a lot of things that we might do, but lots of restrictions on what we can do. We can check in on people. For those who have facetime on their phones, use it. I think people still use Skype. Emails, texts, and even paper letters. Physical distance doesn’t have to mean isolation. We can run errands for those who are most at risk. You don’t have to go inside their home to do that.

Do small things to bring a positive light into homes, on social media, or into any place where you encounter others. I just purchased 4 baskets of flowers to put on the railing in front of our townhome. It’s a rail that we share with 3 other units. Just a splash of spring to remind people new life is coming. Putting Christmas lights up (or just plugging them in again for those who never took them down) is a small thing. But it might just bring a glimmer of joy to someone. And if they stop and ponder the reason we usually put them up, they might find hope along with their joy.

Christmas is not just a day. It is not even just a season. Christmas is with us every day, because Jesus is born into the world every time someone does a kingdom of God thing.

Merry Christmas!

Just Today

Matthew 6:34
“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

As I was looking at a devotional reading this morning, there was a written prayer, and the last line was:
“Through the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, enlighten, instruct, and guide me all the day long.”

The last four words really grabbed me attention.
All the day long.
Not all my life long,
or all year long,
or even all week long.
All the day long.
Just one day.

During this crisis that we are living in I have to admit that most of my attention is focused somewhere down the road. Wondering how many weeks or months we are going to be facing this health threat. Wondering how long we are going to have to have our lives disrupted with so much of our country being shut down. Wondering what will be shut down next. Wondering how we are going to make it because of lost income. Wondering how long our recovery is going to take. Wondering if we, or someone we know, will become infected. And the truth is that for many, if not most, of us, you could replace the word wondering with worrying.

I get it. We have never faced anything like this. There are more questions than answers. Every day there is more and new information, but even that leaves us with more questions. It’s hard not to worry.

Now, before I continue, I want to be clear that what I’m advocating is not sitting around doing nothing, just waiting for everything to straighten out. There are things we need to do to make sure we have what we need to get through this. And we need to pay attention to some of the information coming out that will give us things we need. But …

Another verse from Matthew, before the one I wrote above says, “can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”

The obvious answer is no. Worrying doesn’t add to the length of our lives. Actually, there are plenty of studies that say exactly the opposite.

Some information from WebMD
Chronic worry and emotional stress can trigger a host of health problems. Difficulty swallowing, dizziness, dry mouth, fast heartbeat, fatigue, headaches, inability to concentrate, irritability, muscle aches, muscle tension, nausea, nervous energy, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, sweating, trembling and twitching, suppression of the immune system, digestive disorders, and heart attack are some.

We say it as a cliche, but the truth is that we literally do worry ourselves to death.

But what if we stopped looking so far out? What if we stopped looking past what is immediately before us? Today has plenty to fill our plates. What if we trusted that God really does care for us and is with us, even in the midst of this crisis. The thoughts about why God allows suffering in our world is huge and for another time. But the bottom line for me is that, while God allows us to have free will, and the result of that is much of the brokenness of our world, God never leaves us and never stops loving us.

So I trust in God. My trust is not dependent on God fixing this mess for us. My trust is based in a believe that God is speaking to us. Speaking words of comfort and peace, speaking words of hope and grace, speaking words of wisdom and love. I trust that we will come out on the other side of this, with God’s help. And that God’s help looks like:

Wise decisions of leaders who put the welfare of all above the welfare of a few.

People with all of our differences and diversity coming together for the common good.

People taking care of each other and showing love of neighbor.

All of us doing our best to bring everyone out of this intact.

So take one day at a time. And take time to focus on God instead of your worries. And maybe you/I/we will be healthier on the other side.

Loving God, you care for us more than we know or believe.
We admit that we often lose focus on your love for us,
and focus on the cares of this world,
worrying about what might be,
worrying about many things beyond our control.
Help us to refocus our attention
away from the worries that wear us out with their burdens,
and onto you, who lightens burdens and gives us rest.
May we find hope and peace in the midst of this chaos,
As you calm our hearts and minds and souls.
In the name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.