Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Light Lives in You!

One of my best friends. Dawn, struggles with depression. For her, this means that she isolates herself and goes from work to home, home to work. She cries over things that aren’t worth crying over, like when her boss yells at her or when her sister tells her how happy she is with her husband and two children, the family Dawn wishes she had. Recently, we went out for a nice dinner with the intentions of painting the town red. But Dawn’s eyes had no fire in them. She wanted to go home. The light had gone out within her.

Sadly, Dawn’s depression is not uncommon. I have spoken with many people, young and old, male and female, single and married, church-goer and non church-goer, who feel disillusioned by the hardships of life, overwhelmed, anxious, depressed. Those who suffer like this face each day with a bit of dread, and their own light is struggling to shine within them

John, a good man that I know through the prison system, was not disillusioned or anxious about life when he was 19. He was actually happy and cavorting about the streets. But one day, unintentionally, he got himself into a whole heap of trouble. John is from a rough neighborhood, and one day some 12 years ago, his best friend’s girlfriend was slashed across the face with a knife by a kid from the neighborhood. John accompanied his best friend to confront the boy, and as one thing lead to another, John found himself with the gun. He shot the kid from the neighborhood. He killed him. John was sentenced to 15 year in prison without parole and all the happiness and goodwill he had in his heart was lost. He became angry and blamed everyone but himself for the crime he had committed. When he came to Fishkill Correctional Facility, a men’s medium security prison which you can see off of Interstate 84, he was bitter and mean. He had a reputation even before arriving at the prison and was feared. In his eyes was darkness. The light had gone out within him.

While most of us will never commit murder, anger and blaming others for our problems runs rampant among us. We feel we deserve more than we have. We are sick and tired of the demands placed upon us. We feel wronged by those who are supposed to love us most. We face each day lost and lonely. Darkness looms large. Our own light is struggling to shine within us.

Where is God in all of this, we wonder. For many of us, believing in God means putting our faith and hope in a divine being outside of ourselves. This means that we put ourselves in a powerless situation waiting for God, who is out there, external to us, to rescue us from ourselves and that which we struggle with. It’s no wonder that so many people end up feeling bitter towards God and helpless. It’s no wonder that many of us stop believing. In trying to be faithful, we give our power away and we lose our accountability and responsibility. In doing this, we miss out on being the children of God we are created to be.

Scripture says that “In [Jesus Christ] was life, and that life was the light of all people” (John 1:4). Jesus brings light to the world. But so many of us feel that our light has been extinghished for one reason or another. Relationsihps, money, work, demands, not having the life we believe we deserve, you name it. Many of us feel lost in darkness as though the light has gone out within our souls.

But tonight, we celebrate and rejoice in the incarnation, that God came to earth to be with us in the person of Jesus Christ. We aren’t just remembering a historical event that took place 2000 years ago halfway around the world though. Tonight, we are rejoicing and celebrating in that light which was in Jesus that has been given to us as the children of God. Tonight, Jesus is being born again in the hearts of all who believe, and he is lighting the fire of life within us once again, dispelling the darkness we have known. On this most sacred of evenings, consider that God has come to dwell in you. Jesus was a human being with the divine inside of him. The miracle of Christmas is that we are human beings with the divine inside of us also, bringing us alive, filled with light.

To have faith in God is to let the Christ child grow inside of you so that as you think, speak and act, it is Christ thinking, speaking and acting in you. You become the light just as he was the light. Jesus remains present in the world through each of us. As Paul proclaims in Galatians, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

Think what this means then. The power of God is no longer something completely external to yourselves, something you are waiting for, something you have no control over. The power of God dwells in you. To believe in God is to believe in yourself. To have faith in God is to have faith in yourself. To have confidence in God is to have confidence in yourself. And to trust in God is to trust in yourself because you and God are one, like Jesus and the Father are one.

The depression that rules you, the anger that strangles your joy, the bad habit or addiction that diminishes your life, with the light of God in you, you will find the power to choose differently, to choose happiness over sorrow, health over destruction. The worry over money that keeps you up at night and on edge during the day, with the light of God in you, you will have a new perspective from which to approach the world. That cycle of blame and regret you have with your loved one, with the light of God in you, you will break that cycle by becoming someone who responds rather than reacts and someone who listens before you speak.

To have faith in God is to have confidence and trust in yourself as a child of light.

By the grace of God, my friend Dawn, now knows that the Living God lives inside of her. She has taken action to overcome her depression, her anxiety and fears. She is currently cultivating a life that encompasses much more than home and work. She is seeking her dream of marriage and family. She is taking care of herself. As someone who cares deeply about her, I am happy to say that the light has been rekindled within her. The light of God now shines in her soul

And John, who is still serving his time in prison, is a changed man. No longer does anger and blame fill his heart. By the grace and power of God, he has spent the last 12 years transforming himself. I saw him on Monday night. He was valedictorian of the Rising Hope class of 2010, a college level program offered in the prison. I saw a light in his eyes, and he could not stop smiling. (He had a huge grin. His smile made me smile). He told me that he had been resurrected from the dead and transformed both inside and out. He no longer felt and thought and acted like he did so many years ago. I am happy to say that the light has been rekindled within him. The light of God now shines in his soul.

Just a few days ago, I saw a full moon and a sky filled with stars. It was glorious and lit up both the sky and the earth. That light comes from God, but that is not the only light that comes from God There is also light inside of each of us. If no one ever told you this before, listen to these words tonight, the light of God shines within you. And with the birth of Jesus on this night, that light is being rekindled in your soul once again.

Just like there are billions of stars up there shining down upon the billions of people on the earth, so too is that light from God shining within us all. From depressed to hopeful. From angry to joyful. From unfulfilled to content. Whatever the situation, whoever you may be, the baby is being born and he is bringing light into your life. On this night, may the light be rekindled within us all. This year, Christmas comes for everyone, everyone alive.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How Do You Respond?

(Read Matthew 1:18-25)

In October of this year, in the Bible-belt in Georgia, an evangelical minister, Bishop Jim Swilley, decided to do something shocking. Before any scandal erupted, before any serious indiscretion had been committed, Bishop Swilley announced to his rather conservative congregation that he was a homosexual. He was gay. And he came out on his own terms because he felt compelled to do so.

One of the main reasons Bishop Swilley felt compelled to do so was because of the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers freshman who jumped off a bridge after his roommate streamed footage of him having sex with a man. Swilley said, “There was just one suicide too many. I had this moment of clarity; I am going to tell everyone I am gay. And maybe if it helps, I can save [someone’s life].”

Regardless of one’s beliefs about homosexuality, I think Swilley’s confession was incredibly brave. He didn’t have to, but to him, it was living life in truth or living life as a lie. And it was about trying to help others who had similar struggles.

How do you think the congregation felt to his admission? How would you feel if I stood up here and told you my deepest secret? And how do you think they responded to what they felt? Did they cry? Yell? Condemn? Walk away? Stay? Offer acceptance? Show love, compassion and empathy?

Today, we are talking and thinking about how we respond to the situations in our lives, no matter what the situation may be. No matter how big or how small. No matter if its self-created or if its imposed upon us.

My ex-boyfriend’s sister is 34 years old. Just a year or so older than I am. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year. You probably know that pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly kinds. Why? Why did she get it? Why her? She’s so young. She doesn’t deserve this sentence.

How do you think her father feels? How would you feel if your child was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 34? And how do you think her father has responded to his feelings? Does he cry? Yell? Curse God? Turn his back on God because he feels God has turned his back on him? Put distance between him and his daughter to protect himself emotionally? Or get closer to her? Help her? Care for her? Do anything he can to make the life she has left the best life possible?

In today’s Bible text, Joseph is dealt a difficult hand. He finds out that the woman he is about to marry is pregnant, and he knows it is not his child. He could have played it one of many ways. He could have left Mary. He could have humiliated her in public or done it privately. He could stay with Mary. He could have been angry and bitter for the rest of their lives or he could be accepting and loving towards her.

The Scriptures say that he thought of dismissing her, but because he was a righteous man, he was going to do so quietly, discreetly. Just when he had resolved to do this though, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).

A note about angels: They don’t have to be winged, superhuman creatures. The Bible tells us that we can entertain angels unaware. An angel might be your child, your next door neighbor, a stranger in the supermarket. Listen up and keep your mind and ears open. An angel might be speaking to you at any moment.

How do you think Joseph felt about seeing an angel? About the message the angel delivered? How would you feel if the person you loved was having a child and you were not the biological parent of that child? Dismayed? Angry? Betrayed? Numb? Understanding? Loving, compassionate and full of empathy?

All day, every day, human beings engage in a dance of interacting with each other. We must respond to what each other says and does. When your husband or child walks in the house late, yells at you, and then storms off, how do you respond? Do you yell back? I know its difficult in the moment, but the best thing we can do is respond in love.

To respond in love requires courage and faith. It requires courage because we have to set our egos aside. It requires courage because we have to put our fears aside. And it requires faith because we have to believe that God is present in that situation, Emmanuel, God is with us. (This is what celebrating Christmas is all about- that God comes to be with us in the person of Jesus Christ.) It requires faith because we have to believe that God is using his power to bring about healing, even if it seems to us that God is taking a long, winding road, and maybe even seems to be going in the wrong direction.

How did people respond to Bishop Swilley? Well, the presiding Bishop of the International Communion of Charismatic Churches, David Huskins, criticized Swilley for yielding to a lifestyle that is contradictory to the Word of God. Many of his parishioners left the church. However, many stayed and embraced their pastor in the difficult situation he found himself. Perhaps most importantly was the responses of Bishop Swilley’s family. His wife, Debye, who had already known his secret all along, stood by side, defending their 21 year marriage and her husband’s character. Bishop Swilley’s sons had not known their father was a homosexual, but when asked whether this information would affect their relationship with him, his one son said, “Of course not. It took a lot of guts, and I respect him more now.” That’s responding in love, and it took them all courage and faith to do so.

How did Dayna’s father, George, respond to her situation? It caused him to get angry with God at first. It caused him to feel angry at himself because there was nothing he could do to help her. But rather than let himself get more and more frenzied, he surrendered to the situation and just started doing everything he could to care for Dayna and make her happy. He threw her a party. He went with her to chemo treatments. That’s responding in love, and it took him courage and faith to do so.

How did Joseph respond to Mary’s situation? He protected her against everything that people were saying. He took her as his wife and held nothing against her. He named his son, Jesus, as the angel told him to do, and took care of Jesus all the days of his life. That’s responding in love, and it took him courage and faith to do so.

This holiday season, while its wonderful to get together with relatives and friends, there will be difficult situations of all kinds: someone will drink too much and insist on driving, two people will get in an argument over political or religious views, an in-law or distant cousin will give you a back-handed compliment that has the potential to turn into an ugly situation if you let it. When this happens, I invite you to think of how Bishop Swilley’s sons stuck by his side, how Dayna’s father stuck by her side, and how Joseph stuck by Mary’s side. And how they all acted in love with courage and faith. All of us have the ability to act in love with courage and faith no matter what the situation.

Right now, we are going to say the Magnificat together. The Magnificat is Mary’s loving, courageous and faithful response to God when she found out that she had conceived a son. Now remember, she was a young, young, unmarried woman, and this was her response to a very difficult situation. If she can respond in love, so can we.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Not Your Way But Their Way

Tom had been married three times. Each time it had felt like true love in the beginning, but eventually the relationship deteriorated. His first marriage lasted ten years, his second marriage three years, and his third marriage six years. In his sadness and disillusionment, Tom couldn’t help but wonder, what happened to the love that was once so real, so powerful and so alive?

As fate would have it, soaring in an airplane at 30,000 feet somewhere between Buffalo and Dallas, Tom found himself seated next to Gary Chapman, who works as a marriage counselor, marriage enrichmnent seminar leader and author on how to make marriages work. Once Tom learned of Gary’s professional identity, he probed the depths of his knowledge. What happens to love after you get married? Tom wanted to know.

Gary knew that the truth of the matter was not that love disappears after a couple weds, but that the problem is that the love that is there is often not communicated effectively in the days, months and years in which a couple lives out their lives together. The problem is that people speak different love languages, and so love gets lost in translation.

In Gary’s book, “The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts,” he compares the problem that couples have in communicating their love to the problem two individuals from different countries who speak different languages might have. If I speak Chinese and you speak English, and I try to give you directions to the grocery store in my native tongue of Chinese, you surely will not understand what I am saying, and so even if I am giving you accurate and clear directions to the grocery store, it will not matter because you won’t understand what I’m saying. The language barrier is the problem, and “if we are to communicate effectively, we must learn the language of those with whom we wish to communicate” (pg. 14).

In his bestselling book, Gary explains, “In the area of love, it is similar. Your emotional love language and the language of your spouse [or child or parent or friend or co-worker or fellow brother or sister in Christ] may be as different as Chinese from English. No matter how hard you try to express love in English, if your spouse understands only Chinese, you will never understand how to love each other” (pg. 14-15).

For example, in Tom’s third marriage, he would tell his wife, Tammy, how beautiful she was, how much he loved her, how proud he was to be her husband. Tom was communicating his love for his wife in the love language known as “words of affirmation.” The problem was that “words of affirmation” was not Tammy’s primary love language, and thus, Tom’s words fell on deaf ears. Tom thought he was communicating his love to his wife, but Tammy could not hear him.

In his years of experience, Gary Chapman discerned five different love languages that people speak and hear. They are: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Let me offer you a brief description of each.

1. Words of affirmation. “One way to express love emotionally is to use words that build up” (pg. 37). And the best way to affirm the one you love and build them up is by using simple, straightforward statements, such as: You look beautiful. I love that you’re always on time. Thank you for lining up the babysitter for tonight. I feel like I can always count on you. If you are trying to communicate love to someone whose primary love language is words of affirmation, it’s critical that you always remember, my partner/friend needs to hear how I feel. Words mean something and compliments are important!

2. Quality time means giving someone your undivided attention. It means focusing on your loved one, spending time together and doing activities together. Conversation, asking questions, making eye contact, having a shared hobby, going on vacation, these equate to quality time. If you are trying to communicate love to someone whose primary love language is quality time, it’s important to turn the TV off and turn your attention on.

3. Receiving gifts. This love language has nothing to do with being materialistic. It’s about giving and receiving. It’s about showing tangible, visible, physical expressions of love. Candy, flowers, handmade gifts, living gifts like giving a tree or pet…it’s the thought that counts, like bringing someone back a shell from the beach vacation you just went on. If you are trying to communicate love to someone whose primary love language is receiving gifts, heart-felt generosity and creativity are key.

4. Acts of service. This means doing things you know your loved one would like you to do, such as vacuuming or laundry or changing the oil in his or her car. The language of service is love in action. If your loved one is always asking you to do something or has a list of requests for you, then acts of service is probably his or her primary love language. And if you are trying to communicate love to someone whose primary love language is acts of service, then it’s the little things, like stopping at the grocery store for fresh vegetables, and the big things, like taking them to the airport at 6 in the morning that matter.

5. Physical touch. Never underestimate the power of touch. Dogs will be your best friends if you just scratch their ears and belly. “Babies who are held, hugged, and kissed develop a healthier emotional life than those who are left for long periods of time without physical contact” (pg. 109). The love language of physical touch includes both sexual and nonsexual touch, such as holding hands, pats on the back, kissing, hugging, massage, holding someone as they cry, wrestling. If you are trying to communicate love to someone whose primary love language is physical touch, then don’t be shy and don’t be stand off-ish. They literally want to feel you care.

In today’s Scripture reading, Jesus tells us once again how important it is that we love each other. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). How then can we best love each other?

The key is speaking in the love language of the one you love, not trying to give what you want to receive.

This means that we each have to figure out what our primary love language is and tell the important people in our lives so they can speak to us in that language. It also means that you have to be aware of the people in your life and speak to them in their love language. As Gary Chapman says, “If we are to communicate effectively, we must learn the language of those with whom we wish to communicate” (pg. 14).

Our friend, Tom, has just begun dating a woman named, Samantha. With his newfound knowledge of the five love languages, Tom is being more attentive to try to discern what Samantha’s primary love language is. He brought her a rose for their first date, and while she seemed to appreciate it, he sensed that receiving a gift wasn’t the most important thing to her. However, when he offered to pump the gas at the gas station, though it was her car and she was driving, her face lit up. The jury is still out, but Tom has a hunch that he has a lot more acts of service in his future.

Finally, to answer Tom’s original question, what happens to love? Love doesn’t magically disappear. It doesn’t go anywhere. The answer is, we happen to love. And it’s up to us to communicate love in ways our family and friends can receive it. It’s up to us to keep love alive.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Tough Love

(Read Haggai 1:1-15)

Today, we are given a different glimpse of God than most of us are used to. We see and hear of the God of tough love. What sort of wisdom can we gain from the God presented to us in the Old Testament book, Haggai?

Let me tell you the backstory. In 587 B.C., the Temple in Jerusalem was plundered and burned, and the Jewish people were sent away from Jerusalem into exile in Babylonia. By 520 B.C., some 60 years later, the people had returned from exile and were living in Jerusalem for a number of years, but the Temple still lay in ruins. When they returned to their native land, the first thing the people did was build new homes for themselves. This was understandable to a point, the people did need a place to live afterall, but the time came when God was angered and impatient with the people because God wanted them to put their personal affairs aside and work on rebuilding the Temple, for God’s sake and for the community’s sake.

The Lord spoke to the prophet Haggai saying, “These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.” How is that right? said God, should you go on living in your fine homes while my house lay in ruins?

God continues by telling the people to look at where this has gotten them in their lives. “Consider how you have fared,” God says, or in another translation, “Give careful thought to your ways.” “You have sown much, but harvested little; you eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill; you clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and workers cannot earn enough to live on.”

God says,“Can’t you see why this has happened? Now go up into the hills, get lumber,. And rebuild the Temple; then I will be pleased and will be worshipped as I should be.” Until then, God says, you want large harvests, but they will be small. And even the harvest you bring home, I will blow away. Why do I do this? Because my Temple lies in ruins while every one of you is busy working on your own house.

You see, here we have the God of tough love. God is punishing the people until they get their priorities straight and do what God wants them to do.

Perhaps you have wondered why things aren’t going the way that you want them to go in your life. From this Scripture, we glean that the possible answer could be: things are not going the w ay you want them to go because your priorities are not in line with God’s priorities. God may be preventing you from having what you want because you go about doing things according to your own ways and according to your desires instead of doing things according to God’s way and according to God’s desires.

To think that God could be preventing us from happiness or even intentionally making us unhappy because we are seeking happiness in ways that contradict the will of God is a tough message to swallow indeed. But I think we should consider it.

What sort of lesson can we learn from this portrayal of God?

That God wants us to get our priorities straight.

Many of the decisions we make on a day to day basis don’t go through a formal decision making process. We make them without much thought, but these decisions, the choices we make, reflect our priorities in life.

It seems to me that many of us want to think our priorities are noble. We care about our families, our health, our work, our relationships to God and one another, but just look at how you spend your time, your money and your energy, and you can discern what your priorities actually are.

If you have a day off, even three hours off, how do you spend that time?

If you have $1000 of disposable income to spend, how do you spend that money?

What do you spend your energy on during each and every day?

Your answers to these questions indicate your priorities in life.

You might say that your family is your priority, but then spend the majority of your time working and then veging out in front of the TV. You might justify this by saying that working is taking care of your family, and that of course you need down time after a long day, but what about the quality time that is required face-to-face and in conversation that really makes family relationships a priority?

You might say that personal growth is a priority to you, but then every time you are challenged by someone or some situation, you get angry and defensive. If this is the case, your priority is not personal growth but protecting yourself.

You might say that helping others is a priority to you, but if you really look at the way you spend your money, you will see that having a diet rich in food and drinks is actually more important to you.

You might say you care about your health, but if you don’t exercise, eat vegetables and relax, then how is health actually one of your priorities?

I don’t say any of this to make us feel guilty. I’m just trying to get us to be honest about the way we live our lives versus what we say is important to us.

Make two lists. What you want your priorities to be and how you actually spend your time, money and energy. This will help you to realize how true to yourself you are being. And if you are being true to yourself and your values, then I think you are being true to God.

I’m sure that the Jewish people who gave God all the credit and praise for returning them to their homeland after the exile thought that they were making God a priority. But God checked them on that and said, hey, if I’m really your priority, then you’ll rebuild my house and not just your own.

The God of tough love wants us to get our priorities straight, and until we do, our lives might be more difficult than we think they should be.

Now where is the grace in all of this? Because God is not only the God of tough love, but of grace as well.

The grace is that God gives us the power to get our priorities straight at any time. It’s as simple as knowing what we truly care about and choosing that thing. No excuses. Just a human being exerting their free will in the direction of good and godliness.

The Israelites were consumed with working on their own houses until the Lord told them it was time to begin working on the temple again, but once they heard the prophetic message that came from Haggai - “Now go up into the hills, get lumber, and rebuild the Temple; then [God] will be pleased – they headed that message. The Scripture says, “…all the people who had returned from the exile in Babylonia did what the Lord their God told them to do.”

And as soon as they turned toward the Lord, God said, “I will be with you-that is my promise.” And then, God inspired everyone to work on the temple. Instead of thwarting their efforts as when they were seeking their own gain, God helped them and made it easier on them to live up to their newfound priority of rebuilding the Temple.

And so God will do that for us as well. When we actively choose what is important to us and set about doing it, God promises to be with us and to inspire us to accomplish what we set out to accomplish.

My brothers and sisters in the faith, sometimes tough love is just what we need in order to get the life that we truly want.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Spiritual Practice of Surrender

When it comes to the spiritual practice of surrender, I have more questions than answers.

I wonder if God does have a plan that we are supposed to live by? I wonder if we can just surrender to what happens in life or if it’s up to us as adults to make decisions that create our life? How do we know the difference between surrendering to God and giving in to a bad situation?

I have a good friend who desperately wants to have a baby. She is 37 years old, beautiful, educated, and has a good job. She is in a monogamous relationship with a man who loves her and claims to want the same things that she does. Although he once said that he wants to marry and have children, when faced with the reality, he now says he is not ready. What should she, my good friend, do? How does she surrender to God’s plan for her life?

I know a good man who is in his 50’s. He loves his wife and family very much and works at a job that provides good pay and health benefits. However, he is constantly worried that he will be laid off from his job and that he will not be able to find another one. He is trying to remain faithful, but what should he, my worried friend, do? How does he surrender to God’s plan for his life?

All of us have struggles. We struggle to be happy. To provide for ourselves and our families. To get what we want in life. To have meaning and purpose. But how do we know if we are on the right path? How do we know if we are living according to the will of God?

In the scripture, we hear the psalmist crying out for what he wants! “Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!” (Psalm 130)

Listen to the words of Thomas Kelly, born in 1893 to a devout Quaker family living near Chillicothe, Ohio. Kelly went from his modest beginnings in the farm country of Ohio to pursue a Ph.D at Harvard under the world-renowned British mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. However, he was torn about the contradictions within Quaker teachings, he suffered ill health and he was pained over and again by the repeated refusals of Harvard to allow him to complete his Ph.D. Out of this crucible of failure and pain, Thomas Kelly emerged as a new man, genuinely living by the grace of God and with a simple, childlike obedience.

From this place, he wrote a renowned spiritual work titled, A Testament of Devotion, Kelly writes this about the human drama and God’s place in it all:

Out in front of us is the drama of men and of nations, seething, struggling, laboring, dying. Upon this tragic drama in these days our eyes are all set in anxious watchfulness and in prayer. But within the silences of the souls of men an eternal drama is ever being enacted, in these days as well as in others….It is the drama of the lost sheep wandering in the wilderness, restless and lonely, feebly searching, while over the hills comes the wise Shepherd. For [God has] a shepherd’s heart, and [God] is restless until He holds His sheep in His arms…

[There is one scene in this inner drama,] where the Shepherd has found His sheep, that I would direct you. It is the life of absolute and complete and holy obedience to the voice of the Shepherd. [The whole time, it is] upon God, God the initiator, God the aggressor, God the seeker, God the stirrer into life, God the ground of our obedience, God the giver of the power to become children of God…”

What he is saying is that, yes, we all struggle, while at the same time, we try to be faithful. Our eyes are in anxious watchfulness and in prayer. But as life plays itself out, while we feel restless and lonely and searching, God comes to us in the drama that is life. God comes and initiates interactions and relationships. God comes to us to shake us out of our slumber and wake us up! It is Christ, the Good Shepherd, who seeks us out when we are down in the dumps and hiding away. It is Christ, the Living God, who stirs our souls and makes us passionate about some person or cause. God guides us to obedience as he seeks and calls us by name to become the person, the child of God, that we were born to be.

Sometimes, it can be hard to hear or see the Shepherd as he seeks us out. But the psalmist from today’s scripture has advice for us. His decision is to wait for the Lord with confident trust and hope. He says, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning…Oh, Israel, [Oh, people of God,] hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”

So the answer to all the questions that we might pose regarding what is God’s will for our lives and what should we do is…wait. I know that’s not the answer that most of us want to hear, but oftentimes in life, we must wait for God to reveal himself and his will.

It’s more than to wait though. It’s to surrender your expectations, your timeline, your will and to really trust that God, that the Shepherd, is very present and active in your life. To be confident and assured, knowing that God’s hand is really moving in this world, in your world.

My good friend who is in a stuck relationship, and meanwhile, is ready to move forward in her life and start her family, must wait. And she must trust wholly in God’s goodness and will for her life.

My worried friend who is not sure if he will be employed by the same company until retirement must also wait and trust wholly in God’s goodness and will for his life.

Surrender can be one of the most challenging spiritual practices there is, but when we truly surrender to God, it provides us with a freedom and a hope that we can have no other way.

It is the freedom of trusting something greater than ourselves in this world. It is the hope of believing in the redeeming power of God to bless your life.

As we surrender to God and trust in him, we realize that God alone is the actor in our lives, and we are the ones wholly acted upon.

So what we are going to do is sing a song about being still. About waiting for the Shepherd. While you sing, believe this: we can trust in God. We can surrender fully to the divine will.

What Are You Thinking?!

(Read John 9:1-12)

Whose fault is it? That’s what the disciples want to know. A man is born blind, so the disciples ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Essentially, what they are asking is: whose fault is it? Who is to blame?

The first person many of us blame when things go wrong is ourselves. We get sick, and we ask God, what did I do to deserve this? We get laid off at work, and we think, “I brought this upon myself. I’m not good enough.” We go through a period in our life when nothing seems to be going our way, and we say, “I’m cursed. I can’t win.” We might even go so far as to think, “God hates me.”

This sort of thinking is detrimental to our spiritual and emotional well-being, but very often, we aren’t even aware that we have such negative self-talk. That’s why its important for all of us to examine the unconscious thoughts or beliefs we hold. It’s important for you to ask yourself: “What am I thinking?”

Rather than encourage negative thinking that blames and finds fault, Jesus steers the disciples in another direction. He gets them thinking in a new way. When asked whose fault it is that the man was born blind, Jesus says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” Instead, he explains, “This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Then, Jesus heals the man. Rather than seeing blindness as a punishment, Jesus says it’s an opportunity for the glory of God to be revealed.

The way we perceive ourselves, situations, and relationships in our lives greatly impacts how we feel on a day to day basis. It affects how we experience life. And we have a choice to make. Will we let our minds run wild with negative self-talk, saying, “I’m not good enough. My life is cursed. It’s my fault” or will we develop healthier ways of thinking that are more constructive?

In his book, Happiness is a Serious Matter, Dennis Prager writes about the importance of having helpful, rather than destructive, philosophies on life. To illustrate, Prager tells the story of a man named Joseph:

One freezing winter night, Joseph got a flat tire while driving to deliver a speech. He did not have time to call a tow truck so Joseph tried to change the tire on his own, but to no avail. For hours, he worked on the tire until finally help came to him.

Not only did Joseph miss delivering an important speech, he also disappointed an audience, lost money and had a miserable evening as he failed to put on a spare tire. One would think that this experience would greatly anger Joseph and cause him to blame either himself or God or someone, but he didn’t. Joseph really wasn’t as upset as one might expect him to be.

Why? Because Joseph had a perspective on life that helped him deal with his bad night instead of making it worse. He said, “I am convinced that each of us has a flat-tire quota, and I’ve never had a flat tire before.” (Prager, Dennis. Pg. 114. Happiness is a serious problem). Just that thought, that everyone has a flat-tire quota, saved Joseph from compounding his misery. Many people would have been more unhappy given the circumstance but Joseph had a philosophy of life that provided him with perspective. It made him able to deal with the situation.

If that was you, what would you have been thinking? A negative philosophy, such as, “This sort of thing always happens to me” or “God is trying to ruin my career” would have created more turmoil and exacerbated the situation. But a healthy understanding on life and a philosophy to accompany that understanding prevented the situation from becoming too big a deal.

So what are some more constructive philosophies to live by:

1. Instead of thinking, “I am cursed” or “I can’t win,” realize that even good people have bad things happen to them because life is filled with suffering. Now you might be thinking, how is “life is filled with suffering” a more positive philosophy that’s going to benefit me? The reason is, because it doesn’t make suffering personal. All people suffer and experience trials and tribulations. Life is filled with suffering. In the Gospel of Matthew, it says, “For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil (Matthew 5:45). When we make suffering personal, we compound it and increase our misery.

2. Instead of thinking, “I’ll never make it through,” or “I’m sick of waiting” realize that “this too shall pass.” Time is a tricky thing. The good times seem to fly by while the bad times seem to drag on forever. But life is in constant motion and even our worst days pass. We just have to be patient and take a longer view on life. Instead of seeking immediate gratification and help, we just have to take it one day at a time knowing that over a period of time, things will change. This too will pass.

3. Just as much as suffering is a product of the mind, so then can great happiness be a product of the mind. Instead of thinking, “I’m never going to be happy” or “the grass is always greener somewhere else,” realize that happiness is a choice, and it is available to you right now, right here. Always, there are many conditions for happiness that are present, but it’s a matter of recognizing them and focusing on them. Enjoying the autumn leaves and the changing of seasons can be a condition for happiness. Focusing on the love you do have, as opposed to the love you don’t have, or the work you do have, as opposed to the work you don’t have, or the health you do have, as opposed to the health you don’t have, are conditions for happiness. When we limit our happiness with our thinking, we do just that, we limit our happiness.

Our minds are beautiful things, gifts from God, but oftentimes, we don’t even know what we are thinking. And we let our thinking negatively impact our lives. So its time to ask yourself, “What am I thinking?!

Jesus would have us steer clear of the blame game and negative self-talk, and instead, have us focus on how God is working in our lives to reveal his power and glory. For every bad thing that happens to us, good is coming out of it. For every ill that we suffer, healing is occurring. For every moment we feel lost and broken, there come times of hope and well-being.

If anything, what we should be thinking is not how we are at fault or God is to blame, but how God is helping us and preparing us for the goodness about to come.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Four Layers of Love

There are at least four layers to how we love ourselves and one another, and while each layer is a legitimate and necessary expression of love in and of itself, God is continually calling us to go deeper into the heart of love.

First, we love ourselves for our own sake. This begins as a self-preservation type of love; it’s biological and instinctual. “I need to take care of myself in order to survive and flourish.” This sort of love is easily recognizable in children, but there’s no doubt that it continues into adulthood.

Once upon a time there was a youngest child named Bobby. Bobby had three older brothers and two older sisters, and he always left the dinner table feeling a bit hungry because it seemed like there was never enough food. So what did Bobby do? When his mother wasn’t looking, about an hour before dinner, Bobby would slip into the kitchen and eat the most delicious thing he could find in the refrigerator. By the time he arrived at dinner, he wasn’t so worried if the food ran out. Bobby was loving himself for his own sake.

The truth is, there is a hungry little boy or girl that lives on in all of us, and often, we act from that place of loving ourselves in work, at church, with friends, while no one is looking. This is a legitimate and necessary expression of love, but God is continually calling us to go deeper into the heart of love.

Second, we love others for our own sake. We love the way another makes us feel or for what they can do for us. Again, this sort of love is easily recognizable in children. Children love their parents because they take care of them; they depend on them. This sort of love is also easily recognizable in teenagers, and it continues into adulthood.

Once upon a time there was an 18 year old girl named Cindy. Cindy thought Thomas was the most handsome boy in her whole school. He drove a Mustang; he played basketball and baseball. But Thomas wasn’t just a jock. Cindy liked him even more because he was in her art class and always made her laugh. One day, Thomas finished a drawing he had been working on for weeks, and he gave it to Cindy. Her heart fluttered, and she felt all warm and fuzzy inside. She knew right then she loved him. Cindy was loving Thomas for her own sake.

Whether you’re 5, 15 or 50, we all love others for how they make us feel and what they can do for us. This is a legitimate and fantastical sort of love, but God is continually calling us to go deeper into the heart of love.

Third, we love others for their own sake. Now, we’re really getting somewhere. This sort of love is easily recognizable in adults amidst their most prized relationships. Here, the happiness and the well-being of the beloved is of utmost importance.

Once upon a time there was a couple named Sue and Mike. Sue and Mike’s second child, Taylor, was different than the other kids, although they couldn’t quite put their finger on it. They worked very hard and went to special lengths to make sure Taylor fit in and was doing well in school, but there was often crying and temper tantrums, even when Taylor was eight. It wasn’t until a friend suggested that Taylor might have autism or Asberger’s syndrome that Sue and Mike sought special help. It turned out Taylor did have a certain form of autism and so Sue and Mike decided to enroll him in a school that could best meet his needs. The school was expensive though so Mike took an extra part -time job and Sue tightened the family budget. No matter what they had to give up, it was worth it to see Taylor get the kind of help and attention he needed.

This sort of love is beautiful; it’s sacrificial, and it’s everywhere. It’s from parent to child. It’s from child to parent. It’s from husband to wife. It’s from wife to husband. It’s between siblings. It’s between friends. It’s the kind of love that often exists in the hearts of those in helping and healing professions. Loving another for his or her own sake is a deep expression of love indeed, but God is continually calling us deeper into the heart of love.

The fourth layer of love that I will mention today comes to us from the scripture.

Just as back story, on the night Jesus was arrested, the day before he died, Jesus was denied three times by his good friend, Peter. Sitting near the fire in the courtyard of the high priest’s house, a servant girl looked at Peter and said, “This man was with him.” Meaning that Peter was a follower of Jesus. But Peter denied it. “Woman I don’t know him,” he said.

Then, a little later someone else saw him and said, “You are also one of them.”

“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.

About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” Just like Jesus was a Galilean.

Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” And at that third denial, the cock crowed (Luke 22: 54-60).

I imagine this to be one of the lowest points in Peter’s life, denying a friend who was in his darkest hour.

But Jesus gives Peter the chance to make up for it. In today’s reading, which takes place after the resurrection, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” And each time Peter replies, “Lord, you know that I love you.” And here comes our fourth layer of love. Each time after Peter says, “I love you,” Jesus comes back and says, then, “Feed my lambs.” Then, “take care of my sheep.” Then, “feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). In essence, what Jesus is telling us is that if you truly love someone, you will love, nurture and care for the people that they love. This sort of love extends even beyond loving an individual to loving who that individual loves.

Once upon a time, there was a man named Harold, who married a woman named Susan, and he loved her very much and did all that he could for her own sake. When they had only been married 5 years or so, Susan’s father passed away and left her mother as a widow. At this point, Harold cared for his mother-in-law because they had developed a relationship over the years, but it was when Susan said, “I don’t want my mother to have to live alone if she doesn’t want to” that Harold decided to turn the basement into an apartment. His love for his wife was so full that it extended beyond her to those whom she loved. Truly, this is where God is calling all of us-this deep into the heart of love.

This is the sort of love Jesus alludes to when he tells Peter to “Feed his sheep.” If Peter really loves Jesus, he must love those whom Jesus loves. And so if we love God and we love Jesus, and we know that God and Jesus love all people that walk upon the face of the earth, imagine the kind of love we are being called to.

Love must extend everywhere and to everyone. That is as deep as the heart of love goes.

May we all love ourselves. May we all feel good in loving each other. May we all love each other even when it doesn’t feel good. May we love each other to make one another feel happier, safer and truly alive. And may our love extend beyond the beloved to those the beloved loves. In this way, our hearts achieve their deepest depth, and we live into our true purpose as the people of God.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Having the Same Attitude As Jesus

(Read Philippians 2:5-11)

A narcissist believes that he or she is the alpha and the omega, that life is all about him and the fulfillment of his desires. The narcissist seeks others to follow him, not because he has anything positive and valuable to contribute to society, but simply because he likes to be followed. While he believes that what he has to offer is of great value, it can in fact be of little value or even of great harm since it never contains love or awareness for his fellow man. Narcissists advance themselves at the expense of others.

Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, Bernie Madoff are some names you might recognize because of their narcissistic pursuits. While each had a different area of focus—Hitler was a political leader; Manson a communal leader, and Madoff an economic leader- the commonality between them all is that they served themselves. They were instruments of their own desire. They called others to follow them to achieve their own purposes. The narcissist elevates the one over the many.

Jesus, on the other hand, was far from the narcissistic personality. Yes, he was a leader, but he lead on behalf of other. Jesus lead on behalf of God. He did not seek to accomplish his own purposes. He was not driven by his own will, but he lead others that the Father’s will might be accomplished through him. Certainly, Jesus did not seek to elevate himself over others, but he lowered himself for the benefit of others. Jesus was not an instrument of his own desire. Jesus was an instrument of God.

Today’s passage from Philippians says just that. That though Jesus was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. He did not elevate himself to godly status, holding power over others (though he could have. I am reminded of the movie Bruce Almighty, in which Jim Carey plays a man who has been given the powers of God, and in a humorous way, he wields those powers as though he were the greatest thing, the coolest person, the Man, as though he were God). Instead, he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness and being found in human form, he humbled himself to human status. And instead of being driven by his own desire, instead of pushing his own will and seeking to accomplish his own agenda, he became obedient, even to the point of death, death on a cross. Jesus emptied himself that he might be an instrument of God.

The Scripture says, “Let the same mind, the same attitude be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2: 5). And so, the question we must all ask ourselves is: are we instruments of our own desire or are we instruments of God?

If we are instruments of our own desire, like the narcissist, we will be more concerned for ourselves than others, putting me before you. We will want our own way instead of factoring in what others want. My happiness will be more important than your happiness. We will also find ourselves in a constant battle with life as we try to make things go our way instead of the way that God’s Spirit is moving.

If we are instruments of God however, we will find a balance between seeking our own happiness and seeking to make others happy. We will even find ourselves putting others first. And we will surrender to the Spirit’s lead in our lives. Instead of pushing to make things the way we want them to be, we will open up to the way things are going, trying to discern God’s presence in what is happening in our daily circumstance.

St Francis wrote a very well-known prayer for peace, and in it, he describes what it is like to be an instrument of God:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love:
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not
So much seek to be consoled
As to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born
to eternal life.

Following St. Francis’ lead, we learn that to be an instrument of God is to give love, to pardon or forgive, to have faith instead of doubting, to hope instead of despairing. To be an instrument of God is to console our family and friends, and even strangers, and to try to understand them no matter what they do to us.

Probably, we are each instruments of our own desire and instruments of God, a combination of both to some extent. We all go in and out of being played by the hand of God and being played by ourselves. The hope is to become more Christ-like by God’s grace.

I picked the story of Jesus’ first miracle when he turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana because of the words that Jesus uttered in that passage. They are at the wedding and Mary says to Jesus, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:3-4).

Think of how many times Jesus must have had to refrain from doing something or saying something because it was not the right time according to the plan that God had made for his life. Surely, before this first miracle, Jesus must have had the opportunity to heal someone who was sick or raise someone from the dead, but he didn’t simply because the hour to do so had not yet come.

That’s letting God use your life. That’ letting God rule your life. Not my will, but Thy will be done. Sometimes, when life isn’t going the way you want it to, perhaps you should just remember the words of Jesus and say to yourself, “My hour has not yet come.”

But the hour must have come for Jesus to reveal his glory because he goes ahead and does his first miracle. He has the servants fill the six stone water jars. Then, he has them pour some out and take it to the chief steward, who when he tastes the wine, cannot believe that the bridegroom had waited to serve the best wine until last.

The Holy Spirit must have whispered to Jesus, “Now is the time, my son. Go ahead.”

Remember how at our outdoor service we talked about the seasons of life, how there is a time for every purpose under heaven. Part of being an instrument of God is knowing what season of life you are in and going along with it, being an active participant in what God is doing in your life right now.

But in order to do that, we have to be emptied of ourselves so that we can be filled with God. That is what it means to have the same mind, the same attitude as Jesus.

Think of yourself like a small, wooden flute or any wind instrument really. It awaits the breath of one who can give it song, but it has to be open, willing and clear of any obstructions. When we empty ourselves of our agenda, desire, will, when we clear out space, then Spirit can flow through us and we can create music. Our lives then rest in the hands of God.

I got this idea from a poem, Instruments of God, by Joyce Rupp:

A small, wooden flute,
An empty, hollow reed,
Rests in her silent hand.

It awaits the breath
Of one who creates song
Through its open form.

My often-empty life
Rests in the hand of God;
Like the hollowed flute,
It yearns for the melody
Which only Breath/Spirit can give.

May God’s Spirit blow through your emptied self like breath blows through a flute, and just like the flute produces a melody, may God turn your life into a song.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Are You Open to God's Will For Your Life?

In 1998, Richard Stearns, a devout Christian, found himself with the dilemma of a lifetime. Would he remain the fat cat CEO of Lenox, the fine tableware company, or would he uproot his wife and five children, move across the country from Philadelphia to Seattle, and become the CEO of World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide? World Vision might best be known for their sponsor a child program in which you pay X amount of dollars monthly so that a child can have food, clothing, medical care and an education.

Richard didn’t want to leave Lenox and the upscale life he had worked so hard to build, but time and again, the opportunity at World Vision presented itself in his life. First, an old, church friend and board member at World Vision called to ask him to consider the position. Comfortable and secure in the life he had at Lenox, Richard said “no.” Then, a co-worker at Lenox told him about the opportunity at World Vision because he thought Richard would be perfect for the job. Richard thought what a coincidence! This World Vision job came up again, but he once again ignored the opportunity. The third time it happened, the main recruiter for the CEO position of World Vision called Richard directly and asked him if he would be interested in the position. At this point, Richard began to wonder if there wasn’t something more to this whole situation. Perhaps this wasn’t just a job offer, but a calling from God. After much consideration, Richard agreed to meet with the recruiter for an informational dinner to learn just what World Vision was looking for in terms of a CEO.

As time went on and Richard’s awareness evolved, he seriously considered changing his and his family’s life, moving from CEO of Lenox to CEO of World Vision. He had heard about receiving callings from God through his life in the church, and so he asked himself: am I open to God’s will for my life? It started as a personal question for him, but in answering that question, it became a decision that would affect millions of people.

As a faithful Christian called by God and compelled by the Holy Spirit, and with the support of his wife and children, Richard said “yes” to World Vision and became its next CEO. Within months, he found himself in Rakai, Uganda, learning about the ministry and mission of World Vision by speaking with a thirteen year old boy whose name also happened to be Richard.

Richard Stearns describes Richard’s situation like this:

“Richard was trying to raise his two younger brothers by himself in this small shack with no running water, electricity or even beds to sleep in. There were no adults in their lives—no one to care for them, feed them, love them or teach them how to become men. There was no one to hug them either, or to tuck them in at night. Other than his siblings, Richard was alone, as no child should be.” (pg. 7).

To say this encounter with one of God’s least fortunate children broke Ricahrd’s heart is an understatement. It changed his heart and made him think about the role of the Christian faith in a deeper way than he ever had before.

You see, Richard is a part of an evangelical church where confessing Jesus as Lord and Savior is one of the main emphases of the religion. But his experience through World Vision led him to ponder confessing was really enough. Did believing in Jesus mean much if one wasn’t also actively seeking to live as Jesus instructed? Richard decided believing was one part of the truth, but without action, there was “a hole in the gospel.” A hole as in “a hollowed place in something solid.” His entire book, The Hole in the Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? is about the absolute necessity of Christians actively working to heal and save the lost, broken and poor of this world. It is not simply enough to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is not enough to say that we love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. The only way the Gospel will be complete is when we put that love into action and go about helping as Jesus did.

In his book, Richard says that Jesus had a mission statement for his life, and if for his life, then also for ours. When Jesus walked into the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, Jesus was declaring his mission and God’s plan for this world. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” When Jesus said those words, he was proclaiming that he was the one who had come to do those things, and as his disciples, we are to carry on his mission.

When all Christians are giving aid to the poor, when we’re working side by side to make people’s lives better, when we are loving and nurturing people we know and don’t know back to health that is when there will no longer be a hole in the gospel.

Are you open to God’s will for your life? When Richard Stearns asked himself that question, ultimately, it became a question about much more than his life. It was about how his life would affect his wife’s life, his children’s lives, Richard’s life in Uganda and hundreds of thousands of other people’s lives around the world as he committed himself to more than himself.

As each of us faithfully try to answer the question: Are you open to God’s will for your life? We too must realize that our answer doesn’t just affect ourselves, it’s not meant to. We must answer this question thinking of our lives in terms of every other life we encounter.

The call of your life has less to do with you than it does with the many lives you will have an impact on. This can be a difficult concept because we care how life affects us. “Whereas I think about my life in terms of how I am affected, God thinks of my life from the perspective of how much good I can do in other people’s lives.” God expects your one life to benefit many. Like Jesus gave his one life a ransom for many so that all might be saved and receive eternal life through him, so too is your life to be given to heal and love many. This can be very freeing and open you up from a closed, tight existence.

When we talk about God, we often name God, Comforter, Healer, Lover, Compassionate One…but the truth is, God often comes into our lives more like a burglar or a thief. God comes in and steals our ideas about the kind of life we should be living for ourselves and directs us outwards.

Look at what happened to Paul. He had an idea about the sort of life he wanted to live. He was a Pharisee who persecuted this radical new group who followed Jesus, and he thought he was doing God’s will. That is until Jesus came to him and he went blind. God often blindsides us with what we are to do in life and the people we are to serve.

Think of how your life has NOT turned out like you expected it to. That seems to be one of the marks of God calling you to live out a certain path. That the path you finally found yourself on was not one you dreamed of, imagined or first chose for yourself. First, it was chosen for you by God. Then, eventually, possibly after years of resistance and struggle, you said “yes” to God’s plan.

If we are open to God’s will for our lives then we have to answer the call to fill the hole in the gospel. That means finding a way to serve those who are physically thirsty, hungry, lost, sick, imprisoned, no matter where they live, near or far. It also means finding a way to serve those who are spiritually thirsty, hungry, lost, sick, imprisoned, which pertains quite profoundly to us and the people who we live with and love. As the Scripture in Matthew today says, what we do or don’t do for the least among us, we do to Christ himself.

Are you open to God’s will for your life? I hope many of you are saying “yes” even as you think of how scary and challenging this might be. That is what the Church is for. This is where the Church is relevant. Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. No longer is this primarily about getting people to make some sort of confession; it’s about action and interaction among people. Actions speak louder than words, and together, bonded in Christ, we can accomplish this mission to transform the world.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Get Ready: God’s Spirit is Moving

(Read Ecclesiastes 3:1-9)

We are in a season of change, on the cusp between summer and fall. Just Wednesday I went to the US Open tennis tournament with my friend, Lisa. When I woke up in the morning, it was sunny and hot so I put on my white sundress, which was the perfect thing to wear all day long. But then, we decided to stay for the night session as well. And oh my goodness, I was freezing! The wind picked up; the temperature dropped twenty degrees. We went from August weather to October weather in just a few hours.

And I was not prepared. Not in my flip flops and white sundress.

The change between summer and fall is one of the most dramatic changes when it comes to our daily affairs because of the school calendar. In summer, we take off, and in September, we start back up again. Even the church calendar runs somewhat parallel to the school calendar.

This means that the way we spend our days is going to be changing. Kids go back to school. Teachers go back to work. Church events start up again. We’re all affected in some way.

Much like the calendar year has seasons, the spiritual life has seasons as well. In Ecclesiastes, we hear about all different sorts of seasons that we will go through, and each season is affirmed in its own right. There is a time when we will be born, and a time when we will die. A time when we are to plant seeds, and a time when we are to uproot dead flowers and vegetable plants.

Of this whole list, the two that really struck me when I was reading them were “a time to search and a time to give up” and “a time to keep and a time to throw away.” Have you every looked for something and looked for something, but you can’t find it so you give up the search? Then, like two weeks later, it just magically appears in front of your eyes. “There is a time to search and a time to give up.” And knowing what time is what is wisdom! Otherwise, we can drive ourselves crazy, bang our heads against the wall, walk in circles all because we are just out of sink with our timing.

Also, there is a time to keep and a time to throw away. Or in other words, a time to collect and a time to purge. I think many of us are good at colleting, but not so good at purging. Yet, you know how good it feels when at the right time, you clean out your stuff and start fresh.

In each of our lives right now, God’s Spirit is moving us from a time of something to a time of something else. What exactly for you, I cannot say, but that’s why I wanted us to take a little time this morning to slow down and be reflective. So that each of us can get a better sense of the rhythm that we are in.

Unlike me at the US Open, we don’t want to be totally unprepared for what is coming our way, and we don’t want to miss what God is doing in our lives. You will feel much more comfortable and at ease no matter what season you are in if you are able to go along with its rhythm.

So, I’m going to throw some possible seasons out there and listen if any catch your ear. If one word even rings true, ponder that. It might be the Spirit whispering to you, telling you something.

Is it a time to be silent or a time to speak?
Is it a time to get out there or a time to draw inward?
Is it a time to lead or a time to follow?
Is it a time to take control or a time to surrender?
Is it a time to be active or a time to rest?
Is it a time to give or a time to receive?

As you get in touch with your rhythm, honor it. Let yourself be where you’re at, and tell others where you are at so that they can honor you as well.

Psalm 46 is all about how God is in control. “God is our refuge and strength, an every-present help in trouble. Therefore,” it says, “we will not fear…” And then it goes into some rich imagery of the world changing and in chaos. “Though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

Though your life is changing, and it may feel in chaos, do not fear for God is in control of the seasons of your life. And remember, there is a time for every season that we go through. Where you are at is right for you according to God who has planned your days and who is guiding you through this blessed transition and into a more full, rich and deep existence.

From summer to fall
From weeping to laughing
From scattered to gathered.

God’s Spirit is moving in your life. Be still and know that God is in control. Be calm, open and patient as your season changes. Who knows exactly what God is doing, but know this, God is doing something beautiful in your life.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Who Do You Report To?

(Read Jeremiah 2: 4-13)

I can understand why God is so upset with Israel. Israel has lost its soul.

First of all, Israel is the Lord’s chosen people. They are his baby. God has done everything he could to grow them into a strong and wealthy nation. God helped them to get out of slavery in Egypt; he led them through the wilderness; he supplied them with food and water. Then, the Lord brought them into the Promised Land, a garden land that was plentiful.

And what is the Israelites response to all that God has done for them? Gratitude? No. Trust? No. Steadfast love and faithfulness? No.

God’s heart is breaking. The people of Israel have abandoned their Creator. They are acting as though their Guardian and Guide is nothing to them. Have you ever had someone in your life who just stopped calling you or left you or abandoned you? Remember how badly that hurt. It might still hurt. The Prophet Jeremiah was sent by God to give the people a conscience, to make them realize that what they were doing, how they were treating God was a grave mistake.

In verse 5 we hear that Israel’s ancestors have drifted from the Lord, delving into worthless idols and becoming worthless themselves. In this life, we can search for whatever we choose, and Jesus says he will help us find it. Why go after things that will make us less than who God created us to be? Why not go after the things that will make us more? More loving, more wise, more free, more whole? Israel chose to go after the things that were of no profit to humanity or their own well-being.

They also stopped relying on God. In good times and in bad, they did not think to ask, “Where is the Lord?” They did not call upon God. Instead, they worshipped the false God Baal, and with that came a life of sexual immorality that went against the rules of the Torah.

Let’s learn from Israel’s mistakes. Let’s not turn our backs on God who has put our spirits inside of us and orchestrated our lives for us.

We may not prophesy to Baal per se, but I would like to suggest that we run the risk of abandoning God when we push down or shut off God’s spirit within us. God gave us his Spirit, God made us in his image, and we honor God when our spiritual lives are at the center of our daily living.

But all too often, our lives our divided. We think and feel one way, but we act another. Our spirits have a desire to go forward, but our physical beings stand still. We want to use our voice and say something important, but we just sit silently. To live a divided life means that our inner world, our hearts, our spirits, our souls are ignored, and our outer life does not reflect what is deep inside of us.

Let me give you an example. There was a man named John from Iowa who had been a farmer for 25 years. He loved the land. Then, he went to work for the US Department of Agriculture. He was given a proposal regarding the preservation of Midwestern topsoil, “which is being depleted at a rapid rate by [agricultural business] practices that value short term profits over the well-being of the earth” (18-19). It’s a serious problem, but the proposal leaned toward exploiting the land for financial gain, rather than saving the soil.

In his heart, John wanted to reject the proposal, but politically speaking, he knew it was a bad idea. John’s boss was in support of the proposal, and he made it clear to John that he expected his support as well.

So what should John do? Should he risk being ostrasized at the office or fired in order to express his true feelings on the matter? He thought to himself, it would just easier to go along with what his boss wants and not make any waves.

Ultimately, the question boils down to: who does John report to? Whose expectations of him does he want to live up to? His boss’s? His own? God’s?

We run into dilemmas like this all the time. A divided life is a life where we live by another’s standards or expectations. A divided life is a life where we have to pretend or hide. It is inauthentic. The real problem is that a divided life is a life that denies God’s and the self that God created you to be.

Psalm 139 says, “For it was you [God] who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…In your book were written all the days that were formed for me” (Psalm 139, 13, 16). God made each of us intentionally and planned our days for us, but all too often worldly pressures, perverted desires and poor coping tactics lead us astray.

Some examples of a divided life: (from pg 6)
• We conceal our true identities for fear of being criticized, shunned or attacked.
• We remain in settings or relationships that steadily kill off our spirits.
• We make our living at jobs that violate our basic values and diminish our happiness, even when survival does not absolutely demand it.

I read about this concept of a divided life in Parker Palmer’s book, A Hidden Wholeness. He describes it like this:

“My knowledge of the divided life comes first from personal experience. I yearn to be whole, but dividedness often seems the easier choice. A “still, small voice” speaks the truth about me, my work or the world. I hear it and yet act as if I did not.”

“Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls, [which is God’s imprint in us]. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the integrity that comes from being [the person who God created us to be.]”

The word integrity means “The state or quality of being entire, complete and unbroken,” as in the words integer or integral. So what Parker is saying is that living a divided life prevents us from being complete or whole people.

Where does this divided life lead us?

“[We] pay a steep price when [we] live a divided life—feeling fraudulent, anxious about being found out, and depressed by the fact that [we are] denying [our] own selfhood[s]. The people around [us] pay a price as well, for now they walk on ground made unstable by [our] dividedness. How can [we] affirm another’s identity when [we] deny [our] own? How can [we] trust another’s integrity when [we] defy [our] own? A fault line runs down the middle of [our lives,] and whenever it cracks open, divorcing [our] words and actions from the truth[s] [we] hold within—things… get shaky and start to fall apart.” (4-5).

Part of preventing a divided life is knowing what we believe and what is important to us so that we can stay true to ourselves. A great beauty arises when people refuse to live divided lives. Inspiration and enthusiasm spread and joy swirls in the air as we begin to live, think and act from the divine center within us.

The key is to bring our inner and outer worlds into harmony. That requires courage on each of our parts and a supportive community, a community that values each individual unique person and our quests for wholeness. A place where all people are listened to, a place where people are encouraged to live authentically. A place where there is honesty and compassion among the people.

The church is called to be such a community, a place where the divided life can heal and be made whole. I pray that we are such a community, where each of us is free to express his or her own soul, his or her own truth, and to encourage that truth in others.

Remember John, the man who worked for the department of Agriculture. He was struggling with how to deal with the situation at work, and he went to a men’s retreat where he talked about the tensions he was feeling. The others listened to him; they helped him to clarify his thoughts; they prayed with him. Finally, after a sleepless night of trying to decide what to do, John had a realization. He told his newfound brothers, “During this retreat, I’ve remembered something important; I don’t report to my boss. I report to the land.” (19). And with that wisdom, John was able to “stick to his guns”, and the great divide that was within him, causing him anxiety, came together. John felt a great peace because he was following his heart.

So I was thinking: I report to Jesus. Being true to him is what guides my decisions and behavior. Who do you report to?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Faith: One Thing We Cannot Live Without

(Read Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16)

A friend recently sent me an email where people were asked the five things they couldn’t live without. It was humorous and interesting to see the various responses people answered to the question. One man took a purely material approach. He said he couldn’t live without his ipod, his computer, his car, his golf clubs and his bank account. One woman took a very literal approach to the question. She said she couldn’t live without oxygen, water, food, shelter and yes, red wine. And yet, another woman took a spiritual approach, saying she couldn’t live without family, friends, love, laughter and compassion.

Of all the ways to answer the question, I leaned towards the spiritual approach. Except instead of family, friends, love, laughter and compassion, my answer was family, friends, love, laughter and faith . Faith is something that none of us can happily live without.

The author of Hebrews says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In other words, faith is truly believing that you will receive what you hope for. Faith is believing that even if you don’t see what you want at this moment, you will one day. When we say, “I have faith,” we are also saying, “I trust in God to provide for me.” Faith is an inexhaustible confidence in God.

I ask you, how strong is your faith these days? Are you confident in God, how God is working, orchestrating and developing your life?

If yes, wonderful! If no or not really, don’t despair! The life of faith is categorized by three defining stages: confidence, doubt and renewed confidence.

In the beginning of our faith life, it is quite normal to feel blissfully confident in the Lord. We have seen God for the first time, or perhaps we have seen God so vividly that we have recommitted our life to the journey of faith. We feel optimistic and assured. We feel like the Lord has us in the palm of his hand, and we are just basking in the glow of promises to be fulfilled.

However, in time, it is normal for that basking glow to fade like a sinking sunset. We get hit with the realities of life. Just when we think everything is going well, we get the bad news. Just when we think we’ve got what we want, it vanishes before our eyes. Just when we think we’ve made it, the time comes to start over, and we’ve no idea what to do next. This is not a pleasant time in life at all, but it is still part of the faith journey, a very natural part, so if you are in it, do not be dismayed.

Like most people, my brother and sister in law were exuberant when they first married. They were in love and had all the hope and promise of the future lying before them. You could say their faith had yet to be tested in their relationship.

But then, with their love in full bloom, they tried to have a child, and conception did not come easily to them. After a significant period of time trying to conceive on their own, they sought the help of medical professionals, and throughout those months and into years of tests and prescription medicines and procedures, their faith waned. I remember my brother sort of staring off into space, saying in a distant voice, “I’m starting to think it’s never going to happen.” His wife was equally troubled in her own way. Would they ever be able to have a child?

Real doubt, dark and troubling, entered into all of our lives, but their lives in particular.

It was then, just after my brother had mournfully stated, “I’m starting to think it’s never going to happen,” that my mother hugged my brother and said, “Oh yes it will. You are going to have a baby of your own. I just know you will.”

And in that moment, the doubt and darkness lost its foothold in my brother’s mind. You should have seen the way his expression changed, his whole demeanor. He went from looking forlorn and despondent to having a glimmer of hope himself. “Do you really think so?” he said. My mom should her head, yes.

And then and there, my brother’s faith was reborn. His confidence, however small, was restored. And it was because of my mother’s faith for him.

You see, faith is contagious, infectious even, in a good way.

We all go through periods of doubt, confusion and darkness, but the faith of others can help us through, get us back on course. If the faith journey is has three stages –confidence, doubt and renewed confidence, then we all play a part in that renewing of faith. We need each other on this journey, to believe for each other when the light has grown dim.

Faith is what gets us through the tough times. Faith is the virtue by which we endure. Faith is what leads us into our futures. To have a strong faith is truly a blessing that makes life better. Sometimes we have it all by ourselves, and sometimes, we need each other to help us have it. But when it returns in us, it is as authentic and pleasing in the sight of God as when we had it at the first. Maybe even moreso, because now we have truly been tested, and we have returned to God.

Think of your own life story. How has your faith ebbed and flowed over the years? Who has helped to lift you up? This is all a part of the process the way God intends it to be.

When our faith wanes, there is another whose faith can always pull us through. And that is the faith of Jesus Christ. Jesus always has faith in God even if we don’t because he gets the bigger, fuller picture of God’s plan. He sees for us!

In life, often our gratification is delayed for reasons we do not know. Things happen to us, and we can’t understand why. No one has experienced this reality more fully than Jesus. God’s plan for his life flies in the face of reason. Why would the Father ask his own Son, whom he loves absolutely, to sacrifice his life? And how could Jesus being dead be better for the world than him being alive?

As Christians, we know the answer-that Jesus’ sacrifice and his death are what leads to life for all people. But no one who had to go through that sort of life plan could have remained faithful except for Jesus because he was so utterly confident in God.

My prayer for all of us is to have such great faith as never to doubt the lives we are leading and the God who is leading our lives, but when that faith disappears, simply know that Jesus believes for you, and that he is carrying you along.

Today, I invite you to renew your faith in God. Believe that God has your best interests at heart and is designing the world on your behalf. Believe in the assurance of things hoped for and the fulfillment of things not yet seen.

I also invite you to offer hope to one another by having faith for one another. When one of our eyes is filled with tears, we need each other to see God clearly.

My mom was right. My brother and his wife did conceive a child. A beautiful baby girl, whom I was privileged to baptize and am still privileged to babysit. And my brother and sister in law are living witnesses that faith can and will be restored.

The meaning of faith is never giving up on God, believing in God’s power and love for your life and this world, and continuing to hope in the things you have not yet seen. On this average day of days, may our faith in God be renewed. May we be confident and uplifted. I am certain that faith is the one of those things that we cannot live without.

What Makes For A Great Life

(Read Luke 12:13-21)

Money gets somewhat of a bad reputation in the Bible or religion in general. But let’s face it, money is necessary. We need it to feed, clothe and shelter our families, pay our bills, and enjoy some of the luxuries of life. Money adds to our stress and discomfort if we don’t have it, and it adds to our comfort and enjoyment if we do have it.

But there comes a point when money goes from being a resource that is useful in maintaining a healthy, happy life to when it becomes a burden and a source of unhappiness. Greed is an unhealthy hunger for money and things in excess of what you need.

The Bible warns against greed because it can destroy your life. Greed destroyed Bernie Madoff’s life. He stole from others in order to have more for himself and ended up in prison. Excessive wealth seems to contribute to the downfall of many celebrities including Brittany Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Mel Gibson, all of who have had public breakdowns in the past couple of years.

Yes, money can actually interfere with our happiness and decrease the quality of our lives. For one reason, the acquisition of money requires a great deal of time. The time you spend earning can keep you from taking care of yourself and can keep you from spending quality time with the people that you love. Plus, you might have to work a job you don’t like in order to earn a great income. A second reason money can interfere with our happiness is that money is meant to be a secondary concern in our lives, somewhere behind spiritual awareness and the cultivation of wisdom. No where in the Bible does it say you need money to be a good Christian or a disciple of Jesus. In fact, a preoccupation with money can stunt spiritual maturation, and it is spiritual maturation which actually leads to the peace and joy we seek. A third reason money can decrease the quality of our lives is because it can decrease the quality of other people’s lives, such as was the case with Bernie Madoff. If I need more, then you have to have less, and that is not the way God intends us to live.

A terrible thing just happened amongst a group of friends of mine who were working together on building a house. The contractor paid himself before paying his sub-contractors, which it’s supposed to be the other way around, and then he claimed he ran out of money. Now, there isn’t the money to pay the sub-contractors. Because the contractor was greedy and paid himself a huge upfront fee, those who worked for him are without the money they need to support their families. Not only are friendships dissolving over this situation, but people who were once good friends are suing each other over the matter. That’s the problem with greed.

The idea that tons of money will lead to security and happiness is a fallacy. We all want to win the lottery thinking it will solve all of our problems, but research shows that lottery winners often end up miserable, broke and fighting with their loved ones within a relatively short period of time. With a lot of money comes a lot of demands and a lot of responsibility.

21st Century Americans aren’t the only ones who worship money and think it will solve all of our problems. It’s been going on since the beginning of humanity. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells us the parable of the rich fool. The man’s crops produced abundantly, and rather than share his wealth, he builds huge barns to store his grain and goods in. The man says to himself, “Now I can be happy. I can relax, eat, drink and be merry because I don’t have to work hard now, and I have all the food and money I need.”

God says, “You fool. What if you lose your life tonight? Then, what will you have?”

Certainly, he won’t have his life, and without life, he will lose not only his possessions, but the ability to relax, eat, drink and be merry as well.

The real issue is this: we think money will make us happy, but Jesus says, “For one’s life does not consist in the abundance of material possessions” (Luke 12: 13-21). What does one’s life consist of then? Where is a meaningful, happy, worthwhile life found?

I’m going to suggest three ideas. First, one’s life is found in the ability to be able to relax, eat, drink and be merry without having to have it all. I’ll explain further in a moment. Second, one’s life is found in how engaged and invested a person is in life. Curiosity, exploration, getting to know people and places, developing skills…these ways of being lead to a more fulfilling life than acquiring possessions. And third, one’s life is made meaningful in having meaningful relationships. Connecting with others, feelings of belonging, this is where the good life is found.

First, many of us are under the impression that when we get to a certain place in life, then we will be happy, then we’ll have the good life. Perhaps we want to get to that time in life when we own our own home and the mortgage is paid off, or have a $50,000 safety net in our bank account. Perhaps we want to get to that place in life where we have achieved a certain career goal or have gotten married or have started raising children.

The problem here is we can waste many months and years waiting to achieve these goals. A person with a 30 year mortgage might have to wait until he is in his 50’s to be happy. A person who can’t find Mr. or Mrs. Right might spend half of their adult life unfulfilled.

The real key to having abundant life is being able to relax, eat, drink and be merry while we are in the process of achieving our goals. Don’t wait for tomorrow to be happy. Today, even though you don’t have everything you want, is the day to be happy. Keep working towards what you want and enjoy the day.

Second, better than having plenty of things in life is having plenty of interests in life. There’s that bumper sticker, which I disagree with, that says something like: the one with the most toys wins. It’s not the toys that matter, it’s what you do with those toys that makes life good. Having a boat is only worthwhile if you use it. Owning a motorcycle isn’t nearly as fun as riding a motorcycle.

Do you know what made my week this week? It wasn’t any thing. It was getting to know a new person who is very different from myself. On Tuesday, Adam Acard and I went to visit a former student of his named Taryll. Currently, Taryll is living at the Hillcrest House, not in their emergency shelter, which we support, but in their transitional housing. Taryll has lived a life I am blind to: living in the projects surrounded by crack cocaine, growing up on the streets, as a little boy being out until all hours of the night. Eventually going on to use and sell drugs himself. Being involved in the violence that comes with all that. But now he’s trying to straighten out his life, and so he sat down with Adam and I and gave us an education not only about his life, but about what’s happening on the streets of Poughkeepsie, stuff you wouldn’t see if you didn’t know it was happening. And we also talked about what we, Adam and I, might do to help.

Getting to know new people, exploring foreign situations, traveling, cultivating new skills, being curious and invested in life is where one’s life is found.

Third, the good life has everything to do with good relationships. God did not put us here to be alone, to be isolated, to be unknown. God wants us together, in community, and to be known and accepted for who we are as individuals. When you feel supported, it makes all the difference in life. When you feel alone, life is sad and depressing.

Not only do we need one another, we also need to give to and receive from one another. First, I think we need to receive because you can’t give what you don’t have, but once you do have, then you can give.

A perfect example is our food pantry, which was last Thursday night. Because we as a congregation have been so fortunate, we are able to give to those who are less fortunate. It warmed my heart because one little boy, who was only three or four and who attends our nursery school, was so excited when he saw Trix yogurt in his food bag. He was so excited he asked me for a spoon and ate the yogurt right then on the way out to the car. To see someone so happy, and we were able to contribute to making that happiness possible, that is living a good life.

My friends, next time your struggling with what will make your life feel more satisfying, more meaningful, more happy, know that the answer is not found in an abundance of material possessions. The answer is not having more or getting to a certain place.

The answer is that you already have enough, and that your happiness can be found in the present moment on your way to someplace else. The answer is that excitement and joy is found in exploration and getting to know God’s world and God’s people. The answer is that deep, meaningful connections, which make life worth living, are found when we engage one another, when we are real and we share with one another.

We are not rich fools, but wise disciples.

Hanging in my hallway so that I walk past it about 30 times a day is this sign, saying, “You have enough.” May we all be blessed to know that we have enough; we don’t need more and that true happiness is found in the ways of God.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

(Read Luke 10: 38-42)

The Bible is filled with stories that can be difficult to understand. Who here doesn’t take pause as Abraham leads his son Isaac out into the wilderness to be sacrificed, to be killed? And who doesn’t struggle with the notion that God tested Job by taking away everything from him, his crops, his health, his family, his faith? But the story we heard this morning, the story of Mary and Martha, that’s an easy one for us to relate to. It says, “Martha was distracted by her many tasks” (Luke 10: 40). Distracted by many tasks…Isn’t that something we can all relate to?

Martha has some very important visitors over to her house. Jesus and his followers. They are hungry, thirsty, tired. She welcomes them with doors wide open and provides for their every need. It isn’t easy entertaining a group of guests, but she’s happy to do it. Martha gets her guests food and drinks, and finally everyone is sitting down to relax, enjoying themselves. That is, everyone except Martha. She still has stuff to do. More food, more drinks, wash the dishes.

But to be quite honest, Martha doesn’t really want to keep doing her many tasks. She wants to hang out with Jesus too. You can just hear her over there in the other room, in the kitchen, banging pots, clanging pans, audible signs that she’s bitter and distracted.

Even more than that, Martha is really annoyed by her sister, her lazy sister, who is just hanging out with the guys, listening to their thoughts and the stories of their travels, leaving all the work to Martha. Jesus is in her house, HERS! MARTHAS! And she can’t even sit down and talk to him because she has too much to do while her sister sits at Jesus’ feet.

This is not a difficult scene to imagine, except maybe that Jesus is actually there. But the busyness and the irritation that Martha experiences, this is one of the prominent struggles we all have in 21st century America.

Just listen to people when they talk. We all have so much to do. There are children to tend to, parents to tend to, doctors to see, bills to pay, chores, work, work, some form of work, always to do. The list is endless. Even picnics and parties, weekends and vacations can amount to stress and just another “thing to do.” Of course, we feel distracted.

What I don’t like about all this talk, is that life seems so difficult, like a burden, and everyone is exhausted. Being tired is not the mark of a worthwhile existence, and yet it’s like a badge of honor these days. As long as we’re working our fingers to the bone and don’t have enough time in the day, we feel justified. Certainly, no one can accuse us of being lazy as long as we have a list of things we did today and another that we will do tomorrow. But, my friends, is this the life that God intends for us?

Is working our tails off and running around in circles, the point?
Must we swim upstream, go against the grain, pull a cart with square wheels, even if its making us unhappy?

There is always going to be a list of things for us to do in life, the inbox will always be full as the saying goes, but why couldn’t Martha have just sat down? Why wasn’t spending time with Jesus the most important thing she had to do and the thing she made time to do? And why can’t we just sit down? Are we making time for what’s most important in our lives?

Listen to this “lesson” from the book, the 4 Agreements:

There was a man who wanted to transcend his suffering so he went to a Buddhist temple to find a Master to help him. He went to the Master and asked, “Master, if I meditate four hours a day, how long will it take me to transcend?”
The Master looked at him and said, “If you meditate four hours a day, perhaps you will transcend in ten years.”
Thinking he could do better, the man then said, “Master, what if I meditated eight hours a day, how long will it take me to transcend?”
The Master looked at him and said, “if you meditate eight hours a day, perhaps you will transcend in twenty years.”
“But why will it take me longer if I meditate more?” the man asked.
The Master replied, “You are not here to sacrifice your joy or your life. You are here to live, to be happy, and to love. If you can do your best in two hours of meditation, but you spend eight hours instead, you will only grow tired, miss the point, and you won’t enjoy your life. Do your best, and perhaps you will learn that no matter how long you meditate, you can live, love and be happy.”

Perhaps its not how hard we work in life, but the quality of our work and energy that matters most. Perhaps we should spend more time doing the things we deem of vital importance and less time with the “shoulds” and minutia of daily life.

There is a saying, you are what you eat. Well, it’s also true that you are what you do. You are what you do. If you serve God and neighbor, then you are a servant. If you love adults and children of all creeds and colors, then you are a lover. If you give of your time, talents and gifts, then you are a giver. But if you waste your time on that which doesn’t matter much, than you’re…a waste… someone who doesn’t matter much...That’s a sad thought.

“Activity suggests a life filled with purpose.” That’s what Captain von Trapp said to Frauline Maria anyway. It’s quite a thought provoking statement really. “Activity suggests a life filled with purpose.” The pivotal word being “suggests,” as in: to create an illusion. Activity creates the illusion of a life filled with purpose.

I think for many of us it does, and then we wonder why we aren’t happy; why we aren’t satisfied. We run around from sun up past sun down, fall exhausted into bed, before waking up sometime in the middle of the night with thoughts racing through our heads, and we wonder why we have no peace. Activity keeps us moving, and when we finally get a chance to rest, the bottomless pit in our souls growl and our hearts beat restlessly.

Mary refuses to waste her time, the precious time she has with Jesus. She decides that the most important thing for her to be doing is sitting at his feet, absorbing his peaceful presence, and seeing in him what she desires to be herself. We can call Mary a student of the Rabbi Jesus because she sits down and listens to his teachings. We can call Mary a follower of the Jesus because she goes where he goes. We can call Mary a disciple of the Jesus because she does what he instructs.

What would you like to be called? A student? A follower? A disciple? A friend? A humanitarian? A musician? A business man/woman? What’s important to you?
You must do those things.

I have a friend who wrote one book, and then never wrote again in the four years I knew him. He called himself a writer, but I said, “you aren’t a writer. Writers write. When you write again, then you will be a writer.” And actually, that idea got through to him. He started writing a blog every day.

We must do something to be that thing. We must observe in order to be called observant. We must forgive in order to be called forgiving. We must take on adventure if we want to be called adventurous.

One of the things we might all like to be called is “Christ-like.” I know I would like to be. Jesus said to Martha, “There is need of only one thing.” That one thing is for each of us to sit at Jesus feet and see in him what we desire to be in ourselves.

If you don’t know how you would like to be described or what you would like to be called, maybe you can think of an aspect of Christ that you admire. Sitting at his feet, what do you see in him that you wish you could be for the world?

When I look at Christ I see his peacefulness that surpasses all understanding. I want to know that peace; therefore, I must be peace. I must do peace. But there are so many aspects to choose from. We hear of him listening and helping the needy. We hear of him questioning rules that don’t make sense anymore. We hear of him weeping in compassion for those who suffer. We hear of him instructing, leading, praying, taking time out for himself and God, traveling from town to town, spreading a message, meeting new people and seeing the world.

My friends, Martha should have stopped doing dishes and sat down for a few minutes to be with Jesus, to look at him, and to know him. So should we. May you take the time to know who you truly want to be, what is truly important for your life, and in doing so, become “Christ-like.”