Saturday, January 30, 2010

Jesus Christ: The Revelation of God

(Read Colossians 1:15-20 and Luke 23:33-43)

There are those atheists and religious nay-sayers that say to we who believe, “You are not created in the image of God. It is God who is created in your image.” They claim that humanity made God up. To declare such a statement suggests that these people have never had an experience of the divine or the sacred. Or that they lack religious education and understanding. They tend to want proof of God’s existence like a scientist might prove the sun exists. All a scientist has to do is point to the bright light coming from the sun or tell the person to close their eyes and feel the sun’s warmth to prove it exists. But if you or I point to a bird or a mountain or a baby or if we ask the person to close their eyes and dwell in the present moment feeling life itself coursing through their veins, they still may not be convinced that God exists. You need spiritual eyes to see the spiritual world, and some people do not have or do not use their spiritual eyes.

I love people, and I believe in our goodness and potential, but if I came up with the concept of who God is based on who we are, God would be very limited indeed. Instead of making bold proclamations such as, “God is steadfast and faithful,” I would have to bashfully say, “God can be faithful, but God can also be fickle and unpredictable.” Instead of gratefully announcing to all, “God is one who accepts, forgives and redeems,” I would have to shamefully say, “God forgives sometimes, but at other times, God is judgmental and holds grudges.” Instead of affectionately declaring, “God is my companion and closest friend,” I would have to disappointedly say, “God can be really nice and comforting, but then God can get caught up in his own affairs and just sort of disappear for awhile.” If we really created God after our own imperfect image, we would have a very different understanding of who God is and what God is like.

The truth is, as Christians, we know who God is and what God is like primarily through Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the Son of God because “he points beyond himself to God- [revealing] God’s character and passion.” As Colossians says, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1: 15, 19).

It is true that we can learn about God’s nature through the changing of seasons, the flow of a river, the honorable qualities in human beings, the unfolding of events in the world, but nothing accurately reveals God to us as does his beloved Son.

Today, I’d like to suggest three characteristics that we know about the Almighty, the Holy of Holies, the Creator of heaven and earth, because of Jesus Christ, (although Jesus reveals much more than three characteristics). First, Jesus reveals that God is faithful and steadfast. Second, Jesus reveals that God is one who accepts, forgives and redeems. And third, Jesus reveals that God is personal and intimate in relationship with us.

First, God is faithful and steadfast. Or in other words, God is consistent, devoted and trustworthy. Jesus himself was faithful to God. Throughout his life, he always believed in Abba, his Father, and he always sought to be in accordance with God’s will. Jesus was also faithful to his disciples. He never abandoned them, not when they were in the boat afraid they were going to drowned, not even on his last night when they betrayed and denied him. And Jesus was also faithful in his ministry of healing and teaching. He never denied anyone who came to him for help. It didn’t matter if you were a sinner or a centurion, if you were an ancestor of Israel or an adulterer. If you were in need, Jesus helped you.

The same is true today. God doesn’t disappear on us. God doesn’t change the rules on us. It’s not as if one day God loves us and the next day God abandons us. Our God loves us all the time and is always here for us no matter what. This fact should give you great comfort. Especially when you are doubting yourself, know that God does not doubt you and that God will not leave you.

We know this because of Christ Jesus.

Second, God is one who accepts us, forgives us, and redeems us. I love the stories in the Bible of Jesus being merciful, accepting and compassionate to those most people would judge and reject, such as the Samaritan woman at the well who has had several husbands or the woman caught in the very act of committing adultery. All the drunkards, thieves, lepers and various other kinds of sinners found in Jesus someone who believed in their innate goodness. Even though their speech and behavior were not always respectable, even though they acted immorally and made mistakes, Jesus knew it was because they were weak and broken that they made poor choices. He understood them and wanted to help them live a redeemed life.

While Jesus was being crucified, a thief on a tree next to him, whose cohort was mocking him, said to Jesus, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus didn’t scold the thief because he had been a bad person. He didn’t tell him he was unworthy of being remembered. What Jesus said to his request was, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Our God is the God of second chances. Think about your own life recently. Do you feel guilty or ashamed about something you have said or done, or something you should have said or done but have not? God still loves you. God isn’t giving up on you. God wants you to come clean, to confess, repent and be changed. In fact, God is reaching out to you to help you, to empower you so that you might be transformed, so that you might be made new.

And we know this because of Jesus Christ. As it is written: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).

Third, and last for today, God is a personal God, your Father, your Mother, your Friend. God is not out there, far off in the clouds, in space, who checks in with us on occasion. God came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ, and became one of us, a human being, so that God could understand us, and we would have a shared common existence. God remains here with us now and is in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our God listens to our cries and carries us through this awesome, but daunting experience that we call life.

And we know this because of Jesus.

Perhaps you are going through a difficult time these days. Listen to this popular 20th century poem, which in a heart-felt way describes just who our God is.

Footprints

One night I had a dream--
I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord
and across the sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints,
one belonged to me and the other to the Lord.
When the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that many times along the path of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest
and saddest times in my life.
This really bothered me and I questioned the Lord about it.
"Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,
you would walk with me all the way,
but I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life
there is only one set of footprints.
"I don't understand why in times when I needed you most,
you should leave me."
The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child,
I love you and I would never leave you
during your times of trial and suffering.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you."

There would be no devotional poem of this sort without Jesus. Nor would there be all the beautiful hymns that express how faithful God is, how forgiving God is, and what a good friend God is without Jesus.

“What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge; take it to the Lord in prayer.”

Or “When the storms of life are raging, stand by me. When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea, thou who rulest wind and water, stand by me. In the midst of faults and failures, stand by me. When I’ve done the best I can, and my friends misunderstand, though who knowest all about me, stand by me.”

Or “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with thee. Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.”

There is no end to the hymns that proclaim God’s faithfulness, forgiveness and friendship. But since we can’t be here all day, let us conclude this sermon by proclaiming together just how good and loving God is by singing in one voice the great classic, In the Garden.

Friday, January 29, 2010

By the Grace of God Go I

(Read Luke 6: 17-26 and Jeremiah 17: 5-10)

Today’s Gospel reading, sometimes referred to as the Sermon on the Plain, is a passage that I wrestle with. I am not as comfortable with a Jesus who is warning and condemning people. We expect to hear Jesus say, “Blessed are you…” but it seems contrary to his nature to hear, “Woe to you…” (Plus, I worry that I'm in the "Woe to you" faction.) In fact, I know people who ignore this passage in Luke, and instead, use a similar passage in Matthew called the Sermon on the Mount because Matthew’s version is filled only with blessings, and no curses.

In an honest attempt to understand Jesus’ warnings, I studied the passage more carefully. Woe to the rich; woe to those who are full; woe to those who are laughing; woe to those when people speak well of them. The more I thought about it, I still could not understand why Jesus would curse the people who have what we all want and what he intends to give. For example, Jesus says, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” And then a few lines later, Jesus says, “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” Does he want us full or does he want us hungry?

Another example, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” But then he says, “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” Does he want us to laugh or to weep? It would seem that Jesus wants us to laugh, but then he goes on to condemn people already laughing. What are we to make of this?

A surface reading of this passage will not do. This is not a direct condemnation of people who are wealthy or have full stomachs or are in a good mood or are liked by others. It’s not wrong to be likable, happy, satisfied, even overflowing. So let’s go deeper.

In Luke, chapter 6, a great multitude has come to hear Jesus preach, to have their diseases healed, and their spirits cleansed. They are coming in need to him. This is often how we come to God, when we are in need. It’s when we need something that we come knocking. It’s when something is wrong or we’re desperate that we do our best crying out for help. It’s when we’ve been drive to our knees that we pray.

Jesus is overjoyed when we come to him in our need. More than happy to open the door when we come knocking and answer our cries for help and our prayers. What distresses Jesus is when we don’t need him at all. Or at least we think we don’t. When we don’t rely on him. When we go elsewhere to get our needs met.

Imagine the scene of Luke 6: Jesus standing amongst the crowd on a level place, not a mountain as in the Gospel of Matthew. People everywhere are trying to touch him because they knew that he can help them. And he does help them. It says, “All in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.” He healed everyone who came!

And so Jesus looks around at the scene, and he notices who is among the people following him and who is not there. The only ones who have come to find him are the ones who need something that they can’t find anywhere else. So he says, Blessed are you who are poor because you came to me, and I can help you enter into the kingdom of God. He says, Blessed are you who are hungry now because you came to me, and I can help you. I can fill you up so that you will never be hungry again for I am the bread of life. Blessed are you who weep now because you came to me, and I will make you laugh. When you follow my path and my way, you will receive the promise of abundant and eternal life here and now. Here we have Jesus crying out in a prophetic voice telling all who will listen that God is on the side of the poor, the needy, the sorrow-filled and the rejected. God will come to their rescue.

But you see, those unfortunate people who are already rich, already filled, already laughing, already respected, they didn’t come to see Jesus because they didn’t need him. They were self-reliant. They were going off on their own path, and if they were thinking anything spiritual at all, it certainly wasn’t that they needed a Savior.

And so Jesus warns those people and so does the Prophet Jeremiah, who says, “Thus says the Lord, Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17: 5).

I have a friend named Leigh, and she is one of those people whose house is always clean, whose car is always washed, whose nails are always polished, and who finishes in the top 5% of her company in sales every quarter. In addition to that, she works out five times a week, seems to have a great relationship with her husband, and spends time with her son every day. I get exhausted just being around Leigh. I don’t know how she does it. And when I talk to her, she always says she’s doing good and is happy. No real problems to speak of.

But every once in awhile, Leigh’s veneer gets a crack in it, and underneath, closer to her heart, I see a lonely and scared person who doesn’t really trust other people to be there for her. That’s why she has to work so hard. She feels like its all up to her. Her life looks pretty perfect from the outside, but inside, she feels a ton of pressure to make her life what it is, and she’s tired. It is in these times, when the crack in her fa├žade gives me a glimpse of the real person underneath that I feel closest to Leigh. And it’s at these times when she and I are able to have meaningful conversations about faith and friendship and love.

We are not meant to rely solely on our own strength and our own efforts to make it in this world. We are meant to rely on God and on one another. We are fragile beings and this life can be incredibley demanding. If we only rely on our own strength, we will end up feeling scared and overwhelmed. But when we rely on God’s Spirit to work in us and through us, we tap into a power that is much greater than any one of us, and God’s Spirit empowers us to live boldly and to accomplish great things. We also need to rely on one another. We need each other’s encouragement. We need someone to stand beside us or shovel with us when the load is too great.

St. Augustine said, “You must be empty of that which fills you that you may be filled with that of which you are empty.” And what that means in this circumstance is that we have to get rid of the idea that its only up to us; we have to let go of our prideful attempts to control our lives when things don’t seem to be working out; we have to stop going against the grain when all we’re accomplishing is getting splinters.

Let’s take a moment and all breathe out that which fills us. Take a deep breath and exhale. Give up control. Give up expectations and agendas. Let go. And then, inhale. Let the Spirit of Life fill you with whatever the Spirit of Life wants to fill you with. Inhale hope. Inhale help. Inhale the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. We have to risk being emptied of all that we have been relying on so that God can fill us with all that we really need.

Let us not turn away from the Lord for those who turn away dry up. “They shall be like a shrub in the desert.” Without God’s help, we don’t have what we need to sustain us.

But, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots to the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green. In the year of draught it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” Those who trust in the Lord are not anxious or afraid. They know that whatever needs to happen will happen if only they remain faithful and they come to Jesus in their time of need.

I’d like to invite you now to pray with me: “God, we are in need, and we are coming to you for help. Fill our souls. Make your Spirit our power that we might thrive like a tree planted by water. Amen."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Keep Awake! The Master Has Left Us in Charge

(Read Mark 13:32-37 and Isaiah 40: 28-31)

One of the saddest moments in Jesus’ life, for me anyway, is in the Garden of Gethsemane, especially how the story is related by Matthew. After dinner in the upper room, which is when Jesus institutes the Lord’s Supper as something his followers should do to remember him, Jesus and his disciples go to the Mount of Olives on the east side of Jerusalem so that he can pray. Jesus says to the disciples, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me” (Matthew 26:38). In this moment, we know that Jesus is afraid about what’s going to happen to him, and he’s saying to his best friends, “Be here with me.” He doesn’t want to be alone.

Then, he moves a stone’s throw away and prays to God, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39).

And then this is what I find so sad, heart-breaking really, is that after praying that prayer, basically asking God to make it so that he won’t die, so that he won’t be persecuted and executed, Jesus goes back to be with his friends, and he finds them all sleeping. He says to Peter, “Could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial [and I think what he means by time of trial, which can also be translated as ‘temptation,’ is a time when you want the opposite of what is happening. Jesus wants things to be different than they are]; [Jesus says,] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26: 40).

I don’t know if the disciples were really sleeping. They might just have been out of it, not there, not with him, not present. It was probably more than they could handle so they checked out.

Do you know what I am talking about? When a situation is so intense that your mind disassociates? When life feels so overwhelming that you feel the need to escape or to run away?

I don’t blame the disciples for “sleeping,” but I do feel bad for Jesus.

Life can be very difficult. Life can be very challenging. And when that’s the case, it is important that we rest. We need to give ourselves the time and space that we need so that we can heal, recover, and rejuvenate. It is important for us to rest when our bodies tell us we need to rest.

But once we are rested, it’s time to wake up. “Stay awake,” Jesus says to the disciples, and so he says it to us. “Stay Awake.” We have to stay awake because God needs us fully present, here and now, to take care of the kingdom and to take care of each other. God needs us fully awake so that we can appreciate this gift, which we call ‘life.’ God needs us to wake-up, to awaken, so that we can fully participate in our calling, in our destinies, in the wonderful plan that God has for us.

We need to be awake.

Today’s Gospel lesson is a parable found in Mark and Luke, although the two versions are slightly different. It’s a somewhat obscure parable, but I remembered it through the Bible study that’s going on Wednesday mornings. In this parable, the master of the house goes on a journey, and while he is away, he leaves his slaves in charge of the house. Scholars say that this is actually a metaphor for Jesus (the master) leaving the earth. The “journey” that the master is on is a common way to refer to the time from the resurrection until the second coming of Christ. So, in this period of time that the community that Mark was writing to was living, and now, in this same period of time that we are living, Jesus has left us in charge of the house, or the kingdom. And the message that comes to us through this parable is God saying to us, “I need you to be awake so that you can take care of things in the world that I have created for you and for all people.”

What I don’t like about the way that this parable is written is that it seems like a threat. “Beware!” it says (Mark 13:33). Like if the second coming were to happen, and we were found “asleep,” we would all be in big trouble. I’m not interested in the sort of interpretation that makes you worry about the end of time and whether or not you are going to be left behind.

But what I can take out of the warning, “Beware; keep alert,” is a sense of urgency. Right now, this minute, every day, God needs us to be awake and working for the healing and transformation of the world. Your lifetime matters. My lifetime matters. We have a charge to keep.

What your charge is exactly, I don’t know. I don’t think you have to know. As long as you are engaging in life, as long as you are paying attention to what is going on around you and responding in the appropriate ways that that situation requires, you are keeping your charge. As long as you are paying attention to the people around you, interacting with them, listening to them, responding in the loving ways that that people require, you are the slave or servant that is taking care of the house.

We don’t have to know our charge or our calling or our destiny. In fact, sometimes, we can’t know. It hasn’t been revealed to us yet. And in those cases, it’s just very important that you be awake, that you be present to life. Inspirational writer, Melody Beattie says, “Relax. You’re on a journey of discovery. Let life reveal itself to you.” I like that. A journey of discover. Enjoy the journey of discovery you are on.

However, I do think it’s helpful to know what God requires of us. It’s easier to do what’s expected when you know what’s expected. Micah 6:8 says, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”

So we can be just and seek out justice. We can be kind and receive kindness. We can walk humbly and faithfully on the path that is unrolling before us. These are all ways to serve the Master.

I also think that what God expects of us has to do with what we love and what we are good at. It wouldn’t be consistent with our idea of who God is if God demanded we do what kills our spirits and is a constant struggle.

So, what do you love and what are you good at? That’s what God wants you to do. That’s how you can “keep awake,” that’s how you can take care of the kingdom, by pursuing the path of what you love and what you are good at.

At the children’s Christmas pageant, we learned that the 9th day of Christmas is really about the 9 gifts of the Spirit. Each one of us has at least one if not more of these gifts. Listen and see if you hear a gift that resonates with you: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge…to another faith…to another gifts of healing…to another the working of miracles…to another prophecy…to another discernment…to another various kinds of tongues…to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses” (1 Cor. 12: 7-11).

You have one of these gifts. Believe in yourself. Be creative and use your gift!

It takes real courage and faithfulness to do what you are good at and what you love because the world does not encourage us to follow our bliss or to live our dreams. The world encourages us to think about money first, and to worry, and to be afraid. Money is important, and there are things to worry about and be afraid of, but these things shouldn’t rule our lives. Love and fulfillment, and the prospect of peace should rule our lives.

The prophet Isaiah says, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40: 28-31).

My friends, if you are tired, get some rest. Wait for the Lord to come into your life and renew your strength. When you are ready, and to the rest of you, I say, “keep awake!” The kingdom has been entrusted to you. God is counting on you. And you can do it. “What I say to you I say to all: 'Keep Awake'” (Mark 13: 37).

Sunday, January 3, 2010

What Gift Can I Bring?

(Read Matthew 2:1-12)

We are at the start of a new year, a new decade for that matter, and I hope that everyone here has made some New Year’s resolutions, some goals that you want to accomplish, some dreams that you want to come true.

Benjamin Mays, who was a minister, scholar, social activist and the president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, said, “The tragedy in life does not lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn’t a calamity to die with dreams unfulfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream” (Zadra, Dan and Kobi Yamada. 1, How Many People Does It Take to Make a Difference? Seattle: Compendium, 2009.)

I think he’s right. However, that being said, I do hope you succeed in reaching your goals and fulfilling your dreams this year.

What are some of the reasons why people fail to accomplish their New Year’s resolutions, their goals, their dreams in life? Fear of failure; some might even say fear of success. Laziness. Lack of perseverance or lack of diligence. Not having confidence or faith in one’s self. Another possible option is that we make unrealistic resolutions or we bite off more than we can chew.

I would like to say a word about fear of failure and about procrastination.

First, fear of failure. Do you know that Michael Jordan, arguably the best basketball player of all time, was cut from his high school basketball team? Imagine the great loss if he never would have tried again or would have just played baseball. But getting cut in high school didn’t stop him; he didn’t quit.

Do you know that Thomas Edison failed a reported twenty-five thousand times in his efforts to invent the battery?

When a reporter asked Edison how he felt about failing 25, 000 times, Edison said, “Failed. I haven’t failed. Today I know twenty-five thousand ways not to make a battery!” (Dyer, Wayne. Wisdom of the Ages. New York: Quill, 2002. pg. 156.)

I am someone who has not pursued certain goals and dreams because I am afraid of failure (in college I was afraid of getting a B!), so I really appreciate how Edison re-frames the way we commonly think of failure and success. Best-selling author, Wayne Dyer, writes in his book, Wisdom of the Ages, “There is no such thing as failure! You cannot fail, you can only produce results!” (Ibid, pg. 154.) That’s what Edison is saying. He produced 25, 001 results; one of which lead to the invention of the battery. If we could all start thinking like Edison and Dyer, then fear of failure would cease to be a reason we don’t achieve our goals. We would just keep trying until we achieved a result with which we were satisfied.

Dyer, who has written over 30 books by the way, also writes, “It is better to jump in and experience life than to stand on the sidelines fearing that something might go wrong” (Ibid, pg. 155.)

If we want to succeed, we cannot let fear of failure get in our way.

We also can’t let procrastination or laziness or lack of diligence get in our way. Excuses are just that, excuses.

Here these words from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s (1749-1832) classic book, Faust (considered one of the greatest works in German literature, early 1800s):

“Lose This Day Loitering”

Lose this day loitering—‘twill be the same story
To-morrow—and the next more dilatory [delay it even more];
Each indecision bring its own delays,
And days are lost lamenting o’er lost days.
Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute—
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
Only engage and then the mind grows heated—
Begin it, and then the work will be completed!
(From Dyer. Pg. 95.)

Dyer writes in Wisdom of the Ages, “The reluctance to engage is what keeps you stuck… The tendency to put it off, to procrastinate, causes you to lose this day. [It is] the valuable technique of beginning” (Ibid, pg. 97.) that enables us to accomplish our goals and achieve our dreams. “Do not think about finishing a project, or about how overwhelming the task may seem. Do nothing more than begin…” (Ibid, pg. 96.). Anything we are to finish, we must begin.

I’m sure you have heard the saying, “The journey of 1000 miles starts with one step.” The message here is: talk about what you want to do, and then do it! Start!

Today, we celebrate Epiphany, one of the more important days in the Christian liturgical year, but a day that many don’t know the significance of. In the general sense of the word, an epiphany is a “sudden manifestation of the meaning or essence of something.”

Like when I arrived at Princeton. I understood the meaning of the last year of my life. I knew I was meant to go there.

In the Christian liturgical year, epiphany is a feast celebrating the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi. The gift of epiphany is that now everyone in the world can know, can recognize Jesus as one sent by God, as a king.

When the Magi, as the wise men are often called, journeyed to find Jesus, they brought with them gifts to pay honor to the newborn king. That got me thinking. We are also on a journey in this life to find Jesus, to know him, to honor him. Isn’t it fitting that we also bring gifts to Jesus like they did?

The gifts the Magi brought were gifts fit for a king. The Scripture says, "On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered [the baby Jesus] gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh" (Matthew 2:11). The gifts they gave Jesus were very valuable monetary and material gifts. We are accustomed to giving monetary gifts to Jesus as well, and while these gifts are greatly appreciated and necessary for Christ's Church to continue, they are not the only kind of gifts we can bring.

In the song, "The Little Drummer Boy" the young boy comes to Jesus and says, “Baby Jesus, I am a poor boy too, I have no gift to bring, thats fit to bring our king, shall I play for you, on my drum?” Mary nods yes to the little drummer boy, and so he gives the gift of his music to the baby Jesus. The last words of the song are: “Then, he smiled at me, me and my drum.”

Jesus smiled at the little boy who offered something of himself as a gift.

And so I thought, why not combine this idea of what gift can we bring to Jesus with our New Year’s resolutions? What can we commit to doing this year that is an offering to Christ?

Give something to Jesus that requires you to use something God gave to you. For example:

According to the newspaper, the number one New Year’s resolution is to get in shape. God gave us our bodies. Commit to taking care of yours in the new year.

God gave us our talents. Use your talent this year. I am writing a book. Even though I am afraid of failing, even though I want to procrastinate, the only real failure will be if I don’t try, don’t start. All of the people that I admire and that have impacted my life: Jesus, Buddha, Vincent Van Gogh, Elvis Presley singing gospel, St. Augustine, St. Francis, St. Bernard of Clairvioux, Julian of Norwich, Richard Foster, Marcus Borg, Brother Lawrence, John Wesley, Marianne Williamson, Eckart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hanh, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder, none of these people that have inspired me died or will die with their music inside of them. They sang in their lifetime. They made music. I don’t want to die with my music inside of me!

If you are artistic, paint or frame a photo you took. If you are a good writer, write your memoir. If you are interested in preserving family history, draw up your family tree.

If you have been given a curious nature, go back to school, take a class of some kind, take up a musical instrument., learn how to cook new foods.

If you have been blessed with a home, take care of it. Make it nice. Open your doors and invite people in.

You have been given many gifts so there is no end to what you have to give. Just don’t be afraid and don’t wait. What gift will you give God in 2010?

Erma Bombeck wrote books and over 4,000 hilarious newspaper columns, which described the everyday life of a suburban housewife and her kids. She said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’” (Zadra, Dan and Kobi Yamada. 1, How Many People Does It Take to Make a Difference? Seattle: Compendium, 2009.)

May we all be able to say to God, “I used everything you gave me.”

Saturday, January 2, 2010

For Those Who Believed, He Gave Power

(Read John 1:1-14)

For many of us, the concept of power is a troublesome thing. Afterall, Christians are supposed to be meek, humble and loving. Is it possible to be those things and powerful all at the same time?

Part of the problem is the way that power has been misused in the world throughout time. Whites misused their power to enslave those with darker skin than them for thousands of years (to this day). Hitler misused his power to annihilate 6 million Jews. Governments misuse their power to steal from their people and serve special interest groups. Companies misuse their power to make their executive officers rich at the expense of their employees and stock holders. Husbands misuse their power to dominate their wives. Parents misuse their power to subjugate their children. The misuse of power to control and deny others of their basic human rights is one of the great sins of this world.

The other part of the problem is our understanding of what it means to be powerful or who can be powerful. The popular understanding of power is that it is reserved for those who are wealthy, beautiful, famous, healthy, educated, in higher positions, physically dominating (the bully, the mafia, the military), etc.

I don’t believe we have been taught what healthy power is, nor have we been taught how to cultivate that healthy power. Power, when used for the good, is a God-given blessing. The Gospel of John says, “To all who receive him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

Belief somehow unlocks our power. When we believe in God, when we believe that God resides in us, then we have the power to be the children of God. Who are God’s children? People who are loved, loving and happy. People who are capable, strong, and empowered to make a difference in this world. People who live out their callings, who live into their destinies, who realize their dreams.

Each of us has inherent power. Our energy is our power. Our spirits are our power. We all have energy and we all have spirits, and we all have power that can be used for the good.

False power is fueled by the ego. It seeks to make the self better than others. More attractive. More wealthy. More successful. More well-known. More desirable. False power can be easily taken away because we need those outside of ourselves to give it to us. We need their affirmation. We need their approval. We need something that they have to give us.

Spiritual power is different. It cannot be taken away because it comes from within. Spiritual power is the power that comes to those who believe and those who walk the spiritual path.

Spiritual power requires hard work because it requires you to face your suffering. Suffering is our greatest teacher in this life. If you resist suffering, it persists. (What you resist persists). You have to face your demons; admit your weaknesses; show your vulnerabilities. When you enter into your suffering, you can see through it and this leads to rewards beyond measure: to understanding, to compassion for yourself and others, to strength, to inner peace, to harmony amongst those with whom you relate. Spiritual power leads you out of suffering and into happiness. It leads you into eternal life here and now.

Thich Nhat Hanh describes five kinds of spiritual power in his book, The Art of Power. They are:

Faith. Which is actually more accurately translated as confidence or trust in yourself. If we don’t believe in ourselves, if we don’t have confidence and trust in ourselves, we have litter or no power. It is very difficult to accomplish something that you don’t think you can accomplish.

Diligence. Which is to stay committed to something. To keep at it. To fall down and get up over and over again. To go astray and to come back. Think in terms of progress and not finality. You will accomplish your goal if you don’t quit. That’s power.

Mindfulness. Which is to pay attention. To be here, now. To be present. To be aware. When we pay attention to what is really happening in the present moment, we are able to respond in the way that is most appropriate, in the way that situation requires. Most of the time, we just act out of habit. We sleep walk through life and drive on auto pilot.

Concentration. Which is to go deeper. Once you become aware of what is actually going on, you can really begin to engage life and people. Who is this person that you are talking to? What are they trying to say? What does this job that you are doing require of you? How can you meet the needs that are present?

Insight. Which is to see clearly. To see reality as it is. To see the true nature of things, the essence of things. It is what Buddhists call right view. Insight occurs once we have concentrated and come to see deeply. We come to a greater understanding and are now able to act in accordance with what the person or situation actually requires. We no longer come from distorted perceptions or wrong view. We see the bigger picture. We see as God sees.

Cultivate these five spiritual powers through the practice of meditation and mindful living. The children of God are called to be a powerful people working for good in the world.