Dream a Little – No, A Big – Dream

The word “dream” has arisen several times over the last few weeks of my life. Dreaming can mean wishful thinking about what could be. Or fantasizing about what is unlikely but would be welcome. Or those strange movies that play in our minds while we sleep.

In ancient times people saw dreams as God’s messengers. Interpreters of dreams were held in high regard (at least as long as their interpretations proved true or matched the hopes and wishes of the dreamer).

The Bible tells the stories of dreams and dreamers – Joseph, Daniel, Joseph the father of Jesus, Paul. How did they know that God was speaking and not last night’s dinner?

In all of these stories, God intrudes. God invades the dreams and lives of people without warning. God uses dreams to get their attention or to leverage a change in course.

God’s dreams are grander of ours. We dream of an easier life – God dreams of a fulfilling life. We dream of more of what we love – God dreams of more love. We dream of no cares – God dreams of our caring as deeply as does the One in whose image we are made.

One of the ways to know where our dreams originate is to ask whom they resemble. If they are inflated versions of us, then we know they come from inside. If they look as big, as holy, as loving as God… they are something beyond and outside us. They are God’s dream.

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One Man’s Death

Much has been written this week about the death of Robin Williams. Sadly – and not surprisingly – not all of it kind or helpful or insightful. But much, especially among the community of faith, has been. If you struggle with depression  and especially with suicide (or know someone who does), please see the links below for information, thoughts, and resources.

At the same time there are bigger things happening than the death of a single beloved comedian: the unrest in Ferguson, MO… the Ebola epidemic in Africa… the ongoing refugee crisis in Syria… you get the picture. Terrible things. Unimaginable things. Perhaps that is now and always the point.

The death of a single person is something we can grasp. And the unfolding story of depression, illness, addiction overlaps with many of our own experiences. Our tendency to identify with lovable stars and to think we know them deepens the personal sense of loss.

I hope this also reminds us that we make a difference – most of us – with other individuals. We don’t have the influence to change the course of cultures or history. We lack the stature to have the President or our Senator take our calls (not that we should not speak out and speak up however!).

People around us need our love and understanding. They need to connect with people of faith who demonstrate in real-time and real situations the love of Christ. It is not a coincidence that God’s great plans came to fruition in real people – Abraham and his crazy extended family, David and his flawed descendents,  and ultimately in Jesus of Nazareth who lived in a particular place and at a particular time in human history.

Somewhere near you someone needs you. Somewhere near you may be the person you need. God works that way. And it works.

RESOURCES

In Which Depression Is Not Your Fault 

After The Laughter The Waves of Dread

NAMI What We Can Do About Depression

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Lessons from Wednesday – Learning to Forgive

This past Wednesday, something happened that left me in a storm of emotions -anger, hurt, regret, loss. A friend — someone in whom I confided and with whom I was very open about a subject on which we disagreed but whom I counseled about how to lead in a touchy situation at his request —  turned out to be a Judas. I learned in a very public way that my trust was misplaced and that this person not only was not my friend but lacked integrity and honor. I was – and am – devastated.

I hesitate to write such harsh words. And you would be right. But I share such a harsh tale to talk about the spiritual and personal issues is raises for me.

Today – on Friday – I am struggling a bit with forgiveness. It will be a long journey. This person will likely not be my friend ever again. I certainly won’t trust him. Nor, I think, does God or inner peace require that I do so.  But I have to come to a place of forgiveness. Today I want to be angry and self-righteous. But I need to move toward forgiveness and charity.

This is not the first time I have faced betrayal – probably not you either. And it won’t be the last. But I have learned at least that bitterness only takes root and grows. Regret becomes a sinkhole into which we fall if we are not careful. Unforgiveness poisons our spirits and shrivels our own experience of God’s grace and forgiveness.

After all these years I am still devastated when these things come. But I am learning better all the time how to live into and with that pain and move toward forgiveness and newness. If you struggle with this I am with you… but the struggle is worth it. Grow up with me into forgiveness and graciousness.

 

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

Mmathew 5:18 The Message

 

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I Am A Sabbath-Breaker

I am. More accurately, I am a Sabbath-avoider which amounts to the same thing.

When Moses receives the Ten Commandments on Sinai, among the first is this –

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

I can’t remember the last time I took a real Sabbath… when I did no work, not even a little. When I stopped trying to manipulate and coerce my world into being what I want it to be. When I rested in the reminder of God’s work as opposed to my work.

I decided a few days ago to take a Sabbath from Facebook and Twitter – a kind of electronic Sabbath. How hard it has been! Much harder than I imagined. I have had to stop myself from opening a browser tab to see either of them. I have had people text me to tell me about something they thought I missed on Facebook. (The irony that some of you will read this from a link on my Facebook page or Twitter feed is not lost on me).

It is hard to rest. It is hard to let things lie that seem important or urgent. It is hard to admit by resting that the world continues to revolve without our active spinning it on its axis.

When did you last have a real Sabbath day – a day of rest, a day of real renewal, a day in which your Creator is proclaimed as Lord (and you are reminded that you are not)? And more to the point of the Scripture — how will you make it  necessary rhythm of your life?

I am working on it… I need to rest on it.

“I’m of the opinion that busyness is a deeper threat to the soul than pornography ever was.”

—Author and speaker Gordon MacDonald

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This Place

This Sunday I will be preaching (I believe for the first time) on the story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28. The word most often repeated in this story is “place.” Some commentators say that the word behind our English word “place” means “sacred place.”

Place matters – something we might forget in our Internet, interconnected age. The where of things is as important as the why or who or how. Imagine a picnic in the midst of the Sahara? Or playing golf in the Antarctic? Place is important, maybe more so than ever. How much of our news is about place? The conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis is over place, for instance.

Jacob finds himself in a certain place. At that place – not in another-  Jacob has a dream of a heavenly stairway. A stairway that connects two specific places – heaven and earth.

One of the things that Jacob’s dream foretells is a time when place will not limit God. God is not a God of a place but a people. Not a local deity who cares about local concerns but a God whose concern is everywhere and for everyone. BUT who cares about the place where you are, where I am.

God is in THIS place – no need to search for where God might be. No need to move to where God might be found. No need to wonder if you are in the correct place.

God is in the place where you are right now.

“You realize, don’t you, that you are the temple of God,
and God himself is present in you?”

1 Corinthians 3:16 The Message

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Anniversaries

July is a month of anniversaries for me. July 1 I began my third year as pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church. July 1 also marks the beginning of my twenty-third year as a pastor in The United Methodist Church.

Hard to believe it has been that long. Truthfully I think sometimes how little I have really learned :-) I have joked that I have one year of pastoral experience repeated twenty-two times.

I could say the same (boy, just ask my wife) about marriage. Next Tuesday, Dana and I will have been married twenty-five years. THAT is even harder to get my mind around. Are we that old??? I have been married longer than I was unmarried. Wow.

Often anniversaries cause us to look back (as I am doing above). We should give thanks for the years we have enjoyed with our spouse, in work that we love. I wonder, too,  if we ought to look ahead on these days as well.

The future is the only thing we can change, the only place where we can grow. Yes, it flows out of this present moment. But the past is immutable and while a source of gratitude it can also be a fertile ground for regret and pain.

In the future God awaits. In the future there is a place for change. In the future I can be a better husband, a more faithful pastor, a more deeply committed follower of Jesus Christ.

Here’s to many more milestones and anniversaries! And the future that contains them.

 

“This is God’s Word on the subject: “As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”

Jeremiah 29:11 – The Message

 

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Freedom and Faith… Funny Things

We live in funny times. Freedom is a word at the core of our American credo. But we may disagree more than ever on what it means. Freedom for one person sounds like something entirely different to another. We will hear it used a great deal the next few days as Independence Day comes around once more.

What does freedom mean for the Christian? What does freedom have to do with our faith?

On Monday of this week, Donald Miller posted the following on Facebook –

“God doesn’t try to control people. And He’s the only one who actually can. Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for us.”

We muse about freedom from the power of sin and death, freedom from anxiety and fear, freedom to live abundantly in a world of scarcity. All true. But at the core of our faith, in some sense, is human freedom. And the fact that God apparently submits to that freedom in not controlling us divine power might allow.

Donald Miller’s point is about our inability – and what should be our unwillingness to try – to control others. But it begins with the observation that God leaves us absolutely free. Free to say “no” to God’s gracious invitation. Free to reject what Christ offers just as freely. Free to take the other road, the road much traveled, the road that leads to suffering and death.

Human freedom may be the greatest power in the universe as it turns out to be the only thing greater than the power of God (at least in the realm of individual and corporate decision-making).

Freedom’s greater power comes when it is surrendered in love, gratitude, and wonder to the only One to whom we should submit our freedom. Something to consider as we celebrate another year of freedom in our land. And to think about what it says about our earthly ideas of freedom perhaps.

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The Humility (Humiliation?) of Song

music-wallpaper-4-wideHow many times have I heard from the s 52neat next to me in the car, “Dad, please stop singing.” or ‘You are so off-tune!” or “You know you are singing off-key?” Well, no, I don’t. I suffered through years of music in elementary and middle schools. I recognize the notes on a page. I know what many of the basic music terms mean. But as I often tell people when they ask “Do you play an instrument?” I answer “Yes, the radio.” Making my mouth or a piano produce music is another thing entirely.

Like many people, music moves me. Certain songs bring me to tears – because of a memory they evoke… because of the power of the words… because of the beauty of the music itself. But I cannot, try as I might, make music of any sort. Except through something that plays the music another person has produced.

It’s humbling. I can do many things well. Not this. And not, truthfully, as many things as I think that I can. When I hear someone sing beautifully in worship it not only moves me toward God but reminds me of my limitations. I cannot do it all. I cannot do much of it. I have gifts and passions and experiences that are praise-worthy and that some others may want but lack. But I cannot do all things or even most things well. Just listen to me sing!

I need – we need – other people. As a human being, I need others to live a complete life. God has made the world and human personality this way. We need faith but we also need fellowship. We need our Creator but we also need his creatures.

Now let me turn up the music so you can’t hear me sing… !

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I Love Puzzles

In seminary, one of my favorite professors said that she had become an Old Testament scholar because she loved puzzles. I love them, too. Nothing is more relaxing than the daily Jumble in the newspaper. Or trying my hand at a logic problem.

I wondered at this, though… what do puzzles have to do faith or the Bible? Isn’t it all clear, obvious, easily understood? Right…

puzzle-piecesThere are things that are clear: Love your neighbor as you love yourself (Matthew 22:36-40) for instance. But wait. Who is my neighbor? What does it mean to love her or him? What does it mean to love that person as – in the same way – I love myself? Oh. So maybe there are questions buried in this life of faith, even in the things that seems simple or straightforward. And this doesn’t even touch on those passages of Scripture and doctrines of faith that do not make sense on the surface. Or whose application to our lives is less clear than their application to the people who first heard and believed.

Eugene Peterson has written -

“Our lives are not puzzles to be figured out. Rather, we come to God, who knows us and reveals to us the truth of our lives. The fundamental mistake is to begin with ourselves and not God. God is the center from which all life develops. If we use our ego as the center from which to plot the geometry of our lives, we will live eccentrically.”

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Pentecost Silos

Last Sunday Christians celebrated Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit on the first disciple of Jesus who had gathered in Jerusalem. As Luke relates the marvel of that day:

“And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind,
and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”

Acts 2:2-4 NRSV

Pentecost reminds us of so many things…promises so many things. Among them, I think, is the desire of God to overcome barriers of language and culture and race (and all sorts of other ways we describe and define ourselves). The first disciples came from a relatively small and isolated area in contrast with the broader world in which they lived. On that day. God’s wonderous deeds were proclaimed in ways that all could hear and understand. The barrier of language was overcome by God for the sake of the mission of the church to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. Not for unity in and of itself but for the sake of the mission.h

I wonder if today we are not as isolated as they. Except ours is self-selected. We have hundreds of cable channels – we can watch the news and other programs that already reinforce what we know and think to be true. The same can be said for newspapers and magazines. And the Internet? We can read what we want from whom want. Is it any wonder that our politics and our culture… and our churches.. are so polarized?

I wonder, too, if it won’t take another Pentecost to overcome our self-imposed and chosen silos? For God to overcome the issues that separate us (at least in my United Methodist Church). For God to let us hear what we can understand, to hear people with whom we might not agree and from whom we would normally self-separate.

I wonder this for the sake of our mission. How can we proclaim the Good News with authenticity and power when the world sees us as divided and divisive (at least within our tribes)? How can we proclaim a transforming faith, a resurrection power, when we can’t get along with other Christians of the same tribe let alone across the boundaries of tribe and tradition?

Perhaps only by the power of the Holy Spirit falling afresh upon us – shaking us from our foundations and re-enabling our mission? Even so, come, Holy Spirit.

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