Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Awfulness of Clarity

I am departing today from my Life Journal postings. Part of this current run of readings is Proverbs which, in the vast middle portion, is a succession of aphorisms not always related to one another in sequence. It is harder to focus on a single reading or even passage so today I take a break to look at something much on my mind.

How uncomfortable clarity can be. In life many of us want God to be clear about what path we should take. We say that we want God to speak clearly and directly. I have thought the same myself, especially lately around some questions and choices.

The difficult is that clarity means we lose the option of passivity that ambivalence brings. When we don’t know or can’t see we can refuse to act. When the light shines brightly it is much harder to waver. (I am reminded today of that Mark Twain witticism that could be generalized to the will and purposes of God: ““It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.”)

I find discerning God’s will is seldom a Damascus-road moment but rather an accumulation of evidence and insight that coalesces into a clear picture when the right moment comes. For me such a moment occurred yesterday.  I had a conversation with my clergy coach on Thursday about a subject that challenged me and then Friday a sequence of events brought her challenge to me into focus.

It is uncomfortable because it means re-prioritizing. It is uncomfortable because it means a painful conversation or two. It is uncomfortable because it means confronting the fact that I have made plenty of choices that the writer of Proverbs would say are the way of foolishness rather than of wisdom. One of the lessons in Proverbs is that wisdom comes from heeding and correcting and learning. Folly results from ignoring the wisdom and learning that God places before us.

Clarity is like stepping out of a dim room into bright sunlight – the bright light may hurt the eyes for  a moment. But the way ahead is into the light, not back into the dark.

Categories: Faith Journey | Leave a comment

Living as a Lump (Life Journal – 5/28/2015)

Scripture

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:19-21 NIV)

Observation

– One of Romans arguments is how to interpret the experience and covenant of Abraham in light of Christ and the opening of the way to the Gentiles
– Paul here is answering the question – ‘If it is all by God’s choosing, then how can God blame people either way?
– This is reminiscent of the ending of Job where God challenges Job on this very question (Job 38-42)

Application

This passage is about the question of election and what that means. So I hesitate to hijack this passage but today it speaks to me in my faith today about my own submission to the will and purposes of God. I want to be in control, to make decisions. Often when I am struggling to make a decision I am really struggling with the larger question of will I let God be God?

God’s purposes aren’t always (or even often) easy to understand. Especially in the moment in which I am living. And Gods purposes are not just for me but for other people and groups. I see my life in isolation and from my perspective. God sees and wills from a place that my mind cannot comprehend.

To call someone a “lump” is not a compliment. It suggests passivity, lack of ambition or direction. But in this context I want and need to be a lump – to be shaped by God for purposes beyond my understanding. Unlike the lump of clay, I can and must do so by choice and election. I elect to be the clay that God forms and chooses.

Prayer

Lord, make me a lump today  clay that is willingly submitted to your plans and purposes, clay that allows you to shape me and my life and my circumstances and that of others in ways that flow from your love and grace, your wisdom and truth. Like the clay I cannot understand… but unlike the clay, I must submit and respond by allowing the potter to do with me as you will. In the name of Jesus who submitted to you and your purposes at every turn. Amen.

 

Categories: Faith Journey | 1 Comment

Waiting on the World to Change (Life Journal – 5/27/2015)

Scripture

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now;23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in[hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes  for what is seen?25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25 NRSV)

Observation

– Paul uses language of parenting here: children, labor pains to talk about suffering
– We (“children of God”) also wait as in labor for redemption
– Are the children of God also subjected not of their own will? (verses 18-21)
– There seems to be a comparison or connection drawn between the creation and the children of God

Application

I have seen the later verses of this chapter several times over the last few days on Facebook. A colleague, whom I did not now except by name and sight, died Friday under tragic circumstances. As his story has emerged the sense of loss and pain has spread even among those of us who did not know him. Today his body will be laid to rest but his family will continue to know grief and loss, as will his colleagues who knew and loved him.

These earlier words of Paul from today’s Life Journal reading weave a comparison, a connection between the groaning and suffering of creation and that of the children of God. Unlike the created order (and I would add the order of things as crafted by humans, too) , we are conscious of this suffering and this waiting for redemption. We know and see and experience this suffering. And we are able to look at it rather than simply experiencing it.

This season of life has felt… overwhelming… to me. This death of a colleague and the circumstances surrounding it add to the unease and the wondering. Today is a good day to remember Paul’s injunction that hope is born in the midst of what we do not see: the redemption that has not come, the answers that have not yet been made clear, the sufferings that continue unabated. And that hope, in our Redeemer, is enough to see us through today.

Prayer

God of Hope, we wait as a woman in labor waits. We feel the pain – of the world around us, of our own hearts. The suffering is real. The questions are real. The bondage to decay is all to real. But we live today in hope! A hope that is born in the midst of such hopelessness. May we have such hope today – hope in the redemption of Christ, in the eventual birth of what is waiting to be revealed. It may not be today… but it will be. Amen.

Categories: Faith Journey | 1 Comment

The Way Ahead (Life Journal – 5/26/2015)

Took a few days off for the holiday… 

Scripture

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be a healing for your flesh
    and a refreshment for your body. (Proverbs 3:5-8 NRSV)

Observation

+ “And” in verses 5 and 6 suggest more a causality than a conjunction only: do what is in part A and B will follow
+ There is also a contrast in 3:5 — trusting in the Lord is in contrast to reliance on one’s own insight. Similarly in verse 6 there is an implied contrast between the ways and paths of those who acknowledge God and those who do not.
+ “Trust” is about leaning on, depending on for protection and help. “Heart” is often thought of as meaning “mind, will, emotions”
+ “Acknowledge” suggests an awareness of God’s presence in and working through all things.

Application

Each day’s Scripture comes from a daily Bible reading plan (the Life Journal plan – link to it at the top of this blog) and therefore not picked by me at random. From that day’s readings comes the smaller selection quoted at the beginning of each post. I am stunned at times (like today) when the subject aligns so perfectly with what has happened this day or a question I have been pondering.

For me, I am pondering a big life decision and so these words from Proverbs are timely. In fact the last few days (and nights) were consumed with wrestling with this question. As is often the case, the Scriptures do not give me a simple solution but a way ahead (To be accurate, sometimes it is clear and simple what the Word tells me – it is not, however, always or even often easy).  I don’;t have the answer to the question that weighs on my mind but I do have a reminder of how to proceed from here.

One of the words here that commands attention is “all.” It is not just in the big questions of life – but in all of them. Not just at dramatic turning points but at every turn of life’s journey. No question is beyond God’s wisdom or outside God’s care and concern.

Today’s words from Proverbs are a reminder to seek God’s will in every moment of life, in every decision, in every turn or crossroads.

Prayer

God of Wisdom, I lean on you today. I give to you all of my conscious self – my mind, my will, my emotions. I will seek your presence and listen for your Spirit in every moment of this day and of this season of life. Make straight the path ahead that the road if not easy may be clear. And may I learn and grow minute by minute in your understanding as I learn to let you fill and redeem mine. Amen.

Categories: Faith Journey | 2 Comments

Blasphemy? (Life Journal – 5/21/2015)

Scripture

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God 18 and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, 19 and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, 21 you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:17-24)

Observation

– Authority to teach requires that one obey what is taught!
– Verse 19 sounds like… sarcasm? Irony?
– Paul here corrects hypocritical teachers and those who claim to be judge of others
– What is the significance of Paul’s questions? Is this intended to be a self-reflection?

Application

It’s tempting to read such passages and think “Well I don’t do that” and move along. But do I? Am I living the words I speak or teach or claim to be true?

Verses 19 and 20 really trouble me today. They suggest a lack of humility, a lack of love, a self-importance that comes from me and not from real holiness or real grasp of God’s truth.

I am so quick to judge, to apply my standards to others. I need to be quicker to apply them to myself – to ask what I am doing or not, who I am in Christ rather than who others are.

Prayer

Lord of Law and Grace, hear my confession this day. I am the one who proudly makes myself judge and teacher and prophet. My own life is so far from your way and my own life so dissonant too. May I not say or do anything that would cause anyone to blaspheme the your name because I have blasphemed it in my deeds and words. Amen.

Categories: Faith Journey | Leave a comment

Powered by Prayer (Life Journal – 5/19/2015)

Scripture

Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you, and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith.  (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2)

Observation

– Paul says prayer is what he needs for the word of the Lord to spread rapidly and everywhere
– What is true of the Thessalonians Paul desires to be true of everyone
– He also sees prayer as the answer to wicked and evil people – who, by this words here, are defined as people without faith

Application

I have been preaching during May about the church in Acts. Across the distance of history I am struck with how simple they were in the best sense. No fretting about strategy, for instance. No consultations or coaching required.

I wonder for myself how much I need to recover this… to see what I do as a pastor, what we do as a church, as powered primarily by prayer rather than programming, by prayer rather than marketing, by prayer rather than strategy. These things all bring something to modern ministry and we ought not throw out the baby with the bath water. But we ought to reclaim the center and source of the church’s power and witness. I doubt we’ll be sorry.

Prayer

O Lord, may I covet prayer as the way for mission and ministry to happen. May I pray myself – for what has been entrusted to me and to my church and for others – for the word of the Lord to spread, for the name of the Lord to be glorified. Amen.

Categories: Faith Journey | Leave a comment

Asking for What You Already Have (Life Journal – 5/18/2015)

Scripture

Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places.The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.”And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3;3-9)

Observation

– Although Solomon practices his faith outside the limits of the Law (sacrificing at the high places), he is still described as one who “loved the Lord.” Is this a parallel to his father, David (mentioned here) who was a man after God’s heart yet sinned deeply.
– Despite the above, God appeared to Solomon in a dream and offered him whatever he desired
– Solomon focuses not on God’s love for him but for his father, David

Application

Two things that speak to me today from this story – first, that Solomon was not exactly a stickler for observing the laws around worship and sacrifice (as clearly noted in the story!). Yet we are told he loved God! A reminder that the love of God is a matter of the heart and not of ritual purity or strict observance of the laws. Solomon is noted as obeying his father’s statutes (but not necessarily God’s). The point is not that everything is ok and nothing is forbidden or proscribed. But, as with David, what makes us acceptable to God is the heart (see the Sermon on the Mount for Jesus’ expansion of this idea).

The other thing I have not considered previously is that Solomon is, in a sense, already wise. He is wise enough to ask for wisdom rather than for riches or honor or fame or success. This lines up with the notion that it is heart that God approves – from that heart of love for God Solomon seeks to be wiser still – to have his love for God and following of his father’s statutes exhibit itself in wisely ruling the people of Israel.

Prayer

Lord of Wisdom. today may I cultivate a heart that loves you – a heart that honors you – a heart that seeks you and your wisdom. Such a heart will find peace and will find satisfaction for what it seeks is in you. May I find such wisdom, too, as I seek to give my heart to you. In Jesus’ name… Amen.

Categories: Faith Journey | Leave a comment

Seek the Seeker (Life Journal – 5/15/15)

Scripture

“Yet the Lord, the God of Israel, chose me from my whole family to be king over Israel forever. He chose Judah as leader, and from the tribe of Judah he chose my family, and from my father’s sons he was pleased to make me king over all Israel. Of all my sons—and the Lord has given me many—he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel. He said to me: ‘Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever if he is unswerving in carrying out my commands and laws, as is being done at this time.’

“So now I charge you in the sight of all Israel and of the assembly of the Lord, and in the hearing of our God: Be careful to follow all the commands of the Lord your God, that you may possess this good land and pass it on as an inheritance to your descendants forever. (1 Chronicles 28:4-8)

Observation

– David speaks these words to Israel and its leaders before giving charge to his son and heir, Solomon
– In vss. 1-7 David speaks of how God chose him from all his father’s sons and then chose Solomon of all David’s sons to be his heir
– The “so” in v. 8 suggests that God should be obeyed out of humility – recognizing that of all the people whom God could have chosen, God chose David, God chose Solomon, God chose Israel.
– This selection entitles them to follow the commands of the Lord!
– The underlying Hebrew of “follow” in v. 8 is noted by the New English Translation team as “Watch! Follow!” which fits well here – God sought David, sought Solomon (and Israel for that mater) and therefore in response they ought to seek God’s way. The King James Version has “keep and seek.”

Application

One of the great rhythms of the Scriptures, of the Christian life, is “God acts, we respond.” All that we do is in response to what God has done. There is no “doing for God” except in response to the initial doing of God. It is rooted in our understanding of the sacraments in which God has acted and we respond in love and obedience.

I am struggling right now with a question that these words really address. For me it reframes my question into “What has God done for me? How has God sought and chosen me?” And how does what I do respond to that above all other considerations and motivations?

Prayer

Lord Who Seeks and Chooses – always, always you are seeking and acting. Always you are working and choosing. May this day’s actions and words of mine be in response to You and to what You have done. In the name of your greatest act, Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

Categories: Faith Journey | Leave a comment

What’s In It For Me? (Life Journal – 5/14/2015)

Scripture

David said, “My son Solomon is young and inexperienced, and the house to be built for the Lord should be of great magnificence and fame and splendor in the sight of all the nations. Therefore I will make preparations for it.” So David made extensive preparations before his death. (1 Chronicles 22:5)

Observation

– David wanted to build the Lord’s house but God said “No.’ (2 Samuel 7)
– David instead prepares the material to be used
– Solomon’s youth and inexperience are not up to the challenge he will face and David knows this
– David makes extensive (The Amplified Bible says “abundantly”)

Application

This story is hard for me – I admit it. I am so often desirous of recognition and so bereft of humility that I want to succeed. I want to be recognized. I am reminded of that scene from “Field of Dreams” when Ray Kisella says “I did it all. I listened to the voices, I did what they told me, and not once did I ask what’s in it for me.” Shoeless Joe Jacksom responds “What are you saying, Ray?” And Ray confesses “I’m saying, what’s in it for field_of_dreamsme?”

Too often that is my question “God, what’s in it for me?” More often we are preparing what someone will do after us – a doing that no one may remember was ours to prepare. After all, who calls it “the Temple of David?” No one. It is “the Temple of Solomon.”

To hear God’s voice, to follow God’s prompting means ultimately that someone else must get the credit. Usually another person. And always God and the Savior who says ‘Follow me.’

Prayer

O Generous God, today let me prepare for who will follow me – to invest in those things that will leave an abundant preparation for another generation, another leader, another follower of your Son. May I not ask – as much as I want to – “What’s in it for me?” but rather “What would you have me do, Lord?’ Amen.

Categories: Faith Journey | Leave a comment

Getting It All Backwards (Life Journal – 5/13/2015)

Scripture

 I will exalt you, Lord,
    for you lifted me out of the depths
    and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
Lord my God, I called to you for help,
    and you healed me.
You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
    you spared me from going down to the pit.

Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
    praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:1-5)

Observation

– David contrasts God’s deliverance with the many ways he has needed it – the depths, his enemies, from being in the pit. Also the contrast between God’s help and his need to be healed (interesting contrast there)!
– The other huge contrast is between God’s wrath and judgment (which are very real) and the depth and breadth of his mercy

Applicationt was you

Verses 4 and 5 of this Psalm point out a human reality – we tend to think that the anger and the weeping are the long and un-endurable when, in fact, it is God’s goodness that is the majority of what we experience. The goodness of God overwhelms the badness that life seems to bring. The tears that seem to drown us are, in reality, gone as quickly as night passes into day.

Oh to have this perspective every day! To not dwell in the tears or the weeping (as we – I – often do). But to put things in their true perspective.

To weep too much is to deny the rejoicing God brings. To dwell on the passing anger of the Holy One is to ignore and make light of his very real favor.

Application

God Who Helps and Heals and Rescues – remind me, oh remind me, how great is your mercy against the pain of the world. Remind me anew that your love is deeper than the pit, that your healing is but a call away, that your uplifting is higher than anything or anyone that shoves me down. All these riches are in and through your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Application

Prayer

Categories: Faith Journey | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.