Jan 31, 2011

God Wants Us All To Flourish

Reprinted With Permission From the Reverend Robert Arbogast

Something was not right with twenty-four year old Joshua Edwards. His family and friends were
sure of it. Those who treated him at the OSU Medical Center last summer had clinical evidence of it.
Something was not right with Joshua Edwards. Denis Hoover found that out two weeks ago, when
he answered a late-night knock and saw Edwards standing on his front porch naked. Something was
not right with Joshua Edwards, who lost his job and his health insurance after his hospitalization and
could not afford to pay for his medications. We all heard about it after Edwards’ body was found the
next day.

In a Columbus Dispatch commentary, Joe Blundo wondered about what kind of city we have
made. A city in which a man who is mentally ill can die, untreated, naked, shivering, and alone, in a
garden shed — that’s worth some sober reflection.

I’m sure you remember Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats. It’s a parable about
the justice by which human communities are measured. How does a community act toward hungry
people standing in line at soup kitchens? toward immigrants who haven’t melted in yet? toward sick
people who don’t have the means to look after their own care? toward repeat offenders on the street
or still behind bars? and, yes, toward people who stand naked on our front porches? How does a
community act? That’s the question. And it’s a question of justice. Justice in the sense of a
community doing what’s right. And justice in the sense of a community being condemned for failing
to do what’s right.

Whatever the details, whatever the chains of causation, too much in Joshua Edwards’ story is just
not right. That upsets us. It makes us angry. It stirs up a hunger and a thirst within us, a hunger and a
thirst that have never been satisfied, a hunger and a thirst for justice, for what’s right in place of
what’s wrong.

Jesus said, “Those who are hungering and thirsting for what’s right are blessed” (Matthew 5:6). It’s a holy hunger that churns in our gut, when we hear Joshua Edwards’ story or when we hear other stories, right here in Columbus, of people homeless, hungry, cold, sick, out of work, and with nowhere to turn. We know in our souls that God has something better in  mind. We know that God wants all the people of our city to flourish, not just the people in the suburbs. We know that God wants the rules to be fair, that God wants everyone to have a fighting chance at a decent life.

And deep in our gut, we hunger for a city that fits with God’s vision. A city in which children are
always loved and given every opportunity to thrive. A city in which old people can live out their years
in dignity, without fear of poverty or violence or substandard care in an overcrowded nursing home.
A city in which all the people can make a life for themselves and their loved ones by honest work.
That’s what we yearn for, instead of a city of failing schools, crippled neighborhoods, and
shrunken dreams. And that’s a proper yearning. God always wants his people to seek the welfare of
the city where they live. And it’s a yearning that one day will be satisfied. Jesus said, “Those who are
hungering and thirsting for what’s right are blessed, because they will be satisfied.”

That’s the future God has planned, the future God has promised, a future in which
everything, at last, is right. There’s a picture of it in the book of Revelation. In chapter 21, John
recounts his vision of the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God
and resting upon the earth. The city he sees is perfection itself, perfect in all its dimensions,
complete in all its appointments, the home of light and of life that flourishes forever.

The book of Revelation up to that point is filled with so much wrong: with beasts and blood,
with disasters and destruction, with plagues and with death. But the future, the future that the saints
of God hunger for and pray for, that future has been guarded, has been protected from all the
turmoil, has been kept whole in heaven. And in the end that future comes down from heaven to
earth, and the deepest longing of the children of God is satisfied. Everyone who hungers and thirsts
for what’s right will be satisfied, because in a great and final act of divine justice, everything wrong
will be supplanted by everything right.

And now? What happens in the time between the present and the final future? Our country’s
conservative movement helps us here. For years now, “conservatives” have chided “liberals” for
having a vision of equality and prosperity that they keep talking about, while they wait for someone
else to make it happen.

“Liberals” expect the government to create jobs and prosperity. And they expect rich people to
be robbed to take care of poor people who can’t manage to take care of themselves. “Conservatives,”
on the other hand, promote an ethic of energetic responsibility. Don’t pine away for a better day,
wringing your hands while you wait for someone else to make it happen. Be proactive. Be an
entrepreneur. Be a mover and a shaker. Be a creator, a producer. Be an actor on the social, political,
and economic stage.

When it comes to justice, when it comes to a community doing what’s right, that “conservative”
approach is on target. Justice is not something for us to wish for, something for us to wait for,
something for us to pine away for. Justice is something for us to take action for, to be proactive
about, to be movers and shakers toward, to be creators of.

Listen to the prophet Micah. “This is what the LORD requires of you: To do what’s right and to
love what’s kind and to be careful to walk with your God” (Micah 6:8).

The problem in Micah’s time was that the community of Israel was doing the exact opposite.
God had always shown kindness to them.  But they disregarded the plight of the needy, counting them only when making cost-benefit calculations. God had always done right by them. But they exploited the poor and the vulnerable. They were liars in business, champions of crooked deals, experts at taking advantage of every situation.And as far as being careful to walk with God, they had made a mess of that, too. They had reduced piety from a change of attitude and action to an attempt to buy off God’s anger and to get out from under God’s judgment, whether it cost pools of blood, rivers of oil, or even the life of a firstborn child!

But it’s all of a piece. Religious practice cannot be separated from the attitudes and actions of a
community, especially toward the vulnerable, especially toward people who don’t get to write the
rules, but only to feel their weight.

So here we are in Columbus. Here we are in a city where public school officials remove kids
from school with too little concern about where those kids end up. Here we are in a city where
community leaders can’t seem to muster the moral resources to deal with abandoned properties.
Here we are in a city where a drug court can hardly gain traction, while the road to prison gets
resurfaced every year.

Now, we can sit back and wish for things to change. We can hope and pray for things to get
better. We can pine away for a city that will look like the new Jerusalem. But the conservative
movement has a better way. If you want to see justice, then do justice. If you want your community
to do what’s right, then take action to make that happen, to change business as usual. Be proactive.
Be movers and shakers. Be entrepreneurs of justice.

Here’s the bottom line. Justice is not an option. Justice is a priority with God. Justice is central
to Christian faith. People who hunger and thirst for justice, for what’s right, are blessed. Blessed
because, in the end, they will see all that they have yearned for finally realized in the perfect city of
God. But blessed also along the way through a partnership with God, a careful walking with God, by
doing what’s right and loving what’s kind. Of which there is no better example than our Lord
himself, who not only announced the kingdom, but acted to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, and to
put right what had been wrong for so long.

When we take action to do what’s right, it may not prevent another Joshua Edwards from dying
naked, cold, and alone. But then again, maybe it will. And we at least have to try, don’t we? — try in
the name of the one who came to announce and to embody good news for the poor, freedom for
captives, healing for the sick, and so much more.

Jan 30, 2011

When Discouragement Invades

A Repost from 2009.

It is imperative that we recall God's goodness to us throughout our lives. Otherwise we'll focus on the negatives, on the negatives in life, on the negatives in our current situation. When we are discouraged, our eyes are quickly drawn to the darkness. Amazingly, it is the human way (sin) to be discouraged or discontent even when in paradise. If we find ourselves in that situation, it could mean something is off spiritually. But we can give ourselves to God, prayerfully read Scripture and prayerfully recall all the ways in which he has blessed us, never abandoned us, and it will give us perspective. If we are in a slump, such recollection will reorient us. Also, we should let friends or godly people know what is afflicting us. That way they can speak truth to us, pray for us, and help to give us the right perspective. Also, even if we are not in the mood, serving others will help them as well as us. It gets our eyes off of ourselves. Do not dwell in discouragement alone. May you be encouraged by God dear brothers and sisters.

Jan 29, 2011

Busy Service For Christ Keeping Us From Living Like Jesus?

There are many people--children, women, and men . . . who are being abused, and mistreated--oppressed all around us. We can all prayerfully do something for those who are oppressed. Right now, my heart is focused on those who are undocumented workers in the U.S. Close to where I live, many are being robbed and taken advantage of because the perpetrators know they can't/won't go to the police for fear of deportation. How would God have you prayerfully act wherever you are?

The Church has often been guilty of failing to act and speak out when it should. In fact, many times its because she  ignorantly tows the political party line. Those who do act on issues of justice or who sound the alarm are denounced as liberals and demonized. I fear this is the case in America. Although many have said that in the U.S. that immigration is the new Civil Right's issue, the majority of Americans and even those in the American Church seem to be on the wrong side yet again. It's a complicated issue, yes, but sometimes doing that right thing can be complicated. That doesn't mean we shouldn't do it.

 Most of those in the German Church also towed the party line during World War II. And some live to regret it.  Read this account by a German Christian who was there. It is found in Erwin Lutzer's book, Hitler's Cross:

I lived in Germany during the Nazi Holocaust. I considered myself a Christian. We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because, what could anyone do to stop it? A railroad track ran behind our small church and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. we realized it was carrying Jews like cattle in cars!

Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sounds of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us.

We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top  of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more.

Years have passed and no one talks about it anymore. But I still hear the train whistle in my sleep. God forgive me; forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians yet did nothing to intervene.

Erwin Lutzer goes on to say, "That story, which speaks so pointedly to the weakness of the church in Germany, speaks also to us: Do we hear the train here in America--the cries of the pre-born children in our abortion clinics, the abused child across the street, or the minorities who are daily discriminated against in the normal course of their existence? Or does our busy service for Christ drown out these muffled cries?

pp. 99-100

Jan 27, 2011

Extending Grace . . . A Culture of Grace.

This is from Chris Rice's Reconcilers Blog. I thought it important enough to link to. There are so many people who can say things much better than me. Do read it and ingest it for your benefit. Blessings to you.


Jan 26, 2011

Waiting Around For God

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. Exodus 3:1

I think of Moses out in the desert wilderness tending sheep. Day in and day out, year after mundane year, for forty years,  he endured the blazing hot sun. His smooth kingly skin turned leathery. Worn out. His best friends--the sheep and the jackals that roamed about. His family--his sole comfort. He had nothing to look forward to. Day after day, as he sat in whatever shade he could find, he most likely reflected on his time in Egypt. Was he crazy to think that he was to deliver the Hebrew people? He must have been. It all ended so badly. So, so, badly. He was only trying to deliver the Hebrew from the oppressive Egyptian overseer when he killed the overseer. That action, instead of inciting the support of the Hebrews ended in him fleeing the wrath of his grandfather Pharaoh. He knew his grandfather and others would see it as rebellion; it meant his certain death should he remain. He had to go.

And while he loved his nomadic wife and family, and his father-in-law Jethro, he couldn't help but wonder what life might've been like in the Egyptian palace. If only he hadn't followed his hair-brained notion, what he thought to be a calling from God, he might not find himself here in the desert of Sinai. In Egypt, he had promise. Here he was a nobody. A shepherd once a prince. Nothing great, nothing much to report of his desert years. That is until the burning bush.

I often think about what it might've been like for Moses during those forty years in the desert. From Moses' vantage point, his dream of helping the Hebrew people was a lost cause. How could he deliver his people from the Egyptian desert? I am sure the desert caused him to question everything he was so certain of before. If he were to be their deliverer, why'd he spend forty years in the desert?  Surely Yahweh had forgotten him. Or maybe he had never heard from Yahweh in the first place. I am sure Moses thought that his long duration in the desert was proof positive that there was nothing to his notions of being the Hebrew's deliverer or defender.

When we're in the desert, waiting around for God, we lose hope because we don't see any evidence of God's presence or movement in our lives. We feel like we're pointlessly tending sheep. And while we might be able to see him in the world or moving in the lives of others, we feel like his goodness and faithfulness are reserved for everyone else but us. It seems that like Moses, we've endured forty years of silence. We've grown old and worn.

Might I encourage you and myself? God will show up. He will. He always does in a way we can perceive him. Hold on, ask others to hold you if you can't. That's what the body of Christ is for. God always shows up. He always comes. Most often unexpectedly--in ways and at a times we can't forsee. If you are like Moses right now--waiting--waiting--waiting on God--tending sheep--feed on him in places you do see him--even if you're convinced he has personally abandoned you (yet Hebrews 13:5-6 he says never will he leave us nor forsake us).

Pour out your life for him and for others. And remember Isaiah 64:4, "Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him." And also Psalm 84:11, "For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless."

Prayers for you brothers and sisters. Remember me too.

Jan 25, 2011

You're In My Jurisdiction

In Tattoos On The Heart (one of my recent most favorite non-fiction books), Father Greg Boyle tells the story of  shirtless Junior, who'd, with beer in hand, greet Father Greg everyone morning when Father went into work. One day, Father Greg, lost in his thoughts, oblivious to all around him fails to acknowledge Junior. Junior notices and yells, "LOVE YOU G-DOG." Father Greg stops in his tracks--overcome by the love shown to him. He notes that in the barrio, everyone tells each other they love one another. They don't hold it back. Then he goes on  with the story:

"'Thank you, Junior. That was a very nice thing to say.' Junior waves me on, as if papally blessing me as my day begins. 'Oh, come on now, G, you know," he says, spinning his hand in a circular motion, 'You're in my . . . jurisdiction.'

I can't be entirely sure what Junior meant. Except for the fact that we all need to see that we are in each other's 'jurisdictions,' spheres of acceptance--only, all the time. And yet, there are lines that get drawn, and barriers erected, meant only to exclude. Allowing folks into my jurisdiction requires that I dismantle what I have set up to keep them out. Sometimes we strike the high moral distance of judgment--moving our protected jurisdictions far from each other. This is also, largely, the problem in the groupthink of gangs. They just can't seem to see one another as residing in the same jurisdiction. 'We are the guys who hate those guys' is the self-defining assertion of every gang. The challenge is to get them to abandon the territory of their gang and replace it with a turf more ample, inclusive, and as expansive of God's own view of things."

Later on, Father Greg says that God's jurisdiction is " an expansive location . . . a place of endless love."

pp. 130 and 145.

Jan 24, 2011

Life-filled Death

Age creeps over my face
Its happening
beauty is fleeting                                                                    
the universe expanding
my life hurdling away
from childhood memories
incarnate friends and relatives
mere phantoms
of memory
who cease to exist
on earth

How long shall I live

Still I find
I grow young
in my Father's kingdom
scintillating life
bedazzles me
leaks out of me
Re enters me

Life creeps over me
Its happening
I'm being reborn
Soul an adolescent shoot
abundant eternal life
streaming in
perpetually streaming in
His life
within my veins
makes me a child again
And I live
I live!

Jan 23, 2011

Jesus' Feasting . . . Our Feasting

These are the words of Jean Vanier from his and Stanley Hauerwas' book, Living Gently in a Violent World (IVP 2008):

"I want to begin by saying something about knowing and not knowing. I love chapter two of the Gospel of John when Jesus brings the disciples to a wedding feast. It is a wonderful moment of celebration and relaxation, showing us that our life is to be enjoyed and that we are all called to feast. At the wedding feast of unity, people drink lots and laugh and have fun. It is a time of togetherness and friendliness. And I imagine that Jesus came to this feast to have fun. I don't think he looked at his watch (which he didn't have) and said, 'I must hurry and do a miracle there because they need me!' No, Jesus at Cana was having fun. Mary saw that the wine was running out, knew that the family would be humiliated, and asked Jesus to do something about it. There's something profoundly human about Jesus--the first thing he does in John's Gospel is to turn water into wine so a bride's father won't be embarrassed." p. 22

Jan 22, 2011

Jesus' Way. The Way of the Cross.

A repost from August 2009.

This is from David Hansen's book the Art of Pastoring. It's one of my favorite books. If you are a vocational pastor, it is a must read, and even if you aren't, like me, you'll enjoy it.

"Jesus' life has a general narrative direction. We call this general direction the Way of the Cross. Jesus understood from the beginning that his was a life of sacrifice. His life flowed toward the cross at all times. He never climbed any first century ladders of success. The devil showed him plenty. The people begged him to climb them. Jesus rejected ladders and consistently chose the downward road of sacrifice."

Jan 21, 2011

In Search of Peace

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27 

Do the waters of your soul continue to be choppy and churning all about? Do you simply wish for peace and rest on every side? Are you battered and bruised? A war-torn soul?

It is possible to experience internal peace while there's a vortex of unrest outside of you. Think of Jesus. He knew he was going to the cross. Why don't you think he was in the pit of despair, as he was at Gethsemane, throughout his entire life? After all, if he really knew what was coming--the brutal death, the burden of sin, and incomprehensible rejection he would face--how could he go on from day to day? How could he be at peace?

Yet he says, "My peace I leave you...do not be troubled . . . do not be afraid." How could he tell his disciples not to be troubled nor afraid, knowing full well the everyday trials and even persecutions they'd endure? Was he out of his mind? Is it really possible to have peace? I ask again. Or is that some nice saying of Jesus' that he can't follow through on?

Let me answer. Peace is possible in the midst of difficult circumstances. Peace is possible even if you're in the pit of depression (he can pull you out). It is a gift of God, a fruit of the Holy Spirit, that he delights to offer us. At the same time, do you know how it most often comes? Isaiah 26:3 tells us, "You will keep in perfect peace those whose mind is stayed on you." In the Message translation, Eugene Peterson  puts it this way:

People with their minds set on you,
you keep completely whole,
Steady on their feet,
because they keep at it and don't quit.
Depend on God and keep at it
because in the Lord God you have a sure thing

Jesus had his mind set on the Father and His ways. It is true. The Holy Spirit brought things to Jesus' mind and the Holy Spirit assisted him and ministered to him. The Spirit does the same for us. Our minds cannot be set on the problems or obstacles. How many nights do we stay awake mulling over the issues and nursing our doubts and fears instead of mulling over God and over his power in our situations?

So as we have our minds set, stayed on God, as we mull over him and his ways, slowly but surely we'll start thinking about our lives the way Jesus would think about them if he were us. His attitudes, behaviors, and ways of being will slowly but surely start to become ours. For we become like the object that we love, the object our minds or affections are focused on. When anything that is anti-God--anti-Christ comes to us, we shift our gaze to God and destroy anything that raises itself up against the knowledge of God--by finding God's perspective on the matter. That is how we use Scripture as a sword (Hebrews 4:16).
As God's ways of being become our ways (as much as is humanly possible), we will have peace. Our lives will be marked (characterized) by peace instead of turmoil. Of course, it doesn't happen in an instant. But you will see that you have grown in peace. As you reflect, you find that you are not disturbed as you once were. 

Shalom invades your life. You are now becoming the way you were supposed to be, as you have your mind stayed on God. A mind stayed on God, influences the will to obey. Soon obedience is the norm. And peace accompanies obedience. Sure, it won't happen perfectly. There will be times that you are in despair--perhaps over a death or hard life circumstance. I am not denying those realities. But even in those, a peace will reign, peace will influence even how you react to such things. God's peace, his gift to us often despite us, but also as we keep our minds focused on him.

Peace comes as we pay attention to God and as we obey him. As we pay attention to him and obey him, he will deliver us from ourselves...often the cause of much internal strife.

Jan 20, 2011

The difference between a true and false person.

My friends, this is so well said by Father Stephen at the Glory To God For All Things blog that I wanted to link to it for your spiritual nourishment: http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2011/01/15/risking-everything/

Jan 19, 2011

Do We Leave Casualties?

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Some of us have suffered tremendously. Others not so much, at least not comparably. But do we ever ask ourselves how much suffering we've caused others? Have we left a trail of casualties littering the landscape behind us as we move forward? Though many speak well of us, are there some who think we are one of the cruelest people in the world, negligent, naive, or else one of the biggest hypocrites?

Biting remarks, lack of sensitivity, failure to seek forgiveness, neglect of those closest to us, an over-arching blindness to our own sins and the ability to point them out in others, are all examples of things that induce suffering.

Life is hard, even for believers. Jesus said that we have trouble in this world. The thing is, for those of us who seek to follow on the heels of Jesus, we need to take care that we are not adding to the trouble. We must overcome evil with good and reconcile with those we hurt--if possible.

May we not add to the evil or trouble already in the world. May we not be stubborn or hard hearted, or as the Exodus says, "stiff-necked."  Let us stop blaming others and accept responsiblity for our part in others' suffering.

Jan 18, 2011

Though I Walk Through The Valley . . . .

An excerpt from Phillip Keller's book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23:

"I recall one year when an enormous flock of over 10,000 sheep was being taken through our courntry en route to their summer range. The owners came asking permission to water their sheep at the river that flowed by our ranch. Their thirsty flocks literally ran to the water's edge to quench their burning thirst under the blazing summer sun. Only in our valley was there water for their parched flesh. How glad we were to share with them.

As Christians we will sooner or later discover that it is in the valleys of our lives that we find refreshment from God himself. It is not until we have walked with him through some very deep troubles that we discover he can lead us to find our refreshment in him right there in the midst of our difficulty. We are thrilled beyond words when there comes restoration to our souls and spirits from his own gracious Spirit . . . .

Often we pray or sing the hymn requesting God to make us an inspiration to someone else. We want, instinctively, to be a channel of blessing to other lives. The simple fact is that just as water can only flow in a ditch or channel or valley--so in the Christian's career, the life of God can only flow in blessing through valleys that have been carved and cut into our lives by excruciating experiences."

Jan 17, 2011

Do We See How It Is?

Some think that we've moved beyond racism and the ills of MLK's day. They suppose that this is a day of reconciliation. We no longer have separate water fountains or schools or seats. But for those who would seek to follow Jesus, especially, and really anyone who seeks justice, we need to realize that we've only taken a few incremental steps in the marathon of reconciliation. And most of us are too comfortable with those steps. We give off an air that says we've arrived. But minorities know that isn't so. In fact, studies show that white evangelicals' attitudes are worse toward African-Americans than even non-Christians' attitude
(see http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/september/33.83.html .)

I wonder if the same is true of their attitude toward Hispanics, especially those from Mexico, and other minorities like American Indians whose land we took and against whom we committed genocide? Witness the rancor over the last presidential election (in just Christian circles) and over the immigration debate.

The thing is, we don't know what we don't know. And sometimes we assume that we know what we have no clue about. I've been guilty of this before. God forgive me.

As I think about this day, celebrating the accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, and  how at the same time, white evangelicals were often on what we today would certainly say was the wrong side of the Civil Rights Movement (the side opposing change), I have to think, "Jesus, could you change my attitude? Jesus could you help me to love those who oppress others? Jesus could you show me if I am the oppressor?"

Not all white evangelicals and all whites are to blame. Certainly not. But many are for their silence and inaction. We have to remember that if a majority culture is not suffering or being oppressed, they have no reason to question the status quo or help those who are oppressed. They are often blind to it. But God tells us to look out for the alien and the oppressed and the widows. That's part of what those who follow Jesus do, or should do (and not just talk about). That is what the church has done for centuries. Hats off to Roman Catholic brothers and sisters and those of the Eastern Orthodox Church who have known and practiced this for millenia. Thank you for being examples to contemporary evangelical Protestants.

So what's with this post Marlena? Oh it's a reminder to us to examine ourselves, and convince ourselves that some of our attitudes and beliefs and therefore behaviors or lack of behaviors are probably anti-Christ in this realm.

*If you would like to hear, as near as I can tell, a biblical view of the immigration debate, please go to http://undocumented.tv/

Blessings to you my brothers and sisters.

Jan 16, 2011


In 1999, I was an undergraduate resident assistant (RA). At my Christian college, they told us to be aware of persons who were addicted to the computer. "Watch out for them," our supervisors would tell us, "They'll withdraw from others, isolate, and we want them to be invested in others." I now work at my alma mater. And you know what? I am not told to warn anyone about being addicted to the computer. Although, sometimes I hear rumblings from students about being addicted to Facebook.

When I was in high school, I really appreciated a shirt that one of my peers had. On the front it read, "Bow to the new god." And on the back it read, "Kill you T.V." The shirt was meant to communicate that television had achieved god-like status. It could brainwash you. It formed you, without you being aware. Back then, people used to be denigrated for being couch potatoes.

Why do we not similarly discourage others from being computer potatoes? I think that not only the computer, but other technologies malform us in ways we aren't so aware of just yet. Yes, there has been alot of talk about isolation. It's not just that though. I know it's so much more but I haven't thought about it long enough. I do know some philosphers and theologians have though. I need to look into it.

And don't get me wrong. Obviously, I am using computer technology to post this. I rely on a computer for my job. I have to answer e-mails sent to me. But then, I do remember life without all this. And some people, like Wendell Berry, intentionally live a life free of all these gadgets. It gives them peace of mind and allows them to interact face to face. They aren't inundated with information. Eugene Peterson has termed much of e-mail word pollution and encourages people to write letters (hand-written).

I remember how free I felt last year during Lent when I took a sabbatical from posting on my blog and from checking Facebook (I wouldn't say I'm addicted, but I check FB once a day or less). I felt like I had so much time!

And while I so enjoy posting and am nourished by thinking through what I write, it is good to fast and use that time to be nourished by the Lord in different ways. Not posting is a discipline of abstinence.

I don't think I am a techno-phobe. No. But, I do wonder at the ill-effects technology has on us. Technology has implications for our spiritual formation in Christ. We should talk about this in our churches. And of course we shouldn't be tech-potatoes.

Jan 15, 2011

God Always Reveals Himself.

2nd Sunday after Epiphany 2011

From Lectionary Readings:                       
Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-12
I Corithians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

You have to wonder why initially, John the Baptist didn’t know who Jesus was. After all, John was Jesus’ cousin. And while he may have lived too far away from Jesus to interact with him from day to day, don’t you think, even from possibly limited interactions, that Jesus would’ve struck him as extraordinary while they were growing up? Extraordinary in wisdom and holiness, even though Jesus was the so-called son of his uncle Joseph, a carpenter, and aunt Mary? Really godly people to be sure, but ordinary people John was familiar with?

But surely stories of Jesus’ antics at the temple got around the family circles. Remember the time after the Passover when Jesus was 12, how he stayed behind in the temple talking theology and life with the Teachers of the Law while his family headed home? His parents didn’t even know he was gone. It’s only when the caravan stopped after traveling for a day that they realized he wasn’t there; they couldn’t find him among relatives and friends. They worried. Then it took them three days to find him in Jerusalem. When they got there, they discovered that everyone was amazed at him—at the answers he gave and at how he conducted himself. God in Christ was revealing himself to the most important religious people of his day. 12 year old God, the second person of the Trinity, Jesus—standing there talking to them. They were face to face with God, who was revealing himself. And neither the religious leaders (hear that, leaders) nor his parents knew God when they saw him. And neither did John the Baptist. That is until John witnessed the Spirit descending on Jesus in the form of a dove after John baptized him. God revealed himself to John. And to think that John held 30 year old God, the God-man, Jesus his cousin, in his arms and baptized him.

God is always, always, always revealing himself to us. However, often, he comes in unexpected ways. Take this little example. Suppose you saw a crowd of Mid-towners out refurbishing a house down one of these streets. Suppose a crowd gathered to watch and someone asked: “Where’s the preacher?” And then another answers, “Right there, there’s one of the preachers, they have a couple of them.” And the one asking continues, “Where, I don’t see anyone that looks like a preacher.” The other says, “Right there, that short lady with the dark hair, that little spit fire over there, she’s a resident director at that school down there on 72. She’s one of the preachers.” Now what on earth? Do I look like a preacher, even a sometimes one? I’d venture to guess that I don’t. But God does reveal himself in mysterious ways and mysteriously scatters his gifts abroad to ordinary people just like you and me. God is always, always, always, revealing himself. He is faithful in revealing himself and in being good to us. We often stand face to face, eye to eye with God and can’t see him.

God so loved us, that he revealed himself before we ever existed. God is faithfully acting in and around us and through us all the time. Revealing himself to us in these moments. I think of something Richard Foster says, that I think we can apply to this idea of God revealing himself in the ordinary. Perhaps we can call them God’s everyday incarnational revealings. Foster says:

The most basic place of our sacramental living is in our marriages and homes and families. Here we live together with well-reasoned love for everyone around us. Here we experience ‘the sacrament of the present moment,’ to use the phrase of Jean Pierre de Caussade. We miss the point of this way of life if we are off conducting prayer meetings and other churchly enterprises when the duty of the present moment is to be at home, playing with our children or caring for other domestic responsibilities. C.S. Lewis wisely observed, ‘The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls interruptions are precisely one’s real life—the life God is sending one day by day: what one calls one’s ‘real life’ is a phantom of one’s own imagination.

This is our life where we are right now. And this is where God reveals himself. Yes, he reveals himself cosmically and he will shake up the earth and return in full view of all humankind. We can’t even imagine what will happen and how it will be. Yes, God does stunning miraculous works now, all over the world, healing and rescuing people. God is all powerful. Daily, he faithfully reveals himself in quiet and stunning ways. Have you seen him? I have this more than sneaking suspicion that you and I may be face to face with God, even now.

Well after God revealed himself to John the Baptist, John had to point him out to others. One day, John the Baptist was hanging out with some of his disciples. He saw Jesus walk by. Apparently, which most of us know by now, Jesus didn’t have any outstanding Messiah markings. He wasn’t the ruler of the army or some skilled swordsman, or wheeler and dealer. Just a carpenter. Those standing around John the Baptist had no idea who Jesus was until John said, “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” John the Baptist was saying, “Look, there he is, the one we’ve long expected, one greater than me.” His two disciples took off after Jesus to find out what John was talking about. They soon found out for themselves.

Last week, I was sitting here during the meal, and Sarah came over and sat by me. She wanted to catch up. Soon Patty, and Linda, and Becky came over and sat with Iliana and me. I was somewhat tired. But I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. I know these ladies and the others in our church, love me and my family. They care for me…for us. As I sat there, being cared for in conversation and by their attentiveness…suddenly there descended this divine contentedness in knowing that they have made a space for me. They hospitably noticed me. And in them noticing me, paying careful attention to me, I understood yet again, that God took note of me. Surprise. Surprise. There goes God revealing himself to me again. Showing his faithfulness and tender care for me and my family. Through them. They didn’t know it. But I did. And I saw and experienced God face to face. Eye to eye.

Last night, I was all ready to get a good night’s sleep. But Iliana woke up sick. She had been sick with a bad cold all week; I thought we were over it. But she wakes up, and calls to us. So, I go over to her room and she says that her ear and stomach hurt. I end up thinking this is really something, so I take her out of bed and sit with her in the papasan chair. I rubbed her back. I gave her Tylenol. She asks me if she’ll have to go to the hospital and get a shot. I say, “ I don’t know. Maybe. But shots just hurt for a second and then they insert medicine into your bloodstream to make you better.” Then I thought, “Heck, I’ll even throw in a soothing sugar-free popsicle if that’ll make her feel better.” So I did. She didn’t finish it. Then I knew something was wrong. And she cried a lot. As I was thinking about how to soothe her, I thought, “I’ll bring her into our bed. I’ll ask Shawn to sleep on the couch so he can get rest and I’ll keep her with me in case she throws up.”

Needless to say, she was thrilled at the prospect of sleeping in our bed because she never does. So I brought her over. She ended up throwing up twice. Don’t worry, we made it to the bathroom both times. I really thought that I was in for it, that I’d be up for several more hours. I also thought about this homily that I had to deliver. But it wasn’t that bad. I had only been up from 2:30-:5:30 a.m. It was around five when I was thinking that’d be a real long haul. But while we slept side by side in bed, Iliana gently stroked my arms. Kissed my hands. Asked Jesus to be with her, to help her feel better, and be brave in case she needed a shot. She asked me to pray too. And I thought, there you go again God, revealing your goodness, and gentleness, and love, and beauty through my little child, my little girl.

In our passages today, God is telling us, telling the Israelites back in that day, that he’d reveal himself. He’d show up. They’d see that he is faithful, that he is all that he claims to be. He doesn’t let us down. He says, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel. . . .” In Psalm 40, David says that while I was in the pit, as I waited patiently on God, “he stooped to me and heard my cry.” God lifted David out of the pit and put a new song in his mouth. Our God, our great and beautiful God, who’s greatness no one can fathom, over and over again hears us, and stoops down to us.

That’s why David says in verses four and five, “Happy are those who trust in the LORD! They do not resort to evil spirits or turn to false gods. Great things are they that you have done, O LORD my God! How great your wonders and your plans for us! There is none who can be compared with you.”

Maybe we don’t see God, though he is right in front of us. Well of course, we should then turn to Scripture. And perhaps to others. Sometimes, we need others to point him out to us. That is what I am doing today. Others, including you, do it for me all the time. So, like John the Baptist, I am saying, “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold God, who is faithful to you.” May he satisfy you as you see his faithfulness to you.

Think about how God has been faithful to you and will be faithful to you. There’s no question that he is stooping down to lift you up, there is no question that he will continue to. Behold your God. Amen.

Jan 14, 2011

Darkness. Light.

There was a power outage last night. So, I grabbed candles and matches and our little flashlight. And because it was dark, I was thinking about the dark. Spiritual darkness.

In the dark, we grope around to get our bearings. We may bump into this, that, and the other. Sometimes it scares us because of all that is hidden or because we have a sense that evil lurks around the corner or could lurk in places it most often doesn't during the day. The New Testament contrasts the deeds of darkness--what is done at nightfall --with the day. Most wait for the cover of darkness, for secret, to act destructively, foolishly, and sinfully. When they think they're alone or unseen, the dark side comes out.

We know that our eyes can adjust to the dark. Not that we see clearly, but we can sometimes make our way around so long as it isn't pitch black. We get accustomed to the darkness. We become nocturnal. Yes, some of us even fall in love with the darkness. So much so, that when bright light shines in our eyes, we shun it. We turn away. The light hurts our eyes. It's overpowering.

But even a little light, a little flash light like ours, can expose the darkness. It can shed light on what is hidden. It helps us get around. Even a little light in the great darkness shines brightly.

So with this little metaphor we are reminded that as we shine forth, as we glow like Moses after he came down from Mt. Sinai, after having spent forty days and nights with God--Bible speak for a long time, we shed light in this dark world. Not only among those in the darkness but among children of light. If you remember, Moses even shone forth brightly during the day (well I think that's the case). In fact, he shone so brightly that he covered his face; people couldn't bear to look at him.

If Jesus' light shines forth through us, we are a point of reference. We help others see. Even we see because Jesus is shining forth through us. We expose the deeds of darkness as we emit light.

And of course we remember Psalm 119:105 where the Psalmnist proclaims that God's word is a lamp for our feet and light for our paths. Why? So we can see where we are going and so we won't stumble in the dark. So we won't stumble in life. So we can walk confidently.

I will probably ponder this metaphor a little longer.

Jan 12, 2011


Bruce Herman, in the essay “Wounds and Beauty,” captures well what is happening to me. He says, “Only eyes continually trained by gazing at the cross—only eyes cleansed by that second innocence, childlike habitual charity—can see true beauty—true goodness.”[i] As God is transforming me, as I more and more glimpse the gift of the cross and God’s himself, I am overwhelmed by his beauty and goodness and love.

[i]Treier, Husbands, and Lundin, eds. The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 119.

Jan 11, 2011

On Responsibility. Play. Writing. Laughter. ~ Madeleine L'Engle

I really like Madeleine L'Engle...especially her non-fiction. She is one of my favorite writers. While she is no longer living with us on this side of eternity, she is enjoying time with God and the other saints in Paradise. This is an exerpt from her book Circle of Quiet the first book in her Crosswicks Journal. (Harper San Francisco, 1972).

". . . this certainly says something about the state of Christianity today. I wouldn't mind if to be a Christian were accepted as being the dangerous thing which it is; I wouldin't mind if, when a group of Christians meet for bread and wine, we might well be interrupted and jailed for subversive activities. I wouldn't mind if, once again, we were being thrown to the lions. I do mind, desperately, that the word 'Christian' means for so many people smugness, and piosity, and holier-than-thouness. Who, today, can recognize a Christian because of "how they love one another?"

No wonder our youth is confused and in pain; they long for God, the transcendent, and are offered, far too often, either piosity or sociology, neither of which meets their needs, and they are introduced to churches which have become buildings that are safe places to escape the awful demands of God . . . .

To be responsible means precisely what the word implies: to be capable of giving a response . . . . A writer who writes a story which has no response to what is going on in the world is not only copping out himself but is helping others to be irresponsible, too . . . .

To refuse to respond is in itself a response. Those of us who write are responsible for the effect of our books. Those who teach, who suggest books to either children or adults, are responsible for their choices. Like it or not, we either add to the darkness of indifference and out-and-out evil which surround us or we light a candle to see by.

We can surely no longer pretend that our children are growing up in a peaceful, secure, and civilized world. We've come to the point where it is irresponsible to try to protect them from the irrational world they will have to live in when they grow up. The children themselves haven't yet isolated themselves by selfishness and indifference; they do not fall easily into the error of despair; they are considerably braver than most grownups. Our responsibility to them is not to pretend that if we don't look, evil will go away, but to give them weapons against it.

One of the greatest weapons of all is laughter, a gift for fun, a sense of play which is sadly missing from the grownup world . . . . Paradox again; to take ourselves seriously enough to take ourselves lightly. If every hair of my head is counted, then in the very scheme of the cosmos I matter; I am created by a power who cares about the sparrow, and the rabbit in the snare, and the people on the crowded streets; who calls the stars by name. And you. And me.

When I remember this it is as though ounds were lifted from me. I can take myself lightly, and share in the laughter . . . .

pp. 98-99.

Jan 10, 2011

Isolation and Spiritual Health

Repost from 3 -2008

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." Hebrews 10:24-25

What happens when we are isolated from the body of Christ (even other denominations), or from people in general? Mal perceptions. In the absence of healthy others, ill-informed emotions and opinions emerge. We desinegrate into neurosis, perhaps without even knowing. It is impossible to be spiritually, emotionally, or physically healthy when we spend all of our days alone because there's no one to tell us we're wrong, in left-field, no one to encourage us when we need it most.

Life-giving nourishment comes from being immsersed in the body of Christ. Probably the only reason that we would withdraw from the body is if we're homebound for one reason or another. Otherwise, let us not merely attend church, but immerse ourselves in the body...let us spend out lives together. Our health depends on it.

Jan 9, 2011


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Galatians 5:22,23.

Last night I was thinking about the process of sanctification and how the Lord seems to purify me (in a contemporary American colloquialism, "go to town on me")  of certain things over the span of several  years. What I mean is, I can look back on my life and think, "That was a period when I was really learning the basics of trust and peace." By that I don't mean that I've got trust or peace down, but that it seems that the Holy Spirit has lasered in on certain impurities that inhibit Christ from being fully formed in me. The Spirit then goes to work in the only way the Spirit can to purify me of them--to get them out of my system or mostly out.

If I should be tempted to fall back into those ways, the ways of the old self  in a specific area like distrust or anxiety, I reflect on what the Lord did in the past, on the lessons he taught me. I have recorded many of those lessons in  journals and even on this blog. Indeed, I often reread what I've written on here because I need the truth to sink into the depths of my soul, into my inmost being, so that there is truth in the innermost parts. So they are recorded and serve as pillars like the 12 stones of rememberance that the Israelite priests, at the command of God, set up as a pillar when they crossed the Jordan at its flood stage with Joshua at the helm.

Most recently, and generally over the last three years,  I've been learning that God desires that I seek the charism of self-control in a particular area. When others around me are in pain or turmoil--and ask for advice (and unfortunately, sometimes when they don't)--my inclination is to help in word or in deed. However, when it comes to words, I have to realize that words of (what I perceive are) wisdom do not have to be repeated and repeated. I am to say what the Lord has me say and leave it at that. Words quickly lose their meaning when so oft repeated. They become sounding gongs.

So brief words.

Then Silence.

On my part is better.

I can exhibit self-control by silence instead of what I've recently realized is my sometimes-tendency to control others with words--positive and uplifting ones at that--exhortations to follow Jesus.  Each person has a will. He/she can decide whether or not to heed the truth. God forbid that my gift of exhortation become a curse. This is a case where a strength can become a weakness without self-control.

Jan 8, 2011

How Does Change Happen Within An Individual?

These are some brief notes from a Renovare Retreat I attended in October. I thought that they'd be helpful for you.

Change happens through:

1. Pain and Suffering - discomfort propels people to seek change.
2. A Compelling Vision - a vision for a different reality of life.

* It is possible for us to be working against the process that God is initiating in order to bring about change-- change in our lives and in the lives of others.

* Jesus' parables created discomfort and disequilibrium to provoke change.

Jan 7, 2011

The Need For Friendship.

"Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, 'Sit here while I go over there and pray.'  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, 'My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.'  Matthew 26:36-38

I remember reading somewhere about a rabbi who said that someone only really knows us when they know what makes us laugh--what gives us joy.

Don't you find it interesting that Jesus had "best" friends? His closest friends, the inner circle -people have called it-were Peter, James, and John. He took them with him up, to what is believed to be Mt. Tabor, where he was transfigured. They saw his glory. The verses above remind us that he took them with him to the Garden of Gethsemane where he experienced  hell. They saw him at his worst (if I can put it that way).

But human though they were, they could not stay awake in Gethsemane (at least until the guards came for him). They weren't really present when Jesus needed them most. They were sleepy and had really no idea what was going on until his time had come. They failed him in Gethsemane. They failed him when they fled capture in the garden and when Peter failed him by denying him. His best friends failed him, they came up short. 

But in the end, Jesus doesn't hold it against them. He knows that they are but flesh--weak and frail--prone to great glory and also to great weakness. What does he do in John 21? He cooks them breakfast on the beach after his resurrection--after all the seemingly disasterous events of the days before and after they had a hard night fishing.

I often think of what a great God we have. What an iconic picture of God's humility, love, and service to us--breakfast on the beach. The super-power of the universe, invested with all glory, is cooking breakfast for dejected fisherman, his best friends, who left him in his hour of greatest need.

What kind of friend are you? Is there at least one person in your life with which you have a David/Jonathan relationship? The type of relationship Jesus had with Peter, James, and John. Do you pour into a few other people? Although Jesus loves all, truly loves all, he couldn't spend every minute of his day with thousands of people, nor could he confide in all of them. But he did need confidants. He needed them (in his humanity). Yes God in the flesh needed friends. And he was not only their God, but a good friend to them.

I need friends desperately. Thankfully, I have some soul friends. My husband is one of them. But, I am always open to new friendships, to people who love me for me, to people who  understand me--where no explanation is needed. Friends who are with me on Mt. Tabor when I am transfigured and friends with me at Gethsemane. I also have to think about what kind of friend I am. I have failed my friends, whether intentionally or not. There have been times where I have been sleepy and unavailable when I should've been awake. I've missed Gethsemanes and transfigurations because of sleepiness--lack of vigilance, lack of awareness, weaknesses in my character I am sure.

Life has a way of separating friends--with all its busyness and commitments. But friendship doesn't just happen. We have to be intentional about friendship. We need each other.

And friends, those of you who read this blog, or just stumble upon it, my profoundest hope for this blog is that it'll be a little bit like breakfast on the beach after a long hard night.

You know, I've asked God to show me how to live. And here I share what I've learned and am learning. Let's together learn to follow Jesus closely.


Jan 6, 2011

A Thought on Our Reputations This Epiphany

For those unfamiliar with the seasons of the Christian year, I include information about the season of Epiphany that is traditionally celebrated today, Janurary 6th, in the West. I also want to inlcude some thoughts about revealing Jesus in our lives.

The term epiphany means "to show" or "to make known" or even "to reveal." In Western churches, it remembers the coming of the wise men bringing gifts to visit the Christ child, who by so doing "reveal" Jesus to the world as Lord and King. In some Central and South American countries influenced by Catholic tradition, Three Kings’ Day, or the night before, is the time for opening Christmas presents. In some eastern churches, Epiphany or the Theophany commemorates Jesus’ baptism, with the visit of the Magi linked to Christmas. In some churches the day is celebrated as Christmas, with Epiphany/Theophany occurring on January 19th. The colors of Epiphany are usually the colors of Christmas, white and gold, the colors of celebration, newness, and hope that mark the most sacred days of the church year.

Taken from Dennis Bratcher's site, Seasons of the Christian year:  http://www.crivoice.org/chyear.html

I have written about this before, but I thought it would be a good reminder to both of us this Epiphany of 2011. The question I've been thinking about is this: What is our reputation with those closest to us? Would those who know us best say that over all, we are living like Jesus, revealing him in our everyday life? It doesn't matter what our public or virtual image communicates. To some extent, we can control that. But it is our family and friends--those closest to us that can speak to who we are in Christ.

I am not talking about perfection though we should strive to be like Jesus in every way through the power of God's grace. But I am asking, are we revealing Jesus in our everyday lives? Are we showing him forth? He can't help but burst forth if he comfortably resides within every part of us. Let us not think we are holy just because we can clearly espouse doctrines or notions of the Christian life. Our everday lives speak to who we are. Are we living our lives like Jesus would live if he were us?

Perhaps some reflection and silence are necessary before we too quickly offer an answer to that question. May God reveal Christ to us and through us this Epiphany.

May God grant you his peace.

Jan 5, 2011

Mercy: "Blessed Are The Merciful" ~ Carlo Carretto

Blessed are the merciful: they shall obtain mercy . . . . I have come across some religious Sisters who would have been prepared to die as martyrs to preserve their virginity but who were not prepared to expend one ounce of goodwill to establish good working relations with a nearby convent. I have known parents who made extreme sacrifices to provide their children with food but who could not manage to make even the smallest effort to reach agreement between themselves and stop abusing one another.

I have seen bishops spend themselves to the point of exhaustion in service to the Church, but who could not bring themselves to go out of their 'palaces' in search of the lost sheep, their primary purpose being to prop up their own undisputed authority and the dignity of the Church. It might well appear from this that the gospel is no longer read, and that we have replaced it with a thousand and one other ways of interpreting our relationship with God and with our fellow men and women.

Each of us has some object of adoration, some subject we set up on our altar; for one it will be chastity, for another the honor of the Church, and for others it will be work or economy or  a good name, canon law, or a moral treatise, an old catechism or a new one, but few, all too few, are prepared to adore the loving will of Jesus . . . .

We are not happy because we are unforgiving, and we are unforgiving because we feel superior to others. Mercy is a fruit of the highest degree of love, because it creates equals, and a greater love makes us inferior . . . .

Three premises:
  • Those who do not love feel superior to everyone else.
  • Those who love feel equal to everyone else.
  • Those who love much gladly take the lower place.
Three degrees of the spiritual life on earth:
  • Death for those who do not love.
  • Life for those who love.
  • Holiness for those who love much.
From Carlo Carretto Essential Writings edited by Robert Ellsberg pp.88-91

Jan 3, 2011

Spiritual Disciplines

Here I have listed some of the spiritual disciplines. They are divided into disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement. This is not an exhaustive list. You need both. At a retreat, Dallas Willard mentioned to our group that if we participate in disciplines of engagement without the disciplines of abstinence, burnout is not far behind.

Disciplines of Abstinence             Disciplines of Engagement

solitude                                                        study

silence                                                          worship

fasting                                                          celebration

frugality                                                      service

chastity                                                        prayer

secrecy                                                         fellowship

sacrifice                                                        confession

obscurity                                                      submission



Jan 2, 2011

Flourishing Where You Are Planted.

"From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us." Acts 17:26-27.

Maybe you are in a job (or lacking a job) and are dejected. Perhaps your misery stems from the relationship you are in (or not in). Or maybe it comes from relocation to a new area and having to leave your friends (or perhaps you wish you could escape your family and social circles). Then again, it is possible you feel like you are drowning in an almost inexplicable loneliness and emptiness; you have this nagging sense that your life matters not. You are depressed. You are living a life of quiet desperation.

I don't know the reasons, but I do know what it is like to feel miserable because of less than ideal circumstances. What's worse is feeling despondent when you are convinced that you are exactly where God has placed your for now.

Several years ago I worked in a place where I was miserable. I loved my job; but gloom and negativity seemed to reside in my work environment and have a stranglehold on my coworkers. I tried to overcome evil with gospel good, but it seemed like I was fighting a losing battle. For a very long time I cried every day after work. I begged God to give me another job. But he didn't right away. I couldn't understand it. I was right where God wanted me and I was obeying Jesus--so what was the problem? Was it that I just worked in really good places before? 

There is much more to this story but I don't think this is the place to flesh it out. However, I realized that if God had me there, then I was going to have to make the best of it and depend on Christ and his body to uphold me as I went to work every day (or perhaps I should say, as I entered a spiritual battle every day).  Over and over again at that time, I read the story of Joseph's life and found great comfort (I've written about that elsewhere on this site). Joseph tremendously suffered many injustices. For some reason, God didn't immediately remove him from his suffering.

But he was to be the person God called him to be within his prison cell--within captivity. This reminds me of the story of King Midas who possessed the golden touch--whatever he touched turned to gold. While in the story, this proves to be a curse, I can't help but think about how whatever Joseph's life touched prospered and what life would be like if everything and everyone touched by the lives of Jesus' followers prospered (not necessarily or even financially). It's not a direct parallel, but that's what I've been thinking about lately.

Joseph was a blessing to all those who crossed his path. And of course Jesus was although he suffered like none other and because of us! But if we are sure God has placed us where we are, isn't it to be a blessing to others and to him--sort of like Abraham the great Patriarch? Can not the power of the Holy Spirit give us the strength and love and the manna we need for each new day as we live within the Christian community?

We are blessed by God to be a blessing to others, to everything  and everyone our lives touch.

Again, though life is not free of difficulties nor unforeseen tragedies, can we not bless everything we touch with our lives because we follow Jesus? As Acts 17:26-27 tell us, God has marked out our times and places in history, the very place we find ourselves in right now (I am not talking about abusive situations) so that we would seek him and find him. And I believe this is the case so that we might be a blessing to others.

God is using these situations and circumstances we find ourselves in, hard though they may be, to make us like Jesus. He desires that we be transformed from the inside out into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).  And in that we can rejoice (see James 1).

Could it be that he turns this barren and depressing wilderness land we find ourselves in into an oasis? Can he not bring forth streams in the desert (Isaiah 35)? I think so. I believe so. He has done so for me innumerable times in my life, even in the situation mentioned above.

Maybe he is going to use us to cultivate a garden in the barren land we now find ourselves in--right in this very spot. As we take our cue from him and joyfully follow him (obey him) it will transpire. Perhaps we will see seeds sprout sooner than we imagined. May we ask for eyes to see!

God wants us to trust him so that we can flourish where we are planted...so that everything our lives touch is blessed. In turn, we will be blessed in ways we cannot right now imagine. Isn't interesting how God used Joseph's captivity to bless him?

With Dallas Willard I say:

"First we must accept the circusmtances we constantly find oursleves in as the place of God's kingdom and blessing. God has yet to bless anyone except where they actually are, and if we faithlessly discard situation after situation, moment after moment, as not being 'right,' we will have no place to receive his kingdom into our life. For those situations and moments are our life."

Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering the Hidden Life in God. pp.348-349

Jan 1, 2011

God's Power and Goodness. Answered Prayer. Faith. The Life of George Mueller.

George Mueller of Bristol is one of my favorite saints. He lived in the 1800's and was full of faith in God. His desire was to provide for the orphans around him. But how would he do it since the need was great and he didn't have money? He'd do it through prayer, not asking anyone for a penny in order to show that God provides and is completely trustworthy. He'd depend on God to nudge people. So through prayer, without ever asking for help or a handout, he provided food, shelter, and education for 10,000 orphans. God is powerful and good and works through his children. God hears our intercessions. May we be like George Mueller and seek God on behalf of those that have spiritual and physical needs so that he might provide and give us his power and wisdom to bring in as much of Christ's kingdom as we can. It is his doing not ours; we are simply vessels, like George Mueller.

Below I am going to include a little story about him from Streams in the Desert (August 17 for those who have this devotional classic) by L.B. Cowman and edited by James Reiman. I am encouraged every time I read it. I hope you are too!

I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me (Acts 27:25).

A number of years ago I went to America with a steamship captain who was a very devoted Christian. When we were off the coast of Newfoundland, he said to me, "The last time I sailed here, which was five weeks ago, something happened that revolutionized my Christian life. I had been on the bridge for twenty-four straight hours when George Mueller of Bristol, England, who was a passenger on board, came to me and said, 'Captian, I need to tell you that I must be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon.' 'That is impossible' I replied. 'Very well,' Mueller responded, 'if your ship cannot take me, God will find some other way, for I have never missed an engagement in fifty-seven years. Let's go down to the chartroom to pray.' "I looked at this man of God and thought to myself, 'What lunatic asylum did he escape from?' I had never encountered someone like this. 'Mr. Mueller,' I said, 'do you realize how dense the fog is?" 'No,' he replied. 'My eye is not on the dense fog but on the living God, who controls every circumstance in my life.'

"He then knelt down and prayed one of the most simple prayers I've ever heard. When he had finished, I started to pray, but he put his hand on my shoulder and told me not to pray. He said, 'First, you do not believe God will answer, and second, I BELIEVE HE HAS. Consequently, there is no need whatsoever for you to pray about it.'

"As I looked at him, he said, 'Captain, I have known my Lord fifty-seven years, and there has never been a single day that I have failed to get an audience with the King. Get up, Captain, and open the door, and you will see that the fog is gone.' I got up, and indeed the fog was gone. And on Saturday afternoon George Mueller was in Quebec for his meeting."

Thank you O LORD for a strong reminder of your goodness and power. You are at work. Amen.

Repost from earlier in 2010.