GOD SEES US AS REAL PERSONS
WHO WE ARE CREATED TO BE – not as someone else’s idea of who we should be. The word “should” is a loaded word. It conveys what others think we “should” do with our lives. There is a strong bias in our culture for others to sound wise by telling us what would be best for us to do. These may be well-intentioned unsolicited suggestions and as such are not valid for us. We are the ones who have the right to make decisions for our own lives, by God’s design. Of course, we may take others in our lives into account when making responsible decisions. Ultimately we are the ones who live with the consequences of our decisions. Yet it is a strong cultural tendency to listen to and follow other peoples’ directions as if we have no ability to run our own lives. It undermines our confidence and keeps us from living out the life we are given by God. This is still especially true for women. We are given gifts to make our lives rich and filled with joy. If we don’t live our lives authentically, we may never discover what those gifts are and so we will never experience the joy as well. We have not been created to be the person our parents think we should be or the image of who they will be proud to call their child. This feeds their ego. It does not show an unselfish love for us and who we could be. Living our own lives is messy and even dangerous – because we are certain to disappoint someone. God walks with us through this minefield, ready to lead us to the real life waiting for us and the joy that is its reward.
In Tara Brach’s book, RADICAL ACCEPTANCE, she tells a story of a five year old girl at a restaurant with her parents. The adults place their order and then the child pipes up and orders a hot dog, fries and a drink. The father says no, she will have the meatloaf. The waitress ignores the father and asks her what she wants on her hot dog. Afterward, the little girl says to her parents, “She thinks I’m real.” We are not created to be the extension of someone else [perhaps parents or a spouse]. We are meant to live and shine our light into the world and contribute in ways that are uniquely our own. Having said that does not mean it is easy and that we don’t need support. We do have that unwavering support in God, along with unconditional love and the life-giving forgiveness through Jesus. In John 10, we are reminded of how important our lives are in God’s plan when Jesus says: “but I came to give life-life in all its fullness.” This life we are given is a free gift, to use in ways we choose. By design, it works best with God in the atmosphere of love. Beware of others who use the word “should” and examine their intentions. If love and acceptance are not evident, then leave it behind and walk on in the strength that only God gives us. Great God, who loves and accepts us for who we are, we are grateful for our lives and the courage you give us to live it authentically. Help us with all our decisions and give us the ears to hear your loving guidance for a life of love for others, with the joy that comes from it. May we feel your grace grow and expand in us, as we find our ways of living our lives as they are meant to be. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen. PEACE
LEARNING HOW TO CONNECT
TO GOD THROUGH MEDITATION – is a practice that can change the world. The Dalai Lama has said- “if every 8 year old is taught to meditate, we will eliminate violence from the world in one generation.”
What happens when we meditate? A number of things could happen. If we approach it with an open heart, we will begin to connect with our Creator. It is then in our hands and with God to determine what will happen from then on. We enter the mystery of interaction with God. Through this, we can learn all sorts of things and experience God’s grace, that unconditional love that moves in us and shows us a different way to see ourselves and the world.
Loving God, we are willing to be shown the new things you have in store for us. Through meditation, help us feel how blessed we can be and what surprises you are ready to give us. We are grateful for the blessings you give us all. Show us how to accept these gifts and share them with others, in whatever ways you prompt us to do. Amen.
GOD’S MERCY AND LOVE
BROUGHT INTO A SCHOOL – How did we ever go down that road where making people learn at any cost was more important than how we treat each other. Far too many of us have at least one horror story from our school years.
Then there is this approach – where children are actually given time to learn how to treat each other with compassion. Note the segment near the end where one boy is balled-fists angry. Sounds a lot like treating each other with love. Just one more situation where love and mercy are considered important. It gives us hope for the future of the world. Amen. PEACE
WHAT GOD THINKS OF US
IS SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT – than what others around us think of us. There are a lot of influences around us and in the institutional church, that would have us behave uprightly in order to please God. Centuries ago, when the Roman church needed to keep the peace, this is what the message of the church became. This concept isn’t very different from the Hebrew practice of keeping the Law. Add to this the idea that we want those around us to like us and the feeling of not wanting to offend others and we come up with a lifestyle of trying to be good and please everyone. Not only is this impossible to do, it isn’t what God wants us to do. This is what the writer of Colossians said to the church in that city [Col 1: 9-14]: “We ask God to give you complete knowledge of God’s will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.
11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all God’s glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the creator. God has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to God’s people, who live in the light. 13 For God has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.” Add to this the guidance Jesus gives us in John 15: “4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” When we devote our lives to grow into this way of living, we will please God. If we allow ourselves to love God and others, then pray for the help to live this way, all these things will happen as a result of God acting within us. We will grow into a person who pleases God. Redeeming God, we thank you that you love us and at the same time stretch us and help us grow into something more able to do what pleases you. Help us grow into the person we need to be, through your grace. May we rest in this nurturing climate that helps us bear fruit to transform your creation into your kingdom. Amen. PEACE
REACH OUT TO OTHERS IN LOVE
AND IT WILL COME BACK IN BLESSINGS – sometimes in very unexpected ways. We are called by Jesus to love one another, the second of the great commandments. There are many ways that love can be communicated. One very interesting way is when Jesus was sending out the seventy followers. His instructions in Luke 10 are almost the same as he gave to the twelve disciples in chapter 9, with one interesting exception. He instructs them to take nothing, then asks them to do this: 5 “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.” We extend “the peace of Christ” to one another in worship, at times and some of us are very uncomfortable. Understanding this passage might help us. We don’t hear a lot about what may happen if we would do as Jesus asked of the seventy. These two verses give us very important information that could help us grow in our ability to extend our love to others.
Jesus tells them to bless the house they enter. If it is received in love, then the blessing remains with that person. If it is rejected, it is not lost, but will return to those who took the risk to bless and show love to others. My son reminded me the other day of a principle in physics – that energy is never lost, even if it changes to another form. Love is energy, not just an idea. So by that principle, we see how love is never lost either. God cares so much for us that when we risk doing work for God, we are not abandoned in the chance we take. Instead, we are supported, protected and loved in return. So we need never fear that if we risk love and ourselves in some way, we are not left without support. Love, simply offered without an agenda or expectation, is very powerful. If we feel in need of protection, we are able to simply ask for it, before we extend the love from God. So the chances are great that others will accept this kind of love when it flows through us from God. If the love is not returned, the rejection does not have the power to destroy the love we offered. The world teaches us to react in fear. This is totally wrong. Yes, rejection does not feel good. The reality remains, that God stills loves us all unconditionally. The rejection does not change that. In fact, it will become part of our own transformation, into a person who knows how to love better, each time we risk letting God’s love flow through us to love others. And the blessing for us is the thrill that love gives us when we let the energy flow freely through us to others. So let’s help share God’s love whenever we extend our hand to someone. As we reach out to greet another, picture the energy of love flowing through our hand to the hand of the other person. When we do it with that intention, it becomes a powerful act of love instead of a self-conscious moment for us. By this simple gesture, we are doing God’s work of love. Protecting God, we thank you for your transforming power of love you make available to each of us. Help us to be open, and overcome our fear of sharing that love [energy] with others. Guide us in those steps and teach us how it will always be returned in some way, if we just look for it. Amen. PEACE
WHEN WE LOVE GOD COMPLETELY
WE WILL LIVE – a blessed life. So says both God, in the first commandment and Jesus, as we hear in Luke 10: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind”. We are called to do that, with God’s help. None of this is easy and we are not able to do any of it without God’s grace and love. All of these avenues are ways that we can come to God and build a relationship. We will all find or will be led in unique ways that work for us. Many of us find paths through our hearts, souls and strength. It may be the most difficult to commit our minds to God. For many of us, it is the center of how we control ourselves and our lives. And yet we hold back, frightened of losing control or perhaps fearing that we cannot measure up.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I talk to myself. It helps to hear certain things I am working through said out loud. I have encountered many lately who apologize for talking to themselves. I assure them that they are not alone. It helps us to hear things out loud. So this morning during my wake up routine this idea came to me, from the Holy Spirit. If it doesn’t bother us when we talk out loud to ourselves, isn’t it just one small step to acknowledge that when we hear ourselves, it is OK for God to hear us too? What is our fear about God knowing what is in our inmost thoughts? No matter what those thoughts are, God will still love us and never condemn us. It is by letting us think through our worst thoughts that God can help us. God loves us always and will not condemn us – ever. When we accept God is within us, that is when we can begin to be transformed. Especially if we have begun to love God through other avenues, we will be closer to our complete spiritual transformation. It is by loving God in all these ways that we become new persons because we have taken God into our whole being. The product of this is a transformed person, wanting to love and follow in the ways we are called. As a byproduct of living in this way, more blessings than we can know will enrich and bless our lives. This is motivation for us to keep growing in our relationship with our creator. Loving God, we thank you for loving us and acting in us to transform our lives. Guide us in the ways we need to choose, so that our transformation may begin or continue and grow. Amen. PEACE
WE ARE SUSTAINED
IN ALL SUFFERING – because God is steadfast in grace and love for each of us. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This was on our bathroom mirror for more than thirteen years in our last parsonage. We had a metal medicine cabinet, and it gave me the opportunity to put magnets on the frame. I had several but this was front and center. I was drawn to buy it in the first place because this verse is so meaningful to me. I find the statement an enigma, and yet so reassuring, as I am sure many of us do. By definition, an enigma is inexplicable and so is faith. Hebrews 11 is the source, and in the previous chapter 10, we hear this: “32 Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. 33 Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. 34 You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever. 35 So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! 36 Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.”
This passage picks up on our discussion recently. Our own suffering is something repeated by many before us, and is a crucible to try our faith and see if it holds up. God is steadfast so we will be sustained through whatever we go through, that the world puts in our way, and love is always waiting, a grace-filled forgiving love, no matter how we handle our trials. Suffering will help build our confidence in knowing that never-failing love for us will be there, along the path and at the end. We are all suffering. Some of us are getting through it better than others. Some of us are trusting God. Never-failing God, we thank you for the faith you help us build through suffering because you love us throughout our trials. Guide our hearts to make the best decisions we can, so that we may be faithful to you and loving to others, who also suffer. May we remember the pattern Christ showed us, and find your sustaining power as we walk forward in your grace. Amen. PEACE
IS ONE WAY – of welcoming God into our lives. Our culture does not always encourage this behavior. It is characterized in many ways when we are around others. In children, it is called “daydreaming” or wasting time and is criticized as at least different from others and can even be stigmatized as abhorrent behavior by some. It has also been called wool-gathering for adults, or we may be asked “where did you go just then” if we are around other people. There are situations when our minds do need to go somewhere else, but it seems to make others around us uncomfortable. All of this negative reaction to something that I think is a created and inherent part of us has a dampening effect on our engaging in creatively “letting our minds go somewhere else”. There are places where we can be alone, or among trusted people, where through our experience, we can engage in the behavior of “going to God”, or just letting our minds relax to pursue a creative silence. Clearly, when we are alone, it is “safe” to seek God in the stillness. But what if we can find no stillness within us? God will help us find it, when we pray and ask for it. So at some point each day, turn off the 24/7 news and in the quiet listen for God in prayer.
Psalm 46 seems to describe natural disasters and warfare [strife] as some of the experiences of life, but through it, we hear this message, 7 “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” We are called to acknowledge this fact, and let it do its work of calming our anxieties from what happens around us. Our fear is great and the world around us can be so dangerous. Doesn’t the news remind us of this? So we are called to take a deliberate step away from all the high emotions the world tries to stimulate in us, by turning off the clamor and becoming aware of God. “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” God has a plan that began with creation, and it is being worked out, despite all the evil happening around us. Purposeful God, we thank you that you have a plan and that you call us to be a part of it. Help us feel your love and grace through all the fear that evil generates. Help us turn to you for the guidance you give us, to show us the way through all the muck. Amen. PEACE
The real point of having a faith – IS that it makes a difference, in us and everything we do.
GOD OPENS SCRIPTURE TO US
ON THE WAY TO OUR TRANSFORMATION – through the experience of the Holy Spirit. Belief, trust, faith, and relationship have been themes in many blogs here. They are some of the foundation pieces for living a life of commitment to God. There are some personal disciplines or practices that we need to add, as we grow in our faith and relationship with God. One is knowing the story of both God’s people and the life of Jesus, as we hear it revealed in scripture. For that to come about, we have to study the Bible on our own, or in a group. Both experiences have strengths of their own to recommend them, and it is good to do both if we are able. So today, let’s look at a pivotal experience in Jesus’ life, one that is important to understand because it is part of the thread of God’s plan running through the whole Bible.
This event is very early in Jesus public life. He has been baptized, then went into the wilderness for 40 days, and was tempted by the evil one. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and after these events, he goes back to Galilee and attends the synagogue in Nazareth, where he reads from the prophets. Luke 4 tells us: “17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, 19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” 20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”
He was reading the prediction in Isaiah 61. This might be read often, as a part of our daily practices, in order to ponder the weight of this prediction. When we read and wrestle with scripture for ourselves, not just depend on what we hear read in worship, we give the Holy Spirit opportunity to enter our hearts and open up the meaning of scripture. This is a unique and thrilling experience to have our eyes opened, to see things in a new way, that only comes about when we allow the Spirit to work within us. It can be an exciting and enriching practice that will also guide us in unexpected ways. Holy Spirit, thank you for the understandings you bring, and the unexpected outcomes you have in store for us, when we allow these serendipitous experiences. Guide us to a new level of understanding, so we may grow beyond what we imagine, toward something new you have in mind for us. Amen. PEACE