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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving

“I will rejoice in the Lord. I will rejoice in the God of my deliverance.”
Habakkuk 3:18

     It is well that our nation has an annual holiday that prompts expressions of gratitude. Expressions of thanksgiving rarely well-up in the hearts of many people. It is not a natural impulse many days. Inhibitions to thankfulness are abundant – war, hunger, poverty, crime and loneliness. Each results in fear and a scramble for basic survival. Our lives are fragmented. So, Thanksgiving Day each November prompts us to spontaneous joy and gratitude.

     For some, we wonder if it is quite seemly to give thanks for what we have when others have not. It is nice to wish that the world has every reason to be thankful as we. But it is not true. Yet, Jesus provides us with an example. Jesus lived in the midst of poverty. The Palestine of his day was not flowing with sufficient food and basic necessities. There were people who could not pray with thankful hearts. Abundance simply wasn’t a familiar experience in their lives. But this did not stop Jesus from giving thanks before each meal. And it just may be that Jesus’ thankfulness became a plea for others to have the same ground for thankfulness.

    What is remarkable about these words of gratitude from Habakkuk is where they are located. They immediately follow considerable disappointment. “Though the fig tree doesn’t bloom, and there’s no produce on the vine; though the olive crop withers, and the fields don’t provide food; though the sheep is cut off from the pen, and there is no cattle in the stalls; I will rejoice in the Lord.” Here, there is nothing but stark loss. But Habakkuk gives thanks nonetheless.

     Habakkuk prompts us to trust in the Lord even when there seems to be little reason to do so. Seasons appear in any life when experience seems to deny any reason for gratitude. The crops have failed and livestock appear to be in short supply. But rather than focusing on the immediate, Habakkuk takes a longer view of life. The source of gratitude is not on the present but in the certainty of God’s promises. Habakkuk reminds us that we belong to a God who is at work in history, reconciling all things and securing wholeness; a God who will not rest until we have received deliverance from all that seeks to destroy us.


Joy,

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Distinctive Claims of the Christian Faith

“Pray like this: ‘Our Father, who is in heaven,’”
Matthew 6:9 (Common English Bible)

     The decline of mainline, Protestant Christianity in America is well documented and reported. Fewer people claim identity as Christians today and fewer numbers occupy seats in worship services on Sunday morning. What seems to be increasing is a notion that no religion is supreme or unique and that each one possess much truth. Tolerance has replaced the missional impulse of the church. While no authentic reading of the Bible supports “intolerance” toward other forms of spirituality or faith traditions, it does advance vigorously the distinctive claims of the Christian faith. Perhaps a renewal of the missional vigor of the church requires a recovery of those claims.

     The first of those claims is captured in the first words of The Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father, who is heaven.” Those words capture the truth that God is both otherworldly and is knowable, understandable, and lovable. There is a mystery around the periphery of the Christian faith but at its center is a God who seeks to know us and to be known. The first two chapters of Genesis capture beautifully both attributes of God: Chapter one speaks to the mystery of God – a God who by the sheer authority of the spoken word creates and, chapter two, a God who draws near enough to us as to fill man and woman’s nostrils with God’s very own breath.

     The second claim of the Christian faith is that in the person of Jesus we see God; that in Jesus we see what God is like. We may know God – though limited – by turning to the person of Jesus Christ. In the life and death and victory over death of Jesus, God is revealed not only in words but in a real person. In the person of Jesus we witness a God who forgives those that sin, values those pushed to the margins of society and seek the restoration of broken relationships. The Christian faith is not about a formula. It is about a person that desires a relationship with us.

     Finally, the Christian faith not only points the way to live, the faith gives witness to a promise that God gives power to those who believe that enables us to live as God desires. Moral insight has little value without moral power. The image that comes to mind is that of a two person paddle-boat. Alone, our best efforts results only in moving in circles. But with a second person paddling with us, the paddle-boat moves steadily forward. God joins us in that paddle-boat, God’s strength working alongside our strength, to move toward that life that satisfies. It is that vital union with God that gives new life. And it is that union that results in a growing love for Christ. A vigorous church will be one that recovers again and again these distinctive claims of the Christian faith.

Joy,

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Living With Tension

“Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own.”
Matthew 6:34 (Common English Bible)

     A more promising title for this meditation might be: Living Without Tension. Yet, that is a promise that is neither realistic nor supported by the Bible. Mark’s Gospel declares that on the night of Jesus’ arrest, Jesus “began to feel despair and was anxious” (Mark 14:33). Amanda Enayati, writing for Success magazine asserts, “The greatest myth is that stress-free living exists at all. In reality the only time you are truly stress-free is when you are dead.”1 Yet, here in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mountain, he seems to suggest that we have the capacity to “stop worrying.”

     Except, Jesus doesn’t say that. Jesus teaches that we are to “stop worrying about tomorrow.” There is a considerable difference. It is unlikely that any one of us can simply shut-off any concern or worry. What Jesus offers is the possibility of limiting our worry to one day at a time. As Jesus points out, “Each day has enough trouble of it’s own.”

     What has been observed over and over again by psychologists is that women and men become tired, run-down and discouraged not by the challenges that confront them today. What drains our energy is our frightened concern over what waits for us on the horizon – what we have to do tomorrow, and the day after that. This doesn’t mean that we don’t prepare for tomorrow. It simply means that we don’t work ourselves up into an anxious knot and fever of apprehension worrying about tomorrow. Today, teaches Jesus, is enough to be concerned about.

     What are we to do? All that Jesus had to say about living is fixed firmly on belief and trust in God. God is in our future – we are not left to it alone. The night of Jesus’ arrest was filled with tension and worry. But do not fail to notice what Jesus does with it all. Jesus prays. Jesus claims the presence and concern of a living God that restored his energy and brought healing. What Jesus asks is that we do the same. Do our best today and leave the rest to God. This is a truth that we can accept because it comes from Christ. It is first and last the secret of victorious living.

Joy,

           
1 Amanda Enayati, “Dissecting Stress.” Success.  December 2015, pages 48-51.

            

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Struggle For Power

“Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.’
Mark 10:44, 45 (Common English Bible)

     Two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, have a favor to ask of their Lord; when he came into his Kingdom they asked for the best seats in the house. Remarkably, there is present no sense of embarrassment. The request is impudent, presumptuous and, undeniably, selfish. Yet, the request is true to human nature as it is revealed throughout every generation. Seeking position, power and recognition is a well-established value that seems hardwired into the human psyche. So here it is seen even among Jesus’ disciples – the desire to leverage an opportunity to serve inflated egos and personal ambition. Personal fitness for what they ask isn’t a consideration.

     This love of power and desire for notice is one of the most insatiable of all human urges. It is also a moral problem that is wrestled with throughout the pages of our Bible. Look at Jesus’ response to James and John who jostled to obtain it: “Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all.” What a reversal of current standards! For Jesus, no one can be truly great whose life is not viewed in terms of service to another. Our highest self is achieved only through humility and assuming the posture of servant. It is recognizing any position of authority as an opportunity for advancing the common good. What Jesus offers is a life redeemed from pettiness and crudeness.

     Naturally, this new understanding of power and position requires some imagination. A world view that shifts from domination by a few over the many must give way to another – one where the world’s foundation is spiritual and the knowledge that might is powerless to establish anything that lasts. Ultimately, this is God’s world and God settles nothing by might and sheer power.  Our destiny is in something deeper and more enduring than power. We see what that is in his cross. Jesus demonstrates that genuine power is one that changes people from the inside out. Love overcomes hate, gentleness depletes the energy of force and people become more responsive to one another, building trust and partnerships.

     I do wonder from time to time how the disciples’ responded to this teaching. It is not a popular lens to view life nor one most people would want. Jesus is free of pride and arrogance because he recognizes his dependence upon God. And in our best moments we know that if we lived as Jesus – with submission to God – the world would be an infinitely better place.


Joy,