Friday, January 29, 2016

Geraldine Jones

Friday 1/22/2016 7:13 AM
When I was growing up there was a comedian, Flip Wilson, who played a character named Geraldine Jones. Geraldine was a sassy young woman who took crap from no one. She was most well known for a couple of lines that came up regularly in her conversation. They were, “What you see is what you get” and “The devil made me do it.”
M. Shawn Copeland writes the following the article, “Saying Yes and Saying No.” “Daily personal prayer, examination of conscience, and participation in a faith-sharing group: these smaller practices can be of real benefit to us in sustaining the larger practice of saying yes to life, saying no to destruction. Together, they help us to understand, judge, and evaluate our daily choices and decisions in light of their relation to our ultimate happiness, as individuals and as humans in community. If we are to enhance and build up the capacities for a good, wholesome, and holy life, we must learn to say yes to what affirms and renews wholeness and life. and we must learn to say a related no to what induces and brings about destruction and ruin. In this practice, we are invited and challenged to make a fully conscious choice about who it is we are and who it is we shall become.”
Titus 2:11 reads, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to lead self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”
The culture in which I live has the philosophy and attitude of Geraldine Jones. It nurtures the notion that I am a victim of circumstances that are bigger than I am, sweeping me along to places I may not want to go. What I see is what I get and there is nothing I can do that will change it. I am also encouraged to accept no personal responsibility for my actions. Any untoward circumstances I encounter or outcomes of my actions are always someone else’s fault, never my own. The devil, or one of his minions made me do it.
In a world without God I am ruled by sin and its consequences. But, praise God, by his grace I am able to say no to ungodliness and to say yes to leading a self-controlled life, set apart from the life the world claims is my fate, or lot in life. I am not a victim of circumstance or the whims of others. I can choose a path that leads to fulfillment and wholeness and avoid the things that being about destruction and ruin. I pray that I can listen to the truth of God’s grace rather than the lies of Geraldine Jones.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Dull Routine or Glitzy Glamor

Wednesday 1/27/2016 4:47 AM
I read the story of Samuel’s call in 1 Samuel 3 this morning. As a child I remember being impressed that God actually spoke with Samuel personally and gave him a very specific message about Eli, and Eli’s family. Samuel went on to become one of the greatest prophets in Israel. The people of Israel would seek his advice because they assumed he had a direct line to God. The kings of Israel even acknowledged his close relationship with God and sought him out before going into battle or making a decision that had far-reaching consequences for the people of God.
I have always presumed that in those situations Samuel would pray to God and God would answer like he did in the story I read this morning. Today I read to the end of the chapter and neatly tucked away in the last verse are these words, “The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.” That verse seems to imply that the wisdom Samuel dispensed to those seeking the will of God came not from a special revelation in a dream or trance but through Samuel’s familiarity with and knowledge of God’s word.
I long to hear the voice of God speaking from the clouds or by some equally impressive display, telling me what to do or which direction to take. If God chose to speak to one of the greatest prophets of Israel through his word, he will probably do the same with me. The challenge becomes to spend the necessary time reading God’s word so that I can cultivate an understanding of God’s message to me. I pray that I will have the grace to accept the dull routine of regular reading and prayer to hear the voice of God rather than looking for the glitzy, glamorous, message in the clouds.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Meat and Potatoes

Wednesday 1/20/2016 5:56 AM
Monday night Jaci made stuffed peppers for dinner. The filling was made of cooked meat, onions, garlic, and quinoa, among other things. I added extra salt, as is my habit, but overall they were good. Last night we had the Thompsons over for dinner and the topic of eating healthy food came up. Emily asked about the stuffed peppers and I made some comment about the quinoa was something I could do without. Emily reminded me how much more nutritional it is compared to rice and it has the added benefit of containing a lot of fiber. That began a long discussion about health and nutrition.
I have simple tastes when it comes to food. I have a glass of tomato juice (which I call “health going down the throat”) and a bowl of Cheerios with milk (no sugar) every morning for breakfast. I usually have a peanut butter sandwich and some potato chips for lunch. Occasionally I will have ham and cheese sandwich but I seldom put lettuce or other toppings on it. If I eat a salad with a meal I prefer iceberg lettuce with a few tomatoes with ranch or Thousand Island dressing rather than some spring mix, romaine, spinach, or kale type of salad, with balsamic or some sort of vinaigrette dressing. I am a meat and potatoes kind of guy, preferring simple mashed russet potatoes and gravy with a pot roast and corn or beans for a vegetable rather than sweet potatoes, cauliflower mash, or some other healthier option. Most of my kids and acquaintances appreciate all the other tastes and textures while I’m happy with the simple fare I had as a child. I’m perfectly happy with a bowl of bean with bacon soup with crackers smashed in it accompanied by a couple of slices of buttered bread for my dinner.
I receive a lot of advice from those who love me, suggesting I try to eat more healthily. I usually argue that I have low blood pressure, low cholesterol, I am not seriously overweight, and I take no medications or vitamin supplements so my diet seems to be working fine. In my opinion, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
My relationship with God is also pretty simple. I make a habit of sitting down to read my Bible, using a devotional book to guide my reading. This is followed by a time of contemplating what God is saying to me in my reading and through the circumstances of my life and then a time of prayer and journaling my thoughts. There are usually no extravagant revelations on any given morning but, over time, I sense some movement in a certain direction and try to follow where I believe God is leading me. Occasionally I will attend a motivational rally or a retreat and receive an insight that changes the direction of my life but the meat and potatoes of my walk with God are my regular daily routine.
Today I read an excerpt from Henri Nouwen’s book Making All Things New that reinforces my experience in this regard. “Simplicity and regularity are the best guides in finding our way. They allow us to make the discipline of solitude as much a part of our daily lives as eating and sleeping. When that happens, our noisy worries will slowly lose their power over us and the renewing activity of God’s Spirit will slowly make its presence known. Although the discipline of solitude asks us to set aside time and space, what finally matters is that our hearts become like quiet cells where God can dwell, wherever we go and whatever we do.” I have a quiet cell within where God dwells. It has formed over a long period of time through a regular and simple daily routine. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Desperation

Monday 1/18/2016 6:40 AM
Two different verses I read today speak about thirsting for God. Psalm 143:6 reads, “I spread out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land.” Psalm 63:1 echoes that, “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.” I don’t know that I would ever describe my longing for God in the same way. There are times when I desire to be with God or to have him speak to me but I don’t think I have ever been as desperate for God’s presence as David seems to be in these passages. Was David a drama king, one who simply exaggerated his feelings so he could write good poetry or good song lyrics, or did he really experience that kind of desperation for God?
In his book ¡Gracias!, Henri Nouwen writes, “Nothing is real without deriving its reality from God. This was the great discovery of St. Francis when he suddenly saw the whole world in God’s hands and wondered why God didn’t drop it. St. Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John Vianney, and all the saints are saints precisely because for them the order of being was turned around and they saw, felt, and–above all–knew with their heart that outside God nothing is, nothing breathes, nothing moves, and nothing lives.” If I come to that same realization, and believe it, I will be desperate for God too, just like David.

Monday, January 11, 2016

God of Paradoxes

Monday 1/11/2016 5:59 AM
A number of years ago I was playing around with some numbers and discovered an interesting pattern. After collaborating with some of my former professors we eventually got an article published in Mathematics Teacher, a magazine published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Adding the powers of a given number could generate the numbers I was playing with but the sums generated were infinite. As I studied them further I discovered that the infinite sums of positive numbers could equal a negative number, a counterintuitive result at best. However, these infinite sums behaved exactly like negative numbers and exhibited all of the properties of negative numbers, such as, the product of two negative numbers is a positive number. Modern string theory, with its embedded twenty-six dimensions, relies on this counterintuitive result: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ... = -1/12. The field of mathematics is rife with these kinds of paradoxes and many others that are even more bizarre.
Today I read an excerpt from Everything Belongs by Richard Rohr. He writes, “Religion has not tended to create seekers or searchers, has not tended to create honest humble people who trust that God is always beyond them. We aren’t focused on the great mystery. Religion has, rather, tended to create people who think they have God in their pockets, people with quick, easy, glib answers. That’s why so much of the West is understandably abandoning religion. People know the great mystery cannot be that simple and facile. If the great mystery is indeed the Great Mystery, it will lead us into paradox, into darkness, into journeys that never cease…. That is what prayer is about.” Modern Westerners do not like to live with paradox or questions that have no answers. We like things neatly tucked away into perfect fitting boxes and tied up the pretty strings and we like the God we worship to be the same.
The God revealed in the Bible is beyond our ability to comprehend. His way of doing things runs contrary to our way of thinking. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” 1 Corinthians 1:25 says, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” God choses to accomplish his will by working through people and through circumstances that we would never chose. It makes no logical sense from our perspective because we have a finite ability to comprehend and God is working with infinities, where, from a human perspective, weird things happen.
Perhaps that’s why belief in God is a matter of faith. There are no easy explanations for the things of God, no simple answers to the paradoxes we face every day. Those who want rational explanations for things that have none will always ridicule me for my belief in God. That is probably why Rohr suggests prayer is needed.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Father and Lord

Wednesday 1/6/2016 6:29 AM
As I ran this morning I thought about how I enjoy thinking about God as my Father, someone who provides for my needs and shows me love, but I do not like to think of him as my Lord, someone who has authority and the right to rule over my life. My prayers reflect that kind of thinking. They are mostly giving thanks for the things he provides and requesting things that make my life easier like good health, loving relationships, and other similar self-serving things. I seldom pray for God to challenge me with a difficult situation that will advance his kingdom in which I need to trust him for direction and strength to get through it.
Today I mistakenly read the wrong week’s reading in my devotional material. Part of my reading included Psalm 114:1-2, “When Israel came out of Egypt, Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.” The word dominion reminded me of the word domain, a mathematical term describing the numbers over which a function has dominion, or rule. After their deliverance from bondage the people of God were where God lived and had his rule. After my deliverance from the bondage of sin I should also be a person with whom God lives and has his rule. I think my prayers need to change.
Father, thanks for your provision in my life. Thank you for your love and grace that permeates every aspect of my daily life. Thank you for the sense of your presence with me throughout the day, for the sense of belonging to something larger than myself. Have mercy on me when I doubt your love because of adverse circumstances or outcomes that contradict my preconceived notions of how things should be. Give me the grace to trust you to do what is best for your kingdom, not necessarily what is best just for me.
Lord, thanks for your rule and direction in my life. Thank you that I am not walking through this world on my own, making my own decisions, but that I can look to you. Have mercy on me when I fail to follow where you lead because of the fear of the unknown or because of my unwillingness to change my way of living. Bring circumstances into my life that force me to look beyond myself, to consider the bigger picture that you have in mind. Give me the grace to live in obedience to you so that your domain and reign can be extended. In the name of Jesus and through the power of the Spirit, I pray. Amen.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Encountering God

Thursday 12/17/2015 6:51 AM
Sometimes I am envious of Bible characters like Moses, Jacob, and others, who had personal, physical encounters with God. Moses had the burning bush and Mount Sinai and Jacob wrestled with God at the Jabbok river. Somehow I feel as if they had an unfair advantage in their walk with God because of their encounters. I have sensed God’s presence in my life on various occasions but when explaining it to others I never state outright, “I saw God today.” I use other phrases like, “I sensed God’s presence today,” so people do not think I’m entirely crazy. I also wonder if my experiences are real or if I am conjuring up things that are not real because of my emotional state at the time.
John Mogabgab writes about Jacob’s encounter with God at the Jabbok river. He writes, “…before he met God, Jacob sent his wives and servants and all his possessions to the other side of the river Jabbok. Jacob cleared an arena in which God would meet him ‘face-to-face,’ a place apart from the supportive relationships and material resources that sometimes mask our true self. Spiritual disciplines are like ground-clearing exercises aimed at providing room for God to confront us unmasked. The initiative for such a meeting always rests with God. Yet like Jacob, we can set aside our usual commitments and relationships for the sake of transforming encounters with God. The practice of such spiritual discipline truly prepares a way for the Lord.”
As I thought about that this morning I came to realize that my regular time of devotions each morning is my way of preparing a way for the Lord to meet with me. Over the years I have sensed his presence with me in the morning and he has provided direction and encouragement through my Bible reading, meditation, prayer, and meeting with my small group. I should not pooh-pooh those encounters, rather, I should acknowledge them for what they are, God’s personal meeting with me. I pray that I will continue to take time to make myself available to him.