Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Questions About Hope

Tuesday 11/24/2015 4:54 AM
In my journal yesterday I wrote about the anxiety that many Christians feel today regarding the future. Terrorist threats are daily fare on the news and, if conservative commentators are to be believed, there is a war on Christians and the Christian way of life. Many in the Christian community are lashing out with anger and fear, fighting to make sure our “rights” are protected and that our way of life is preserved.
In his book A Guide to Spiritual Discernment, Rueben Job portrays the history of the Christian community that stands in stark contrast to this way of thinking and acting. He writes, “Hope has always been a dominant quality in the life of the Christian community. … The source of this resolute hope was never found in the surroundings or how things were going for the Church. Rather, hope was found in God and the assurance that God was at work in the Church and in the world. The disciples felt a calm confidence that God’s work and will would ultimately be completed and fulfilled. And they were assured that every Christian was invited into a partnership with God that moved toward the fulfillment of God’s grand design for all creation. Such assurance is fertile ground in which the seeds of hope can flourish and bear the fruit of faithful living.”
Where are the church leaders that preach this message? Why does this message of hope and assurance fail to be promulgated by the church and its spokespersons? Who will speak the truth to a world that desperately needs to hear the truth that God is at work and will prevail, come hell or high water? When will the Christian community learn to listen to God’s promises in his word rather than to the talking heads of our modern society? When will we learn to walk in confidence, knowing that the all-powerful God of the universe, who loves us, is walking with us?
We need to live like we believe the words of Jesus to his disciples in John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mathematical Beauty and Praise

Monday 11/9/2015 4:23 AM
My psalm for the week is Psalm 148, a call to praise. But the call to praise is not just to humankind, it is to the whole creation. “Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. … Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creature and flying birds.”
Because I am a mathematician, when I am out in the middle of creation I see the patterns of self-similarity in the clouds and mountain ranges. I see the contour lines and gradient vectors when hiking along a mountain trail. I notice that nature operates in the most efficient ways possible and stand amazed. I love to try to point this out to others. Unfortunately too often those attempts fall short because many are not conversant in the language of mathematics, through which creation speaks to me.
Today I read an excerpt from John Mogabgab that encourages me to keep trying to communicate that mathematical beauty to others. He writes, “…early Christian writers had identified profound inner stillness as a condition of understanding the mysteries of God hidden in creation and communicating these with wisdom to others. Such understanding and communication are essential aspects of our stewardship as we seek ways of interpreting God’s design for creation to a world impaired in its ability to listen.” I pray that I will not become discouraged in pointing out the beauty.

My Brother's Keeper

Thursday 11/5/2015 4:39 AM
Today I read two portions of scripture. 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 reads, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” Galatians 6:10 reads. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
The theme of my devotions this week is responsibility. John Mogabgab writes about the responsibility of believers in our world once they have been apprehended by the love of Christ and begin to view the world through the lens of love as expressed on the cross. “From all the fear, suspicion, anger, and terror that stalk the world, from all the empty hopes and overflowing sadness, all the sweet dreams and acid anguish, God has wrested a new creation. The human point of view – with its focus on looking out for ourselves, preoccupation with our own plans, fear of others’ scornful judgment, anxious anticipation of the future – has become an outmoded paradigm. It is not (and never was) capable of revealing what is most real and true about life. This reality and truth are wreathed in paradox. … What we glimpse is life woven together in love, all life interwoven in ways that do not smother and encumber but rather release and strengthen. Here is God’s desire and design for created life, for all brothers and sisters of the mineral, plant, animal, and human nations with whom it is good and pleasant to dwell in unity. Here too is the living matrix of responsibility. … No dimension of another’s life lies beyond the scope of the Christian’s concern and care. … Although this is certainly important within the community of faith as a compelling sign of radically rewoven relationships, the scope of Christian responsibility is as encompassing as the new creation itself. New life in Christ manifests itself in responsibility for the other.”
Too often I feel as if I, and most Christians, still live in the world as those overcome by fear, suspicion, anger, and anguish. We see ourselves as victims whose rights are being eroded away. We bemoan the fact that prayer is no longer tolerated in public, the Ten Commandments are no longer allowed in our courtrooms, and businesses whose owners are Christian are fined for standing up for what they believe. We feel threatened by groups like Black Lives Matter and insist that all lives matter. While there is truth in that statement it also minimizes the pain and frustration that minority groups often experience on a daily basis.
God’s call to me is to do good to all people. I quite naturally look out for my own interests. God calls me to look out for the interests of others with the same intensity. I need to remember that in order for humanity to live in shalom the needs of everyone need to be addressed. When one part of body of humanity suffers we all suffer and Christians should be on the front lines of alleviating the suffering, sacrificing our own rights and resources so that there can be justice and equity for all. God so loved the world that he gave. I need to do the same.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Eyes and Heart of Mercy

Saturday 10/31/2015 7:44 AM
I am only month away from my sixtieth birthday. As I age I have a tendency to become more despondent. It seems that the world is becoming less caring and everything seems to be coming apart at the seams. Any attempt I make to stem this tide seems inconsequential at best.
I have great respect for my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Their lives have been spent pouring love into the lives of those living on the periphery of society. They have sought to restore justice to those oppressed and have attempted to change the unjust systems that continue to perpetuate the wrongs perpetrated on the weak and powerless. There have been times when their efforts effected the desired change but too often the small steps gained were soon eradicated. They continue on in their retirement doing the same kind of work. I try to emulate their tenacity to the cause but my efforts pale in comparison.
I have engaged in long conversations with them regarding the issues about which they are so passionate. We have never spoken directly of this but I sometimes wonder if they become as discouraged as I do when little to no progress seems to be made toward the goal.
This morning I ran a little later than usual, so I saw a number of people out for their morning exercise. As is my habit, when I meet someone walking, running, or biking I smile and say good morning. It is a small gesture but, since I live in the greater Los Angeles area where any conversation with a stranger is unusual, most people are surprised. As I thought about all the troubling things in the world, sinking deeper into melancholy, I met someone walking. I greeted them with a friendly hello. They smiled, and returned the greeting. I was listening to my music as I ran and the song playing was I Am Not Alone, by Kari Jobe. Immediately after the person returned my greeting these words from the song came into my ears, “In the midst of deep sorrow I see your light is breaking through. The dark of night will not overtake me, I am pressing into you.” It was a reminder that even small gestures like a friendly greeting can express the love of God for a stranger. The love of God expressed in the smallest of gestures shines light into our dark world. After all, Jesus said God’s love is expressed in the offering of a cup of cold water to a stranger.
 The thoughts I had when I ran were reinforced as I sat down for my devotions today. Part of my reading included an essay by Sister Elaine M. Prevallet entitled “Living in Mercy.” She writes, “Surely in the end, after all our righteous judgments on what is wrong with ourselves, each other, and with the world; after we experience injustice intractably resistant to our most devoted efforts, leaving us with our thirst unquenched, our mouths dry and our throats sore from protest; surely in the end the gospel calls us to view the whole of creation, and each other, with the eyes of mercy, and to love it all anyway, with a mercying heart.”
My job in the kingdom of God is not to bemoan what is wrong with myself or with others with whom I have contact. It is not to become discouraged when my efforts to right the wrongs of the world seem to be for naught. My job is to view the world and its numerous inhabitants with the eye of mercy and to love it with a mercying heart.
More and more, as I age, I feel as if the Spirit of God is allowing me to view the world with the eye of mercy but the loving with a mercying heart part is still an uphill battle for me. It is hard for me to know how best to address the wrongs that are so prevalent in the world with love, expressed in concrete actions. Thank God he looks at me with the eye of mercy and loves me with his mercying heart.
May God grant me mercy and guide me, through the working of his Spirit within me, to emulate him.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Self-emptying Compassion

Sunday 10/25/2015 5:23 AM
My devotional theme for the week is compassion, a quality that seems to be in short supply in our Western society, even within the church. My assigned reading included 2 Thessalonians 2:6-8, “We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” Two things from those verses caught my attention.
The first is that Paul and his companions were like young children among the Thessalonians. Young children submit to the authority of adults and have no rights. If I am to live in a similar way in the world I need to forego any rights I may think are mine and allow others to be in control. How strange would that kind of living be in a society that exalts power and influence and stresses the importance of individual rights?
The second is that Paul cared for the Thessalonians like a nursing mother cares for her children. My daughters are both nursing babies at the moment. They sacrifice their own schedules, wants, and needs for the sake of their children. They immediately attend to the cries of their children and change a dirty diaper, provide milk or other sustenance, and soothe them when they are frightened, without complaint. That kind of treatment of our neighbors would also garner much attention in our modern world.
If I am to successfully show the love of God to my neighbors I need to live in such a way among them. But that kind of living comes with great cost. I need to be willing to humble myself and look to the needs of others without regard to my own needs or rights. Norman Shawchuck describes it like this, “We need not wonder about the cost of ministry. We need only look upon the cross with Jesus suspended there, and there we see the enormous cost of the ministry that is offered in the life and death of Jesus. The cost is great, but in the work of introducing men and women to Jesus and offering God’s love to them, the cost must be accepted. For it is our own self-emptying and compassion for others that permits them to see Jesus. And seeing Jesus they will also desire God’s love. It is in our living a way of love and compassion that others may be convinced to look at the cross of Jesus and also say, ‘Truly this is the Son of God.’”
It is my prayer that I can live with that kind of self-emptying compassion. And I pray this not only for me, but for the greater Christian community as well.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Easy Road

Tuesday 10/20/2015 5:16 AM
My assigned scripture today included Proverbs 15:24, “The path of life leads upward for the prudent to keep them from going down to the realm of the dead.” I immediately thought of two separate circumstances of which I am aware.
The first is that of Lamar Odom, former NBA and reality TV star, who nearly died from a drug overdose last week. His life has spiraled out of control for the past couple of years due to his addiction to cocaine and possibly other drugs. He was at the top of the sports world and the entertainment world but he took a downward turn and has been headed for disaster for some time now.
The other situation is that of an acquaintance that has previously made some extremely bad decisions that turned his world upside down. Since then he has gone to school, worked hard to succeed in his chosen career, got married and is now gainfully employed and is actively involved in the lives of his children. He is loves life and is living it to the fullest.
Sometimes I wonder what decision to make given a choice of two different options. A good question for me to ask when considering the path to take is, “Does this path lead upward toward a fuller life or downward, diminishing my life?” After the choice is made I would do well to ask if my life is improving or if it is going downhill. The path of a full life will always lead upward. It is easier to go down a path rather than to have to climb. I pray that I will have the courage and fortitude to lead the path that leads to life, especially when it’s an uphill climb.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Faith in Calm and Chaos

Tuesday 10/13/2015 4:31 AM
To me, one of the most interesting chapters of the Bible is Hebrews 11. It describes the heroes of the faith who accomplished great things for God. The surprising part is that toward the end of the chapter it also describes those who had been tortured, flogged, jeered, stoned, sawn in two, destitute, persecuted, mistreated, and imprisoned. These too are included in the list of those commended for their faith.
I tend to gauge the level of my faith and my usefulness to God by how stress-free my life is. If I am healthy, employed, getting along well with others, etc., then I consider myself blessed and in right relationship with God. If my health fails, I pray for healing. If my relationship with someone is strained, I pray for restoration. If I become unemployed, I pray for a new job. In general, if my life isn’t sailing along on smooth waters I assume my relationship with God is suspect and I wonder what I am doing wrong.
I do not think I am alone in this kind of thinking. Some who have become disenchanted with the church wonder how a loving God could allow evil to be so prevalent in the world. If they allow for the possibility of a God, he is seen as a divine Santa Claus doling out presents for those who are good and lumps of coal for those who are bad, as an impotent old man unable to change anything, or a disinterested sadist who places his creatures in a random, chaotic creation and leaves them to fend for themselves.
In their book Companions in Christ, Reuben Job and Marjorie Thompson describe the true nature of God. “To imagine that God is here simply to console, affirm, heal, and love us is to deny the holiness of a God who requires righteousness, who challenges our illusions, who confronts our idolatries. When we are being ‘disillusioned’ from false perspectives, the spiritual journey feels arduous – more like climbing a steep mountain than like driving the great plains. Indeed, at times it feels like going over the edge of a cliff on nothing but the thin rope of faith. Sometimes we are called to endure in hope when we can see nothing positive on the horizon at all.”
It is easy to focus on the loving, nurturing nature of God but not so easy to accommodate God’s call to live a holy, righteous, selfless life. This is especially true living in our narcissistic, what’s-in-it-for me culture. Any attempt to seek justice for the economically oppressed in the world by suggesting that the world belongs to God and we are to live in harmony as a human community sharing the resources God has provided brings accusations of being a socialist or a communist, both terms of derision in our culture that idolizes capitalism and private property. If I suggest abortion is murdering an image bearer of God I am accused of being a misogynist who seeks to oppress a woman’s rights. The list could go on.
I pray that I will have the wisdom to recognize the genuineness of my faith is not dependent upon the circumstances of my life. I want to live my life trusting that God will use all the circumstances I encounter, both the good and bad, to mold me into someone who better reflects both the loving and the righteous image of God made visible through the life of Christ.