Saturday, August 15, 2015

Prayer and Contemplation

Saturday 8/15/2015 7:26 AM
I used to feel guilty because I felt that I didn’t pray enough. I had my regular devotional time of reading scripture and reflecting on what God was trying to say to me but when it came time for praying I would find my mind wandering or I would fall asleep. Over the years I have less and less guilt in this regard even though my pattern of prayer hasn’t changed that much. The reason I no longer have guilt is because I have come to realize that prayer is not simply asking or demanding things of God, it is a two-way conversation, where I both speak and listen.  Some refer to that type of prayer as contemplation.
In her essay Contemplation in Time of War, Wendy M. Wright writes, “But contemplation is a form of prayer that leads us through and, ultimately, beyond our present concepts and images. The contemplative life, as a consciously walked path, is a process of letting go of the familiar ways we have known and experienced God. … The contemplative life is that radical and risky opening of self to be changed by and, in some way, into God’s own self. It is a formative life; it changes us and our perceptions. It causes us to see beyond our present seeing. Thus it is a life of continual dying, of being stripped over and over again of the comfortable and familiar, a life of letting go and allowing a reality beyond our own to shape us. From another perspective, it is a life of emerging spaciousness, of being made wide and broad and empty enough to hold the vast and magnificent and excruciating paradoxes of created life in the crucible of love.”
This is a better description of my prayer life. As I have prayed over the years I find that my thought processes have changed, my opinions have changed, my relationship with God has changed, my behavior has changed, and my empathy for others has changed. I struggle with what Wright refers to as the magnificent and excruciating paradoxes of life but I also find that the crucible of love has a seemingly limitless ability to accommodate those paradoxes. God, in his mercy, accommodates me and he calls me to do the same for others. I trust he will find me faithful to his calling.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Removing the Plank

Friday 8/7/2015 4:57 AM
I thought about a song that was popular when I was growing up as I had my devotions this morning. Its words were, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of. What the world needs now is love, sweet love, no, not just for some, but for everyone.” Our culture in the United States is marked by income inequality, racial tensions, and political name calling, just to name a few. Some would argue that many of the things that seem to divide us in this country are manufactured by the media, who are complicit with those in political power to keep our country divided but, whatever the reason, phrases like “the ninety-nine percent” and “Black Lives Matter” pepper the media, keeping those divisive issues in the forefront of our minds.
In his book, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, William Law writes, “It was … holy intercession that raised Christians to such a state of mutual love, as far exceeded all that had been praised and admired in human friendship. And when the same spirit of intercession is again in the world, when Christianity has the same power over the hearts of people that it then had, this holy friendship will be again in fashion, and Christians will be again the wonder of the world, for that exceeding love which they bear to one another.” Law seems to argue that what the world needs now is fervent prayer for others by Christians, which will in turn bring about the love for which our world seems to be starved. 2 Chronicles 7:14 brings the same message for Christians today as it did for the Israelites at that time, “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
We in the Christian community like to blame others for the evil that is so prevalent in our land. In reality, we should be blaming ourselves for our lack of genuine prayer for the good and for the salvation of others. In my prayers I will usually thank God for what he has done for me and will intercede for my family and for my friends. But God demands that I pray for my enemies and for those who would do me harm. In my experience, when I begin praying for others, my heart changes and I am more willing to become personally involved in seeing that my prayers on their behalf become a reality. I will begin to love sacrificially, giving up some of my own wishes and dreams so that my dream for the benefit of others can come to fruition.
As I see it, the problems that are so rampant in our society and the things that so often frustrate the Christian community can be laid at the feet of the Christians in our society and our lack of love and concern for others, especially for those with whom we disagree or with those who seek to do us harm. We should do as Jesus suggested, remove the plank from our own eyes so we can see clearly to remove the mote from the eyes of our neighbors. When we begin to live in humility, to pray for the good of others as we seek the face of God, to turn from our accusatory and judgmental ways, and begin to show love for others, then God will forgive our sin and heal our land.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Mercy and Forgiveness

Thursday 7/30/2015 6:57 AM
The theme of my devotions this week is forgiveness. It seems like there is very little forgiveness in our society. Grudges are held for years and the past is constantly dredged up and relived in our political process. It seems we want our leaders to be without spot or blemish and we are constantly disappointed when people fail the test. When violence erupts in a mass shooting or in a crime of hate those who knew the perpetrator always express shock. Phrases like, “He seemed like just a normal person” abound in the news bites shown on television.
My reading today included John 8:1-11, the story of the woman who was caught in adultery. Her accusers wanted to stone her, as the law demanded. Jesus wrote something on the ground and then suggested that those who were without sin should cast the first stone. The passage says that her accusers all left, the older ones first and then the younger. Finally Jesus asked the woman where her accusers were and then told her that he didn’t accuse her either and to go and sin no more. I have a feeling that if she lived in our society today her reputation would be ruined and she would have little hope of having a second chance. Unfortunately, just as in Jesus’ day, I have a feeling the religious establishment would be leading the charge, calling for judgment and punishment.
In Moving Toward Forgiveness, Marjorie J. Thompson addresses the issue of forgiveness. She writes, “As we recognize more deeply our dependence on God, we will also come in touch more profoundly with our shortcomings. We may become aware of the beam in our own eye that has prevented us from seeing clearly how small the speck is in our sister’s or brother’s eye. Discovering the depth of our sin has a way of putting the faults of others in perspective. It is shocking to some when Mother Teresa of Calcutta claims she engages in her ministry of love because she knows there is a Hitler inside her. The great saints are not shocked by any form of degradation in the human heart; they know its potential deep within themselves. This capacity to identify with human sin to its outer reaches characterizes the humility and lack of judgmentalism present in so many holy ones through the centuries. Mercy for others grows from sorrowful knowledge of the human heart we share. The ability to acknowledge fully one’s own sin is thus a powerful path to forgiveness of others.”
Our world needs more caring, empathy, and forgiveness; and Christians should be leading the way in showing others what that looks like. Unfortunately too often we are the opposite end of the spectrum.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Kindness and Love

Wednesday 7/29/2015 6:33 AM
Francis of Assisi wrote these words, “Let us all, brothers, give heed to what the Lord says: ‘Love your enemies, and do good to them that hate you.’ For our Lord Jesus, whose footsteps we ought to follow, called his betrayer friend, and offered himself willingly to his crucifiers. Therefore all those who unjustly inflict upon us tribulations and anguishes, shames and injuries, sorrows and torments, martyrdom and death are our friends whom we ought to love much, because we gain eternal life by that which they make us suffer.”
Why are there no Christian leaders today making similar statements? It seems that every Christian leader who appears in the mainstream media is complaining about how Christians are being persecuted by having to bake cakes for those with whom they have differing views, by having to remove the Ten Commandments from public places or some other similarly inane complaint. There is no one calling Christians to love those who hate them, to show love and mercy to those who would do them harm. All we hear is how bad things are for Christians and we hear calls to stand up and fight against those who would do us harm.
This strategy seems to conflict with the message of the Bible to which Francis of Assisi appeals. Christians are to be holy, set apart from the world, not exactly the same as others. We need to live according to Luke 6:32-36, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Kindness and love is what is absent from message being preached by the visible and vocal Christian leaders of our time. We are told to stand up to those who would do us harm and fight for our rights. Instead we should be told to show love to those who would do us harm, to sacrifice for the good of others instead of looking out for our own good. That kind of living would be a sharp contrast to our current society and it would show the world the true nature of God, who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Busyness Business

Friday 7/18/2015 6:19 AM
I’m sitting quietly in the living room of my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s house having my morning devotional time. Outside I hear the chirping of birds and the rustling of leaves as the gentle breeze caresses the morning, the foreplay of dawn. It is the time of day I cherish the most, a time to reflect on my life and my relationship with God.
I am in the middle of an extended time away from home, from the busyness and the routine of my work-a-day world. I enjoy spending time with my family and with friends but the solitude of a quiet morning energizes me like nothing else does.
I always thought I enjoy the solitude the most but I am rethinking things after reading the writing of Stephanie Ford in her book, Kindred Souls. She writes, “Contemporary life provides precious little space for discernment, given the overriding burden of time. We hurry from one task to another, expressing thoughts and emotions on the fly but rarely sitting down to discern what they may be saying to us. Even accomplished multitaskers know moments of loneliness. In a quiet, predawn moment or while daydreaming between gulps of coffee at a traffic light, an ache may surface. We yearn to share the ordinary ups and downs of our lives with someone, the unspoken prayers we don’t feel comfortable uttering at a church meeting and experiences like the moment when we realize God had healed our heart after years of grieving a loss.” Perhaps it isn’t the solitude that energizes me but rather the opportunity to discern my thoughts and emotions and to share them with those I love.
It seems like the normal busyness of my life teams up with the faux busyness I allow to be thrust upon me by modern technology and social media to preclude me from sorting through all the information with which I am bombarded and separate the wheat of my life from the chaff.  I pray that when I return to my regular routine I will get rid of some of the faux busyness in my life to afford the opportunity to discern.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Sharing Life

Friday 7/3/2015 7:01 AM
Yesterday was my dad’s birthday. Had he lived, he would have been eighty-nine years old. He died from emphysema when I was thirteen. It was a difficult time for my family but, by God’s grace and the love of our community, we made it through that time, scarred, but not destroyed.
With the exception of my dad’s death and the death of my sister-in-law by suicide, my life has seen very little tragedy. I have experienced good health, a loving marriage, Jaci I have raised three children with whom we have healthy relationships, we get along with our sons-in-law and daughter-in-law, we have six healthy grandchildren with two more on the way. There are others around me whose lives seem to be filled with pain, sorrow and hopelessness. Sometimes I wonder why God doesn’t spread the joys and pains of life evenly to everyone.
There are some Christians who believe that the pains of life are God’s judgment on those afflicted and the joys are God’s reward for a life well lived. I’m not one of them. I don’t know why bad things happen in life but I do know that when they happen God doesn’t leave me to fend for myself. He enters into the suffering and the joy with me, sharing them both with me. He has given me a similar charge in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” I pray that I can meet that kind of challenge.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

My Job

Sunday 5/31/2015 5:20 AM
Today I read this quote from Norman Shawchuck, “God is near to us, loves us, and awakens our love for God. Today I give thanks for God’s call and assignment to duty. I have been led to great challenge and diversity, but always I have been sustained. God never fails or disappoints and is always faithful, even when I foolishly forget my call and my constant companion. God’s presence is indefinable but unmistakable. Today I give thanks for that holy and sustaining Presence within my life and within all creation.”
This is a great reminder to me that God is faithful even when I am not. God loves me and it is the working of his Spirit in my life that motivates whatever love I have for God. God has called me, equipped me, and assigned me to my duty within the world and he sustains me as I work. 2 Corinthians 13:11 reads, “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”
My job in the world is to align myself with the purposes of God. He is in the process of restoring the creation to himself and he desires that mankind live in peace and harmony with him, with each other, and with his creation. When I am working toward that end I will experience true joy, love, peace, and the presence of God.