Monday, October 27, 2014

Doorkeeper

Monday 10/27/2014 4:25 AM
My devotional theme for the week is “A Friend of Souls.” Part of my reading included a poem entitled I Stand by the Door, by Samuel Moor Shoemaker. The poem is a description of what he desires to do in life, stand by the door to God and show people the way in. In the poem, God is portrayed as a vast, roomy house with a single door for entry. He sees his job as simply pointing out the door to passersby, those seeking after God. He will occasionally look into the house to hear the voice of God and to hear from others who live within how wonderful the house is but he quickly returns to his post by the door, lest anyone should miss finding it.
He says there are those who live within the house and plumb its depths, which is an encouragement to others, but he prefers to stand by the door. I feel called to be someone who explores the depths of God’s love and mercy. There needs to be someone who can tell others of the beauty that lies within, one who invites those who enter to do some exploring rather than to go back outside the door. Shoemaker agrees, but warns that those who live within should never forget the millions who are still outside, seeking to find a way in.
Finding a balance between losing myself in the love of God and interacting with those who live apart from God, to point them toward God, has always been a difficult thing for me to do. I don’t want to be so heavenly minded that I am of no earthly good. Lord, help me to explore the height and depths of your love without losing touch with those with whom I rub shoulders daily.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Drought

Sunday 10/19/2014 6:17 AM
California is in the middle of a drought. I have not watered my lawn at all this past summer and the grass is pretty much dead. There are mandatory water restrictions and farmers have also been restricted to the amount of water they can use. There has been unusually low rainfall and snowpack for the past few years and reservoirs all across the state are nearly empty.
My assigned scripture today included Joel 2:23ff, “Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. … Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other…” I also read Psalm 107:33ff, “He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there. He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle. They sowed fields and planted vineyards that yielded a fruitful harvest; he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased.” Both of these passages talk about rain being sent to thirsty ground by a loving God. Our modern society denies the work of God in the cycles of drought and flooding. They attribute it to chance at best and, lately, they have attributed it to the work of man in the world, who has deposited too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels.
At first I thought perhaps God was letting me know that the drought in California would subside this year, that there would be plenty of rain. But then I thought about my personal life and my relationship with God over the past year or so and how I have been in a drought in that aspect of my life. Over the course of the past few days I have had meaningful devotional times. Maybe God is telling me that the drought I am experiencing in that regard is ending. A prayer by Peter Marshall is mine today, “Father, I am beginning to know how much I miss when I fail to talk to thee in prayer, and through prayer to receive into my life the strength and the guidance which only you can give. Forgive me for the pride and the presumption that make me continue to struggle to manage my own affairs to the exhaustion of my body, the weariness of my mind, the trial of my faith.”

Friday, October 17, 2014

Perspective

Friday 10/17/2014 7:35 AM
Yesterday I attended a meeting that became somewhat contentious. People had differing ideas on how best to proceed and eventually people started to nitpick, citing violations of Robert’s Rules of Order when we have never previously used them. Then we began discussing a document and the word Nazis came to life, parsing sentences, arguing about the tenses of verbs or the most appropriate adjective, etc., bickering about the jots and tittles. It seemed obvious to me what everyone’s intent was but progress was being hindered by divisiveness. I became really upset and nearly walked out of the meeting because of my frustration but I didn’t want to disrespect the others so I decided to look out the window instead. There were beautiful clouds layering the sky, a welcome relief after the past few weeks of record-breaking heat. The jacaranda trees were sporting clusters of their characteristic purple flowers, unusual for this time of year. A young couple was sitting on the grass, obviously in love and enjoying each other’s company. I immediately felt the stress start to dissipate.
Today I read an excerpt from Prayer, a book by Simon Tugwell in which he notes the contrast between the grumbling preacher of Ecclesiastes saying, “there is nothing new under the sun” with the writer of Revelation proclaiming, “Look! I am making all things new.” He writes, “We may all of us sometime get Ecclesiastes moods, and if we do, it is comforting to know that they are not utterly debarred from God’s domain; but we should not devote our minds and imaginations to prolonging and justifying them. We should aim rather to have minds and imaginations able to respond joyfully to the truth that in Christ everything is given back its youth and at least something of the freshness of the very first days of creation.”
Over the past year or so I have been experiencing more of the darker side of life, frustrated with the lack of movement in my relationship with God and an inability to discern God’s will. I’ve felt like walking out on God, giving up, taking my ball and going home. Perhaps I need to glance out the windows of my life and see the world from God’s point of view, seeing the clouds as the means to bring relief from drought rather than as agents who are out to block the sun. It’s time to look for the unexpected beauty of blooming jacarandas and the joy of young lovers in my present circumstances instead of longing for my rose-colored past. Behold! God is doing a new thing.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Spiritual Ennui

Thursday 10/16/2014 5:00 AM
I have been battling spiritual ennui for almost a year and I feel as if I am finally succumbing to it. For many months I had my regular time of reading the Bible and meditating on it but seldom had any insights that I would consider to be earth shattering. Over the past couple of months it seems like I have completely given up on hearing God speak. My devotional time has been haphazard, cursory, or nonexistent, and the voice of God has been completely muted to my ears.
Jaci and I agreed to be co-leaders of a small group Bible study at our church in which we are studying God’s great love for us. When discussing what an appropriate response to that kind of love should be, I feel like a big hypocrite. There was a time when I felt close to God, when I regularly heard his voice and was comforted by his presence, but now it all seems like a distant memory. I have always believed that to be used effectively by God in the building of his kingdom one must maintain a vital connection with him. If that connection and relationship is severed, at best, I have nothing to offer and, at worst, I am a hindrance.
Psalm 86 is my psalm for the week. It begins with these words, “Hear me, Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord, for I call to you all day long. Bring joy to your servant, Lord, for I put my trust in you.” I can relate to the poor and needy part and the plea for joy part, but the faithful part, the calling all day long part, and the trusting part do not strike a chord with me at all. If God’s protection, God’s mercy, and the joy he gives are dependent upon my faithfulness, my pleading and my trust, I am SOL.
The writing of Simon Tugwell, in his book Prayer, brings a little hope this morning. “Blessed are the poor! How easily we take that always to mean somebody else. Yet if we want to be with God, we must learn to hear it as ‘blessed are we who are poor’, we who have not got anything very impressive to give to anybody, whose giving my very well be rather a nuisance, but who still have not given up giving. … God invites us into this conspiracy of the poor, making himself its head, giving himself in poverty and weakness, knowing that if we will only receive that humble gift of his, it will transform everything. If we are prepared to be poor enough to learn and to appreciate the manner of God’s giving we shall find in that poverty the seed of all perfection.” Lord, please use me in my poverty.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Overcoming Evil

Monday 9/29/2014 4:49 AM
Over the weekend a disgruntled worker who had just been fired from his job returned to his place of employment and attacked two women, stabbing them both and beheading one of them. It is difficult for me to understand how one can reach that point of rage where one resorts to that level of violence but it seems to be happening with increasing frequency of late.
My devotional theme for the week is “Beyond Forgiveness.” If I were the husband, father or son of the beheaded woman it would take something way beyond forgiveness to deal with the anger I would have toward the perpetrator. My psalm for the week is Psalm 141 and verse 4 seems fitting, “Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers; do not let me eat of their delicacies.” It is one thing to pray this prayer but it is another thing to live it out. Faced with the horror of this situation it would be natural to retaliate, to seek vengeance for the woman who was murdered. But vengeance is a delicacy that never satisfies. It always wants more. Verse 8 records David’s prayer to help him deal with his desire for vengeance. “But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord; in you I take refuge – do not give me over to death.” Rather than focusing on the injustices he encounters he focuses on God, trusting God to curb his appetite for vengeance.
In his book The Manhood of the Master, Harry Emerson Fosdick writes, “Only by a stronger passion can evil passions be expelled, and … a soul unoccupied by a positive devotion is sure to be occupied by spiritual demons.” Like David, if I want to be delivered from the evil that so easily entices I need to increase my passion for God and fix my eyes upon him and upon his word.
Lately I have spent less and less time reflecting on God’s love, his word and his will for my life. The result of spending less time with God and his word are feelings of indifference toward God, disenchantment with the world and apathy toward others, all things that are contrary to God’s will for me and for the Christian community at large. Lord, help me to keep my eyes fixed on you so I do not succumb to the indifference and disenchantment that is contrary to your will.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Forgiveness and Peace

Tuesday 9/23/2014 4:38 AM
Yesterday I read Peter’s words in the sermon he preached in Caesarea, after following God’s call to go to the house of Cornelius. “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” We need the good news of peace in our world today. The past few weeks have been filled with news of the Islamic State cutting wide swaths of land in northern Iraq and in Syria, brutally killing any who do not convert to their interpretation of Islam, which they believe to be the only true Islam. Men are slaughtered; women and children are raped and sold as sex slaves, there are beheadings and other means of torture are applied to anyone who disagrees or attempts to stand in their way.
My devotional theme this week is forgiveness, a concept that seems to be completely foreign to the brand of Islam portrayed by ISIS and something that would be nearly impossible to do if one’s family had been savagely brutalized and murdered at their hands. Later in his sermon Peter describes Jesus as one who “went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” As followers of Christ, Christians are called to do the same. This morning I spent time praying that the Christians who have been brutalized by ISIS would have the grace to forgive and that the Spirit of God would convict the perpetrators of this violence and bring them to faith in Christ. That is the only hope for peace.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lavishing My Life

Sunday 9/21/2014 6:37 AM
Psalm 114 was part of my scripture reading this morning. It begins with these words, “When Israel came out of Egypt, Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.” I thought about God calling me out of a life that was being lived contrary to his way and becoming a place where he dwells, his sanctuary. Because of my mathematical bent, when I first read it I thought it said Israel was his domain, rather than dominion. The domain of a function is the values for which the function is defined so if I am the domain of God it simply means I am a place where he is allowed to be. The idea of dominion is more that of being under the rule of God, which, for me has an entirely different connotation. If I accept the rule of God in my life then I cede the control of my life to him and forfeit it for myself.
Part of my reading included a prayer from the book Doctor Johnson’s Prayers. “Almighty God, in whose hands are all the powers of man; who givest understanding, and takest it away; who, as it seemeth good unto thee, enlightenest the thoughts of the simple, and darkenest the meditations of the wise, be present with me in my studies and enquiries. Grant, O Lord, that I may not lavish away the life which thou hast given me on useless trifles, nor waste it in vain searches after things which thou hast hidden from me. Enable me, by thy Holy Spirit, so to shun sloth and negligence, that every day may discharge part of the task which thou hast allotted me; and so further with thy help that labour which, without thy help, must be ineffectual, that I may obtain, in all my undertakings, such success as will most promote thy glory, and the salvation of my own soul, for the sake of Jesus Christ.”
There were three things in the prayer that caught my attention. The first fits in nicely with the idea of the dominion of God, to which I referred earlier. In the prayer he acknowledges that God has power over man; he gives understanding and takes it away, enlightens and darkens their thoughts. The second was the use of the word lavish as a verb. I have always used the word as an adjective, such as a lavish gift or a lavish lifestyle. The idea of lavishing away my life on useless trifles hits close to home, living in modern western society. Too often I concern myself with my own pleasure or with making my life more comfortable so that I have more leisure time to relax and enjoy life. The third is the part of the prayer that calls for me to avoid sloth and negligence, and perform the tasks God gives me, not to further my own personal success, but to further God’s rule and his glory. The idea of working for God rather than for man is consistent with the message of scripture but it is one that is easily forgotten when bombarded by the contrary message that is heralded by the society in which I live. I need to lavish my life away on the things of God.