Friday, January 30, 2015

Crickets and a Rearview Mirror

Saturday 1/30/2015 4:38 AM
Over the past year and a half I feel as if I no longer experience the presence of God in the way I did previously. There was a time when it seemed that I received direction from God nearly every time I read the Bible. More recently I hear nothing but crickets chirping when perusing scripture.
I find this seeming lack of communication or direction from God to be somewhat troubling, longing for the intimacy I felt previously. Today I read an excerpt from “One More Door into God’s Presence,” by Anne Broyles, that is a good reminder to me. She writes, “There are times when God’s activity seems clear: a specifically answered prayer, the saving of a seemingly unredeemable situation, strength which is wondrously given at just the right moment. Other times, we recognize God’s interaction with us only in hindsight when we take time to reflect on our lives.” I have a feeling that I am currently in circumstances that will require the use of my rearview mirror.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Clothespins and Thankfulness

Wednesday 1/14/2015 4:39 AM
I am a man of routine, of habit. I get up at about 4:00, set the coffee, and go for a run. When I return I pour a cup of coffee, and then I have a time of Bible reading, meditation and writing in my journal. Then I usually do the LA Times crossword puzzle, read the news headlines and make my moves in the Scrabble games I play with family and friends online. At about 6:00 I go into the kitchen, pour a 6-ounce glass of tomato juice, a bowl of Cheerios with milk (no sugar), and proceed to eat my breakfast. I then take a shower and get ready for my day of teaching, leaving the house in time for my 7:00 class.
I love my Cheerios and want to keep them as fresh as possible so, when I open the bag inside the box, I carefully fold it over and secure it with a clothespin to maintain a relatively airtight seal. I do the same with potato chips bags, saltine cracker sleeves, pancake mix, bags of vegetables, etc., so I have a section in the silverware drawer solely for clothespins or other similar fasteners. Yesterday I opened a new Cheerios box and reached in the drawer for a clothespin. When I attached it to the Cheerios bag I noticed it had the words “Thank you” written on it with a pen. I think we got it from a neighbor who brought some Christmas goodies to our house.
As I read the “Thank you” on the clothespin I realized how little I consciously thank God for the simple, but important, things of life, like a glass of tomato juice and a bowl of Cheerios to eat every day. For the ability to run, eyes to read my devotional material, a mind that is clear and untroubled by depression or other maladies, my health and a job that I love. The list could go on. I spent the time I ate and got ready for school thanking God for everything I could think of. I’m quite certain I missed thanking God for more things than I actually thanked him for but I found that, as I went through my day, I had a greater awareness of God’s care for me throughout the day. I think I’ll dedicate the “Thank you” clothespin exclusively for the Cheerios bag as a constant reminder to live a life of thankfulness.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Fight Fire with Fire?

Sunday 1/11/2015 4:26 AM
This past week saw violence perpetrated in Paris by an Al Qaida terror cell against Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper that regularly ran cartoons that were disrespectful of Mohammed, and a kosher, Jewish market. A number of people were killed, including the three attackers. Nigeria also saw an attack of a village by the group, Boko Haram, an Islamic terror group, in which over two thousand people, mostly older people and young children, were killed, and the village burned.
There has been widespread condemnation of the attacks throughout the world and some are calling for an in-kind response. Some want to kill all radical Muslims or keep them from immigrating to other countries so that we can live in peace. Many, who call themselves Christian, are voicing the same message, “Fight fire with fire.
My reading for today includes both Psalm 114 and Psalm 29. Each psalm describes the mighty power of God and Psalm 114 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.” It seems that God has chosen to live with his people. What would this all-powerful God do when faced with the current situation? Would he come down with a powerful hand and crush those who oppose him?
My reading also included Isaiah 42, which begins with these words, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” It seems that if the all-powerful God is living within someone their response to situations like those that occurred this week is not going to be one of violence, but one of seeking justice. In fact, violence will not be an option at all. Isaiah 42 continues, “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”
I long for the day when Christians throughout the world, but especially those in the United States, spend their energies seeking justice for the oppressed, freeing those who are imprisoned, and enlightening those who have been blinded by power, wealth and fame. Too often Christians try to change things by employing the same tactics as those with whom they disagree. They seek to change our society by attaining political power rather than by seeking justice. They want to fight fire with fire.
I wonder what would happen if those who claim the name of Christ begin to live as servants of God like those described in Isaiah 42. What if we showed love to our neighbors and lived humbly with them, seeking their good and their prosperity rather than our own? What if we stood alongside those who are oppressed by the systems of power within our country rather than trying to maintain the status quo? I really don’t have to wonder what would happen. Psalm 37:6 describes it for me, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the sun, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” The way of love and justice runs counter to the ways of our world. The real question is, do I trust God enough to go against the flow and fight fire with love and justice?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Embracing Poverty

Sunday 1/4/2015 5:23 AM
The theme of my devotions this week is the poverty of God. The opening affirmation in my devotional material is Philippians 2:7, the passage about Jesus emptying himself and taking on the nature of a servant. The closing blessing is, “May the Lord who has blessed our poverty by embracing it empower us to embrace the poverty of our brothers and sisters in the sorrow, sickness, or any other hardship.”
Over the past months there have been a number of issues that have occurred in our country and around the world that are examples of the poor being taken advantage of, being denied justice and oppressed by economic and political systems that are stacked in favor of those who are rich or in positions of power. More and more these issues make me angry and I have been looking for ways to become involved, to seek justice and equality for all people, regardless of their financial status or their social position.
This past week our family received word that the senior care facility where my mother is living is closing. She was understandably upset because she was just beginning to make friends there and adjusting to losing the independence she enjoyed living in her own home. We discovered that the reason for the closure of the facility was that it had been sold to a developer who is planning to replace the facility with luxury apartments. The land on which the facility is built is in the Biltmore District of Phoenix, where many of the wealthiest residents of the valley reside. As I read my devotional material this morning I thought of the residents of this care facility, like my mother, who are considered poor and undesirable by many within our society being moved out of their homes so that the wealthy and well-connected can have apartments in one of the desirable parts of town. I’m sure my mother’s situation is repeatedly played out in other towns and in other countries throughout the world. It is these types of situations that anger me the most.
I’m not sure how best to embrace the poverty of those being displaced, as the parting blessing of my devotional material suggests. I am planning to go to Phoenix in a few weeks to help my mother move to another facility but while helping solve my mother’s dilemma, it does little to address the underlying problem of corporate greed trumping compassion. I pray that God will give me insight regarding how to address this issue on behalf of others.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Nice and Not So Nice

Thursday 1/1/2015 6:01 AM
Today marks the beginning of 2015. I’ve stopped making resolutions but, at the beginning of each year, I stop to think about what the coming year might hold. This year I anticipate that, in a couple of months, I will become a grandfather for the sixth time, assuming things continue to go well for Ryan and Kate’s baby. Most of my thoughts are of positive things. I seldom think about what bad things may happen to me, or to those I love, throughout the year. For example, last year I never anticipated my mother’s fall, where she broke her hip, setting off many cascading events that ultimately resulted in her having to move from the house of my childhood into an assisted living care facility. While I recognize that bad things can happen during the coming year, there is really no way to anticipate or prepare for them.
My reading today includes Psalm 67:1-2. It seems to me that the psalmist might have written it at the beginning of a new year. “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us – so that you ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.” The striking thing about these verses is that the psalmist desires God’s grace and blessing, not for his own benefit, but so that God’s ways could be known throughout the earth and that God’s salvation could be shared with all nations.
My reflections on the new year are pretty self-centered and self-serving. I do not always have the larger perspective of what God’s desire might be. My reading today also included John 3, where Jesus met with Nicodemus and told him that he had to be born again. In the course of their conversation Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” If I have the Spirit of God living within me he will take me to all kinds of places, some nice, some not so nice. The Spirit’s goal is not my comfort or my convenience, but the furthering of God’s kingdom and the molding of my character into the image of Christ. The good news is that, no matter the circumstances, nice or not so nice, God’s desires will be accomplished.
I pray that during the course of the coming year I will use both the nice and the not so nice things that come my way to display the ways of God to others. That is a resolution that only the Spirit of God working in me will be able to accomplish.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Laws of Justice and Mercy

Monday 12/22/2014 6:55 AM
My assigned scripture today included the laws of justice and mercy found in Exodus 23:1-9. As I read them I thought about how appropriate they are for our modern world and, unfortunately, how often they are missing. “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a guilty person by being a malicious witness. Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor person in a lawsuit. … Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent. Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”
As I read through the list I immediately thought of current events that illustrate each of the issues. False reports and misinformation are constantly leaked and propagated in our political processes by both Democrats and Republicans. Political spin-doctors take the news and mold it to fit their party’s point of view, truth be damned. Rabble-rousers hijack peaceful protests; turning crowds into frenzied, destructive, looting fanatics. “Illegal aliens” are blamed for many of the ills of our society but they are taken advantage of by those who do not pay a fair wage for work done. We are complicit in the injustice when we fail to stand up for them, choosing instead to benefit from cheaper prices for goods and services.
I found it interesting that one verse warns against showing favoritism to the poor in a lawsuit and the next verse warns against denying justice to the poor in their lawsuits. There are times in our judicial system when the poor cannot afford the high priced attorneys that are retained by large corporations or wealthy individuals, and suffer injustice as a result. There are other times when people feel sorry for the down and outers in our society and hold them to a different standard because of their standing. It seems like both scenarios are wrong.
The saddest part of this to me is that the Christian community should be at the vanguard of seeking after truth, justice and mercy for all people but too often we are the ones spreading misinformation, perverting justice and oppressing the foreigners. May God have mercy on us and help us to see the error of our ways.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Downward Mobility

Monday 12/15/2014 4:34 AM
Today I read the song Mary sang after she encountered Elizabeth, whose baby leapt in her womb upon meeting Mary. After praising God for the great things he had done for her, she sings, “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” Rueben P. Job, one of the authors of my devotional book comments on these verses. He writes, “God’s promise seems no less preposterous today. Turn the values of this world upside down? Rich become weak; poor become strong? Each of us chosen to be God’s special witness to God’s promise of love and justice? It does seem like a preposterous promise, until we listen carefully to the Advent story, observe the life of Jesus, and listen to the Spirit’s voice today. But then we see that the promise is for us. The responsibility to tell the story is ours. And yes, the blessing and honor come to all whose lives point to Jesus Christ and God’s revolutionary purpose in the world.”
There are not many today in the church in North America who preach this kind of revolutionary message. We mouth the words about caring for the poor and seeking justice for the oppressed but when it comes to living it out, we fail miserably. We see the blessing of God as living in a free society where we can worship comfortably without fear of reprisal and being able to pursue our dreams of living a comfortable life with adequate finances for retirement. As a church we do little to promote love and justice for those who are oppressed in our society. We lobby for secure borders to our country to keep out the alien rather than seeking justice for those who have been allowed to live within our borders because their cheap labor allows us to maintain our lifestyle. We strive for upward mobility, a prized ideal in our culture. God’s people are to strive for downward mobility, standing with those who are oppressed by our governmental systems, which marginalize the weak and protect the interests of the powerful.
The question for me today is, how best is that to be done? Do I become an activist, joining protests and marches in the streets that demand rights for the oppressed? Do I lobby my representative in Congress to enact laws to address the issues of justice for the weak? Do I work within the church, striving for a change in the attitudes and the actions of God’s people? Perhaps it’s a little bit of all of that. It all seems too overwhelming and the immensity of the task tends to paralyze me. I need to have the courage to take a step.