Monday, August 18, 2014

Fear Mongering

Sunday 8/17/2014 6:56 AM
It seems to me that the world in which I live is one that is dominated by fear.  Terrorism or war in some form or other is usually the headline of any newscast.  Weather reports attribute every devastating storm to the catastrophic effects of climate change and we are constantly reminded of the dire consequences we will reap if nothing is done to curtail it. Local newscasts tell of shootings, rapes, robberies and other crimes and we are encouraged to invest in security systems for our homes, apartments and cars for protection.  Even pharmaceutical companies get in on the act with their advertising.  One commercial warns senior citizens that they may already have the virus that causes shingles, which is a no-brainer since shingles are caused by the chicken pox virus that the majority of seniors had in their childhood.  Of course, the answer to calm that specific fear is the drug that their company sells.  Hearing this encourages conspiracy theorists to say that the government or some major corporate entity is fear mongering, driving people towards dependency upon them for security, and sometimes I think they are right.
The opening prayer of my devotional material contains these words, “Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass out time in rest and quietness.”  The part of this prayer that really caught my attention was the request to be defended from the fear of our enemies.  I would expect the prayer to be to defend us from our enemies, but there is no such request, only a request to be defended from fear.
I often joke around with people who are worried about the future by saying, “98% of the things we worry about never happen.”  That is a made up statistic that I think might be close to being accurate and I say it to remind them that we spend a great deal of time fretting over things that are not only out of our control, but things that are unlikely to even happen.  We become immobilized by our fear and we lose the chance to show our trust in God.

Almost every time God sent an angel to deliver a message to an individual the first words from the angel’s lips are, “Fear not.”  I always thought that was because the angel’s countenance was one that inspired fear and awe.  This may be true but perhaps God is merely trying to remind those with whom he wants to communicate of the futility of fear.  Paul reminds us that all things work for the good of those who love them.  It doesn’t say that all things that happen to those who love God will be good.  It simply says that the things will ultimately work for the good.
Do I have faith to trust God to be true to his word or will I spend 98% of my time worrying over nothing?  I pray that I will trust God for my security so I can pass my time here on earth in rest and quietness.

Monday, August 11, 2014

No Sweat

Monday 8/11/2014 3:59 AM
I have been jogging for the past thirty-six years.  I say jogging because I do not run fast and I have never been highly motivated to win races or compete in any way.  A number of years ago, when I still taught at Valley Christian High School, the cross country coach asked me to be an assistant coach.  She had some ribbons printed up that said, “No pain, no gain,” a popular phrase at the time.  The idea was that if you wanted to improve in your running you had to push yourself past what you thought you could do.  I joked with her that I wasn’t sure if I was the best fit for her philosophy since my mantra was, “Pain, no brain,” if you are hurting then it is time to slow down and catch your breath.  In my world of running those who work through the pain should have their head examined.
Each day we would begin practice with a three quarter mile warm up jog and we would do a number of stretching exercises before the actual workout.  I always ran with the team and at the end of the warm up run my shirt was always wet with sweat.  The team always commented on the fact that I sweat so much and I would joke with them that it was because I had grown up in Phoenix and had absorbed so much heat as a child that I was still trying to radiate it away.  Fittingly, at the year-end awards banquet I received an award for the sweatiest runner.
Today I read a prayer by William Barclay that brought back those memories.  It included these words, “Grant, O God, that we may never forget that sweat is the price of all things.”  When asked by someone to do a task that is considered simple we say, “Sure, no sweat,” implying that it will take minimal effort and that it will be no problem to do it.
Our world rewards efficiency.  People are always looking to find a way to do something more quickly and with less energy.  We have remote controls for nearly everything so I can sit in my chair while changing channels on the television, setting the thermostat in my house, locking and unlocking my car and various other tasks.  This ease of life creeps into other areas, too, so businesses look for ways to increase production and cut costs while employees look for ways to work less and get paid more.  Students want to get high grades on their transcripts but they don’t want to do the homework.  Parents want to have respectful children but do not take the time necessary to nurture healthy relationships with them.  People want to lose weight but do not want to discipline themselves to curb portion sizes and engage in some form of exercise.

This morning God reminded me that I have a similar attitude with regard to my relationship with him.  I want to invest minimal effort and have the maximum benefit.  I want the kind of intimacy with God that allows me to hear his voice, which gives me direction, but I do not slow myself down enough to listen.  I should not be surprised if God remains silent I am not willing to put in the time and the effort to hear.  Somehow I need to have a different response to God’s call to intimacy than, “Sure, no sweat.”

Friday, August 8, 2014

Intermittent Geyser

Friday 8/8/2014 4:07 AM
In the book The Meaning of Prayer, Harry Emerson Fosdick gives a picture of prayer that often describes my life.  He writes, “Our requests spurt up like intermittent geysers; we cry out and fall back again.  We are not in earnest.”  That kind of on-again-off-again passion too often characterizes my life.  It stands in sharp contrast to David’s plea in Psalm 84:2, “My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”   He has a similar desperate intensity to his cry in Psalm 42:1, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When can I go and meet with God?”
I tend to treat God more like a vending machine.  Too often I go about my life with a fixed routine with respect to God, much like I have a fixed routine for my physical wellbeing.  I get up in the morning and have my bowl of spiritual Cheerios before I start my day.  I sneak in a quick “Thank you, God,” before I have a meal and offer up a fleeting request to God when someone requests prayer for a certain thing.  What is lacking is the desperation that is evident in David’s prayer.  It seems as if he would die if he couldn’t converse with God.  In my life it seems like I get along fine without God but every now and then, when things get a little too sticky or overwhelming, I become desperate enough to approach God in the same way that I might get a Snickers bar from a vending machine when I have an unexpected pang of hunger between meals.

Fosdick follows his description of our requests being an intermittent geyser with a quote from Jeremy Taylor.  “Easiness of desire is a great enemy to the success of a good man’s prayer.  It must be an intent, zealous, busy, operative prayer.  For consider what a huge indecency it is that a man should speak to God for a thing that he values not.  Our prayers upbraid our spirits when we beg tamely for those things for which we ought to die.”  I realize that the intensity of my relationship with God ebbs and flows over time but I do wish I could live my life in such a way that I am more aware of my dependence upon God.  I, along with most Christians, acknowledge that every breath I take is a gift from God but, when push comes to shove, it is easily forgotten and often ignored.  Trivial, inconsequential things too often crowd out the time that I should sit alone and listen to God’s voice.  That is what I would like to change.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Fast from Fast

Wednesday 8/6/2014 5:04 AM
Yesterday I watched a video of a sermon given by a former colleague, Loren Van Woudenberg.    http://player.vimeo.com/video/102537936  In the sermon he spoke of immersing oneself in God to the point where one has intimate knowledge of him and can clearly hear his voice.  It brought back memories of when I experienced that in my own life and, as I listened, I realized that I no longer seek after God with the same intensity I once did.  I wept as I realized what I have been missing over the last few years.

He spoke of fasting from one’s fast pace of life so that one can hear God whispering and I remembered a time when I would turn off the radio in my car so that I could rehearse the passages of scripture I had memorized.  Alas, those days have gone and my time is now consumed with social media, surfing the Internet and watching television.  Earlier this year I gave up social media for Lent.  I think it is time to discipline myself and spend more time with God.  I need to fast from fast.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Simplify

Monday 8/4/2014 4:44 AM
Yesterday was my thirty-sixth wedding anniversary.  It is amazing to me how quickly the intervening years have passed.  We spent the weekend celebrating with our California kids and grandkids in Palm Springs and had a great time spending time together.  When we were first married I had great plans of having a big house with a nice car and all the amenities of life.  Over the past twenty or so years I have been more intentional in pursuing my relationship with God and my prayer has become more and more like Psalm 25:4-5, “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths.  Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”
I believe God has shown me his ways and taught me his paths over the course of the past years and now I find the prayer of Thomas Pettepiece in his book Visions of a World Hungry coming to my lips more frequently.  “Lord, help me choose a simpler life-style that promotes solidarity with the world’s poor, helps me appreciate nature more, affords greater opportunity to work together with my neighbors, reduces my use of limited resources, creates greater inner harmony, save money, allows time for meditation and prayer, incites me to take political and social action.  May all my decisions about my style of life celebrate the joy of life that comes from loving you.”