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.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

God-Honoring Behavior

Sunday 5/10/2015 6:04 AM
A few years ago there was a popular bracelet that many Christians wore containing the letters WWJD. It was meant to be a reminder to ask the question “What would Jesus do?” when faced with a choice.
I spend much of my time trying to determine what God would have me do in various situations. I usually don’t have a specific situation in mind; I simply want to know the most God-honoring way to interact with those with whom I have contact as I go about my daily routine.
My psalm for the week is Psalm 146. It describes the work of God in the world. “He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.” If I want to honor God in my life, what better way than by doing what God would do? If I align my behavior with that of God himself I will become the hands of God to those around me: alleviating pain, encouraging the hopeless, seeking justice and freedom for the oppressed, opposing those who would do harm while loving and supporting those who seek righteousness. That’s the kind of person I want to be.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Earthquakes and Riots

Friday 5/1/2015 4:36 AM
Last week there was a devastating earthquake in Nepal measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale. Collapsing buildings, landslides, and avalanches killed thousands of people. Yesterday there was a small 3.6 earthquake in Carson, a nearby city. It reminds me that I live in an earthquake prone area where devastation can come without warning.
In the course of the last week there has also been rioting in the city of Baltimore, Maryland, after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a young man who died while in police custody. Scores of people were injured, buildings and cars were burned, and businesses were looted. It reminds me of the rioting that occurred in the Los Angeles area in 1994 after the acquittal of the police officers who had beaten Rodney King. It reminds me that I live in an area of the country where social unrest and violence can come without warning.
Today I read Psalm 64 as part of my devotional reading. It begins with these words: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.” Isaiah then goes on to acknowledge the sin of God’s people. “All of us become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. The chapter ends with these words, “Your sacred cities have become a wasteland; even Zion is a wasteland, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you, has been burned with fire, and all that we treasured lies in ruins. After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back? Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?”
The events occurring in Isaiah’s day seem to have been repeated in the past week in our modern world. The people of Israel do not have a corner on the shaking mountains, unclean people, and ruined cities market. We have the same bent. This realization can bring with it a sense of hopelessness and despair. Will things never change? Will God withhold his blessing from this world forever?
The hope for our world is hidden in Isaiah 64:3, “For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.” The earthquakes described at the beginning of the chapter are actually caused by God coming down and doing the unexpected, making his name known to his enemies. One would expect for God to come and wipe humanity off the face of the earth so he could start over. But, after giving us over to our sin for a time, God returns, not with judgment but with mercy. That is earthshattering news worth sharing.