Friday, July 29, 2011

Waiting Patiently

The eyes of all wait upon you, O LORD, and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature (Psalm 145).

A few months ago, birds in our neck of the woods were busy gathering sticks, twigs, strings, and other assorted bric-a-brac. They were building nests and getting things ready for what you and I would recognize as the “next” generation. For birds, though, there isn’t a next generation; there’s just life.

The natural world is a scary place, of course. Dangers abound: snakes and coyotes, birds of prey and mammalian carnivores, hooligans bored out of their gourds making mischief of one kind or another.

It is that last category I have never understood. Oh, I understand boredom; believe me, but to knock a nest out of a tree for the fun of it, or to smash a mailbox with a bat on a drive-by (as a “prank”), or to spray-paint buildings and fences that others must clean and repair – those things just never make sense to me.

Be that as it may, the point is the world is a dangerous place, and nature has provided each creature with mechanisms and means to survive the hazards of life. I think that is part of what the psalmist means when he writes: The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season.

He does not imagine the world’s flora and fauna sitting back waiting passively to be fed from the hand of God; rather, he proclaims that God is the source of all we need. More than that, what God provides, God provides with complete, joyous abandon; with open-handed generosity: “You open wide your hand,” he says, “and satisfy the needs of every living creature.”

Creatures in the wild know this intuitively. They scurry, creep, crawl, and hunt according to their nature. Their senses are attuned to finding what they need – just as God designed them to. There is no city hall to which birds must apply for building permits during the nesting season; they just build. There are no grocery stores to which they must flock if they wish to eat; they just hunt.

So it is for us. That’s not to say humans shouldn’t have city halls, county courthouses, or grocery stores. Heaven forbid! I am thankful for building codes that ensure (when followed) that our abodes are safe; and if I had to hunt for food I would be in a world of hurt, for I have a hard enough time in my hunt for matching socks each morning!

No, the point is that we have what we need all around us. Stores, shops, and offices make it easier for us to take care of business and to enjoy the luxury of leisure time (when we can find it). Our communal approach to life has many advantages for us, but it also has its dark side.

The world we have made – rapid transportation, spacious malls, bright lights, and whiz-bang gadgetry – has, for many, erased from our minds the God who brought us into being, who watches over us like a mother watches over a child, or who feeds and nurtures us with love and affection.

We consider ourselves “self-sufficient” and forget the One who sustains us with vigilant care, compassion, and devotion.

In our self-imposed amnesia, we forget our creator and make like little Jack Horner:

Little Jack Horner / Sat in the corner / Eating a Christmas pie / He put in his thumb / And pulled out a plum / And said 'What a good boy am I!

We trivialize God, glorify the self, and consider the most modest accomplishment worthy of trumpets and fanfare. How sad.

And yet God does not close the hand and make a fist; the hand of God remains open. God awaits not in hooligan impatience, but in active living; hand outstretched to feed, caress, embrace, and guide, for that is what God does.

God’s generosity knows no bounds. We are free to spread our wings and fly; to come and go and find our rest; we’re free to make a better place, for God’s heart is now our nest.

That’s just how it should be in this, our world. Shalom!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Mustard Seed Faith

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31)

When one thinks of a kingdom, what images come to mind?

I think of kings and queens, castles and palaces, knights in shining armor. My images tend to be mainly medieval, come to think of it. Like many of you, I watched a bit of the royal wedding back in April (recorded – not live!) and it pretty much lived up to all the expectations one might have had for a royal event. There was certainly a lot of pomp and circumstance, buggies, carriages, and all that guff.

I can’t help but compare and contrast the way we see and experience kingdoms in our world with the way Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven in his own world. He uses many images to help us understand what the kingdom of heaven is like, but power and pageantry don’t seem to show up on his radar.

“The kingdom of heaven,” he says, “is like a mustard seed. It is amongst the smallest of seeds one can find, and yet when it is fully grown it makes quite a handsome tree in which birds can find rest, shade, and shelter” (author’s paraphrase).

The kingdom of heaven, it would seem, isn’t about power in the political or military sense of the word, but about life. The kingdom of heaven is alive. It cannot be measured by what you see – the seed – but by the result that will come in time. What does it take for a mustard seed to fulfill its purpose?

First, it must exist. If you have no seed, you will grow no tree.

The same is true of the kingdom of heaven. It exists, just as surely as does the mustard seed. It can be seen with the eye – even if it is very small. We see the kingdom of heaven in a baby’s smile or in a random act of kindness. It’s not big, bold and brassy – calling attention to itself. No, it is quite simply small, plain, and unassuming.

When you think about it, what we call a “seed” is actually a tree in disguise. It is the future, waiting to be planted, watered, and nurtured.

It is waiting to be planted so that in the darkness of the warm, moist soil it may break forth from its tomb and become what it is according to God’s purpose and design.

The kingdom of heaven is like that. It exists. It can be seen. It can be held, but it does no good if it remains in the holder’s hand.

Too many people are satisfied holding on to the kingdom of heaven like some treasured trinket. It is taken out of storage, turned over and examined occasionally, and then returned to safekeeping lest it be lost or stolen.

I sometimes wonder if our churches haven’t actually become safe deposit boxes people visit from time to time to see if their treasures are still there; there to be viewed, admired, perhaps even shown to special friends, but not to be taken out or allowed to be used as God intended.

The kingdom of heaven does no good if it’s lying in one’s hand. It must be planted. It must be allowed to go where God intends it to go in order that it may become what God intends it to be: shelter for the homeless, food for the hungry, or a splint for the broken-hearted.

The farmer does not look at a seed and consider its smallness; rather, the farmer looks at a seed and sees it’s potential. The farmer sees the harvest in “the fullness of time.”

I think God is like that. I think that is what Jesus is talking about. God looks at you and at me and God does not see what is there, but at what will be.

That is the second thing about the kingdom of heaven and the mustard seed. God creates, God plants, and like the mustard tree, we are the branches in which the world comes seeking shelter from sun and storm.

We are trees in disguise. We just need to branch out in faith and pass the mustard in this, our valley.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Plugging In

Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar (Psalm 139).

Where does electricity go when you’re not using it?

Some things just plain baffle me. I know electricity comes from generators that receive their power from rolling rivers, smashing atoms, burning coal, buffeting winds, and so on; and I know that when I flip a switch a connection is made that closes a circuit, allowing electricity to do its thing.

But what happens to electricity that isn’t needed? Where does it go? Does it sit in a transformer, playing poker and chatting up an (electrical) storm with fellow electrons, waiting for someone to flip a switch or plug in an appliance?

I have a light in the living room that, when I turn the switch, takes a few seconds before coming to life. I sometimes imagine the delay is caused by the time it takes a lazy team of electrons to get the call somewhere on the East coast, put down their cards, and make the trip out West to do my bidding.

Of course I know that’s not really how it works, but that’s how I imagine it ought to work. It is there, ready, willing, and able to do our bidding as soon as we plug in and turn on.

I wonder if that isn’t something like how we relate to God. I wonder if God is a power moving though the universe waiting for folks to plug in and flicker to life.

I wonder if there is something we need to “do” in order to experience the reality of God’s presence.

The psalmist says there’s nothing we have to do. God was there while we were in our mother’s womb. God is there when we rise in the morning; God is there when we lie down at night. God is there when we’re working, and God is there when we’re day-dreaming. There is nowhere that God isn’t present.

We can cross the great wide sea, and God will be there when we arrive. We can climb the highest mountain, and God will be there waiting for us, or we can make our bed in the grave, and God is there to tuck us in.

Sometimes we spend a lot of time and energy trying to find God, or trying to run away, and the psalmist tells us there simply is no getting away from God.

Why should God care?

God cares because that is the nature of God. We call that kind of caring “love.” It isn’t an emotional attachment, but a genuine connection – the completion of a circuit, if you will.

There was a time I thought of God as an external reality, as a creature one had to invite “in” if one wanted to have a meaningful, spiritual relationship, but metaphors break down.

There is no in or out with God. God is God. God is. God.

Our challenge is to get past our ego-centric arrogance and/or our ego-centric shame and recognize that we are God’s workmanship. We are wonderfully and marvelously made, and, reflecting the image of God in our lives, we are called to join hands with one another and brighten up this world in which we live.

See, it isn’t God as “electron” waiting in the wires and amongst the transformers to be called; that would be us. We are the electrons God sends forth to love and serve in building up God’s kingdom. We are called to bring forth light in the darkness, warmth in the chill of winter (or cool in the heat of summer), music in the silence, and stillness in the midst of turbulence.

We don’t turn on God or turn God on; God is there, generating everything our generation needs to share the Good News of God’s presence to a world filled with fear, anxiety, depression, and pain.

We are God’s good news to a hurting world. We’re plugged in, so we can spring to life as God flips the switch in this, our world. What a bright idea!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Let Go and Let God

God is not human, that he should lie; nor a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak, and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23) NIV.

There is an old saying: Let go and let God.

That is, of course, far easier said than done. Most of us like to have some semblance of control over our environment. There is comfort knowing that when I turn up the Air Conditioning unit that I will have cold air; or when I turn the key in the car the engine will turn over; or when I swipe my debit card at the store the card reader will grant me an electronic approval.

I like having control. I like being in control. I like dependability and predictability. I like it when everything works the way it is supposed to.

The other day I had to make a run to the bank and unexpected road construction made my travel more difficult. I suppose I could have gotten annoyed with the nuisance, but that’s all it was. It is summertime, and roads need repair, and while inconveniences like that may cost a minute or two in one’s commute, it doesn’t require a nuclear response, does it?

I suspect people are afraid of letting go because they are afraid of losing control, but letting go doesn’t mean abandoning common sense; it doesn’t mean abdicating responsibility for doing one’s part; it doesn’t mean blindly trusting in luck, or naively hoping things will work out.

On the contrary, Letting Go means trusting one’s common sense, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and having reason to hope – not because of chance or luck, but because one has done one’s part, and we know the rest is up to God.

One barrier to letting go can be an unwillingness to trust; being unwilling to trust God, self, or neighbor. That is normal.

We don’t trust others because we often find others to be untrustworthy. People let us down. Parents divorce, kids get into trouble, politicians (gasp!) lie, and businesses cheat their employees.

Products let us down. My teeth aren’t nearly as white as the paste-makers promise; and my wrinkle-free clothes, sadly, have wrinkles.

God also lets us down. Who hasn’t been disappointed in the state of the world? Loved ones get sick and die; villains are set free; the innocent are crushed underfoot ever so quickly and ever so readily.

Let Go and Let God – Indeed!

I can be quite cynical, but I’m not sure that cynicism best serves our needs. I find it is simply another excuse I toss into the mix when I want to avoid the hard work of changing my attitude about something. I throw blame on God, neighbor, or circumstances so I can wallow in self-pity.

When that happens, I’m not letting go and letting God, I am abandoning an opportunity for personal growth and spiritual transformation.

To “Let Go and Let God” means to recognize that we are stuck; it means to consciously seek release and relief by letting go of the willful desire to have things the way we want them to be, and accepting them to be the way they are.

Once we get past that particular hurdle, we are better able to discern the path or the means to get to where we’re headed. Ironically, the key to finding peace and happiness is to first stop fighting life as it happens.

Dishes in the sink will not wash themselves, but Letting Go means setting aside one’s instinct for laziness and procrastination, letting go of one’s desire for constant “fun” and simply deciding to do the dishes because they need to be done.

Taking care of things properly, and doing them while the tasks are still relatively small provides peace of mind that is far more rewarding than any fun that was missed in the process.

That’s what we mean by letting go and letting God. It is a matter of finding priority and balance in one’s life, and of choosing to participate with God in taking care of creation, and letting God take care of us.

When it comes spiritual growth and vitality, surrender is the first step to victory.

Let go and let God. It is good advice for us in this, our world.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hardest one to forgive: Self

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger and of great kindness. The Lord is loving to everyone and his compassion is over all his works (Psalm 145).

There are times in life where a person simply feels worthless, no matter what.

The past few weeks we have been looking at the subject of forgiveness. My approach to the subject tends to be primarily pragmatic. When we do something wrong, we need to make amends, adjust our behaviors, modify the way we think, and ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a grace freely offered by the “other” and not a right we can demand.

When others hurt or offend us, we have no duty to unthinkingly forgive them their trespasses. Cheap grace, freely offered, will not help others to change the things they do or inspire them to consider more seriously the consequences of their actions.

A third area of forgiveness I want to explore today has to do with our capacity to forgive ourselves, and to discern what needs to be forgiven and what doesn’t.

Some people simply do not like themselves. They feel dirty, or worthless. Often they are the victims of abuse or neglect, and no matter how often one assures them that they are loved or valued, they simply won’t believe it.

Their memories often resemble those brief movie clips one sees online (“gif files”) where a brief scene – like a slip-and-fall – (lasting mere seconds) runs in an endless loop.

Image Hosting by

Is there a way to stop the loop? Is there a way to break the cycle?

I believe there is. First of all, there are many self-help groups available for those who suffer mild forms of almost any condition. Sometimes it is enough to simply spend time with others who have experienced what one has experienced; there is comfort in knowing we are not alone.

There is strength and healing to be gained from spending time with those who have not only had experiences that parallel our own, but who have come through and are now able to function competently in the world.

It is important to hang with those who have successfully navigated the waters of life and have found a new world waiting for them. As it turns out, I believe a new world is waiting for each of us.

The Bible tells us that God is gracious, full of compassion, slow to anger, and of great kindness. Although one may certainly find images of God in the Bible who is rough and tumble mean and vicious, I am drawn time and again to the images of a God who is gentle, kind, and loving.

God searches the hills for the scared lamb that is lost (like a good shepherd); God searches the house for a lost coin (like a diligent home-maker); like a fretful parent, God searches the horizon for signs of a lost child returning home. Each of these stories (in Luke 15) is a story of a God who risks life and limb for those God loves – (everyone!), and invites everyone to join in celebrating the dramatic rescue.

The bottom line for me is that there is no one who is not worth rescuing.

We cannot undo the things that have hurt us, but neither do we need to accept responsibility for the things we‘ve experienced.

That’s my second point. The challenge is to believe what we know to be true, that sometimes we are victims, but the fault lies with those who hurt us. They are the ones who misbehaved, not us. Those who were called to protect and nurture and who chose to abandon or abuse are responsible for their actions. They need to give an accounting to society (or God) for what they did or failed to do.

Those things are not our fault

We cannot undo them. We can grieve the loss of innocence; we can acknowledge the pain endured and the anguish their actions caused; but we can also learn to release them, to turn them over to God, because until we do that, we remain their prisoners.

To move on, one must learn to let go. It is easier said than done, but it is worth the work it takes, and the rewards are incalculable. I think it’s worth it in this, our world. Peace.