Monthly Archives: January 2009

Counter-intuitive

under-water

Mark 2:13-17

13] Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. [14] As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.

[15] And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples — for there were many who followed him. [16] When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” [17] When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Our Western culture has a hard time identifying with the disciples sometimes.  Their choices seem counter-intuitive to our world.  Jesus walks up to Levi, and he said, “Follow me.”  And Levi gets up and follows.

Of course my Western mind begins to ask those responsibility questions:  Did he walk away from his job and his income?  Did he leave a family behind who needs food and shelter?  Don’t I need to renew my insurance policy and sign my living will before I can go?  Do you have an umbrella policy?  I am amazed with the apparent easy the disciples follow Jesus.  The phrase “no worries” comes to mind.

Yet my mind goes to things in the world which are counter-intuitive, and I have a better glimpse into the disciples.  When driving on icy roads, our first response is to turn away from skid, yet the correct way to regain control is to give into the skid, turn into the skid to regain traction first before getting back on the path.  When disoriented under water, the natural response is to hold onto the breath until reaching the top of the water. Yet releasing the breath creates a path of bubbles which leads to the surface of the water.

A breath path which leads to the surface of the water.

A breath path which leads to the surface of the water.

Now, I have a better glimpse into the lives of the disciples.  The breath leading them comes from within.  It is not always a leading which seems intuitive from our cultural point of view.  It is not always a leading which gives us an immediate sense of safety and security.  Turning into the ice, giving into loss of control is not  an easy thing to do.  Releasing life-giving breath to find the path under water, giving up life, struggling to hold onto the immense desire to inhale, waiting for the moment you break the seal of water into gasps of breath.

Sometimes taking a step toward the insecure leads to a better path.  Yes, it is counter-intuitive if you look at this step through the eyes of our post-modern Western culture.  But if you look at this step through the eyes of God’s love, this is the most secure step you can take.  Be open to your true intuition.  Look for the breath within.

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Listen. Repent. Believe.

Mark 1:14-15

[14] Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, [15] and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Listen.

Repent.

Believe.

These are the first words Jesus speaks in Mark’s Gospel.  It’s important to listen to first words.  So simple:  Listen.  Repent.  Believe.

These three simple actions are life changing.  They touch our mind, our body, and our spirit.

First listen.  If we are listening, we hear and we understand.  It doesn’t say justify what you hear.  It just simply says, listen.

Second repent.  Repent is what we do with our bodies, not our minds or our spirits.  To repent is to turn toward God.  Keep your body turned toward god.  If you are not repenting, you are walking with your back to God.  Keep your face, your body turned toward God, and you are repenting.  It does not say confess, it does not say, judge yourself.  It simply says turn toward God.  And in turning toward God, you are necessarily turning away from sin.

Third believe. Believe that your spirit is transformed in the action of turning toward God.  We go through so many actions in our lives each day, that we don’t seem to really stop and thing about what we do when we turn toward something.

cell-phoneIf we hear a noise, we turn around to see what has fallen off the table.  If we hear the phone ring, we turn in the direction of the sound, perhaps wondering where we left the phone last.  And we follow the sound if we don’t see the phone right away.  And if we can’t find the phone, we use another phone to call the number so we can listen again to find the phone.  And as we listen for the ring of the phone, turning toward the sound, we believe we are going to find the phone as the ring gets louder and louder upon our approach.

When is the first time we believe we will find the phone?  When we hear it.  If we didn’t believe in the phone, we wouldn’t turn toward the phone when we hear it ring.  We have the capacity to believe before we hear.

We listen.  We turn toward the sound we hear.  We believe.

Keeping it simple will keep us turned toward God.

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Open Hands

Psalm 145

[14] The Lord upholds all who are falling,

and raises up all who are bowed down.

[15] The eyes of all look to you,

and you give them their food in due season.

[16] You open your hand,

satisfying the desire of every living thing.

[17] The Lord is just in all his ways,

and kind in all his doings.

[18] The Lord is near to all who call on him,

to all who call on him in truth.

[19] He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;

he also hears their cry, and saves them.

[20] The Lord watches over all who love him,

but all the wicked he will destroy.

[21] My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,

and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

fist1open-hand1

You are a God of an open hand [14], not a God of a closed fist.  Look at these pictures and see the difference. Look closely and feel the difference.

The Lord cannot uphold those who are falling and raise those bowed down with a closed fist.  The Lord’s hand is extended to us, ready to lift and to raise.  No matter how long we have been away, the Lord’s hand is extended to us ready to accept us with love, unconditional love.

Look at your own hands.  Mine are much older than they used to be.  There are many more wrinkles than there used to be.  Today my arthritis does not hurt my hands.  I have three scars with three very good stories to go with them.  The memories once painful now make me smile.

What are you holding in your hands?  What are you holding onto so tightly that you cannot let it go?  How can you reach out to hold God’s hand if you don’t let it go?

Read the text again and really listen to the words the psalmist writes.

[14] The Lord upholds all who are falling,

and raises up all who are bowed down.

[15] The eyes of all look to you,

and you give them their food in due season.

[16] You open your hand,

satisfying the desire of every living thing.

[17] The Lord is just in all his ways,

and kind in all his doings.

[18] The Lord is near to all who call on him,

to all who call on him in truth.

[19] He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;

he also hears their cry, and saves them.

[20] The Lord watches over all who love him,

but all the wicked he will destroy.

[21] My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,

and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

It occurs to me as I read this prayer that the psalmist recognizes God does not hold on to us, hovering over us.  God has given us freedom to live, hoping we will live our lives in God’s presence.  God upholds us and lifts us when we have fallen away and need a boost.  God has always been there with an outstretched hand, ready to satisfy our need.

What are you hands doing today?  Are you living with hands outstretched, helping a friend, a child, a neighbor?  Are you living with a clenched fist, angry, sad, depressed?  Perhaps it is both.  As you pray today, open you hands.  Yes, open your hands, placing them gently on your lap with your palms raised as if someone might place something in your hand.  Pray.  Ask God to take away anything you have been clenching in your fist.

Do you feel God is trying to give you something in its place?  Be thankful for the blessing.

Thank you Merciful God for your hands!

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Troubled Waters

Psalm 46

[1] God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

[2] Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,

though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

[3] though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

Selah

[4] There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy habitation of the Most High.

[5] God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;

God will help it when the morning dawns.

[6] The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;

he utters his voice, the earth melts.

[7] The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Selah

[8] Come, behold the works of the LORD;

see what desolations he has brought on the earth.

[9] He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;

he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;

he burns the shields with fire.

[10] “Be still, and know that I am God!

I am exalted among the nations,

I am exalted in the earth.”

[11] The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Selah

rapids1

The Psalms are prayers of God’s people.  Sometimes these prayers are very comforting, and sometimes these prayers can be distressing.

Looking at this morning Psalm, I have both feelings today.  Initially I am comforted with the reminder that God is our ever-present refuge and strength [1].  Yet the reality soon sets in that for years the earth has been changing [2], the mountains shake, waters are unstable and dangerous[3], and people are working against one another [6] instead of for one another.  It sounds like this psalmist could be writing today.

And this causes me a bit of concern.  Have we not learned anything as a people of God?  Are we on the same spiraling path of those who have come before us?

But wait!  Be still and know that I am God! [10]

Don’t think…trust.

Be still and listen…really listen to the comforting words of the psalmist who acknowledges the presence of the Living God.  This God is present and at work in our lives.  The comfort comes in knowing this is God’s promise.  God is not the bridge hovering over the troubled waters.  God is right there with us in the roaring rapids leading us toward calmer waters.

running-streamGod, where are you, I can’t see you?  God, surely this can’t be happening to me!  God, I need some answers now!

Selah

Be still and know that I am God [10].

Listen…our response is to listen. Take a deep breath and listen.  And the good news is if you just can’t listen on your own, there is a friend nearby who can help you listen.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

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Mmm Mmm Good

tangerine-006

I want to share with you a prayer of simplicity. It is a prayer which creates a focus on goodness. It is a prayer which will make you smile. It is a prayer which will nourish you in many ways.

It’s called the Tangerine prayer. I learned of this prayer while reading a book about Thich Nhat Hanh a Vietnamese Zen monk, poet, and peacemaker.

I like this prayer because it is simple. It can be an individual prayer or a community prayer. This prayer uses all of our senses:

1) feel the smooth skin, feel the juices on your fingers as you begin peeling the fruit;

2) hear the juice burst as you peel the fruit;

3) smell the incredible aroma which begins to permeate the room and your hands;

4) taste the sweet goodness;

5) notice the pace of life slowing down so you can truly enjoy this gift of creation.

As you begin to peel the tangerine, think of the fruit as part of God’s creation. The water and the earth are needed to sustain the growth of this fruit. The tree must reach a state of maturity to bear the fruit. The fruit must be picked, packaged and shipped before it makes it to your grocery store. What else does this fruit reveal to you? Create a prayer which addresses this goodness of creation.

As you begin to eat the tangerine, begin one section at a time. Perhaps you have a prayer or thanksgiving for each section of the tangerine. Savor each slice as you celebrate the goodness and prayer which comes to your mind.

When you finish the tangerine, add the peel to a compost pile or create a simmering pot: water, tangerine peel and cinnamon. This fragrance will permeate your home, reminding you of the goodness of your prayer.

Notice the sweet smell of the tangerine lingers on your fingers.

A prayer of this type, one which evokes many senses, will help you practice the presence of God. It will help you focus on the simple goodness we often miss in life. It will be a blessing to you.

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Are you thirsty?

stream On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”

-John 7:37-38 (NRSV)

I selected this picture of a stream, because this is how I feel right now, filled with the Spirit after a wonderful season of anticipating the birth of Christ and now filled with joy on this 11th day of Christmas.  But some day in the near future, I’m sure my stream will look something more like this…

stream-and-rocks

Some days it might be tough to find water there at all.  Part of me wants to create a water tank, so I will have my reserves when I need it.  But my past experience tells me this is not the way it works with God.  I need to share this water with my brothers and sisters in Christ, giving it away with a joyful heart, spreading the good news of the gospel.  For when my stream is dried up and my well is dry, I know in God’s faithfulness, someone will be there to share a stream of living water with me.

Don’t just sip water from your stream, drink heartily!  (Maybe even jump in and get soaking wet feeling the love of God drenching you.)  And on days you can’t find your stream, be open to recieving one from a friend.

May your thirst be quenched today as you know you are loved.


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The Light

candlelight1 John 1: 1-5

[1] In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and

the Word was God. [2] He was in the beginning with God. [3] All things

came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into

being. What has come into being [4] in him was life, and the life was

the light of all people. [5] The light shines in the darkness, and the

darkness did not overcome it.

Light.

The Light.

Do you have a center candle on your advent wreath that you light this Christmas season?

Do you put it away at the end of the Christmas season?

Whenever two or more are gathered in God’s name, Christ is there.  I encourage you to keep your Christ candle out during the year and light this candle to acknowledge Christ’s presence with you.  This small, intentional step will help you be aware of Christ’s presence.

Last fall my small group began a study on the Beatitudes.  This study is part of the Companions in Christ series.  Each week when we open our time together, we light a candle to acknowledge Christ’s presence with us.  At the end of the hour, we always take time to reflect on our time together, and one of our group members shared, “Why have we waited until now to light a candle for Christ?  I think this is the most meaningful meeting we have ever shared together.”

As we encounter the first full work week of the new year and the children begin to go back to school, I encourage you to keep lighting your Christ candle, intentionally acknowledging the Spirit here with us.

Shalom.

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The Gate

Mayflower Gulch

Mayflower Gulch

John 10:7-10

[7] So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. [8] All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. [9] I am the gate.

Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. [10] The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

I must admit, if I don’t leave my house when we have a vacation break, I don’t feel like I have been on vacation. Lately we have been retreating to the mountains. The beach is a favorite, too. I think of these landscapes as God’s playground. Somehow we are able to leave the cares of the world behind us as we wind our way up a mountain trail or let the chilled waves splash over us. It is quite liberating to return home renewed, refreshed, feeling touched by God.

Reading John’s message today, I am faced with the question, “How can I share this gift God has given me?” If I keep it to myself, I am a bandit, a thief, stealing the message of Christ’s transforming love.

So my thought today is one of encouragement. I encourage you to get out of your house/room and experience God’s wondrous creation. (It’s going to be 80 degrees in Dallas today…on January 3!!!) If you are stuck inside due to inclement weather or other reasons, perhaps you can imagine yourself walking up the mountain trail at Mayflower Gulch pictured above. (I’ve given you a picture of my dog, Reesie, to accompany you. ) Jesus, the gatekeeper, is there to meet you. No one can steal the gift that is waiting for you.

May the new year be filled with chances for you to experience God’s wondrous love.

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New Beginnings

december-2008-034

Hebrews 11: 1-3

[1] Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction

of things not seen. [2] Indeed, by faith our ancestors received

approval. [3] By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by

the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are

not visible.

Advent was really a blessing for me this year. We were traveling, so the presents were small and sparse. Shopping was completed early. I think I set aside more time to reflect on the simplicity of waiting and anticipating Christ’s birth. And during this time I thought, isn’t it strange how it is so easy for us to take for granted that Christmas Day is coming. In true faithfulness, Christ is born again with us every year. Yes, in true faithfulness, Christ is born again with us every year.

And now is the time so many of us are thinking resolutions. Yet, isn’t it interesting that in this worldly tradition, there will be few New Year resolutions which will faithful to Christ. Most resolutions are selfish and bring emptiness. Most resolutions are visible manifestations of worldly proportion.

So I encourage you to begin a new tradition. Leave behind resolutions and find renewal. Instead of doing something for yourself this year, choose to do something that will make a difference for Christ. Recycle more to help the environment, God’s creation. Mentor a child who needs a steady role model, your brother or sister in Christ. Take time to get to know your neighbor’s, the greatest commandment. These are the things in the world, those things which are not “visible”, which renew our faith.

May 2009 be filled with many blessings for you and your family!

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