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Archive for the ‘Ordinary Time’ Category

Watch!

Photo by  Cliff Vestergaard

Often used as a metaphor for the unknown timing of the return of Christ, but for me something else stood out: not just watching but the work of everyone in the house.

Be on guard! Be alert [some manuscripts, alert and pray] ! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back . . . [Mark 13:33-35a, NIV]

While contemplating this verse, I was reminded of Nehemiah and the re-building of the walls of Jerusalem; when they became aware of the enemy’s intent to disrupt their efforts, “. . . only half of my workers continued in the construction, while the other half held the spears, shields, bows, and body armor” [Nehemiah 4:16, CEB]. In both cases, each person had a job and not always the same one. In Mark, each person had an “assigned task” while another stood by the door to keep watch. In Nehemiah, they divided the duties between working on the wall and watching for attack. Today is no different.

It takes a village, as they say, to raise a child and it takes the same cooperative efforts to build and sustain an organization, whether it’s the local church or a business. We must trust one another and share the burden of the work but we must also respect the differences.

 If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? But as it is, there are many parts but one body. So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”  Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary.”  [I Corinthians 12:19-22, CEB].

But clearly, some are called to watch! Is it you?

What does it mean to watch in today’s world? We have no ramparts and few of us have mountain views or apartments on the 96th floor. But there is an element of alertness no matter where the watching takes place. And in this I think we have fallen short. We take for granted the normal and oftentimes monotonous repetition of our daily lives. We stop looking. How many guys shave off their beards and people look at them and barely notice? How many women cut their hair and we know they look different somehow, but how? There is a theater game I used to play with my students in which they would pair off and one would look at the other one for about 10 seconds and then I would have them turn around back to back and describe what the other person is wearing. The results are pretty telling. (You can try this at the dinner table without warning.)

We are not alert about the world around us much less the deeper things manifesting around us through the workings of that other realm (We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. Ephesians 6:12)

Too often, we depend on our pastors to do most of the watching but I think that’s unwise and unrealistic. Perhaps they are watching over the whole, but we must be watching in the smaller areas; we must watch for and with each other.

What are we looking for? Anomalies and brutalities, lies and deception, darkness and camouflage, pretense and counterfeits. The list is endless.

What do we do after we see these things? Identify and then pray. Oh, are you surprised? Did you think we would draw our swords and run into the fray. Not yet. Because we must be united first. All of our eyes must be opened. Evil is not vanquished in a day.

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New JerusalemI have read (Bible Study Tools on Jerusalem) that there was a time that Jerusalem was invincible. I can certainly understand how that could happen, just thinking of the miraculous creation of the temple and the tangible presence of God there, how could any enemy prevail?

Jerusalem is built like a city joined together in unity . . . It is the law for Israel to give thanks there . . . Pray that Jerusalem has peace: “Let those who love you have rest. Let there be peace on your walls; let there be rest on your fortifications.” [Psalm 122:3, 4b, 6-7, CEB]

But not unlike the confidence in the Titanic, the unsinkable ship of wonder and power, people abused the vessel itself. The Temple was the core of Jerusalem, it’s lifeblood issued from its center, but the leaders and kings continued to misunderstand its role, the basic requirements of worship and faithfulness. As a result, they began to undercut its effectiveness. So it was with the great ship whose design was flawed and never fully tested, whose strength was challenged by boasting and unnecessary risk. Both Jerusalem and the Titanic suffered due to the pride of its caretakers.

And I wonder, are we doing the same thing with our religion? Are we borrowing from the texts the parts we want to use as a hammer against others and setting aside the words that condemn our own actions? Are we elevating our own understanding above the understanding of others? Are we so sure in the details?

And what about the Church itself? Have denominations and preferences become silos from which we are no longer able to see clearly? Now we have a myriad of “Jerusalems” into which we are endowing superiority and funds for the sake of our structures and mindsets.

God promises the earth, the peoples of this earth, a “New Jerusalem.” I do not believe that this is necessarily a humongous cube that will drop down out of space (the heavens) and we’ll all take a ride. Instead, I see it as a unified peoples, living for the sake of others, honoring humanity and the God who made us. The New Jerusalem comes at a cost, the paradox of letting go and surrendering to a different way of living and thinking.

Jesus was on a mission to bring us closer to the New Jerusalem. We’re not there yet. We may have to sink the ship a few more times before we are able to build a structure that can be inhabited by Truth.

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holinessBecause I find new understanding when I use a variety of translations, this day I see a glimmer in the Lord’s Prayer that has eluded me all these years.

Jesus told them, “When you pray, say: ‘Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom.  Give us the bread we need for today. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us. And don’t lead us into temptation.’” [Luke 11:2-4, CEB]

In this translation (Common English Bible), the verb “uphold” is used along with all the other requests: do something, do this.

Usually this section is translated as “hallowed be thy name” or “may your name be kept holy,” but this is a rare version in which we can ask God to act in such a way that the name of God would remain pure and holy and full of power. We are saying, “Lord, do whatever it takes to remain holy,” and in mind, I am letting God know that this relationship of God’s holiness and my lack of it are critical to the order of things. Without the holiness of God, I am lost.

“Oh God, hear me. No matter what I say or do, no matter how the world distracts itself from your Truth, uphold your holiness, because in this way, the kingdom of God will come and reign and goodness will triumph. In the meantime, keep my body whole and when I personally choose badly, forgive me. I promise, I will do my best to do the same for others. And above all, don’t let me mistake your way but strengthen my resolve to be steadfast.”

This is my prayer.

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Photo Art by Cathleen Tarawhiti

Photo Art by Cathleen Tarawhiti

Like most Christians, I have been under the impression that the Jewish understanding of the Messiah was the same as the one I have been taught, that God foretold through the prophets, a savior. But that is not completely the case.

When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign [feeding the 5,000], they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world.”  Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain. [John 6:14-15, CEB]

It is true that the Jews were looking for a “mashiach” (a better translation of the word מָשִׁ֫יחַ according to Judaism 101 website) which means anointed compared to “moshiah” (a word more readily translated as savior). The idea of anointing a king can be seen throughout the the Old Testament, from Saul to David and so on. And in many ways, the English word Messiah means the same, but according to the Judaism 101 scholar/writer, the Christian view of “savior” has overtaken the Jewish concept. Whether this is really true, I don’t know, but I found the discussion interesting.

What resonates most deeply for me however is the idea of waiting and what or who I might be waiting for. How easily I might miss the person or thing or experience if my bias drives my waiting. If I am waiting for a king (a lion) who will, with authority and might, overthrow my circumstances to make all things right, then I would be hard-pressed to see the sacrificial lamb, who is more interested in the “long game” than the individual “play.”

I had never heard that term before: the long game, until recently while watching old seasons of the television series, Homeland. Apparently, this is not uncommon in the “intelligence” world and spy business. Nor had I considered that the work of Christ, the Savior, is a very long game, a very long investment, a twist in the human plot that changes the direction of the world. For that cannot be denied, whatever the belief system, the appearance of Jesus was (and is) a fork in the road of humanity.

Jesus could have taken the road of mashiach, for he was anointed. And he could have overthrown the Roman empire, I have no doubt. Instead, he presented the paradox of faith in the unseen, good overcoming evil, sacrifice replacing power and set it in motion. And in this long game, we can all play a part; we can choose to engage or not.

In my own life, I have set myself up for a number of disappointments by investing my energies in a dream, or rather my interpretations of the dream. I have grasped onto a good idea in lieu of the great idea because I have been impatient or short-sighted. I got caught up in conquering instead of serving, rushing forward instead of waiting, anticipating the endgame instead of living the day itself. I have been chasing the lion.

Like the populace who lined the streets of Jerusalem with Jesus rode in on a donkey, they cried “Hosanna” which can be translated as not just “save us” but “save us now!” They could not see or hear what Jesus was saying all along, “I am saving you, for eternity.”

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blessingToday I have decided to memorize a blessing of words and love for anyone in need. I discovered this passage today in Colossians.

Because of this, since the day we [I] heard about you, we [I] haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. We’re [I am] praying this so that you can live lives [a life] that are [is] worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; and by giving thanks with joy to the Father. He made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people. He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. He set us [you and me] free through the Son and forgave our sins. [Colossians 1:9-14, CEB]

So often, people ask for prayer, at the conclusion of a meeting or on Facebook, or even in the hallway at work. Please pray for me and I, being the dutifully believer, say that I will. But how often do my good intentions slide by and I forget that name or that circumstance. This short prayer covers so much and if I am able to put it to memory, it can be in my mind and in that moment. It’s a complete blessing, full of the riches of promise and good will, grace and hope. And so, even right now, whoever may read this post, know, that I offer these same words to you.

All of these things I pray , in the name of Jesus, who is “the image of the invisible God” [Colossians 1:15].

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turning pointOnly in the re-telling of the beheading of John the Baptist in the book of Matthew, do we see a seemingly direct response from Jesus. He wanted to be alone and I can assume, he wanted to pray and contemplate the implications of John’s death. Not long after this self-imposed sequester, the crowds find him, he heals a ton of people, he feeds a ton of people, and he is basically “outed” as more than the average human.

When Jesus heard about John [the Baptist], he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. When the crowds learned this, they followed him on foot from the cities. When Jesus arrived [landed] and saw a large crowd, he had compassion for them and healed those who were sick. [Matthew 14:13-14, CEB]

The death of John the Baptist was a turning point in Jesus’s ministry. No longer a game of secret miracles and teachings on the hill, Jesus went into overdrive, preparing his teams for the next round in transforming the way humans would engage their God. John’s execution is approximately the midpoint in Jesus’s three-year crusade. From this moment on, I believe Jesus saw his work in the light of life and death, not only for himself but for anyone who believed.

John the Baptist died for unabashed truth-telling. He was not terribly diplomatic or politically correct. In fact, he was brash and tactless, a veritable bull in a china shop. Whether at the hands of Herod or another, John would have been killed sooner than later. He was a fish swimming upstream all of his life. He saw the world in black or white terms.

I believe Jesus was much more measured in his dealings with people of all stripes, colors, and persuasions. Even at the end, he often chose silence instead of outspokenness.

But I am getting away from myself. Turning points are important to see clearly in our own lives, but unfortunately, we can only see them in hindsight and not by foresight. All the same, those moments are meaningful and we should all take the time to evaluate our own. Take the time to write them down. Usually, they are fairly easy to identify — those moments where we took the left road instead of the right.

But the biggest question for me today is whether I have reached that turning point in my faith. Have I reached the ultimate understanding of what it means to follow the Christ? Life and death. Total abandon. All in.

 

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waterI am not really that good at breaking down knowledge into sequential bites. Teachers, for this reason, are truly amazing. They understand what a student has to learn first and then second and so on. It’s hard for me to analyze what I know and then back up to how I figured something out or how I learned a particular task or took advantage of an inborn talent.

But this much I know, in order to “come to the water,” a person must realize he/she is thirsty, in other words, in need. Meaningful change cannot happen without acknowledging the status quo as a) not working or b) not acceptable.

All of you who are thirsty, come to the water!
Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat!
Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk!
Why spend money for what isn’t food,
    and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy? [Isaiah 55:1-2a; CEB]

Part Two: Once a person figures out that he/she is thirsty and starts looking around for something to quench that thirst, this is the point when circumstances and people play a vital role.

When I am thirsty, I don’t always pick the best thirst-quencher. Intellectually, I may know that water is probably best, but I am guilty of popping a beer or soda instead. Sometimes I choose badly because of convenience, sometimes I choose badly because I am offered something else from a person nearby.

And lastly, accept the paradox of God’s offer: water where there does not appear to be water; food where there is no money to buy food, etc. God, through Jesus, is continually offering and calling and drawing Human to the Godhead, to a life of Spirit, where thirst is perpetually quenched. We are so used to living a life of unmet needs and wants; we can barely comprehend an existence or space in which we would be completely satisfied. This is the life within, not the daily grind. If the Spirit is quenched, the 3-D life can be conquered, the journey can tolerated, the sorrows born, the disappointments made powerless.

Why spend money [time, energy, etc.] for what isn’t food? Believe in a better way.

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