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Archive for the ‘Lectionary’ Category

humilityDo I really want to know? Or, more likely, don’t I already know it? And yet, in the course of troubles, how often have I said, “What do you want from me God? How much more must I endure?” And in the still small voice, the answer comes again and again:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God. [Micah 6:8, NIV]

These words come down to us before Christ. These are ancient words by the prophet Micah and much like the two great commands from Jesus (also based on the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:5) to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself” [Luke 10:27]

These words of Micah are another way of walking out the two great commands because acting justly is God’s foundation to true humanity. Those who are unjust break all of the commands in one swift blow since no love can live within the sphere of injustice.

Other translations of this verse write “loving mercy” as being compassionate and loyal in love or to embrace faithful love. In any case, acting out of mercy is other oriented, leaving both the heart and the hands open.

And finally, “walking humbly” requires a certain self-knowledge: a knowledge that recognizes that God is God and sovereign. If God is sovereign, then I should be able to rest in that understanding. All circumstances can be held in the hands of God and transformed accordingly (much like the potter and the clay). To walk humbly implies explicit trust in God’s ultimate desire for my good.

higher powerEven for those who shun the language of God or Christ, they too can benefit from the words of Micah if they acknowledge some “higher power” or “Spirit” or “consciousness,” as long as humanity is in this 3-D world, in human form, constrained by time, we can choose to walk humbly in that knowledge, doing what we can for others in the name of justice and unconditional love.

All of these things I know, what God requires of me. Today, as with every day, I must choose to enter the activities of this day with intent, to act justly, to extend mercy, and to humbly accept those things I cannot change, those things I give over to God who promises to carry them for me and when the time is right, to transform them.

Surrender to God is the first step in a humble life.

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FranzeseThis past weekend, our church had a guest speaker, Michael Franzese, a former Mob Captain (just below an UnderBoss) with the Colombo Crime Family. His testimony included many memorable moments but among them this was the most memorable for me, “Don’t ever let your past be a deterrent for what God will use it for in the future.” There was nothing in Michael’s former life that would make him a candidate for ministry, he was a thug and a criminal, a truth to which he confesses. And yet, he is now even more passionate about the things of God.

A person’s steps are made secure by the Lord
    when they delight in his way.
Though they trip up, they won’t be thrown down,
    because the Lord holds their hand. [Psalm 37:1, CEB]

In another part of Michael’s story, he shared how gradual the shift was from one life to another. He did not hear an audible voice of God or experience a single epiphany that turned him by 180 degrees, not in a minute or an hour or a day, but over years, many of which he spent incarcerated. His other strength came from his wife who endured his years of vacillation and uncertainty, not to mention the pressures of both the government for his cooperation and his former mob family who had put a contract out on him. This was the atmosphere in which he engaged a pursuit of God, challenging God the whole way to prove Himself worthy.

What message does this story amplify within me? Steadfastness. Patience. Grace. Forgiveness.

Photo by Chris VenHaus

Photo by Chris VenHaus

I was not a criminal, but I walked a dark line and toyed with a downward spiral back in my twenties. Sure, that’s a long time ago and although I had a more lightning conversion that Michael, the way has not been straight. A passionate believer, I have missed the mark many times all the same. I have been less than loving, judgmental, assumptive, and intolerant. I have been narrow-minded, inconsistent, and untruthful. I have manipulated the faith for my own desires and put on a veneer of holiness.

But I am still here. And God is still God and sovereign. And there is still a way I am to go.

If me, then you. If Michael Franzese, then me. Today, we can choose to walk worthy of the life God lays before us. We can respond to the circumstances in a confidence of faith that God never forsakes a heart intent on growing in Spirit.

Today and now. Let tomorrow be what it will. For “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the Lord; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. 13 When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.” [Jeremiah 29:11-13, CEB]

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rainbow in havTeach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. [Psalm 90:12, NIV]
Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. [Psalm 90:12, Living Translation]

Get it? Pay attention. That’s the beginning of wisdom. Our lives are flying by and most of the time, we are missing it. I know I have allowed time to flee without marking its passing. The reason I know this? Because I remember so little. The days fly and the memories with them.

I cannot tell you the number of times, while hanging out with old friends, one of them will say, “Remember when we–” and he or she tells the story. I play along, but sadly, I really don’t remember. A part of me even thinks, was that me in the story? It’s a loss for the event might have been a source of growing and learning. Instead, it drifted into the ether of time.

Yesterday, I was blessed with a coincidental moment of witnessing a most amazing rainbow. The weather gave no warning of its appearance, but I just happened to be outside with the dogs for their morning duties in the back yard. I ran back into the house and got a shot or two off and I was glad I managed to capture it. If only my mind with use more due diligence for other moments.

It’s a rather futile sorrow, that which has been lost to memory. I know that. But I cannot help but think that God has brought this verse to me today for a specific reason. Count the time. Mark it. Live fully. Embrace the moment and take a picture with the mind. Be in it.

Today is my birthday. And like all birthdays that come to us as we move into our senior years, I am reminded of the brevity of life but encouraged by what can still happen. It has been a year of losses but also a year of renewal and re-invention.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life. [Psalm 143:8, NIV]

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keep walkingAnd yet, there are times–in fact, many times, when our hearts are full of hope, our spirits are at rest, and our eyes are looking forward, but the way does not clear. And despite these words:

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; . . .

[Psalm 112:6-8, NIV]

We are shaken and we fear and we hesitate. That’s right. It happens.

I know these things for I lived them. I have walked with confidence and I have seen the glory of the Lord, like a true Shekhinah. I have shaken in the Presence and I have heard the voice of God. I have trusted when there was nothing to trust and I have known steadfastness. My faith is strong.

But that doesn’t mean I am not human. Nor does it mean that I do not fall in my faith. I weep and I call out to God, who has seemed to forsake me. I have walked the lonely corridor where no door is open and no light shines ahead.

Why do I write this? Because I was reminded yesterday in service, to keep going. Just keep going. There is something in the going that eventually reveals the underlying truth. Only when I have stopped, even briefly, have I seen the effects of fear grow roots. And to move, after stopping, gets harder and harder, the longer I delay.

I walk. I go. And my confidence in the Presence of Christ Jesus returns. First as a whisper, but eventually as a song.

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laying on of handsThere are times when a church or body of believers wants to raise up people among their own to take up some of the tasks and ministries that have been traditionally done by the pastor alone. And although many cannot go back to school or attend seminary, many faithful can and do pursue God and God’s Word privately. For this reason, through the laying on of hands and public prayer, both outward expressions of blessing and trust, I will, along with a few others, be so invested soon. I am humbled.

The community presented these seven to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. God’s word continued to grow. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly. Even a large group of priests embraced the faith. [Acts 6:6-7, CEB]

With this designation will come some enjoyable opportunities like conducting weddings, blessing babies & families, and helping others navigate grief and coordinate memorial services. I expect to do some additional short term coursework again in counseling and hopefully, do more devotional writing. Feels right.

I have to confess, initially, I was rather cavalier about this idea, even thinking of it solely as a side job and a little extra income. But it has not taken long for God to show me that “ministering” or caring for others is not a lightweight mission but carries the burden of keeping them in the heart, praying for them, and diligently seeking God for what is best in that moment. Marriage, birth, and death are milestones of a life.

When the New Testament church expanded the responsibilities of its own people and publicly commissioned them, the believing community experienced exponential growth, enfolding some of the most “religiously” bound traditionalists as well as the lost and hurting into the koinonia of faith.

May my own faith be an authentic reflection of the God in whom I believe and entrust my life. And perhaps, as with so many Christian paradoxes, through reaching out to others in this capacity, my own healing with continue.

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Gods handWhether I like it or don’t like it, whether it’s fair or not fair, whether it’s convenient or not, I am a child of the Living God and this is my journey. When calamities happen to people (losses, illness, or trauma) and we did nothing to set the stage for those things to occur (we didn’t drink ourselves into stupors or ride the edges of cliffs), then peace comes only from knowing that God is God. And like many others, I too have been given a set of circumstances to navigate and learn and grow and maybe, just maybe, help someone else.

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind. . . . [Job 12:7-10, NIV]

Throughout these months of grieving over Mike’s death, eight months ago now, people have asked me if I was angry yet. I suppose the implication is that I would become angry at Mike for dying or God for allowing it. But in neither case do I find these to be good material for anger. That’s not to say I haven’t had an array of other emotions like disappointment, sorrow, loneliness, and even misery, but anger, not so much.

Well, that’s not totally true. I did cut loose on my son one day for being so self-absorbed and insensitive to my chaos and insecurities and bafflement. But really, what twenty-two year old would do much better? He’s already boxed up his feelings about his father and he’s uncomfortable with any further displays of anguish. (He can save these up for the therapist down the road.) And perhaps, if I had to analyze that horrible episode, my ravings and tears and emotional collapse into a heap on the floor could have been anger as well, pent up and explosive.

I scared myself that day. I fasted soon after. For a week. Looking for the center of God in me. Again.

In the end, there was only the same certainty, God’s hand is on my situation and with me. My years are not over yet and time will reveal what is still intended for me to know, to live, to walk, to understand. Job figured it out. I guess I can too.

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Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.” [John 6:35-36, NIV]  I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt. Open wide your mouth and I will fill it. “But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices.” [Psalm 81:10-12, NIV]

 No one can make or convince another person to believe, particularly in the things of God. The proofs will always, somehow, fall short; the explanations sound hollow; the passion suspect. Believe or not: there is no try.

Belief in God requires an acceptance of “other” that is outside our normal range of perception. God is not like us. God is not just me or you or nature or the universe. God is all and God is nothing. God is paradox and logic. God is light and dark. alpha omega

God manifests among us through humans in a variety of ways and for this reason, there have been (and still are) saints and charlatans. Jesus is our prime, for those who believe, of course.

Jesus is the physical God with a specific message and example of grace and redemption and love. Jesus completed the circle of promise that was initiated in the heart and soul of sentient human: Adam, if you will.

But Jesus, the physical, departed earth more than 2000 years ago. What’s left? More God. Spirit. And faith that it all really happened, God really IS and WAS and WILL BE.

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