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Archive for the ‘Ordinary Time’ Category

characterBasic definition of character: “the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing”. But there are others and among those definitions is “an account of qualities or peculiarities of a person–“. In this election year and climate, character has been a constant topic of conversation, from good to bad, true or false, kind to selfish, dependable to undependable and so forth. We are all, looking outward, asking, “do we see fruit in the lives of the candidates that reflects their true nature, or their character?” But perhaps, it’s time to ask these same questions of ourselves. 

I have always maintained, put a microscope on someone and you’ll always find something, some tarnish or blotch, some surprise or another. Can I tolerate the same? Not hardly. So, who am I kidding? This public evaluation will probably be somewhat cursory at best.

So what is the question? How do I stack up to the “image” or character of God (as in Genesis 1:26, made in God’s image)? The list I was given only had 24, alphabetically, we only go through the letter “F.” I found another website that lists 49 character traits. My guess is that the list could go on and on and on.

Let me pick three then, that I can somewhat safely say I have demonstrated: endurance, initiative, and thoroughness. Notice: I had to go all over the alphabet list. Here’s what happens when I try to identify a positive character trait, I name one and the first thing that comes to mind is the time I didn’t reflect that very well. And then another and another. So, scratch that one. Oh, well, just look at the overall feature, my mind says, but still I can’t get past it, the murmur of “liar, liar.”

image-of-godI can claim these three just because they speak to the last two years of my life, reinventing myself as a widow, enduring the loss and the sorrow, initiating new routines and lifestyle (even selling and buying a house), and then tackling all the little jobs that are now all mine, working to make those efforts the best they can be. But have I embraced the Presence of God in the midst of these traits as I walked them out? Not as much as I should have. Much of these are part of my nature (my family background and the influence of my mother). I know that. And yet, I also know, then the gas ran out in my energy, God was there, filling up my tank. Things might have been easier had I used God’s gas all along. Hindsight reveals much.

But out of this list, what do I really need to develop? With a conscious choice, what can I put in front of myself, like a post-it, if necessary, and say to myself: go here first.

pooh-contentmentContentment. This is not about never trying or working toward a goal, but it is saying yes to now, today, this moment, this life.
Gratefulness. And so, along with contentment must come gratitude, for what has been given and what will be given.
Patience. With some hesitation I bring this forth. Everyone says, never ask for patience, for the circumstances that demand patience will come in a flood. But, honestly, hasn’t that already happened? And isn’t patience the sister of contentment and gratefulness? I think so.

Where do I see these traits practiced? Here’s the worst confession of all. I’m not sure I know people well enough to know if they are operating in these qualities day to day. I know the courage of several acquaintances who went through challenging cancer treatments, I saw in them these qualities wrapped inside the fight for life. What charges me up is their ability to be bold and yet patient at the same time, to be confident and yet grateful, to be determined and yet content with truth.

CGP are not passive at all. That’s the clue I have about them. They are conscious. They are a choice. They are a team. And I choose to be in. Some call this mindfulness and to some degree, awareness as well. Stay awake!

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helping-othersTherefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Romans 12:1-2, NIV]

Me, my body, my person, a sacrifice, but not unto death, no, that’s a very different thing. In some ways, to sacrifice one’s life and to die for something is amazing and total renunciation, but let’s face it, once and done. Is that crass? I’m not trying to be, honestly, but I keep pondering this living sacrifice concept and I’m seeing a lot of time involved here and commitment and ongoing surrender in the midst of daily life. It’s re-framing everything. It’s a state of mind of “otherness” where God’s way, no matter how we might disagree or misunderstand or hedge, is to be submitted to completely. God is God all the time. And of course, then, it makes sense to call this one direction, worship. It’s total mindfulness, Presence, and prayer.

In our not so distant past, there were “people of the cloth” (clergy, nuns, priests, and so on), who entered their calling with these words emblazoned on their hearts. And although this may still be true, there is a new trend where people of all walks of life are being called into a more consuming surrender.

Am I there yet? Not even close.

I have had a few supernatural immersions into the heart of God. My most memorable was over 20 years ago, and yet it has stayed with me as a very sweet memory and experience. A friend once told me that God often gives us glimpses of the kingdom of God, that we might get a taste of heaven and “see” God. To make a long story much shorter, this was a time of intense study and fasting when I lived alone in a cabin in the woods for a short season. My heart was seeking the “secret place” and I found it. I was mesmerized. I experienced a peace that passes all understanding. I walked in trust. I entered into comprehension and walked in that peace for . . . wait for it . . . a week. Yah. Only a week.

So the question remains: Do I really hold back from God, this living sacrifice? I do. Even after all this time. Not in every area. I’m pretty good in the tithe area, at least for standard income and I do volunteer. But, am I so close to God that I check in before I fill in that calendar square? Not so much. They say one’s calendar reflects one’s sacrifices of time to who or whatever appears the most.

As a somewhat artistic type, there’s always a type of tension when it comes to dedicating one’s time to the traditional things of God. Let’s face it, everything I write isn’t straight-up Godly or spiritual, but the process itself, the flow of words from inspiration to thought to words on screen or paper, that process (especially when it’s flowing) feels Spirit touched. Or taking and processing photographs, or cooking a meal, or making something for someone else, or acting/directing; these all have moments of giving. I can remember back in my early years of faith when I so wanted to be “all in” for Jesus and a popular Christian teacher of the day pronounced my love and work in theater as unacceptable to God, in fact, he believed all performance was out since it was too close to edifying self instead of God. I was crushed. I avoided my love for doing theater for quite a while. But that wasn’t me either.

heart-rock-on-the-beachSo here’s where I have landed on this score. It’s probably not 100% right, if there is such a thing as a right/wrong in this discussion. I am more about my heart being surrendered to God. I am convinced that the more doors (particularly those secret ones) I open to the work of the Holy Spirit, the more my life will reflect Christ in me so that no matter what I do or where I am, I am in a state of service to God. And how do those doors open? Prayer, meditation, self-examination, and selfless serving (giving of time and energy). The church is the easiest place to serve but it’s not the only place (e.g. the mission field, the soup kitchen, hospitals, shelters, emergencies, etc.). Generally, it’s the church that creates opportunities to serve, that’s the point.

And because it’s directed outward, whatever it is, in the name of God, there is an element of worship present. But if our acts of service or whatever, lose the focus, it becomes self-serving.

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John 10:1-18
The popular metaphor of the shepherd, the gate, and the sheep: what does it speak to the believer, to the reader?

sheepIt’s a simple but powerful edict: listen, understand, and follow. It has three parts that work together as one. I must listen, to understand and I must understand, to follow, or at the least, to avoid following blindly. Jesus never asks us to follow blindly. Perhaps the way may appear dark and even fearsome, but God promises to go ahead of us, to lead, and therefore, we are asked to trust.

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. [vs 3 & 4]

Note that we come out of the pen first and gather together and wait for the shepherd to finish the work of calling out his own, those that recognize the voice. Do I recognize the voice of Christ? It is a nagging question. And yet, I am still here. I am still a follower. I still trust God’s Presence. But I also know that I can hamper my own progress when I don’t “practice the presence” of God, when I don’t still my mind in meditation, when I don’t listen. It’s not that I will fall down or go over a cliff, but the way could be smoother if I would spend more time in prayer and stillness.

What do I know about the Shepherd or the sheep? The shepherd is different from the sheep. He knows the ways of sheep; he knows what sheep eat and need to survive; he knows how to protect them. He is an expert on sheep. But sheep still see the Shepherd as other. In fact, most sheep probably see other sheep as other. Sheep are not the sharpest knife in the drawer, as they say. More facts about sheep: they have good hearing and are sensitive to noises, they have good peripheral vision, they have poor depth perception, they prefer light over dark places, they have an excellent sense of smell, they are “flock” animals and very gregarious, they do not do well separated from the flock, and sheep, by their nature, tend to follow a leader (whether a strong sheep or a shepherd).

Sheep need other sheep. Sheep need a Shepherd. I think I sometimes think I can go against this basic; I imagine I can go it alone or I imagine I don’t need that Shepherd. Experience has shown otherwise. But I can still stumble along.

Sheep do have long-term facial recognition. So, that means, they can know their Shepherd. But it takes time. And effort.

Intellectually, I know this metaphor can break down here and there. After all, the Christ Presence is ultimate patience. God in Christ is unrelenting in love. The question is whether I can be taught? What is the best way to learn from this face, this voice, this Shepherd?

Repetition of contact. Learn the commands, the basics. Listen. And be gregarious with other sheep. Sometimes, we may need to follow the flock who hear better than we do.

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murphyThat’s me. I’m a bit sheepish to say I started acting like one of the disciples yesterday. And why? Because nothing went the way I thought it would or should. As others might say, Murphy was busy. (If there’s anyone on the planet who hasn’t heard of the adage, Murphy’s Law, it goes like this: If anything can go wrong, it will. Murphy was not a believer, for sure.) Wikipedia says this attitude has to do with a belief in the perversity of the Universe.

And although it may be true that a fallen world may be a challenge, my response to my circumstances is supposed to be different. I should have learned by now. I could have been grateful and expectant; I could have been trusting and at peace in the now. I could have pulled out this scripture:

rejoice“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  [Philippians 4:4-7, NIV]

But I didn’t. Oh, maybe I tried for a little while. The first several hours, I put up a pretty good face, but by Midnight, the perverse universe scored.

So, what did the universe hand me that was so dreadful? Nothing serious, more like a constant buzzing bee. At 9:30 am, I started out on a much needed vacation to a long awaited destination (Alaska). I was driving to the airport and realized I did not have my phonephone. For those who know me, the missing phone is one of my beleaguering habits. My mantra: “Have you seen my phone?” I had to go back home to get it and I lost 30 minutes of a 1.5 hour trip to the airport. It would be close.

I was traveling on a buddy pass. It’s also called “non-rev” by the airline industry (meaning non-revenue), which a dear friend gave me. We would meet halfway and go the rest of the way together to Anchorage. But the hour was not enough. The Philly economy parking lot was maxed out and the bus picked me up at “A” and traveled the entire alphabet. At ticketing, I was shuttled from one line to the other to get someone to print my “quasi-boarding-pass” also known as a seat request for standby. Too late. Too late. I missed the plane.

I could still make it if I could get on the next flight, a couple of hours later. Listed, waited, but missed a seat by one, a captain needed the hop.

The next plane to Minneapolis was scheduled for 6 hours later, there was some hope I could pick up the last flight to Anchorage, or try another connection. My friend suggested I switch to Salt Lake City and then go to Anchorage from there.

Then the weather hit. Somewhere. Not in Philadelphia, but somewhere and as a result, every flight was delayed by one to two hours. Not one flight could connect me in time to Anchorage. Which way to go? Back to the Minneapolis plan or stay with Salt Lake plan?

minneapolis airportAfter several phone calls, we opted for me to head to Minneapolis. I could possibly stay with a friend, not so bad, and just accept the loss of the day. So, I changed and got hit with the fee for re-booking. Then that flight was delayed further. By the time I got to Minneapolis, it was after midnight. And my friend, it turned out, was vacationing in, of all places, Maryland.

Should I stay on the airport floor (they offer mattresses and blankets in plastic, like one might find in an emergency shelter) or bite the bullet and pay to stay in a hotel/motel (are there any motels anymore?) But of course, as one would expect, all nearby hotels were booked. I ended up in a town 15 miles away. Whatever money I saved on my buddy pass was consumed by a night’s stay and a $50 cab ride.

My friend made it to Anchorage fine. And off they have gone to their first moose adventure today. Or whatever it is that people do for fun there.

Rejoice in all things.

I’m at the airport now, waiting for the next flight, the next day and 36 hours after leaving home. Will I make it on the flight? Who knows? Does it matter? In the bigger scheme of things? Not so much. As my pastor says, a lot of my anxiety is caused by FORO (Fear of Running Out . . . of money).

letting goRejoice. Trust. Breathe. It’s all out of my hands. Pretty much, all of it was and is. Except for the phone. That doggone device has got us all hopping doesn’t it? I wonder now, could I have lived without it? If I had gone forward instead of back, could I have done vacation without being “connected?” Was that the real lesson? I think maybe it is so.

That is a lesson that will probably come around again.

 

 

 

 

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Overwhelmed

Here’s what scripture has to say to me today:

rock withinWhen my heart is weak,
    I cry out to you from the very ends of the earth.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I am. [Psalm 61:2, CEB] 

I asked the Lord for a word as I feel so overwhelmed this morning. At work, we are moving into a new building and there is not a moment I am there that I am not pulled from one question to another, one concern to another, one dropped task to another, one solution to another. At home, a renovation project of the house I moved into last February has already presented some old house surprises like rotted wood and archaic wiring. My young adult children are entering the phase of adult problems (welcome to my world). My volunteering is asking for more of my hours and I’ve taken on a year commitment to the Hillsong Ministry School classes. I’m co-sharing a support group for widows and I’m supporting my daughter through the trials of single motherhood, her 6-month old living with me, and a deadbeat baby-daddy.

And so I sought the Lord for balance and was a little embarrassed by the references to “overwhelmed.” It’s not used lightly in biblical stories, it’s much more about life or death, it’s being crushed, it’s about fear and pain. My little life is self-imposed. My lack of balance has crept up onto me again and again by my own choice.

I tease my pastor about being A.D.D. and quite honestly, I’m not much better. I so enjoy novelty and new experiences, too often not counting the cost of living out those interests, pursuits, or circumstances for the distance. I tend to look at my calendar for white space, and fill it with obligation. Nothing new here.

I need to be overwhelmed by the Presence of God. Only then will I breathe easier, choose wisely, trust in the Now of Christ to sustain me in the daily.

 

There is no place to run except within.

 

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Devotional writing is a state of mind, heart, and soul. It’s not something that can be drummed up out of a dry hole. And so it has been with me. Like Hezekiah, I cry out to God, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” [Isaiah 38:3, NIV], But what was before is not enough. Devotion to God is daily and present. Like mindfulness, it is in the now.

god-is-nature

Oh my soul, sing again in the place of praise to God alone.

Today is not the kind of day I’d expect a rekindled desire to be with God to overwhelm me. My day ahead is a busy day, a hot steamy day, with a pile of responsibilities. And yet, God broke through the mind clutter. Come to me.

My prayer, a simple one. Keep me in the light of your Presence oh God. Speak into my inmost being, Christ Jesus. Fill me with endurance and promise, Holiest Spirit. Breathe on me and in me.

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Lenten heartOn Ash Wednesday, at Restore Church we had an opportunity for some self-directed worship through meditations on light, clay, the communion elements, and promises (written on cards). I had the honor of collecting these cards and finally, today, read through them. They are filled with hope and sacrifice, renewal and confession. I share them here, all anonymous, as the gifts they offered to God in Jesus’ name.

Letting Go of . . .

  • Two meals a day (promised by several people)
  • French Fries (promised by several people)
  • Sugary drinks & sodas (promised by several people)
  • The Past
  • Spending
  • Coffee (promised by several people)
  •  Cell phone at night (promised by several people)
  • Repetitive thoughts of loneliness
  • Social networking (promised by many people)
  • Red meat
  • Food by fasting each day until 6 pm
  • Sin
  • Gossiping
  • Amount of time on the phone (promised by several people)
  • One meal a day (promised by several people)
  • Candy and/or sweets and/or refined sugar (promised by many people)
  • Negative comments
  • TV after 7 pm
  • Complaining
  • Judging others
  • Snacks
  • Soda (promised by several people)
  • Angry thoughts at work
  • Food by fasting lunch
  • Resentments and unforgiveness
  • Food by fasting one day a week
  • Internet surfing
  • Words with Friends
  • Movies
  • Future Plans
  • Guilt & shame & jealousy
  • Smoking

Do any these resonate with you? Some of these items are not inherently bad but simply eat up our time and energy. Another set are actually bad for our bodies, the sacred physical home of Christ’s Spirit, and yet some are besetting feelings and sins that are constantly begging for free reign in our hearts. Letting go of some of these things are a sacrifice while others are a prayer. Many of these promises are difficult to measure, to assess our growth or success in this venture, in this time of journey with Christ. These less tangible things could be spoken each day, or many times a day, for they are really a prayer.

Gods promiseThe second list encompasses the adds, what we promise to add to our lives as we let go of the other things. We will fill our days and time instead with . . .

  • Read the Bible (promised by many)
  • Praise God
  • Pray (promised by more than half)
  • Reflect
  • Give thanks
  • Pray morning, noon, and night
  • Serve intentionally (promised by several)
  • Pray for my family (promised by several)
  • Write devotionally each day
  • Talk intensely with God
  • Study the Bible
  • Listen in prayer (5 am)
  • Read a Devotion each day
  • Draw closer to God and/or spend time alone with God
  • Wake up early to read, pray etc.
  • Praying every Monday
  • Say one positive thing to a different person each day
  • Submerge myself in the word
  • Save money

Are there any surprises here? We know what to do. We know how to draw closer to God. So, we can either berate ourselves for what we have not done before, or simply, choose: Today, I begin. No rules. Just promise.

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