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Sarah vs Martha

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man [servant] will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir. Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”Abram agreed to what Sarai said. [Genesis 15:4, 16:1-2, NIV]

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me! [Luke 10:40, NIV]

Both of these women were movers and shakers: let’s git er’ done.

These are not intrinsically negative traits, without the energy and determination of many women, things would come to a halt. In my own case, I think of my mother who was resolved to emigrate from Germany after the war. She asked all the questions, she made all the connections, she filled out all of the paperwork, she made it happen.

The difference may lie in the Promise. Both Sarah and Martha were impatient and unable to embrace the paradox of the Promise. God told Abraham that he would have an heir, but Sarah could only see the reality around her. She could not manage the possibility against the odds. She considered herself a pragmatist; she was a control freak. Martha could not leg to of what “had to done” in the face of resting. Who has time to rest, we ask, there are places to go, things to do, people to see. They were both on a human clock while God was in a timeless space.

I don’t have a personal promise from God, not in so many words. But I do have the same scriptures that everyone has about God’s blessings, God’s care, and God’s love. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” [Jeremiah 29:11, NIV]

Sarah and Martha are in me, I know. They are part of my DNA too. It is time to give them a break and give myself a break. My life is good, my God is Present, and I can choose to be content, giving thanks for what is today.

Thanks be to God.

 

“Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.” [Leviticus 19:11] Period. 
We are living in a culture in which lying has become a norm. I think we always knew that our leaders were lying but up until recently, there was a kind of unspoken understanding that the “lies” were somehow for our good, that we were being shielded from the ugly truth of dangers around the world. We were like little children who were not ready to hear about sex or how babies are born or that our beloved Uncle was a raging alcoholic and wife beater. Everything is fine.

But now, we are discovering that the lies are bigger and more dangerous. They are so pervasive that it has become difficult to discern the truth anywhere. We have one side exposing truth as breaking news and the other side proclaiming that all news is fake. Like the barrage of violence in games and movies and in real life on our streets and in our neighborhoods, we are becoming desensitized to it.  So it seems, with lies.

So what does this have to do with me, right here, sitting in my quiet chair in prayer?

First of all, I’m not much better inside my little life. I exaggerate and pretend, I withhold and I cheat. I too am a liar. So was I convicted this morning as the notifications ran across my screen about the lying game in Washington. I am no better and before I get all self-righteous about others, I must clean up my own house.

Forgive me God.

Because the political climate right now is so charged and the people so divided, my only comfort comes in praying for the power of truth to prevail. I pray that Truth expose evil and lies and danger.

But I also pray for truth in my own life. Fill me Lord with the Truth of your Holy Spirit, fill me with your kingdom that truth be my natural way. Stop my mouth before I speak, soften my heart before I judge, breathe into me.

Lying is a choice and for this reason, it is sin. We all know better, whether Christian or Muslim or Jew or Buddhist or Hindu or Atheist. Let us all carry the banner of Truth today.

accept-circumstancesHow many times have you heard someone say, “I’m not angry, just disappointed.” I think anger might be healthier and easier to overcome.

Disappointment is a sinister sort of behavior. At first, seemingly benign, but like English Ivy, it creeps and sucks the life out of its host. It’s a cancer. I know this because I have allowed disappointment to take up much space in my heart and soul. So many of the roads I chose did not lead me where I thought they would; so many choices gave less than hoped results. I have been like a child who longs for a special toy at Christmas but doesn’t get it. Sure, the other toys are great, but what about that one?

I have seen disappointment ruin marriages and upend families, I have seen it lead others into substance abuse and depression. I have watched disappointment erode joy in my own life.

Much of my practice in disappointment was born in my upbringing. I don’t want to bash my mother, but she was a taskmaster who demanded much of her children, most likely because she sacrificed so much to build a family as a single mother. But she too suffered from disappointment, coming to this country with so many dreams, most unfulfilled. Disappointment is a family business.

The antidote? Confession first of all. I realized this today in my quiet time. It’s time to release this dark animal from its deep hiding places within. It’s time to acknowledge that it is there and ask God to forgive me for hanging on to it for so long. God forgive me.

acceptanceSecond comes thanksgiving. To those of us who have done a lot of swimming in the waters of disappointment, giving thanks for “what is” over “what we wanted” is not simple trick. It’s time to make a conscious effort: daily, hourly, even minute by minute if necessary. Thank you God.

And thirdly, forgiveness. It’s a blame game in the world of disappointment. From blaming our parents to our partners to our children to our God, and of course, ourselves. It’s time to forgive all the players. I forgive.

Wrap these steps up with scripture. There are many that speak to it, but the simplest to learn is in I Thessalonians 5:16-18,  Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” For it is in this simple truth that new disappointments can be resisted. 

In Plain View

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

wolf-in-sheeps-clothingBut the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.” [Matthew 9:32-34 NIV]

Jesus healed in plain view of many people. Eyewitnesses were aplenty. And yet, despite that, there were many who could not see. They could not believe that the healings were rooted in good. They decided it was fake news.

I have never personally witnessed a healing miracle. I have heard stories from missionaries and conference speakers, people who have seen many miracles reminiscent of the work of Jesus in his day. And aren’t there promises in scripture that believers would also be able to channel God’s power?

“Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.” [James 5:14-15, NIV]

Prayer, offered in faith, is the key. Believing that it can happen, that God is able, that the miraculous is possible. And to name it truth.

In our current political culture, truth has become elusive. We are bombarded with claims on every side. How is it possible that such diverse claims of truth could have such passionate believers? And where is truth in the midst of them? I’m thinking it’s in plain view but we only see what we want to see and believe what we want to believe. In that regard, nothing has changed in two thousand years.

Pray for revelation. Believe God.

From the Original Trinity Hymnal, #468

O God of truth, whose living Word
Upholds whate’er hath breath,
Look down on thy creation, Lord,
Enslaved by sin and death,

Set up thy standard, Lord, that we
Who claim a heav’nly birth,
May march with thee to smite the lies
That vex thy groaning earth.

Ah! would we join that blest array,
And follow in the might
Of him, the Faithful and the True,
In raiment clean and white!

Then, God of truth for whom we long,
Thou who wilt hear our pray’r,
Do thine own battle in our hearts,
And slay the falsehood there.

–mirfield

prayer-1Come close and listen,
    all you who honor God;
    I will tell you what God has done for me:
My mouth cried out to him
    with praise on my tongue.
If I had cherished evil in my heart,
    my Lord would not have listened.
But God definitely listened.   
    He heard the sound of my prayer.
Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer;
    he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me. [Psalm 66: 16-20]

In the Restore Church Lent Devotional for 2017, this passage from the Psalms is highlighted. And the phrase about the sound of prayer jumped out at me. What is that really?

Is it the sound of my voice? Of course, there are times of praying out loud. I think it helps keep me centered in the moment when I pray out loud. But God does not necessarily need to hear my voice to know my prayer. There is the prayer that comes with music and singing. I don’t sing as much in my prayer time as I used to do, but much is said about God hearing music as a form of worship, adoration, and of course, prayer.

Instead, it’s a deeper sound. In verse 18, it is written that evil in my heart (or sin) would have gotten in the way of the sound of my prayer. God would not listen, by choice.

For this reason, I find myself in confession from the beginning; I ask God to empty my heart of the resentments I have carried through the day or day before, to empty my heart of judgments and jealousy and envy, to empty my heart of disappointment. I want God to hear my heart in prayer, my mind in prayer, my soul.

I understand why some Eastern traditions use a bell whose vibrations linger, I can imagine the clearing of my inner self would be like one of these bells, the sound of my prayer on its tail.

Hear my prayer O Lord. 

 

Will You Fast?

prayer-and-fastingDuring lent, one of the practices we are asked to consider is fasting. Historically, fasting implies the cessation of eating. But over time, particularly in our culture, this has morphed into “giving up” something. And so we find people say they will give up soda or sweets or caffeine. Some people now give up other soft pleasures like Facebook or gaming or television. It’s an interesting development. I have done the same thing over the years. It’s not a bad thing per se, but we may have missed the point.

If I think about the many habits I have given up for Lent, most of them I should probably give up anyway. I mean, they’re not really good for me. I remember the first year I gave up diet soda. Well, for heaven’t sake, that should be a permanent thing, for who doesn’t know that diet drinks are terrible for the body? So, what have I done there? I’ve used a spiritual “practice” to motivate me to give up something I don’t need.

Instead, I think a better fast might be something else–a beloved or necessary thing. And for this reason, I have chosen to begin a full fast of food for a period of time and then clear liquids. I love to eat. I need to eat. But I want to be truly conscious and intentional in this season. I want to be uncomfortable and out of step with my normal routine. I want to experience a change within.

There are habits of mind that I would like to break: judgments and gossip and resentment. These require a mindfulness that only comes with breaking out of the norm.

A full fast is not for everyone. I get that. But I have fasted at length before and I know its benefits. But I also know its traps like hoping to lose a few pounds or to be perceived as “holier” than others. Beware or just be aware. That’s the plan.

Another aspect I am adding this time is daily communion. Last night during the Ash Wednesday service, after fasting all day, the taste of a small piece of bread and juice was a tangible reminder of Christ’s presence in my life, as Jesus answered his tempter in Matthew 4:4, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” For me, communion became the Word made flesh as I took it.

Amen.

 

Why Lent?

lent-2017People are often surprised that I engage in the practice of Lent. Traditionally Lent is part of more mainline denominations and particularly “high church” or liturgical worship. How did this charismatic, “praise the Lord” believer come to Lent?

Part of the reason can be traced back to a few years I spent in a Reformed Episcopal Church. The priest of that congregation was a neighbor and engaging and after a broken experience in our previous church, we needed to rest. At first, the weekly liturgy seemed dry and unyielding. But over time, the words themselves began to unfold and they became a musical meditation to my heart and soul. It was during this time that I began to study and investigate the role of contemplative prayer and other practices like fasting, etc. At this church, we marked and walked the church calendar with an understanding that we were joining millions of others doing the same. The meaning of “our” Father became more real to me.

After I left this church, I continued my interest in the wider Church and its rhythms. I discovered another form of prayer called “keeping the hours” which was daily prayer and liturgical readings at fixed times during the day. So now I had a combined sense of the yearly pattern as well as a daily structure. Many would find this confining but I discovered a river that flowed beneath the practice and discipline.

I would be lying if I said I held to these faithfully year after year, I did not and have not, but there are seasons that I long for that rhythm again, that pulsing of the Spirit’s heartbeat within. I cannot experience this in contemporary worship services. Those have a different flavor, a joyfulness and a passion. I am that too.

And so, I balance my personal worship by choosing the 40 days of Lent, to slow down my body and my mind, to listen, to breathe, to flow in that river. It takes a while to find my way again. And so I fast or re-engage with fixed hours of prayer, or sit quietly.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent and the next 40 weekdays (including Saturdays) are the days assigned to re-connecting with our inner life in Christ.

I invite my readers to come along with me and let us see what God will reveal.

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