Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Morning Reflections - A Part of the Whole

William Barclay said, "It may well be that the world is denied miracle after miracle and triumph after triumph because we will not bring to Christ what we have and what we are. If, just as we are, we would lay ourselves on the altar of service of Jesus Christ, there is no saying what Christ could do with us and through us. We may be sorry and embarrassed that we have not more to bring -- and rightly so; but that is not reason for failing or refusing to bring what we have and what we are. Little is always much in the hands of Christ."

Wow!  Talk about  a spiritual two by four!  So many times we want to give excuses about why we can't serve.  We are too old or too young.  We are too poor or too busy.  Yet the fact of the matter remains, God wants us to come with however little or much we have so that it can be multiplied for the good of the Kingdom.

This reminds me of the letter that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth stating, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable...(1 Corinthians 12:12-22 ).

You see, every part of the body is important; even the seemingly weakest parts.  If we withhold ourselves from Christ's activity, the whole body suffers.  We need each other.  In every season of life and in every capacity of grace, to be the fullest expression of the body of Christ.  Let us bring who we are and what we have to Christ so that Christ's body may have the greateast impact on the world around us.

Today's Prayer - Holy God, we praise you for accepting us right where we are at.  We give thanks that you guide us in growth and nurturing so that we are continuously transformed after every encounter with you.  Help us today in our weaknesses.  Grant us the courage to lay our entire beings at your feet.  Grant us the graces and gifts we need to serve where you have called us in mission and ministry for your Kingdom's sake.  Allow us to recognize and celebrate all the various facets of your body.  Grant us the unity needed to work together for the good that you have in mind for us.  Thanks for making us a part of the whole.  In Christ's name, amen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Morning Reflections - Thy Kingdom Come

John Wesley is quoted as saying, "Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the Kingdom of Heaven upon Earth."

This may seem like it is going in a selfish direction, and I guess in one way it is.  I am a preacher.  I want my fear of everything in life but sin to diminish and I want my desire for God to abound more than any other desire I have.  I want to be so faithful that I am colaborer with Christ in the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth.  I am, however, human and need God's grace, and mercy, and love, and power to accomplish these things.

I also have many, many friends and acquaintances that are preachers.  As a colleague, I recognize the ups and downs that go with the office of priest, pastor, elder, preacher, etc.  I know what we are called to hold in confidence.  I know the challenges of tough decisions.  I know the heartache of loss at the depths that they experience it.  I know the demands that our schedules place on us physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  I know the sacrifices that are made.  I know that standing in the gap and being on the front lines of preaching the Gospel makes us into targets.

I know that each of us responds differently to all that is entailed in our ministerial call.  Some have or will become complacent.  Some have or will burn out.  Others will push through causing immense damage to their physical or relational health.  Some will even leave the church.  This simply does not have to be the case.

We can thrive in the Sonlight of the Spirit.  We can flourish and be fruitful in ministry.  We can take all that the church and the world throws at us and we can live to fight the good fight yet another day.  But we can't do any of this in our own power.  We need divine intervention.  We need our grounding in the faithfulness of God the Father.  We need the resurrection power of Christ in our lives.  We need the encouragement and boldness that comes from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

So no matter what your tradition, whether your preacher be clergy or lay, will you pray for your pastor?  Will you pray for the pastors of your neighboring churches?  I am convinced that 100 preachers that can collectively shake the gates of Hell with the power of God working in them and through them, can lead countless thousands more to join them on the journey.  We are colaborers with Christ.  The Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, is already breaking in!  Let us pray!

Today's prayer - Holy God, today we pray for the preachers of our congregations and for the preachers of the congregations that neighbor us.  Lord we pray that you would give them the courage and boldness of Peter at Pentecost.  We pray that they would be unified in their communities for the sake of the Gospel.  We pray that they would lead countless others in using their gifts for the Kingdom's sake.  But God, we also pray for their rest, their rejuvenation, for all the gifts and graces they need for a lifetime of ministry.  Bless them in their communities.  Bless them in their families.  Bless them in their friendships.  Bless them in their churches; but not for their sake God, but for your honor and glory and that Thy Kingdom Come, both now and forever.  Amen.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Morning Reflections - Who is my Neighbor?

The Gospel of Mark 12:28-34 reads:  One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"  "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'  The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."  "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."  When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."

There are a lot of different questions that this text prompts for me, but perhaps the greatest question is who is our neighbor?  Jesus will utilize the story of the good Samaritan to answer this question when asked in the Gospel of Luke.  And here of late, I have been inviting folks to re-examine who their neighbors are.  I have been asking myself in the new context in which I am now located, who my neighbor is.  I know the simple answer is everyone I encounter, but it isn't just these two scriptural references that have informed that decision for me.  Many a mentor has helped me to grow in my understanding of neighbors.  Some of those mentors I have known quite well and personally.  Others have come to me in the pages of their writings.

One such example is Karl Barth in his writing The Humanity of God.  These words of Barth have shaped the understanding I now have of the scriptures:

“On the basis of the eternal will of God we have to think of EVERY HUMAN BEING, even the oddest, most villainous or miserable, as one to whom Jesus Christ is Brother and God is Father; and we have to deal with him on this assumption. If the other person knows that already, then we have to strengthen him in the knowledge. If he does no know it yet or no longer knows it, our business is to transmit this knowledge to him.” 

These words continue to stretch me to this my neighbor as I love my self.  Put another way, love every human being as I love myself.  That is a tall order!  As my relationship with God grows and deepens, my relationship with others grows and deepens.  The two are bound together.  Today I am asking for God's eyes; to see others the way that God sees them.

Today's prayer - Holy God, give me your eyes that I may see the others of your creation the way that you do.  Give me your heart Lord, that I may serve and love the way that you do.  Remove those things in me that stand in the way of the fruitful living out of my faith.  Use me as a vessel to reach those that are my neighbor.  Not for my glory Lord, but for yours.  Amen.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Morning Reflections - Worship

We talk a lot about worship.  What does it mean for us to worship in Spirit and in truth?  Should we use instruments or not?  What is the right style?  How loud or soft should it be?

The funny thing to me is that with many worship conversations, our thoughts tend to drift to things other than ourselves and not the Other (as in God), but rather anything and everything else outside of ourselves or God.  I'll leave the conversation about God in worship or as an object of our worship for a post on another day.  What about us though?

It has always seemed to me, to borrow from the lyrics of a once popular contemporary praise song, that you and I were made to worship.  It is wired into our DNA.  Why wouldn't communion with Holy God not be a life giving necessity that blesses both the worshiper and the object of our worship?

Here is an interesting thought regarding each of us as a worshiper:
"Our entire being is fashioned as an instrument of praise. Just as a master violin
maker designs an instrument to produce maximum aesthetic results, so God
tailor-made our bodies, souls and spirits to work together in consonance to produce
pleasing expressions of praise and worship. When we use body language to express
praise, that which is internal becomes visible." p.60 "A Heart For Worship" by Lamar Boschman.

What would happen if we used the gifts God gave us in worship?  What would happen if we worshiped with such complete abandon that the instruments of worship that God created us to be were free to be themselves?  I think we would begin to see a clearer picture of what the Gospel writer was trying to convey in Jesus' words about worshiping in spirit and in truth.  I think our worship services of all shapes and sizes would begin to be more passionate and more relevant simply by being more authentic.  Who knows, we might even be so bold as to dance before The Lord once again as David did.

Today's prayer - God, help us to get out of the way today that we may truly worship you with all of our body, mind and spirit; whatever that may look like.  Prepare us to encounter you today and grant us the fullness of your presence.  Amen.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Morning Reflections - True Identity

We wear so many hats and have so many identities based upon the things that we do rather than who we are.  Take for example the fact that I am a father, a pastor, a friend, a son, a husband, etc.  So many of the ways I am prone to self identify are based upon what I do.  Who am I?  Who is the real me?  Surely each of these things plays into my identity...or does it?

Brennan Manning, in his book, Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging writes these words, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” 

That's a profound, albeit simple, thought.  By placing my relationship with God first, and by defining my very existence by that relationship, my true self comes out in all of the 'things' that I do.  Yes it is true that I am a father, but without my relationship as one who is radically beloved by God, I believe I will never achieve being the father that God has called me to be.

I heard it put slightly differently on Christian radio once (I think on a segment called A Minute from the Message) where the broadcaster stated that, "our identity is not wrapped up in who we are, but rather whose we are."

If I can learn to lean into my true identity as beloved by God, then all kinds of miraculous freedoms can ensue by the power of God.  I can be freed from the bondage of self doubt, of unworthiness, and a host of other self-centered fears that tend to paralyze me in my relationship with God and others.

Today's prayer - Holy and gracious God, help us to rediscover, at the deepest possible level, our true identities as radically beloved children of yours.  Allow that reality to permeate all of the other 'identities' that we recognize in ourselves.  Permit that we may be so in tune to this truth, that the bondage of other people's opinions and our own self-deprecation just melt away.  Free us for joyful obedience and the experience of the fullness of your love in our true identities.  We ask this in the name of He who first loved us, amen.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Morning Reflections - From Mourning to Joy

This week will mark the third celebration of life or memorial service I have done in my new appointment in as many weeks.  Outside of my immediate context, many I know are suffering the loss of loved ones in their lives.  Whether it be a recent loss or the anniversary of a significant loss, many are traveling this journey of grief.

I am often amazed and appalled at what we will say to one another in an attempt to comfort each other in these seasons of loss.  One of the most profound and true testimonies I have ever encountered regarding dealing with this kind of loss comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer who writes:

“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve -- even in pain -- the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.” 

Through his words I recognize a fellow traveler along the journey of loss.  His statements give life to the feelings we have encountered in our own losses.  His recognition of God's activity in this place gives me hope that I do not travel this journey alone and that God is present in real and tangible ways.  Bonhoeffer doesn't soften or minimize the work that we do in this transformative process, but for me fleshes out what I think Christ might have meant when he said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

Today's prayer - Holy and gracious God, today we come before you acknowledging our human losses.  We give you thanks that you are always present, even when we feel the depths of emptiness due to these losses.  Grant us and all who mourn with us this day, strength in our weakness, hope in our despair, comfort in our sorrow, and courage for our journey.  As we bear these losses Lord, help us to hang on, leaning fully into you, until such a time that our memories can be transformed into joy by your grace. We give thanks and ask these things in Christ's name.  Amen.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Morning Reflections - just a prayer

Sometimes, with everything going on, we need simply to pray and to listen.  May we pray authentically and may we listen well!

Today's prayer - attributed to St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen.