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Archive for November, 2012

Staying Awake When You Want to Sleep

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap.  For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.  Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”  Luke 21:34-36 (NRSV)

These words from Luke sound really ominous!  They are a warning to those of us who follow Christ, but what do they really mean?  The scripture for this coming Sunday, December 2, 2012 is from Luke 21:25-36, and it is full of apocalyptic (end of times) warnings.  Are we supposed to be prepared because the end of the world is imminent?  Should we start packing away non-perishable foods and other provisions because we are in for some kind of war?

If we look carefully at the scriptures, and particularly apocalyptic writings, we find the warnings throughout time, across the centuries.  Every era has gone through times when people were sure it was the end of the world because the biblical warnings and signs of the end times were evident.  Yet, Jesus did not return in spite of the signs.  So what are we to think?

While I’m not disputing that the end of times could happen, I also think we can learn something to apply to our lives today – right now – in the present.  If it is true that the signs have been around century after century, decade after decade, then we have a pretty clear idea that those of us who follow Jesus have work to do.  Wars and conflicts are not going to disappear, so the signs will continue.

There are ways we can live actively as the “Jesus followers” in this world.  We have so many ways where we can make a difference in someone else’s life by treating them with respect and honor who they are.  We can choose kind words and a pat on the back even when we would like to say something in retaliation.  We can support someone going through a hard time, donate to food pantries, give our used clothing to those who have nothing, drive a neighbor without a car to a doctor’s appointment, offer to rake or shovel for an elderly person, take someone who doesn’t drive to the grocery store with us, invite a single person who is alone to supper or holiday gatherings, give an unexpected gift to someone with whom we work, send a card to someone who is ill, lonely, or has lost a loved one.  There are any number of acts of kindness we can share with others that can make a difference to them.

Sometimes living prepared – or alert involves living our faith without embarrassment or worrying about offending another person who doesn’t want anything to do with Christianity.  Consistency in the way we live makes a difference and might even plant seeds of wanting to learn more in the other person’s mind and heart.  Of course, only God can convert someone, but we can live and act as “Jesus followers” so that others see Christ in us and want to know him better.

Sometimes its a lot easier to just become a “closet Christian” and give in to other people’s rejection of Christianity or live in the ways the world would have us live rather than in God’s ways.  It’s harder to live a life of integrity, honesty, generosity, and genuineness when the world would have us be all about ourselves.  It’s a difference between selfishness and self-giving for Christ.  We are called to live counter-culturally, and that’s not easy.

As we approach Christmas, maybe we can start with all the opportunities we have to share the Christmas Spirit with others, even if we are not able to give so much financially, we can certainly give of our kindness and concern.  Living for Jesus is challenging, and it means staying alert to seeing the presence of Christ in all things and listening for the guidance of our companion, the Holy Spirit.  Let us put on the eye glasses of Christ this season and every season.  Blessings, my friends!

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The Beginning and the End

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.  Revelation 1:8

If we really think about it, we might some day begin to realize that God is in all things, everywhere, in all time.  It’s a hard concept!  We tend to think in terms of what WE can do and place God into those human restrictions of movement, space, and time.  Yet, God will not be contained.  God is the beginning of all time and the end of all time.

Many people have tried to decipher the book of Revelations, placing their own interpretation of what will happen in the end times.  Yet, we are reminded in several places in the Bible that no one knows when the end will come – only God.  I suppose our human “need to know” keeps us second-guessing, but over and over again, we have been shown that we simply can’t out-guess God.

People in all ages have tried to out-guess God.  The story of the Tower of Babel was a demonstration of people trying to be on the same level as God.  Of course, God thwarted their efforts.  There are countless times when humanity has attempted to be on the same plane as God, and it just doesn’t work.

Our work is to live in this in-between time – between the beginning and the end.  It may the beginning and end of our own lives or the beginning and end of the world.  The objective is to live the best life we can live making a difference in the world through acts of kindness, compassion, tolerance, acceptance, and sharing God’s love.  We do that because we believe that this God loved us enough to send Jesus to die for our sins and be raised from the dead so we could have life forever.

The beginning – Alpha – and the end – Omega in Greek.  How will we live our lives to serve God in this in-between time?  Let us draw closer to God and one another; let us learn from each other and reach out to others; let us live as if each day is our last and trusting that when the end comes, God is there, even as God was there in the beginning.  Blessings!

Uh-Oh!

Do you see these great buildings?  Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”  Mark 13:2

In 1998, I was privileged to go to Israel with a group of pastors on a tour called “Where Jesus walked.”  Actually, our guide informed us that we ran where Jesus walked because it was a ten-day tour crammed into seven days!  However, the impact of being in the Holy Land, seeing the places where Jesus lived and taught and interacted was powerful.  I have to admit that I was a little angry and resentful of all the churches that had been built on the traditional sites of nearly every significant Biblical story, but eventually I realized that it didn’t matter.  I was still in the place where our Savior had been.

Although I had many moving experiences there, including being on the top of Masada and traveling across the Galilean Lake on a replica boat, the experience that moved me to tears was placing my prayer request in the West Wall of the Temple which is the only part of the Temple that still stands.  It is clearly a very holy place, and we saw many people praying long, ardent prayers at that Wall.  I can’t even remember what I wrote on my tiny piece of paper, but touching the wall and cramming it into a small crevice of the stone structure felt as if I was in the presence of God.

That is what the Hebrews believed – that God lived in the Temple.  As Christians we believe that Jesus broke open the idea of God being in one place and made it clear that God’s presence was everywhere – even with Gentiles like me.  In Mark 13:1-8, Jesus’ disciples were talking about the magnificence of the Temple.  Herod the Great (who does not live up to his name!) was a great builder.  He rebuilt the Temple with gold and marble and beautiful, large stones.  If Herod hadn’t been such a “stinker” we could give him lots of credit for bringing back something precious to the Hebrew people.  Unfortunately, Herod’s intentions always were to glorify Herod, not God.

And then Jesus makes the point that it is just a building that won’t last forever, as is clearly evident today.  The Temple didn’t last forever, just as the buildings and possessions and “things” of this world don’t last.  The many things that do last are relationships, love, compassion, kindness, caring, and most of all, the presence of God with us.  Jesus’ words are to be prepared.  They remind his disciples – that includes us – that we have no idea when we will encounter the presence of God.  Even though we believe that God is with us always, we often need something to make us more aware of those times when we encounter the power of the Spirit with us.  I believe that day as I stood at the Temple wall, I felt the overpowering presence of God with me.

While we can’t always feel those powerful moments, we can live our lives ready for them.  Living prepared for God to act in the world is a challenge and a process of practicing the presence of Christ.  As we draw closer to God, we begin to see the face of Christ on others and experience nudges that are certainly from the Holy Spirit:  nudges that tell us to call someone who needs a kind word, nudges that send ideas and thoughts into our minds and hearts that will make a difference to others, valuing others the way Christ would value them.  We don’t know when we are entertaining angels unaware as Hebrews reminds us.

Living prepared for Christ to come is living each day as if it was your last.  Of course, that’s not easy.  But it’s a goal.  It’s something at which we can work.  I often think of this on the anniversary of 9/11.  Most of the people who went to the twin towers of the World Trade Center that day thought it was an ordinary work day, but so many saw the face of Christ that day.  How will we live prepared?  How will we put the “things” of earth on a lower priority level and place God higher?  Keep working at it – in your own way and with the support of your church family.  May God bless your day!

Attitude Attitude Attitude

For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”  Mark 12:44 (NRSV)

Mark 12:38-44 tells the story of Jesus watching the treasury at the temple.  He noticed how the scribes made such a production and show of their positions of prestige and wealth.  They would approach the treasury and loudly proclaim what offering they were giving to as well as the amount.  Apparently, they wanted everyone to know how wonderful they were – how pious – how faithful.  It was all about them.

Then out of the corner of the room a poor widow stepped up to put in her tiny coins.  She probably approached the offering jar as quietly as possible hoping that no one would notice what she was putting in, but Jesus noticed.  He noticed because he recognized that the very scribes (lawyers) who were being so showy and pompous were probably also the ones who had gone to her house when her husband died to “help” her settle the estate and had charged a fee as well as exploited her so she ended up with nothing.

This story is about far more than how much money is put into the offering.  It is about the attitude with which we offer ourselves to God.  If God isn’t being honored, then we might as well put in nothing.  It’s about giving our all to God.  If we put ourselves first, we have not glorified God but tried to glorify ourselves, and let’s face it, we probably end up looking like fools.  It is about not worrying about our appearances or our position or power but about recognizing that all we are and all we have comes from God.  If we give ourselves to God fully, God will honor and bless us far more than we can ever imagine.

I’ve been visiting an elderly woman who is dying very slowly.  Her decline began five or more years ago, and she has lived first on her own, then in assisted living, and now in a nursing facility where hospice has been called in.  Yet, even when her family thought that she was surely going last summer, she continued to live but decline.  Every time I see her she is just a little worse.  She went from being always dressed “perfectly” to not caring about how she looks now.  The earthly cares, possessions, things of this life no longer matter to her, but her family and her relationship with God matter.  She now speaks in a whisper because she has lost her voice, but she still has that beautiful smile that always brightens the room when someone goes to see her.

When we are stripped of everything, we realize that it’s about life, love, and relationships.  And for many who are dying, it’s about their relationship with God.  They want to be “right with God” before they die.  What if we all took that kind of attitude for our lives?  Wouldn’t things and possessions and material goods fade away as God and our other relationships became more important?  How do we “put in everything we have” to our relationship with God, with our spouse, with our best friend, with our children, with our co-workers, with our church family?  Do we need a change of attitude?  Food for thought as we enter this Advent and Christmas season.

Sainthood

To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints.  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Romans 1:7 (NRSV)

“You’re a saint!” we might hear someone say, but most of us think of saints as people who have died and left behind a legacy of piety, amazing faith, and perfect living.  Not so!  According to the apostle Paul, the people in the churches are called to be saints!  So what does that mean?  Does being a saint mean that he have to be model Christians who rarely make mistakes and who inspire people in grand proportions?  No.

Being a saint is about being God’s child and living as faithfully as we can, doing the work of Jesus Christ here on this earth.  We are called to be saints because we make a difference in a world where greed and selfishness often seem to prevail.  In our calling, we give of ourselves without asking for anything in return.  We live out faith.  Of course, we aren’t perfect, and that’s where the tarnish is noticed by those who criticize people who go to church or profess their faith.

There are many who would seek to find the faults in the faithful followers of Christ, so I think part of being faithful is to learn how to ignore those criticisms and condemnations.  We do our best to follow Christ, so it is only God’s opinion that truly matters.  Interestingly, the Bible passage for All Saints Day is about the raising of Lazarus, which is truly a story about all of us.  In the story, Jesus calls to the dead man and commands him to come out of the tomb which he does, still bound by his grave-clothes and the cloth around his head.

We are all bound by something on this earth in our society – no matter where we live.  We might be bound by materialism, jealousy, fear, anxiety, phobias, or anything that keeps us from living life fully in God’s grace.  Jesus’ instructions to Mary and Martha – Lazarus’ sisters – is to unbind him and let him go.  For many in today’s society, being bound by the things imposed on us by outside forces, such as bullying, domestic abuse, or illness and disease is like being dead.

Recently, I saw an article about a young boy who was bullied in school, and he killed himself.  The boy was overweight, but he was the nicest guy, and yet he was bullied to the point where he lost his self-esteem and no longer wanted to live.  How many people in our world are like the walking dead, bound by things of this earth or by what others think of us?  What can we, as the saints of God to do change this situation?

I believe we have a responsibility to build up other (the Bible even instructs us to do that!).  Our work is to bring the love, acceptance, grace, kindness, and compassion of God to others through our words, actions, and in the ways we help others know they are God’s beloved child.  As those called to be God’s saints, we have a responsibility to offer hope, encouragement, support, and friendship to those who are oppressed or ostracized from others.

So, to all you who are called to be saints – remember that you have a purpose in life and that you can make a difference in someone else’s life.  You may never know that you have, but that’s all right because the other person (or persons) knows and most definitely God knows!  Be a saint – plant the seeds – care.

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