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Archive for July, 2016

Fill’er Up!

But God said to him, “Fool, tonight you will die.  Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?  This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God.”  Luke 12:20-21 (CEB)

The rich man was called a fool for building bigger barns and storing more and more of his crop.  In the parable Jesus told about the rich man, he warned his listeners to be on guard against greed.  Nowhere does it say that he told his followers not to have things, only that it is what we do with them and where our priorities lie that matters.

As my husband and I approach retirement in 2017, we are reminded of the abundance of “stuff” we have accumulated over the years.  Last spring, we started the process of reducing the volumes of books we both have stashed on our shelves and weeding through clothing we haven’t worn for years.  (Of course, I had to finally decide to give my variety of sizes that I had on the hangers away for someone else to use and just keep the size I am wearing now!)

It’s amazing how little impact our down-sizing has had in the parsonage!  This brought home to me – once again – the whole idea of how materialism grabs us and hangs on.  Things become so important, and we begin to fill up our shelves and our houses with the newest electronics, the latest appliances, updated furniture, and so forth.  What are we trying to fill?  Why do we need so much stuff?

Maybe the hardest question is:  What emptiness is inside that we need to fill it with things?  Jesus clearly states in the passage above that God comes first.  God is where we begin.  My husband has said for as long as I have known him that, “They are just things.”  Even my sister quoted him when their basement was flooded, and they lost a lot of their possessions.  So, why is it so hard to remember that when it comes to shopping or accumulating?

I guess we all have to answer that question from our own perspective, and for me, I need to remind myself that it isn’t the material goods that make my life fulfilled, but people who enrich my life with friendship and love.  These are the gifts of God that truly matter, and most of all, the love of God is the foundation for my life.  The things I own are disposable and not supposed to be my priority – I’m doing pretty well with that, too!  (At least, I’m getting there!)

Let us fill ourselves up with the things that matter:  relationships with God and others, love for God and our neighbor, caring for the poor and sick, and living life to the best of our ability as followers of Jesus, keeping our focus on what his example and teachings are telling us.

How do you deal with possessions?

In what ways can you downsize?

How will you sort out the things that you really don’t need?

Where is your priority?

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Teach Us to Pray

Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  Luke 11:1b (CEB)

Apparently, John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray and fast, so the followers of Jesus wanted to learn to pray (other scripture references show that there were times when they didn’t fast).  We can also gather that, because Jesus prayed a lot, he set an example for them, so they wanted to know what to say and how to pray.  Maybe they just didn’t know what was the proper procedure.

Well, is there a proper procedure?  The first thing Jesus includes as he teaches them the Lord’s prayer, is to say, “Our Father.”  This isn’t a distant God who is unreachable, but one who interacts with us as human beings like a heavenly parent.  We can have a relationship with God that reflects our love for God and God’s love for us.  Our words, according to the Lord’s Prayer recognize God as provider, care giver, forgiver, and guide in our lives.

So, to go back to my original question:  “Is there a proper procedure?”  I always thought there had to be.  Jesus gave the Lord’s Prayer as an example, but I had other things to pray about.  Years ago someone told me about using the acronym ACTS:  Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.  We offer prayer of adoration and praise to God.  We confess our sins and ask for forgiveness.  We offer thanksgiving for all God has given us, and we ask for help concerning whatever it is we are dealing with in our lives.

Using ACTS is helpful at times, but is it the only way?  I don’t think so.  Norman Vincent Peale wrote a book about “prayerizing” (The Power of Positive Thinking) your life, which means that we pray all day long, every day, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.  In other words, we talk to God whenever, wherever, whatever.  That has been a large part of my faith journey because it reminds me that, like the Lord’s Prayer, God is my heavenly parent who wants what’s best for me, is there to support and inspire me, and helps me to work through things that come up in the day.

Brother Lawrence talked about working to see God in every moment of every day.  He admitted that it’s impossible for us to do that, but it is a practice that we can begin so that we recognize God in even the most mundane tasks.  For many, prayer can be most effective when offered in the moment.  Anne Lamott (Traveling Mercies) says that the two most effective prayers are, “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”  Apparently she added later the one word prayer, “Wow!”

So how will you pray?  When will you pray?  Just talk to God.  If nothing else, say “The Lord’s Prayer.”  And remember, “the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26) and prays for us even when we have no words.  If you really need words, there are lots and lots of prayer sites on the Internet.  Make a booklet! Or buy a book!  Prayer is talking with God – communicating with God, and then remembering to listen.

In what ways will you make prayer a continuous part of your life?

How will you build variety in the way you pray?

When have you experienced a powerful answer to prayer?

 

Martha, Martha, Martha

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things.  One thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the better part.  It won’t be taken away from her.”  (Luke 10:41-42 CEB)

Poor Martha.  Like the disciple Thomas who will forever be remembered as doubting Thomas, Martha will forever bear the idea of being too busy to take time out with Jesus.  I suspect that many of us totally relate to Martha’s concerns and angst over Mary’s lack of help when there was SO much to do.

We might interpret Jesus words to her as a reprimand, but I don’t think that’s really what is happening here.  Even though we can put ourselves in Martha’s shoes and know that she is a highly responsible and organized person who takes her job as chief cook and bottle washer seriously, we also need to remember that, when we get into those types of situations, we probably are stressed, anxious, and cranky.

It’s no wonder Martha was upset with her sister who seemed to be neglecting her responsibilities and just sitting (maybe adoringly) at Jesus’ feet.  I would feel the same way (and have).

So, what is Jesus’ point, then?  Maybe Mary had chosen the better part because she was spending time listening, learning, and focusing on Jesus BEFORE she started the household chores.  I suspect she didn’t intend to stay there all day and ignore Martha totally.  Perhaps the “better part” is truly taking a deep breath and “leaning on the everlasting arms” for a little while to help her (and us) stay calm and focused.

When we have meetings at the two churches I serve, we always start with a devotional and end with the Lord’s Prayer.  The devotions help us to set aside the busy-ness, challenges, and other types of things that have happened throughout the day.  By opening with scripture, reflection and prayer, we are better able to remember that we are ministering together as a group in the name of Jesus for the sake of the Church.

That’s a great example for our lives, too.  When we stop to take a moment of silence, say a short prayer, and remember that Jesus is with us as we go out the door, we have a great way to start the day.  A number of people have told me that, when they forget to do that, their day seems off-kilter somehow.

I suspect that is what is really behind Jesus’ words to Martha.  Mary was choosing to take time out so she would have the energy and focus to do her work.  May we give it a try!

When have you been “hassled and harried” to the point of distraction?

How can you begin (or continue) the practice of centering in Christ as you go through your day?

How does it make a difference?

Being Good

Jesus said, “What do you think? Which one of these three was neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”  Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy.”  Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”  Luke 10:36-37 (CEB)

This Sunday’s reading (July 10, 2016) is Luke 10:25-37 and contains the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Many of us have heard this parable for years, and I suspect it has been preached on, quoted, misquoted, used and abused for centuries.  There are so many thoughts in it, but perhaps the simplest approach is to take Jesus instruction at the end of the passage, “Go and do likewise.”

At the beginning, we find a legal expert – someone who knows Jewish law VERY well – standing up to test Jesus.  So often the religious leaders and interpreters of the Torah or the laws tried to find ways to trap Jesus into contradicting a teaching.  Yet, he was never trapped, but, in his usual way, he began asking them questions.  They quickly revealed their ignorance of the deeper meaning of the law.

Their laws, although inspired by God and many were for the good of the people, were still written and upheld by human beings, and Jesus point of reference was God.  His questions always referred to “what would God want in this situation?”  So often the laws were kept in unreasonable and might even ignore human needs.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus made the point that it was a lowly Samaritan who had shown mercy rather than a priest or a Levite.  Both of those two men by-passed the man, maybe because they would have been considered unclean if they had touched him.  Compassion and mercy were avoided when they made their position and worries about themselves more important than the needs of someone who had been hurt.

God’s call in our lives is to show care, concern, and compassion to others regardless of their position, ethnicity, legal status, culture, or whatever the circumstances might be.  Human beings are human beings, and they are all part of the human family.  That is not only the call from Jesus, but also the challenge to all of us.  Micah 6:8 tells us what God expects:  “. . . what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  (NRSV)  Let us go and do likewise!

Where have you walked past or ignored human need?

How have you ministered to someone?

In what ways can we follow Jesus teachings more faithfully?

 

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