Lent – Letting God be God

The Biblical book of Exodus contains the story of the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt through their wilderness journey.    Moses  encounters  God in a burning bush and is told that he must go to  Pharaoh in Egypt to free the Israelites who are enslaved there.    God finds Moses to be  a reluctant recruit.    After many protests Moses asks God, “Who should I say is sending me?”  God responds by saying, “I am, who I am” or in other interpretations  “I will be who I will be.”  The season of Lent is  a time when I reflect on my faith journey. I ask myself,  “Who God is in my life  at this point? And just what is it that God is trying to do in and through me now?”

I appreciate this season of the year which encourages introspection. Sometimes it has set me searching out the scripture with a renewed interest and enthusiasm.   Hard questions in my life  tend not to  have answers which come easily. I’ve always had  to struggle, searching out through prayer, scripture and friends the questions that have confronted me.  Solutions which at first appear obvious become less so as a question is researched, confronted, prayed over. Then, piece by piece, God’s wisdom breaks through barriers inside us.  We are led  on paths we never  expected to travel.   We may be pushed outside of our comfort zones.

God continues to surprise us.   We will never know all there is to know about God.  Just about the time we think we do, God reminds us,  “I will be who I will be.” The question for each of us is,  “Will we let God be who God wants to be in our lives? Or will we stay firmly rooted in who we want God to be instead?

Cast Your Cares on God

Seawall Park in Vancouver includes the "A-maze-ing Laughter" sculpture designed by Yue MinjunThe waitress was hovering over us, anxious to run our credit cards. It was obvious that her shift was ending and she was ready to go home. At least I thought so, instead she told us that her shift was ending, but that only meant she was on her way to her next job. There was a time when sociologists thought that we would soon be working a three or four day work week. Experts believed that we would have an abundance of leisure time.  The greatest fear was that we would need direction in  how to make use of that extra time.

I haven’t met many people who fit that description. In fact, most people I know are working more hours a week than was the norm in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Somewhere, expectations in the work place changed. Managers discovered that quality controls would increase their productivity. Others decided to push their employees to the maximum they could get out of each person. Profits increased at the expense of numbers of workers. When the economy fell apart in 2008, more and more employees found themselves taking on work to make up for fewer people. Others simply found that wages didn’t keep up with inflation, creating a need for an another job. All of this translated into extra hours at work and fewer hours at home.

Not only have expectations changed in the work place . . . they have also increased the stress load of average people. Today’s workplace is filled with stresses, false assumptions and heavy expectations. Add to that daily  stresses from family and friends and you get people overburdened and weighted down.

The words from Kelly Willard’s  Cares Chorus have been rippling through my mind lately.

“I cast all my cares upon You
I lay all of my burdens down at Your feet
And any time I don’t know what to do
I will cast all my cares upon You”

I’ve found that my greatest stress reliever  is the time I spend getting in touch with God. There God’s peace and healing have a chance to calm and quiet my soul. What looks overwhelming in one moment becomes doable in the next. That space with God helps to set priorities . . . allows room to clarify directions, to set limits and to put order in life.  Setting aside time to reflect upon our life . . . it’s stresses, it’s joys and it’s workload  allows us to look at our life and see if the direction we are going is in keeping with our deepest values and beliefs. So today, pause – take some deep breaths and simply allow God to touch your stress points, guide your priorities and renew your spirit.

“Cast all your anxiety on God, because God cares for you.”   I Peter 5:7

Left Over Ashes

The ash residue from last weeks Ash Wednesday service has finally washed out of crevices under and around my fingernail. During the imposition of ashes, the person who marks the forehead carries them longer, as the sooty grime works its way into the days ahead. Ashes symbolize our mortality. They are reminders that all we have will one day be gone. We won’t live on this earth with these bodies forever.

As I walk through the days of Lent, I’m reminded that if I am to do any good in this world, it will have to be now. Years are passing, and I doubt that I will have the stamina of a Jimmy Carter if I make it to his age. My family history of dementia and memory loss are not soothing messages to me of my future reasoning ability. We have this one life to use. I want my last years to be marked by grace, compassion and a generous spirit. I wish I could say that I succeed in this daily.

At our ordination United Methodist clergy are asked “Are you going on to perfection?” Everyone laughs, even as we say “yes” to the question, knowing the impossibility of perfection.  John Wesley began the tradition with the first group of clergy he ordained.  He did not see going on to perfection as  impossible at all. Wesley  thought of these words as a means of grace, where each of us attempts every day to love God and our neighbor as perfectly as we can. So, I work on the perfection piece, knowing I will fall short, but trying each day to love my neighbor and to love God a little more faithfully, than the day before.

 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  

Matthew 5:48

When the Long Night Ends

There is a Hasidic Tale  of an old Rabbi  who once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun.   They thought about the answer and had  many suggestions.   They asked “Could it be  when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it’s a sheep or a dog?”     Or, “Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it’s a fig tree or a peach tree?”   With each thought, the Rabbi  told them they were wrong.   Completely exasperated with their trying, they asked the Rabbi to give them his answer.    The  Rabbi looked at them  with love in his eyes and and answered,     “It is when you can look on the face of any man or woman and see that it is your sister or brother. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night.”

In this broken, fractured world of ours, we need to be reminded that each of us holds a place in God’s heart.   Each of us is precious in God’s eyes.    A society is best when we honor and respect each other . . . When we live with  integrity and trust that neither you nor I will harm the other in the words we use of the stories we tell.  We are best  when we refuse to harm our neighbors and speak up  when we see our neighbors being harmed.   We are best when we can see in the face of any man or woman,  the face of  our sister or our brother.  And in seeing treat each one with the same kind of love, God loves us with.  Only then will our long night of division and hostility end.

The Psalmist Asks “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose way of life is blameless, who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor.” Psalm 15:1-3 NIVUK

When Will we stop shooting our Children?

Another shooting, and I want something other than just thoughts and prayers sent. I want us to stop pretending that guns are not killing our children. I want us to have a healthy conversation around guns that isn’t co-opted by the NRA.     The following is a piece I published July 24, 2015 as “Another Week, Another Shooting”

Another week, another shooting. And we pretend that guns have nothing to do with the violence we see played out week by week. If it isn’t a mass shooting in a church, a theater, a military base or a gang shooting on the streets of our cities, it’s a murder of family members. We glorify violence as a society. Mass killers receive a notoriety they have not had previously in their lives.

Sandy Hook School, Aurora Movie Theater, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Mother Emmanuel AME church . . . the names roll off our tongues. Tonight’s shooting in a Louisiana theater will find it’s place in the long litany of names. It has been said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” The source of this quote is in question, but its truth lives in our newspapers. No matter how many people are killed, no matter how great a percentage of the population wants stricter gun control laws, there is a force more intent on profits than people. We will hear the platitudes again, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” So, week after week, we live with another tragedy.

Stephen Vincent Benet short story, “The Devil and Daniel Webster” is a tale of a man who sold his soul to the devil for material gain. I wonder if we as a people haven’t been selling our souls to keep the status quo. If not selling our souls, we’ve been worshiping the false gods of profit, fear and guns. Our law makers live in fear of the gun lobby and resist any changes and improvements to our laws. The NRA controls the congress while most of us wait for something to change. Laws may not have kept a gun out the hands of today’s shooter, but that isn’t true of others. Stolen guns are used every day to kill and to main. Yet, even the most sensible protection which would only allow the person who purchased the gun to use it, can’t get passed.

I grew up around guns with both a father and brother who hunted. Today’s guns are not like those of my childhood. Today’s reasons for owning guns are not either. The gun culture would tell us we are safer for our guns, but have trouble explaining how an Idaho toddler could find a gun in his mothers purse and kill her during a trip to a store.

I am tired of the clichés. I am tired of the deaths. I am tired of good people being killed by misguided youths, gang initiations, vengeful men and troubled young people . . . all of which are aided by too easy access to guns. I am tired of excuses. I’m tired of our nations lawmakers living in such fear of the gun lobby, they refuse to act. I’m tired of the pretense of sorrow, the false outrage by Washington, when next week, we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing, all the while preparing notes for the next heartache. The combination of Hollywood’s insatiable appetite for violent movies and our nation’s easy access to guns, makes another tragedy inevitable and soon.

“But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” Amos 5:24

Who in Your Life Needs a Blessing?

I was at the service counter at Trader Joe’s when, out of the blue, one of the staff handed me a bouquet of white roses saying it was a “Pay it forward.” That unexpected gift was a blessing. The giver had no idea how such a simple gift would touch me. I had been missing a dear friend who died months earlier. The gift came as a sign that God, knowing my loss, had found a way to comfort me.

The gift of Blessing another is something that the church I am a part of will be starting next week. Wrapped around a study called, “Surprise the World,” every person will be encouraged to choose three people each week to bless in some way. I suspect there are as many ways to bless as there are people who need a blessing. To the troubled co-worker having a rough day with the boss, a word of encouragement can lift a spirit. Reaching out to an overwhelmed parent of a special needs child with a meal for the family – can give a much needed break. Sending a note of support to a person going through a divorce, to just let that person know that you care, can heal a broken spirit. Taking time to listen to a friend, offers encouragement in the simple act of allowing a person to be heard. Taking a lonely person out for a meal recognizes that person’s value and worth.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book  An Altar in the World says,  “To pronounce a blessing on something is to see it from the divine perspective. To pronounce a blessing is to participate in God’s own initiative. To pronounce a blessing is to share God’s own audacity.”

Look around your world today – who in your life needs a blessing? And what is it that he or she needs?



God’s Care is Forever

My favorite Bible is the Revised English Version which often translates passages of scripture in ways that are somewhat different than more popular Bibles. This morning I was reading from Isaiah 40: 21-31 when the words “Do you not know, have you not heard, were you not told long ago?” popped out at me. I thought of how often I have to be reminded of what I already know about God.

I know that God moves in our lives in both mysterious and somewhat less than mysterious ways. I am confident (most of the time) that God’s love is real. When I look at my life I can point to times and places where I knew that God was not only present, but moving mountains that were in my path. I preach about a day I was going through a divorce, single parenting and choosing between rent money and food, when a person dropped by with a couple of bags of groceries. There are seasons, when I know God interceded on my behalf as I’ve lived  through a rough patch. What I don’t understand is why I forget those moments and times the next time I bump into a challenging situation.

Apparently, I’m not the first person who has a memory lapse when it comes to the goodness, compassion and faithfulness of God. Isaiah reminds a doubting people that God’s care and love is forever.

“Jacob, why do you complain,
and you, Israel, why do you say,
‘My lot is hidden from the Lord,
my cause goes unheeded by my God?’
Do you not know, have you not heard?
The Lord, the eternal God,
creator of earth’s farthest bounds,
does not weary or grow faint;
his understanding cannot be fathomed.
He gives vigor to the weary,
new strength to the exhausted.
Young men may grow weary and faint,
even the fittest may stumble and fall;
but those who look to the Lord will win new strength,
they will soar as on eagles’ wings;
they will run and not feel faint,
march on and not grow weary.” Isaiah 40:27-31 REB

Some days I just need to be reminded of what I already know.