Empty Your Pockets

I write this on a warm September day in Minnesota.   So much of our life in this section of the country revolves around the seasons. We glory in the changing colors of fall. We treasure days, with their crisp sense of urgency, when we  can  enjoy and  celebrate the world around us. Our steps are lighter on days like this.       Yet, I wonder if we sometimes get it wrong, because every day – whatever the outside condition – is a gift God has given us.  It comes to us on trust. Our job is to take that day and to use it in the best way we can.

Erma Bombeck was known for her humorous journalism.  Yet,  she frequently seasoned her humor with pinches of wisdom. At the end of a newspaper column on March 10, 1987, Erma wrote these words:    “I always had a dream that when I am asked to give an accounting of my life to a higher court, it will go like this: “So, empty your pockets. What have you got left of your life? Any dreams that were unfulfilled? Any unused talent that we gave you when you were born that you still have left? Any unsaid compliments or bits of love that you haven’t spread around?”

“And I will answer, ‘I’ve nothing to return. I spent every-thing you gave me. I’m as naked as the day I was born.”(Detroit Free Press)

Erma had a sense of how best to spend a life. What about you? Have you got any dreams to work on? Unused talent to put to work? Some unsaid compliments that need to be spoken? And is there any love that you need to spread around?  May your day be blessed with wisdom and the joy of using this day as the gift God created it to be.

The apostle Paul prayed that followers of Jesus would discover the gifts available to each of us.   He wrote,  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3:16-19

Health Care Bill Debates and Anxieties

When my youngest daughter was born prematurely in 1977, it was a very frightening time. Her early months were one roller coaster after another of wondering if she would survive. There was more than one Code Blue called on her. In the midst of that difficult time though, one of the gifts was to have health insurance which covered almost everything. Her three-month initial stint in the hospital, and several others that occurred in the year following, could have wiped us out financially. The $70,000 plus dollars of that time in medical inflation dollars today would be around *$570,000. But fortunately we had good coverage. Our out of pocket costs were hard to meet, but something we could manage.

With the Senate set to vote on yet another of the most unpopular bills ever to hit their building, I’m left mystified by the way the entire health care debate of 2017 has been held. I know way too many people, among the working poor, who would be negatively affected if the current bill passes. Creating a health care bill without input from people who work in the field confuses me. Why would anyone create a bill without knowing the consequences of their actions? Especially, given the impact passage of that bill will have on millions of lives.

When the framers of the constitution met to determine what form of government we would have, I’m pretty sure they thought we would send our best people to Washington to represent us. They were expecting we would send the wise to do the work of the people. Knowing human nature well, they sent up a process where one house would be elected every two years and the other six. They felt that those who would be in office for six years would not feel pressured to act foolishly in the moment, but would use the wisdom they had acquired to judge and evaluate bills wisely. Our founders could never have envisioned the world of today, when news spreads in an instant and groups put pressure immediately, to vote a certain way. They would not have known how much influence donations to elected officials would have, or how that money would undermine working for the common good. They couldn’t have known that today’s Senators and Congressmen and women would be constantly running for office. Always fearful that they not upset a big donor.

These last months have seen us going through one cycle of votes after another trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a well-thought-out replacement. Meanwhile, I find myself growing anxious with every new bill that undoes the good for people who live on the edge. What I have hoped for from the beginning was for congress to fix the broken parts of the law, just as they did when Medicare became the law of the land. Instead we have had this long  battle which has done none of us any good.

I keep asking God to work in the hearts of God’s people in Washington to make wise and good decisions about health care. I pray that they will let God lead them beyond their political party and into the truth God wants them to know. Imagine, how much good they could do together, if they really did put God above their respective political party and paid more attention to the one who told us that “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40 NRSV

What Kind of World are We Leaving Our Children?

We take the earth and its cycles for granted, until something out of the ordinary occurs. The heavy hand of two Category four hurricanes  hitting the United States in the space of three weeks,   and now the devastation of Hurricane Maria adding to the woes of those in the Caribbean,  is  cause to stop and think about our changing climate . . . our rising and warming oceans.      Only a few years ago the idea of global warming was just a debatable question in academic circles. All too rapidly, our climate is changing. Signs of that change are most apparent in the arctic where the permafrost is thawing, glaciers rapidly shrinking and entire villages being consumed by the sea. Polar bears are losing their habitat. Meanwhile, in Florida the city of Miami experiences flooding monthly when the moon pulls strongest on the tides. Many scientists believe that we are quickly coming to a place of where the course will be set irreversibly.

The issue is one that goes beyond political and national boundaries. All of us are in this together. Anwar Fazal expresses this so well in his poem.

“We all drink from one water
We all breathe from one air
We rise from one ocean
And we live under one sky
We are one
The new born baby cries the same
The laughter of children is universal
Everyone’s blood is red
And our hearts beat the same song
We are one
We are all bothers and sisters
Only one family, only one earth
Together we live
And together we die
Remember – We are one
Remember – We are one
Peace be on you
Brothers and Sisters
Peace be on you.”
Anwar Fazal, From Prayers for a Thousand Years Blessings and Expressions of Hope for the New Millennium By Elizabeth Roberts, Elias Amidon

The scripture tells us that we are caretakers of the earth. We have a responsibility to care for this world that God has entrusted to our keeping. We are reminded that “The earth is the Lords” and not ours to abuse or misuse. Our Christian faith teaches us that whatever we do to the least of the worlds citizens for good or ill, we also do to Christ. And for those of us who have received much, much is required. If we fail in this, future generations won’t ask about our political loyalties but wonder how we could have so denied the evidence and the prophetic words from the worlds scientists. They will wonder how we could have allowed an environmental catastrophe to happen. Our actions or inactions will have consequences which will outlast our lives. Future generations, including our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will live out the repercussions of our decisions. What kind of world do we want our distant relatives to inhabit? What might God be asking of each of us to make that a reality? In our prayerful searching, may God guide our thoughts and direct our actions.

God Never Stops Searching For Us

Maybe, its just being in Minnesota, where spring has a habit of appearing in mid-May. Most of our year is spent waiting for summer to come and the rest of it regretting that summer is gone. Since I retired, I’ve taken to  vacationing in September as a way of stretching summer, just a little bit longer.  The few days away that I had planned for last week are already over.  I woke up this morning to a brisk and unexpected fall day.   Those moments we have waited for and anticipated may pass quickly, yet they leave us with lasting joy.  Moments of celebration, rest, vacation and reunion are part of the ebb and flow of life. They stand as markers of time passing, a movement through the different periods of our lives.  They speak of the significance and meaning we place on various aspects of our life.

Yet, the greatest meaning comes to us in our relationship with God. Augustine, an early Christian theologian and philosopher writes of God, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

Our hearts know there is “something more” in life. The nagging sense that we are missing out sneaks into our minds and spirits. The search for the something more can take us on a convoluted journey when we don’t realize who or what is missing. We may wander aimlessly, follow the false gods of materialism or find ourselves in dark and dangerous places. The good news is that God never stops searching for us.  God never stops  chasing after us in our wanderings.    We may stumble along the way.   We may falter in our faith journey.   We may lose our way, thinking we are on the way.   We may get confused and totally mess up.   Still God searches for us in all the places we try to hide ourselves in.   God searches for us the way a mom or a dad agonizes over a troubled child, or goes  searching for a missing one.   God does this because God loves us.  God wants us to be part of the great family of God and to know we have a place where we belong.  A place where we are wanted.   A place where  we will always be welcome.  A place to call home.


Saved From Our Predicament

  It took me a long time to make my way through Marcus Borg’s book “The Heart of Christianity.” I’d gotten stuck about midway and had almost consigned it a place on my bookshelf.   A friend’s words about the book encouraged me to pick it up once again. I’m so glad I did.

Borg talks about the “hatching of the heart, ” the transformation God works in us, when we open our hearts to God. He comments that we have taken too small a view of the Biblical images of salvation. While most of us think of salvation as God’s forgiveness for our sin, he reminds us of the many other images of Jesus which are also are part of the scriptures: Jesus came to be light in the dark moments of life; give sight to blind eyes, to set us free from the stuff that holds us captive; to welcome us whenever we return from the far country. Salvation includes our finding a home in God and  being resurrected from the land of the living dead we have consigned ourselves to. Borg says that salvation is really about being “saved from our predicament.”

I don’t know about you, but there are days I know I need to be saved from my predicament. I need a savior. A real savior. I  need God’s saving grace to save me from predicament’s I have landed in. I need that grace when my thoughts and actions do  not reflect what I profess to believe. I have needed  grace, when I’ve wandered away from God.

We need God’s saving power in those moments we realize that we are not at all where we are meant to be.  Instead we are in a predicament in a far country of the heart. We need light in our darkness and sight for our blind eyes. The good news is that in Jesus Christ, God provides a way out of our predicaments. God simply asks us to open our hearts to the truths and wisdom that will lead us out of our messes and into God’s arms.

The Power to Overcome

Interstate State Park Minnesota

The Apostle Paul writes, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed.”   II Corinthians  4:7-9   Paul writes these words having lived through shipwrecks, floggings and imprisonment. There were people who went out of their way to cause him grief and  pain which   created a great deal of anguish in his life. No one who studies the life of Paul comes away thinking that he was unaware of the pain and struggles that we face. Paul well understood the stresses and strains of life.

A job is lost. Our best friend dies. We are treated unfairly. Life can throw us some very painful curves. We have choices to make whenever this happens. We can wallow in self pity. We can dish out grief to our friends and family . . . We can make sure that everyone knows about our pain. We can even isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. Or we can move on. We move on by letting go of yesterday’s pain and trust God with it. Sometimes, this will mean a period of counseling to deal with the issue. Traumatic events need to be worked through – heartache and loss need to be grieved, but there comes a time to let go. Only in letting go can we ready ourselves for a tomorrow that is better than today.

If we were to try to do this in our own power, it might well be impossible. The good news is that we are not alone. The power of God lives in us. God made us to be over-comers in the traumatic events that we face. Paul developed a resilience to face the hurts and struggles of his life because he had come to know One who would give him strength to endure. God continues to come to us, offering us a source of power and strength to overcome our personal traumas and confusion.

The scripture reminds us that God wants to be with us to get us through whatever difficulties, crisis, or heartache we face. When Paul wrote the people of Rome that “Nothing can separate us from the love of God,” he was echoing the words he had written earlier to the people in Corinth. Paul’s witness has  reverberated through the ages as we add our own assurance, that truly, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. And in that power – through that power – we find the strength to overcome. Truly, God’s love and power embraces us in all the circumstances of our lives.