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.

Getting a Character Do-Over

Recently, I’ve been reading up on “Twelve step” programs. The brilliance of Bill W and Alcoholic’s Anonymous was to create small support groups, where on a weekly basis, people would come together in community. There they shared their common struggle to let go of their dependency on alcohol. Today there are groups for many different issues, but all have the same common core, of coming together and working through life issues, one step at a time.

I preached on the Sixth and Seventh Steps a few weeks back. They are odd steps because after listing all the defects in one’s character in Step Four and naming them to another person in Step Five, in Step Six you just ask God to make you ready to let go of them. In Step Seven, instead of intentionally working on some area of your life you know needs working on, you ask God to remove those negative character traits from your life. One author pointed out,  that when we try to figure out what part of our character we think we should be working on, we almost inevitably get it wrong. After turning areas in our life we know need to change over to God, we simply trust that God will work in our hearts the changes that need to be made. The problem is, that when you ask God to work changes in your heart, God does. God lets you know where and how you’ve slipped and how that may have affected another person.

I find myself echoing the old African-American spiritual, “Lord I want to be more loving in-a my heart, in-a my Heart. Lord, I want to be more loving in-a my heart.” * The combination of readings, a study I’m leading and an elderly friend’s funeral called to mind those moments I am less than proud of. I think of times when my patience was thin and words that could have been said to sooth a heart were withheld. I remember moments when it was easier to makes assumptions about a person than to really reach out in love and compassion. I regret times and ways I didn’t express God’s love to a person who needed to know that God cared.

The good news is that God does give innumerable opportunities to get this right. Other people come into our lives who need comfort or a word of affirmation and encouragement. We are given more chances to show compassion and love. Where we may have failed before, God offers us a new moment, to listen, to care and to reach out. Meanwhile, in God grace, God continues to work in our hearts transforming our failures into wisdom, our regrets into loving care. God keeps moving and restoring our hearts in ways that allow us to live fully, the life God envisions for each of us. All we need to do, is let God walk beside us on our journey and accept  God’s love for us.

*Words are from the African American Spiritual, “Lord, I want to be a Christian.” Verses include the prayer to be;”A Christian”, “more loving”, “more Holy” and “like Jesus” in my heart.

Stumbling into God’s Arms

It is comforting to recognize that all of Jesus’ disciples, followers and friends slip. We flounder just after we’ve received the fresh insight, just when we think we’ve figured it out. We falter just at the time when we think we’ve come to terms with life and with God. Even those first disciples of Jesus swung between great insights and a certainty that Jesus was the Christ to the other side, of thinking that he had come to reclaim the power of a king in Jerusalem, replacing Herod. They had it together some days and others – not so much. One day they were faithful followers, the next doubting Jesus altogether. John Procotor, says of them “Enviable though their place in time may be, these disciples still flounder between insight and failure . . . their journey involves both progress and stumbling.”*

As do our journey’s. The grace-filled thing about this is that when we stumble, we stumble into God’s arms. We stumble between insight and failure. I think we feel this more, the greater our love for God is. We may see failure. God sees an opportunity for us to learn and grow. We get another opportunity to learn about kindness and grace. We are reminded of forgiveness and mercy. Humbling moments carry their own lesson on true humility.

There are times when we look to the giants of the faith, comparing ourselves to them. Yet, even they were not perfect. Mother Theresa had her moments of doubt. Others had issues with anger, relationships or grudges. Each of us carries a set of vulnerabilities. Some days we fail miserably and other we know we’ve done our best. We are frail human beings who need friendship, compassion, affirmation, love, encouragement and companionship. We need to know that we are both loved and loveable. God reminds us that no matter how high or how low our status, God loves each of us. God loves us in our fragility, woundedness, dysfunctional behavior and everything else. God loves us when we are at our worst and at our very best. God’s love never fails. But whenever we stumble, God gently and quietly draws us forward, pulling us back to places of healing and rest. For this I give thanks.

*John Procotor, “Feasting on the Gospels Matthew Volume I” Reflection on Matthew 13:10-17

By God’s Grace, Light Will Shine

IMG_8060The last weeks have been difficult ones for some in my family.  A long and unexpected hospital stay, including surgery, left part of my family struggling through the Christmas season.   I once  heard Henri Nouwen  say, “Jesus didn’t come to take our pain away, but to be with us in it.”   While I would like God to fix everything that is amiss in my life and the lives of those I love,  that was never God’s promise.   The promise wasn’t to fix,  but to be with us in  the difficulty and complexity of  life’s challenges.

Brennan Manning, in his book, “Reflections for Ragamuffins”  mentions a man who was reflecting on the gospel of John where it is written, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . The Word was made flesh and dealt among us.” (John 1:1-5) As the man thought about the passage it seemed to him that God was saying, “Yes, the Word was made flesh. I chose to enter your broken world and limp through life with you.”

Brennan Manning goes on to say, “On that last day, when we arrive at the Great Mansion in the Sky, many of us will be bloodied, battered, bruised, and limping. But, by God and by Christ, there will be a light in the window and a “welcome home” sign on the door.”

We do not know what this new year  holds for us. For some of us there will be great trials.  We may  face enormous challenges or confront heartache and sorrow.  High mountains  may be conquered . . . where we will revel in the accomplishment of long sought dreams. Along the journey, it may be that we find ourselves in turn, battered, bruised, bloodied, weary and worn by the turnings of life.

In the birth of Jesus, we witnessed God’s fresh start in our world . . . God coming to live among us, to show us how to live life with integrity and with power. In Jesus, God entered a weary world and the earth has never quite been the same.  God’s gifts of comfort, strength, hope and joy came with Jesus. It is God’s gift, freely and abundantly available for all . . . God’s welcome sign, sent to all the worlds people. We call this gift grace.

May your life be touched by “grace filled moments” where you have cause to marvel at God’s good gifts of love for you.

Life’s Little Bumps – Sometimes the Story is Enough

img_9561We were having a supper time meeting and it was my job to order the Pizza. Armed with a coupon for bread sticks, and two large, two topping pizzas I made my call. Very quickly, it became obvious that this would not be just any ordering experience. The young man asked – “Do you want hand tossed or thin crust?”

I answered “Thin.”

He asked “What do you want on your hand tossed one?”

“I asked for thin crust” I said.

“Ok, Ok,” he mumbled “What do you want on your thin pizza?”

“Pepperoni and mushrooms” I ordered.

“Then, what do you want on your hand-tossed pizza?” He asked.

“That was a thin crust pizza.” I said.

Again, he asked, “What do you want on your hand tossed one?”

Once more, I said, louder. “I asked for two thin crust pizzas.”

In the background I could hear my customer service care rep ask his manager, “How do I cancel out this order and put in Deep Dish instead?”

“Now,” he said, “What do you want on your first Deep Dish pizza?”

“That was thin crust. I ordered two thin crust pizzas,” I spelled, “T . . . H . . . I . . . N.”

“Oh.” He said, Then asked “And what was it you said you wanted on your first pizza?”

Once more, I gave my Pepperoni and Mushrooms order. He asked for the second pizza. “Canadian bacon and Pineapple” I said.

Going over the order once more for me, he quoted, “That’s pepp ………….and rooms on the 1st and bacon on the 2nd.”

“You said pepperoni and mushrooms on the 1st – right?” I asked.

“Yes” he answered.

“But it’s Canadian bacon and Pineapple on the second,” I reminded him, with an emphasis on Pineapple.

I arranged for delivery at a quarter to seven . . . 6:45 came and went. At 7:15, I called the pizza shop, asking why our pizza was so late.

A different clerk found my order. “We have a hold on that. It’s not supposed to be delivered till 7:45.” After telling her when I asked for it to be delivered, I could hear her give orders to start our pizza cooking. My call ended with an apology, along with a couple of dollars off the pizza.

Just short of 7:45 two boxes of pizza arrived. As I opened the first box, mushrooms smiled up at me. But where was the pepperoni? Warily opening the 2nd, I found bacon on the pizza – it may or may not have been Canadian. There was no pineapple in sight.

You don’t always get what you order in life. Sometimes, instead of pepperoni you get a hearty laugh and the good feeling which comes when you look at life’s little bumps and know that you’re bigger than they. Sometimes, you get to laugh at yourself and wonder why little things have seemed so important. Sometimes, the story is enough.

Forgiveness comes as a Refreshing Balm

An Unknown wisdom maker once commented, “It’s easy enough to have a clear conscience. All it takes is a fuzzy memory.” Sin, in whatever form, weighs heavily on our souls. It burdens us and keeps us from being the person God intends for us to be. Sin pulls us down, crushes our spirit and demeans our self-worth. Sin is defined as “missing the mark” a moment when we are less than we could have been.

I suspect that one has to sin really big-time to fully appreciate the pardoning grace of God. Most of us are little sinners, compiling over a lifetime, sins of thoughtlessness, insensitive comments, small sized lies, semi-malicious gossip and nitpicking moments. Ours are the private sins which we know well. The apostle Paul speaks of the human condition when he says of himself, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19 NRSV)

Then there are those of us who “blow it” in a big way. Our marriage falls apart, a moment of carelessness causes an accident, we mess up with a family member. A DWI or some less than ethical business dealings land us in court. Our sin becomes public knowledge. We are constantly confronted with reminders of a significant mistake or failure in our lives. Not only the mistake itself, but its accompanying loss stand as a stark reminder of yesterday’s stumble.

To all who have failed in life, to those who have made mistakes that hurt both themselves and those they love, God’s word of forgiveness comes as a refreshing balm. No longer do our hearts need to be burdened with guilt and shame. Forgiveness frees us from the past with its mistakes and failures. While we may live with the consequences of past sins, we are also freed to walk on new paths. And, remarkably, God takes the very mistakes of the past, in all of their ugliness – Weaving them into our lives in such a way that things of beauty and goodness spring from them. The Psalmist says of God, “Far as east is from west, so far has God put our offences away from us” (Psalm 103:13NEB). This is God’s promise. It is a promise of grace – God’s compassion, fresh every morning. We are pardoned people. Thanks be to God.

God’s Welcome Sign, For All the World’s People

Remember how back in 1999 fears spread over the Y2K bug. The bug really wasn’t a computer bug, the way we think of them today. Instead it was a problem with the design of both the hardware and software of older computers, which didn’t allow for the changing over from the year 1999 to the year 2000. It was built into major computer systems when the year 2000 seemed a distant time and place. Only a few recognized the problem it would one day be. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the actual concern did not become widely known, until the new millennium was almost upon us. We worried and fretted over the problem. We wondered if there would be water and electricity come January 1, 2000. Fortunately, a warning issued decades before was finally heard. Around the world emergency fixes were made. Catastrophic failure of public utilities and telecommunications feared by many, did not materialize, except in a very few places.

We never know what a new year will bring us. Some of what we do know is that there will be trials in our lives. Among our circle of family and friends, there will be those who face enormous challenges. Others will confront heartache and sorrow. There will be moments when we climb the high mountains and revel in the accomplishment of long sought dreams. Along the journey, we may well find ourselves in turn, battered, bruised, bloodied, weary and worn by the stresses of life.

Brennan Manning, in his book, “Reflections for Ragamuffins” tells the story of a man who was reading the first chapter of the gospel of John where it is written, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . The Word was made flesh and dealt among us.” As he pondered the passage it seemed to him that God was saying, “Yes, the Word was made flesh. I chose to enter your broken world and limp through life with you.” Manning goes on to say, “On that last day, when we arrive at the Great Mansion in the Sky, many of us will be bloodied, battered, bruised, and limping. But, by God and by Christ, there will be a light in the window and a ‘welcome home’ sign on the door.”

In the birth of Jesus, we witnessed God’s fresh start in our world . . . God coming to live among us, to show us how to live life with integrity and with power. In Jesus, God entered a weary, battered, bruised and limping world. Since Christ’s coming, this planet we live on has never quite been the same. Emmanuel – God with us, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, wrapped in an infant named Jesus. One who chose to live among us, to share in our world and our trials . . . this one came to stay and walk with us each day. We call this gift grace. God’s gift, freely and abundantly available for all . . . God’s welcome sign, put out for all the worlds people. We may not know what the future will bring any of us. We do have this assurance though, whatever we face, we will not limp through this world alone.