Back yard reflections

backyardOne can learn a lot by sitting in one’s backyard and watching animals, in this case my dog Hanna and Andrew’s cat Amie who still resides with me. Amie thinks she is a great African hunter, even though in six years I have never seen her catch anything.  But in the backyard she will silently, stealthily, patiently approach an unsuspecting mouse, perhaps a fantom mouse.  Hanna will see her enter her African hunting mode and joyfully pounce toward the possible prey, totally destroying any semblance of “the hunter approach.”  There is a lesson in all that ridiculousness, at least for me.

Patience has never been my strong suit.  I am more of Hanna than Amie, and yet the Scriptures are full of admonitions for patience.  In the parable of the Sower the good seed are the “ones who when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.”  The word patience in the Greek means to “live under,” rather than be a Hanna who wants to run and hurry and thereby scare away a possible “catch.”  To “live under” is to allow God the time and space to teach us what we need to learn, rather than us telling God what we want.

God never seems to be in a hurry, only we humans have that character flaw.  Perhaps next to love, patience is God’s hardest gift for us to receive.

Random Thoughts from Whitefish, MT

 

dockThese have been emotion-filled, event-filled, God-filled days.  This past Saturday was our day retreat “Spirit-Walking.”  During that retreat we sought to listen to God’s call upon our lives and learn how to respond to that call.  Part of listening to God’s call is to hear our deepest longings, and while I was walking in near by fields I realized that I am doing exactly what my deepest longings are.  As a pastor at Grace and leading day retreats fulfills my deepest longings.

Hafiz, a 13th century Persian poet said, “Where you are right now is where God put a circle on a map for you.”  How true.  So much of my life I have wondered, even longed to see what is around the next corner.  With such longings I never really was content in the present.  Thank you, Lord, for contentment now.

From Camano Island Lutheran Church I drove up to Immanuel Lutheran Church in Whatcom County.  This is where I served for 13 1/2 years and this past weekend they celebrated their 125th anniversary.  It was an emotion packed couple of days for me as so many memories came roaring back.  The closing Benediction sung by the Immanuel Choir was a beautiful benediction from Iona which both Diane and I loved.

Many years ago, even a couple of decades ago, I prayed that the Lord would give me the gift of tears, tears being something that is slow to come to me.  Now, so many years later the tears flowed freely and powerfully as I sat in the first row of a packed church.  Later in reflection, I asked myself “Why?”  Was it simply the memories of Diane? Yes, but more. The tears and the deep sobs were a gift from God of continued healing, healing of deep grief and sorrow, deep memories.

During my tears hands from the pew behind me were placed on my shoulders, hands of people, but hands of God’s people, hands of God himself.  Even as the tears continued so there was a peace, the deep peace of the benediction, that began to flow within me and still is present.

I am so appreciative of the benediction sung, the hands placed and the peace of God present!

How is your Spirit? Prayer as more than prayer.

Herbert Butterfield, an Oxford historian of modern history, has stated that “prayer is the most significant factor in the shaping of history-more significant than war and diplomacy, more significant than technology and art.” (Under the Unpredictable Plant, Eugene Peterson, p. 98)  When we think of the power of pray we often think of intercessory prayer as one of prayer’s powerful engines, and it is!

But as I was trying to say during Sunday’s “Prayer Warrior’s” time, prayer is more than what we usually think of: intercession, adoration, confession, supplication.  Prayer is the heart and core of our relationship with God.  It is communion with God.  It is relationship with our Triune God.  In prayer that we share our most intimate selves with God and, in turn, God shares himself with us.  “Be still and know that I am God” the Psalmist said, and in all our relationships we need to learn to be still and listen.  Always talking means we have a monolog with ourselves.

It is in prayer that we have a “sense,” a feeling, or a “deep knowing” of God’s presence with us.  It is in prayer that we are to learn how to listen with our heart and our mind as God seeks to share with us his heart and his directions.

Amalie is my son Andrew’s cat who lives with me.  She (all cats are “she’s” to me) loves to sit on my lap, sometimes to my displeasure.  But maybe one of the greatest privileges that God gives to us is God’s willingness, and even God’s desire, for us to “sit in his lap” in prayer, just to be with him in silence, doing nothing but being present with God.  What a privilege.

Today is a special day in my life and my family’s as today is the anniversary of Diane’s passing through the door we call death.  I have been thinking and remembering the times that the two of us curled up on the sofa together, not saying a word, just being together.  That is also the way we are to be with God at times.  In such times we are privileged to experience the intimacy of relationship with our grace-filled God.

A Counter-Cultural Call

St. Paul, MN, Baton Rouge, LA, Dallas, TX

these places and events are now enblazoned on our memories.  Violence and more violence, violence that cannot give birth to twins called Violence and Love, but only to identical twins called Violence and Hatred.  Where will it all end?  Those of us in the faith community pray and pray, while others in the faith community pray and march on the streets.

Words and more words.  Some are spoken calmly, but passionately.  Others are shouted, yelled, sworn.  Some are words of wisdom, some are words that stir more discontent and hatred and violence.  I have heard the words of many over the past days and weeks and months and much, much longer.  Many people are wanting to know the reasons for such senseless violence and others are questioning the solutions, but no one, as far as I have heard on the national media, are identifying what seems obvious to me: we need a spiritual revival, a spiritual awakening in our land.

Is the reason that no such call is being issued is because “spiritual revival” is associated with “the church,” which often has been the source of great conflict and division, not unity and love?  Is it because “the church” has not demonstrated power to change lives, to change anything?  Is it because very few people look to “the church” to show them God and to show them the ways of God?  Oh, I too have many, many questions.

But the God that I have gotten to know sent his Son who did not follow the way of violence, who spoke of and demonstrated love for those who hated him, who was strong of character and resolve, who spent his time with the poor and the marginalized and called those in power to accountability.

A spiritual revival or awakening does not begin by marching on the streets, and it definitely does not begin by shouting and name-calling and violence.  It begins with God and by God and toward God.  Such a revival draws us away from “life as usual” and “life under our control.”  The Spirit of God draws us to the Holy One, to God and then to our neighbor, our neighbor of every color and of every race and of every religion and of every sexual orientation.  The Spirit of Jesus fills us with his love for all and love cannot tolerate violence.

How’s your Spirit: Today and Around the Bend?

One of my favorite words for Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.  One of the verses in the New Testament that is becoming more and more important to me is “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation.”  (II Corinthians 6:2c, italic mine)   God is ever present in the here and now.

I have been a person who has always wanted to see what is around the corner, over the hill.   I have always had a “wonder lust,” a “restlessness,” a longing for the next adventure in my life.  So as I get older, wiser???, the fact that God is present in this moment and God’s salvation is now, present-tense reality, has become very important, but a couple of simple verses have taken me up short, have made me look at the now in a new light.

Mark 16: 6,7 read, “But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified.  He has been raised; he is not here.  Look, there is the place they laid him.  But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.'”   He (Jesus) is going ahead of me as I enter a counseling appointment, as I make a phone call, as I go shopping, as I spend time with family, as I go kayaking.   He goes ahead of me and my task is to pay attention to what Jesus through his Spirit is doing or saying.  He is preparing the way, leading the way, being present.  So my job is not to try to figure out in advance what I might say or what I might do, but rather to pay attention, to watch and listen for what God is already doing.

This has nothing to do with restlessness, this has to do with sensitivity of what God is doing in people’s lives.  God is already at work in lives and in situations long before I arrive.  My task then is to participate with him in his work already started.

 

How’s your Spirit? Change through the years!

Recently I have thinking about my spiritual journey throughout my life.  Part of these thoughts spring from an assignment that I am working on for spiritual direction training through Christian Formation and Direction Ministry (cfdm).  I realize that there have been three major themes in my prayer journey.

In my late teenage years and early young adult years I learned the significance of intercessory prayer, praying for the needs of other people.  This aspect of my prayer life was especially imparted to me while a student at Lutheran Bible Institute.  Oh, I prayed for myself, but praying for others became a very significant portion of my prayer life.

Following this part of my spiritual journey my prayer life took a bend as I became influenced by the charismatic movement and then praise became paramount.  The Psalmist wrote that God inhabits the praises of his people.  Now even as I added the element of praise it did not mean that intercession was less important, but rather that prayer took on an added layer, an added element.

Now for the third layer, or the third bend in my prayer journey.  The third element has been more challenging and it has been a journey of many years, many decades.  Again, just because there is a third bend in the journey, it does not mean that bends number one and two are not longer important.  They are, but now there is more to prayer.

This third bend is the element of prayer being a dialog, an interchange between Jesus and myself.  In this part of my prayer journey what is important is not having God meet my or someone else’s need, nor is it even praising God for who he is.  Rather prayer is that time of being in God’s presence and getting to know him and at the same time getting to know myself in him.  This portion of prayer is centered in love, being totally loved and totally loving.  Silence is the attitude and posture of this prayer, and I must say, I am only a novice in the journey.

 

How’s your Spirit? A story from Haines, Alaska.

(First some book keeping.  A number of people had trouble commenting on my blogs so I deleted the Captcha.  What is a captcha?  It is an image, such as a carrot, which you have to identify and write the word carrot in the box next to it.  As soon as I eliminated the captcha I was inundated with spam.  As soon as I replaced the captcha, the spam was gone.  So I have left the captcha on and if you want to comment on a blog, please fill in the box next to the image with the name of the item.  I do appreciate all the comments that I receive.  Thank you.)

I am reading an interesting and fun book called If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name” by Heather Lende.  The author lives in Haines, Alaska, is an obituary writer and social columnist for a local paper, and is also a NPR commentator.  Heather is a member of a Presbyterian church in Haines and tells the story of going to a public rosary service for Warren Price, a Native from the Tlingit tribe who had died after a long sickness.  Warren was the father of eleven children and his wife Mary was called “Mother Superior” by family and friends.  All in the family were very devote Catholics.

Heather met with the family to get information necessary for the obituary and she was invited by the family to attend a public rosary for Warren at the Catholic church.  Heather is on the school board and the board was to meet at the same time so she excused herself, but one of Warren’s cousins said, “Warren is only going to be dead once.  There will be lots more meetings.  You be there.”  And Heather went to the rosary service, the first such experience in her life.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church was filled to capacity with about one hundred and fifty people.  The priest “passed out brightly colored plastic rosaries and the pamphlets of prayers” for those who did not have their own and who did not know the words.  The prayers were said and the priest shared “a mystery in the life of Christ; for this service we will use the joyous mysteries, the ones that focus on the Resurrection, to remind us that Christ died and rose again so that we-like him-and Warren will, too.”

The author continued, “I closed my eyes and jumped in with the rest.  The words became one kind of sound and one kind of thought.  They were like the wind off the water.  About a half hour later, we were done, and everyone sat quietly, not sure if it was okay to leave.

“Then Russell (one of the sons), the army captain in his uniform, stood up and thanked us for coming, on behalf of his mother and the rest of the family.  (Then he said)  ‘My father, like me, was in the service, and like me, he saw most of the world.  He always told us that he came back here because Haines-all these mountains, rivers, and lakes-is the most beautiful place he’d ever seen.  And he’d seen it all.  I have, too, and I believe that.’

“And then Russell said, ‘Seeing all your faces and hearing your voices together made me realize that the beauty in this community is not the scenery.  It is right here, in the people. Thank you.’

“Maybe it was the rosary, or maybe it was magic, or maybe a little of both.  All I know is that something big had happened.  I left that church feeling light, brand-new, and filled with a whole lot of love.”

I know nothing about the rosary or a public service of the rosary, but I do know that God is big enough to use many, many means to communicate his tremendous love for all people.

How’s Your Spirit and your Time?

“I would like to meet with you.  Do you have a little time?”  “Do you have a second?”  “I am so busy.  I don’t have time for myself.”  “I don’t want to waist your time.”    “I don’t have time for what’s important.”

Any of the above sound familiar?  It is said that time is the new currency, for time has a value that none of us can afford.  In the English language we have only one word for time, but in the Greek language there are two words: chronos and kairos.  

First chronos:  Chronos is clock time, measured time, quantitative time.  In Greek mythology chronos was depicted as an  old man having a long beard, carrying a scythe and an hourglass.  Chronos was a Greek god who actually ate his children.  Yes, chronos time can be demented; it can kill us.

How often do I look at my wristwatch? Diane’s father’s initial estimation of me was very positive, for I was extremely punctual, to the minute.  Chronos time is not quality time, but is time that controls us, determines our actions, measures our days by the amount of work that we get done.  Chronos time is enslaving and does not give us meaning, quality.  With chronos time there is no connection of moment to moment, for there is only a measured entity.  As we live only in chronos time we are constantly on the run, seeking, not quality but quantity of time, of life.

Kairos time, on the other hand, is the right time, the fulfilled time, the appointed time, the opportune time, the qualitative time.  Kairos time in the Scriptures is God’s time.  Kairos time is lived in the Now, not in the past or in the future.  It is the Now which carries beauty and meaning, purpose and fulfillment.  Kairos time is this moment, whatever we are doing, and the Now is significant.

Perhaps that is why a man we know as Brother Lawrence who lived in the 1600’s as a monk who washed dishes all his life, became so aware of the presence of God in the moment, even the moment full of pots and pan.  II Corinthians 6:1-2 says that “Now is the time of salvation.”  Now!  This moment!  Whatever we are doing!  Now is God’s moment, saturated with the presence and meaning and purposes of God.  Thus kairos time is quality time in this moment.

In this light we do not necessarily need to change the actions of the moment, but rather the attitude and the awareness of the moment.  If every moment is God’s moment, than living in kairos time means that we are both thankful  and very much alive and attentive to all that is unfolding in the moment.  Perhaps kairos time is “heart time, ” in which we filter all that is taking place in our lives, not by the measurement of our wristwatch, but by the impact of our hearts.  So the events of the moment are not obstacles that we have to face in order to live fully, but the events are opportunities to see the footprints of God or hear the whispers of God.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 5: 15-16, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”  “Making the most of the time” is not filling up our day times with more demands, more things to accomplish, but a greater awareness of the moment, the quality of the moment.

Some thoughts to ponder as you live in the moment, the day of salvation.

For you members of Grace Lutheran I will be leading another Day Retreat under the theme “Spirit Walking” based on Galatians 5: 25 (RSV).  This will be July 30th.  A signup sheet is in the Fireside Room.

 

 

 

How’s Your Spirit? “I will give you rest”

I am re-reading the many, many personal journals that I have written.  In this blog I will share  with you one that I recently re-read.  I wrote this on June 26, 2002.

“‘Come to me…I will give you rest…Learn of me…take my yoke upon you.’ (Matthew 11:28ff)

“O Jesus, I come to you.  I come in the quietness of the morning.  I come in the interior of my soul.  I come in prayer, in worship, in the Scriptures.  I come to you.

“Your rest is promised and given.  Rest which is renewing, sustaining, nourishing.  Rest which is more than the lack of work or the absence of stress.  Rest which is more than eight hours of sleep.

“Your rest is new birth.  It is the nourishment given to a malnourished soul.  It is life-giving water to a parched heart.  Your rest energizes.  It encourages and it challenges.  Your rest places my feet on solid ground and allows my heart to jump with joy.  Your rest, O God, is what my longing soul desires and what you promised and what you give.  Rest is what you give and I need and I receive.

“I receive from you, O Jesus through your Word and in worship, though sometimes worship is simply routine and even boring and yet you are present and your gifts are received.  I also receive from people-observing, listening, sharing, becoming friends.  I receive from the land and the sea and the sky-constant but always changing, rugged but inviting, mysterious.

“But, Jesus, help me to understand what it means to ‘learn from you’ and ‘to take your yoke.’  Perhaps what is meant is that your rest is not meant for my comfort, but it is meant for my living for others.  While on sabbatical in Iona I heard a ninety year old who in the 1930’s came to Iona with the original group led by George McCloud.  This ninety year old said, ‘Our lives are meant for export.’  Maybe your rest is given in order to be given away.”

(Thank you to those who have said that you are having trouble replying to my blogs.  Without you telling me I would have no idea. I hope I have done some things to fix it, but I’m not sure.  Let me know.  Thanks.)

How’s Your Spirit and Your Purpose?

It is Memorial Day evening and the thousands of cars are heading into the cities from every direction.  People have enjoyed the Memorial Day Weekend in a wide variety of settings.  That’s the way it should be, and then there is the out-of-touch with reality Paul of Tarsus.  Somehow he never takes into consideration the importance of three-day weekends that begin and later end the lazy, hazy days of summer.  He never talks about the importance of “getting away” and enjoying life.  If anything, Paul of Tarsus just seems too serious.

Take into consideration what he had to say in Ephesians 4:11-13:  “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

Can you imagine that the job of pastors is not to keep the ship of the church floating and in the black on the financial page?  Can you imagine that the job of pastors is not even to preach stirring sermons and to make people feel good?  Paul of Tarsus says that the job of the pastor/teach is to “equip the saints.”  The word equip in the Greek is the same word for mending nets of fishermen.  In other words, the pastor/teach is to mend the nets of the lives of the congregation so that they, the members of the church, can do two things: “the work of ministry” and secondly “build up the body of Christ.”  The members of the church are to do the work of ministry in the world, the same work that Jesus did in meeting the needs of people and proclaiming the word that the Kingdom of God had arrived.  Then secondly the members of the church are to be able to build one another up, encourage and support one another.  All of that is no small task.

How long do members of the church have to do all this work?  “Until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity…”  In other words, it sounds as if we are to continue in these tasks for the rest of our lives.  There isn’t even retirement!

In addition to a life’s work ahead of us, this Apostle and also Tent-Maker gave the standard of maturity:  “to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”  We get to measure our lives against Christ’s!  That doesn’t seem fair, but since it is His Spirit working in us to accomplish this goal, maybe it is fair and right.

I have no question that three day weekends, vacations, and just “getting away” once in a while is really important, but it is even more important for all of us to remember the very purpose of our life in Christ and the goal of growing into maturity in Christ.