Friday, October 29, 2010

Why today matters for tomorrow or why I fail

So, I am thinking that maybe I should just breakdown and make Friday officially 'thoughts gleaned from running day' here at the leaky pulpit.  It seems that every Friday something has occurred to me while on my long run that I think is worthy of sharing.  
As you may have guessed, today is no different.  So we are really coming down to the wire in our marathon training as we are actually just 3 weeks (and 2 days) away from the Philadelphia Marathon.  Woot Woot.  Anyway, that means that today was my next to the last 'long run' before the marathon.  It was 18 miles.  Lets just say that is a long way, and it takes a long time.  This time around I have actually kind of enjoyed the long runs in training and have had pretty good experiences, especially my last two long runs (14 & 16 miles).  Today was a much different experience.  
It actually started out as a pretty good run, almost great.  For almost the first half of the run, about 8 or so miles I was feeling pretty good and running comfortably at a pace a good 15-20 seconds faster than my target marathon pace.  And both of my knees were feeling pretty good (my left knee is just bad and on my 14 mile run I fell hard on my right knee and it is still a little gimpy)
By the actual halfway point, however, I was really struggling.  Not struggling to run so much, but just feeling really drained of energy.  Now to give a little background when you are running any significant distance (for me anything more than 8 miles) you have to have a plan for replenishing your energy.  I use FRS chews - which are awesome, but only taste okay, and GU energy gel.  You simply have to do this because of the amount of calories that you are expending.  So today, I was actually really prepared and did a slightly more aggressive  than I usually do.  So that wasn't the issue.
As I was struggling through the last 10 miles or so of my run, I had a lot of time to think about why I was so drained of energy.  I came up with a lot of options: First, I thought I might just be emotionally drained - it has been a tough week.  While this might have played a part, I was really physically tired.  
So, moving on, as I said it has been a rough week and part of what that has meant is that I didn't get any training in between last weeks long run and today.  I had dropped the ball as far as my training goes this week and my body, even after a week was a little bit out of shape.  So that definitely played a part.
Third, yesterday I simply was a terrible eater.  I had wings (lovely delicious, fatty and greasy wings) for lunch, not exactly healthy or full of the kind of nutrients that translate into long term energy.  Dinner was okay, but then I spent all night snacking on yummy cookie pieces that came in the mail yesterday (thanks Grandma Barb!).  Sugar and fat, exactly what you want to be stuffing yourself with because those two things are always recommended for long term energy, right?  
So what is the point of all of this?  Sometimes we are called to things in life that require that we are prepared.  Sometimes that preparation has to start more than 10 minutes before the event.  In faith terms, God can always accomplish His will through us.  But I really do believe that we 'leave plays on the field' when we aren't prepared.  It is hard to know exactly what God wants us to do in a certain situation when the only time we ask for God's direction is at a difficult moment or in times of crisis.  We need to be training our mind and our hearts to listen to and for the 'still, small voice' of God.  
If we really want to see what great and amazing things God has planned for us then we need to make a habit of preparing to be used by God and being ready to be used by God.  That means, among other things: regularly being in conversation with God through prayer; regularly be spending time in the Word of God, so that we might have an idea of how God has acted in the past, how God has interacted with his people, how God has demonstrated his will for those that are listening for it.
I could keep going on, but I think (and I certainly hope) that you get the point.  If you are wondering why you don't have the spiritual energy to do God's will today or to live up to what God is calling you to, don't look to God - as if God has somehow failed you - look instead to how you have prepared yesterday and the week before, etc.  
Have you been filling your heart and soul with good spiritual food [Spiritual meat, interaction with God and God's Word that requires time and regularity, not just spiritual milk that tastes good, but as you grow doesn't have the nutrition you need]?  Or are you filling your heart and soul with Spiritual junk food and things that not only don't fill you up or give you the energy that you need, but ultimately they are harmful to you.  
How have you been preparing?
Have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is it well?

So toady I spent time with a woman from our church who lost her husband last night.  She is still in shock and dealing with the realities that lie ahead for her and her two young daughters.  
Every time I encounter a time like this of real tragedy.  I am reminded of a story from 2Kings.  Below I am sharing that passage and some thoughts I shared with Highland last year after our community there suffered several real tragedies in quick succession.  
Before I get to that though, I wanted to share another quick thought.  When we encounter times like this either personally or when we see others going through a tragedy, we often pray for God to give us strength or peace or comfort.  I think it is good and right to do this, but I think it is important to understand what we are asking for and what God's Holy Spirit provides.  
If we are asking God to provide us with enough of our own strength or our own peace - I think we are actually asking for the impossible.  Simply put, I don't believe we can handle the worst that this life throws us on our own.  What we should be asking for and what I believe we often receive is God's strength to carry us through.  God's peace - that is beyond our understanding or comprehension - to allow us to make it in the most difficult of circumstances.  There are things in this life - difficult, impossible things that all of us at one time or another face (to varying degrees) Being a Christian or following God does not excuse us from these difficult times.  But it does mean that we know where we can turn to find the God that is faithful and has promised strength (God's strength) enough for the day, comfort for our tears (from a God that has himself suffered pain, tragedy and loss) and light for our way (even through the darkest days and times).  

Now here is the passage from 2Kings and some of my thoughts:

2 Kings 4:8-36 (New International Version)
The Shunammite's Son Restored to Life
 8 One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. 9 She said to her husband, "I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let's make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us."
 11 One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, "Call the Shunammite." So he called her, and she stood before him. 13 Elisha said to him, "Tell her, 'You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?' "
      She replied, "I have a home among my own people."
 14 "What can be done for her?" Elisha asked.
      Gehazi said, "Well, she has no son and her husband is old."
 15 Then Elisha said, "Call her." So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. 16 "About this time next year," Elisha said, "you will hold a son in your arms."
      "No, my lord," she objected. "Don't mislead your servant, O man of God!"
 17 But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.
 18 The child grew, and one day he went out to his father, who was with the reapers. 19 "My head! My head!" he said to his father.
      His father told a servant, "Carry him to his mother." 20 After the servant had lifted him up and carried him to his mother, the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died. 21 She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and went out.
 22 She called her husband and said, "Please send me one of the servants and a donkey so I can go to the man of God quickly and return."
 23 "Why go to him today?" he asked. "It's not the New Moon or the Sabbath."
      "It's all right," she said.
 24 She saddled the donkey and said to her servant, "Lead on; don't slow down for me unless I tell you." 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.
      When he saw her in the distance, the man of God said to his servant Gehazi, "Look! There's the Shunammite! 26 Run to meet her and ask her, 'Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?' "
      "Everything is all right," she said.
 27 When she reached the man of God at the mountain, she took hold of his feet. Gehazi came over to push her away, but the man of God said, "Leave her alone! She is in bitter distress, but the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me why."
 28 "Did I ask you for a son, my lord?" she said. "Didn't I tell you, 'Don't raise my hopes'?"
 29 Elisha said to Gehazi, "Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy's face."
 30 But the child's mother said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So he got up and followed her.
 31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the boy's face, but there was no sound or response. So Gehazi went back to meet Elisha and told him, "The boy has not awakened."
 32 When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. 33 He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD. 34 Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy's body grew warm. 35 Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.
 36 Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, "Call the Shunammite." And he did. When she came, he said, "Take your son." 37 She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out.

While it is certainly an interesting story – and any story of resurrection is worth knowing (even if it is a little strange).  It is not the obvious miracle, the resurrection of the boy, that I want us to remember or think about.  What I want us to remember – to take from this story is the words – and the understanding, the faith of the Shunammite woman. 
There one phrase that she repeats that summarizes her understanding of God’s providence and her example of truly, fully trusting in and on God.  The phrase that she repeats – It is all right – or in previous versions of the passage – IT IS WELL
After her son has died, as she is leaving to find Elisha – she tells her husband – it is alright – (her son is dead and her only words to her husband is ‘it is well’.
When Elisha sees her and sends his servant to see if there is something wrong – if the boy is okay – her response ‘everything is alright’ – it is well
What happens after she finally tells Elisha about her son’s death is what we all recognize as the miracle – and it is miraculous how Elisha brings the child back to life – but there is another miracle that is all to easy to miss.
The miracle is found in the words and faith of the Shunammite woman.  For according to her – it was well and everything was alright before Elisha had brought her son back to life.
The miracle is the perspective we can have; the peace we can feel when we are truly, really trusting in and on God.   
It is well – these are not the words of satisfaction after our wish has been granted, but they are words of faith, trust and hope meant to be spoken in the midst of pain, sorrow and grief. 
It is well. 
Simply put, when we are able to let go of our fear and anxiety – and fully trust in God
It is well and everything is alright
Not after God has ‘fixed’ things – but right here, right now in the midst of our fear, our pain, our sickness our grief.
It is well because God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is present here with us in the midst of it.  Everything is alright, because we can lean into and on the power, wisdom and peace of the Holy Spirit. 
In a world seemingly gone mad, full of hurt, pain and grief – it is well.
In our sickness, sorrow and brokenness the Holy Spirit joins with us and everything is alright.
So now, in light of God’s ability through the power of the Holy Spirit can we begin to say – it is well

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Starting and the beginning or first things first

Today's thoughts are at least loosely related to today's gospel passage from the daily lectionary (which can be found here:  )  
In the passage from Luke 11, Jesus is railing against the Pharisee's and the Lawyers (who were not akin to lawyers today, but rather religious teachers - like seminary professors)  And basically what is going on is that Jesus is accusing them of using their knowledge of the Scripture as a weight to drag people down instead of helping them.  He is accusing them of keeping all the laws and regulations except the most important one(s) - Love and Justice.  Essentially he is accusing them of missing the point.
Before I go any further, I think it is important to point something out because I feel like a lot of people either miss it or intentionally ignore it.  When it comes to following the rules, rules of faith or laws or whatever, many Christians point to Jesus emphasis on love as an excuse for not following the rules or as license to dismiss the rules.  
I truly believe this misses the point, albeit in the opposite direction, as well.  People making these arguments (and I have often been one of these 'people') usually say something like, ' I would rather err on the side of love'.  The point, I think, is that Jesus would rather you not err at all.  Jesus isn't saying love - especially love however we choose to define it - is the only thing to be concerned with.  Rather, Jesus is saying that love is the first step.  
In following Christ and living into the lives that God has called us too, love is the essential first step.  It is the beginning.  
It is not where we are supposed to stop, however.  Right there in Luke 11, Jesus makes this point clear, in his claim against the Pharisee's:   42"But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. 
It seems to me that 'without neglecting the others' is a pretty important part of what Jesus is saying here.  
Love of God and the concern for God's justice that organically flows from that love is the starting point for our life with God, because without loving God then we can't begin to actually follow God or God's commands for our lives.  
It is so disheartening to me when Jesus and 'love' get used as a reason for ignoring the way God is calling us to live.  Why?  Because I think when we do that - and I know I certainly do it sometimes.  We come dangerously close to missing the 'point' completely.  If we try to appropriate God's love as a license for approving any and all of our actions I don't think we have an understanding of that love at all.
If our love of God does not at least lead us to a desire to live a life more in line with the call and commandments of God, then maybe we don't really love God at all and maybe we are just rebelling against the Pharisee's rules and looking to replace them with our own.  

That isn't just ''missing the point' it is not following God and exactly what Jesus was urging the  Pharisee's and lawyers to repent from.  
The interesting thing about the Pharisee's and the lawyers that Jesus indicts is that it isn't that they were wrong in trying to follow the rules they were upholding - its that they were vigilant for those laws for the wrong reason.  God calls us to be vigorous in following him and his commandments because of our love for him and our desire to be faithful to him.  The Pharisee's were vigorous in upholding the laws because it was a means to gaining and retaining power in the social construct of the time.  
So 2000 years later we still have Pharisee's and lawyers and we still have those rebelling against their laws.  The question for those on both sides of whatever issue is what are you after and what is your motivation?  Are you looking to gain power or retain power in the social constructs of our day (either in our churches, our communities or our country) or are you actively seeking after God's love and the justice that flow from it?
Jesus calls us to love first.  But the love that Jesus calls us to must naturally lead us to a desire and active attempt to be faithful in living a life according to God's call and commands.  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Beware of large fish and shady trees . . .

Today we dive back into the daily lectionary (which can be found here:  ) and look at a passage from the book of Jonah.
Jonah, is in some ways the most interesting of prophets we have in the Old Testament because he is - at least for me - the one that it is easiest to relate to.  Some of the prophets, like Isaiah or Jeremiah, are so good and so devout that I certainly look up to them, but I don't relate to them. I can't imagine myself being like one of them.  
Jonah, on the other hand, is just like me.  In the passage we have today.  Jonah has already tried to run from God, been swallowed and spit out by a whale and is now at the gates of Nineveh, where God commands him to preach a warning and call for repentance.  A call the inhabitants Nineveh heed.  This greatly displeases Jonah - this is exactly what he expected to happen and why he ran from God's call in the first place.  He knew God was gracious and forgiving and didn't want to see the Nineveh receive forgiveness.  
[A little cultural/historical background here is helpful.  Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire.  The Assyrians were, to put it mildly really not nice.  Not only were they a vicious and brutal people they aggressively attacked their neighbors at every opportunity.  They had been enemies - bitter, hated enemies of the Israelites for centuries at this point.  If you are having trouble finding a reference point for the Assyrians, try thinking of them as terrorists living in Iraq or Afghanistan.]  
Understanding the historical and political context helps us understand where Jonah is coming from and helps us - or at least helps me - to identify with where he is coming from even more.  Most of us really don't want anything for the terrorists that have attacked this and other countries that for them to 'get what they deserve'.  Which is logical and understandable.  
But the lesson God tries to teach Jonah is a lesson for us to learn as well.  God uses the bush that gives Jonah shade as an object to teach that lesson.  
When the bush withers and dies because of the worm Jonah is beside himself and bitterly upset.  God asks Jonah why - he had nothing to do with the bush, he neither created it or caused it to grow, but yet he cares for it?  
The point is that God did create the bush and cause it to grow, just as he created the Assyrians living in Nineveh.   Just as he created each and everyone of us.  Even the terrorists and those that consider us enemies and those we consider our enemies.  God has created each and everyone of us and desires a reconciled relationship with each of his children.  
That was a hard pill for Jonah to swallow, I think it is a hard pill for many of us to swallow as well.  But it is a truth that we have to wrestle with and eventually submit to - God loves us and calls us into relationship with himself.  If we accept that relationship and accept adoption into the family of God we take on the responsibilities of being a part of that family.  The primary one being spreading and sharing God's love to all of God's children - even the ones we disagree with, even the ones that don't like us - even the ones we hate or that have hurt us.  
If we want to live into the light of God's love, grace and acceptance then we must understand and accept that it isn't just for us and those that look like, think like or act like us.  God's love is for everyone.  God's grace is for everyone.  God's acceptance is for everyone.  
The story of Jonah doesn't really have an ending.  The book ends with us not knowing how Jonah eventually decides to proceed.  It is an open question or better yet, it is a story with a . . . to be continued at the 'end'  We are the ones with the chance to continue the story.  With a chance to be the next to reach out to those around us -all of those around us with the Good News of God's love and grace - or we can sit on the sidelines angry that God might extend to someone else the vary grace that we ourselves received and needed.  
How will you continue the story?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Walking on Water and other churchy activities

Happy Monday!  Here is the manuscript from the message I gave yesterday in church.  It is a pretty personal one and, I think, a really important one.  

Matthew 14:22-33 (Today's New International Version)
Jesus Walks on the Water
 22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
    25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.
    27 But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."
    28 "Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."
    29 "Come," he said.
    Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"
    31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"
    32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
Prayer: God we ask that you would come and be present with us know.  Help us to turn our hearts, minds, ears and eyes towards you.  Help us grow in faith and trust in you as we seek your will.  And now, Lord I ask that you would hide me behind your cross, so you are what’s seen and speak through me so you are what’s heard.  Amen.
I have Spent the last two weeks talking about ‘Stewardship’ and how God is calling each of us to respond to the gifts of time, talent and money that he has given each of us.  Per the message calendar this is supposed to be the 3rd week with that same message.  It is an important message and one that is worthy of at least three weeks – certainly more than the one week it often gets. 
But I think, I believe, that many if not most of us know and understand that all that we have is a gift from God and we have a responsibility to respond to that gift by sharing generously what we have been made stewards of.   I also spend a lot of time this past week reflecting on what we have talked about the last few weeks and all of the information that was shared during our Bread and Soup luncheon. 
We talked about stewardship and its importance, but we also talked about the financial situation of our church.  As I have been thinking about all of that information, I realized that it was a year ago – almost exactly – when I began having conversations with the Pastor Nominating Committee of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church.  Good Shepherd has been on a journey for 20+ years now; a new leg of that journey began a year ago when God began to draw us together. 
I believe that I am not here accidentally.  I believe that we have been called together for a special purpose.  I believe that God has called us – and is equipping us – to play a role in his Mission and Plan for this world that only we can fill and that we have been uniquely gifted and brought together to fill.
From the very first conversation with the PNC, and several times from this pulpit I have shared the general vision of what I believe we are being called to do and who we are being called to be.  The word that captures what I believe God is calling us to is Missional.  It is a relatively new word that describes a call that God has been placing on the lives of the people of God from the beginning of time.
Simply, being Missional means opening all of yourself up to the work and will of God’s Holy Spirit and accepting God’s invitation and call to become a part of God’s mission in the world.
It involves having eyes to see: 
First, to see the things in and around our communities and our world that are breaking the heart of God. 
Second, to see the ways in which God’s work and mission are already being done & to see where there are places of need that are not yet being addressed.
Third, to see how we (as individuals and as a congregation) might be uniquely gifted to participate in that mission or how our unique gifts, abilities and interests have equipped us to reach out into our communities and the world in new ways to fulfill the call and mission of God.
It involves being willing to really put Jesus Christ at the center of your life – your whole life.  We are really good in our world today at compartmentalizing every aspect of our lives.  We put school or work in one box and our family in another.  We put our friends in another box – or maybe a couple.  We put our hobbies and our interests in yet another.  And then there is the ‘God’ box. 
Jesus is not asking to be the box at the center of our lives or even the biggest box.  Instead God asks to be in, connected to and at the center of every ‘box’ of your life.  Even more than that God asks you to get rid of all your boxes and reorder your life with him at the center, connected to each and every aspect of our life.
With Jesus centered in your life it allows God to open your eyes to see the world through his eyes.  It allows your heart and mind to be tuned to the heart, mind and will of God.  And that, at the heart is what it means to be Missional.  There isn’t a blueprint or a step by step process for becoming a Missional person or a Missional church because God calls each of us to different and unique parts of the mission of God.   
How each of us lives into God’s call to be a part of his mission in the world will determine what it looks like for Good Shepherd to be the Missional church God is calling it to be.
[now I am not supposed to do this – I am going to talk about myself – I was told several times in seminary not to do this.  But, I think it is important to share how these beliefs and thoughts are manifesting themselves in my life]  For me the particular places God has opened my eyes and my heart and mind to are: Orphans, the world water crisis, hunger (especially in children) and modern-day slavery. 
How does that translate into change in my life:
Marathon for Living Water International
Beginning the process of looking into adoption
Giving too and talking about in IJM
Regular work and giving to combat hunger (through World Vision – including child sponsorship)
How might this translate into our life together as a church (if these interests/concerns are shared by others in the congregation:
Focus on ‘the least of these’ and how we can share our blessings: through giving, through organizations like ‘Trade as one’, World Vision, LVI and IJM
Increased hands-on involvement in combating hunger locally
Beginning to explore what we as a congregation can do to care for the orphans among us and around us. 
Focus on mission in these areas
While there is no ‘step by step’ process.  There are a few key elements that must be present for us to live into this call of being the Missional church that God intends us to be. 
Trusting in God:
Gideon – as we heard, God winnowed down and already numerically overmatched army and used this small group of soldiers to win a great and amazing victory – with no doubt as to who was responsible
Sending out of the 70 Disciples – In Luke 10 Jesus sends out the 70 disciples in pairs and intentionally has them leave everything behind that they could use or rely on to help them succeed or even survive – even their shoes – again so that they would have no choice but to trust in and rely on God – and in turn be clear in pointing to God in all that they did.
Keeping our eyes on Christ
Peter walking on the water:
Remember Peter DID walk on the water.  It was only once he took his eyes off of Jesus that he began to sink.  If we are focused on Jesus, if we are focused on what Jesus is concerned with then we will be able to do amazing and impossible things through the strength and power of God’s Holy Spirit available to us because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
These two things, trusting in God and focusing on Jesus Christ are the key for us as we face difficult and trying times invididually and as families.  They are the key for us as we focus difficult and daunting times as a church, financially or otherwise. 
We didn’t spend much time on the miracle that was Peter walking on the water, but I want us to hold on to the truth for us in that story –
Nothing is too hard for God.  Nothing, when done in Christ’s name for the glory of God is impossible.  Difficult times, stacked odds and great challenges are merely opportunities for God’s glory to shine through.  
Peter was distracted by real danger: a strong whipping wind, rolling, rollicking waves, and the sheer impossibility of what was happening.  The same is true for us – there is real danger all around on the path that we are being called to, legitimate concerns that seen to demand our focus and attention. 
But by trusting in God and keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ we get the opportunity to be a part of the amazing and even impossible work of God in our lives and through us in the world.  

Friday, October 22, 2010

Step by Step

Hi all.  Late one today, sorry about that.  
The lateness is mostly due to the 16 miles I ran today.  I say that not to brag about it in any way, but just to make it clear that I had a lot of time on my hands to think today.  
Running 16 miles - or really any distance over 2 or 3 miles - is really an interesting study in focus, determination and perseverance.  As long as there is a base line of fitness distance running (if you aren't primarily concerned with time) isn't a matter of ability.  Basically if you have the ability and fitness to run 3 miles you can run 5 and so on.  Its why in marathon training the longest run prior to the marathon is typically 20 miles, and sometimes even 'only' 18.  
So if running these distances aren't about 'ability' than it is about something else.  It is, as I said above, about focus, determination and perseverance.  And really it is simply about focus.  What you focus on during a long run goes quite a way in determining if you are going to be successful or not.  
If you are focused on your pace and finishing strong or even your running form - things that you can control that help you complete your goal - then you are likely to be successful.  But over the course of 5 or 10 or 16 miles you are bound to have other things that push themselves into your thoughts and, if you let them, become your focus.  
Today at about mile 9 my right knee began to hurt [this did not come as a surprise as I fell on my last long run and my knee is still pretty black and blue - you will never guess why I fell . . . I got distracted by some construction work being done on a house down the street from us, lost focus on where I was going and . . . boom, hit the pavement].  
I was at a place where I could have turned around and been home in less than 2 miles.  But that would have left me 5 miles short of my goal and 5 miles short of where I needed to be to be up to date on my training.  
I had a choice, I could begin to focus on my knee and the pain there - which was not debilitating OR I could continue to focus on the goal and the things I could control.  
But my real point in all of this is that it wasn't as simple as making one choice and being done with it.  In a real, literal way with every step I took I was making a choice.  And the choices I make when I am on a run make a big difference and go a long way to determining if the run is a success or not and more than that if it is a 'good run' or not.  
The choices just don't make a difference in if I complete the task or fulfill the goal but also my experience of it all - what I get out of it.  
But, of course, I am just talking about a run.  But the thing is, I'm not just talking about a run. All of this is true and applicable to our lives of faith as well - Its why Paul often used the running and race analogy.  
Every day we make one choice after another.  A central part of each choice we are making is what are we focusing on.  Are our choices reflecting a a focus on God and God's call and mission for our lives or are we allowing the other stuff (good and bad) to cloud our vision and get in the way of what we should be primarily focused on.  
Every choice we make either puts us closer to where God is calling us to be and who God is calling us to be or further away from our intended design and our intended purpose.  
Things 'just happen' all the time in our lives, but the truth of the matter is that almost always its really a question of where our focus is and what choices we are making.  
Well, if nothing else, now you know what I think about on my long runs.  
Have a great weekend.  

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What does God want?

Today we get back, at least a little bit, to the daily lectionary readings, which as always can be found here:
In the Gospel reading we find Luke 10:25 - 37, which includes the story of the Good Samaritan.  There are few stories in the Bible with more widespread recognition than this particular parable.  As such there is in some ways, not much new that can be said about it.  
But having said that there are still some things we can glean from the familiar, and maybe even some things that we don't think about so much.  
And that is exactly where I want to start today.  At the beginning, as it where.  We all know the story of the Good Samaritan, but we often miss or overlook the fact that it is a story that Jesus tells in response to a question.  The question, 'Who is my neighbor?'
That question was itself a follow-up to another question asked by a lawyer (religious authority), a question meant to test Jesus.  That question was a simple one - 'What must I do to inherit eternal life?'  
Jesus asks the man a question in response, asking what is written (in the Scriptures).  The man then responds by quoting the Scripture: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." 
Jesus commends the answer and says that if you follow those words you will indeed 'live'.  
Luke then says that the man wanted to 'justify himself', asking 'who is my neighbor?'  Justifying himself meant finding out what the requirements are.  Finding out who qualified for the status of someone that he would be required to help.  
At this point is when Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.  A story of a member of one ethnic group reaching out and going above and beyond - really sacrificing and giving of himself - to help a member of another ethnic group in need.  But of course these were not just members of different races - the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans was much more complicated than that.  The relationship is better understood as something closer to a blood feud.  These groups had actively been at odds for centuries.  
In a time when all travel was difficult, costly and time consuming it was common for Jews to go up to 50 miles out of their way to avoid travelling through Samaria.  Jews loathed the Samaritans and the feeling was mutual.  
The point Jesus is making in using a Samaritan in this story is that if anyone would be thought of as 'other' by the Jews it would be the Samaritans.  And as one of my seminary professors always put it, this is a 'kitchen sink' story.  Meaning that Jesus used the relationship between Jews and Samaritans to illustrate that if a Samaritan could be considered 'neighbor', then really everyone you meet, come into contact with and are aware of that is in need must be understood as our 'neighbor'.  
Simply put, Jesus is saying that if you see or are aware of someone in need that person is, by definition your neighbor.  Probably not the answer that the lawyer was looking for and probably not 'new' thoughts for you.  But always good to be reminded of.  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why bother?

Better late than never?  I am not sure.  but I mentioned in my earlier post that I would try and 'catch up' on the daily lectionary and that is what this post is about . . . sort of.  
To be honest nothing really stood out to me in the readings for today.  And really it isn't that surprising.  I mean look at the choices.  
We have talked about the Psalms before - there is really good stuff there, but a lot of times it reads and feels like poetry - beautiful words and nothing more.  Today was one of those days.  The passage from Micah is very similar to the passages from the Psalms.  So more poetry but not much else.  
Then we have the passage from Revelation.  Confusing at best.   Which left me with the passage from Luke 10, which was a continuation of the story that I wrote about this morning.  So that was an easy path to take.  
But then it got me to thinking, particularly about the Revelation passage.  We had a Bible study at our church tonight and one of the passages was from Revelation - and at our church every time that book is mentioned someone mentions a member who 'hates' that book.  
Now that isn't fair to her, but in truth it is a sentiment that many of us agree with.  Either we 'hate' it or ignore it all together, which in my opinion is worse.  
So what is the point?  
The point is that, without getting into a semantic discussion about the Bible and what it is (I believe it is the inspired Word of God, but that isn't the point here), is to say that I really believe that what is in the Bible isn't there accidentally and as such in the words of Paul to Timothy (from 2Timothy 3:16): All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness
That doesn't mean that all scripture is created equal in terms of ease of understanding, accessibility or scope of application.  But it does mean that all of Scripture - even the parts that we might tend to skip over, like Psalms or Revelation, all of it is valuable for us and worthy of our time, our study and our wrestling with.  
Some, like Revelation, may require us to look to outside sources to help us understand.  Some, like the Psalms, might require us to listen with artists hearts and minds.  Some, like the parables, might require us to think from different perspectives.  But all of it is worth our time.  

Can I trust you?

So, sorry that there was no blog yesterday - I think the lack of the blog wisdom probably was responsible for the stock market finishing lower, not to mention the flooding in Asia, all I can say is sorry.  Seriously though, yesterday - for the first time that I can remember I just was not in front of the computer at all, all day.  Nothing exciting or special involved just a day with other, non-computer tasks.  
I did however read the daily lectionary and in this post will share a few thoughts from yesterday's passage from Luke 10.  My plan is to do that now and then later today 'catch up' with thoughts on today's readings.  We will see how that pans out.
Anyway, here goes.
As I was reading the Luke 10 passage, which begins with Jesus sending out 70 disciples to the surrounding regions to preach (with the words that 'the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few'), teach and heal in His name, I was particularly struck by the description of how they were sent out.  
Here is what we have, starting at verse 3:  3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 
What I find interesting here is two-fold.  First, in the beginning of this passage it says that Jesus was sending these 70 out to the communities where he intended to visit - so in a way they were preparing the way for Jesus, getting the people ready to hear and experience Jesus.  They were also going to gauge people's willingness to hear and receive the Word of God through Jesus Christ.  
So, the point is that Jesus had something riding on how 'successful' the disciples were.  He was not sending them out as some sort of exercise or practice, but as the precursor to Jesus himself drawing near to them.  
So with that in mind, we turn to the second interesting thing about this: that Jesus sends them out like 'lambs in the midst of wolves.'  What is most interesting here is that it seems at least like this is a choice.  Jesus is instructing them not to carry a purse or bag or sandals.  He isn't saying 'even though you don't have any of those things, go anyway'.  He seems to be saying don't take all that you have at your disposal - just go as you are, all by yourself.  
This doesn't really make sense, at all, right?  Why would Jesus not want the disciples to be as fully prepared as possible?  Why would Jesus not want the disciples to use every resource at their disposal to 'succeed' in their mission?  
As much as this doesn't make 'sense', there is precedent for it in the Old Testament.  God has Gideon send home many of his soldiers (sorting them by how the drink water from a river) before entering a battle where they were already outnumbered; God has Joshua and his men march around the city of Jericho with trumpets playing - announcing their presence and giving away any tactical advantage they may have had - and eventually literally bringing down the walls without any military action.  
In all these cases, what is the point?  Why does God act in the way that he does, in those cases  doing things that don't seem to make military sense and in this case why does Jesus not want them to use all that they have at their disposal?
I think the answer is about trust.  Simply put, God wants us to trust him.  On a daily basis God wants us to use the gifts, talents and abilities that we have been given to the best of our ability.  But God doesn't want us to judge our 'ability' to fulfill a task or succeed at a goal based on our resources, our gifts or our abilities.  It is a bit of a trite saying, but it is one that is appropriate here: God doesn't call the equipped, he equips the called.  
The point is that the truth is that if God has called you to something, you have all need to be 'successful' because you have God.  When we fail at things that God has called us to it isn't because God failed us or because we didn't have all that we needed to 'do the job', it is because we tried to do it on our own or relied solely on our own gifts, talents, resources and abilities.  
Again, I am not saying we are not supposed to use what God has given us - quite the opposite - what I am saying is that to fully and 'successfully' follow God's call on our lives and live into our part of God's plan we must always begin with trust and faith in God.  
In certain times and in certain situations God we may be asked to do something we simply don't have the skills or resources to do on our own or we may be called to not use all that we have (as Joshua, Gideon and the disciples were).  
Why?  Not to make it harder, but to make it clearer to us and to all of those around that what is happening is happening because of the power of God and God's Holy Spirit working in and through us.  
Philippians 4:13 says 'I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength' - I fully believe in the truth of this statement.  If God has called us to do something, by definition we have what we need to do it.  The question is are we willing to trust in God's strength enough to be faithful in trying even when 'we can't do it ourselves'?  
The times in our lives when we are faced with great difficulty or great 'odds', I think are opportunities for us to grow in our faith and trust of God and allow God to use us and our lives to demonstrate to those around us the miraculous power of really, fully trusting in God.  
The bottom line is that if we are willing to trust, really trust in God to be faithful to what we have been promised and live our lives according to that trust - it sets us up to witness and participate in extraordinary things,  done in extraordinary ways.  To live an extraordinary life - all for the glory of God.  
We don't need to come prepared, we just need to be prepared to trust in the God who calls us.  

Monday, October 18, 2010

What are you invested in?

Sorry that the blog is late today.  I have been in a presbytery meeting all day (I still am, don't tell anyone!)
So, that means no lectionary blog.  But below you will find yesterday's message that I shared with Good Shepherd.  It was our 'Stewardship Sunday' and I asked the question, 'are you invested?'
I would love to hear what you think:

Malachi 3:6-12
 6 "I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you," says the LORD Almighty.
      "But you ask, 'How are we to return?'
 8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.
      "But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'
      "In tithes and offerings. 
9 You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit," says the LORD Almighty. 12 "Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land," says the LORD Almighty.
Matthew 6:19-34
19 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
    22 "The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, [c] your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are unhealthy, [d] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
    24 "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.
 25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life [e]?
    28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Prayer: God, open our eyes that we might see you.  Open our ears that we might clearly hear your Word calling us.  Open our hearts so they might be tuned to yours.  And I ask that you would hide me behind your cross, so you are what’s seen and speak through me, so you are what’s heard.  Amen.
Several years ago, I was part of a group of St. Tim’s leaders going to get a $150,000 donation from Mrs. DuPont.  A leader said, it really shouldn’t be that hard, after all she could really pay for the whole thing and not even miss the money.  ‘She won’t even miss it’ – maybe hard for us to comprehend, but that was the reality of her situation.
But then Father Tom, the priest, said something profound that I will never forget - If she doesn’t miss it, then we will never get it.
The point he was making is about the nature of giving in the church and it is one that I think we all too often miss.
You see, I don’t think giving from a Christian perspective is about generosity or helping out those in need around us, or even helping to ensure that the doors of the church stay open.  These are all good and important things, and the money given to the church is certainly used for them – as it should be
But that is not the point or the purpose behind giving back to God through our tithes and offerings.  The point is that we are to be fully invested in what God is doing in and around us – that we are to actively participate in the mission and work of God in this world.
It is a point clearly illustrated in the story of the widows’ offering :

From Luke 21:1-4 (The Message)

1-4Just then he looked up and saw the rich people dropping offerings in the collection plate. Then he saw a poor widow put in two pennies. He said, "The plain truth is that this widow has given by far the largest offering today. All these others made offerings that they'll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn't afford—she gave her all!"
Many of you may be familiar with that story and it is yet another one of the stories of Jesus that gets trotted out around stewardship time, but I think by looking closely at this passage – along with the others we read this morning  can give us an important understanding of God’s call to invest in His mission in this world.
I think we are to draw two things out of Jesus’ description of the widow’s offering.  The first is about priorities and the second is about control.  The issue of what are priorities are in relation to God is simple
God calls us to put him first in our life, this may be hard to hear or difficult to think about implementing, but if you listen to the words of Jesus – this isn’t really a negotiable point
The thing is it’s easy to talk about making God a priority in our lives and there are many ways to do that:
Daily study and devotion
Involvement in the life of the church and regular worship
Engagement in service to and for others
But really, for most of us it is when we reach for our wallets that we get the truest picture of where God really stands as a priority in our lives.  We can take solace in remembering that of all the people Jesus encountered, only one did he call to sell everything and follow him.
For most of us God simply requires that we put him first.  Our money is so interconnected with the rest of our lives that when we shut God out of that area, it quickly becomes difficult to truly make God a priority in any other area of our lives
The hard truth is that in our world our ‘spiritual lives’ are directly connected to our pocketbooks and our wallets.  This is exactly what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel passage from Matthew that we heard a few minutes ago: ‘Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’
To put it more bluntly, Jesus is saying that our Hearts follow our dollars.  And that our Dollars lead our Hearts.  I think we assume that the heart – our hearts – work in the opposite direction: that we care first and then we share.
We think that someday, sometime down the road we will be spiritually mature enough that we will trust God to provide enough so that we can share with others.
We allow ourselves to believe that someday – but not now – when we have all we need, we will practice generosity. 
But Jesus says that isn’t the way it works.  First we must become invested in God’s work and mission in this world and in and through our lives.  Jesus says that if we want to trust that God will provide, we begin that process by  trusting that God has already provided. 
Treasure first, says Jesus.  Our hearts will follow. 
First we share – of our time, our talents and yes, our money – we invest who we are and what we have in God’s mission and in so doing we grow to care.  Trusting in God – which is a crucial part of what is needed to take the first step in investing yourself in God’s will for your life and in God’s work in and around you is not easy. 
It isn’t easy and it hinges on the second issue.  Jesus is getting at in the story of the widow’s offering– control.  If you were here last week, we talked a little about this then too – because I really believe it is right at the heart of stewardship.
We all want to be able to control as much as we can about our lives, and thanks to technology, wealth and knowledge for the first time in human history we can at least perceive to have some level of control over all or almost all of our lives
But if you have lived long enough, studied enough history or listened closely enough to the Word of God you know that our ability to control – well, much of anything really – is nothing more than an illusion.  And this is, again, directly tied to how we handle our money
Do we see ourselves as children of God, trusting in our creator and savior for all that we need – as we are told in Matt 6 –
'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Or do we ignore those words and hold on as tightly as we can to all that we have been given, operating under the illusion not just of control but of responsibility – that we are in this life alone and it is our responsibility (and ours alone) to provide for our families; to care for ourselves; etc.
If we let go of this illusion, if we truly make God a priority in our lives – in every area of our lives and we recognize that God is in control and accept his responsibility for us than I believe, It will mean that sometimes we are asked to give so much that we can’t help but notice it
But I also believe that whether we have less or more; plenty or want; whether we are the rich giving our offerings or the poor widow among them when we trust in God and invest what God has given us in the mission and work of God we will experience grace, peace and providence as the first dividends of an amazing investment
Let me briefly share three steps to beginning to invest in God’s mission in and around you
Step One – Make a promise.  The spiritual practice of generosity begins with a promise – the promise to share.  It is a promise to ourselves and to God.  In this church we have the opportunity to record our promise through a pledge card – which I once heard described as a promissory prayer.
Step Two – Share in proportion to your resources.  Our Hebrew ancestors gave us an example of proportional giving, setting aside the first ten percent of their harvests or herds to God in what was called ‘the tithe’.  Ten percent is a good goal or bench mark, but it isn’t a magic number – especially if you are just beginning the spiritual discipline of generosity.   Starting where you are is a great goal – beginning with 1 or 2 percent of your resources.  Much more important than the amount is that we promise a proportion of what God has shared with us.
Step Three – Be persistent in giving.  Generosity, like all disciplines is self-confirming.  What I mean by that is that it is only by practicing it that we are able to learn and understand its value.  This is true of prayer, worship, Bible study and it is true too of generosity.  Simply put to see the benefits of generosity for ourselves and the world around us we must keep at it. 
Persistence pays off as disciplines become habits and Godly habits become sources of joy and energy for our life and the lives around us.
Are you invested?