Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Giving up Guilt for Lent

I know that I have had a lot of Lent and particularly 'giving-things-up-for-Lent' themed posts lately, but as I continue to struggle with not biting my nails, I guess it has just been on my mind a lot.  And, after all, it is Lent.  So, its appropriate.  
Anyway, I was thinking about how our practice of giving something for Lent is a really similar and comparable to the ancient practice of sacrifices and/or burnt offerings.  Of course I am not talking about human sacrifice or anything like that, but the kind of sacrifice we read about, primarily in the Old Testament, but was also present at the time of Jesus.  
There are lots of different kinds of sacrifice talked about and explained in the Bible, but all of it shared a purpose.  The sacrifices and the burnt offerings were to be gifts to God, symbols of our love and appreciation for what God has done for us.  But they were also to be something more than that, they things (different types of animals) were sacrificed as a sort of penance for sins we had committed and the things we had done wrong.  
Finally, they were to cost us something and that cost was to be a reminder to us of the consequences of our actions and a reminder of what God had done for us.  
This is where the greatest similarity lies to our giving things up for Lent.  
We don't give things up for Lent because God asks us to.  (we will get to that in a second).  Instead we give things up to remind us - daily - of what God, in Christ has done for us and to experience, on some small scale a sacrifice to help us appreciate the sacrifices Jesus made for us.  That is good, and important - as long as it is done to help us grow closer to Christ and gain a better understanding of the depth of God's sacrificial love for us.  Giving something up is about getting closer to God and knowing more of God's love.  It isn't for or about God.  
These thoughts crystallized for me as I read today's Old Testament passage from the Daily Lectionary (which can be found here:  http://gamc.pcusa.org/devotion/daily/2011/3/29/  )
The part that really stuck out to me as meaningful for us during Lent was this, from Jeremiah 7:
1Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. 22For in the day that I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23But this command I gave them, “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.” 24Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward. 
God doesn't want or ask for our offerings and sacrifices (that is why he says to eat the offerings - the sacrifices to God would have stayed at the temple and shared by the priests)  God isn't interested in our offerings, but our obedience.  God wants us to follow where he calls us and sends us.  
Also, very interesting to me is that part of the problem for the people is that they were looking backward rather than forward.  So often when we sacrifice something - to God or someone else - it is about penitence or repayment.  We do it to make up for something we have done -or left undone.  
But here God is saying that we are to simply look forward into what and where God is calling us now and not be worried about what we have done or not done in the past.  
So, maybe the best thing all of us can give up this year for Lent is guilt.  God doesn't want our sacrifices because God isn't interested in our looking back on where we have messed up or not lived up.  God simply asks us to obey him and that begins with turning around and facing forward into the future and the life that God has called you to.  Not worried about the past, but ready for whatever God is going to call you to next.

Monday, March 28, 2011

You can't always get what you want . . . .

Good Afternoon all.  Below is the message I shared yesterday with Good Shepherd.  The john 4 passage is a really long one, but I think it is important.   Having said that, it is a familiar story, and I pull out the points I am talking about in the text.  I have pasted it here, if you want to read it in its entirety.  
The message is a continuation of our series on submitting to God, this week focusing on giving over our desires and requests to God.  

Matthew 7:7-11 (New International Version, ©2011)
    7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
   9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
John 4:5-42 (The Message)
 4-6To get there, he had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob's well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon.
 7-8A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, "Would you give me a drink of water?" (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.)   9The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, "How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" (Jews in those days wouldn't be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)   10Jesus answered, "If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water."   11-12The woman said, "Sir, you don't even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this 'living water'? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?"
 13-14Jesus said, "Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life."
 15The woman said, "Sir, give me this water so I won't ever get thirsty, won't ever have to come back to this well again!"   16He said, "Go call your husband and then come back."   17-18"I have no husband," she said.
   "That's nicely put: 'I have no husband.' You've had five husbands, and the man you're living with now isn't even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough."
 19-20"Oh, so you're a prophet! Well, tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God at this mountain, but you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?"
 21-23"Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God's way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you're called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.
 23-24"It's who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That's the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration."
 25The woman said, "I don't know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we'll get the whole story."
 26"I am he," said Jesus. "You don't have to wait any longer or look any further."
 27Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn't believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.
 28-30The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, "Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?" And they went out to see for themselves.
 31In the meantime, the disciples pressed him, "Rabbi, eat. Aren't you going to eat?"   32He told them, "I have food to eat you know nothing about."   33The disciples were puzzled. "Who could have brought him food?"
 34-35Jesus said, "The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One who sent me, finishing the work he started. As you look around right now, wouldn't you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I'm telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what's right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It's harvest time!
 36-38"The Harvester isn't waiting. He's taking his pay, gathering in this grain that's ripe for eternal life. Now the Sower is arm in arm with the Harvester, triumphant. That's the truth of the saying, 'This one sows, that one harvests.' I sent you to harvest a field you never worked. Without lifting a finger, you have walked in on a field worked long and hard by others."
 39-42Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to him because of the woman's witness: "He knew all about the things I did. He knows me inside and out!" They asked him to stay on, so Jesus stayed two days. A lot more people entrusted their lives to him when they heard what he had to say. They said to the woman, "We're no longer taking this on your say-so. We've heard it for ourselves and know it for sure. He's the Savior of the world!"
As we are continuing to look at submitting every aspect of our lives to God. 
Today the focus is in submitting our petitions or our requests to God. 
On the face of it, this one seems like a no brainer.  I mean, who else are we going to give our requests to?  Isn’t submitting our requests and petitions to God what prayer is all about (or at least partly what it is about)
And the passage from Matthew 7 we read a few minutes ago seems to seems to reinforce this idea:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
But I think actually submitting our requests and petitions to God is about more than just the asking for what we want
And, as all of us already know – asking for something of God – whatever it is, is never quite so simple as ‘seek & you will find, ask & it shall be given, knock & the door will be opened.
We ask for things from God all the time that we don’t get.  This is a simple, undeniable fact of life, one that we have to come to terms with. 
For as long as we go on pretending that getting what we ask for is always as simple as knocking on the right door, we will miss the ways God is trying to break into our lives while we wait to be given what we want.
Submitting our petitions or requests to God means not just handing our wish lists to God, but actually handing over our wish lists and letting go of the expectation that we might get exactly what it is we have asked for.
But really submitting our requests to God can move them from simply something we want to something that God is able to use to transform us and change the world around us.
As we look at our story from John 4, there are three specific places where I want us to focus.  Three particular points that help us understand the details that fill out God’s invitation to Ask, seek and knock.
We pick up the story with Jesus hanging out at the local well, waiting for the disciples to return with lunch. 
A local Samaritan woman enters the scene – now we don’t have to be too clever to figure out her motivation, she is there to get water (it is, after all, a well)
And here we have the first real request: but it is not from the woman, it is from Jesus.  Jesus asks her for water.  This is how it works in our relationship with God.  
God is always the first actor in relationship with us.  And God wants us to submit our lives to him.  But even though God could make us do whatever – forcing us to submit all of our lives to him
But that isn’t God’s nature.  Instead God sent Jesus to us.  Jesus life serves as an invitation to relationship with God and a petition to willingly submit our lives to God.
Submitting our lives and our petitions to God begins with responding to God’s invitation. 
When this happens in the gospel passage there is a change – the woman is no longer being asked a question – instead after hearing about this ‘living water’ that Jesus is talking about, she is intrigued by what he has said and she asks him for this water
She realizes and believes that Jesus has something to offer her.  She knows that he has something she needs. 
So, she submits her request, asking for the living water.
But it’s is very rarely as simple as lodging a request and receiving what you have asked for. 
And that is the case here too – the woman likely still had to travel to that well every day for the rest of her life. 
But in that moment Jesus gave her access to sustenance that even his own disciples had not yet received – or better, had not yet understood. 
The living water Jesus gives to her is the same as the food that keeps him fed and sustained – to do the work of God or to be who God called him and created him to be, wherever he was. 
That is the spiritual food Jesus ate and the living water he offered.
Interestingly, He doesn’t tell her that she isn’t good enough yet to get the water. 
In fact, in his description of how we are to submit to and worship God, Jesus makes it clear that we are not to have any pretenses when we come before God.  We are to come to God as we are – honest about who we are. 
When we do that, and when in doing that we submit our lives and give them to God, then God will take our lives and transform them. 
When we allow God to reorder our lives.  When we allow God to restore our vision, so that it matches his.  When we submit all of our lives to God – then our needs are met, and our petitions and requests are answered in ways that we couldn’t have imagined. 
Again this is what Jesus is trying to explain, he is sustained and fulfilled in following the call of his father.  Submitting to the will of God. 
We are here as the result of Jesus submission to God.  We are here and we have the invitation to eternal life with God because Jesus did not simply list his requests to God, but instead submitted them to God, giving them up so that  they might be transformed into God’s will. 
It isn’t likely, of course, that any of us will have the impact on our world that Jesus has had.  But we can make a massive impact on the lives of our families and friends and the world around us. 
To understand how this works, we need only to look at the Samaritan woman in our passage one more time.
After her encounter with Jesus, she returns to her village and can’t stop telling everybody about what she has just experienced. 
She is evangelizing her village, not because she is intending to per se, but rather because her experience of God is so fresh and her transformation so complete that she simply can’t keep quiet about it.  She has to share what has happened to her – it is good news!
People begin to believe in Jesus  - and long for the same transformation – simply because of her witness to them
She then persuades Jesus to stay a few days in the community and even more people are brought into a relationship with Jesus.
This is what happens when we submit our desires, our wants, our requests and our lives to God:
Transformation happens within us, through us and around us.  When we submit to God we get to be part of God’s work in and through this world.
God takes our submission and uses it to do more than we can know or imagine - the Samaritan woman is changed, restored and transformed but it doesn’t stop there.
Many in her village come to know and be in relationship with Jesus through her. 
When we let go of our requests, petitions and desires and submit them to God, we don’t usually get exactly what we ask for.  But that is because God’s vision for our lives and for the world around us is so much bigger, clearer and better than our own.  Submitting to God opens us up to a reality we wouldn’t have dared to ask for or even could have imagined without God.
Ask, Seek Knock. 
Ask of God – and God will ask something of you.  Asking you to submit even your wants and requests to him.
Seek God – and you will find that God’s plan for you and the world is often different than yours
Knock on the door to a relationship with God – and you will find that a world of change, service and sacrifice awaits.
But you will see that you have:
Received maybe not what you have asked for, but in the grace, peace and love of Jesus Christ so much more than you could have imagined.
You will find that in giving up what you want, and accepting where you are and who God has called you to be that you might not have the life you were seeking, but that the life you have has eternal meaning and real significance here and now.
And you will see that in giving over your requests and your life to God what is opened to you is the door to a whole, full and fulfilled life as part of the kingdom of God now and forever. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Still biting

A quick thought for the day.  
I have had a bit of a rough day or so with the whole 'not biting my fingernails' thing.  Not a full relapse mind you, but I have definitely been biting.  Trips to the car dealership and other moments of uncertainty will do it to me every time.
Which is so true, I think of what happens to us in many ways when we are trying to avoid temptation or sin.  We are strong for a while and then there we find ourselves in a difficult time, we are stressed or around certain people and we - seemingly without even thinking about it - slip right back into our old patterns of living and being.  Those patterns that are supposed to be dead so that the new and transformed us can rise with Christ.  
But our lives are not so simple.  It is just the fact of life that there will be steps back (not to mention steps sideways, etc.)  just as we struggle to move forward.  
When we fail or relapse or give in to temptation there is a natural thought to dwell in that failure, to give up and give in saying that it (and we) are a lost cause.  
But our mistakes and even our sin and giving into temptation is not failure, not really.  The only real failure is to accept that as the end result of who we are and where we will be.  
Paul, you know the guy that wrote like half of the New Testament and brought the gospel to countless people, struggled with a 'thorn in the flesh' that he said was from Satan.  Nobody knows what that thorn was, some say it was a physical ailment, some a temptation, some say something else entirely.  But whatever it was, 2 Corinthians 12 says that Paul asked to have it taken from him 3 times and that it wasn't.
So what?  Well, I think for us there is peace and grace in Paul's response to the continued presence of this Thorn.  He didn't look at it as a failure of his or of a reflection of who and what he 'really' was.  Instead he says this, in verse 8: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
The point is that our 'failures' and imperfections - even our sins are not to be burdens of guilt and despair for us, but rather reminders that it is not on our own merits that we are granted entrance into the family of God, but rather through the grace, peace, love and ultimately sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  And that power is made perfect - and shines most brightly - in and through our weakness.  
***Disclaimer: this doesn't mean we are to sin more, but that is a post for another day - or just keep reading in 2 Corinthians.  
God Bless.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Choosing what to quit and who to serve

Below is the message I shared at Good Shepherd's new worship experience, 'Shepherd 701'.  The message is actually based on a blog post I wrote last week, about biting my fingernails.  So this post can serve as an update to that post, both in how I am doing with the nail biting and in that it is a more fully formed treatment of the idea of serving either the law of sin or the law of God.  
Hope you find it meaningful. 

Romans 7:17-25 (New International Version, ©2011)
17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!   So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[b] a slave to the law of sin.
So here we are in this season of Lent. 
It is a fairly common practice to give something up during Lent
Truth be told, I am just not very good at this: I usually pick some type of food to give up.  Then I end up fixating on the food and talking about it  - or more likely complaining about not having it all the time
I feel like this sort of defeats the purpose, so I was actually not going to give up anything this year.
But then I decided to try something a little different
This year I am trying to give up biting my fingernails. 
Which isn’t the typical thing to give up, I know, but I have been trying for literally years to stop, so I thought it was worth a try.
As I struggle with breaking this habit this week I was struck by Paul’s words in Romans 7, words we just heard a moment ago:
‘For I don’t do the good I intend to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.’
Isn’t this a great summary for much of our lives? 
We, so often get caught up in doing the things that we don’t want to do and manage to miss the opportunities to do the things we want to do or know we should do.
This doesn’t seem to make any sense – why would we keep doing things that we don’t want to do?
Well, for most of us it just isn’t that simple
I want to stop biting my nails – most of the time.  Sometimes I do it without even realizing that I am doing it. 
But, if I am being completely honest, there is often –in fact almost always – a moment of realization
A moment when I know I am about to bite my nails.  And in that moment, I don’t want to quit – I want to bite my nails, so that is exactly what I do. 
It’s in moments like this, usually about things much more important than nail-biting, that we are giving in to the ‘law of sin’ or sinful nature living within us. 
In that moment we are presented with a choice between the freedom of following the law of God and slavery to the law of sin. 
Too often we choice the law of sin. 
We do it of course because there is some reward or satisfaction or pleasure.  Sin usually looks or feels good – at least for a moment.
But sin, choosing the law of sin, has consequences too
Right now this is the first time I can ever remember that at least one of my fingers doesn’t actively hurt. 
That is a ridiculous but true statement. 
The pain in my fingers is a consequence of giving into that momentary impulse. 
But we need to understand that whenever we give into the law of sin in our lives – there is a consequence – that sin leaves a mark.  Aching fingers, hurt feelings, broken and torn lives. 
And the more often we give into any one sin, the deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal, the bigger the scar in our lives, and relationships.
Sin is about deception, tricking us to choose pain and brokenness and slavery over freedom, wholeness and fulfillment. 
  It may not always seem like it, but we always have a choice: a choice to give into the sinful nature living within us or to accept and rely on the love, grace and power of Jesus Christ and the law of God that is at work within us.  
It’s a choice we make many times every day, and each time we give into sin we allow ourselves to become more enslaved by the very sin we seek pleasure from.  
But, each time we choose to rely on God we grow closer to God and also closer to who we are supposed to be.
So, while we are incapable of always choosing freedom, wholeness and life our will power, strength and choice is not the end of the story
Listen again to the passage from Romans, this time in The Message translation, starting at verse 24:
Romans 7:19-25 (The Message)
24I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?
25The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
The choice we are offered is to stop relying on ourselves and to lean on and lean into the love, grace and peace of Jesus Christ. 
Jesus Christ who loves us, wants what is best for us and has the power to guide  and save us. 
Through his actions he has set right even our hearts and minds and decisions if we would but choose him. 
And that is indeed good news.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Who do you work for?

Below is the message I shared yesterday at Good Shepherd as we are in the midst of a Lenten series focused on submitting our lives to God.  This message is focused on submitting our work to God.  

Colossians 3:22 - 25 (The Message)
 22-25Servants, do what you're told by your earthly masters. And don't just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you'll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you're serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn't cover up bad work.

John 6:27-33 (The Message)

 27"Don't waste your energy striving for perishable food like that. Work for the food that sticks with you, food that nourishes your lasting life, food the Son of Man provides. He and what he does are guaranteed by God the Father to last."  28To that they said, "Well, what do we do then to get in on God's works?"   29Jesus said, "Throw your lot in with the One that God has sent. That kind of a commitment gets you in on God's works."   30-31They waffled: "Why don't you give us a clue about who you are, just a hint of what's going on? When we see what's up, we'll commit ourselves. Show us what you can do. Moses fed our ancestors with bread in the desert. It says so in the Scriptures: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"  32-33Jesus responded, "The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world."
This week we are continuing to look at submitting our lives to God in thanks for what God in Christ has done for us. 
As we do that, our focus today is on submitting our work to God.    Not all of us have a job – but all of us have work.
All of us do something – a job, school, parenting, chores, etc.  When you think about it, most of us – if not all of us – do a lot more than one thing.  All of us have and do work. 
The question I want us to think about this morning is why?  Why are we working?  Not why do we have to work, but why are we working.  Maybe a better way ask the question is like this: who or what are you doing your work for?
This is a question that might seem to have a million different answers:  We do our jobs for our bosses – and maybe for ourselves.  We do chores and the work of parenting for our families.  We do our schoolwork for ourselves maybe, but definitely our parents.  Etc.
These answers are all probably ‘correct’ or true, and they point, I think, to the fragmented nature of much of our lives – we have a different person or reason for doing each piece or kind of work before us.
But this fragmented, piecemeal life of multiple and sometimes conflicting motivations is not the life that Christ calls and invites us to.
Submitting our work to God means beginning to let God really work in and through your life. 
It means, almost by default, that you are opening yourself up to not just little changes, but true transformation
This transformation begins by recognizing that there is – or really should be – only one answer to the question of why or who we are working for. 
One translation of verse 23 of our passage from Colossians says it this way: whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not human masters.
Understanding the work before us this way doesn’t allow us to compartmentalize our lives. 
Instead, when we begin to see that all that we do – from the most mundane act (taking out the garbage, for instance) to the most important act of service (providing food or clothing for a family in need, maybe) is all to be done as if it was done for God and to God. 
When we look at our lives and our work that way everything matters. 
When we look at the work before us – and the stuff that fills up our daily lives, our schedules begin to take on eternal meaning and significance.
When we understand that everything we do, we are to do with our whole hearts and to do as if we are doing it for the Lord, that means that there is nothing that ‘doesn’t matter’ and that there is no ‘little’ or ‘small’ thing. 
That can be an intimidating prospect – what I am doing matters. 
But what an exciting opportunity – to be able to say that something – anything (everything?) that I am doing, the work that is before me, matters. 
The work we have before us: the daily routines of our jobs, the unrewarding tasks of maintaining a healthy marriage or family, the work of our hands – all of it matters. 
All of it matters, not just to you or to me, but to God.  That is crazy.  And it is an amazing truth that points to the wonderful privilege that we are given to participate with Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit to bring the Kingdom of God near to our world. 
But it means changing the way we view our lives and the things we do with them. 
It means that submitting our work to God isn’t about what we do on Sunday mornings or ‘just’ when we are doing service or mission work. 
It is, instead about what we do – and why we do – everything.
I was first exposed to this reality in a conversation with my mother when I was a teenager
As many of you know I grew up heavily involved in service and mission projects. 
For as long as I can remember mission work, whether local mission projects that take a few hours every couple of weeks or concentrated work that took place on mission trips, has been an important part of my life. 
One Sunday night after a weekend spent with my youth group doing a few different mission projects, I was feeling pretty good about myself and the work that we had done. 
My mom, however, had a list of questions for me: Was my homework done?  Why wasn’t my room clean?  Was I planning on doing any of the chores that were my responsibility around the house? 
I was expecting to be able to relax and maybe even be pampered a little bit – I mean I had just spent the weekend doing ‘important’ work FOR GOD!
Instead I was greeted with those questions and one more piercing one: why was it so easy for me to serve others and be a great worker everywhere else but so hard for me at home? 
As you might have already figured out, my mom doesn’t really pull any punches – but she wasn’t trying to be mean or make me feel guilty. 
She was asking me to consider what my real witness was and why I was or wasn’t doing something.
Now, I am very much a work in progress and Traci will tell you it still isn’t always easy to get me to work on the chores that need done around the house
But I have never forgotten that question my mother asked me and I believe it is one that we all need to keep in mind  
If we understand, as I think we should, that all the work that is put before us – from explicit service and mission work, to writing reports or memorizing facts for work or school, to taking out the garbage and cleaning our rooms
If we understand all of it to be work that is to be done for God and to the glory of God then, at least in my life, it has to radically change the way that I go about my everyday life and my everyday work. 
If we begin to respond to God’s call to do all things for God and for the glory of God, not only will be begin to be transformed, but we will begin to transform the lives around us, the community around us and even the world around us – bringing the kingdom of God near to all that see and experience the work of our hands and minds. 
When we begin to see the value, meaning and importance of even the little or seemingly insignificant things we do – it allows others to see the meaning, significance and value in their lives. 
This is an amazing gift that can’t be overstated and this is a grace – a saving grace - that comes from God to those around us through the way we work at what is put before us. 
This change doesn’t usually happen overnight, so begin with whatever you consider to be your primary work: your job, school, parental responsibilities, whatever. 
Begin viewing each task that comes with that work as a job to be done for God and to God’s glory. 
When we submit the work of our hands and minds to God, it transforms us and in that transformation invites others into relationship with God. 
In all and whatever we do, then, let us do it with our whole hearts, as working for the Lord.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I keep trying to give up . . . but I am no good at it.

Okay, I need all of you to stay with me for a few minutes on this post today, I have a point, but it may take a minute or two to get to.  Thanks.
So, right now my fingers hurt.  Truth be told they hurt almost everyday.  No, I don't have arthritis or any lamentable condition, except for the fact that I have been biting my nails for as long as I can remember.
So my fingers are sore from the fact that I bite my nails down almost to the bone, I really do and I will be the first to admit that it is pretty gross.  Traci hates that I bite my nails and is always trying to get me to quit, often telling me to 'get your fingers out of your mouth!'  Here is the strange thing though, I really don't want to quit.  
Like I said, I know that it is gross and my fingernails look terrible, plus there is the whole fingers hurting everyday thing.  And for the most part I don't really get any enjoyment - certainly no long term enjoyment - out of biting my fingernails.  But there is the moment, the exact moment when I bite my nails, that there is some sort of psychological or emotional enjoyment out of it.  Strangely, this momentary enjoyment is almost intensified if I have just been told not to do it.  
So I can say that I would like to say that I do want to stop, but I don't seem to act that way.  To this end I have given up biting my nails for Lent - I know not exactly a sacrifice, but it is worth a shot.  Over the past week it is amazing how many times I find my fingers in my mouth without even realizing it.  Again, gross, I know.  I am doing okay, but far from perfect.  
Each time I 'catch' myself about to start biting my nails there is this instant where I have to make a decision: do I stop - and avoid the instant of gratification, but a tiny bit closer to who I want to be and how I want to act or do I give in and bite away, which gives me the instant of satisfaction but leaves me not only with guilt but with the consequences of my actions - hurting fingers, gross looking hands, a wife annoyed with my nervous habit, etc.  
As I was thinking about this today, I read Romans 7:    
 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.   21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.
Interesting parallel, no?  I don't think Paul's issue or struggle was with biting his nails, and of course my biggest real struggles aren't either.  But there are parallels here.  In each of our lives we get stuck in patterns of behavior where we do the things we don't want to do and we don't do the things we know we should or the things we actually want to do.  
Sin is all about deception.  While it can sometimes feel good, that feeling never lasts and sin always comes with consequences.  
Romans 7 continues like this:

 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
   So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[d] a slave to the law of sin.

It may not always seem like it, but we always have a choice: a choice to give into the sinful nature living within us or to accept and rely on the love, grace and power of Jesus Christ and the law of God that is at work within us.  
It is a choice that we make a hundred times a day, and each choice has consequences.  Each time we choose to rely on God we grow closer to God and also closer to who we are supposed to be.  Each time we give into sin we allow ourselves to become more enslaved by the very sin we seek pleasure from.  
As Paul says we are indeed wretched, but the good news of the gospel is that there is no bond of sin that is beyond the power of Jesus Christ to break and it only takes one choice to rely on God to set us right and on God's path of freedom and destiny for our lives. 
The choice is ours.  As for me, I am hoping for fingernails and pain-free hands.  Amen.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Getting down the mountain is as easy as the person who is guiding you down

Below is the message I shared yesterday at Good Shepherd.  For Lent we are talking about submitting to God.  This is not exactly an exciting topic, but I think it is a crucial one.  I hope it holds for you a word from God.

James 4:7-10 (NIV)
 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Mark 1:35-39 (New International Version, ©2011)

 35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

As you have likely heard me say many times, in this season of Lent we will look at how we can submit or give over specific areas of our lives to God so that we might be able to more fully follow God and so that we might come closer to who God intended us and created us to be.  
But I think it is important, before we talk about how we can submit more fully, that we talk about why we need to submit to God and what submitting really means.
What does it mean to submit?
For me, if I am being honest, the word doesn’t have a great context.  Submitting is synonymous with losing or quitting or getting beaten at something.  But this isn’t quite the real meaning of the word.
The word submit has a couple of possible meanings, the first two I found are the ones that I think are applicable for us: 1. To give over or yield to the power or authority of another.  2. To subject to some kind of treatment or influence.  This is what we are doing when we submit to God. 
We are choosing to yield to the power and authority of God and asking God, through the power and indwelling of the Holy Spirit to not just influence our lives, but to guide our thoughts, plans and actions. 
As such, I think submitting begins with admitting that someone else has more knowledge, power or ability than you.
When we think about that, it makes sense that we often think of submitting as losing or admitting defeat
In a world where independence and self-reliance is seen as maybe the ultimate value, admitting that someone – anyone, even God – is more capable of planning and guiding your life is a hard pill to swallow. 
But this is what we say we believe.  We say that we believe that God has good things planned for us.  We say in confession and in many other ways that we are not perfect and have fallen short of God’s – and our own – plans for our lives. 
We say that we have faith that God is good and wants the best for us.
So, submitting to God, if we believe what we say makes sense.  God not only wants what is best for us, but knows what is best for us.  God is in perfect position to guide our lives to be all that they can be, if we would simply submit to God’s power, authority and influence in our lives.
Even so, it is still hard – and in fact seems to go against our natural will, to submit to God, we want to rely on ourselves. 
No one had more right to think this way than Jesus – Jesus who, while being fully human was also fully God.  Yet let’s look at how Jesus viewed his relationship with God and submitting to God’s authority:
First, from Philippians 2:5-8
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,  did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,  being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!
And then a familiar scene from the last week of Jesus life, taken from Luke 22:
 39 Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him. 40 On reaching the place, he said to them,“Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” 41 He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 
So in these two passages we see the depth of what it means to truly and fully submit to God
In these passages, we see Jesus example of perfect submission – but Jesus also had something to say about submission, and I think it is important for us to look at that as well
In John 15, starting at verse 13 listen to what Jesus says about submitting :
13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you
We don’t normally think about submitting to a friend – but this is what Jesus offers us and asks of us
Jesus doesn’t force our submission, guilt it out of us or try to scare us into it.  Instead Jesus invites us to follow him.  Why?
Because Jesus knows the way, knows what is best for you and has been where you are and knows where you need to go.
Submitting to friend is about trust and faith.  Trust in the friend’s intentions – that they only want what is best for you.  And faith, faith that the friend you are submitting to, the friend that you are following and listening to knows what they are doing.
When I was 12, I was away at a camp called Summer’s Best Two Weeks.  As part of the camp we were on a 3 night camping trip.  On the afternoon of the last day we were hiking down a fairly steep mountain and our group was faced with two options – follow the path as it zig zagged gently down the long way down the hill or take the more direct route, mostly straight down the hill – basically free climbing down the hill.
Did I mention we were 12 year old boys???? (as for our counselors, well, they were old boys too, 20 year old boys, but still just boys) so it’s not so surprising that they let us go straight down the hill. 
All was going fine – and it was quite a bit of fun  - until I was about halfway down the hill.
I hadn’t even noticed, but I was the last one in the line going down the hill, and before I knew it everyone else was at the bottom and I was still only half way down.
Basically, there were a few tricky steps and I got nervous, then scared and then I just froze.
One of my counselors came part way up the hill and tried to talk me down – but I didn’t budge.  Nothing worked and I was still stuck halfway down the hill.  That was until my friend, Artie, came partway up the hill and started talking to me.
Artie was one of my best friends at camp.  He was a really good friend, but more than that he was the one that got me to go on this hiking trip.  He was an avid hiker and rock climber and kept telling me about how much fun it would be.
When Artie reassured me that it would be fine, I believed him.  And when he started to give me step by step instructions on how to get down, I listened and followed.  
I trusted Artie because he was my friend and because I knew he cared about me and my safety.
I had faith in Artie, because I knew he knew what he was talking about: He was a hiker, a camper and a rock climber – this was his element.           He told me that he had just been where I was.  He said that all I had to do was follow in his footsteps, do what he told me to do and I would be fine.  He guided me along the path down, step by step and before I knew it, I was at the bottom of the hill.
Our lives of following Christ are as simple as my way down that hill – we simply have to submit to our friend Jesus and do what he tells us to do.
Jesus has been where you are today.  Jesus knows where you need to go and Jesus knows how to get you there.
Jesus invites us to listen to him, to follow him and submit to him because that is the only way we can be unstuck from our lives of missed opportunities, wrong turns and faults and get to the path that our lives were designed for.
Our response to Jesus invitation is to submit to God by trusting and having faith in him.  Now as great of an idea as that is, it doesn’t happen magically or simply because we say that is what we are going to do.
Really, truly and fully submitting to God and learning to trust and have faith in Jesus takes time, work and discipline.  And that is the bottom line for us.
If we want to be who we were created to be.  If we want to be who God is calling us to be we need to know Jesus well enough to trust him and to have faith in him.
Submitting to God begins with spending time dedicated and devoted to talking to – and listening to God. 
As always Jesus is our role model, and we saw it in our Gospel lesson a few minutes ago.   Jesus – as was his custom – up early to be alone in prayer with God. 
Following God, submitting to God begins with submitting or giving of our time. 
So as we begin this season of Lent and we start to focus on Christ’s journey to the cross, we must begin to give God some (or some more) of our time.
Make this the moment – as a Lenten discipline – to dedicate focused time to God each and every day.  For you it maybe, like Jesus, that you get up early before anyone else is awake
Maybe it is after everyone is asleep at night, or in the car to work or the bus home from school.
Where ever and whenever it is, if we submit time to God each and every day we begin to hear  the voice of Christ and hearing that voice we can trust enough to follow the call of Christ.  Knowing that in faith, the God that has been where we are, will lead us to where we need to be.