Weekly Devotional: Putting on the Mind of Christ (…It’s Not Easy!)

MicahLet the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.     –Philippians 2.5

Well, sooner or later, it was bound to happen. Yes, I confess, I posted something to Facebook that offended a friend of mine. Scrolling through Facebook this week I saw a post that read: “I don’t always share a public bathroom with a stranger, but when I do, I prefer a transgender person to some fool with a concealed gun.” To be honest, I thought it was funny, and I didn’t consider, even for a moment, that it would offend a good friend of mine who carries a concealed gun.

But now as I think about it, I realize that this post speaks to my frustration with the laws being passed across our country that insists that transgender people use the restroom according to what is on their birth certificate. It also speaks to my growing concerns about concealed and open carry gun advocates who see transgender people as such a threat that they feel a need to carry a gun into a restroom for protection. I get downright frightened when I read headlines like: Right Wingers Pledge to Carry Guns into Bathrooms to Fend Off Trans Folks.

You see, I have many transgender friends and I struggle with the verbal and legislative violence that is being waged against them for simply trying to live into the human beings they were created by God to be. Of course, in addition and on a more personal note, it raises deep concerns for my own, and my wife and child’s safety, since my wife and I also represent a sexual minority.

As I consider the rising tide of violence against transgender people and the increasing tendency for all of us to be verbally negative toward each other, I realize that it is incumbent upon me to be vigilant in how I add to or help to reduce that violence and negativity. You see, I take seriously the name Christian, not just as something I am by worshipping on a Sunday morning, but as a way of life, and because of that I must commit to try to live each day by loving God and God’s creation, loving my neighbor and even my enemies. Of course saying that is much easier than actually living it: To do so requires that one wrestle with the balance between living a life of justice and living a life of grace.

A quick read of the Gospels reveals that the only people Jesus actually condemned were those who were absolutely sure that they had all the answers of what it meant to live a righteous life in God’s eyes and then imposed their answers on everyone else. Most often, Jesus offered mercy and grace to those he encountered, especially those who were most marginalized by society, maybe like transgender people today? So, it just seems to me that if we truly want to “put on the mind of Christ Jesus,” we would spend time thinking about what that means and how that is reflected in how we live, what we say and what we do.

So, thank you, friend, for calling me out about my post. I know that you and so many others who carry concealed weapons are not fools, and I also know that I added to the negative rhetoric by my post. But I also know that somehow, someway, I must speak out against the violence, verbally and physically, that is being done to transgender people and speak out about the continued assault on the full and equal human rights of LGBTQ people. The challenge, of course, is how to do that without becoming the very thing I hate. Well, it would seem that the only sure way, at least for me, is to “put on the mind of Christ Jesus,” or, as the prophet Micah said, in the Bible Jesus read and taught, to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God. (Micah 6.8). Would that it were so.

Guide my path, O Lord. Guide me to live a life of justice but also a life of grace. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: A Fever, a Favor and a Faith that Never Fails

fields-of-beauty-15Jesus said, “Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? If you can’t do such a small thing, why worry about the rest? Notice how the lilies grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, how much more will God do for you, you people of weak faith!”

Luke 12. 25-28 (Common English Bible)

This week, I am visiting my dad, Papa Hut, in Bryan, Texas. As I contemplated writing our devotional for this week I sent an email to Stephanie, asking her if she had any ideas. Our week has been a bit unusual in that I am away, and then Sydney came down with a slight fever. Well, if you know anything about schools you know that children are not to come to school until they are fever-free for 24 hours. With me being out of town, our flexibility in caring for Sydney was cut in half. Stephanie emailed me back about our devotional for this week, and what she shared was such an “ah-ha” moment for me that I wanted to share it with you.

She wrote, “So, as I’m sitting here trying to come up with an idea for you to write about, I briefly considered writing something myself about the roller coaster of emotions I felt when I got a call yesterday that Sydney was sick. I spent the afternoon scrambling, trying to get my court cases covered for today. Then, I convinced myself that she would be fine, and by trying to be proactive and get things covered, I might be willing her to be sick (I know, really bad theology). When she woke up with a fever this morning, it was clear I would be keeping her home. I spent the morning sending out emails, text messages, and making phone calls just to move everything to Friday, which means nothing has been accomplished other than putting off what I thought I was going to be able to do today.

I’ve managed to get a few things done around the house, and I’ve managed to cross a couple of things off of my work to-do list. But what is happening now is this beautiful, completely unexpected moment – Sydney has pulled a chair over next to me at my desk and we are working side by side. She is putting together her REACH presentation, and I am answering emails, and doing some billing. Occasionally, she asks what I am doing or asks for help with what she is doing. But most importantly, we are together in this moment that we would not, otherwise, have had.

I’m not sure how any of this helps you with your devotional. It does, sort of, make me think of you being there with your dad – he’s reached a point in life where he can’t go and do much. But it’s important that you’re there with him. Or maybe you could just write about how pretty the flowers are this time of year?”

Sometimes we have “ah-ha” moments in our lives that put everything in perspective. And these moments almost always occur when we slow down, carefully observe our circumstances and give attention to the people around us. Jesus asked why we worry about our lives? Instead, he asked us to contemplate the lilies of the field.

Consider a child who is sitting next to you, or a very old man who is napping in his chair. Consider the birds outside your window or the blooming of a flower and suddenly all the stress and noise, the fears of the future and of our world fade away.

So, as it turns out, I am writing about how beautiful the flowers are this year. I hope you will spend some time today considering them. As the song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look close in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will go strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.” May it be so for you today.

Slow me down today, Lord. Help me to breathe deeply and to consider the beauty of your world and this life. Draw me close to you this day. Amen.

 

 

 

Weekly Devotional: Fill Me Up, Lord, And Send Me Out!

jesus-prayer-09Then Jesus said to the disciples, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, Jesus threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Abba, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.”                                       –Matthew 26.38 & 39

I can think of few more poignant times in the life of Jesus than when he went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. After asking his closest friends to stay awake and keep watch, Jesus went a few feet further and threw himself on the ground. The prayer he prayed in that moment says so much about Jesus’ state of mind and heart: “My Abba, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” It must have been among the emptiest moments of Jesus’ life.

I am currently preaching a sermon series entitled, Gifts of the Dark Wood, based on Eric Elnes book of the same name. The premise of the book is that, unlike the culture around us that tells us that difficult times, life’s challenges, suffering and struggle are curses, we can, instead, see these moments in our lives as gifts. You see, our society tells us that we must have everything in order to be successful. We must be entertained at every turn, be filled up with food and thoughts and things. Moreover, when we find ourselves in the empty places of living, in times of heartache, disappointment, sorrow, struggle and suffering, that we should hurry to fill ourselves back up and distract us from that emptiness.

However, the great spiritual teachers of our faith taught a different lesson. They suggested that we rest in our emptiness, that we wait and learn from that experience. In fact, they taught that as we seek emptiness, we draw closer to God. After all, they knew that you could not be filled up with the presence of God unless there was an empty place in your soul for God to fill. This, of course, is highly counter-cultural. But then, to follow in the way of Jesus is highly counter-cultural, isn’t it?

As Jesus prayed, he ended with the most powerful prayer he could offer, the prayer of relinquishment. Jesus offered God his life saying, “…yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Jesus then got up from his prayers a changed person, filled with the presence of God and the very breath of God, ready to face his captors, ready to face the great struggle for his soul, and it is from that emptiness and struggle that Jesus gave us his greatest gifts: Love in the face of hate, forgiveness in the face of judgment, life in the face of death. So now, in this Season of Easter, let us turn to following Jesus, emptying our hearts, minds and souls so that we might draw close to our God, who has created us and filled us up with the very Breath of Life.

Fill my cup Lord, I lift it up, Lord! Come and quench this thirsting of my soul. Bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more. Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: There She Is Again…the Holy Spirit

holy spirit1And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness.                                                                       -Mark 1:11-12

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have pondered this scripture. After all, Jesus was just baptized in the River Jordan by his cousin, John the Baptizer. In that moment, the heavens opened and a voice from heaven said, “You are mine, my Beloved.” Could there have been a more spiritually ecstatic moment for Jesus? Jesus is anointed by the voice and presence of God and the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus like a dove. How’s that for an affirmation of your life and ministry? But then the story tells us that; “the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness.” What is that all about? Why is Jesus “driven” into the wilderness? Why would the Spirit of God drive Jesus into the wilderness, into a place of despair and suffering and encounter with all that is evil?

I have just begun a sermon series for the Season of Easter entitled, Gifts of the Dark Wood, based on a book by Eric Elnes of the same title. The reference to the “Dark Wood” comes from the writings of Dante Alighieri in his epic work, The Divine Comedy. For Dante the Dark Wood was that place that you find yourself in because of your sin, and in fact, is the entrance to the Inferno. Elnes, however, argues that Dante had it wrong and that the ancient mystics of the church experienced the dark and difficult places of our living differently. Instead they believed that suffering and struggle were gifts, and that the struggles met in the Dark Wood were nothing in comparison to the gifts received there.

Now, I’m not saying we should actively choose to enter the Dark Wood. Elnes explains that sometimes we awaken in the Dark Wood, “provoked by the sometimes gentle, sometimes not-so-gentle, nudge of the Holy Spirit.” Okay, I get it. This seems to me to be consistent with Jesus being not-so-gently driven by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. And if that is so, then all I can do to resolve the discomfort I get when thinking about the Holy Spirit driving us into dark places is to reframe how I think about suffering and struggle.

And so I think I’ll join the mystics. We can choose to see our suffering and struggle as punishment, or we can choose to see our suffering and struggle as opportunity. And given the two, I’ll take the later. Why? Because to see suffering and struggle as opportunity means that there is hope. And what was it the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome about hope: “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5. 3-5).

Ahh, there she is again, the Holy Spirit. How can you not love her? She drives us to the places where we are honed and fine tuned for life, and then she gives us hope through her presence. I’ll take it. I hope you will, too.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle within us the fire of your love. Amen

Weekly Devotional: Finding the Divine — in the Mundane

DivineLove670X440So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

2 Corinthians 5:17

This week, as I was getting gasoline at a busy intersection in North Dallas, I suddenly realized that the gas station, which wasn’t fancy or anything like that, was playing Johann Sebastian Bach’s, Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. It seemed an odd thing that right there, in the middle of something as mundane as pumping gas, I would have this brief encounter of the divine, both the music and the thought of Jesus.

Yet, that is exactly what is happening in theological circles today, a rising awareness of the divine nature of God present in each moment of our living and in all of creation. That understanding is as old as the teachings of Jesus, who taught using examples of creation: “Consider the lilies of the field,” he says in the Gospel of Matthew (6.28). Jesus’ connection between the earthly and the divine is also expressed in the Gospel of John, when Jesus, speaking about resurrection says, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Contemporary theologians and writers have also taken up this chant of the intersection of the earthly and the divine, which is a theological understanding over and against the early Greek understanding that all that is earthly, including our bodies and our being, is corrupt, and all that is heavenly and spiritual is divine.

The most recent expression of this view is found in the latest offering by Diana Butler Bass, a historian focusing on the history of Christianity, in her book, Grounded: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution (2016). Of course, as early as the 14th century, Julian of Norwich, writing in her book, Revelations of Divine Love, sees in her meditation on a hazelnut, the whole of creation.

I recently heard someone say that the reason people are leaving the church today is that we are no longer teaching the ancient practices of our faith: prayer, meditation, contemplation, catharsis, illumination, union. I think that might be right. Why else would writers and poets be pointing us toward union with God through the observation of creation? Perhaps to do this would result in our becoming exactly what the Apostle Paul wrote of so long ago: “A new creation.”

So, with that, I leave you to spend a moment today contemplating creation and your journey of faith and your relationship to God. And I offer you this poem by Mary Oliver, entitled, “Some Questions You Might Ask,” from her collection House of Light.

Is the soul solid, like iron?

Or is it tender and breakable, like

the wings of a moth in the beak of an owl?

Who has it, and who doesn’t?

I keep looking around me.

The face of the moose is as sad

as the face of Jesus.

The swan opens her white wings slowly,

In the fall the black bear carries leaves into the darkness.

One question leads to another.

Does it have a shape?  Like an iceberg?

Like the eye of a hummingbird?

Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?

Why should I have it, and not the anteater

who loves her children?

Why should I have it, and not the camel?

Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?

What about the blue iris?

What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?

What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?

What about the grass?

May God bless to each of us the hearing of this new word. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: The Never-Ending Story

BetweencrossandtombThen Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Abba, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, Jesus breathed his last.                               – Luke 23. 46

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has rise.   – Luke 24. 5

I awoke this morning to a text message from a close friend. She let me know that a mutual friend had died this morning. I knew that our friend had been sick, very sick. I knew that her husband and family had called Hospice. Still, the text came as a sudden sorrow. I haven’t seen our mutual friend in years. It is the plight of pastors as we answer the call to new church settings to, by necessity, let go of those we have loved and with whom we have shared ministry. Still, having shared with her in ministry and having presided at her wedding, which we all celebrated because it had been awhile in coming following a previous divorce, and because of her tender and loving soul, I grieve.

She had, in years prior to my arrival at the church, been driving a car home from an event. The car full of young boys was part of a tragic accident. One of the boys died as she held him close to her. I always loved her for that gesture of great love. I know that moment shaped her faith because one time she shared that in that moment she knew that death was not something to fear, that the boy had been at peace at this last breath.

Even so, the text announcing her death left me saddened, deeply saddened. Oh, I know that if she had to pick a time to die it would be this week, this Holy Week when we speak so clearly about death and resurrection. But that is, I’m sure, little consolation to the husband, children and family she leaves behind.

So, as I have wandered around today trying, yet again, to make sense of death, a death of someone too young, I couldn’t help but notice the redbud tree filled with bright purple blooms and newly budding leaves that look like small, cut-out hearts. I couldn’t help but notice the rose that, in spite of my lack of care, has bloomed today on the old rose bush that I bought back in those days when I pastored that church and she and I ministered together.

And I couldn’t help but hope that today, early this morning, as she breathed her last breath that the spirit of the young man she had held so tenderly years ago met her spirit and ushered her into the presence of God, the light of God, the eternity that is God. And I couldn’t help but hear the words again, “Why? Why do you seek the living among the dead? She is not here, she is risen.”

Those awakenings, those thoughts, those words don’t take the sorrow and emptiness away. No, but they make it possible to continue to live, to live with hope. Good-bye for now, friend, child of God, disciple of Jesus Christ, member of the church triumphant.

Holy One, remind me, once again, that what looks like the end is not. The end is instead, in You, a never-ending story. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Death Doesn’t Win

palm-sundayThen Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”                                                                                                  –  Luke 22:19

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Abba, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”                   – Luke 23: 33-34

This Sunday, March 20, is Palm Sunday, a day when we begin the journey of Holy Week, the most sacred week in the Christian church year. The week begins with a palm procession, but moves quickly to a garden filled with prayer and tears, to a table in an upper room, to an arrest, trial and execution on a cross. It is not a pretty story. It begins in triumph and ends in humiliation and death. And as much as it is Jesus’ story it is our own story, too. How many of us have begun a journey in triumph and then find ourselves faced with betrayal and humiliation. Oh, I know that physical death is sometimes the result, but not always. Sometimes the result is spiritual, emotional or relational death. Surely, Jesus’ story is our own.

And yet, the cross and tomb are not the end of the end of Jesus’ story, and it is not the end of our story either. The story continues on Sunday morning when the power of God raises Jesus from death. What follows is an extraordinary story of the presence of the Risen Christ empowering the disciples and followers of Jesus by giving them the Holy Spirit just as Jesus said he would do. You and I are also filled with that same Holy Spirit to empower us to live new lives, whether that means new life beyond the “little deaths” of this life, or life beyond the physical death, the grave, that we will all face. The power of God is alive in this world and in our individual lives to raise us from death to life.

That is why I am always amazed at churches that bypass the story of Jesus making covenant with the disciples, then and now, through the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup. It is why churches that forego the story of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross and jump right to the Easter celebration puzzles me. It just seems that if you don’t get the whole story, especially where Jesus chooses forgiveness over judgment, love over hate, then celebrations of new life and resurrection can ring hollow.

As a clergy colleague, pastor and mentor, Rev. Mark H. Miller, wrote in his blog this week:   “What’s important to me…is that ALL of life is reflected in Holy Week…from the parade this Sunday to the anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane, to the betrayal and denial, to the fateful Last Supper, to the pierced body of Good Friday. But, thanks be to God it doesn’t end there.

The tomb IS empty and death didn’t win. More to the point, death doesn’t win…ever! Not in the final…and most important…eternal reality. For God prevails. And we can, too. Never to deny the darkness that happens to us, but ALWAYS to believe and experience the darkness DOES NOT PREVAIL.”

Thank you Mark, and thanks be to God.

Holy One, be with us on our journey this week, remind us that you are ever present, in life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone. Thanks be to you O God, our God, now and forever. Amen.