Weekly Devotional: Praying Until We Have No Words Left

Keep prayingTherefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.                         2 Corinthians 4. 1 (NRSV)

I don’t know about you, but as I watch the news on television and read the news on the Internet I grow weary. I grow weary of all the violence. I grow weary of all the hatred. I grow weary of the lack of civility in public discourse. I grow weary of all the posturing of powerful people. I grow weary of the lack of viable solutions to the problems in our country and across the globe. I grow weary. Do you?

Then it dawned on me. This is exactly the way evil works in us and in our world. Evil manifest itself best by a gradual eating away at goodness. It distracts us from the good that we might do by causing us to grow weary of doing good. Evil, though found in the midst of violence and hatred, may well do its best work by convincing good people that there is nothing they can do to change things. And so we grow weary and so we lose heart and so we grow complacent and apathetic and stay silent and do nothing.

As the great Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters, “Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

The Apostle Paul had something to say in response to this weariness of heart and soul. In writing his second letter to the church at Corinth, as well as across time and space to you and me, Paul said, “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.” Still, listen to what Paul went on to say. “We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4. 1 & 2)

Do you hear that? Paul calls us to keep sound of heart and mind by committing our lives to speaking truth, and to do so without cunning, without falsifying God’s truth, which surely has to be about God’s love for all creation and all people, a desire that all should have enough and that wars and violence and hatred of each other should cease.

Of course, this kind of turning has to be grounded in prayer and relationship with God. In fact, I know of no other way to remove this weariness of heart and mind and soul.

So, won’t you commit to pray with me? Pray for all the hurt and heartache, for the least and the lost, for the hate and horrors, for the posturing and power plays. Pray until you have no words left. Then, let us stop the work of evil in our world by speaking and working for truth and faith by becoming beacons of justice, peace and love in the world. It will change your life and will, by God’s mercy, change our world.

Change my heart, O God, so that I may change our world, one act of love at a time. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Let’s Do Our Part to Bring Peace to a Violent World

peaceJesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”                                                                                                    -John 16.33 (NRSV)

I have just finished listening to two books of a trilogy by Ken Follett. The books are entitled, Edge of Eternity and Winter of the World. The stories trace the lives of several families in Russia, Germany, England and the United States during the Great War (World War I) and World War II. As I listened to the books, I was deeply troubled by the atrocities forced on the people of so many countries across Europe and in Southeast Asia, as well as the attempt to annihilate an entire people, the Jews. The sacrifice of thousands upon thousands of lives in the fight for freedom as told by Follett was overwhelming.

I think about all of this as I ponder the violence being wrought by ISIS in the Middle East and the response of Jordan in return. I ponder what is happening to the people of Ukraine and Russia. I am certain that the poorest of the poor, the elderly, the children, the disabled and the women are experiencing the worst of it all.

So, what are we to say about these things? It seems impossible that in today’s culture that people of differing opinions and political views cannot find a way to peaceably co-exists. Yet, that seems a far off dream.

Years ago, a mentor pastor gave me a book entitled, The Will of God, written by Leslie Weatherhead, an English Christian theologian in the liberal Protestant tradition who was noted for his preaching ministry at City Temple in London. Weatherhead’s book was based on five sermons given to his congregation near the end of World War II. I commend to you this book, as I believe Weatherhead does a great service to people of faith in offering several ideas of how we can continue to believe in God in the face of human evil seen in human violence and atrocities as well as with natural disasters.

Briefly, Weatherhead posited that God has set forth God’s intentional will in creation both then and now. He goes on to say that God’s intentional will is sometimes thwarted by natural disaster and most especially by human violence. This he calls God’s circumstantial will in which God’s love and grace, healing and hope can be seen even in the midst of atrocities and disasters. Weatherhead concludes by proclaiming that whether or not we see it come into existence in our lifetime, God’s will of a peaceful creation for all God’s people and for all of creation will ultimately come. He, of course, says much more than what I offer here.

I take hope from Weatherhead’s writing. I also know that as those who takes the name Christian, those who have chosen to follow in the way of Jesus, we are called, set apart, to be part and parcel of helping to bring God’s vision of a peaceful creation into reality. That doesn’t mean that we don’t cringe at the violence being done in God’s name around the world and across our own country. It doesn’t mean that we don’t grieve the lost lives and lost hopes of so many people.

So then, what are we do say about all of this? Perhaps, we can faithfully affirm that we will live our lives doing our part to bring peace to our corner of the world and beyond. Perhaps, we can faithfully affirm that we are not alone in this, that God’s ultimately will can and will be done on earth as it is in heaven. How do we know? Well, I think Jesus spoke to that truth saying, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

I can live into that kind of hope. Perhaps, you can, too.

Holy One, in the darkest moment of our lives and our culture, help me ever to remember that you are with us, we are not alone. Amen.



Weekly Devotional: ‘A Catastrophic Uncovering’ Awaits Us If We’ll Avail Ourselves to Truth

truthGod saw everything that had been made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.                                          Genesis 1. 31 – NRSV

I recently received a copy of the Winter 2014 issue of Geez Magazine, which had as its tag line, “Contemplative Cultural Resistance.” The issue is entitled, “The End.” As you may suspect, “the end” to which the magazine referred is the Apocalypse or, “the end of time, as we know it.” While you may think that an odd and difficult topic, I believe the editors are raising an issue that is essential for all of us to grasp.

The articles are both catastrophic and hopeful. Most of the writers believe that “the end” is already upon us and that marginalized people have been experiencing “the end of the world, as we know it” for quite some time. It is only now, as the ice caps are melting and the weather patterns changing, that people of means, of wealth and power, are even beginning to take notice.

I remind you that the word “apocalypse” actually means “uncovering” and consequently is not as frightening a word and concept as some Christians might believe. There is, after all, within the idea of “uncovering” an element of hope.

But let me share with you the powerful words of the opening article, “A Catastrophic Uncovering,” by guest editors Time Runtz and James Wilt. They write, in part, “With protests, rallies, and bans on absurdities like cosmetic pesticides and plastic bags, we’re starting to see hints of a move in the right direction. But, as long as the thrust of popular environmentalism remains ‘what will it take to sustain our way of life’ rather than ‘what sacrifices must we make to enter into a symbiotic relationship with our biosphere,’ we’ll continue our sociopathic spiraling.

And yet there is reason for hope. As the Dark Mountain Project Uncivilisation project puts it, ‘the end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop.’”

Yes, surely we have done destruction to creation, which is not God’s plan for us or for the earth. Still, we can, if we are willing, change this trajectory of destruction. Runtz and Wilt invite us to, “start living now as if the end as has already come, because in many ways it has.”

So what does that mean for you? Yes, we can get rid of plastic shopping bags, buy cleaner fuel, drive cleaner cars as all of that helps. But what if we also became involved in our neighborhoods, learned about the watershed and drought issues in our areas and began to buy local foods? What if we determined to own fewer things? What if we spent less time in front of the screens of our televisions and computers and instead spent more time outside with our families and our neighbors? If we did, it seems to me that we might come to have greater appreciation for this creation that God has given us, we might begin to take more responsibility for it, and then perhaps we might with God be able to call it “good.” May it be so.

Holy One, remind me again that the earth is Yours. Give me the courage and the strength to do all I can to be a faithful caretaker of this good earth and in so doing to discover You present within it. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Let the Bible Speak in all of its Natural Glory

BibleThey said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” John 4. 42 (NRSV)

During the Season of Epiphany, I am gathering weekly with a small group to discuss a book written by Marcus J. Borg entitled, Speaking Christian. The central point of Borg’s book is that many people, even those who are quite familiar with the Bible, actually misuse key Christian words as they speak about scripture. Consequently, he believes that Christian words have lost their power. His book is an effort to reclaim and restore some of the most important words of scripture.

Just last week in the first chapter of the book, he pointed out the words he would cover and how they are being misused or misinterpreted. The first three were the words salvation, saved and savior. It was astonishing to me how, over time, so many of us who claim the name Christian have distorted these words and changed them from their original meaning in scripture.

For example, in today’s Christian-speak the word salvation is often used in reference to life after death and about going to Heaven. But, in fact, in the Bible it is seldom about an afterlife and, rather, is about transformation on this side of death.

The word saved is similar. We often use it to refer to being “saved from our sins.” But in the Bible, it is about much more than this and often is not about sin at all.

And for many Christians today, when we use the word savior we are referring to Jesus as the one who “saves us from our sins.” But in the Bible, there are 54 uses of the word, many of which were used long before the birth of Jesus and most often have nothing at all to do with being saved from sin.

This is evident in the scripture passage above, which are the words the people of Samaria spoke about Jesus after he met the woman at the well and after Jesus had stayed with them for two days. Their explanation that they now understand Jesus as the “Savior of the world,” doesn’t have to do with being “saved from their sins,” but has to do with them being transformed, given new life, as was the woman at the well.

So, I wonder what our world would look like if you and I resolved to truly know what the Bible teaches instead of letting others tell us their version. What if we decided to think and speak differently about the scriptures? Do you think our words just might make for more love, more hope, more peace, more grace, more mercy let loose in the world? Maybe it’s at least worth a try.

Holy One, break open the scriptures. Help me to hear them with a new heart, a new mind, a new soul so that I may grow in your grace and be a vessel of your grace in the world. Amen.



Weekly Devotional: For the New Year, a Singleness of Purpose in the Way of Dr. King

mlkNow after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”            -Mark 1. 14 & 15, New Revised Standard Version

It is striking to me how young Jesus was when he started his ministry: age 30. Still he had a singleness of purpose of what he was to be and do. Jesus was clear from the moment of his baptism that he was to be the one to usher in God’s new realm on earth.

That same singleness of purpose shows up again nearly two millennia later in another very young man, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birth we will remember this Monday. At the very young age of 26, Dr. King led the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In the way of Jesus, King adopted a message of peace and justice and lived that out in practicing non-violent resistance as a means of protest.

Singleness of purpose is one of the things that characterizes most great leaders. Another might be the ability to simply discern and “doing the next thing,” which both Jesus and Dr. King did well.

After his cousin, John the Baptist, was arrested by Herod, Jesus “does the next thing.” He takes up the clarion call of witnessing to those who would listen that the “kingdom of God has come near.” For his part, Dr. King, after being arrested for the 13th time for leading non-violent protests against racial injustices, emerged from the Birmingham Jail and “did the next thing.” He helped organize the People’s March on Washington and became its most famous orator.

Certainly there are lessons for us in the life of Jesus. Dr. King thought so and faithfully followed in the way of Jesus, even to his death. Perhaps we too can learn to follow in the way of Jesus, to be people of single-minded purpose and to “do the next thing.” Francis of Assisi, is believed to have said, “Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” That certainly seems to characterize the life of Jesus and his faithful follower Martin. What a great place for you and me to start as we step into this New Year.

Blessings, Jo

Weekly Devotional: This Christmas, Let Our Love Be Genuine—Even In The Face of Ugly

Subtle_Advent_Love_Still_CNM-HDLet love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor        -Romans 12. 9-10 (NRSV)

The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Rome, pens some of the most direct instructions of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ when he writes, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good . . ..” I love these words that invite us to genuinely love each other. What strikes me as interesting is how these words that include, “hate what is evil,” can be construed to direct hate at others simply because who that are, or what they do is seen as an abomination.

If you are active on Facebook you have probably listened to the simply beautiful new arrangement of the song, “Mary, Did You Know” by singing group, Pentatonix.

What you may not have seen is an article by Todd Anderson, of Todd Anderson Ministries entitled “Christians Did You Know . . . You’re Being Played.” In the article Anderson calls his readers to question the performers and performance of the song because two of the singers, Scott Hoying and Mitch Grassi, are (yes, you guessed it) GAY! Anderson writes, “Now that you’ve seen the demonic (yes, homosexuality is demonic) side to the group, Pentatonix, it’s time to make a choice . . . Will you reject this demonic group, or will you allow Satan and his demons to find a place in our heart through their music?”

Really? So, tell me, how does this kind of ugliness follow the instructions of Paul? How does this kind of name calling and cursing others, who by-the-way are singing about the birth of the Christ Child, square with what it means to follow Jesus? Of course, Paul continues writing in Romans 12: 14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” Which means, of course, that however angry Todd Anderson makes you and me, if we are going to truly follow in the way of Jesus it is incumbent upon us to pray for Anderson and in that way, bless him.

Of course, there is nothing easy about that, but no one ever said that following Jesus was easy. Our responsibility to truly live into our name “Christian,” is to be faithful in our following. That does not mean we stay silent and do not call this out, but it does me that in our “calling out” that we do not do what was done to us, we do not make Anderson a demon. After all, Anderson is also a Child of God.

And as we come to the end of this Advent season marked by the celebration of the birth of Jesus, whom we call our Christ, perhaps it would be better to turn our hearts and our actions toward the true work of love in the world instead of getting caught up in a debate about who is good and who is evil. Paul pointed the way, instructing us by writing, “No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink, . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12. 19 – 21)

Yes, this Christmas let our love be genuine.

Holy One, help me as I see to truly follow in the way of Jesus. Bless those who curse me and help me to be a blessing to those in need. This is my prayer as I await the birth of Christ in this holy season. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Papa Hut and the Presence of God at Christmas

Eternal-LoveYou have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.                             – Psalm 30:11

This will be the second Christmas that my family will spend without my mother’s physical presence. Her death has certainly changed the dynamics for my family since she was the matriarch of our small clan. I am sure that after 65 years of marriage that Papa Hut has experienced Mama Jo’s absence in ways that I never will. Still, I find myself continually surprise by his ability to be joyful and joy-filled.

I often find myself wondering why it is that some people are able to rejoice and others only weep, or be angry or depressed. I wonder about this particularly during this season that is filled with light and laughter, parties and celebrations, gift giving and receiving and songs, oh, so many songs. I read the prayer requests of people in our faith community and in my online ministry, and I realize that amidst all the lights and celebrations, for many people, there are undercurrents of great sorrow and deep loneliness. So, I wonder.

All this is to say that along with personal sorrows, community concerns and global issues, there are many reasons to be sad and lonely, angry and afraid during this season of light. Yet these feelings are part of life and faith. In fact, I believe the challenges of our life experience that cause us to wonder and question life and faith can actually lead us to a place of joy. In his book, The Absence of God, writer Sam Keen explains:

Wonder is the alpha and the omega of the human mind. It stands at the beginning and end of our quest to understand ourselves and the world . . .. It is the most primal of emotions, at once ordinary and disturbing. As the sixth sense, the natural religious sense, wonder is the royal road that leads us to the other elemental emotions,     and thus to a renewed sense of the sacred. (p. 85)

So, it seem to me that our ability to wonder and question that leads us back to the sacred, is the path that leads us back to joy, a deep and abiding joy that does not deny our heartaches and sorrows but transforms them. This Sunday, many people will go to church and light a candle named “joy.” It is our way of saying, while we wonder why certain things happen, we can still live in the joy of the mystery that is God, our God of many names and expressions.

I am convinced that Papa Hut is a person of joy, despite his life’s losses, because he continues to seek this One who breathed life into us, the One who is present with us. Papa Hut lives with the awe and wonder and questions of what it means to belong eternally to that Holy One. And, of course, that is why we remember the birth of Jesus in this holy season, because Jesus, who has become for us the transcendent Christ, showed us what God’s presence and love looks like in human form. It makes sense then that when trying to describe his birth that the angel was said to have proclaimed, “Do not be afraid, for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people,” (Luke 2.10)

Wherever you are in your journey of life this Christmas, I pray that, like the Psalmist you will through your heartaches and sorrows, your questions and wonder allow our God to remove your sackcloth and turn your mourning into dancing and be clothed with great joy.

Holy One, I have no words only wonder. I humbly ask that you would turn my sorrow into joy. Amen.