Weekly Devotional: Hold Fast to What Is Good

WelcomeLet 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. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

                                                                                   — Romans 12. 9-18 NRSV

This passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is among my very favorite. In some Bibles you will see a heading above it that reads, “The Marks of the True Christian.” As I read through these words again it strikes me that so often we want to find answers for our lives—past, present and future—outside of us. We try to find answers to the problems we face in our families, churches, schools, cities, nation and in the world by pointing at others and blaming them or calling on them to be super-humans and fix everything.

The Apostle Paul had a very different idea of where we find answers for the challenges and problems we face. He gives specific instructions to the people he was pastoring in Rome and also to us. Notice how the passage is filled with action verbs: hold fast, do not lag, rejoice, be patient, bless, and so on. Paul is clear that we, you and I, are to take responsibility, participating with God, in creating a better world.

As I look at the current political landscape in the United States, these words of the Apostle Paul ring in my ears. I believe people of faith are called upon to look for these qualities and characteristics Paul lists for us, as we go to the polls. Are the people we are voting for loving genuinely, holding fast to what is good, showing honor, extending hospitality to strangers, associating with the lowly, and so far as it depends on them living peaceably with all? Those who at least try to do this will be people I will vote for come November.

In the meantime, and it does seem like we are living in mean times, I will turn the microscope on my own living and see where and how I am doing the things Paul admonishes us to do, and where I have failed. So, I wonder if you would join me in this journey of seeking to become a true Christian. Perhaps then we might receive the blessing that the Apostle Paul offers later in his letter, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” May it be so.

Weekly Devotional: Help Our Children Thrive

back to schoolSince there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”                                                    — Deuteronomy 15. 11

In the earliest pages of the Bible we read the Laws of Moses. Throughout the Biblical books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy we hear words like those above: “there will never cease to be some in need on the earth.” Years later, Jesus would remind us of this reality, teaching, “For you will always have the poor with you . . .  (Matthew 26. 11a).” Of course, neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor the Christian Scriptures leave us with that reality. Instead, throughout our sacred texts are admonishments, commands, instructions and appeals to the people of God to care for the poor. In fact, to do so is to receive the blessings of God. Jesus said to his followers, “Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven . . . ” (Luke 18. 22a) This is not the Prosperity Gospel that teaches if you give away your resources (usually to a particular pastor of a particular church) you will become financially rich, but is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that offers to those who care for the poor the mystical treasures of heaven.

This week and next week, children all over our nation will be returning to school. And I believe it is safe to say that within no more than a mile from all our churches, there are children who will start school without enough to eat, will go to class without necessary school supplies, go home to empty houses and apartments, and go to bed hungry. Can you believe it? In the United States of America, the acknowledged wealthiest country in the world, many of our children will not have enough food and school supplies to be successful. Surely if we are going to say that we sin, this is a sin.

To help stem the tide of poverty in our own city, New Church is collecting school supplies for low-income students and will provide supplies and 40 backpacks to our local school. Now, I know that everyone, churches, schools, businesses, city governments and even the barbershop next to our church will be giving away school supplies this week and next, but don’t let that lull you in to thinking that there is enough to go around.

Instead, let us—you and I—commit to participating in whatever way we can to ensure that the poorest of our children have food, school supplies and a safe place to be the children that God has created them to be. It won’t just be a one-time-a-year commitment; instead it will be a year-round commitment. And why would we do such a thing? Well, I can’t think of anything better than receiving the mystical blessings of God, not to mention the smile and happiness and success of a child.

Holy One, teach me once more to open my hand to the poor and the needy. Let me be a blessing to those most in need. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: The Devil in Disguise

JodevoSo teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.    –Psalm 90:12

As I write this, it is Thursday, August 11. It is not August 30 or September 1 or October 1. It is August 11. And today I went to the grocery store to get a birthday card for a friend of mine. And this is what I saw.

Now, I’m not typically a person that gets upset when the stores put the Christmas stuff out early. I get that storeowners need to make a living, too, but I just couldn’t believe when I saw that Halloween decorations were already on the store shelves. And then, to boot, my Pinterest account wanted me to look at fall decorations!!! I mean, it’s 103 degrees in Dallas, Texas today. Really???

So, I got to thinking about that and I truly believe that the Halloween decorations are a symbol of much of what is wrong with our world today. We are rushing headlong into life without stopping to look, think, reflect, wonder, breathe. We rush to the next appointment on our calendar before we even finish the first. We move from one season to another without stopping to rest or reflect. Is it any wonder that we don’t remember anything? Our heads and hearts are too full and we are moving to fast for anything to make it into our long-term memory.

Richard Foster, in his now classic book, Celebration of Discipline, speaks the truth when he writes, “In contemporary society, our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, crowds. If the Adversary can keep us engaged in “muchness” and “manyness,” then the Adversary will rest satisfied . . .. Hurry is not of the Devil it is the Devil.”

The Psalmist sings, in Psalm 90, “So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” Can you imagine, even for a moment, what a wise heart would feel like? Would it mean that you would take deeper breaths? Would you notice more things, like the poets do? Would you spend some time wondering about life and death, good and evil? Would you in those moments experience joy, deep, profound, joy?

So, I don’t know what day you are reading this devotional, or if you will read it at all and instead glance at it and hit delete because you have so much to get to. If you do read it, then I encourage you to note the date on your calendar, think about what time it is. Spend a moment reflecting on your day so far, the good and the bad, ask yourself what you are feeling in this moment. In short, I invite you to count your day, so that you may gain a wise heart, and in the process have the merest chance to encounter the God who created all this, created you, your God who loves you and seeks you.

Holy One, slow me down so that I might experience the fullness of my days and experience Your presence. Amen.

 

 

Weekly Devotional: Breathe Deeply and Be Present

Yin_and_Yang.svgThe word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.       —Deuteronomy 30.14

Recently, I have begun taking a Tai Chi class each week. I am really enjoying the class, so I began to do what I often do with newly-discovered interests. I began to think that I needed new things. I thought to myself, “If I have the right shoes, I will be able to practice Tai Chi correctly.” “If I have the right style pants.” “If I read the right books.” Today, however, I realized something very important. To practice Tai Chi correctly you need only show up, breathe deeply and be present in mind and heart, following the lead of the teacher.  In fact, my teacher has us spend thirty minutes in breathing exercises in order to still our minds and prepare our bodies for the practice.

Interesting, isn’t it? So often with the practice of our faith, we do what I did with my thinking about the right practice with Tai Chi. We think we have to have the right books, the right words, the right candles, the right place. We believe that the right practice of our faith is found in things and stuff rather than in simply being present to God and attentive to our breath and willing to follow the leading of our Teacher.

All of this says to me that if we want to practice our faith rightly then we will show up, we will breathe deeply. And then we will be present, following the way of Jesus; present to God, present to each other and present when the work of justice is required of us.

Could the right practice of our faith be that simple? Could it be that challenging? Could it be that the Word, the presence of Jesus Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit is in our mouth, in our breath and in our heart for us to simply observe? In these days, when bullets reign, when words are used as weapons, when division and hatred swamp us like a tidal wave. Perhaps the most important things we need to do are to show up, breathe deeply and be present.

Holy One, help me to remember that You are as close as my next breath. Help me to seek You with my whole heart. Help me to be present to You as you are to me. Help me to be present to others who need the love, compassion and justice that I have to give. Amen

Weekly Devotional: Love is Universal, Love is Yours!

lovewins1-1Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

–1 Corinthians 13. 12b – 13

I have a daily calendar in my bedroom that offers quotes from various wisdom people. On Tuesday, this was the quote, “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” The quote is from the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, who is credited with the authorship of the Tao Te Ching. I kept that quote on my desktop all week and have been contemplating its meaning for me and for our world.

It occurs to me that much of the hatred and violence that we have been experiencing in our world today, and in the past for that matter, are brought on by a difference in religious views. Some of the most violent wars our world has seen are because one group of people believed something about God that was different from another group of people.

So it is interesting to me that if we compare the teachings in the world’s great religions we soon discover that there are far more similarities than differences. For example, take the Christian teaching that “God is love” found in the first letter of John, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4.8) Did you know that most of the great faith traditions teach a similar understanding of love?

“The One that loves not knows not God. For God is love.” – Buddhism

“Love is the beginning and end of the Law.” – Judaism

“Love belongs to the high nobility of Heaven, and is the quiet home where humans should dwell.” – Confucianism

“Sane and insane, all are searching lovelorn for God, in mosque, temple, church, alike. For only God is the One God of Love, and Love calls from all these, each one to God’s home.” – Sufism, a branch of Islam

As I considered the teaching of Lao-tzu about simplicity, patience, and compassion, I realized that it mirrors one of the most well-known passages in the Bible, the concluding passage from the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. As Paul concludes his treatise on love, he explains that we only see things partially, but there will come a time when we see things fully. Then comes his famous declaration, “And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

Could it be that Paul’s faith could be likened to Lao-tzu’s simplicity? That hope and patience are comparable? That love is what compassion is all about? You see, we’re not so different after all. Perhaps if we could grasp that truth, we would come to understand, as the Psalmist sings, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (Psalm 133.1) Would that it were so.

Holy One, teach me again that we are all your children and that to love others is to love You. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: “Here I Am, Here You Are, Here We Are Together”

hereiam

“If you direct your heart rightly, you will stretch out your hands toward God . . .. You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away. And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning . . ..”                                                                    – Job 11. 13, 16 & 17

 

Perhaps you do this, too. I subscribe to various e-newsletters. Some of them are spiritual and religious, some health-related, others news-oriented. Often the articles tout a number of things that will make your life better: 7 Ideas for Improving Your Workout, 5 Things in the Japanese Diet to Improve Your Weight Loss, The 10 Best Cities for Vacationing, 8 Ways to Pray, etc.

So, I thought I would try my hand at it today.

We are living in troubling times. It seems that violence and terrorism run rampant, global warming is becoming a reality, and attacking your opponent with unheard of name-calling seems to be the new way of running for public office. I could go on, but I won’t. You know what raises fear and anger in your soul.

So here are my “5 Ways to Weather the Storm.”

  1. When you awaken in the morning, before you do anything, take a deep breath and offer your thanks for sleep, the new day, and a new beginning, regardless of your present circumstances or whether you slept well or not. Scholars tell us that gratitude transforms our outlook on life, calms our anxious hearts, and gives us hope.
  1. Some time in the morning hours, stop what you are doing and spend five minutes, yes, that’s right, just five minutes, in silence. Pay attention to your breathing. If you    pray, offer a prayer of praise and gratitude to God for that present moment.
  1. At noontime, take a break. After lunch, for example, take a walk, listen to inspirational music, just listen, don’t do anything, call a friend to say “hello,” write a note to someone you miss, or read a poem. Better yet, write a poem. Taking a break from work can energize you for the rest of your day.
  1. At home in the evening, make a conscious effort to read something meaningful. Instead of turning on the television or reading something work-related, read               something that lifts your spirit, causes you to think deeply, and inspires you to dream. Reading can help slow you down so that you can get ready for bed and rest.
  1. Before you drift off to sleep, take a moment to reflect on your day. Name to yourself the five things for which you are most grateful. Then thank God for all the gifts. This can help you go to sleep and rest well.

Oh, yes, one more thing. If you wake up in the middle of the night, I suggest you lie still in bed, take a few deep breaths, relax your body, and then repeat this mantra, “Here I am, here You are, here we are together.” This is thanks to Brian McLaren who suggested it as a middle-of-the-night prayer in his book, Naked Spirituality.

I believe that if you were to follow these practices you would find yourself more peaceful, more joyful, and more confident. By “directing your heart rightly, you will stretch out your hands toward God,” and you will discover that “your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning.” Now if I can only heed my own advice.

Holy One, help me to stretch out my hands toward You every day. Then draw me close to you so that I may dwell in Your Light. Amen.

 

 

Weekly Devotional: ‘Whosoever’ Means You, Me, All of Us

OnesWeLoveJuneImageYes, God so loved the world so as to give the Only Begotten One, that whosoever believes may not perish but have eternal life.                                                                                           -John 3:16

Just this last weekend in the United States, many people, churches and faith communities celebrated Pride, as well as the first anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Marriage Equality. It is stunning to consider how much has changed for the LGBTQ community, and in fact, for everyone in this country, since the military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was overturned by legislation on September 20, 2011. Now, in only five years’ time, lesbian and gay people can legally marry in all 50 states.

Of course, there is change in other places of the world as well, particularly when the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis I, has stated that Christians should apologize to gay people.

I realize that many people feel that the Pope has not gone far enough, but when you consider that the church is more than 2000 years old and that changes do not come easily to an organization so entrenched in its ways, the steps that this Pope is taking for LGBTQ people is nothing short of amazing.

And yet, I recently spoke with a woman who is contemplating marriage. This should be among the most joyful considerations of her life, and yet her family is unsupportive of her marriage to her lesbian companion of several years. It is hard for me to grasp how parents who promised to love their children equally can now relegate a daughter to second-class citizenship, call into question the authenticity of this love and covenant they want to make, and can even suggest that this action, committing before God to love someone for life, might result in an eternity spent in hell. The sorrow on both sides of this argument is immense, and I am certain that both sides are calling down God from heaven to side with them.

And all I can think about is that one word, “whosoever.” As in, “Yes, God so loved the world so as to give the Only Begotten One, that whosoever believes may not perish but have eternal life.” Whosoever. There are no qualifications in this statement other than that we believe, which is to actually say, that we trust. It is to say that we trust God with our lives on both sides of the grave. And I know that this woman and her partner trust the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and that they love their neighbors as they love themselves.

Hmmm, sounds to me like they are being and doing exactly as Jesus taught. So, I say, take your blessings and affirmations where you can find them, among friends and family of choice, and then trust this God who loves you and whom you love. And trust that your lives as a married couple will not only be legal in this country, but will also be blessed by our God who loves you exactly as you were created to be.

 Holy One, bless us all, on whatever side we find ourselves, so that we might be a blessing to the “whosoevers” of this world, that You happen to love. Amen.