Weekly Devotional: Listening to the Spirit of Truth

Holy-SpiritJesus continued saying, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, She will guide you into all the truth; . . .”    – John 16. 13

Last Sunday at New Church– Chiesa Nuova UCC here in Dallas, Texas—we spent some time reflecting on the scripture passage from where the quote above emerges. As this new week began, and I was pelted with all the news about the current political campaign, I couldn’t help but remember that verse about “truth.” Of course, the writer of the Gospel of John, speaking about the “Spirit of Truth” is using that term interchangeably with the term, “Holy Spirit.” So, then the verse reads something like, “When the Holy Spirit comes to us, the thing we can count on is that, She will guide us into all the truth.”

So, I began to consider the current political climate, filled as it is with name-calling and ugliness, pledges, and promises. I then began to think about what I know about our current culture, that we are prone to surround ourselves with people who think and look and act like we do. What that means is that whenever anyone puts forth a different point of view we simply “un-friend,” “un-follow” or “delete.” And so, we are only hearing our point of view and that is not necessarily a good thing. If that is true then we cannot possibly have the full picture of what is happening in our world, much less find the truth.

What if, instead, we made a commitment to try our best to seek the truth, asking the Holy Spirit to guide us, as Jesus said that She would? What if we challenged our own biased thinking by listening to different sources for our information and asking more questions of all sources? What if we then actually listened, listened intently, listened with an open heart, listened discerningly?

I don’t know about you, but I simply must find a different way to get through the next few months rather than being angry and stewing over what this or that candidate has said. I don’t want to live an angry and fear-filled life, I don’t think you do either, and I certainly don’t think that is how God would have us live.

So, whether you are a Democrat, Republican, member of another party, or you are planning to vote for a yet unnamed candidate, join me, won’t you? Let us faithfully call upon the Holy Spirit to guide us into the truth so that when the day of voting comes we will make the best possible decision that we can. Then, regardless of the outcome, let us trust that our God will be with us as we step into the future.

Holy One, as our hearts are troubled with the circumstances of the current election cycle, help us set aside our anger and fears, and to seek Your peace and presence. Help us to hear clearly what it is You have to say to us. Send Your Spirit upon us, once again, that we may discover Your truth at work in our world. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Faithful Living and the Political Season

religionpoliticsJust then an expert in the Law stood up to test Jesus.“ Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to the man, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.                                     -Luke 10:26-28 (NRSV)

If you’re like me you are growing increasingly weary of all the reporting on the current presidential campaigns in both the Democrat and Republican parties. Even so, we are drawn to the coverage like moths to a flame. And I’ll confess, I’m not just weary I’m heartsick, aren’t you?

So, I have been thinking—no remembering. In my first semester of seminary, in my very first class, I had an amazing professor by the name of Schubert Ogden. He taught Introduction to Theology and was so passionate about his faith and so demanding of our theological thinking, that he scared us so much that we would all get to class extra early just to fight to sit on the back row.

One of the things I remember was that Dr. Ogden challenged us to peel away all the stuff we had learned about our Christian faith until we came up with the one thing by which we would claim and defend our faith. I wrestled with that for a long time considering the theology of the Incarnation, the Resurrection, baptism, communion, and more.

Eventually, I landed on the story of Jesus and the expert in the Law and their discussion about what the greatest commandment is. When I think about the one thing on which I can hang my faith it is on that challenge, to love God with my whole being and to love my neighbor as much as I love myself. It is not an easy way to live, and I’m sure I don’t succeed even 50 percent of the time, but it is a faithful way to seek to live. Following Jesus by living the great commandment is even more difficult in times like this when it seems that we are more likely to hate our neighbors than love them. Especially when loving your neighbor means you are putting yourself at risk.

Still, that is what Jesus said was the greatest commandment: Love God. Love neighbor. He also said, “Do this, and you will live.” It just seems to me, if we really want to live, live fully, love extravagantly, in order to become all we dream of being, this is the way. I also happen to believe it would make the world a better and more loving and peaceful place. I just wish we could convince ourselves and others to actually try it.

Holy One, anoint me with your Spirit so that I may live more faithfully into the image of Jesus, our Christ. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: “We are going, yeah, that’s right”

pentecostJesus continued saying, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.”                            John 14. 3 & 4 NRSV

While in St. Louis last week for our Eden Theological Seminary Board of Trustees meeting, we had the chance to attend Chapel. It is always interesting to go to chapel services at a seminary, where students are encouraged to experiment with the liturgy and the music.

Now, a full week later, I find myself humming the songs we sang and remembering the electricity in the air as we worshipped together. Of course, there was much excitement because it was the last chapel service for the graduating students. And yet, there was something more that I can only describe as the presence of the Holy Spirit.

As we worshipped we were invited to gather around the communion table and to verbally participate in the consecrating of the gifts of bread and cup. We actually danced around the table and then concluded the service in a bold “call and response” for a final blessing. As we shared in the passing of the Peace, the joy in the room was palpable. It was all so deeply moving.

Still, there was one moment that I haven’t been able to forget. As we moved to the table to receive Holy Communion, we began to sing a song called, “Woyaya,” which is a word from Ghana that can mean many things. One translation is “We are going,” and another is “Yeah, that’s right.” Perhaps they fit together, “We are going, yeah, that’s right.”

As I think about my faith journey, and as I contemplate our little church, The New Church – Chiesa Nuova UCC, here in Dallas, Texas, I often have this anxious sense that I, that we, don’t actually know where we are going. Silly me. Jesus was so clear on his last night with the disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them, and so for us. He said that we “know the way to the place.” As I think about that, I begin to breathe more deeply and to rest in the presence of that beautiful promise: Jesus has prepared a place for us. All we have to do is follow in the way, no matter how dark the road, no matter how difficult the journey, no matter how frightened we become from what is happening in our world. If we do that, then it will be for us as the song says, “we’ll know we’re there,” because the living, risen, presence of Jesus will be there with us.

“We are going, heaven knows where we are going, we’ll know we’re there.” Yeah, that’s right!” And, as it turns out, heaven does know.

Holy One, let me hear your song once again. Help me follow in the way of Jesus so that I may find my way home. Amen.

Weekly Devotional: Life Lessons from a Dear Friend

Whatever you do, do it from the heart . . .     sabbath    -Colossians 3.23

This week I had the opportunity to travel to St. Louis for a Board of Trustees meeting at Eden Theological Seminary. While there, I had dinner with a dear colleague and friend, the Rev. Dr. Ginny Brown Daniel. Ginny and I have been colleagues in ministry since we first served small churches in the Brazos Association of the United Church of Christ (UCC). We have seen each other through ups and downs, joys and sorrows. Last year, after more than a decade, Ginny ended her ministry at Plymouth UCC in Spring, Texas and began a time of discernment about where God would call her next.

After months filled with tears and laughter, hopes and disappointments, Ginny accepted a call to be the Conference Minister of the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the UCC, a conference with more than 150 churches. Then, in her most creative way, told her conference board that she would commute from her home in Houston. To be fair, Ginny spends the vast majority of her time in St. Louis, but she spends some weekends and one week every month or so with her husband in Houston. When Ginny told me she would be doing this, I confess I was concerned as to whether this would work.

Then, on Wednesday night, all of my concerns were dispelled when Ginny and I had dinner. She was tired, to be sure, but she was also vibrant, joyful, vitally alive. She was filled with excitement about her ministry, the people she was ministering with, and all the challenges and opportunities that God had placed in her path in this new ministry. Moreover, she spoke about the times when she travels back to Houston and how she experiences true Sabbath.

As I came home yesterday, I thought about my conversation with Ginny and realized the lessons her journey offers to all of us. First, Ginny didn’t rush into her decision about what was next, but spent over six months in discernment, grieving her departure from her beloved church, but also “being still” in order to hear God’s voice. It was a time of refining fire as she listened for the Holy Spirit and allowed God to strip away her ego and re-make her into the image of Jesus Christ.

Secondly, Ginny determined to be intentional about Sabbath. She has to make her time apart a priority in order to honor her marriage, but also to honor her life. The time of being apart from her very demanding work allows her to be with her husband, but it also allows her to re-charge, renew and prepare for the demands of her calling.

Third is that Ginny, who loved her ministry at Plymouth, recognized that she was tired and no longer had the ability to live wholeheartedly into that ministry. She made the difficult decision to leave the comfort of her church in order to find a new place where she could give her life wholeheartedly, because she knew that to do so would be to live fully with joy into the life God has created for her.

The Apostle Paul articulates this important process by writing, “whatever you do, do it from the heart.” Throughout scripture, you will find that there are constant references to changing our hearts and lives to live more fully, and surely it is true that God wants us to live fully, love extravagantly and become all that God has created us to be. Ginny would tell you that can’t happen without taking the time to pray, listen, reflect and discern. It also can’t happen without Sabbath keeping. So, I invite you to make a Sabbath time and then ask yourself, “To what can I give myself wholeheartedly?”

Holy One, create in me a new heart. Help me to be the person you have created me to be. Let me discover how I might give myself wholeheartedly to you. Amen.

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.