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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Phone Numbers & Prayer

In my work it is common for people I do not know to call me with needs and requests. Churches are much maligned in many segments of society, but when people have needs we seem to be high on the list of "who you gonna call?" Many times non-church goers inform me that churches are supposed to help people.

What I find interesting is how often the person leaves a long, rambling message about all their problems and then concludes with a rapid fire recitation of their number. I have literally had to replay a message three or four times trying to decipher exactly what number to call. And that long rambling message becomes more and more a frustration as I have to hear it again and again, waiting for the seven digits which will allow me to make a connection.

Why do we do that? Why do we spend so much time and energy on the wrong things? If we want someone to call us, why not give the number clearly and slowly? Twice! The rest of the message is what you are going to talk about in person, but you aren't gong to talk if I can't figure out where to call you!

This is true in prayer as well. How often do we give long rambling messages to the Lord while making the actual connection with Him hard to accomplish? We give Him our list but hold back our soul (mind, heart, desire, will). We offer spirit and body but without handing opening the door to make access available. Sure, sometimes the Holy Three God makes things happen in our lives without our knowledge or consent. But that does not mean it is the ideal.

Asking "from" the Holy Three without offering one's self "to" the Holy Three is like leaving a phone message articulating every trouble and every need and then leaving an indecipherable call back number.

Be aware what you are trying to do, what is most important. Figure out "what is the point of this action?" When you want someone to call you make sure they know what your phone number is. When You want the Holy Three God to answer your prayers, make sure you open your life to Him so He can accomplish your salvation.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Do You Believe in Prayer?

The Creeds grew out of the "I believe" professions of faith at baptism in the early church. Later Church leaders debated what "we believe" at different Councils (like Nicea, Constantinople, Chalcedon, Ephesus; for more information see--- Trust in God is primary; it is faith as relationship. The Creeds are secondary, faith as "beliefs." Right belief ("orthodoxy") is about the truth so it matters very much. The Creeds, however, do not address everything. For example, we also believe in the Bible, in the sacraments and in prayer. Unfortunately, we know that we "believe" in exercise and healthy eating; sometimes belief is just an idea in our minds. We need to act on our beliefs.

In Luke 11, Jesus teaches us how to pray. Prayer opens us to "communion" with God the Holy Three. It places us in the loving arms of our Creator-Savior. Through it we are sanctified as His holy children. In it we find out true identity and home!

The Bible is filled with prayers and stories about praying people. Luke says Jesus prayed constantly, both alone and with others. Jesus commanded His disciples to pray. Praying is hard for impatient people so He taught us to "pray and not lose heart" (Lk 18:1). Prayer is also a waiting game. It is a faith expression.

To pray in Jesus Name means to pray like Jesus. In the ancient world the name, character and person are deeply connected, and can be used interchangeably. This is why the Lord's Prayer is so vital. It shows us how to pray in Jesus' Name (in, with, through Jesus). First, in the Lord's prayer, we focus on the Father--His glory and His Kingdom. This is "loving God" in action. After this, Jesus says we should ask for forgiveness, sustenance and protection. This is trust.

So here is the key: Make the Kingdom your heart's desire! Glorify the Father and actively trust Him for your needs, then you will be like Jesus. You can pray with confidence because you are praying for the things the Father has kindly promised to give us in love. This alignment with the Father is the center.

In the parable Jesus says, "If you can get grumpy humans to give you what you want; how much more can you trust God to hear you?" TRUST is the key! Jesus calls God Abba (Daddy). Before we pray we should recite this ‘creed’: "I am His precious child. He is love. Our Dad in Heaven cares. He wants us to pray."  

“Believe and trust," but remember that we don't always know what we really need. We are messed up by sin. The devil and the world confuse us, too. We miscalculate, focusing on the wrong things. In fact, sometimes we think we are praying for “bread and fish” but it's actually “snakes and scorpions”! This is why the gift of the Holy Spirit is the most important thing we can ask for. God inside us is the greatest need. Focus on the Holy Spirit in prayer! We need to discern what is best. We need to align with God.

Jesus promises it will all (every good and beneficial thing) be ours
Ask... Seek...Knock... Keep at it! Constantly. Remember, though prayer is about union with God, becoming His earthen vessel, His Temple, His child. So do not let lists of requests deter you from loving communion.

If you understand that the Holy Spirit of God prays in you...
If you trust Jesus prays with you...
If you believe the Father loves you and wants to give you all you need...
Then you believe in the power of prayer.
If you believe in the power of prayer, then pray.
Talk to God and listen to God. Constantly.

Friday, July 22, 2016

On God, War, Love, Violence and Real Life

The Bible is not a mythological work. It has stories which are familiar to real life. The Book of Joshua, a story of battles and conquest, is not terribly different from what we read about ISIS. People enter a land and massacre the inhabitants in a "divinely inspired" quest for a purified theocratic homeland. Now, there may be debates on whose God is the real God (Jew or Islam), but the treatment of the vanquished is unnervingly similar. The impulse to renounce violence in the name of a loving God is strong in me (and you?). Many claim that Jesus has revealed that God loves us all so (heresy alert!) we must leave the Old Testament and its violence behind. "We are in an age of grace; not bloodshed and law!" they say. Yes, love and sweetness rule the day!

But what is love? In the Bible, all these wars of Joshua are an act of love. God loves Israel and gives them this land. Love is at work, even if we think it unfair. That is the problem. We have embraced values and virtues in theory, not seeing how difficult it is to place them in practice in a real, concrete world. We also do not know how to judge rightly. What should God do for His landless people? What should God do with the pagan folk who reject Him? What mode of love's expression can balance the competing demands of these disparate peoples? Does love rule out judgment? [p.s. Jesus' warnings, some parables and some teachings were certainly in line with His Bible, that Divinely Inspired Jewish book we call the "Old" Testament.]

The Book of Joshua confronts us with material which boggles the mind. In chapter 24:1-15 (Sunday Office reading) Joshua recounts to the people that God "took" Abraham. The Hebrew word laqach also means to snatch, to seize, to buy, to marry... So in this Jewish creed (it is a faith declaration and account of salvation history), we hear that God grabbed Abraham and took him away from worship of pagan Gods. It continues quickly through Isaac and Jacob to the deliverance from Egypt. It culminates in a declaration that God Himself has dispatched the enemy with mighty acts and concludes with a choice: Which God will you serve? The Lord God or the pagan deities of this land?
Faith story and choice. We, like them, are confronted with the same question.

We live in a fallen world. We prefer our religion untainted by that, wishing for something pure, spiritual and otherworldly. This is an heretical impulse as well (Gnosticism). The belief that material reality is impure and unnecessary and the wish that the real God is to be found in a disconnected spiritualism is an escape hatch. It lets us spin easy answers because, freed from the constraints of actual reality, we can employ fantasy and magic. "Why," we can ask, "doesn't God just create those problems away?" We think resolution of human conflict should be a simple thing for God to deal with. And it would be, if He were not constrained by the limits of time and space, of free-will and human choice, of the laws of physics and biology---you know, reality in general.

War is a human invention. It was a seed planted in Cain and Abel's up close and personal incident, but eventually blossomed into a cast of thousands (tens of thousands) as ancient peoples grew and multiplied. Technological advances provided for the population increases, but also provided new and improved ways to kill, maim and destroy that growing population.

God's answer to violence, in the end, is the cross of Jesus. But in our real world, adherents of different "faiths" (including secular, non-religious faith) have different opinions which produce conflict. Conflicting desires can only be dealt with by compromise or capitulation.  Compromise is hard because it often requires that no one gets what they want, besides often we do not like the other side, so why play nice?

Think of the news stories we have seen the last week:

"Do what I tell you or I will shoot"
"Do what we want or we will shut down your interstate"
"Do what we want or we will make a coup"
"Do what I want or your failed coup will cost the freedom of thousands"
"Do what I want or I will shoot up your night club, your cafe,or run you over in my truck at your celebration, take out my sniper rifle and assassinate you, etc. etc. etc.)
"Do what we want or we will invade, or bomb you."
"Do what I want or I will make this one particular issue (bathrooms) the reason to take away your All Star game."

The news is full of "do what I want or else" stories. Violence is the last resort if you have the power of lawyers and it works, but in the end it is all about resolving conflict by winning. Winning. Winning may or may not be "violent" (and that term seems to be pretty amorphous in the hands of some); but winning is always about winners and losers. Winning is fun. Losing, not so much. And history teaches us that the perennial losers sometimes embrace violence, if only out of despair in hopeless rage.

Joshua, ironically, is not really a book about winning. Even with God on their side the 12 Tribes never really quite win. They subdue the inhabitants of the land (or so it seems, in the Book of Judges things are less rosy). Yet, Israel will always face new threats from outside, and more importantly, the pagan faith of the inhabitants of the land inside. The reason God cleaned out the Promised Land was to cleanse it of the pagan gods and their abhorrent practices. From Exodus to 2 Kings we read over and over that those same gods and practices are embraced by God's people on a regular basis.

How to deal, then, with the horrible violence in the Book of Joshua? I think its helpful to remember that the "historical" purpose of the writer was theological. In other words, there is deeper meaning here. Perhaps the best option is to read it metaphorically (metaphors are no less true than facts, so the truth of the Scripture is not at risk). Without getting into all the archaeological debates, suffice to say that the simple picture painted by the biblical books is too sparse to cover the wide ranging content of these many years of conflict and invasion. However, the stories as stories do provide us with stunning parables for life. [side note, when Jesus told His parables (like the Sower and the Seed) I think He was often pointing at things that were currently present to His audience and He used to illustrate a deeper point.] The actual story of the rise of Israel is compressed into several short vignettes really, and like the life of Jesus, much, much more is left out than is included.

So how to read Samuel? As a template for life it reminds us that we must choose our God, but that choice is in response to being chosen beforehand. Say what you want, God is free to do His thing and we are all bit players in a wider, more encompassing production. Much of what happens is done by us, but there are always the times and places where we are acted on, receiving benefits (or suffering losses) as an Invisible Hand has its way in the world around us.

Would ISIS recant if ten thousand Pacifists were to show up in their theater of operation, offering love and understanding? We don't know because around here there are few volunteers, but it seems like it wouldn't work. Will shooting random police officers make the other policemen less likely to shoot those they are arresting? Will Turkey have peace now after the coup failed, and are the 100,000 enemies of the state going to make things better for everyone? Is the NBA the best arbiter of public morality in our difficult societal debates?

We embrace God (or try to) and with open mind and heart try to discern where He would have us go and what He would have us do. In a fallen world, none of us is infallible. And even if you claim the Bible is, whatever else we learn from reading it is the role of Joshua leading an army is countered by Jesus (Joshua in Hebrew!) carrying a cross. Kill or be killed? Which Jesus/Joshua is the true one? If we know they were each right in their own choices, can our Bible give us infallible certainty on what we should do in our time and place?

So Sunday we will pray over and discuss the reading from the Book of Joshua. We may also pray over Psalm 24 & 29. We may also toss in some Mark 2:23-28 where Jesus tells the Bible Thumping Pharisees (their mantra was, "God said it, I believe it, that settles it") that the Bible may say working on the Sabbath is a sin, but you have to read deeper to understand what is really there. And that, in the end, is the beginning and end of the discussion. We need Jesus to be the Final Arbiter of the Interpretation. We are at risk, all of us, because thinking we are "obedient Joshua" fighting a holy war for God (even metaphorically) we could end up being ISIS, producing sins against humanity for the sake of an error (at least from my perspective).

War, love, violence... God is only encountered by us in real life. Real life is messy because of the Fall and Sin. Real life is filled with half truths, contradictions, mysteries and conundrums. We can't sit on the sidelines and wait for it all to be sorted out before we act. The action is all around us and even refraining from action can be a great evil. Yet, if we seek to truly choose God, the God who already chose us, is it not safe to hope that somehow He will make it all right in the end? If the Cross is God's answer to the violence of the real world, then resurrection is the remedy. Resurrection is our hope, a flickering candle in the darkness. The Book of Joshua reflects our violent, conflict riddled, winner-loser world. Facing such darkness, our only light is hope. And the Second Joshua, Jesus, is that light.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Bad News or Good News? You Choose?

Amos 7:7-17 is a terrifying word of prophetic judgment. A sheepherder from Judah,  he has been sent north by God with the "Bad News" to Israel. He pronounces doom with harsh words of judgment. We would prefer a gentler melody; songs of love and amazing grace.

Prophets don't care what we prefer. They share His message. Every encounter with God is judgement: either salvation or destruction. God offered life/salvation, but Israel broke covenant, rejected love and opened their land to death and exile. They ignored Amos and chose a happier but false gospel. So, bad news, Assyria invaded and destroyed the nation. The Samaritans are the heirs of the exiled tribes of Israel. Samaria and Judah will be at odds for centuries.

Jesus speaks of love, but he does so with a prophetic emphasis. A lawyer asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. We are told it is a test so when Jesus responds with a question He is turning the tables. The lawyer says the greatest commandment is to love God and neighbor. Jesus tells him he is right, "so do this and you will live." One last challenge, how exactly does one "do it"?

"Who is my neighbor?" is a serious question in any society. Insider/outsider status was even more important in ancient culture with its emphasis on group membership. "Love" means a strong attachment or loyalty to another expressed through acts which benefit the others. Clan connection--family--are the primary object of love. The neighbor is one of us. Or is he?

Jesus' story would have been familiar to His hearers. Travel was on the violent fringe of society where outlaws were a real threat. The traveler is called an "anthropos" (Greek for human). The priest and Levite are generally thought of as trying to avoid being made unclean by a dead body.  However, a good case is made in the Jewish New Testament that this is not about purity law (the man was going away from the Temple, if they were headed away from the Temple uncleanness was not an issue. In any case the Law provided for a process to become clean and it was quite managable) but obeying the command to care for the needy (or respect for the dead). The hearers would expect a Jewish layman next (the third category of Jews). Unexpectedly, Jesus choose a Samaritan to illustrate love and care. The Samaritan is outside the tripartite (priest, levite, laymen) structure of Judaism. The message has a depth of meaning.

Remember, the Lawyer had asked Jesus "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" The word
"inherit" is frequent in the Jewish Bible to describe God's bestowal of His blessings. An inheritance is not a reward, it is always a grace. What must one do to receive an inheritance? Usually being an heir is relational, to be family (literally or figuratively). Jesus is expanding the scope of family connection. Jesus implies that loving care is for all people, especially the outsider.

The word of God is clear. Jesus says "do this and you shall live." His language is not as harsh as Amos, but it is still a terrifying challenge. What if I cannot see the "other" with the eyes of love? What if I am reluctant to bind up the wounds of others? What if I don't want to spend my hard earned money on someone I hardly know, who, after all, got themselves in trouble. What if I just want to hurry on my way and take care of the 101 things on my "to do list"?

Love God. Love neighbor. It is the Torah. Jesus' prophetic word of judgment is "do this and you will live." Let those who believe listen and obey!

for further reflection:
[Mark 12:18-27 is a drawn out conflict on resurrection where Jesus bests the Sadducees; then in 12:28ff a scribe asks Jesus what is the greatest commandment. It is Jesus who declares the love of God is the first commandment and the second, love of neighbor, is like it. When the scribe responds positively, Jesus declares that the man is not far from the kingdom of God. Matthew 22:23ff follows Mark with the same narrative combination, however, in Matthew's account, the lawyer is a Pharisee and he asks to test Jesus. Once more Jesus delineates a first and second, this time with an addition "this is the great and first commandment." However, in Luke the resurrection debate has been moved to chapter 20, inserted between the question about paying taxes and the Messiah as David's son. The reading today (Luke10:25ff) is sandwiched between the mission of the Seventy and Jesus rejoicing that God has revealed Himself to the "infants" before it and the Martha and Mary visit and teaching on prayer afterwards. In addition, Luke does not have Jesus speaking, but rather the hostile lawyer who combines the commandments as one. It is Jesus who says you have given the right answer. Luke then adds the Parable not found elsewhere.]

Friday, July 8, 2016

Joshua/Jesus: Courage in the face of Chaos

Deuteronomy 31:7-13, 24-32:4; Romans 10:1-13; Matthew 24:15-31

Moses told Joshua (Jesus in Greek)
"Be strong and of good courage; for you shall go with this people into the land which the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them; and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the Lord who goes before you; He will be with you, He will not fail or forsake you; do not fear or be dismayed."

Chaos is ever gnawing at the ropes of the tent of order. God's creation is in flux globally and locally. "Law and order" go together. Moses, the Law Receiver and Law Giver, has reminded the Children of Israel that their God is faithful, but that so they must also be. The Law is the tent which makes life possible.

Paul's take on the Law in Romans seems to negate the Law completely (contrasting it to faith), but that is too large to address here. Suffice to say that Paul says many other things which includes a reminder that we are not freed from the Law to sin. And Jesus in Matthew speaks of the coming day when the world "disintegrates" (whether the reference is the pending fall of Jerusalem or the end of the world). It seems chaos is always gnawing at the ropes...

Chaos gnaws away at the tent ropes and the collapses around us are a reminder that order is always at risk. Our society, like Jesus' society, can be swept away (by external or internal means) in the blink of an eye. Some day it will. All we know and hold dear will be turned upside down eventually.

Joshua (Jesus in Greek) is commanded to go forth where God would have him go and do what God would have him do. So shall we also go forth if we know what is best for us. Courage and trust sustain us because that is how the world works. It is a law of life that courage and trust are needed to accomplish anything worth doing. It is also a law of life that God is with us, that He does not fail us or leave us in the lurch, that God goes before us and behind us. Whatever else is going on in the world around, God is with us...

Jesus Lord, lead us into the true land of promise. Jesus Lord, lead us into the place of order and law. Jesus bring us into your Kingdom! Save us from our sins and the sins of others. Save us from the sins of our neighbors and the sins of our government. Save us from ourselves. Save us.
Holy Spirit fill us with courage and trust on the way.
Holy Three, faithful Three, thank you for being with us and going before us. amen

Thursday, July 7, 2016

reminder: it is all passing away

Mt 24:1-14
Jesus left the Temple and was going away, when His disciples came to point out to Him the buildings of the Temple. But He answered them, "You see all these, do you not? Truly I say to you, there will not be left here on stone upon another that will not be thrown down..."

Prophets declare God's word. "When we encounter God it is judgment on our lives. Always." These words from a book (Beginning to Pray, Bloom) I recently started has given me a different angle on every word I read in Scripture. Judgement means salvation or condemnation, life or death, redemption or loss.  Jesus' prophetic word is that God is coming to the Temple in condemnation because when God (in Jesus) came tot he Temple with salvation He was rejected.

Our response is a corporate response, too. The world and our own cities are in relationship with judgment each day as God (emmanuel) comes among us. The rural folks marvel at the big city and the huge buildings. Jesus reminds them that it is all passing away. God's Temple will be destroyed and to this day it is gone. The amazing structures of our own day, far surpassing the Temple in size and scope, will also pass away. It is all temporary. Except God, and us. And our encounter with God is judgement: life or death, salvation or destruction...

Keep my eyes from what is false, by your word give me light. Help me to focus on what matters most, Eternal Lord, and make me your holy dwelling and a temple of your presence that will not pass away. Thank you. Glory to you. Forgive and Heal us. amen.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Praying Scripture for July 10

Sunday School
Periodically I will be trying to post short reflections on a verse (or concept) from the daily readings and a prayer. It is intended to help jump start your own meditation on the word of God.
Sunday July 10 we pray Psalms 148, 149, 150 and we read Joshua 1:1-18; Acts of the Apostles 21:3-15 and Mark 1:21-27

Briefly, one model of prayerful reflection I offered a couple of weeks ago.
Always begin with prayer for the Holy Spirit to guide you!!!!
1. Read and summarize the scripture passage before you. (This may reveals something about your focus and thought processes too)
2. Read the passage a second time, underlining key words or phrases. Spend time with the words and let God speak to your soul (mind, heart, desire, will). If you have time, do a search on the blue letter bible to see other places that word shows up.
3. Read the passage in the context of the Biblical book. What takes place just before and just after the particular section you are reading. [this is more time consuming but it is a valuable tool for understanding]. Another context is other readings which are bundled together by the Lectionary. How do the text interpenetrate one another? (I plan to model that today)
4. Pray. Ask God to place the Scripture in your heart and life. What do I "do" now? Let it impact your thoughts or behaviors.

This is a remarkable book on many levels. Jesus?Joshua is a major "type" of Christ, and the name being the same was certainly not lost on the early church. The time setting is "post-Moses"--he is dead, there is "a new sheriff in town." (Ponder the flow of history) There is a promise (to be with you as I was with Moses; the Lord regularly renews a covenant promise with the next generation, think of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). The centrality of the Law is emphasized. Obedience produces blessing (a Deuteronomic theme). The recurring command "be strong and of good courage"

'abar "pass" the same word used in Ex 12:12, 23 for the angel of death passing through Egypt is used for Joshua passing over the water (another Exodus image) to the other side.
"Be strong and courageous" (repeated four times 1:6,7,9,18), also see Deuteronomy 31:6,7,23 for a similar pattern). chazak/strong is one of the words used to describe Pharaoh's heart (translated hardened but actually means strengthened) while 'amats (courage, strength) is used in a similar way of King Sihon (who would not allow Israel "abar/to pass!).

The emphasis on courage is not so prevalent today. We speak much of love and faith, but courage and strength are almost viewed with suspicion. Are such too manly? Certainly, we have learned the futility of war and the costs often outstrip the value, but even as we look at contemporary Israel one is reminded of the six million Jews rounded up and exterminated. Is courage needed to fight in the face of annihilation? Is it kill or be killed? The Book of Joshua raises existentially relevant and difficult questions. The Jesus ethic and the Joshua ethic are not easily reconciled. It is why prayer with the Scriptures takes us to places we would rather not go.

Mark 1
I mentioned above that one context is lectionary groupings and today we see it. Jesus (New Joshua) was baptized in the river Jordan, spent forty days (years) in the desert being tested and now He comes to Galilee. The tribe of Naphatali had this partition of the Promised Land, which is the northernmost part of Israel (above Samaria) and includes Mount Carmel. Jesus is teaching (recall Torah, usually translated as "Law" really means "instruction"). Jesus is a teacher. Part of His mission of salvation is instruction. We learn by listening and taking His words to heart. In addition, there is warfare of a spiritual type. Jesus cleans out the demons infesting the land (as Joshua "cleaned" the land of the "demonic" Canaanites). The Kingdom is always judgment; when we meet God we receive either salvation or destruction. The Exorcism is every bit an act of battle and spiritual battles are at the heart of all war.

How does Jesus see the world? Are we "modern" people allowed to ignore His view of things and simply side step the issue of the demonic? How would the call to strength and courage factor into Mark 1 and the mission of Jesus?

Another direction is to focus on the amazement of the people in response (or reaction?) to Jesus. The narrative is filled with questions and that is always a wonderful source of direction for meditation.
What have you to do with us Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
What is this (new teaching with authority)?
How is our view of Jesus impacted by the answers to those questions? How is our response to Jesus as disciples following and apostles sent out in His Name?
What is the content of our teaching?
Where is the power and authority manifest in our lives?
What demons are we casting out?