Monday Meditation – Outside Our Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone

Sometimes we are called upon by God to do things that are outside our comfort zone.  Nowadays almost anything God asks us to do will tend to fall outside of what we usually do.

It is how our faith grows.  We come to trust in the Lord as we walk into unchartered territories.

Opposition

Our faith is truly tested when opposition comes up against us as we walk in a new thing.  Rarely are there no troubles when it comes to doing something difficult.

The angel’s words to the women at the tomb who were about to embark on a journey none of them had ever taken before, rings ever truer today in an age of skepticism, fear, anger and hate.

“Do not be afraid.” Matthew 28:5 (NIV)

Let us take to heart the angel’s admonition as we begin to walk out in faith on the new things God is doing in the Church and in the world.  There will be many changes in the coming months and years.  Let us remain true to our God and have the courage to face the opposition that may come against us as we try to do God’s work in this Church and this creation we have been given.

Dear God, Holding fast to what endures – Your love, Your grace and Your justice – and letting go of what is but mere chaff, grant us the courage to live faithfully beyond our comfort zone.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Lent : Indignation

Indignation

Jesus had a full emotional life, which we get glimpses of in the gospels, especially in Mark.  During the Lenten season we get a hint at Jesus’ emotional life and what it meant for him to be indignant, angry, compassionate, fearful and loving and what that means for us today.

Almost from the beginning of his public ministry in Mark, Jesus is not an unemotional Savior.  In fact, he is a very feeling human being as well as God.

In Mark 1:40-45 when the leper approaches Jesus asking him if he dares to declare him clean, Jesus “snorting with indignation,” answers in the affirmative.

Is Jesus indignant with this man who dares to come to him with this outrageous request?  No he is irate with those whom the leper has just come from, those whom Jesus has him return to in order to show his cleansing as a testimony “against” (in the original Greek) their refusal to cleanse him, probably due to a lack of appropriate payment.

Should we be no less indignant at the systems that keep the poverty-stricken from full inclusion into mainstream society?  Low wage jobs, lack of health care and affordable housing, are but some of the impediments that the poor face every day in order to live in a self-sustaining way.

Dear God help us to understand how systems of oppression exist to trod down upon your people.  Help us to not partake in them and help us to bring them down much like your son preached and taught.  Let us never forget our righteous anger against a system that would marginalize people because they do not have enough to pay the toll.  Amen.

Meditation Monday: Building Up

Building Up

Dozens of new high rise buildings have been constructed in Nashville during the last five years. I counted seven gigantic cranes highlighting the cityscape at one point from my office window in downtown Nashville.

It’s been bittersweet to see these tall buildings seem to grow right out of the ground. Nashville’s construction shows vitality but it also comes with its own growing pains.

Affordable housing has become an issue as most of the new housing in development is high end real estate. What use to take fifteen minutes now takes double or even triple that amount to get into town during rush hour. The construction barrel has become the new state flower.

Building vs. Building Up

Yet for all their influence on the city, they are but buildings that remind me of the Jewish Temple of Jesus’ times. The Temple was much bigger and grander than any building ever imagined for its time and place, yet it, too, could be toppled. While the Romans burned the Temple, it was Jesus who called out its demise. Why? Because it no longer served the people it had been created to be in relationship with. It was a building that lost it’s purpose of building up. The Temple and its priests hoarded the wealth of the Temple for themselves, while the hungry, the poor, the sick cried out for relief. God heard their cry and gave the Temple ample warning to do better through Jesus.

As Jesus left the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look! What awesome stones and buildings!”

Jesus responded, “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” Mark 13:1-2 CEB

If the Temple could be brought down for not practicing its purpose, its ministry, how much more can churches be allowed to stand who have wandered away from their mission of doing for the least of these?

If Jesus was willing to call out the Temple for not building up the people, how much more does He want to call each of our churches out for not fulfilling the mission of the church – to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?

Dear God, help us to do your will in our churches. Help us to remember they are but buildings able to be brought down easily if they no longer serve their purpose for all your people – even the least of these. Amen.

Happy New Year

And we begin. Again.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland”
Isaiah 43:18-19

You see it everywhere. Signs of the new year are all around us. New offers from retailers and car sellers. People making new commitments to “improve” their lives. New year. New start. New beginnings. But it doesn’t really start here. Perhaps it really started with our celebration of just a week ago. It started with the true gift of Love God shared with His people – the birth of the Christ Child.

The start of something new beckons us to forget the old – old eating habits, old health routines, old ways of thinking. It would seem quite appropriate in this day and age for United Methodists to remember one thing and renew it: to exhibit the kind of Love for each other that God has given us as an example. When we renew and exhibit that kind of love, we are able to perceive the new things God has in store for us.

What will the New Year bring?

The past year – the old – has been one of many discussions of the problems we face as a denomination. The concerns and comments are valid and bring up points that we must consider as we move forward as believers. You see news articles and blog posts about those concerns for the Church. You hear of ways Church leaders are moving forward to address these issues. The discussions seem like wastelands. At times we feel lost and wandering and wonder where we are headed. But those same conversations offer us some great hope – that while we acknowledge the differences between us, we also exhibit greater love for each other.

So…Happy New Year

So we ended the previous year with hopes of renewal for the new one. May Love be at the center of all we do, hope for, pray for, and work together to achieve among us and throughout the world.

Meditation Monday: Good Fruit

 Good FruitThe ax is already at the root of the trees. Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and tossed into the fire. Matthew 3:10 (CEB)

In the above passage, John the Baptist speaks of trees that do not produce fruit and will then be chopped down and tossed into the fire. He said this to the Pharisees and Sadducees, the keepers of the synagogue and Temple, the places of worship.

Producing Good Fruit

How do the places of worship produce good fruit? During Jesus’ time good fruit was brought to the Temple and the synagogues. Tithes, alms and offerings were given. Too often, though, religious places held onto this wealth in terms of not just finances but also food. They could “produce good fruits” but often they didn’t, seeking instead to hoard the “fruits” for themselves.

John the Baptist began the message that Jesus would continue to teach and preach throughout his ministry – to turn away from building up the Temple’s wealth and turn toward building up the people of God, having them repent and believe in the good news. This is the message Jesus brought with him to the whole Earth starting with his birth into our human world.

“Produce fruit that shows you have changed your hearts and lives.” v. 8 CEB

Dear Lord, you came to live among us, showing us the ways of God. Create in us the ever thirsting need to produce “good fruit” from all that you have given us, both as a Church and as your people. Do not cut us down but deliver us from our greed and fear. Help us to hear the cries of the needy when we remember the cry of our Savior denied a place to lay His head on the day of His birth. Amen.

Meditation Monday: Masks

masks

This is the time of the year for of trick-or-treating, candy corn and costumes. We put on masks with our costumes to hide our true identities from those around us. Or we use costumes to become what we often dream we were.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)

The problem with Masks

The problem with masks is that they don’t let us see very well the world around us. While they are supposed to be used to scare away demons, they often obscure our vision of those demons.

So it is with all the masks we wear…even the everyday ones. They distort our sight and often narrow our ability to see all angles, views and perspectives.

While we can “play” with our masks and have fun on the day of All Hallows Eve, let us not play anymore with masks in our real life. Let us not hide and let us not deny ourselves the ability to see clearly and embrace the world God has displayed before us.

Dear God whom we cannot hide anything from help us to get rid of the masks we hide behind our daily lives. They distort our perception of reality and perpetuate this myth of “worldly perfection.” Perfection only lies with You and our journey toward You is what perfects us. Amen.

Meditation Monday: All Saints

saints

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.  He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,” Colossians 1:11-13 ESV

All Saints’ Day

Last month the leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, canonized Mother Teresa as a saint. There is rigorous criterion one must meet to be made a saint. Two criteria for becoming a saint are a life of heroic virtue and the authentication of two miracles said to occur because of mediation from that “blessed” person .

For United Methodists, all Christians who have been faithful are considered saints. We celebrate All Saints’ Day to “remember Christians of every time and place, honoring those who lived faithfully and shared their faith with us.”

While Mother Teresa has many supporters both inside and outside the Catholic Church, she also had her detractors. It has been argued that she perpetuated the cycle of poverty and suffering among the poorest of the poor in India.

While the term “Saint” is a loaded one, we still use it because it holds value as lifting up people who will be remembered for their faith. It does not make them perfect. For none are perfect but Jesus Christ. The canonization of Mother Teresa helps us to remember that we all have fallen short but we all are moving towards perfection in this life we have been given.

Dear God, we thank you for all the faithful who have gone before us, those saints on whose shoulders we rest the foundations of our church. Help us to remember them as they were, human and flawed but searching constantly for you in the midst of the darkness so that Your light might shine brighter. Amen.

Meditation Monday: Heal

heal

In chapel one morning I was struck by a verse in a worship song.

“Earth has no sorrow heaven cannot heal.”

Heal

What struck me was the absolute truth of this statement. There is no sorrow God cannot heal.   Will it be a fast and pretty process? No. The verse doesn’t make that claim. Will it be a painless and easy process? No the verse doesn’t make that claim either.

We are promised a healing. What that looks like and how it progresses is up to each individual’s circumstances and lives. But if we are willing so too is God.

Almighty God, there is nothing above you. You have set us a little lower than yourself. There is nothing on Earth that heaven can’t deal with. Help us to remember to bring to you all our heartbrokenness and feelings of sadness so that we might once again know a deep love and happiness because we have gone through pain to get to the other side with you. Amen.

Meditation Monday: Pastor Appreciation

Pastor Appreciation

And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:15 KJV

October is pastor appreciation month. It is a time when we honor all the hard work by the “shepherds” of the church. It is a tough job and often thankless.

Pastor Appreciation

We assign one month a year to celebrate and thank our pastors. On social media there is a video going around entitled, “Some days Jesus has to shepherd me like this …” it shows a modern day shepherd grabbing something down in a deep hole. As he pulls to get it out we realize that somehow one of his sheep has slipped into a tiny but deep hole. Pulling it out by its hind legs in order to rescue it, the message is clear.

Not only do our pastors help to shepherd us through life with prayers, guidance and advice which feed our souls, sometimes they pull us out of the deep holes we fall into. We can recall some of these moments as we come to this month of thanks and appreciation.

Dear God help us to appreciate those you have set the mantle of leadership upon. We know we can be unkind at times, but we also are capable of the most loving acts of appreciation. Encourage us to show our thankfulness for our pastors, the shepherds of your flock. Amen.

Click here to read pastors sharing what they love the most about their job.

Meditation Monday: A New Psalm

psalm

A New Psalm

Lord of Heaven and Earth

We stand before you vulnerable and confused.

We are overwhelmed by it all.

Lord help us!

Hear our cry, oh God!

Leave us not alone here.

 

We wrestle with all that is going on around us:

The persecution of our fellow Christians,

The bombing of families with children,

The trafficking of women into sexual slavery,

Floods and wildfires,

Large and small scale acts of violence and desecration.

There is so much to wear us down.

 

Yet we know you are God,

You are the Most High.

It is into Your hands we put ourselves and our brothers and sisters.

We pray and You hear.

We listen and we do.

And though it may seem our little acts have no effect,

We believe that a thousand ripples can cause a tidal wave

Of love that can wash away all that is not Your will.

 

Praise be to our God!