Thursday, February 28, 2013

5 Things to Take Up This Lent by Patty Kirk (from GUIDEPOSTS)

5 Things to Take Up This Lent By Patty Kirk, Westville, Oklahoma (first printed in GUIDEPOSTS)

Lent doesn’t always mean forbidding ourselves some pleasure; it can be an opportunity to seek the pleasure of God’s love and presence.
By Patty Kirk, Westville, Oklahoma

Every Lent my teenage daughters give something up—or at least consider it.
It’s the usual things. Chocolate. Pop. A favorite TV show. Once Lulu gave up meat. Last year, Charlotte renounced caffeine, a sacrifice she found especially challenging since it meant going without her beloved Earl Grey tea with milk and sugar.
Still, she told me, it was easier than the other act of self-denial she’d been contemplating: “no technology”—that is, 40 days without Facebook or texting.
“But why are you doing it? What does it mean?” I routinely ask, hoping for some impressive spiritual motive.
Penitence, perhaps, or the desire to share in Jesus’ suffering. Judging from their answers (the universal teenage non-answer, “Just ’cuz”) and their spotty success, I’m guessing the closest they come to any spiritual goal is guilt.
“I know it’s supposed to make me think about God,” Charlotte told me last year as we neared Easter, “but, to be honest, it doesn’t always.”
Thinking about God is what Lent’s about. Having discovered my faith after spending two decades abstaining from everything God-related—decades of lonely, hungry atheism that might be called “my long Lent”—I like to devote the Lenten period to seeking out and indulging in God’s presence.
Lent doesn’t always mean forbidding ourselves some pleasure. It can be an opportunity to seek the pleasure of God’s presence.
Get outdoors
One of the simplest and most immediate ways for me to get a sense of God’s presence is to go outside and look for it.
Although I live out in the country, I’m indoors much of the time, often spending whole days—in my office at the university where I teach, in my house, in stores—barely aware of the weather or what’s growing or what birds are singing.
To remind myself of God’s omnipresence, I plan outdoor time: a trip across campus for my mail instead of having it delivered, a long run on the country roads near my house, a magically relaxing moment of bird watching.
My garden has always been for me what Celtic believers call a “thin place”: a place where the membrane between our world and God seems particularly thin.
When I’m out turning the cold wet dirt with my spade or sowing early seeds—spinach, radishes, peas—or harvesting the slender onions that volunteer themselves to the sunlight after the long winter, I connect with the presence of the One who created it all.
Spend time with others
Another place where I’m sure to find God is in others, specifically those who are—or should be—the recipients of my generosity and compassion.
The needy themselves, according to Jesus, are God. In answer to his disciples’ questions about what to expect at the end of time, Jesus envisions himself enthroned in heaven, dividing the nations into two groups: those who showed him hospitality when he was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and alone, and those who did not.
Neither group remembers encountering Jesus in such circumstances, and he explains, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
I don’t have to go very far to find God in the needy. They’re all around me: retired colleagues, a neighbor kid whose mom needs a break, the mom herself. During Lent, I consciously set out to enjoy moments with them.
Pray for the little things
During Lent I pray more often—out in the garden, on my runs, over lunch with friends. I also pray smaller, about the most minor details of my life: to-do lists, writing deadlines, lost keys.
Others may consider such prayers inappropriate or irreverent. Many limit their prayers to desires they think God wants for them, not what they want for themselves.
Certainly, we should put God’s will before ours. But aren’t we also meant to be childlike in our faith? My daughters prayed about the most minute details of their lives—a lost toy, a sibling fight, a hard test, a bad breakup. Often, even when they prayed in anger or malice, I sensed a peace in them afterward, as though God had heard and answered their prayers. It’s never wrong to pray about anything.
See the answers
Early in my adult faith I longed to read the Bible daily. As a full-time teacher and the mother of two toddlers, though, I had to spend what little unoccupied time I had grading papers. So I prayed for more time.
I didn’t really expect anything to change. And nothing did, exactly. I stayed just as busy at work, grading papers, just as busy at home, as I always had. Nevertheless, somehow I was able to get it all done. Every morning, that whole year, I read the Bible. I was granted the miracle of time.
Turn worry into prayer
If I ever felt challenged to give a cherished or unhealthy habit up for Lent, it would have to be worrying. Worries about my daughters or money or some conflict wake me most nights. I even worry about worrying. And I’m forever vowing, in vain, to stop.
In the spirit of Lenten renewal, though, I weave my worrying into prayers. I call it “pray-worrying,” the closest I’ve ever come to that mysterious faith achievement of “just giving it to Jesus.”
“Here’s this problem,” I rant, as though God were a student who had skipped several classes. Then I worry forth my certitude of how bad things are and how much worse they’re likely to get.
I may sound pushy, disrespectful even, in my prayer-worries, and I am. I am as self-absorbed and demanding as my teenage daughters can be. But here’s the thing. During Lent and always, God is present. Nearby. Listening. Longing to respond.
If the one thing I give up during the Lenten season is worry, it’s only because I take on prayer. Prayer always draws us closer to God, and that is what Lent is all about—finding greater opportuni­ties to bring the Divine into our daily lives. Hopefully that is what I can teach my daughters.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wrestling with God (Genesis 32:24-28).

SCRIPTURE: Genesis 32:24-28 (TM)
But Jacob stayed behind by himself, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he couldn't get the best of Jacob as they wrestled, he deliberately threw Jacob's hip out of joint. The man said, "Let me go; it's daybreak." Jacob said, "I'm not letting you go 'til you bless me." The man said, "What's your name?" He answered, "Jacob." The man said, "But no longer. Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it's Israel (God-Wrestler); you've wrestled with God and you've come through."

STORY as told by Leroy Eims:
One spring our family was driving from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa, Florida. As far as the eye could see, orange trees were loaded with fruit. When we stopped for breakfast, I ordered orange juice with my eggs. "I'm sorry," the waitress said. "I can't bring you orange juice. Our machine is broken." At first I was dumbfounded. We were surrounded by millions of oranges, and I knew they had oranges in the kitchen--orange slices garnished our plates. What was the problem? No juice? Hardly. We were surrounded by thousands of gallons of juice. The problem was they had become dependent on a machine to get it. Christians are sometimes like that. They may be surrounded by Bibles in their homes, but if something should happen to the Sunday morning preaching service, they would have no nourishment for their souls. The problem is not a lack of spiritual food--but that many Christians haven't grown enough to know how to get it for themselves.
Wrestling with God is never easy, but necessary if we desire to grow spiritually... to be spiritually fed! How we grow spiritually is dependent upon us. Not on the preacher. Not on the church we might or might not attend. Not on the Sunday school teacher. It is dependent on us.

To be spiritually fed is to wrestle with God through the nights of our souls. It takes time and it takes a lot of hard work. As one old farmer use to say upon arriving at church on Sunday morning, “Well, preacher I’m prayed up and read up and now I’m ready for you.”

This gentleman had discovered that if Sunday morning worship was going to be meaningful he had to do his spiritual work - to get the field of his soul prepared for whatever the preacher was going to plant that morning – long before Sunday morning. He was an old farmer. He had been farming for a long, long time. Experience had taught him that if he was going to have a good harvest in the fall he needed to prepare the field long before it was planting season. Or, as he was fond of sharing: “When the snow falls is when I sharpen my tools. I don’t wait until I need them to get them ready.”

And so it is with our souls. Take the advice of this wise old farmer. Preparation for Sunday begins when we arrive home from church the previous Sunday. Think of it this way. Sunday worship is the daybreak in the Genesis story. The days between the worship experiences are the nights of the soul. The wrestling is our time spent reading scripture, reflecting on what we have read, and the amount we spend talking with God (i.e. praying) … and listening to what he has to share with us. Then comes the daybreak, the worship experience, the blessings from God … and we are spiritually fed.

May we all be spiritually fed … here’s to some good wrestling!

Come God and wrestle with our souls, our spirits today. Don’t let us up. Don’t let us be spiritually lazy. We want to be blessed by you so keep us in that spiritual headlock until the break of day. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Whose your cheerleader? (Psalm 27:14)

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 27:14 (TM)
Stay with God! Take heart. Don't quit. I'll say it again: Stay with God.

Dr. John Trent tells the story of a couple in West Texas. The wife, Betty, was very athletic, and had been a cheerleader and very popular in high school. Now she is 55 and has come to Dr. Trent for medical help. She hurts a lot and her joints are beginning to swell. 

After examining her, he tells her that she has rheumatoid arthritis and there is no cure. She sits crying for a moment as she considers her future. Then her tall, leathery-faced West Texas cowboy husband walked into the room and sat down beside her. 

Betty said, "Rusty, you need to get a divorce. I can’t be a wife to you anymore. It hurts every time I move, and I can’t even hold your hand. For your own sake you need a woman who can really love you. Why don’t you get a divorce, and go your way and I’ll go mine?"

Dr. Trent said, "Rusty sat down on that stool beside her. He looked her in the eye and said, `Betty, can you smile?’ `It doesn’t hurt to smile.’ He said, `That’s all I need, just a smile. Well,’ he said, `Really, I don’t even need a smile. All I need is you.’"

Everybody needs a cheerleader. Each of us needs somebody who is going to be in our corner. It sure helps when we know that there’s someone who has our back. Betty had Rusty. How about you?

As these the words of 27th Psalm floated my soul this morning there was an overriding sense that the Psalmist was his own cheerleader at this particular point in his journey. It seems that he was trying to convince himself that the best course of action was to “stay with God.” At least he is being honest with himself. “Stay with God” and everything is going to turn out okay … even though it seems like everything is going in the other direction.

It is as if we are listening in on his personal pep rally. Ever been there? Most of us have been. Needing to boost our spirit, to pickup the pieces and move on we sit down and try to convince ourselves that it is going to get better tomorrow. “Tomorrow! Tomorrow! I love ya tomorrow. You’re always a day away!” is a personal pep rally. “Take heart. Don’t quit,” catches me every time.

Wouldn’t it be great at those particular moments if we had our own personal cheerleader? Well, the Psalmist arrives at the realization that God is his cheerleader. When the chips are down and nothing is going right … God is there! He’s got your back. Nothing else really matters. He’s our “Rusty”. “All I need is you.”

Pick us up today because we need picking up. Lift our spirit because it is very low this morning. Bring sunshine into our cloudy life. As the rain falls on our spirit confirm for us once again that the sun will come out again tomorrow!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Becoming fearless (Psalm 27:1) in a scary world with a spiritual insight from the life of John Chrysostom.

SCRIPTURE: Psalm 27:1 (TM)
Light, space, zest - that's God! So, with him on my side I'm fearless, afraid of no one and nothing.

Seeking to know God better, John Chrysostom became a hermit in the mountains near Antioch in A.D. 373. Although his time of isolation was cut short by illness, he learned that with God at his side, he could stand-alone against anyone or anything. That lesson served Chrysostom well. In A.D. 398 he was appointed patriarch of Constantinople, where his zeal for reform antagonized the Empress Eudoxia, who had him exiled. Allowed to return after a short time, Chrysostom again infuriated Eudoxia, who sent him away again. How did Chrysostom respond to such persecution? With these words: "What can I fear? Will it be death? But you know that Christ is my life, and that I shall gain by death. Will it be exile? But the earth and all its fullness are the Lord's. Poverty I do not fear; riches I do not sigh for; and from death I do not shrink."

It is a hard lesson that we learn slowly. What is it that we fear? I mean – shake in our boots, breakout in a cold sweat, mouth goes dry, heart rate increases, loss of speech, unable to move kind of fear. What is it that we really really fear?

Death? Rejection? Ridicule? Being the laughing stock? Exposed as a fraud? Failure? Financial ruin? Loneliness? Weight gain? Divorce? Not being liked? Is your fear listed? What would you add to this list? The “fear factor” in our life is the bully of our spirit and soul.

Our Lenten journey should bring us closer to God … at least that is the hope and purpose. In becoming closer to God shouldn’t we face ourselves … even if it means facing the painful reality of what paralyses our soul. To admit what we fear most in this life is a daunting task at best. Lay us bear to the facts. Opening us up to a reality that we have spent a lifetime burying deep within our psyche.

Putting a name on our fear diminishes its power over us. Growing up the neighborhood bully was Dick Locke. He would hunt us down and beat us up for no apparent reason other than he was angry at someone or something and we simply were available to be beaten up as a way of releasing his anger. Since those days I’ve called all of my fears “Dicks” and peace comes to my soul. Christ defeated my arch enemy once why not again?

Aren’t we shaped as much by our fears as we are by our hopes and dreams? And yet, John Chrysostom came to the spiritual reality that was revealed by the Psalmist – that when we come along side of God we have no one and nothing to fear. We become fearless of whatever there is out there that would desire to destroy us. Those things that go bump-in-the-night become nothing more than useless noise.

I’m wondering what we would really accomplish if we started to live each day with a fearless heart?  

Help us to become what we proclaim we are – fearless Christ-followers in a world filled with things that go bump-in-the-night. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Modern Day Parable - Without Love.

WITHOUT LOVE – author unknown

It was a dark and stormy night. 

You could hear the thunder in the distance. Bats flapped their wings in the darkness of the night. 

There the castle stood. The wolves were howling; the trees were swaying in the wind as it whistled. 

And inside the castle, a faint light shown…from a laboratory. 

This was the laboratory of the one and only, the maddest
scientist of them all…the laboratory of the infamous Dr. Emil Van-Gelical!

A rat ran across the granite floor as a daunting figure appeared in the light. It was Dr. Van Gelical himself with his white laboratory coat stained with the evidence of his notorious experiments. 

His eyes were glowing with mad delight as he gazed upon the table in the middle of the room, covered with a white sheet. 

Under the sheet lay a human-like form. 

Suddenly, Dr. Evan Gelical shouted: 

"Igor, come quickly! We have much to do!"

Irregular footsteps were heard coming down from the stairs. In a moment appeared Igor, a hunchback with tattered clothes and a candelabrum in one hand and a big cardboard box in the other. 

"Yes master…here is everything you ordered. All is ready!"

"Very good. Bring all the materials to the table Igor. Now we begin…. the experiment! 

Thunder was heard in the distance while Igor dragged the box towards the table. 

"Tonight I will conduct the greatest experiment of my career. Tonight shall be my greatest triumph ever!"

Doctor Evan Gelical raised his fist towards the sky: "I shall achieve what no man has achieved before. Tonight I create spiritual life! This shall be my greatest hour for I shall create… Christianstein!"

More thunder and lightning. 

"They say that I am mad Igor. But Christianstein shall be the greatest specimen of spiritual life the world has ever seen! He shall everything Igor, EVERYTHING!"

"The moment has arrived. Igor, gloves!"

"Yes master."

"Give me the voice of a great evangelist Igor!"

"Yes master" and he handed him a jar from the box. 

"The courage of Stephen!" Igor produced a dusty vial. 

"The patience of Job!" the doctor commanded and he was rewarded with an ancient-looking flask. 

"Now the hypodermic and the serums I distilled!"

Igor’s hands trembled as he presented a long, steel syringe and bottles filled with different colored fluids. 

"Double doses of daily prayer and Bible reading," 
murmured Dr. Evan Gelical while he withdrew liquid from one of the bottles and injected it into the lifeless figure’s arm.

"Then faithful church attendance…generous giving…temperance… volunteer work…ability to resist temptation…witnessing…"

The doctor paused for a moment, then filled the syringe with fluid from the final container. 

"And last-but not least-a triple injection of …orthodoxy! 

The mad doctor consulted his list once more. 

"Examine the box Igor. Have we forgotten anything?"

"Oh no master…everything must be in place!"

"Excellent! This is the moment the world has waited for. This is the moment for…. Christianstein!"

The doctor dashed to the nearest wall where an electrical control panel waited. 

"A million volts of lightning will bring my creation to life. Now stand back Igor while I throw the power switch…and prepare to meet the perfect Christian…CHRISTIANSTEIN!"

Doctor Emil Van Gelical threw the massive switch as an avalanche of thunder shook the castle. 

The figure began to tremble. 

"Doctor!” shouted Igor… “it’s…. moving!”

"Yes, yes, my creation lives!”

That thing called "CHRISTIANSTEIN" sat up slowly. Then, stiffly, it climbed from the table and stood to its full height. 

"Oh, my creation…Speak to me, speak to me!" 

The figure looked down at the doctor and frowned. Finally it began to speak in a low and hostile growl: 

"If I speak in the language of angels but have not love…"

"LOVE?" asked the doctor, examining in perplexity his list once again. 

Slowly the creature lifted his hands towards the doctor who was still consulting his list. 
"If I have the gift of prophecy and can understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have faith that can move mountains and have not love…."

"LOVE?" Igor, what is he talking about?"

"I, I don’t know master! ‘ answered Igor as he hid himself under the table. 

"If I give all my possessions to the poor and give my body to the flames to be burned and have not love…"

Suddenly the figure, growling, picked up the doctor by his coat off of his feet…."I gain nothing!"

"Nothing?" said the doctor. 

"Aaarrggghhh!" the creature bellowed throwing the doctor to the ground and reaching for his throat. 

"Igor you fool! I knew that we forgot something! And such a small thing!" while the doctor fled for his life with the creature CHRISTIANSTIEN in hot pursuit. 

A few minutes passed before Igor finally had enough courage to come out from under the table. Finally, looking this way and that, he whispered: 

"I, I think…. we have created a monster!"

During our Lenten journey may we rediscover Love – God’s love!