Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lord of a Winter's Heart

Man, dude, today proves that I am pretty much like everyone else. Slept 5 minutes too long, which somehow made me 10 minutes late. Kinda sleepy. Beyond grumpy. Blew my horn and almost my top at this guy who only had about 1/4 of his automobile in my lane. Just in a mood. If I was a mood ring I would be amber, but maybe tettering into gray. The gas needed was basically laying in the fetal position so I stopped at Ike's and filled up. As I was standing out in the chill and smelling the scrambled egg mixed with exhaust odor from IHOP a few blocks away I said to myself, "Hey, guess what moody Jane? You have to go up and study Scripture and write about it!" Nice. Nothing like being convicted by your own internal voice. Should he speak so loud so early in the morning? He gets up before I do apparently. Grumble.

Have you ever felt like that? Yeah, who hasn't and who doesn't? Sometimes it takes a night's rest to kinda restart the engine, reboot the hard drive, or cause the sun to rise again. But that's life, ya'll. Even when we feel this way we need to drag our sorry carcass to Jesus, confess our stuff and sit in silence and let him wash it away with his word. That, incidentally, is supposed to be how I interact with Barb. Hmm, more conviction. Yikes. This day is in need of grace and it's quite early yet.

It's in these moments that I need God to come to me more than ever, not to say I don't need him when I'm mood ring blue. I need him to come when I'm not looking for him and not looking forward to seeing him. I need him when I'm disappointed with myself or let down because things aren't running as smoothly as I wish they would. Sometimes being faith-full is a lot harder than being faithful.

And then there was Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, who had been with her husband about the same amount of time I've been with Barb. He died and left her a widow. Luke 2:36-38 says she spent the rest of her life worshiping God, fasting and praying. What do we do when life becomes difficult? Though we are tempted to withdraw and shrink into ourselves we need to place ourselves in the community of faith and in the presence of God, cultivating the soil even when it seems rocky, bumpy or frozen over. So I'm hoping that this frost can thaw under the hand of the Lord of the Winter's Heart.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What Napoleon Said About Jesus

I love going into bookstores and libraries. I'm a bibliophile. I love books. I love to simply browse and read the titles, as a matter of fact, many times in college I would go to a large bookstore and read the titles and write them down and kind of sketch what I thought would be in the book. It was good for my writing and for my imagination . . . and pocketbook.

I also love history but if you are like me (read American) then you don't have a great grasp on history or people who constitute at least one page in our high school history books. A person I wanted to read about was Napoleon, not the fluffy haired guy who dances and has a pet emu. The guy who stands awkwardly and tried to take over Europe, bless his heart. So I began searching for the best book to read about it and I decided to read Les Miserables, a short book of sorts. Of course it is four books now published as one, so I'll be reading it come Valentines. I'm neck deep into it now and of course Victor Hugo, the author, goes into asides that seem really worthless, BUT he has this great (read size) section on the battle of Waterloo. Eye opening.

Billinglsly was right, a book is a friend; a good book is a good friend. It's amazing how a writer can open your eyes to so many details: a personality, the color of a mood, the wrankled and weathered tree upon the barren hillside, the feeling of evil, the folly of life, etc, etc, etc. And you just never know what someone might say that sticks to you, like Napoleon. Now, of course he did say that religion is what keeps poor people from killing the rich and that religion was a good way to control the masses, but I think if you were to set down with him in his small, one room studio on St. Helena island over cheese and wine you would probably find he's kinda right. Thinking of the religious and societal context he was living in, I'm kinda empathetic with him.

Anyone's opinion can change over time, but read what Napoleon said about Jesus. As I was reading this morning and was reading Luke chapters 1 and 2 it only served to quicken my interest to the question we must come to: who do I say Jesus is? Simeon, the priest who blessed the infant Jesus, said that Jesus would be a sign that would be spoken against and that he would reveal what's really in our hearts. I'm going to have to always realign myself with Jesus and align myself with what he says about himself.

The quote is below. Enjoy and have a blessed winter day.

"Well then, I will tell you. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and I myself have founded great empires; but upon what did these creations of our genius depend? Upon force. Jesus alone founded His empire upon love, and to this very day millions will die for Him.... I think I understand something of human nature; and I tell you, all these were men, and I am a man: none else is like Him; Jesus Christ was more than man.... I have inspired multitudes with such an enthusiastic devotion that they would have died for me.... but to do this it was necessary that I should be visibly present with the electric influence of my looks, my words, of my voice. When I saw men and spoke to them, I lighted up the flame of self-devotion in their hearts.... Christ alone has succeeded in so raising the mind of man toward the unseen, that it becomes insensible to the barriers of time and space. Across a chasm of eighteen hundred years, Jesus Christ makes a demand which is beyond all others to satisfy; He asks for that which a philosopher may seek in vain at the hands of his friends, or a father of his children, or a bride of her spouse, or a man of his brother. He asks for the human heart; He will have it entirely to Himself. . . . (source here and here)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Luke 1 Servants of the Word

Luke 1:1-4
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write and orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

I began reading the Gospel According to Luke recently. Chapters 1 and 2 are brilliant as they tell us more, it seems, about the events leading up to the the birth of Jesus, which we are celebrating this season. Luke, to my knowledge, never saw Jesus, but he had been around plenty who had. He was a doctor who ministered with Paul and undoubtedly heard many stories from eyewitnesses. He, probably being interested in hard facts like most physicians, began going to eyewitnesses and writing down their accounts. You will notice in his writings more of the personal encounters that Jesus has with people. There are interesting details you won't find in the other gospels, read and see.

At this moment I am planning to spend a significant time in the Advent stories from now until Christmas. I'm hoping to spend time reading, reflecting and writing about what I have gained from it. I won't necessarily go in order of verse, but will focus on what spoke to me that day. I hope it is edifying and encouraging to you. Last night in church this was reinforced. Robert led in a discussion of Colossians chapter 1, verses 9-14. Paul had never met this church but his prayer for them was that they would know God's will so that they would live a pleasing life, which was made possible through the death of Christ, through whom we have forgiveness of sins. Someone commented that Paul had never met them but he wanted them to know Jesus above and beyond anything else. I want to spend this Advent season focusing on the reason for it all, Jesus and God's profound love for us.

Luke 1:2: The eyewitnesses are called servants of the word. The eyewitnesses had seen Jesus in the flesh and had seen him live perfectly in the midst of tremendous difficulties. They had subsequently believed and began to tell others. They didn't have the stories written down yet so they told the stories verbally.

Even so, today, those who are followers of Jesus are servants of the word. I have to ask myself if I am being a good manager of what I learn or hear from God. Do I tell others? Do I devote myself to learning about it, embracing it, internalizing it and then living in alignment with it? Am The first Christians weren't able to cloister themselves and read many books and keep it to themselves. They heard many stories and were able to speak with them. I think that maybe that is what is missing from a lot of Christian churches--dialog about our faith in Jesus. I believe there is a prominent place for the ministry of proclamation (a typical sermon on Sunday is what I have in mind) but there is also a need for us to speak together about what we are learning from God. I am fortunate enough to be a part of a church where this is practiced. We are novices, of course, but God seems to always speak to others and through others, to me and through me. Last night, once again, my heart was stirred as I heard others talk about how the passage of Scripture ministered to them.

We have proclamation and we have dialog. Both are needed. It is through this serious and devout study of Scripture we can come together and, like Luke says to Theophilus, "know the certainty of the things [we] have been taught."

Friday, November 16, 2007

Wanna Change Your Life

Me too.

Richard Foster writes, "To pray is to change. Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us. If we are unwilling to change, we will abandon prayer as a noticeable characteristic of our lives. the closer we come to the heartbeat of God the more we see our need and the more we desire to be conformed to Christ."

I agree. Now if only I will do it. I mean, it's up to me, right? No one else is responsible for my life but me. Not the gov'ment. Not my pastor (actually, I'm a pastor, so yes I am, but you get the point). Not my music leader. Not my mayor or school board representative. I am responsible. I'm responsible for me. And the best thing I can do for me is to pray, which happens to be the best thing for us.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Of Abraham and Home

This morning I dropped Violet off at the daycare and walked back out the main hallway and I noticed the sign on the wall, which I had read scores of time already, "God Bless America, Our Temporary Home."It reached me this time and the needle in my mind began threading together a series of conversations and thoughts of times recent.

In Genesis 12 God comes to Abram and says these fantastic and frightening words, "Go from your country and kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you." There is ascending sacrifice, a sacrifice of degrees: leave your country, leave your people, leave your nuclear family. Then there is the vagueness of it, "Go to a land I will show you." Calvin said that Abram believed the "verbum nudum," the naked word of the Lord. Abram was not told that Canaan was indeed the land until he got there.

The sacrifice was great but the promises even more so. Abram will become a nation, his name would become great and he would in turn be a blessing. His wife is barren; they would be happy with one kid, but a nation? They lived among moon worshipers, people who sacrificed to the earth for blessing and fertility. And as Abram stood outside his tent and breathed his cloudy breath into the chilled night air he would see the moon, the stars and even our galaxy. And I'm sure the vastness of time and space and the brevity of life came to mind. Can you imagine the emotions evoked when he was told, "You live among those who prize the moon and the earth for fertility, but I'm going to number your children like I've numbered the stars."?

How would this be accomplished? He would become "great," and this is the same sense and the same word that the people at Babel used. They wanted to grow big and prosperous and make their names great by gathering. And Abram? He would become great by scattering, by going, by living sent. He takes a 800-mile trek which would have taken him through the Promised Land and through some of the urban centers of the day. How, God, will this take place? I'm a country boy. I wrangle livestock; I know nothing about nation building. I know my family, my people and my country and that' about it. I've never lived with the notion of being sent. I've never lived "sent" before. How will this be?

Recently Barb and I have been talking about home and place and what makes a space meaningful. She and I grew up with families who didn't move, but stayed in the same home even until today. There is a familiarity and a rootedness in that that's hard to explain. Home is a space on Birch or just off Highway 30. Our life is different though, as Barb and I have moved 6 times in 7 years. It's an interesting dichotomy.

I guess what makes this story of Abram so radical is that it challenges me to rethink the dominant notions we all have, that deep yearning for settlement, security, for a place. Isn't there a piece in all of us that wants to hunker down, to feel like we belong, to have a history and people who share that history with us?

Abram had that too. And he had more. We all want to be useful in this life. We all want to have meaning and purpose. Don't we all want to stand under the bowl of stars and hear God exclaim, "Yours is a bright and bountiful future. You will change lives." Yet Abram knew of the future but the promise was more for his family tree than for him. It wasn't a delay in fulfillment as much as it was a grace to know God is true and will remain so even if it is not for him.

Man, this just grinds into me and pushes so much out. Why do we long for stuff, STUFF!, on earth that we know we will one day have to replace? Why do we long for the best location, the best landscaping, the best decor, the best . . ." And we are Christians! We have Jesus, the soul-reviving, all-rewarding, all-fulfilling Savior and yet our hearts still crave for STUFF! This is definitely a signal that something is not right, something has gone awry. Something tells me this has something to do with 2 people in a garden way back when. I'm like them. Honest, I am.

Even so, God says in Hebrews, that Abraham obeyed and went and made his home in tents (nothing to permanent about that). Why? Why would he leave his country, his people and his family? Why would he go to a new place and live a life of being sent? Because "he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God."