A neighbor not like me

A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”  But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” ~Luke 10:25-20 (CEB)

I grew up watching Mister Rogers.  One of my favorite parts was him singing “won’t you be my neighbor?” I would have given anything to have a neighbor like Mister Rogers living next door to me. He was after all looking for a neighbor. But I never really knew my neighbors growing up. We moved too often to get to know any neighbor really well.

Getting to know your neighbor sometimes requires that you are the one to seek out a relationship. You can’t rely on the other person to be the one to do the seeking. Often times these days our closest friends come from school, church, the work place or other group of people similar to ourselves and this seems enough. Our own circles seem to complete us. When we stick to familiar ground and people we know we cannot grow in our understanding of others.

“We become neighbors when we are willing to cross the road for one another.  There is so much separation and segregation: between black people and white people, between gay people and straight people, between young people and old people, between sick people and healthy people, between prisoners and free people, between Jews and Gentiles, Muslims and Christians, Protestants and Catholics, Greek Catholics and Latin Catholics.

There is a lot of road crossing to do.  We are all very busy in our own circles.  We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of.  But if we could cross the street once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might become neighbors.” ~From Bread for the Journey, by Henri Nouwen

It is hard to think that today we still keep ourselves separate from people who are different from ourselves. Only when we cross the road can we widen our horizon of understanding. The more variety of people I meet the more understanding I have for others. I don’t always agree with other views but my world has been enlarged beyond myself. Sometimes though I learn that I may have been wrong in a pattern of thought I have held.

Heavenly Father, I thank you for always pushing me out of my comfort zones. I thank You for the people You have put in my life to help me to grow more in Your understanding of the world around me. May I walk this journey with Your eyes and Your ears and may I have Your heart in all my dealings with Your people. Amen.

Moods

But now thus says the Lord,

He who created you, O Jacob,

He who formed you, O Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;

I have called you by name,

you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

and through the rivers, they shall not

overwhelm you;

when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned,

and the flame shall not consume you.

For I am the Lord your God,

The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

I give Egypt as your ransom,

Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.

~Isa. 43:1-3 (NRSV)

 

It is so easy to let my moods hold power over me. Sometimes it just sneaks up behind me and grabs on tightly. I struggle for patience. Soon I am snapping at those closest to me.

“Are we condemned to be passive victims of our moods?  Must we simply say:  ‘I feel great today’ or ‘I feel awful today,’ and require others to live with our moods?

Although it is very hard to control our moods, we can gradually overcome them by living a well-disciplined spiritual life.  This can prevent us from acting out of our moods.  We might not “feel” like getting up in the morning because we “feel” that life is not worth living, that nobody loves us, and that our work is boring.  But if we get up anyhow, to spend some time reading the Gospels, praying the Psalms, and thanking God for a new day, our moods may lose their power over  us.” ~Bread for the Journey, by Henri Nouwen.

Reading God’s Word reminds me who walks through the storms with me. He will not let me be overwhelmed. When I am in the midst of fire, He will not let me be burned. God knows my name. He formed me and created me. My moods have no true power. They do not have to define my day. “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’” (Isa, 41:13)

Heavenly Father, I thank You for this new day you have given me. I thank You for the house I live in, the food I have in my cabinets, and the love of family and friends. I thank You for Your Word from which I can draw strength to face the day. I thank You also for the reminder that my mood does not have to hold power over me. Amen.

The Word

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being. What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. ~John 1:1-5 (CEB)

I love these verses. Every single time I read these verses it sends chills up my arms. I love how Word is capitalized like a living breathing thing. I love how the Word was in the beginning with God. The Word is God. Through the Word everything came into being. Words have such power!

In Colossians 3:6 it says, “The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” The Greek word for dwell is enoikoe, which means, “to dwell in” or “to live in”.

We should be so familiar with scripture, with God’s Word, that it feels at home in our hearts. The Holy Spirit uses the Word to speak to us and direct us. The more familiar we are with scripture the more efficiently He can talk to us. That is the language He uses. When Elijah was hiding out on Mount Horeb God spoke to Elijah with His Word (1 Kings 19:9)

So remaining in Christ so that I can remain in Him can be achieved by reading, studying and memorizing scriptures (John 15:5). The more I get to know the Bible the more I can understand who God is and discern His will for my life. When I find myself at a loss, scripture can help center me and clear my thinking. Scripture is God’s living breathing Word. It is useful for teaching rebuking, correcting and training (2 Timothy 3:16).

If I find myself in a dark time the best way to find a light to lead me out is through reading His Word. The Word will give me a light so bright that darkness cannot overcome it (John 5:5). With God’s Word at home in my heart, whom or what should I fear?

Heavenly Father, I thank You for Your Word that lives in me. I thank You for Your Word that speaks to me and guides me. I thank You for Your Word that lights my path on my journey to Your everlasting salvation. Amen.

To be present with You

Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone show asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. ~Matt 7:7-8 (NRV)

Praying was something I always felt that I did not do well. I still have a lot to learn and I don’t do it as often as I should. It is interesting to note that the disciples never seemed to ask Jesus how to preach, teach, communicate or how to multiply loaves. What they did ask Jesus was to teach them how to pray.

Why would the disciples ask this question? Perhaps the disciples saw the special relationship that Jesus held with his father and they longed for such a relationship in their own lives? I too long to have the confidence, peace, security, and love that Jesus had with God. Jesus also modeled how important prayer was; in fact his whole life seemed to be built around praying. Often Jesus slipped off to talk with God, especially in stressful times. Jesus wanted to have time with God and even enjoyed being with Him.

Just what is prayer? “Prayer is not primarily saying words or thinking thoughts. It is, rather a stance. It’s a way of living in the Presence, even enjoying the Presence. The full contemplative is not just aware of the Presence, but trusts, allows, and delights in it.” (Everything Belongs, by Richard Rohr)

How important is praying? “If action is missing and there is prayer, the Church lives on, it keeps on breathing, but if prayer is missing and there is only action, the Church withers and dies.” (Letters to Dolcidia: 1954-1983 by Carlo Carrletto)

Does God even listen when I pray? “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” (Jer.33:3 NRSV)

If I do not knock, God doesn’t reveal Himself to me. If I don’t ask, He will not answer me. But God is always present, even when I am not, even when I cannot feel this in reality. The one condition that precedes every kind of prayer is my being present to God with conscious awareness. Present where I am.

Heavenly Father, I long for relationship with you. I long for Your confidence, peace, security and love. Help me to be present with You in this moment. Help me to feel your Presence. May my every moment be built on prayer. Amen.

To do justice

He has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. ~Micah 6:8 (CEB)

I can’t help but wonder what a strong movement against some injustices in this world would look like if we would take such offense to them as some of the things that have been in the news. Could we stamp out hunger, child exploitation, and abuse? Are we being blinded to the true issues that exist?

What if we put all that energy into stopping child abuse, from being sold into slavery, being raped, children starving, loving the orphaned, and helping the bullied? Would there even then be a need to argue politics, gun laws, gay rights, straight marriage, or free speech?

It saddens me as I read people’s opinions one side or the other. My heart hurts at their offense. But I can’t help seeing instead the people I know who are struggling to just make it through each day. They don’t care where “we” eat or where “we” shop. They don’t care about protesting funerals. There is a mother who wonders how to get food for her children tomorrow; a young girl who hopes that there isn’t another day; a man who sits with his hands shaking so hard and praying for strength to stay sober one more night; a family who wonders where they will live…

Are our energies misplaced? I don’t know. I can’t help wondering.

Heavenly Father, there are a lot of hurting people in this world. A lot of people are divided. Help guide us where You would have us place our energies. Show us the wrongs to right and the stands to take. May we be guided by You and not our own understandings. Amen.

Response

Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty- handed. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.” ~ Matthew 1:46-55 (CEB)

Jesus says that our load should be easy and our burden light… but there was a time that I couldn’t understand what this meant. My load was not easy and my burden was anything but light.

I had found myself in a place where I knew I had been saved but I was working hard for everything else. Life shouldn’t be about trying-hard. Seeing who Jesus is is not to make us try harder but to help us learn to let go. What happens when we let go of trying to live right? What happens when we learn to let Jesus work through us?

My  response to understanding what it means to remain in Christ and to letting him work through me is that I grow in faith and overflow with thankfulness. When I let Jesus be who he is through me I find I don’t have to try so hard. When I allow him to work through me the work I am called to do becomes easier. Remembering what he has done for me makes me thankful and gratitude lightens my steps.

The acting and the struggle are in the letting and remaining. When I dare to believe what is truth and decide to live out of that truth, faith and thankfulness are the natural response. If I search in the Bible for an example of how this might look, I can turn to the story of when Mary was told by the angle that she would be the mother of Jesus. We don’t see Mary worrying about what she will do or what people will think. Instead we see that Mary’s response is praise and worship.

I want to live continually in a time and place where I am so in touch with God that I can sing God’s praises as easily as I breathe out air. I want to be so sure of the truth that I cant help to sing of God’s glory. I want a faith that looks like Mary’s.

Heavenly Father,thank You for examples of what faith looks like. Thank You for examples of how to be Your vessel. May Your praises always flow through me to lighten my step. May my knowledge of Your good news lighten the loads I am called to carry. Amen.

Jewels

You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. ~Matthew 28:30 (CEB)

I love to find thoughts on scripture that I haven’t heard before. I wrote a few weeks back about a viewpoint my dad shared with me on the “good Samaritan”. My dad wondered how the victim might feel about being helped by someone he would normally have nothing to do with much less trust or allow to touch him. In his book, ” Bread for the Journey”, Henri Nouwen has another interesting view.

“Love your neighbor as yourself” the Gospel says (Matthew 22:38). But who is my neighbor? We often respond to that question by saying: “My neighbors are all the people I am living with on this earth, especially the sick, the hungry, the dying, and all who are in need.” But this is not what Jesus says. When Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan (see Luke 10:29-37) to answer the question “Who is my neighbor?” he ends the by asking: “Which, … do you think, proved himself a neighbor to the man who fell into the bandits’ hands?” The neighbor, Jesus makes clear, is not the poor man laying on the side of the street, stripped, beaten, and half dead, but the Samaritan who crossed the road, “bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, … lifted him onto his own mount and took him to an inn and looked after him.” My neighbor is the one who crosses the road for me.”

The person who stops his journey to take a moment for me when I am hurting is my neighbor. This is who I should love as myself. Instead of being resentful for needing help I need to be thankful for the connection. There are many people I am thankful that crossed that road to help me. There are many people that I now call good friend that I would never have known if it wasn’t for life’s circumstances. Some of the greatest jewels come through surviving this journey through life. I treasure those whom God has sent to show His love to me.

 
Heavenly Father, I thank You for neighbors You have sent to me along my journey. May I always remember to treasure these jewels among the muck of life. May I also remember to be thankful for help and not resentful that I found myself  needing help. Amen.

Stages

 

While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul took a route through the interior and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you came to believe?” They replied, “We’ve not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” Then he said, “What baptism did you receive, then?” They answered, “John’s baptism.” Paul explained, “John baptized with a baptism by which people showed they were changing their hearts and lives. It was a baptism that told people about the one who was coming after him. This is the one in whom they were to believe. This one is Jesus.” After they listened to Paul, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in other languages and prophesying. Altogether, there were about twelve people. ~Acts 19:1-7 (CEB)

What was the difference between John’s teaching and Jesus’ teaching? The accounts of the preaching of John (Matthew 3:7-12; Luke 3:3-11) reveal one radical difference between the preaching of John and Jesus. The preaching of John was a warning; the preaching of Jesus was good news. John was just a stage on the way. He was well aware that he was just to point the way to the one still to come. (Matt 3:11; Luke 3:16) It amazes me how humble John was never taking any glory for himself, always pointing to the true glory to come.

John’s preaching was a necessary stage because there are two stages in religious life. First there is the stage where we awaken to our own inadequacies, short comings and sins. This stage is closely allied to an endeavor to do better that inevitably fails because we try in our own strength. This is the try-hard stage. The second stage is when we come to see that no matter how we may want to be better that our strength is not enough. This is the stage where we come to realize that through the grace of Jesus Christ our condemnation may be taken away. Here is the point where we find that all our efforts to do better are strengthened by the work of the Holy Spirit, through whom we can do what we never could do own our own.

These incomplete Christians in Acts 19:1-7 knew the condemnation and the moral duty to do-better but they had not learned the grace of Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit.  Because they had not learned the second stage of Christianity their religion was inevitably a thing of struggle and had not reached the stage of being a thing of peace.

So often we get stuck in the first stage and don’t move on to the second stage of our religious life. I have heard this referred to as the two sides of the cross. One side is the realization to do better, the other side is the grace that helps us to be better. Even when we see the error of our ways and repent and determine to change we can never make the change without the help which the Spirit alone can give.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for Jesus coming into to the world bringing me grace and strength beyond my want to simple want to be better. I thank You for the Holy Spirit that helps me to be more than I am on my own. I thank You the freedom to breath. Amen.

The day after

After his suffering, he showed them that he was alive with many convincing proofs. He appeared to them over a period of forty days, speaking to them about God’s kingdom. While they were eating together, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for what the Father had promised. He said, “This is what you heard from me: John baptized with water, but in only a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” As a result, those who had gathered together asked Jesus, “Lord, are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel now?” Jesus replied, “It isn’t for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has set by his own authority. Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” ~Acts 1:3-8 (CEB)

This summer has held many “day-afters”. The day-after vacation, the day-after a funeral, the day-after a family reunion, the day-after a celebration… you know, the day you get back to reality, the day-after a disruption to your normal life and the day when you try to figure out where you left off.

Summer in general is a difficult time for me. There are several contributing factors. Even with all that I have seen God do in my life, the things I have witnessed, I still sometimes find myself mourning “anniversaries”.

This summer has gone pretty well for me despite all that we have handled. What changed? I began five years ago to let people into my inner circle. I slowly began to share aspects of my life that I had kept to myself before. Now when hard times arrive I have people praying for me, reminding me that I am loved and offering support.

Today I am working my way through another day-after. As I have been trying to get back into my reality I have been thinking about the Disciples. Where were they the day after Christ was killed on the cross? The day after Christ died on the cross did not find the disciples running the streets announcing that people should be on the lookout the following day for Jesus to walk out of the grave as Lazareth had. No. They were hiding.

Sometimes it is easy to get mad at the disciples for their moment in the darkness. “What about all those miracles you witnessed, all that you were told?”, you feel like yelling to them. They had walked the streets with Jesus, witnessed miracles, saw demons cast out and saw Lazareth risen from the dead! Surely after all they had seen they would not… could not doubt! But they did.

Even the time after the resurrection still found the disciples at a loss and in my interpretation, still afraid and confused. Jesus collected them together and gathered them close so that he could remind them of who he was, who they were and that there was a bigger picture that they were part of.

We too get lost and confused. When we gather with our Christian family we are reminded who we are and whose we are. We are reminded that Jesus is out savior and he has all our tomorrows covered. There will always be a day-after something. There will always be a time that we must gather our resources and remember who we are. It is not so much that we do the day-afters well; sometimes it is simply that we did it.

Heavenly Father, I thank You for all my moments. Even the not so right moments as I walk around wondering where I should be or what I should be doing the day after life events. I thank You for my Christian family that is so willing to love me where I am at and to nudge me in the direction I should go. Amen.

Time to move on

At Horeb, the LORD our God told us: You’ve been at this mountain long enough. Get going! Enter the hills of the Amorites and the surrounding areas in the desert, the highlands, the lowlands, the arid southern region, and the seacoast—the land of the Canaanites—and the Lebanon range, all the way to the great Euphrates River.  Look, I have laid the land before you. Go and possess the land that I promised to give to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as well as to their descendants after them. ~Duet. 1:6-8 (CEB)

There are some things I just never seem to get over. Oh, yes, time does ease the pain of it but some scars will always be with us. I used to get mad at myself when “anniversaries” came around and I found myself siting in old pain. I have come to a point that I don’t get upset and instead allow myself some extra space to deal with what I know is coming. I have learned to accept that the pain is real (even if illogical) and sometimes I might need to sit with it.

One day when I was reading about Elijah, his story gave much insight. After doing a mighty deed with God in calling down rain when the false gods remained silent (1 Kings 18), when he should have been feeling on top of the world, Elijah let fear slip in when Jezebel swore to have him killed. Elijah ran away to Mount Horeb. Elijah sunk into such a deep depression that he couldn’t function. God didn’t berate Elijah but instead sent a messenger to tend him. God allowed Elijah some time to his feelings but after a little while God’s Word comes to Elijah. There is work to be done. It’s time to get back to living, back to the work you have been called (1 Kings 19).

The scripture from Deuteronomy 1:6-8 is telling the Israelites the same thing. You have been wandering around in the desert building up your strength long enough. It is time to move into the promise I have for you. Sometimes it is important to be still. In our stillness we are reminded who God is (Psalm 46:10). In our stillness we are reminded that God has a plan for our good (Jeremiah 29:11). But if we remain still for too long fear will begin to take hold.

When I get nervous about moving on, I recall verse 8 from Deuteronomy 31, “But the LORD is the one who is marching before you! He is the one who will be with you! He won’t let you down. He won’t abandon you. So don’t be afraid or scared!” Living hurts, but we are not meant to stay in the sad moments. God has promised great joy. (John 15:11)

Heavenly Father, I thank you for Your promise of joy and of hope. I thank You for the people You placed in my life to walk with me on this journey.

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