Open hearts, open doors

But, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the Law; if you brag about your relationship to God; if you know the will of God; if you are taught by the Law so that you can figure out the things that really matter; if you have persuaded yourself that you are: a guide for the blind; a light to those who are in darkness; an educator of the foolish; a teacher of infants (since you have the full content of knowledge and truth in the Law); then why don’t you who are teaching others teach yourself? If you preach, “No stealing,” do you steal? If you say, “No adultery,” do you commit adultery? If you hate idols, do you rob temples? If you brag about the Law, do you shame God by breaking the Law? As it is written: The name of God is discredited by the Gentiles because of you. Circumcision is an advantage if you do what the Law says. But if you are a person who breaks the Law, your status of being circumcised has changed into not being circumcised. So if the person who isn’t circumcised keeps the Law, won’t his status of not being circumcised be counted as if he were circumcised? The one who isn’t physically circumcised but keeps the Law will judge you. You became a lawbreaker after you had the written Law and circumcision.  It isn’t the Jew who maintains outward appearances who will receive praise from God, and it isn’t people who are outwardly circumcised on their bodies. Instead, it is the person who is a Jew inside, who is circumcised in spirit, not literally. That person’s praise doesn’t come from people but from God. ~Rom 2:17-29 (CEB)

Often when we read verses like these it is easy to skim over them feeling that they do not apply to me since it is written to the Jews in the 1st century Rome. But, if I imagine Paul here today would he say the same things to us Christians?

You may know little Christian/Jewish history so you may not know that the Jews pretty much felt that all Gentiles were only good to fuel the fires of Hell. Also you may not realize that the Gentiles had no respect for the Jews. During New Testament times observing the Sabbath was viewed as pure laziness. Also the Jews received extraordinary privileges from the Roman government because they were Jew. Jews were also accused of atheism because Jews believed that God alone was God. Not only did they not worship the gods of the Gentiles but reverence also was not paid to kings, or honor to the Caesars (Which was a national religion for Roman territories). What really moved the Gentiles to such dislike of the Jews was the fact that Jews had great contempt toward all other religions. Finally, the last straw, was that Jews were accused of hatred of their neighbors and complete unsociability. It was said that if a Jew were asked directions to a place, he would refuse to give any information except to another Jew.

It is simply true that the Jews did bring disgrace to God’s name by shutting themselves into a rigid community from which all others were shut out and because they showed such an attitude of contempt towards the Gentiles and a lack of charity for their needs. But what of Christianity? Are we ever accused of rigid views, strange practices, eliteness?

Real religion involves having an open heart and an open door.

Heavenly Father, may my heart be open to others who are different to me. May actions of love point them to You. Help me to remember this day that the only Jesus some people may see is through me. Help me to be Your hands and feet in the world. Amen.

Even in the valley

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The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing. He lets me rest in grassy meadows; he leads me to restful waters; he keeps me alive. He guides me in proper paths for the sake of his good name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me. Your rod and your staff— they protect me. You set a table for me right in front of my enemies. You bathe my head in oil; my cup is so full it spills over! Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the LORD’s house as long as I live. ~Psalm 23 (CEB)

“For a long, time, I prayed the words, ‘The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose. Near restful waters he leads me to revive my drooping spirit’. I prayed these words in the morning for half an hour sitting quietly on my chair trying only to keep my mind focused on what I was saying. I prayed them during the many moments of the day when I was going here or there, and I even prayed them during my routine activities. The words stand in stark contrast to the reality of my life. I want many things; I see mostly busy roads and ugly shopping malls; and if there are any waters to walk along they are mostly polluted. But as I keep saying; “The Lord is my shepherd…’ and allow God’s shepherding love to enter more fully into my heart, I become more fully aware that the busy roads, the ugly malls and the polluted waterways are not telling the true story of who I am. I do not belong to the power and principles that rule the world but to the Good Shepherd who know his own and is known by his own. In the presence of my Lord and Shepherd there truly is nothing I shall want. He will, indeed, give me the rest my heart desires and pull me out of the dark pits of my depression.” ~From Here and Now by Henri J.M. Nouwen

Heavenly Father, on this Black Friday, I pray that I remember all that I was giving thanks for yesterday. Amen.

Thanksgiving blessing

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On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men with skin diseases approached him. Keeping their distance from him,  they raised their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, show us mercy!”  When Jesus saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” As they left, they were cleansed.  One of them, when he saw that he had been healed, returned and praised God with a loud voice.  He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. He was a Samaritan.  Jesus replied, “Weren’t ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?  No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.” ~Luke 17:11-19 (CEB)

Only one of ten lepers returned to thank Jesus for healing them. It is easy to criticize the nine who did not thank Jesus for healing them. The sad realization is that is probably my average on a daily basis. I probably only thank God for one out of every ten blessing He bestows on me. If that much…

Sometimes God uses our children to remind us to be thankful. Through my son’s prayers, I am reminded that I too should be thankful for my bed, a warm house to call my own and a family that loves me. When I tell my son we are not to feel guilty that there are others that do not have these basic needs but that we are to thank God for what we do have, I am reminding myself of all that I take for granted on a daily basis. We are rich compared to some and for these rich blessings, I am thankful. So ever grateful.

I found this prayer and thought it was a good prayer to share on this Thanksgiving Day:

It is always right, O God, to praise you and to bless your name. Even if the harvest fail, even when economies falter, still you are our God; still, you bless us richly. Help us to see your active hand in bounty or in scarcity, in pain as well as pleasure. When we fail to see you at work we fall into the sin of ingratitude, or even suppose that all that we have is the work of our own hands, the result of our own intelligence and industry. Forgive us, and save us from an existence so self-centered. Set us free from greedy and grasping hearts. By your generosity to us, teach us to be generous to others, and thus to give evidence to you that we are indeed your thankful people. This we pray through Jesus Christ, your most gracious and enduring gift to us, for whom be everlasting praise. Amen. ~From the book, This Day, a Wesleyan Way of Prayer, by Laurence Hull Stookey

The church

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I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, will give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation that makes God known to you. I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers, and what is the overwhelming greatness of God’s power that is working among us believers. This power is conferred by the energy of God’s powerful strength. God’s power was at work in Christ when God raised him from the dead and sat him at God’s right side in the heavens, far above every ruler and authority and power and angelic power, any power that might be named not only now but in the future. God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way. ~Ephesians 1:18-23 (CEB)

This excerpt from Henri Nouwen’s book, Bread for the Journey, really makes me stop and remember how crazy mixed up I was in college. I never really lost my faith in God but I really struggled with the rest of the package. I have never really known how to word what I went through in my heart other than to say I had lost my faith in “religion”. I have since understood that the community of believers is not perfect but that we still need that community:

“The Church is an object of faith.  In the Apostles’ Creed we pray:  “I believe in God, the Father … in Jesus Christ, his only Son – in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”  We must believe in the Church!  The Apostles’ Creed does not say that the Church is an organization that helps us to believe in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  No, we are called to believe in the Church with the same faith we believe in God.

Often it seems harder to believe in the Church than to believe in God.  But whenever we separate our belief in God from our belief in the Church, we become unbelievers.  God has given us the Church as the place where God becomes God-with-us.”

Heavenly Father, as we struggle to live in this world with people so different from ourselves, help us to come together through You. Help us be in communion with one another, all of us forgiven for our sins through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Searching, again

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Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. ~Psalm 23:4 (NRSV)

There are days I feel adrift from God. Sometimes it may be a result of my trusting in self again. It isn’t that God has moved, I have moved away from Him. Other times He has moved and I need to seek after Him. Again. Gary Moon in his Book Falling for God says it this way:

“All believers who want to become an apprentice of Christ and not just his admirer will find themselves in the blank space between the verses in Psalm 23. Because he loves us so much, the Shepherd moves on. We look around and wonder where he has gone. We feel alone, abandoned. We call out. Nothing. The voice that used to call our name is silent and does not respond when we call. He is gone. He has moved farther down the road that leads home. During the dark night experience our job is to seek God and to go to him again. When we do, we realize we are not the same person. Our relationship with him is not the same. We [too] have moved. We are closer to home and closer to union.” ~From Falling for God by Gary Moon

So whether my rough spot is due to me moving toward idols (Self-reliance) or God moving me on down the path to greater maturity, my job, your job, remains the same. We say, “Here I am, Lord, helpless without you.”

Heavenly Father, help me to seek You in all I do this day. May I ever grow more into who You see me to be. Amen.

God’s hiddenness

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“Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge. “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.” ~Job 23:2-9 (NRSV)

Sometimes in the midst of my troubles, I feel so alone.  I even feel abandoned by God.  Here is an example in the Bible of a righteous man who also felt abandoned by all and God seemed to be so far away.

Life can get really ugly sometimes. We don’t have to live it perfectly. We just have to make it through each day until we get to the other side of bad times. We can’t get to the other side without living through it. The Israelites are an example of this. To make it to the Promised Land they had to go through the desert. They didn’t do it perfectly. They even still had some kinks that needed to be worked out when they got to the new land. But God guided them through the desert and they eventually got there.

When it seems that God isn’t answering my prayers I have to remember that He is faithful. There are things that He is doing that I cannot see. All I am required to do is to live through each day, letting Him guide my steps. I don’t have to see where I am going. I just have to go.

 Guide my steps this day Lord, blind as I may be to the work you are doing. Strengthen my trust in You that all things will work out in the end for my good. I know that the only way to get through this dessert is to just walk on through. Steady my steps when they falter, strengthen my heart when it is faint, give me faith when it seems all hope is lost. Amen.

Real religion

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With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O mortal, what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. ~Micah 6:6-8 (NRSV)

In Micah, the author accuses the people of not having real religion. They went through the motions of the spiritual acts and festivities. But they forgot that it wasn’t their acts but their heart that God was looking at, He looks at the spirit of their giving.

Only if we walk humbly with God can we respond to God in a proper (good) way. God isn’t looking for the large sacrifices that might seem culturally acceptable. We are required instead to practice “justice” so that we can set things right between others and God and “love kindness” by maintaining a loyal commitment to God and others that transcend any legal requirement.

We are reminded in this summary of the Law by Micah that walking humbly with God can only result from a transformed life that conforms to the image of God. If we wish to be genuine Christians we must strive towards an intimate walk with God based on faith and a life of active service to others rooted in compassion and justice, they reflect the loving nature of the One whose image they bear. This orientation is a movement from self to God in all things. Real religion is a journey of faith working by love leading to holiness of heart and life.

Heavenly Father, May I find myself this day on a journey towards being a reflection of You in all I do. Help me to have enough strength to practice justice, to show kindness and to humbly walk with You. Amen.

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