1 John 1:8 “If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense.”
None of us would ever think to claim that we are perfect. We all recognize that as arrogance. But perhaps we claim to be free from sin by our silence. How often do we truly confess our shortcomings and faults to God let alone another person? In her book Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, Ruth Haley Barton suggests,
“Confession is the endgame in the self-examination process, but it is the part we shrink from most. Confession requires the willingness to acknowledge and take responsibility not only for the outward manifestations of our sin but also for the inner dynamics that produced the sinful or negative behaviors. Confession requires us to say our failure out loud to ourselves, to God and to the person(s) we have hurt and to take steps to renounce it for Christ’s sake, even making restitution if that is needed.” (103)
If we are not involved with confession at some level maybe we are claiming to be without sin. Maybe this week God is calling you to explore confession on a deeper level.
Romans 8:27 “If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.”
Ever been at a loss for words? Sometimes we encounter things that are either so wonderful or so horrible that we can’t find words that adequately express our reaction to them. Sometimes these become places of prayer. We want to bring them before God but we don’t know what to say. In the passage above Paul tells his friends in Rome not to be overly concerned when they can’t find the words to pray. He says that God actually does the praying for us. If we bring our hearts to God, God will make the prayer happen. This is a mystery but it may be one worth exploring this week.
Hebrews 4:12 “God means what he says. What he says goes. His powerful Word is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey.”
We have all heard of the horrors of bulimia. A person takes in food but doesn’t let it stay in them to digest. They go through the act of eating but don’t get the benefits of the nutrition. Then there is anorexia where people avoid the food altogether. Maybe we do the same thing with God. We avoid slowing down and spending time listening for God through bible reading, or we read quickly and move on to the next thing without ever letting what we’ve read sink in and become part of us. The verse above promises that God will do a deep work in our hearts and lives if we let God’s word settle in us long enough to become part of our inner reality. Of course, we have to stop and be still long enough for this to happen (see last week’s Afterthought), but it may not take as long as you think. After all, once we are done eating our bodies digest the food often without us giving it another thought. Maybe God does the same. Maybe this is the week to find out.
Mark 6:31 “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'”
I thought this type of busyness was a product of modern life, but it happened even to Jesus and the disciples. When you are too busy to eat, you are too busy! Jesus’ answer was to get away; to stop, be still and quiet, to listen. Ruth Haley Barton in her book Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation says of silence and solitude:
We choose to unplug not only from the constant stimulation of life in the company of others but also from our own addiction to noise, words and activity. It creates a space for listening to the knowings that go beyond words and feeling no pressure at all to put the depths of the human soul into words (pg 32).
What is the pace of your life saying about what you value? When is the last time you took time to be alone and still in the presence of God? What would that be like? Maybe this is the week to find out.
Mark 10:51 Jesus said, “What can I do for you?”
The above is Jesus’ response to Bartimaeus, a blind beggar he met along the road. The needs of a blind beggar should be pretty apparent, so why does Jesus ask? The only reason I can think of is that Jesus wants to interact with this person on a deeper level than just that of miracle worker. He wants the opportunity to hear the man open himself at the level of his deepest needs and desires. Maybe that is what he wants with us also. If Jesus asked you this question what would be your response? Ruth Haley Barton in her book Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (pg 24) comments on this:
Now if I had been in Bartimaeus’s shoes, I might have gotten a little impatient with a question whose answer is so obvious. “What do you mean, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Isn’t it obvious? And besides, this is getting a little personal, don’t you think? We don’t know each other that well!” But on another level, the level where the spiritual journey is unfolding, it is a question that penetrates to the very core of our being. And it is very, very personal. It brings us face to face with our humanness, our vulnerability, our need. If we let it, such a question strips away the layers of pretense and superficiality to expose what is truest within us. And that is a very tender place indeed.
Live with the question “what do you want Jesus to do for you?” this week. Don’t be satisfied with your first response but ask it over and over on different days in different settings. You might be surprised at what you find.
Revelation 21:6 “The Enthroned continued, “Look! I’m making everything new. Write it all down—each word dependable and accurate.”
I believe that it is part of Christianity to make our political decisions an act of living out the faith. As I’ve tried to be more responsible about this during the past eight years that I’ve been a pastor. I have listened (sometimes more than others) to the way issues are presented in the media. One approach I have taken is to listen to MSNBC immediately followed by some time on Fox News. Both organizations present themselves as objective journalists, but you go away from each with the impression that whatever issue was being discussed has a very clear right side and wrong side. They sometimes have data to support their conclusions, but sometimes statements are just thrown out that are assumed to be self-evident. Check out the health-care debate as an example. So, whom do you believe? It is a fundamental concern of life; this matter of what is “dependable and accurate.” We are bombarded with hundreds of messages daily. Which are worth paying attention to? Which can be trusted? Christians have professed that the bible, despite the difficult things in it, contains truth about God that can be relied upon. Many people dismiss this idea without ever thoughtfully reading the bible. We just completed reading the New Testament together here at Logan. At one chapter a day, which usually takes only about 5 minutes to read, the whole New Testament can be completed in 8.5 months. Wouldn’t that be worthwhile if you found things that were “dependable and accurate” about God and life? Why not give it a try this week?
John 20:30-31: Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.
Some people believe this is where the gospel of John ended originally and that chapter 21 was added later. It certainly does make a good ending. What it says is that we don’t have everything that happened but we have what we need. It stands in contrast with Thomas who a few verses earlier proclaimed that he needed more, that he needed to touch the holes in Jesus’ hands and side. We would all like more, wouldn’t we? We would like things explained and revealed on our terms, the way we like them and in ways we find comfortable. Sometimes we get closer to this experience and sometimes it seems far away. But what if, despite the incompleteness of our understanding and experience, we really do have what we need to live life in God’s grace and goodness? What if, instead of always wanting and sometimes demanding more, we lived like what God has provided is truly enough, both spiritually and physically? May your rest in God’s “enough” this week.
John 6:38 Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life. The person who aligns with me hungers no more and thirsts no more, ever.
This is a pretty outrageous claim that Jesus is making here. Can you imagine never getting hungry again? I can rarely make it from meal to meal without wanting a snack in between (I’m munching on an apple as I write this). Of course, Jesus is talking about spiritual hunger and thirst here, not physical. Just the same, I don’t know anyone who claims to have complete contentment in his or her spiritual life. We live with ups and downs, hopes and doubts, moments of intimacy with God and times of apparent abandonment. So is Jesus just blowing smoke here? I don’t think so. I’m hungry and thirsty a lot but not to the point of real need. I may want more but I never fear starving or dehydration. Maybe Jesus is using a little hyperbole here to let us know that the fulfillment he provides is substantive if not exhaustive. What I mean is that what Jesus does for us as the bread of life makes a real difference in our inner lives, a difference that is solid and lasting and satisfying, even if it still ebbs and flows. Even Jesus experienced the anguish of the Garden of Gethsemane and the suffering of the cross. The folks who wrote the gospels had their share of persecution and disappointment. Yet through all that they were willing to proclaim that the reality of their faith was still enough to keep them going. Maybe there are more ways to feed on this bread of life than we a willing to try and maybe we would hunger and thirst even less if we were more accepting of this nourishment. But beyond our effort, or lack thereof, is the presence of Christ through faith that in its most basic form is enough in itself. Have a slice of that bread this week.
Luke 9:28 About eight days after saying this, he climbed the mountain to pray, taking Peter, John, and James along. While he was in prayer, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became blinding white.
Thus begins Luke’s account of what we call the Transfiguration. The traditional churches always take note of this on the last Sunday before Lent. The gospel writers view this event as a glimpse of Christ’s glory that gave strength to the disciples as they followed Jesus to Jerusalem and witnessed the suffering he experienced there. The church uses this event in the same way as we figuratively journey with Jesus during Lent. The interesting thing about Luke’s account is that he alone of the gospel writers frames the action with prayer. Maybe the other authors assumed their readers would know that Jesus took the three disciples apart to pray and that, of course, that’s what Jesus was doing when Moses and Elijah showed up. Luke doesn’t want to leave any room for his readers to miss that point and states it plainly. In our culture we often think of Lent in terms of giving up something: candy, TV, whatever. But giving up something is only significant if it makes extra, special time and space to focus on God. More than anything else, Lent is a call to prayer. It is an opportunity to come away from all the motion and stress of the regular routine and be still in the presence of the creator and redeemer of the world. It just may be that like the disciples in this story, in doing so, we will see Jesus in a new or deeper way. Take the gift of Lent this year, the gift of carving out an added place in your life to be with God.
Mark 4:33-34: With many stories like these, he presented his message to them, fitting the stories to their experience and maturity. He was never without a story when he spoke. When he was alone with his disciples, he went over everything, sorting out the tangles, untying the knots. (The Message Bible)
My encounter with the Stephen Sondheim musical Into the Woods was a very meaningful experience for me. It expressed certain ideas in a beautiful and powerful way, some of which have stayed close to my heart for many years now. In one song he reminds us: “Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell. Children will listen.” The stories Jesus told he told purposefully and we need to listen to them with our hearts as well as our ears (or eyes if you read). And we also need to be mindful of the stories we tell with our words and actions. Are we being just as purposeful? Children of all ages listen attentively to those stories whether we are aware of it or not. Jesus’ stories were stories of forgiveness and compassion and comfort and the mystery of God’s kingdom in us. How about yours? “Careful the tale you tell, that is the spell. Children will listen.”