Friday, March 17, 2017

Faulty Logic

Friday 3/17/2017 5:31 AM
Being a mathematician I value logic and reason. In my world not much can beat a well thought out and well-reasoned argument. Elegant proofs of theorems are highly treasured and sought out. Principles like Ockham’s Razor are used to trim away excessive assumptions so an argument can be synthesized into its simplest form.
Sometimes I try to use logic and reason to try to convince others of the reality of God. Most of the time it falls on deaf ears and listener remains unmoved. Today I read a quote by John Wesley that reminds me of the futility of that kind of reasoning. He writes, “Permit me to add a few plain words to you likewise who overvalue reason. … Let reason do all that reason can; employ it as far as it will go. But, at the same time, acknowledge it is utterly incapable of giving either faith, hope or love, and, consequently of producing either real virtue or substantial happiness. Expect these from a higher source, even from the Father of the spirits of all flesh. Seek and receive them, not as your own acquisition, but as the gift of God.”
His writing reminds me of 1 Corinthians 1:21-25, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser that human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” I also thought of Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
Mankind’s most impressive minds and thought processes will not lead them to faith in God, sacrificial love for their fellow man, or hope for the future. These are all gifts from God and cannot be found through reason or logic alone.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Silhouette

Sunday 3/5/2017 6:22 AM
I slept a little later than usual this morning so when I ran the sky was lightening with the predawn glow of a new day. As I ran toward the east I noticed I could see the utility poles silhouetted against the lightening sky. Some of the poles had streetlights atop them. I could see the brown shades of the wood and other details on the poles with streetlights but even those without streetlights could be clearly recognized as utility poles. Once the sun rises all the poles can be seen clearly but even in the darkness, the poles without lights can be seen in silhouette.
I often pray that I would reflect the love of God to those with whom I have contact. My desire is that when people look at the details of my life, how I treat people, how I interact with my family, how I react toward those with whom I disagree, how I treat God’s creation, etc., they would see Christ. I want to reflect the love of God to the world.
When I feel estranged from God because of either willful disobedience or circumstances that cause me to doubt my faith, I become distraught that my witness to the world is compromised. God reassures me this morning that, when I am in Christ, my witness can still be seen in silhouette.
My reading today included the account of Jesus’ transfiguration. His clothes shone brightly and his disciples fell to the ground and covered their faces. Peter writes about this experience in 2 Peter 1:16-20. “For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

I am also an eyewitness to the majesty of God because I have seen how he has transformed my life. When I am in a dark place I do not need to fret about my witness to the world. The majesty of Christ is the background of my life and people will see me in silhouette, in spite of the darkness. I need to continue to pay attention to the reliable word of God, which is a light shining into my dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in my heart.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Great Things Become Nothing

Thursday 3/2/2017 4:30 AM
Lately everything seems overwhelming to me. Even something as simple as grading a set of quizzes or washing the dishes seems like too much. I no longer run consistently and my devotional life, that once seemed as if I were immersed in a rushing torrent of God’s love and presence, has dwindled to a mere trickle.
Part of the problem with ignoring my time of meditating on God is that I am no longer reminded of who God is and what he has done. My confidence in the ability of God to rule over his creation is replaced with a sense of dread that I am responsible for everything, but have no power to act. My assigned psalm for the week is Psalm 66, which contains many reminders of God’s power and greatness. “Come and see what God has done, … He turned the sea into dry land, … He rules forever by his power, his eyes watch the nations, … He has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping. For you, God, tested us; … You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”
At the moment I feel as if I have burdens on my back, that I am going through fire and water, and that my feet are slipping. It is good to be reminded of the fact that God will preserve me and eventually bring me to a place of abundance. I also read a portion of Love is for Living, by Carlo Carretto. His words provide a good perspective for me, and for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the enormity of the circumstances of life. “Everything disappears in comparison with the eternal God, and the greatest things become as nothing.” I pray for eyes to see and the ability to experience the truth of that statement.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

God's Work and Mine

Tuesday 2/28/2017 4:36 AM
Over the course of the year I have felt somewhat overwhelmed with everything, to the point that I feel I have no energy to act on anything. In the past, I’ve thought about becoming involved in movements that seek justice for those who are oppressed by our current system of government. At church I feel as if we need to become more involved in reaching our community and I’ve tried to use my position on the council to bring about that kind of change. At school I’ve tried to get to know some of my colleagues and students on a more personal level to establish deeper relationships with them. All of these noble aims require time and energy, and I currently feel as if I lack the energy to invest.
I do not like feeling this way. I have always had something to do. Just sitting around doing nothing seems pointless. I met a friend last Friday for coffee and, among other things; we discussed my resignation from the church council. After I explained why I was doing it his first question was, “What are you going to do now?” He was simply giving voice to the voice I hear in my own head. Somehow doing nothing seems wrong.
I think I need to pray this prayer of John Baillie from A Diary of Private Prayer. “I am content, O Father, to leave my life in Thy hands, believing that the very hairs upon my head are numbered by Thee. I am content to give over my will to Thy control, believing that I can find in Thee a righteousness that I could never have won for myself. I am content to leave all my dear ones to Thy care, believing that Thy love for them is greater than my own. I am content to leave in Thy hands the causes of truth and of justice, and the coming of Thy Kingdom in the hearts of [people], believing that my ardor for them is but a feeble shadow of Thy purpose.” This prayer is a great reminder that my personal sanctification, the care and keeping of those I love, issues of truth and justice, and the coming of the Kingdom of God into this world are the responsibility and in the domain of God, not me. While God uses his people to bring about his will in this world he does not rely solely upon me to accomplish his work.
My assigned scripture for today included 1 Peter 1:22, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” The acknowledgement that God is the one who brings about changes in the world does not absolve me from all responsibility but it does allow me to focus upon what my true responsibility is, to love others deeply, from the heart. Lord, increase my capacity to love others and empower me to act when it is required.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Spiritual Apathy

Saturday 2/11/2017 6:54 AM
I would describe my spiritual life over the course of the past year as one of spiritual apathy. I have had isolated moments of spiritual insight or direction but, overall, I feel like I have been meandering through life with little desire, or energy, to spend time praying, reading my Bible, or contemplating God’s will for my life.
The theme from my devotional materials this week is Choose Life, a fitting challenge given my current demeanor, to simply survive life. Jesus said that he came so that we may have life to the full. I feel more like I’m living my life while running on empty, hoping to make it to the next refueling station without running out of gas.
Part of my reading today included an excerpt from A Cry for Mercy, by Henri Nouwen, in which he describes an experience he had of hearing God’s voice while worshiping with other believers. He writes, “And you also said, ‘Pray even when you do not feel attracted to it.’ Yes, Lord, I will try to pray, even when I am afraid to face you and myself, even when I keep falling asleep or feel as though I am going around in circles, even when it seems that nothing is happening. Yes, Lord, I will pray – not only with others, not only supported by the rhythms of the choir, but also alone with you. I will try not to be afraid. Lord, give me courage and strength. Let me see myself in the light of your mercy and choose you.” The challenge to pray even when I don’t feel attracted to it is convicting. The description he gives of falling asleep, feeling as though he is going in circles, and the belief that nothing is happening also resonates strongly with me. The need for courage and strength is also mine today.

Part of me feels like I simply need to ride out this storm of doubt with the knowledge that God is riding it with me. Another part of me feels like I have a choice to make, to be content with my spiritual apathy or to pray and seek after God even when I do not feel attracted to it. I’m not sure I have the strength to choose to seek God. The good news is when I am weak, God is strong, and he has promised to never leave nor forsake me. He will be with me either way.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Moving on Down

Sunday 2/5/2017 5:22 AM
This past Friday I tendered my official resignation from the council at Bethany. Immediately I sensed a calmness come over me, and a lighter spirit. My assigned scripture included Psalm 32:6-8, “Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Over the course of the past year I have struggled with a lot of things, the sum of which overwhelmed me. I felt very much like the waters of life were rising around me, and my ability to tread water was quickly deteriorating. God used the counsel of Jaci, of good friends, and of a professional counselor to help me see the necessity of removing that stressor from my life. I am grateful for the way he used these people to deliver me from my difficult situation.
Much of my frustration at church is because I feel that we, as a church body, are too focused on ourselves, and our needs and desires, rather than the needs of others in the community around us. James C. Fenhagen gives voice to my vision of what God calls us to be as a church community in his book Mutual Ministry. He writes,
The changes being demanded of us are almost beyond comprehension. For vast numbers of people living in the West – the world of the ‘haves’ – it will mean a total reorientation of life-styles. It will mean learning how to resist the urge to buy and the urge to eat, where submitting to those urges is our custom. It will mean discovering the simplicity which comes from an intentional life lived from inside out rather than from outside in. In the riches of the Christian tradition there are patterns for this kind of pursuit, easily adapted to present needs. To adopt them, however, will require not only assistance, but ongoing support. …
Ministries of caring, ministries on behalf of justice and reconciliation, ministries of witness, ministries of dialogue, ministries that bring Christian values to bear on the decision-making process of politics and business, ministries of support – all potentially stem from the local congregation, and when carried out with wisdom and compassion are signs of life. The congregation is mission. The congregation is also evangelistic. Both are essential to its very nature. In looking for signs of life I find myself immediately looking for how this sense of mission is being expressed, and by whom. Mission, be it explicit or implicit, is the primary task of the laity. It is a task that requires training and support, a task that is essential as we confront the chaos of a world faced with cataclysmic change. …
The point is that ministry is more than simply doing good. Ministry is an act performed in [God’s] name. Therefore, it is not something we do solely on our own, but something Christ does in us, through us, and with us. Ministry has been given to us. Our task is to uncover what is already present so that the ministry of the church might be carried out in all of its fullness. The ministry of the church is exercised by every man, woman, and child who bears the mark of baptism.
In my church I see more of a desire to maintain our lifestyle and, what we perceive to be, a position of superiority rather than reorienting our lifestyle and position to benefit others, especially if it requires any kind of self-sacrifice or giving up our position. We resist any suggestion to simplify our lives for the benefit of others. Instead, we suggest that others work as hard as we did so they can attain what we believe is a higher level without recognizing the advantage we had of being born into the predominant culture to families that encouraged us, taught us our values, and provided us with opportunities that led to our “success”. We view our pastors as people we hire to do the ministry rather than viewing ourselves as those tasked for ministry. We need to see our pastors as those who train us, who challenge us, and who provide opportunities for us to do ministry, not to do the ministry for us.

Given the current climate in our congregation this vision of self-sacrifice, of moving down so others can move up, seems like a pipedream that will not be realized any time soon without divine intervention. I will pray for that divine intervention and do what I can to effect change.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Dumbo

Sunday 1/29/2017 5:17 AM
Today my scripture reading seemed dominated by the theme of peace, something that has been absent from my life and mind over the course of the past year or so. I long for the absence of strife in the world and, more importantly, within the body of Christ, so we can model the kingdom values of Christ to our broken world.
Much of the angst I feel personally is driven by strife within my church. We are attempting to be a church that reaches out to our community but there is resistance to that idea by some who want to keep things the way they have always been. It is more comfortable to deal with the familiar than to move into unchartered territory. Today I read an excerpt from Opening the Bible, by Thomas Merton. He writes, “There is, in a word, nothing comfortable about the Bible – until we manage to get so used to it that we make it comfortable for ourselves. But then we are perhaps too used to it and too at home in it. Let us not be too sure we know the Bible … just because we have learned not to have problems with it. Have we perhaps learned … not to really pay attention to it? Have we ceased to question the book and be questioned by it?”
I wonder how many within our church see the Bible as being uncomfortable. We like to quote verses about the peace and joy we can experience in the presence of God but we also like to ignore the calls to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, to seek after justice while walking in humility before God or, heaven forbid that we should give up our own rights for the good of others or to love our enemies by doing good to them. As a whole, we prefer the bubble of familiarity with like-minded people compared to the uncertainty of confronting or interacting with those who think, and live, differently from us.
I believe God wants us to experience life fully and to do that we must live with abandon. If life were Disneyland, I believe God would want us to enjoy the heart-stopping thrill of California Screamin’, a rollercoaster that goes upside-down and in corkscrews, rather than the safety of Dumbo the Flying Elephant, that travels slowly, and in circles. There are times I feel like we are on Dumbo.