Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Abundance and Relationships

Wednesday 5/10/2017 5:20 AM
When I’m on my motorcycle I have an unhindered view of the world. All of my senses are bombarded as I ride along. I see the beauty of a cloud formation, the distant mountains, and a flowering plant in the median as I wait for a light to change. I feel the subtle changes in temperature as the wind blows across my face. I smell the pleasant fragrance of a bed of flowering jasmine or a street lined with jacarandas, which also overwhelm with their purple beauty. I smell the rancid odor of rotting road kill and the pungent odor of a skunk that had to protect itself.
Last night I was watching a television show about new, bizarre life forms that have been discovered by unmanned submarines plumbing the depths of the ocean. It seems the universe is a cornucopia of differing environments that are populated by a plethora of differing physical structures and life forms.
Yesterday I attended the funeral of Joe, a family friend. After the service family and friends gathered at their house to visit with one another, and to reminisce. Food that had been purchased and made by family and friends festooned the island in the kitchen and the dining room table. The food that was displayed mirrored the abundance that is found in the world, with a wide variety of colors, textures, and savory flavors. We sat at tables decorated with different kinds of flowers: daisies, mums, lilies, carnations, roses, snapdragons, etc., each with its unique shape, color, hue, and fragrance. White clouds floated across the deep blue sky as birds flitted among the trees. Different groups of people were sitting at each table aged from a few months to ninety plus years. Among them were musicians, engineers, nurses, pastors, factory workers, technicians, educators, businessmen and businesswomen, to name a few. Different personalities evidenced themselves as people interacted, some withdrawn, seeking quiet and solitude, while others moved from group to group like a honeybee visiting different flowers in its search for pollen and nectar. Each person there was unique. Each with his own set of circumstances, her own talents and abilities, and her own personality.
Today I read an excerpt from Earth and Altar, by Eugene Peterson, that reminded me of my experiences yesterday. He writes, “We do not begin life on our own. We do not finish it on our own. Life, especially when we experience by faith the complex interplay of creation and salvation, is not fashioned out of our own genetic lumber and cultural warehouses. It is not hammered together with the planks and nails of our thoughts and dreams, our feelings and fancies. We are not self-sufficient. We enter a world that is created by God, that already has a rich history and is crowded with committed participants – a world of animals and mountains, of politics and religion; a world where people build houses and raise children, where volcanoes erupt lava and rivers flow to the sea; a world in which, however carefully we observe and watch and study it, surprising things keep on taking place. We keep on being surprised because we are in on something beyond our management, something over our heads. In prayer we realize and practice our part in this intricate involvement with absolutely everything that is, no matter how remote it seems to us or how indifferent we are to it. This prayer is not an emotional or aesthetic sideline that we indulge in after our real work is done; it is the connective tissue of our far-flung existence. The world of creation interpenetrates the world of redemption. The world of redemption interpenetrates the world of creation. The extravagantly orchestrated skies and the exuberantly fashioned earth are not background to provide a little beauty on the periphery of the godlike ego; they are the large beauty in which we find our true home, room in which to live the cross and Christ expansively, openhearted in praise.”
I am not meant to walk through this world alone. God provides infinite stimuli to enrich my life: colors, textures, odors, and temperatures, each tickling one of my senses that are perfect for detecting the stimuli. People too, like the rest of creation, have a variety of personalities and abilities that enrich my life. I can live most fully when I engage with others in healthy relationships, bathing my life with the uniqueness each person has to offer.
Over the past months I have withdrawn from this lavish creation as I deal with the grief of my mom’s death. I’m quite certain that Joe’s family will experience many of the same feelings I have as the year progresses and they may also withdraw. Today I was assigned to read Jeremiah 31:11-14. Jeremiah is known as the weeping prophet but his message in chapter 31 is one of hope for those living in want and under oppression. “For the Lord will deliver (his people) and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they. They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord – the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more. Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty, declares the Lord.”
Today, in the middle of my sadness and self-imposed withdrawal, God brings me hope that joy will return, and the bounty of his creation, animate and inanimate alike, will fill the void. I pray that Joe's family will also have glimpses of this hope and comfort as they meander through their grief.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

God's Presence

Saturday 4/22/2017 5:29 AM
Over the course of the past year I have not had a very strong sense of God’s presence in my life. I know what I mean when I say that but to some it sounds like voodoo or some sort of religious mumbo jumbo. In the past I have sensed God’s direction as I go about living my life. When I pray about what I should do I get a feeling as to which way to go. I will have a person or a circumstance come to mind and will have an inner urging to write a note of encouragement to that person, or to give him a call, or to invite her to lunch or coffee. Lately I have not been spending the same amount of time in reading my Bible and in praying so I have not had the same kinds of experiences.
Today I read an excerpt from Radiance of the Inner Splendor, by Lloyd John Olgilvie in which he describes what he means by God dwelling within his people. “When we say that Christ pervades all the aspects of our human nature, it does not mean that he effects a takeover of our will. He did not do that before we became his children; he does not do it now. It does mean that when we set our hearts in the direction of what we know to be God’s heart in the matter – and begin to model our behavior in that direction – then Spirit within immediately reinforces our finite strength with infinite strength. The synthesis is so smooth, it is sometimes impossible to tell where our strength ends and his begins.” Maybe the reason I have different results is because I am no longer intentionally setting my heart in the direction of God’s heart, nor modeling my behavior in that direction. I need to make my time alone with God more of a priority.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sing and Pray

Wednesday 4/12/2017 5:04 AM
I joined a local community chorale a few weeks ago. I have always enjoyed singing. It soothes my soul. There is something about music that reaches deep inside of me and touches me in ways that other things don’t. Saul, the first king of Israel, suffered bouts of depression. During those times he would have David play his harp for him to give him some relief. I joined the chorale for much the same reason, to help me deal with some of the sadness I have experienced over the past year.
Today I read a portion of Eugene Peterson’s book Earth and Altar that reminds me of this. He writes, “We are born into the web of relationships and continue in it throughout our lifetimes. But we often don’t feel like it. We feel isolated, cut off, fragmented, out of touch. We do not tolerate such isolation very well and move out to overcome it: we call up a neighbor, join a club, write a letter, get married. The disparate attempts accumulate. The self is less isolated. Society is less fragmented. The facts add up. But if we do not pray, they do not add up to enough: in prayer and only in prayer are we able to enter the complexity and depth of the dynamic and interrelated whole. A failure to pray is not a harmless omission; it is a positive violation of both the self and the society.”
Over the past year I have definitely felt isolated, cut off, fragmented, and out of touch. I have withdrawn from much of life, including my time of reading my Bible and meditating on God. I recognize that my isolation has caused me to suffer personally but I haven’t stopped to think about how my isolationism has affected others. In the past my time of meditation has often resulted in becoming aware of the pain and struggles of others. When that happens I often write them a note of encouragement and I spend time praying that God would ease their pain and provide some relief. This past year it seems the bulk of my thoughts and prayers have been self-centered, ignoring the pain of others or simply being ignorant or uninformed of their situations. I need to spend more time contemplating God and his desires for me instead of my own. Perhaps the music of his word and Spirit will soothe my soul in much the same way my singing in the chorale has given me some relief.

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.