Friday, May 30, 2008

In Trouble

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam

and the mountains quake with their surging."

(Psalm 46:1-3)

The Psalms are ancient musical poetry, putting aside objective examination of life and expressing the reality of life as it is experienced. The sometimes widely-varying tone of these writings invites us to see parallels in our lives today, and to respond as the Psalmists did -- ultimately choosing to trust God in all circumstances.

But I think instead we sometimes read passages like this differently, changing the words to fit our perceptions of God rather than allowing the words to shape our perceptions. We speak and act as if God were an ever-present help out of trouble rather than an ever-present help within it.

Life is sometimes messy. Complicated. Unpleasant. Even downright painful. When we insist that God make life easier, we rob ourselves of truly knowing His presence and power in the midst of every circumstance. Only when we recognize and submit to this God will we be empowered to hold fast even when it appears the world is falling apart around us.

This week, I encourage you to read Psalm 46. Then read it again. And again. Let your mind become immersed in it, and allow it to seep into your soul.

Lectionary texts for this Sunday: Genesis 6:9-22, 7:24, 8:14-19; Psalm 46; Romans 1:16-17, 3:22b-31; Matthew 7:21-29.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Biblical Real Estate

"For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."
-- Matthew 18:20

This is one of those cheerful verses in Christianity. And it really is. It is encouraging to realize that coming together can allow us to experience God in powerful ways. But sometimes we forget to read around it. Like in real estate, we need to ask Where is it located? and What is around it?

Take a moment to read Matthew 18 here, and consider verse 20 with these two questions. This chapter begins with the disciples asking, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" It was a question with the power to divide them. Following this is the parable of the lost sheep, in which a shepherd leaves the 99 sheep (people) that are already safely gathered in so he can go looking far and wide for the one sheep that's wandered away from the others. Next is Jesus' teaching about persistently pursuing reconciliation with one who has offended another. It is here that Matthew 18:20 ties most directly. All of that was apparently not enough, as the chapter ends with another parable, this time about someone who has been forgiven much but is not willing to extend that grace to others.

Consider Matthew 18:20 in this context. "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." To come together in the "name" of Jesus is to come together in a manner consistent with his nature. The context here seems to point to the grace-full and relational aspects of God's character. As Philippians 2:5-11 so poetically describes, the nature of God is humble and loving, sacrificially seeking the good of others. This is the kind of Being who is not content to just have a church full of Christians when there are still more who need to know God. The nature of God teaches us to take the initiative in seeking reconciliation, whether we are the offender or the offended. It is this God who tempers justice with mercy. When we come together in the name of Jesus -- unified in that which is most important to him -- it is then that we experience God's presence in incredible ways.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Pentecost Sunday

"When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place...."

Pentecost marks the gift of the Holy Spirit and, in some ways, the birth of the church. It is no coincidence that the two are celebrated together. The Book of Acts begins with Jesus returning to heaven. He had promised not to leave them alone; they would receive the Holy Spirit (see John 14). They returned together to Jerusalem. Time passed, but "when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place."

Consider that community of believers. Were they friends? I suppose they likely had some friends within that community. But mere friendship wasn't what held them together. Rather, they were held together by something -- Someone -- who was both within their community and beyond it. They chose to live out Jesus' command to love others not because they deserved it but instead recognizing they didn't. How did they live together? With grace.

In the Christian calendar, the day of Pentecost is the start of a long season (until November 29 this year) focused on growth in discipleship and service. We are called to live in community, expressing love with grace, just as Jesus' first followers were. Throughout this season, how will you intentionally nurture grace-filled community?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Where to Start

As I walk with Christ, the journey is more like a mountain hike than a meadow walk. Both tend to be beautiful and worthwhile. The meadow variety is more steady, more consistent. A mountain hike is different -- a lot more variety in the terrain, a lot more surprises over the rise or around the bend, a lot more spurts interspersed with slower, more difficult progress.

There are two particular convictions I've been wrestling with the past couple of months. Perhaps I'll write about the first one later; it's not for today. The second is more recent, and it is for today. It is about worship. In my life right now, the issue is not about God's existence or God's presence or even God's nature. It is about acknowledging and responding to who God is.

Psalm 116 was part of the lectionary reading a few weeks ago. When I read it today, I was reminded yet again about the role of worship in my heart and mind. Consider this:
"The Lord is gracious and righteous,
our God is full of compassion.
The Lord protects the simplehearted;
when I was in great need, he saved me."

The psalmist continues with descriptions of how God's nature has been revealed to him, and the implications. What are the implications of knowing this God, of being in relationship with Him? When I recognize that God has the understanding and the power and the desire to bring about what is best, I can rest, even while I struggle. Whatever comes about, I can face it as long as God is with me.