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Pulled Up through the Roots

Image result for psalm 1 tree water

Pulled Up through the Roots

It was late last night when I finally sat down and read scripture for the day. It was Psalm 1. I read it as rain pounded on the roof, truly one of life’s most beautiful sounds. We’ve been dry lately. The storms have passed us by leaving the ground, trees, and plants desperate for water. Earlier in the evening, I thought I heard raining so I turned off all the fans and listened as it pinged on our porch’s tin roof. I checked again before heading to the bedroom and it was still coming down.

Psalm 1 says this:

-The Two Ways-

Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or be counted among the malcontents;
their delight is in the of the Lord and his way,
and on him, they meditate day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so 
but are like dry leaves and bark that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not be found innocent,
nor sinners among the people who are humble;
for the Lord watches over the way of all,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

I reflected on these verses as I listened to the rain and it was a great reminder not to be an unpleasant person, not to choose a way of life that only benefits myself, to be rooted in God, pulling up through my roots; love, kindness, humility, and bloom in a too often evil world.

For more posts, reflections, poems, and other writings, please visit: http://www.thewannabesaint.com

blessings,
@BrianLoging (Twitter)

Sharp

Image result for axe tree

Sharp

This morning the pastor began his sermon by quoting my favorite Psalm;

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

He had my attention. Then the reverend told the story of a logger challenging another to a contest of chopping down trees. “The one with the most chopped wood at the end is the winner.” The challenged accepted and they met the following morning at dawn. The challenger yelled; “Go!” and began swinging his axe with all his might and at great speed. The challenged swung his axe at a steady, but slower, rate. The challenger went as hard as he could all morning, ate a short lunch, and then resumed his feverish pace until the sunset. He knew he had won. How could he not? His speed, strength, and stamina were unmatched by the challenged. In fact, during the day, when he’d stop to wipe his brow, it seemed every time he looked the other logger was sitting down and resting. However, when both men looked at the two piles the challenger was flabbergasted and admitted his opponent’s pile of wood was bigger than his. “How could that be?” he asked. “I worked longer, stronger and faster!” “True,’ said the winner; but when I rested I was sharpening my axe.

A simple but important lesson. Sometimes we are so fixated on “what we have to do!” that we forget to rest. We are overworked and overwhelmed. What we need is rest. Rest restores the body, mind, and spirit. In our culture, resting is frowned upon. This is because we’ve forgotten the difference between being at rest and being lazy.

blessings,
@BrianLoging (Twitter)
thewannabesaint.com

Transition

Image result for released from prison

Transition

Earlier this week I watched a powerful documentary on people being released from prison. It was a story of two men who were sentenced under California’s outdated and recently reformed Three Strikes Law. Simply stated the law demanded that any criminal who was arrested and found guilty three times received a harsh prison sentence often 25 years to life. After almost 20 years of being in place, the penal system and the citizens of California realized it wasn’t effective, led to overpopulation in the jails, severely impacted people of color, and left a trail of broken families in its wake.

The documentary follows two of the thousands of men who have been released for petty, non-violent crimes, after serving decades in jail. The transition for both of them was difficult, however, one was able to get back on his feet stay clean and sober, get married and be promoted in his job. The other man, who had a strong family and church structure, struggled mightily. Old demons such as drugs and mental health issues kept him unbalanced and unable to find his groove the way the first man did. At the end of the documentary both men were still out and making their way the best they could.

As I watched the film I couldn’t help but feel for both of these men. I work with men who are incarcerated and addicted. Addiction is a powerful force for evil and destruction. Incarceration can also be a doorway to a life of crime and recidivism but I’ve also seen men who learn how to make different choices so as not to end up in the same predicament.

Men who do three things greatly reduce their chance of going back to jail or getting back into their addiction. The first is having a positive home environment that might not necessarily be with their biological family. The second is a full-time job, a chance to do something and receive. The third might be most important and that is living a life around positive people, folks who will pull you up not drag you down. These three things, which most of us take for granted, will help men stay balanced, sure-footed, and on the path to a new life.

Psalm 121
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over you will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm, he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

blessings,
@BrianLoging (Twitter)
thewannabesaint.com

Be Still

Guest post by Steve Austin, www.graceismessy.com

We hear this phrase repeated often, especially in Christian circles.
Be still.” What does this phrase mean to you? Be confident? Be calm? Be self-assured? Be stable? Be consistent? Be constant? Be determined?

Psalm 46:1-3

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

If you continue reading in this particular Psalm, one thing is clear: the contrast between “the nations of the Earth” and the peace that we have when we trust in the sovereignty, knowledge, and deliverance of God.

Be still.
When war rages in your home.
When there are tossed seas in your marriage.
When your job security teeters and totters on the brink of destruction.
Be still.
When your children war against you.
When your friends turn out to be enemies.
When, in all of your humanness, your emotions get the best of you.
Be still.
Be still.
Take it easy.
Take a deep breath.
Close your eyes and rest your weary head.
Be still.

-Steve blogs @ www.graceismessy.com

Bio:
Steve Austin is a professional sign language interpreter, portrait photographer, singer-songwriter, worship leader, speaker, avid blogger, husband to Lindsey, and Daddy to Ben Thomas and Caroline.
A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Steve loves his Southern heritage and enjoys the countless adventures of raising his two young children, and learning more and more about independence and living in-dependence upon God each day.

Delightfully Dependent

Last weekend we held our annual campus ministry clothing give-away. It’s an opportunity for those who have more than enough to give to those who don’t. Many people donate new or gently used clothing. Over a few months we collect the items and then volunteers inspect, clean, sort and when the day arrives we give away as much as we can to as many who will come. It’s always an amazing event. More clothes and more people come every year.

I watched a lady find a jacket in one of the many piles and was thrilled because it matched a purse someone else had previously given her. Merriam Webster defines “delight” as something that makes one very happy, a high degree of gratification, joy, extreme satisfaction, something that gives great pleasure. This lady and many more were delighted! Little girls trying on dresses, boys finding hoodies, men picking out suits and ties, ladies choosing items for their entire families. Delight abounded! There weren’t  “haves” and “have-nots” just people sharing and delighting in each other.

Psalm 147 was included in my Lauds this morning. My prayer phrase for the day is;

God delights in those who hope in his unfailing love.”

A wonderful verse which reminded me that generosity is God’s default position. Should it not also be ours?

Can you imagine a place where everyone delighted in being someone else’s hope? Where there was delight not only in giving but also receiving? After all, both take generosity of spirit.  Selfishness is not only refusing to help but also refusing to admit our need. When we do this we rob someone of the opportunity to be delighted.

Too often it’s “he who dies with the most toys wins” when it could be “learn to share and no one loses.” I know this kind of utopian mindset doesn’t fit with the “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” kind of world we live in but truth be known I’m a flip-flops kind of guy anyway.

Is this culture shift really possible? Probably not….but who knows?adult_flipflops

here’s hoping,

bdl

Cracked Pots & Kingdom Currency

An elder monk had two large pots, each hung on the end of a pole which he carried across his neck. Each day he traveled to a stream to retrieve water for the abbey. One pot delivered a full portion of water but the other was cracked and arrived bearing only half. Observing this a young monk asked; “why don’t you fix that pot? It’s cracked and not very useful. If you repair it, it would be good again.”

The elder monk smiled and asked the younger brother to accompany him to the stream. The elder monk said nothing as they walked and the younger noticed the beautiful flowers along one side of the path. This made him smile because they reminded him of the fresh flowers that adorn the tables in the dining room. Arriving at the stream, the elder asked; “Did you notice the flowers? When the pot became cracked, I planted flower seeds on that side. Every day while walking back from the stream, they are watered and each day I pick them to decorate our tables.”

Sometimes in life things we deem not very good can be used to do something great.

Here’s what’s happening…

Jesus is in the midst of telling 5 parables, this is number 4. We spoke about two of them last week and number 3 is the “the prodigal son” parable.

Similar to the way the lost son gave no good account of his inheritance so too the bad manager with his master’s wealth. The Greek says the both the prodigal son and the shrewd manager, literally “scattered in all directions” the wealth. In other words they thew it away.

This parable is only found in Luke’s gospel. Jesus is teaching and Luke tells us in 16v13-14 the religious leaders are listening in.

Hard to manage…

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. 2So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ 3Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.

The two main characters in Jesus’ tale are “a certain rich man” and his house manager.

In the first century world, the “rich man” was probably Greek or Roman and lived in luxury in Jerusalem.  His steward would likely have been a slave or freedman. The steward had access to his master’s wealth, and took care of the owner’s various properties supplying the homes and properties with what they needed

Word comes to the ears of the rich man his manager had been less than forthright in his dealings. He’s lining his pockets with the master’s money. Upon hearing this the manager is called on the carpet. He is so busted! The owner says “you’re fired and you owe me the money you stole!”

Obviously the manager hasn’t been saving it because the Greek reads he “scattered it in all directions”! Its gone. What’s he to do? Not being able to pay your debts was, and still is, a big deal. If he can’t come up with the dough the authorities will come up with a nice long prison sentence. It’s too much money to earn doing manual labor and he’s too old to do the back breaking work. He refuses to suffer the humiliation of asking relatives, friends, for the funds.

He’s in trouble. No money, no job, definitely no references and words going to get around that he’s a thief. The embarrassment, the shame of his dismissal and the truth of him being a crook are almost more than he can bear. He needs a plan…quick! Life as he knows it is slipping away.

Sneaky…

4I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ 5So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ 7Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ 8And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly;

The light bulb comes on. He’s got an idea. The dishonest house manager, instead of coming clean, is going to save himself by doing what he’s good at, being dishonest. Remember, there’s no Facebook, instant messaging or even telephones. It takes a while for word to get around. Instead of waiting for the rumor of his firing to reach the client’s ears he visits them on his way back from his master’s house to collect his things. He powers on his laptop, pulls up the accounts on his quick-books software and starts cold calling folks who are in debt to his ex-master. He then makes them an offer they can’t refuse. He tells them the “generous master” is offering an opportunity, to make major cuts into their debts, as much as 50%! They must sign the new bill quickly before the deal expires.

By doing this he is making his master very popular and placing him in a bind.  The clients would have no way of knowing this wonderful offer wasn’t valid and the master’s reputation would be at stake if he decided to void the new deals.

In a culture where shame and honor are so very important, by the time the master finds out what the steward has done he would have no choice to but to honor the agreement. To take back his gift of discounting their bills and admitting he can’t control those under his watch was very shameful. The steward has the master between a rock and a hard place. He is much more clever, shrewd, dishonest and ruthless than the master realized. 

Interesting story but what exactly is Jesus saying?

v8…for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. 9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

We don’t often find Jesus using a dishonest person as an example to follow. Is that what he’s doing? Not really, but he is telling the disciples to be shrewd, clever, resourceful enough to use things of this world, such as money, for the kingdom’s advancement.  

Both money and power can corrupt resulting in much suffering but God can use these to make an eternal difference.

When used for selfish means money and power bring slavery, oppressions, taxes, indebtedness. Used for kingdom purposes, for others, they can bring freedom, provision and help for those in need.

Luke’s gospel is very much concerned with the plight of those who have little or no social standing, who depend upon the generosity of others to survive. In Luke 14, Jesus tells a host to invite the poor, lame, blind, those who cannot help themselves to his banquet table. In Luke 15, Jesus tells the religious leaders they have failed at their jobs because they are eating their full, clothing and taking care of themselves when those they are responsible for are hungry, naked, hurt, lost and dying.

v10“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

This is not Jesus ranting against wealth. It is a warning. Whether we have a lot or little what we possess must not possess us. We must be willing to give it away. Oftentimes Jesus’ teachings on riches are for others those who have more than we do. Everyone, no matter the size of their bank account, car they drive or house they live in, have things in their life they treasure, value greatly. Could be money, might be family, even their life. If the treasures aren’t being used for God’s kingdom then the treasure is more valuable to them than God’s kingdom.

John Petty, New Testament writer states: More than any other gospel, Luke confronts the issue of money and wealth.  In Luke’s (version) of the Lord’s Prayer, … forgiveness is explicitly linked with… (monetary) debts. “…(we obtain) release us from our sins, (as we release others from what is (earthly) owed to us).”

What we hold onto reveals what has a hold on us. In Luke 6, Luke 12, and Luke 15, Jesus calls on his followers to release their earthly treasure to those in need. Whatever we value must be at God’s disposal. This is what it means to be a part of God’s kingdom.

Reflection

Psalm 113 says “I will praise the Lord! I will blessed be the name of the Lord forever. From the rising of the sun to its setting I will praise the name of the Lord. There is no one like my God, who is high above all. He raises up the lowly, lifts up the needy and gives ones who are cast out a home. He calls me a child of the Most High. Praise the Lord!” 

Water Jugs

Jesus, the Baaaaad Boy

Gospel of Saint Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 8“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

What’s happening is… 

In Luke 5v29-32, Jesus was in the house of a tax collector named Levi. Of course this displeased the rank and file of the religious leaders and they grumbled in their hearts and out loud about Jesus hanging out with sinners.  

Following Jesus’ public relations disaster in Luke 14, with the crowd was at his beck and call, Jesus doesn’t give a rousing, running out of the locker rooms ready to take on the world kind of speech, instead he says to the people “only if you hate your family, hate your life, carry a cross and get rid of everything you own can you follow me. 

In the Jewish world a father’s wishes, desires and commands always came first. He was the first and last word on any subject (dads and guys are thinking “ah, the good ol’ days!)”. To disobey a father’s instructions, to go another direction, to stray from his direction was a serious breach of family values and would be considered separation from the the family. A good Jewish father would forbid his children from following unlawful teachings and sinful instructions as espoused by Jesus. A child wanting to follow Jesus would have to go against their father’s commands. This would be tantamount to turning their back on their family, pulling away from the ones who raised them, hating their father and family. Being disowned would be the result.

Jesus laid it all on the table when he emphasized that following him, being a disciple, would be to sacrifice anything that pulled you away from the way of the Master. No doubt that some who followed Jesus left everything behind, invested their very lives, physically and socially to be his disciple.

The words of Jesus take new meaning when he says, in Luke 18v19-21; “My mother, my brothers and sisters, my family are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

This table’s open

Luke 15v1 – Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

Luke tells the reader that ALL tax collectors, sinners, law breakers and outsiders were drawing near and being drawn to Jesus. All of them! Think about that for a moment. The very people the religious establishment shunned, had been told weren’t welcome, pushed away, were flocking to Jesus. This is amazing…and condemning. It’s not that sinners dislike Jesus, they dislike a lot of those they find around him. See how that works? The religious leaders didn’t like the people hanging out with Jesus and maybe those folks felt the same way. Hmm...maybe this is why there are so many empty chairs in churches today.

Of course the pharisees, being the sticks in the mud they are, begin to grumble, mumble against Jesus being with these undesirables. They had a problem with Jesus allowing them to come to him, partaking of a meal with them, partying with them, most of all, sharing God’s message and love with them

Similar to their question, actually a complaint, in Luke 5v29-32 when they inquired; “Why do you eat and drink with tax-collectors and sinners?” in other words, “what do people like that have to do with God?” Jesus, gives a coherent answer to this bewildering question; “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” In other words, “those who know they need God, get God.”

Jesus had dared a host, in Luke 14, not to consider the influential, upper crust, well to do, can do something for you, folks the next time he’s sending out invitations to a party. Instead, welcome those who never get an invitation since they have nothing to offer in return, “…the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind…” Jesus practiced what he taught. It is those who have nothing to offer Jesus, and he nothing to gain, who are having their lives changed by him.

Eating with outsiders though was more than grabbing a bite at Burger King…

A Jew’s commitment to purity, their sense of what God requires of them and their fear of risking exposure to the world which caused them to shun outsiders and criticize those who engaged, more than necessary, with non-Jews. To share a meal, have table fellowship, in the ancient world meant mutual acceptance, to receive, condone, not only the person, but what they represented. For the religious leaders, Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors, violated their worldview. “Why would Jesus get close to the socially objectionable, to people like tax collectors and sinners? If Jewish people were the chosen ones, why bother?” 

Jesus makes friends with the lowest of the low. Sinners, sexually impure, thieves, diseased, poor, beggars, women, and worst of all? Tax collectors! Nasty, sell outs collecting revenue for the Romans, the enemy, the oppressors of the Jewish people!

Again, Jesus needs a good relations manager because he’s not good and winning the acceptable friends and influencing the proper people!

Little BO-Peep…

Instead of telling them where to stick it, Jesus tells one of his stories;  

v3 – So he told them this parable: 4“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?5When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 

When we hear this story it’s a reminder that whoever is lost, wherever the are, whatever their worth, Jesus finds them and brings ’em home. However, that’s not what the religious leaders, charged with the care of God’s children, God’s flock heard…

Prophet, speak against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat-lings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.”

Whoa! This text is from Ezekiel 34:1-6 and it levels the so-called “shepherds of Israel.” Jesus is telling them “You’re not doing your job! You stink! You’re terrible! If you’re not going to do it then God will raise up someone who will! I wouldn’t have to be doing these things you find so repulsive if you understood it’s what God called you do!

What an indictment! Jesus is “strengthening the weak, healing the sick, feeding them, clothing them, binding their injuries, and bringing back the strays” because the religious leaders have forgotten it’s what their occupation requires. The sheep are wandering, lost, being killed, because they have no shepherd, their leaders have failed.

Before anyone is tempted to chime in regarding clergy, pastors, ministers, elders, deacons, boards and church leadership, Jesus calls all of his followers, every disciple, to do the things the Jewish leaders refuse to do…“strengthen the weak, heal the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bind the injured, and bringing back the strays.” Hmm..maybe this is why there are so many empty chairs in our churches today. Again, just a thought.

Jesus says seek, not avoid the lost. Look for, not the other way. Carry, don’t add more burden. Heaven rejoices when the dumb, dirty, disoriented, sheep is found, so why do the religious leaders condemn it for being lost? Hmm..maybe this is why there are so many empty chairs…I digress.  

Jesus says; v7 – “…there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Who are these 99 who need “no repentance?” or asked a different way “am I, are you, one of those 99 who need no repentance?” (shaking head emphatically “no”) Exactly. If you have to ask the question you aren’t one. Only those who think they need no repentance seek none. Ironically, they are the most lost of all.

Change in the couch cushion

 v8 – “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’

Here, Jesus goes, turning over the apple cart again. This time the main figure is a woman! Jesus just can’t help himself making people uncomfortable. Our heroine is turning the house inside out, tossing the couch cushions, sweeping under the fridge, looking everywhere for her valuable treasure. She looks all day, doesn’t find it, gets dark, doesn’t stop. Broom in one hand, flashlight in the other, keeps on looking. Finally, after diving into every nook and cranny she locates the coin! Immediately she posts a photo on facebook, tweets out the discovery, texts her best friends, and calls everyone in her address book. “I found the coin! I found the coin! Let me show you the money!”(Jerry McGuire imitation)

Notice a couple of things. One, family isn’t mentioned. Remember, in Luke 14, Jesus just told them to “hate” their families. Chances are there are some in the crowds who left their families when they chose to follow Jesus on the way.

Second, there’s no formal repentance from the sheep or the coin. No special prayer is mentioned. Simply lost and then found. Granted neither the sheep or the coin is capable or repentance, but to get stuck here missed the point. This isn’t about us. Jesus is giving a glimpse into the heart of the Father and the Son. A look into their earnest desire for us. It’s about God and relationship not us and our response. 

Listen to what Jesus says in verse 10,

v10 – I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

God is after us, pursuing us, chasing us. Coming to us. Receiving us. He is the seeking shepherd! We are the dumb, dirty, disoriented sheep. The clueless coin that rolls away. Why? His love, his nature, who he is, compels him to do so. Motivates him to go to staggering lengths to prove his desire to to pull you close! We just need to be willing to be found.

Reflection

Psalm 79 says “O’ Lord, do not remember our faults and let your love and compassion find us. For we are lost and lowly. Help us, O God, for only you can save us. Deliver us and forgive our sins. We desire to be free. Let our cries come before you and according to your great love keep us safe. Let us be one of your sheep, part of your flock. We will praise you and give you thanks.”

Repeat these phrases after me and reflect upon what the Lord has said to you in the service today:

God, we are lost and lowly...

Father, forgive us and free us

Jesus, you are my shepherd

God, we give you thanks…”

 

baby_lamb1

Jesus, the Hater

Jesus, the Hater

Bountiful, Utah.  A red car, waiting to be picked up by its new owner, was destroyed Thursday morning after it was hit by a runaway semitrailer carrying 45 tons of sand. The truck driver, traveling up an incline to a local golf course, lost control when he attempted to downshift. The large vehicle’s gear box broke out and the brakes failed as the heavy semitrailer began to roll backward down a steep hill. The large vehicle coasted about half a city block, burst through a retaining wall, smashed into the car, and finally came to a stop partway inside a home where the residents were eating breakfast. No one was injured. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day!

Our text is preceded by the parable of a great banquet given in Luke 14:15-24. Those invited to the banquet declined to attend, citing other priorities; care of land, possessions, and family. The host then throws open the doors to the less desirable to come to and party.

Luke 14v25 “Great crowds were going along with him.”  Jesus is heading to Jerusalem, since Luke 9:51,and he wasn’t alone. Jesus was a popular guy. He was loved by many.

Does Jesus want us to hate our family and our lives?

Jesus “turns” and speaks to the crowd including his disciples. In Luke, anytime Jesus “turns” something important is about to be spoken but these words shock us!

Lots of people love him, fame is at his fingertips, Facebook friend requests are through the roof, Twitter is exploding! His reputation ready to be cemented. This is the time to rouse the crowd, get ’em excited. Tell one of those great parables, perform a wondrous miracles. Give the people what they want! Keep the folks charged up on the way to Jerusalem. Keep them coming back for more.

Jesus really needs a publicist because does he drop the ball!

V27 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, that one is not able to be my disciple.”

At a time when Jesus has their attention why not tell the folks, “go let your family know, your ma and pa, your cousins, aunties and uncles, grandmas and grandpas! Tell them how great this is and the adventure of being my follower!” Jesus does the opposite…He says separate yourself from your family.

In Luke’s story, Jesus seems to be not focused on the family but on separating the family.  Luke 8:19-21, 9:59-62, 12:51-53, 14:26-27, 18:29, 21:16.  This one in chapter 14 is just harsh!

Jesus speaks so much about love, why is he being a hater?

The word “Hate” should be understood in the context of the first-century middle-eastern world.  It is not so much an emotional position, but a matter of honor and shame.

New Testament writer Robert Tannehill says; “In the ancient world…hating one’s family meant doing something that injured them, particularly by disgracing them.  Life was family centered, and the honor of the family was very highly valued.  Every family member was expected to protect the honor of the family.  If a family member joined a suspect movement,(a cult, other religion) and abandoned their home, this brought disgrace on the family.”

A break with tradition, especially in religious cases, can tear a family apart. Religious leaders have condemned Jesus’ teaching. To be a honorable and faithful Jew was to go the way of the forefathers, not the new way of Jesus. If a person chose to follow Jesus, or another religious movement, they would be shunned and their blessing as a child of God forfeited according to Jewish law.

This would certainly cause much angst and heartbreak for Jewish families. Jesus grew up in Jewish culture. He knows about shame and tells those wanting to walk with him, it is a way of suffering and separation.

Hating used in this context means that a person disconnects themselves from their families. A momentous and costly decision. It would truly cost them their life as it has been.

Deciding he hasn’t offended enough folks with the “hate your families and your lives” bit he ratchets up the verbiage… 

27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Shame of turning away from family was not as great as the shame and embarrassment of being crucified. The cross was a symbol used by the Roman empire. It was a means of execution and imperial strength. Almost never used for Roman citizen is reserved for lower class, slaves, criminals and non-Roman citizens. 2000 people in Palestine were crucified for rebellion in the time of Roman occupation.

For a Jew, the cross represented the worst way to die. To be crucified was to be cursed by God. And now Jesus, the great pied piper, tells people to pick one up and carry it around.

28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.

Parables on counting the cost, making a plan, knowing what you’re in for, before choosing. Discipleship is not to be entered into lightly. No bait and switch, plainly and painfully, Jesus lays out the cost walking with him.

It’s almost as if Jesus enjoying alienating the crowd. “I‘m too popular! he says. What can I say that will just chase everyone away? Oh! I know, Those people you are close to, who raised you, cared for you, taught you right from wrong, have always been there for you? You gotta hate ’em. And, if you hang out with me you’re going to be shamed and probably die in the worst of ways!” Finally, if there was anyone left, he orders them them abandon everything they own, terrible things like a roof over your head, food in your stomach.

Jesus isn’t being hyperbolic. He hammers it home by three times using the phrase “you cannot be my disciple” if you do not forsake family, carry a cross, give up all possessions.

It begs the question; “Why?” Families are bad? Long life is wrong? Possessions are evil?

The answer to this is given in this earlier parable…

Luke 14:16 Then Jesus said, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ 20 Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ 23 Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.’”

These seemingly harsh words of Jesus we’ve read today aren’t spoken against being a part of a family, having some possessions or enjoying life. They are harsh words against how easily we are pulled away from the things of God. There is something in us that desires to attach ourselves to things. A pull from inside from our true purpose in life.

We desire, distract, separate ourselves from the Kingdom. We sacrifice what’s important for what’s immediate. Jesus tells us plainly, simply, nothing is worth losing our seat at the great banquet table. We must be ever on our guard or we’ll settle for other things instead of the only thing that matters, Him.

Reflection

Psalm 27 says “… Teach us your way, O Lord, and lead us on your good path… 13 We believe that we shall see the goodness of the Lord in our lives. 14 We wait on you Lord; helps us be strong, help our hearts take courage; we wait on you, Lord.”

Repeat and reflect on these phrases:

“Lord, Teach me your way…

Lord, lead me on your good path…

Lord, keep me strong and encouraged…

Lord, I wait on you…”338435765

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

35104840 (2)A family meal, on a Sabbath Sunday, erupted into a gun battle after a father and son clashed over how to properly cook a chicken in Bluewell, West Virginia. The two men began to argue over the best way to prepare a skinless bird. It progressed into a physical confrontation and escalated to both of them shooting at each other with their own .22-caliber handguns. The son was struck by a bullet that went through the upper part of his right ear and lodged in the back of his head. He survived, was treated at a hospital and released. The father was not injured but was charged with malicious wounding. Both were booked on wanton endangerment.  Be careful who you invite to Sunday dinner.

This passage appears only in Luke’s gospel.  Jesus has been on his way to Jerusalem ever since 9:51.  Along the way, he heals, casts out demons, teaches the disciples, crowds and mourns over Jerusalem 13:34-35. 

A Dinner to Remember,  Luke chapter 14

1On one occasion when Jesus[a] was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had abnormal swelling. 3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” 4 But they were silent. So Jesus[b] took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5 Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child[c] or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” 6 And they could not reply to this.

The scene opens with Jesus on the way to the home of a pharisee to eat a meal on the sabbath.  This is a formula for disaster! Talk about a reality show waiting to happen!

A Greek symposia is a dinner followed by a discussion/debate. Often meals such as these were places for vigorous political, social, and class conversations. Pharisees were not overly wealthy but better off than most of their constituents. An invitation to eat in a home of a Pharisee would’ve been considered an important invite if Jesus was impressed by such things. Too bad he isn’t.

Jesus had run ins with the P’s before. What Jesus did and didn’t do on the Sabbath in Luke 6 and Luke 13 told the Pharisees quite a lot about his politics and theology. Jesus had embarrassed them, on their own turf,  and Luke tells us in 11v54 the Pharisees were “lying in wait for Jesus, to catch him in something he might say.” 

Chapter 14v1 says again; “they were watching him closely as he made his way to the dinner. Is Jesus on his best behavior? Depends on what that phrase means. He stops and heals a man with abnormal swelling on the Sabbath and then questions/grills the P’s about  it. Jesus isn’t concerned about impressing those in power. He heals the poor, helpless and lower crust of society because they need it, not because they can do something for him.

Contrast this with the guests at the dinner he’s attending who are choosing “places of honor” in verse 7.  They are trying to “move up” in society by finding the best place to sit down. The most prominent place would be the position nearest the host of the dinner. Important banquets and the seating that accompanied them were of great importance to high society.

Watching them tussle over where to put their keisters, Jesus makes an observation

8‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, “Give this person your place”, and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.10But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’

This isn’t a normal Jesus’ illustration, parable or story. It’s more like him instructing these supposedly highfalutin, sophisticated types how to act properly in these occasions for maximum effect.

Don’t push your way to the front, don’t assume, play it cool” Jesus says. What happens if someone more important than you shows up and the host tells you to get stepping, take a back seat, move out of the way for this VIP. How embarrassing and shameful! It’s more prudent to stay back and be invited up front.

Finished with the guests, Jesus now turns his attention to the host…

Not the high and mighty”, Jesus says, “but the low and weak should be honored guests.”

12 He said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 

Jesus’ words to the host are confusing! Perhaps Jesus doesn’t know how the social game is played. The host invited those who would enhance his social standing. This dinner party, those invited, the seating arrangements, all evidence of the importance of those attending and how this, in turn, would elevate the social standing of the host. Only impressive people were asked to come, no one of low social standing, little political or religious power.

Jesus challenges him to turn this on its head! Make the dinners and social occasions about those with no social standing, who can’t help you get ahead. An opportunity to not promote one’s self but giving the least of these a moment to shine.

Jesus is casting a worldview, a reality where a chance to advance, improve the life of another is the goal. A culture where people aren’t used to serve our means, our upward trajectory, our aspirations but where giving, helping others is the aspiration.

14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

You will be blessed,” Jesus says. Blessed when? Blessed how? In what way? By being a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Blessed to be among “resurrection of the just.”

Wrapping it Up

When Jesus comes to dinner he has a way of making what is held dear, value and treasure seem silly, then reorients the heart to hold dear, value and treasure the things that really matter. 

Reflection

Psalm 143 “… O Lord, answer us… Please do not hide your face,…Let us hear of your steadfast love today, for in you we place our trust. Show us the way we should go, for to you we lift up our soul. 9 Save us, O Lord, … 10 Teach us to do your will, for you are our God. May your good spirit lead us on a level path….”

Prayer Phrases to Reflect on Today

Show us the way we should go…

Teach us to do your will…

May your good spirit…

Lead us on a level path…

bdl

*September 1, 2013

Who’s to Blame for Our Miley Cyrus Problem

ImageApparently Miley Cyrus has gotten herself into a bit of trouble. She has done something in front of a bunch of someones that, allegedly, wasn’t very lady like. I’ve never been a Miley Cyrus fan. I don’t have anything against her I simply didn’t have any pre-teens in my house when she was Disney‘s darling and i’m too old now to listen to popular music. I don’t know what it means to twerk or be twerked but i’m pretty certain it would be physically painful for me and emotionally damaging for any witnesses.

In the interest of full disclosure I have not seen the “ghastly” video that has parents up in arms, culture warriors shouting from the rooftops and Hannah Montana fans burning their t-shirts, ticket stubs and posters. I really do hope to keep it that way and before we start roasting marshmallows, and this young lady, over the flames can we at least pause long enough to ask who’s to blame and what can be done?

To be famous is quite simple. Do crazy things, be insanely popular. The most dramatic, shocking, upsetting, disturbing act or word wins the prize. This isn’t new. I was a teen in the 80’s with Madonna, endured Marilyn Manson in the 90’s, put up with Lady Gaga in ’00s and here’s Miley corrupting our youth. (They said the same thing about Socrates.)

My prayer phrase today is from Psalm 101; “I will walk with a blameless heart and set before my eyes no vile thing.” To “walk with a blameless heart” is more than not getting caught with your hand in a cookie jar, being busted or caught in the act. It is to seek and live a life that is mindful, pure and to remember the path you choose affects everyone you meet along the way. Desiring to be virtuous and faultless so others can know and see truth in you.

To “not set our eyes on a vile thing” is much more than not watching a dirty movie, looking at a magazine or visiting a website when no one’s around. It deals with purpose and where we fix our gaze. What we set our mind to, what’s important to us, what we value determines our destiny. Where we look is where we are going.

So who is to blame and what can be done about our Miley Cyrus problem? I’m not sure, probably nothing. We can, however, determine to have a “blameless heart and set our eyes on no vile thing.” We can walk the path of wisdom, love and compassion. Doing this will encourage others we meet to do the same. We can value things that really matter and avoid the trappings of fame, materialism and other trinkets that lose their luster and never satisfy. Maybe this will solve our Miley problem and just might save the world.

Oh yeah…and if you see some middle aged white guy sprawled out on the ground somewhere screaming, “I think I broke my body!” I just couldn’t help myself.

wisdom and light,

bdl

God’s Best Description is Silence

Those who love their own noise are impatient of everything else. They constantly defile the silence of the forests and the mountains and the sea. They bore through silent nature in every direction with their machines, for fear that the calm world might accuse them of their own emptiness. The urgency of their swift movement seems to ignore the tranquility of nature by pretending to have a purpose. The loud plane seems for a moment to deny the reality of the clouds and of the sky, by its direction, its noise, and its pretended strength. The silence of the sky remains when the plane has gone. The tranquility of the clouds will remain when the plane has fallen apart. It is the silence of the world that is real. Our noise, our business, our purposes, and all our fatuous statements about our purposes, our business, and our noise: these are the illusion.

Thomas Merton No Man is an Island, p257

The best description and praise of God is silence.” This thought has reverberated in my mind for almost two years.  I was reminded this morning, as I meditated on Psalm 66, of the need to long for, thirst, seek and embrace, the seemingly elusive, treasure that is silence.

Even in “farm country” Pennsylvania serenity is hard to find. Often there are cars, tractors, barking dogs, chirping bugs and squawking birds. Today, everything was in “silent sync.” No traffic, no canines, birds and bugs nesting, and a stillness that was palpable.

Is this abnormal or do we miss the “silent sync” because it is we, not the silence, which is elusive?

May we long for, thirst, seek and embrace the treasure of silence today.images

bdl

Truth and Wisdom in the Deepest Parts

“…desire truth in your deepest parts; learn wisdom in the inmost place.”

My Friday Lauds (morning prayer) always include Psalm 51. This poem/song is recited on Good Friday, the Friday before Easter Sunday, and is read by contemplatives, oblates, monks, and others every Friday in remembrance of the most Holiest of days when Jesus mounted the cross.

As I read and prayed this Psalm this morning the words “…desire truth in your deepest parts; learn wisdom in the inmost place” became my prayer phrase for the day.

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A rosebush next to a barn in our front yard.

Following Lauds I like to take a stroll through the yard prayerfully, meditating and mindfully breathing the prayer phrase to myself. (To the observing eye no doubt it looks as if I am talking to myself. Add this to the growing list as why our neighbors think we are strange southern folk!) As I ambled reflectively I noticed a poor, struggling rose bush with one lone blossom. It is surrounded, choked?, by a vine, rooted next to a wall, not in a good place for light, failing at being beautiful, yet still growing where it’s planted.

“Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions.”

The wonderful quote above, from Saint John Climacus, is in regard to confession and humility, but might it also be said of wisdom and truth? If we were the bush would we demand to be replanted, complain about our surroundings, see one bloom as a failure, or would we see perfection?

Wisdom and truth reveal to us that the purpose of the rose bush is to bloom and it is doing what it is intended to do. Nature doesn’t judge how many, how beautiful, what other rose bushes are doing. The rose bush isn’t worried about the vine, the wall, the lack of sun, or someone’s opinion of its beauty.

“…desire truth in your deepest parts; learn wisdom in the inmost place”

What if life is not vainly trying/striving to make everything around us fit our idea of perfection, our paradigm of what life should be, but rather simply growing, blooming where we are planted?

May truth and wisdom find a home in the deepest part of you.

peace and grace,

bdl

Walking in Light and Presence, Presently

“Blessed are those…who walk in the light of your presence.” Psalm 89

ImageThis Psalm was part of my Vespers (evening) prayer. Even as I prayed this Psalm I took notice that the light of summer is quickly fading. Soon, too soon?, I will not be able to do my evening prayers on the porch overlooking the fields in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania.

The prayer phrase that arose from this Psalm was simply “let me walk in the light of your presence.” For a contemplative, prayer is more listening than talking, more penetration than ovation. We still our minds and allow the text, most often a Psalm, to speak with words we could not form.

To walk in the light of your presence” brought with it an insight of light and presence being the same. There is no light without presence and no presence without light. God is the light and the presence. He does not bring these things with him they are him. To be without him is to be without light and presence. Only in his light do we know what it is to be present and know presence.

Almost all of us have the experience of being in a mall or office building when the electricity fails and watching people gravitate to the small emergency lights while they wait for light, life?, to be restored. A shared memory of the power going out at home yet walking into a room, flipping a switch and expecting light to illuminate our surroundings.

Maybe walking with God is this way? Sometimes his light fills every space and we are aware of his presence almost without searching. Other times we try and recreate a moment where God seemed near only to “flip the switch” and nothing happens. Those times when the presence seems to recede and we look for even a sliver of light, enough to see by until life is restored.

Light must be present for it to do us any good. A light in a room we were in doesn’t shine in the room we are in presently. A light in a place where we might go is useless unless we end up in that space. God’s light, his presence are present, in this moment and yet we often want him to shine in a place we are no longer in to see what we’ve left behind or could have been. We long for light to reveal to us where we might go, some day, some time, in the future.

Perhaps we should learn to be content to walk the part of the path we are presently travelling. Let the light and the presence accompany us presently. We cannot walk where we were and walk where we are going if we are walking where we are…

just a thought…

light and presence,

bdl

Was I ever this young?

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I was a young man ( 3rd from the left, one in the middle, with the bowl cut). Image

Over the last few days death has been a companion. When death visits you see clearly how fast time flies, quickly people get older and life is fleeting.

As Psalm 144 says; “3 O LORD, what is man, that You take knowledge of him?   Or the son of man, that You think of him?  4Man is like a mere breath; His days are like a passing shadow.”

Death and a Bird in a Tree

Yesterday I had the blessing of bringing the message at my Grandmother’s funeral. It was a bittersweet time. She was 92 and lived a good life though her passing was very difficult. A wonderful lady who brought joy into many lives, she will be missed.

As a minister funerals are part of the calling we assume and a given that cannot be avoided. I spoke with a funeral home usher yesterday and the gist of the conversation was only a few do what we both do and there aren’t many who are signing up to take our place and when they’re done well it’s a blessing to those who are hurting.

Yesterday, however, the blessing was mine to give a message about a lady who meant so much to so many. The scripture text I used was Psalm 22. It was a text I used a few weeks ago at the service for an 11 month old. The two funerals couldn’t have felt more different and yet this heartfelt Psalm was faithful to both.

The following is the text of my message for Grandmother. May it be a reminder to all who are hurting and hoping.

Funeral Service for Mildred Loging

Flora Slosson Wuellner says “Mourning includes more than anger and sorrow. Mourning includes a feeling of weakness after we have been hurt. We are face to face with our lack of ability to control life. When death comes we know that it will come again. We feel unprotected in a hurtful, dangerous world, wondering if we will ever recover, if we will ever live again.”

And Viral Mehta writes; “The word vulnerable itself comes from the root word ‘to wound’ or ‘to be wounded’. At the root of our pain is to know we have been deeply hurt, stabbed with grief. To be vulnerable, wounded, in pain with no escape in sight. To gather up the strength to keep going with these emotions and hurts, takes tremendous courage.”

1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? 2O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest. 3Yet you are holy, and present. 4In you others have trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. 5To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not abandoned….

11I will say to the Lord “Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and only You can help…14I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within me;…19O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! 20Deliver me…21Save me…24For You do not look away from those who are suffering; You will not hide Your presence from me, but hear me when I cry to You. 26 Your love will satisfy me… I will seek You… and discover You are there.

Calling Out to God

This is from Psalm 22, a Psalm typically read on Good Friday, the Friday before Easter, the day Jesus was crucified. This Psalm was written hundreds of year before Jesus died, on a hill, outside of Jerusalem, but describes his suffering as he approached death.

Jesus, God in flesh, hanging on the cross crying, calling out, longing to hear from God the Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” His tongue is swollen, exhausted he asks a brutally honest question written in the 1st verse of Psalm 22. “Father-God where have you gone? Now at the end? When I need you the most? Are you here?”

This verse captures his pain, his hurt, his loneliness, his fear, his grasping for faith and trust that God is present even in this most difficult time. For if God isn’t here in the loneliest, darkest times, if God hides in times like these, how could he trust, have faith, be assured that there is more than these last breaths?

This Psalm can also describe the hurt and sense of loss when those we love have taken their last breaths and are with us no more. There is sorrow, pain, and when faced with the suffering of one we held so dear we may ask, “My God, my God did you forsake her?” “At the end? When she needed you the most? Where were you?” For us who are grieving the loss of Mildred, Mom, Grandmother, Sister, Aunt, Cousin, dear family member and friend the Psalms offer comfort and hope.

Lament Psalms

Psalm 22 is part of a group of songs, poems that deal with lament and sorrow. These Psalms deal with the harsh realities of life and death, the questions that refuse easy answers. These Psalms give us words to speak to God when we are confronted with things that cause our faith to be tested, tough questions to be asked. They give us words to cry out to God, question God, detail our hurts, disappointments, bitterness, and fear. They express our heartfelt desire for deliverance from the pain that life & death can inflict and help us deal with mixed emotions that accompany a time such as this.

Psalm 22

Psalm 22 reminds us we can come to God with our sorrow and pain, our questions and confusion. Our desire for clarity in an uncertain time, our longing for comfort, answers and peace.

Psalm 22 assures the seeker that God is present, in the hardest of times asking the most difficult questions. We are told we can lay everything at his feet. For if God cannot handle tough questions, accept our grief, comfort us in our pain, if he hides in times like these, what good is he?

Psalm 22 reminds us that life can indeed be very harsh. Those who trust in God are not exempt from disease, tragedy, battles and set backs. The Psalmist encourages us, that when life is cruel, God delivers, shines a light into the dark places, journeys with us through the pain. It gives us assurance that in this place, as He has done for others, He will walk with us to the other side from sorrow and lament to a place of hope and praise.

Psalm 22 is a combination of hurting & hoping, a song of lament & a prayer for deliverance.

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For us grandchildren she was known as Grandmother Loging. There are many things I have reflected upon the last few weeks. I remember the first time we went and stayed over at her house, I remember Mildred and Mary, my two grandmothers, or M&M’s as we called them. Grandmother was the original, Nana Brown was the nutty one, at least that’s how I remember it.

My most vivid memory is the family gathering for Christmas eve. Family members stuffed in every corner of the dining room and food stuffed in every family member. It was loud, chaotic and wonderful! The only bad thing about the evening was the waiting. Following dinner the adults would clean up and the kids would wait, and wait, and wait. Less talking more cleaning we would want to scream! The adults thought Christmas eve was about family but the children knew it was about the gifts!

For gathered under an enormous tree were presents. Talk about being stuffed! You couldn’t have found any more room. The presents were spilling out from under the tree and the kids were were spilling into the room waiting, wanting, wondering, what was in the boxes with our names attached?

Between the kids talking excitedly and the adults enjoying each others company it was a wonder you could hear anything…but you could. You see one of Grandmother and Grandfather’s Christmas decorations was a bird, a singing bird. Each year I would forget about the bird until we gathered around the tree waiting to open presents and each year, when it began chirping, I began searching. Whether I was distracted by all the presents or just not tall enough to see it, I never could find that bird. I would push aside branches, peer around ornaments, move lights, brush away tinsel, and to this day am convinced the bird was alive or magical fluttering from one spot to another just to mess with my mind.

I wish I could remember the name of song that bird was chirping but I know the tune was one of celebration in a place of love. I wonder if today amidst the tears and the laughter, the pain and the memories, the loss and the love if a familiar song is being sung again?

Perhaps, just perhaps, in all the noise that funerals bring, the arrangements being made, the family gathering around, questions about suffering and the many voices of loss, sympathy and condolences being expressed, if we were for a moment, to peer through our tears, move away from the busyness of the last few days, brush away the questions that linger and listen…

If were to still ourselves, pause, in the quiet, might we hear something? With all that’s happening we might not be able to see hope from where we are, lay our hands on comfort at this time, but might a tune echo in our hearts? A song we cannot name but carries with it a message of hope, love and celebration.

To those of us who loved and cared for Mildred, Mom, Grandmother Sister, family member and friend, God does not hide from our emotion, questions, confusion, sorrow, hurt and celebration of a life well lived. He is present right now, walking with us, promising presence and comfort, assurances and hope.

The last few verses of Psalm 22 are worth repeating

19 O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! 20 Deliver me…21 Save me…24 For You do not look away from those who are suffering; You will not hide Your presence from me, but hear me when I cry to You. 26 Your love will satisfy me… I will seek You… and discover You are there.

The heavenly Father knows what it’s like to lose one dear to him in a most agonizing way. His assurance is that this is not the end. When Jesus was buried the Father, like the grave, held hurt and hope together. 3 days later there would be only hope. For Jesus’ resurrection would usher in a new reality, where suffering, pain and death are not the end of the journey, just one more step into eternity.

Psalm 22 tells us there is hope this day in the midst of our hurt. There is hope that one day pain will be transformed into praise, there is hope that God is worthy of our trust. There is hope that in the midst of suffering we do not walk alone.

26 God’s love will satisfy…seek Him…and discover He is there.

Prayer of Lament and Trust

Holy God, we come to you with our hurt and our hope. You tell us in Your word to be still and know that You are God. May you enable us to know the peace that only You can bring.

May our grief find grace in Your ears and response. Remind us You know our pain and that You are a generous God. You are not distant but walk along side of us.

Assure us today that You do not change, You are dependable and we are never alone. You are faithful and worthy or our hope.

Amen.

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