Saturday, January 18, 2020

Talk to the Mirror

When I was a young man I developed a habit of talking to myself in the mirror.  It was a ‘thing’ for a while, lots of self-help books and shows.  The trend became a running joke on a popular television show when a character played by Al Franken looked in the mirror and said, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”  Like most good satire, it makes us laugh (or cringe) at ourselves.  But what makes satire good is that there is an underlying truth which is taken to an extreme.

I really do believe that it is important to start out the day reminding the person in the mirror that ‘you can do this’, whatever the ‘this’ is that the day holds. For a child of God, the beginning of a successful day happens in self-talk which reminds the person in the mirror that you are capable of being loved and that you are capable of showing love.  

A ‘successful’ day for a child of God is one in which we know and show God’s love. Start each day reminding the person in the mirror that this much you can do.

On those days when you are feeling unworthy, guilty, shamed, inadequate, lonely; on those days when you are feeling in control, happy, self-assured, worthy, together; look into that mirror and tell that person God’s daily reminder:  “You are the beloved.” Say it out loud: ‘You. Are. The. Belove-ed.’ Three times. Now, brush your teeth.

““You are the Beloved,” and I hope that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold… Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper.”
Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, by Henri Nouwen (source: inward/ 13, 2020)

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Stay in Bed

In that first moment after I am persuaded that I am not going back to sleep I remind myself to stay in bed anyway.  My habit is to not put a foot on the floor with the intent of going to make the morning coffee until I first listen for God and remind God and myself of what really matters today.

I have a prayer list. My family of course, including our grand dogs.  The people of my church and, by name, those for whom I have promised to pray about a specific need, both parishioners and friends and people I encountered during the week.  I pray for the work I must do, the play I want to do, that God is glorified in both. My Tuesday ‘bed prayer’ is a hymn I sing (in my mind), a lesson learned from my friend Peggy. I have a Saturday prayer in respect of my Jewish cousins in the faith, one word with arms raised: ‘Shalom’, asking God for complete peace of mind, body and soul.

I pray throughout the day, often just little ‘arrow prayers’, shot in God’s direction as I drive or walk or am about to pick up the phone.  But, the most important prayer time is that moment before I will be distracted by spilled coffee grounds, full garbage bags, distressing news, urgent emails and my yogurt. I have learned to ‘force myself’ to pray, because it is so easy to ‘forget’ once the day begins.

Then, at night, in bed, before I will turn to my side to let the melatonin take full effect, I review the day with God.  It might be as simple as, “It was a good day, God. Thank you.” Then I listen and wait for the blessing of sleep knowing that in the morning we will talk again, my friend and my God.
“A bed… is where you face your nearness to or farness from God. Whether you are in pain or not, whether you are an anxious person or not—even, I think, whether you are a religious person or not—a bed is where you come face-to-face with what really matters because it is too dark for most of your usual, shallowing distractions to work.”

–Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark, p. 76

Source: inward/ January 7, 2020

Saturday, December 14, 2019

"...and the life everlasting. Amen."

Can you believe it?

Everlasting life’ is the answer to the question, ‘Christianity, why bother?’  There are countless other benefits to believing in some religion, even Christianity.  Love. Sacrifice. Equality. Justice. Mercy. Grace. Welcome.  Hospitality. Resurrection. I preach all of that. But, in the final analysis, Christianity fills the vacuum in my mind and heart which wants to know ‘what then?’  The corpse, the ashes, after they rise, what then? Die again, like Lazarus? Sit on a log and endlessly stare at bullfrogs? Float in some ether-like cloud of reality?

What ultimately and finally makes sense of Christianity for me is that all who die in Christ receive new bodies which actively reside, work, play, embrace, laugh,  praise God on a New Earth amidst New Heavens in an endless morning and evening, what is commonly referred to as ‘Heaven’.  I don’t know that it is a ‘place’ like we think of places. I don’t know that it is ‘next’ in the way we think of time because ‘time’, as we think of it, is no more for the saints in glory. It is an experience in which we know no anxiety, no shame, no guilt, no separation, no groans, no pain. No tears.

Our Resurrected Bodies will experience  what ‘no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no human heart has ever imagined…’ (I Corinthians 2:9)  No one can describe that experience for you. But, try this: imagine your most beautiful time on this earth. Where are you? Who is with you? What are you doing?  How are you feeling? Now, imagine that scene as a gazillion times more beautiful, everything about it just thrills every fiber of your being. And the feeling never stops.  “Heaven” is still better than that, because you cannot imagine it.

When we recite with believers the Creed’s final words, claiming our confidence in ‘the life everlasting’, we are ‘groaning with all creation’, the rocks, rivers, plants and parakeets, that all of it and us will be ‘liberated from its bondage and decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.’ (Romans 8:21)

We were created to dwell with God. God is from everlasting to everlasting. (Revelation 21:3) Forever. Dwelling. With. You. “Amen”: meaning, “this shall truly and surely be”. Believe it.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

"...the resurrection of the body..."

When you are standing at the bedside of a young man, Kevin, who is in hospice care. Standing next to Kevin’s bed, holding his hand which clings to your own…for life.

When your presence there is meant to bring comfort to Kevin’s wife and children, grandpa and grandma, sisters.

When your words are, perhaps, among the final words Kevin’s mind will cling to for hope in his last breath.

At such a time, what can you say? What dare you say?

“I believe in…the resurrection of the body.”  It takes faith to offer such hope to Kevin, and even greater faith for believers, like Kevin and those surrounding him, to accept those ancient words of hope as ‘gospel’, as good news.  If there ever is a time to pray that the souls speaking the Creed with you understand it, accept it, believe it, it is when you are holding the hand of a dying man.

Christian hope is not just a pious bromide of optimistic blather.  Christian hope is accepting by faith that because God has done something in the past he is certain to do it again in the future. Our Future Hope is in a future event guaranteed by God, the belief in which moves the Creed’s faithful reciters from faith to hope to knowledge to sight to celebration.

So it is that believers confess, first, “On the third day he rose again.” And then, since we know by faith that Jesus arose and lives, we can say by faith that Kevin arises and lives, body and soul.

That, in his flesh, with real eyes, arms, legs, Kevin will see his wife, hold his children, run with the wind; that his new body possesses a promised place in the New Heavens and New Earth.  With you.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Praying For a Win

Duke University is a juggernaut in the world of men’s college basketball. They get the best players, have arguably the best coach and get the best media coverage. Which might explain why there are so many ‘ABD-ers’, as in ‘Anybody But Duke’ fans. So, on a Tuesday night in November, in a game which #1 Duke was favored with the most lopsided odds of the season, the boys of Stephen F. Austin (I don’t know; look it up) took on Duke.  A couple of hours later Duke was undefeated no more. In a last second play, SFA’s Nathan Bain made the shot heard round the basketball universe.

That’s interesting to basketball fans, but here is why everyone else should care, and why maybe God did too.

Nathan Bain is from the Bahamas. Hurricane Dorian decimated his family’s home, community and his father’s church and school.  A Go Fund Me page was set up to help. Before the upset of Duke the website had collected $2,000.00.  On the day after the UPSET OF THE YEAR (so far), the Bain fund had collected over $62,000.00. Now the church and school will be rebuilt, along with the community around it, and God will be worshipped and children will be educated.  SFA’s Bain says it best himself in an interview quoted by
"That's really our main focus, to make sure everyone has a place to worship and to make sure the school is taken care of so these kids can get a proper education."

I don’t know if God cares whether SFA beat Duke, but I am guessing that God answered a lot of prayers that night in a way that very few expected.  And in the end, of course, God won.

The takedown of Duke by Stephen F. Austin will likely be lost in the hype of March Madness as Coach K leads his young team toward an NCAA Championship.  It will be remembered in the Bahamas for a long, long time.  And that, as they say, is why they play the game and why maybe, just maybe, God does care who wins.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

"...the forgiveness of sins..."

Which is a harder concept for you to believe: (a) that God in Christ Jesus chooses to forgive sins and remember them no more;  (b) that your sins are forgiven; or, (c) that God forgives the sins of others?

You probably know the story of Jesus forgiving the convicted criminal.  The crook was being tortured to death on a cross next to the one on which Jesus was dying too. (Luke 23:33-43) The crook confessed his sins and his faith in the saving power of Christ. A death-bed conversion, we might suppose.  Could Jesus really forgive him? Would Jesus really forgive him?  If ‘yes’ and ‘yes’ are your answers, when you think about your life, are you able to really confess your sins; are you able to really believe that Jesus, on his Cross forgave your sins too? If ‘yes and ‘yes’, believe that there is a place in Paradise for you too. Really. Truly. “There is therefore no room to doubt that he is prepared to admit into his Kingdom all, without exception, who shall apply to him.” (John Calvin, Commentaries)

Your sins are never a burden too many or too big for God to forgive. Your sins are never a burden too few or too small to make the confession of them unnecessary.  It is never too soon to truly profess your belief in the forgiveness of sins. It is never too late to receive that forgiveness of sins. It is never too soon nor too late for your to extend the same forgiveness to someone else.

“A poet wrote of a man killed as he is thrown from his horse: ‘Betwixt the stirrup and the ground, Mercy I asked, mercy I found.’” (William Barclay, Commentaries)

The next time you recite the Apostle’s Creed, professing your faith in the forgiveness of sins, know that before the words slipped from your lips it happened.   

Go and do likewise.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

"...the communion of saints..."

Standing shoulder to shoulder with people we may or may not know, the leader invites us to stand and to recite the words of our ancient faith.  Nearing the end of the Apostles’ Creed we declare our belief in the universal Church and then we glide through these words: ‘the communion of saints’.   There is never, in my experience anyway, a chance to stop and think about what we just proclaimed. If I was making a new custom for the church liturgy it would be this one:

“I believe in…the communion of the saints [SILENCE]

In our hurriedness to get to the next item in the worship service, or because we have said it together so many times, we are at risk of failing to appreciate the glorious thought we proclaim. Because of our true faith, because we belong to this universal gathering of believers we know as the Church, we are bold to declare our ability to commune, communicate, experience community with all of the others whom God has ‘gathered, protected and preserved’ from the beginning of time until its end.

To say these words is to enter into a holy reunion with someone you love, to enter into what Samuel J. Stone calls ‘mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.’  And as we call to mind the shapes of their faces, the sounds of their laughter, the smells of their favorite scents, the quirks of their unique spirits, we become one again with them in Spirit.

“Oh happy ones and holy!
Lord give us grace that we,
Like them the meek and lowly,
Oh high may dwell with Thee.” (Stone, The Church’s One Foundation)