16 December 2009

Meditation: "A New Angle on Christmas"

"...he has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty..." (Mary's Magnificat from Luke 2:51-53)

*****

Dear Friends,

The other night, Allison and I spread out on our bed the Christmas gifts we have accumulated for Miriam and Margaret. Last year we thought we were careful to not go overboard with gifts--to keep it simple and understated. Despite our best intentions, last year the pile of gifts under the tree was overwhelming. What we didn't account for were all the gifts sent by aunts and uncles and grandparents. Those in addition to what we had and, well, let's just say by mid-Christmas Day last year Miriam looked like a kid at a pie eating contest that had sucked down one banana cream pie piece too many. Waaay too much "Christmas."

So this year, with renewed dedication, we carefully reviewed the simple, functional gifts we had for the girls--needed clothing, books, craft supplies, and the like--and made a contingency plan in the event that grandparents and other relatives are overly generous. We think we have a handle on it this time around.

But after viewing this video, I can't help but wonder if we're even thinking about it all in the right way. Maybe we're not being radical enough.




Some of you have probably seen this video already and have heard of the "Advent Conspiracy" that comes out of the Imago Dei community in Portland.

What this video challenges me to do is to think about "gifts" at Christmas in a different way. How can my giving and receiving benefit the world--and not just the giver and receiver? What is the deepest meaning of Christmas that Mary sings in her magnificent Magnificat? What do I really want my children to learn and experience about God's desire for our world expressed in the gift of Jesus--who came to love and serve and offer himself for the sake of others?

God sneaks into the world in an infant named Jesus who will grow up and turn upside down everything we think we know. The commemoration of his birth has become so domesticated and commercialized--perhaps it's time, as this video suggests, to radically shake up Christmas gift-giving in a way that is true to what Christians really believe it's all about.

Blessings on you in these waning days of Advent,

Jeremy

27 October 2009

Meditation: "Change"

"Change is inevitable. Growth is optional." (unknown)

"We fear change." (Garth Algar in the comedy "Wayne's World")

"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)
-----------------
Not long ago I was reading back through my journal. I'm not much of one for journaling, so this particular volume covers about a seven or eight year time span. It was absolutely fascinating to read thoughts, reflections, and observations from across close to a decade, three ministry appointments, and two countries.

On the one hand, I was encouraged to see how much I have grown over the years. I've come a long way! I used to be terribly nervous before leading worship and preaching. I still get the jitters, but not nearly as much as recorded in this journal. I used to feel an overwhelming lack of self-confidence at times, but over the years that also has dissipated.

On the other hand, I was discouraged to notice how little I have changed over the years. The same childish frustrations, the same personality quirks, the same habits that don't serve me well--these are consistent over the years. (I would give you examples, but that would be TMI--"Too Much Information!") After seeing the same issues pop up year after year, I wonder--is lasting change possible? That is, are there elements to who we are that can never and will never change? Or is deep transformation of our hearts and lives really possible?

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement in England, would give an unequivocal yes to this question. He believed that as Christians actually live out their faith in practical ways--worshiping, praying, reading scripture, performing acts of compassion--they are shaped and changed more and more into the image of God. Indeed, he believed that it was possible for someone to be "made perfect in love" in this life. (At my ordination I was asked if I was "going on to perfection.") This isn't to be confused with perfectionism, but instead an affirmation that the power of God's grace is always working on us. And as we cooperate with it and open ourselves to it, God's grace will move us on toward being "perfected in love."

As a Christian who believes in the power of God to transform lives, like Wesley I, too, wish to affirm the possibility of deep and lasting change in our lives. But what I'm becoming more and more aware of is that I can't sit back and let God do all the heavy lifting. I have to have the courage to identify those places where God isn't done with me yet, and then faithfully and attentively seek God's help in being molded more and more into the uniquely loving shape that God has in mind for me.

Based on what I was reading in my journal, I've got my work cut out for me! But, as Jesus said, "with God, ALL things are possible."

Blessings,

Jeremy

08 October 2009

Meditation: "A Knot of Love"

"I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit..." (John 15:5)

"God’s heartbeat can be heard in the whole of life and at the heart of our own lives, if we will only listen." (J. Philip Newell)

*****

Dear Friends,

Last May I gave a sermon entitled, "A Knot of Love." On the cover of the order of worship that day was a picture of a Celtic knot. (You can see image samples of Celtic knot work here.) For some reason, this past week I've been thinking back to that sermon and especially to the image of the Celtic knot.

We human beings are pretty good at compartmentalizing our lives. I know I am. "God-time" is Sunday morning or when I am intentionally praying or reading something "spiritual." That is distinct from "family time" or "meal time" or "exercising time"... You get the idea. Sometimes I get discouraged with myself for not carving out more time to cultivate a connection to God. I can fall into that false choice between nurturing my spiritual life or doing "stuff that needs to be done". But what I too often forget is that cultivating a spirit-filled life means practicing the presence of God at the heart of *all* life--no matter what I am doing.

The ancient Celts who were Christian understood that God was not just up in the sky, that "God-time" could not be confined to an hour here or there. They understood that all of creation was shot-through with God-reality, that it is God who pulsates in and through all of the universe. Celtic knot work reflects this essential orientation to life--God and humanity all tangled up together, God and creation all intertwined with one another, inseparable.

I still deeply believe that intentional times of prayer and study, of contemplation and reflection, of worship with other Christians is essential for those who wish to grow more and more into the likeness of God. But, having said that, the image of a Celtic knot reminds me that God will not be confined to those times. The image of a Celtic knot invites me to know that in each and every moment, in each and every breath--and the spaces in between--God IS. Thanks be to God!

Blessings on your week,

Jeremy

Prayer: God, help us listen for your heartbeat deep within our lives, at all times and in all things. Amen.

30 September 2009

Meditation: "Doubt"

Jesus said to him, "...all things can be done for the one who believes." Immediately, the father of the child cried out, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:23-24)

"Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves." --Rainer Maria Rilke

"Indeed God is mysterious...In the end, it is not this mystery that keeps us from God. The mystery is in fact part of what draws us to God." --Gregory S. Clapper

*****

Dear Friends,

For me personally, I've discovered an unexpected downside to Facebook. (For those who don't know, Facebook is an internet social-networking site.) I cannot fault Facebook for this one because, honestly, it's my issue. So here it is--visiting the profile pages of "friends" on Facebook stirs up the latent doubts in my heart about my Christian faith.

Why? Because so few people of my generation have anything to do with religion generally, Christianity in particular, and the church even more specifically. I read the Facebook profiles of people from high school and college and very few, if any, appear to have anything to do with a church much less religion. More than a few express negative or even hostile sentiments about religion. I am often impressed with the amazing things people my age have done and are doing--they are educators, doctors, environmentalists. But there's not much there in the realm of religion. Not to over-generalize from my poking around Facebook (although statistics do bear this out), but by and large people in their 20's and 30's don't have much to do with "organized religion" (which is a weird phrase itself--I've never experienced authentic religious experiences as very "organized").

Of course, my life is immersed in the church. As a pastor, not a day goes by when I am not encountering scripture or thinking about God or striving to practice my Christianity. And so I feel a bit like an odd-ball, out-of-step with my generation, kind of a curiosity. That which is central to my life is peripheral, at best, to so many others my age.

And so my latent doubt is stirred up and I wonder: "Am I fooling myself?"

But here's the deal: I just can't let go of this God thing. On a level that my rational brain cannot fully process, I feel in my guts that God is real and that--for me--Jesus Christ is the Way to connect with that God-reality. Yes, I have doubts and questions--more than I care to own up to. Yes, there is unbelief in my believer's heart. There are days when I imagine what it would be like to not go to church, to make decisions in life apart from my Christianity--and it feels exceedingly strange. The sense I have is that my life would be impoverished, less meaningful. And even trying to imagine this is, for me, ultimately a futile exercise. My own being is so inextricably linked with the faith of Jesus Christ that trying to separate them would be like trying to take the red out of red. It wouldn't be red anymore.

The quote above resonates so much for me--the mystery of God, rather than being a barrier, is what draws me to God. In that mystery there is space--for belief and unbelief alike--space for questions and doubt and awe and wonder and passion and fervent prayer. That's a space I can inhabit, where I can make a home. A place where I can be still and know...that God is.

Blessings on you,

Jeremy

Prayer: God of Mystery, when doubt is stirred in my heart, grant me patience and peace. By your Spirit, lead me "out of the question, and into the mystery."*


* A lyric from David Wilcox's song "Into the Mystery"

24 September 2009

Meditation: "New Every Morning"

"What once was hurt / What once was friction / What left a mark / No longer stings... Because Grace makes beauty / Out of ugly things / Grace finds beauty in everything" --closing lyrics of the song "Grace" by U2

"Morning by morning new mercies I see..." --the old hymn "Great is Thy Faithfulness" by Thomas Chisholm

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them...and said, "Why do you look for the living among the dead?" --Luke 24:2-4, 5b

***

Dear Friends,

Do you ever have a day when you just feel ugly? And I don't mean physically ugly. I mean ugly inside--grumpy, frustrated, angry, impatient--a "slam-the-door and holler" kind of day?

I've had a few of those of late. Not everyone has them, I suspect, but plenty do. For me, when I get to the end of the day that's been lousy, when I've felt irritable and angry and impatient, the temptation is to look back on the day and say, "What a waste of a day," and then feel even *more* ugly inside. Not often enough do I have the spiritual fortitude to look back on it all and take a deep breath and let it all go. Not often enough do I remind myself that God's grace is always moving in and around me, seeking to draw out the beauty and transform the ugly. Not often enough do I remind myself that the next morning, by the grace of God, I'll encounter new mercies, fresh glimpses of God's goodness.

How's this for an affirmation of faith: There is no "ugliness" that, ultimately, will not be transformed by the overwhelming grace of God.

Blessings on you,

Jeremy

Prayer: God of daily mercy, when shadows fall over me and I feel "ugly", may your renewing grace seep into my soul and reveal the goodness underneath. Amen.

10 September 2009

Meditation: "Indestructible"

"People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, 'Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.'" (Mark 10:13-14)

****

Dear Friends,

I am regularly struck by the vulnerability of my fifteen month old daughter. "Well, duh, Jeremy!" you may be thinking. But there are times--when I am changing her or bathing her or even just carrying her down the street--that I am particularly aware of how vulnerable she is. She is so helpless. Without a protective, caring person in her life all manner of terrible things could happen to her.

In my own mind, I tend to distinguish myself from her. She is a baby and vulnerable. I, however, am a grown-up and strong--I can look after myself! (Again, "Well, duh, Jeremy!"). But what I think I fail to appreciate is just how vulnerable I am, too--in different ways than a baby, but vulnerable nonetheless. I may not be in my 20's any longer and so have shed my youthful notions of being "indestructible," and yet sometimes I still have this sense that bad stuff won't happen to me.

But heart wrenching things happen to people of all ages every day. No matter what illusions we have, the truth is that we are all vulnerable and none of us is indestructible.

When Jesus gathers children around himself and tells us that the kingdom of God belongs to them, what I think he is reminding us is that it is in our vulnerability that we can fully appreciate and grasp the nature of God's love for us. It is not through our illusions of strength or power, but in our vulnerability that God is revealed. And so if we wish to have a deeper, fuller experience of God, then at some point we must be willing to acknowledge that we are indeed vulnerable and that it is only by the grace of God that we rise to each new day.

So when I become aware of my daughter's vulnerability as I care for her, it is for me a little glimpse of God, a small reminder that it's OK for me to be a vulnerable, fragile human being--because that is how God created us and where God meets us.

Prayer: God, welcome me, a fragile human being, into your presence just as Jesus welcomed children into his embrace. Amen.

Blessings, Jeremy

02 September 2009

Meditation: "Living with Incompleteness"

"For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

"Hope is willing to leave unanswered questions unanswered and unknown futures unknown. Hope makes you see God's guiding hand not only in the gentle and pleasant moments but also in the shadows of disappointment and darkness (Henri J.M. Nouwen)

***

Dear Friends,

There are many aspects of serving as the pastor of a church that I appreciate very, very much -- the privilege of being invited into people's lives at moments of vulnerability, the blessings of being in community with other people seeking to love and serve Jesus, the awesome desserts at church potlucks -- to name a few. But there is one aspect of serving as a pastor that does not match my personality well at all. The job is never, ever finished.

You see, I am a linear-thinking, list-making, "concrete" kind of a guy. I like closure. Nothing gives me more pleasure than having a task before me, tackling it, finishing it, and then stepping back and looking at what I have accomplished and saying to myself, "Nice job! Check it off the list. What's next?" This summer I built a retaining wall behind my house. It was a huge job, but I felt an equally huge amount of satisfaction when it was finally done.

As a pastor, there is always more to do. The "job" is never done. There is always another sermon to write, another class to prepare to teach, another step to take when pursuing the mission of the church. Sometimes it feels like I'm always "on the way" and never "there." Come to think of it, this is how I feel about parenting as well. As my children grow and develop and move through their unique stages of development, we never arrive at some final destination. We're always on the move towards the next stage and it will be a long time (if such a moment ever comes) before I can step back, look at my children, and say, "Raise well-adjusted children? Check! What's next?"

Spiritually this is an important thing for me to know about myself. Because if I want to "arrive" at a destination -- spiritual maturity, deep wisdom, "perfection" (in the words of John Wesley), whatever -- and I never do, then frustration isn't far behind. And frustration leads to either anger or apathy--both of which lead to a kind of hopelessness and are destructive in their own way.

The invitation to me is to grow in my capacity to be comfortable with "incompleteness," to understand that the process of "becoming" the human being God calls me to be is never over. And so I pray that God will grant me the patience--for patience is what I need--to let all things unfold in their own time, in their own way. To be right where I am instead of always restlessly wanting to move on to some imagined "destination". To be patient with others in their incompleteness, too, so that they are free "to become" and my love will be unconditional. To trust that all the incompleteness in my life and this world will be, one day, fulfilled and brought to glorious completion by God.

Blessings on your week,

Jeremy

Prayer: Ever creating God, please give me patience with all that feels "unfinished" in my life so that I may experience wonder and joy at what you are doing, right here, right now. Amen.

28 August 2009

Follow-Up on "Fear Not" Meditation

Dear Friends,

Yesterday I sent my weekly meditation called "Fear Not". I talked about how fear sometimes functions in our spiritual lives. Turns out there is some biology that is a part of the dynamic, too. I heard a story on the radio this morning on the way fear is being used as a strategy in the health care reform debate. You can listen to the whole story by following this link: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112315433. But below is a short excerpt about the "Science of Fear". From a theological perspective, this reminds me that--given the primitive biological roots of fear--it is by the grace of God and the transformative power of love that fear can function in ways that are helpful to us--and not destructive. And given that fear is such an ingrained, primitive response, it lends that much more power and weight to the many times Scripture reminds us: "Do not be afraid." May it be so!

Blessings, Jeremy

The Science Of Fear

But exactly why is fear such an effective tactic? Simple biology, says Joseph LeDoux, a professor of neuroscience at New York University.

It turns out that fear is a very primitive response, and "once fear is aroused in your brain, it tends to take over and dominate," LeDoux says. A brain paralyzed by fear is unable to think other things through.

It actually makes sense on a survival level, he says. "If there's a chance that you'll be harmed, then you better attend to it. In other words, you better be afraid of it and be careful about what's going on."

There's another thing that makes fear effective in political debates — it's contagious.

"Rats have ways of sending out ultrasonic calls to other rats to warn them that, say, a cat is nearby," LeDoux says. "And these sounds are a secret code, because they're outside the cat's hearing ability. So it's pretty primitive in nature that we have these kinds of mechanisms for detecting danger, for experiencing danger within the individual, and for sharing that information across individuals."
(Morning Edition, National Public Radio, Friday, August 28, 2009)

27 August 2009

Meditation: "Fear Not"

"They took Jesus with them in the boat...A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?' He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, 'Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?'" --Mark 4:36-41

"The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is fear." --Henri Nouwen

***

Dear Friends,

When it happens to me, it's usually late in the evening. That's when I am most vulnerable because that's when I am most weary. Fear will creep into my consciousness. I'll quietly go into my daughter's room to give her a kiss before I go to bed, and as I look at her I'll feel the weight of my responsibility to her--to keep her safe, fed, clothed, cared for. And then the "what ifs" will hit. "What if something happens to me? What if something happens to her? What if there isn't enough? What if.. What if... What if..." And the cold fingers of fear will tighten around my heart. (OK, please know that just as often I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the gift she is!) Other times I'll lie in bed, staring into the darkness, and worry about the future or finances or any other number of things. And again, fear creeps into my heart.

I imagine a psychotherapist would have a field day with what I've just written, but I've been thinking about the times I feel afraid and what happens to me when I do. Suddenly, everything becomes about me. Fear is an important defense mechanism, but there are times when it crosses a line into a kind of ego-centrism. My fear can blind me to the needs of others because I'm too preoccupied with my own worries. When fear dominates my heart, I may not realize that Jesus is right there by my side, in the boat with me, in the middle of the storm--whether it is real or imagined. Fear is like a clenched fist that is not open to others.

I've been thinking about fear lately--and reflecting on my own experience of it--because there has been a spike in fear mongering in our country lately. All of the shouting about proposals to reform health care in our country have given rise to rhetoric meant to elicit fear: "The government wants to kill grandma!" or "You'll have to wait in line for years to see the doctor!" among others. When fear is running high, it's nearly impossible to pry our eyes away from ourselves to see the big picture, to see the need around us, to open our hands to share with others.

Jesus asks, "Why are you afraid?" That's a question worth deeply pondering. Because becoming aware of our fear is the first step in overcoming our fear. And overcoming our fear does not mean getting rid of it, but trusting that no matter what happens, our lives unfold within the love and grace of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Caring God, when I feel afraid, help me to place it in your hands trusting in your goodness and your mercy. Amen.

20 August 2009

Meditation: "Hidden Life"

"Jesus told them another parable: 'The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened." Matthew 13:33

"There's a song in every silence, seeking word and melody; there's a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me. From the past will come the future; what it holds a mystery, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see." --Natalie Sleeth

***

Dear Friends,

On a hike in the north Georgia mountains several years ago, I have a distinct memory of stopping by a small creek. I walked about 20 or so feet from the trail to crouch at the side of this burbling, bubbling stream of water as it flowed down from the mountain above. I was alone. There was no other person anywhere near. As I knelt, smelling the damp, cool air stirred by the flow of water, I stared at the swirling water and realized that it was full of hidden life. What I mean is that, in that stream there was indeed life--plants, fish, microscopic organisms--but life that was not immediately visible to me, if at all. Had I not paused by that stream, had I blithely sauntered past on my way up to the mountain top, that life would have gone on unconcerned if I had stopped or not. But I would have missed realizing something important--that there is hidden life all around me if I would but pause and take notice and appreciate it.

I share this because I think too often I overlook the places where there is indeed life hidden around me, sometimes in unlikely places. So consumed by my "to-do" list or staying on the path I think I should be walking, I may miss an opportunity to discover life in an unexpected detour or an annoying distraction. But hidden in the detour or distraction there just may be life--and by that I mean an experience of feeling fully alive by and through the power of God. Paradoxically, even in a place marked by death there can be hidden life--hope for a better future, the sense of Divine presence stirring among the tears, broken relationships mended.

I know this is an esoteric kind of meditation this week--just happens to be my mindset at the moment. But I hope and pray that as you move through the coming days, you will find ways to be attentive to the life hidden within and around your own life. In those places, may you encounter God--the source of all life.

Blessings on you,

Jeremy

Prayer: O God, sometimes your life stirs in the quiet, hidden places of the universe. Heighten our senses so that we may see and hear and perceive the stirring of your life in and around us. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

12 August 2009

Meditation: "Being You"

"For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth."
Psalm 139:13-15

Dear Friends,

Have you ever had the experience of being "pigeonholed"? You know what I mean, right?--when someone who has just met you or barely knows you makes assumptions about you--what you are like, what you think and believe, who you are. This happens to me most often because I am the pastor of a church. On more than one occasion, upon meeting someone for the first time socially--when they discover that I am the pastor of a church--very often one of two things happen. If they are a church-going Christian, they often assume that I must share their theological and political beliefs--because there is just one "Christian" way of looking at issues, right? If they are not into "organized religion," then often a look of consternation crosses their face and other assumptions are made about me--that I must be intolerant or a hypocrite or stupid or, at the least, about to proselytize them.

I'm overstating it, perhaps. And this doesn't happen all of the time, but often enough that I notice it. Though I have gotten used to it, I find it discouraging and confining. Because the truth of who I am has nothing to do with what my vocation is, where I live, how much money I make, the color of my skin, my political opinions or theological outlook, or any other extraneous detail about my existence.

What matters is my humanity. What matters is your humanity. What matters is that, like all human beings, our existence flows from the creative impulse of God who "knits us together in our mothers' wombs"--to paraphrase Psalm 139.

I pray that when you find that you have been placed in a box--because of your age or sex or race or religion or any other extraneous detail about you--God will give you the grace to remember who you are and whose you are.

Beloved child of God.

And may being so reminded empower you to break out of the box to simply live as YOU.

Blessings, Jeremy

04 August 2009

Meditation: "Power of Love"

Dear Friends,

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." John 15:12

"Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that... And so I say to you I have decided to stick to love.” --The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
----------------

Last Sunday, while in Chicago at a continuing education event, I worshiped at Holy Covenant United Methodist Church (www.holycovenantumc.org). I expected that I would sense the stirring of God's Spirit as I worshiped at this church--it is known to be a vibrant community of faith. But the opening song blew me away, and I have had its lyrics circling round my head and heart since Sunday morning. It is a song by Aaron Niequist who until 2007 was a worship leader at Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, MI.

Love Can Change the World (by Aaron Niequist)

bridges are more beautiful than bombs are
bridges are more beautiful than bombs
listening is louder than a lecture
listening is louder than a shout

an open hand is stronger than a fist is
an open hand is stronger than a fist
wonder is more valuable than Wall Street
wonder is more valuable than gold

but Love
Love can change the world
oh do we still believe that
Love
Love can change the world
oh do we still believe in
Love? Love?
God is Love,
our God is Love and
Love can change the world

may we never stop this dreaming
of a better world
may we never stop believing
in the impossible

God is love

As my voice joined others as we sang, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. This song was giving voice to something that I deeply sense to be profoundly true. It is, for me, the core message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At the risk of oversimplifying, here it is in a word: LOVE. I'm enough of a pessimist to see all the ways love is massacred in our world--and enough of an optimist to really, truly believe as the Bible and this song say, "God is love and love can change the world."

This is all well and good, maybe even inspiring, but putting it into practice is--as the cliche goes--where the "devil" is in the details. Aaron Niequist, in the commentary on his song, addresses this when he says, "[This love] needs to begin with how I treat the server at Chili's, the family member who bugs me, and the person who broke my heart."

And so for me, and perhaps for you, the task is this--to put my heart where my mouth is. If I really believe that God is love, that Christians are called to love God and neighbor with their whole selves, then I need to find a way to do that--each and every day. And I really do believe that the power of this love which, at its core is a gift of God's grace, can change the world.

Blessings on you this day,

Jeremy

P.S. You can listen to this song--and I highly recommend it--at Aaron Niequist's website: http://aaronniequist.com/. It's on his latest album, "with broken fists".

Meditation: "Abundant Living"

Dear Friends,

"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10b

"If we only have so many days on earth, then we should, like the inmates in the movie 'The Shawshank Redemption', see that this leaves us only two options: Get busy living or get busy dying." --Gregory S. Clapper

***

Do you ever have those days when it feels like all you ever do is respond to other people's needs? (As the parent of small children, I feel like this more than I care to admit!) Or a day when you are in the middle of an activity or job and you think to yourself, "Why am I doing this? I don't even like doing this!" Or perhaps you agree to head up a committee or join a group or do something that you really don't want to do, but you do anyway out of obligation or guilt or some misguided sense of responsibility?

We don't always have the freedom to stop doing things we don't enjoy or that do not "give us life." But sometimes we do. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn.

Jesus reminds us that our lives are meant to be ALIVE--that his life is about helping us to discover our own true, abundant life. We can drag through each day with a sense of obligation, resenting the commitments in which we are involved. OR we can cut loose those activities we've taken on that truly are optional and do nothing but drag us down--so that we can then pursue those activities and relationships that truly DO give us life, and life abundant. And in so doing, we are than able to face those responsibilities in life that are non-negotiable with a whole new sense of freedom (and even joy!), because we have made space in our lives for the same revitalizing Spirit of God that pulsated deep within Jesus' life.

I hope and pray that you will find some small way to "get busy living" this week and in the days to come.

Prayer of the Day: "God of abundant life, help us not to be burdened by our responsibilities, but to embrace the abundant life you created us for, in Jesus name. Amen."

03 August 2009

Meditation: "Soul Food"

Dear Friends,

"Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'"

The other day I was reading a news story on the web about a hot political topic. Below the story was a listing of the comments that various people had made on the story. I found myself reading one after another of angry, sarcastic, aggressive, snide, and just plain mean comments that people had posted. They came from all sides of the debate. These posts created no meaningful dialogue.

At one point, something made me stop reading (the grace of God, perhaps?). And I had a small epiphany. "Why am I consuming this negativity?!" It was doing nothing to nourish my soul, but plenty to stir despair and uneasiness within my heart. I consume so many things every single day--food and drink, of course, but also media--newspapers, internet, TV, the radio, to name just a few. I'm not always as careful as I would like to be about what I "eat," so to speak. There are times when it takes a great deal of intentionality on my part to consciously stop consuming something that does little to nourish my heart and my soul.

Jesus reminds us that he is the "food and drink" that really sates our hungry and thirsty souls. So, in some small way, each day, I try to "take in" a bit of Jesus--a few verses of scripture here, a moment of silence there, a prayer lifted before a meal or bed time--something that nourishes me in a way that only God in Jesus Christ can.

Prayer: God, help me to take a few moments each day to nourish my soul with your love by taking a moment of quiet, reading scripture, saying a prayer, or simply paying attention to you as I move through my day. Amen.