Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-dog days & psalter prayers

I took this photo last night (2.5.18) while I was walking my dogs.
Below was a journal entry I wrote after our time outside.
I share it with you below.


Letting Go

Pause.
Breathe.
Let go of the day.
Let go of the expectations.
Offer up your prayers as an evening sacrifice, or a morning prayer.
Relinquish your hold on the hour and your worries.
 Sit.
Be still.
Rest in God’s presence.

Now, read Psalm 102.

Reflect on the closing verses:
25  Long ago you laid the foundation of the earth,
          and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26  They will perish, but you endure;
          they will all wear out like a garment.
     You change them like clothing, and they pass away;
27       but you are the same, and your years have no end…

silence

What can you let go of to embrace God’s outstretched hand that brings healing?

Naming God’s Presence

I love this weather. I really do. I remember sitting outside in August when the humidity and heat weren’t the only things weighing heavy on my spirit and thinking, “Every chance I get this winter to walk in the snow, I must.” It’s cold. It’s sleeting more than snowing. The streets are slick beneath the mixture of precipitation. The cars traverse down them as gently as an autumn leaf falling to the ground. The world is muted. No air conditioners disrupting the night with their incessant roaring. There are no cicadas humming. There is only silence. This silence is what I miss during the dog days of summer. So we walked, the dogs and I, our breath rising as prayers and our steps gentle as the glow of a lightning bug. There’s solitude in the silence that only winter can provide. Yes, I’ve complained about how winter is taking full advantage of its limited time. And yes, I’ve asked him to hurry along so I can get back to doing the things I love:  gardening, playing catch with my brothers & friends, and smoking a pipe while the sky goes indigo around 8:00 pm. I miss seeing the dogs drink from the hose and writing beneath my “Nashville lights.” But, I love this weather. I love seeing Silas prance with white flakes on his gold coat. I get much pleasure out of seeing Chloe make snow angels in the yard. Above all, I welcome how the bitter cold makes my hands hurt, and my cheeks turn red, a feeling that takes me back to when I was a little boy. I celebrate and embrace how winter reminds me of my humanity and how there’s a season for everything. It’s up to us to decide how we will spend our days and what we will do “with this one wild and precious life.” Seasons are gifts that help us become what we hope to be...

Where have you encountered the Divine this winter?

Taking Hold

Psalm 102 is a prayer for restoration. The psalmist walks us through the destruction of Jerusalem with bird similes and describes his troubles as a sickness. The end of the psalm speaks of God’s permanence. Everything we create, as beautiful as they may be, will one day no longer be. But the love of God remains forever.

So, how will you live in this permanent, never-ending love of God?
How will you with your one wild and precious life offer hope to those in your life?
How will you help restore the reign of God on earth, as it is in heaven?


May you enjoy the new day with the assurance of know God hears your cries for help. May you receive the chill of winter’s wind with confidence trust Christ to lead you back toward the warm light of love. May you join the Spirit in her work of restoring God’s earth and your beautiful life!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Faux News, Good News

Jesus.

I love Jesus.

More importantly, Jesus loves me. For the Bible tells me so.

And…

Jesus loves you.

Not for anything you’ve done or haven’t done but because Jesus loves you.

That is the thesis of the Gospel. When Jesus commissioned the disciples to go and proclaim good news, this is what he meant. They were to go into the entire world proclaiming the good news that God did not come to condemn the world (which is a good thing since, well, God created it…) but to save the world—to rescue the world from itself.

            To
                        rescue
                                    us
                                                from
                                                            ourselves.

Friends, we are created in the image and likeness of God, who is Love flowing between Three—the Trinity. We read this truth in the very beginning of Genesis in poetry from chapter one. It reads, “God said, ‘Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness’” (Genesis 1:26).

Okay. That’s heavy. So heavy it might cause you… because it has me… to have an existential brain freeze.

If God is who we say God is, then we must be who God says we are—beloved—because God would not lie, has not lied, nor shall ever lie or forsake us, right?

Confused?

Good. We are getting somewhere.

God is love (1 John 4.16). God created us in the image and likeness of God, Love. For God so loved the world (John 3.16), God entered the world physically in Christ not to punish us or remove us from what S/He created, but to save it. With God’s help, we can rescue the world from itself. Richard Rohr said it more eloquently, “We were created by a loving God to be love in the world. Our core is original blessing, not original sin. Our starting point is ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31) and surely not ‘total depravity’ or ‘sinners in the hands of an angry god’” (We Were Made to Love by Love).

Know what I love most about Jesus?

Jesus met people where they were in life.

For instance, check out Mark 1.23-26.
23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

Notice that Jesus didn’t ask if this person knew the five points of “Calvinism.” Nor did Jesus walk down some Roman road before healing him. And Jesus certainly didn’t ask the man to join his ministry before or after the incident. Instead, Jesus offered peace, life, and love without any condition. Let me repeat it: Jesus [simply] offered peace, life, and love (and here’s the kicker) without any condition.

It’s that without any condition that makes it unconditional love, right?

Did a real exorcism take place? The scripture says so. In fact, it was at this confrontation in the early part of Christ’s ministry where we see his authority in both his teaching and healing. Jesus has authority because God authorizes it. Jesus, who is the face and heart of God, came to liberate God’s people from the demons of oppression by stepping into the realm of opposing authorities, facing the world of other spirits, and opposing the potent power of possession and to say, “God is here.” Christ’s authority broke through the barrier that kept the unclean at bay, defeated the evil of the universe, brought light to the places and spaces where it seemed God could never be and destroyed the very presence of opposition to God.

Perhaps that’s where the good news lies for us, some 2000 years later. In a time like ours, when we are quick to make judgements and assume the worst about others, maybe we need a reminder about who we are as image bearers of God—being as little Christs. We need to return to what we are called to do, which is to resist and restore the faux news of how bad things are with the good news of God’s presence, God’s reign, and God’s kin-dom… not by our silly, human-made doctrines but with our loving, divine-led acts of mercy and kindness, compassion, and grace.

Instead of beginning with how messed up the world is or rather than listing all that’s “wrong” with those with whom we disagree and refraining from regurgitating the prejudices, racist, ageist, classist, and sexist commentary often heard behind pulpits and podiums, we shall choose to begin with the good news:
                        you are,
                                    I am,
                                                the world is,
                                                                         created in the image and likeness of God.

So friend, read these words; listen to these words; memorize these words; speak these words:

You are loved. You are cherished. You are enough.

God is here with you in your addiction. God is here with you in your pain. God is here with you in your depression. God is here with you in your illness. God is here with you in your joy.

And that my friends, is the best news I’ve heard in the last 24 hours!



Friday, December 29, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Serious Silent Snow

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’”
~Luke 2.10-14

What a day, right? 

What a season Christmas has been!

What an ending to 2017. 

Isn’t it hard to believe we had 60-degree weather in the first part of December? And now, I hear reports of 8 inches of snow AND Sunday night the wind-chill will get down to minus 15!

Are. You. Serious. Right. Now?!

Isn’t it beautiful though? All the snow? All the change? All the ways the world still does her thing amidst the lives we live? Isn’t it incredible how God creates mighty mountains and light, fluffy, snowflakes and cares for us? 

Indeed, on this the fifth day of Christmas, we see how much God loves us. 

Yup, this is the fifth day of Christmas. We continue traveling with the wise men to the manger. We hear reports of how there was a birth, a star appearing bright in the night sky, and a baby has the folks in the executive office shaking in their snow boots. The holiday music has stopped, and the Christmas trees are on the curbs, but the Christmas season is unfolding before us. 

The reason for this season is the incarnation. 

The birth of Christ is the revelation of God’s heart. 

And at the heart of God is celebration.

God celebrates you. God loves you. God delights in you. 

Think about that, please. The God who created the heavens and the earth, who separated light from darkness, and brought forth creation, not only loves you but created you in Her image and likeness. If that wasn’t enough, God came to us in the Christ child. The Messiah, who is the Savior, our Redeemer, was born for all people. Now, like then, amid all that frightens us, all that we are anxious about, the impact of the past and concerns about the future, God is here, and light triumphs. 

That, my friends, is such good news! 

As the world quiets beneath the white blanket of snow, silencing the sirens and the incessant barking of your neighbor's dog, ponder what it means for God to choose us, all of us, when God’s incarnate Son, was born, bringing peace, joy, and love into the world!

I imagine, as you do, you too will proclaim, 

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!'

What a day!

What a season Christmas is!

What a way to begin!

            Indeed, God is good! 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Meditation-Glory

“When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory…” ~Matthew 25.31, KJV



Glory.

What a word.

Glory—a word that comes with so much theological baggage.

In a season where we have pastors eisegeting scripture rather than exegeting them, doing their best to usher in “God's glory,” I discover the glory of God in the ordinariness of a messy desk. While pastors preach about peace in some far off place beyond the moon, and outside of space, scripture speaks of Jesus announcing God’s reign is coming soon, even now.

When I get frustrated by folks in my profession who don’t speak for me but get all the limelight, I remember how God’s glory arrived in the world:  in an unexpected place, at an unexpected time, to an unexpected peasant girl who clenched her fist and sung about the victory of God.

That’s the glory of God, y’all. The church exists to sign, to signal, to sing about that tension whereby those who are at the bottom are being lifted up, and those who are on top are brought down.

Glory, as found in the gospels, is…

Jesus feeding the hungry multitudes as a gift of God’s overflowing compassion rather than as an act of economic enslavement!

Jesus performing miracles not as means of harnessing divine powers for himself, but as a sign of God’s in breaking strength in the world!

Jesus exercising power for good, but not by the means and methods of the world’s kingdoms!

Advent is that time we prepare for the arrival of God’s glory in unexpected places—in the ordinariness of life.

And what’s glorious about this is how Jesus made available God’s kingdom, power, and glory to ordinary folks like you and me to participate in the same kingdom, power, and glory.

Which makes me think of the prayer we pray daily—the Lord’s Prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer says that this kingdom, this power and this glory reconceived in life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, is now and forever.

The kingdom for which we pray is not pie in the sky by and by, and can only come when we name Jerusalem as a capital. But instead, the kingdom, the reign of God, is now—we must not wait because we need not wait to be friends with God because God has already chosen us.

In Christ, the kingdom of God has been brought near to us; usually made known now to us only in glimpses.

Like in a painting of child who found your church to be … fun…

Or written in a card by a group of people who wanted to tell you “that you are loved by many”….

Or in the wrappings and ribbons from a gift by a beloved friend who reminds you often of your belovedness …

Or in a space that smells like smoke but feels like home …

Or …

And that’s the thing, friends. The real glory of God occurs when the hungry get food, the children get gifts, and the women receive justice.

God’s glory came in the innocence of a child…in such a mundane way.

Like this messy desk of mine from today.

What a word. What a day.

Glory.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Advent Awesome

Awesome.

I try my best not to use this word.

Mainly because some people think everything is awesome.

That burger was awesome. That preacher has awesome hair. Tom Brady is...you get the point.

I guess you can say ‘awesome’ has lost some of its…awesomeness.

That was terrible.

But there are times when no other word can be used but awesome.

Here is the definition I’m working with:
            awe-some:  adjective—extremely impressive; inspiring great admiration

Great admiration.



Know what’s awesome? This photo. Know why? Four of these women are 95 or older. They are the matriarchs of our church. These four women attend just about every event at the church. They are faithful worshippers, rarely missing a Sunday. They are the ones who at the end of a service offer me kind words of encouragement as they hug me.

These four women, their faith is awesome.

They are awesome not only because they laugh at my corny jokes, but also because they get it. They know what it means to show up. They know what it means to be present with each other. I mean, these four ladies have seen more in their lifetimes than I ever will.

And yet,
            They
                        Still
                                    Show
                                                Up.

Kind of like Anna.

I know, I’m rushing the story. Anna doesn’t appear until Luke 2 when Jesus is presented in the temple, but her faithfulness is important to note now in Advent.
“There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Ash’er. She was of great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
Y’all, see what Luke is doing here? Luke is emphasizing Anna’s reliability so that her testimony regarding Jesus is unimpeachable. Her devotion to God is an emblem of her piety. She teaches that our waiting, when rooted in prayer and other spiritual disciplines, is never in vain. Anna didn’t remain idle while she waited for God’s good news. Anna bears witness to the words that the prophet Isaiah spoke, “…the Holy One longs to be gracious to you, and therefore God exalts Godself to show mercy to you. For the Holy one is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for God.”

Like Anna, these four saints have taught me so much about faith, hope, and love. They remind me how there is wisdom in the waiting. They teach me, every time we are together, breaking bread, about joy.

And that, my friends, is
                                                Extremely impressive,
                                                                                    Inspiring great (bigly) admiration.
It’s
awesome.

May you in your waiting know God’s good news. May you trust how God longs to be gracious to you. And may you, as you anticipate the return of the light, welcome hope, knowing like Anna, that goodness will come to those who wait.

Questions to consider
Who are the wise prophets like Anna in your life? What wisdom my they offer up to you? How might they help you name God’s presence in your life with their stories of faith?

Prayer

Thank you God for the awesome people who surround me with goodness and love.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Reflection-Quick Question

“Where are you?”

I begin most days answering this question in my journal at the start of each morning. 

Lately the words have been similar.

Rushed...
Stressed...
Frustrated...
Hurried...
Irritated...
Bitter...
Exhausted...
Worried...
Absent...
Tired...
Anxious...
Saddened...
Spent...

Usually when I get to this place, I realize I’ve lost center. Somewhere amidst the running from here to there, between the four churches I moderate, and the everyday going-ons of adulthood, I forget to take time to 

just
be. 

The other day I stumbled across these words and they stopped me in my tracks:
13-16 The people brought children to Jesus, hoping he might touch them. The disciples shooed them off. But Jesus was irate and let them know it: “Don’t push these children away. Don’t ever get between them and me. These children are at the very center of life in the kingdom. Mark this: Unless you accept God’s kingdom in the simplicity of a child, you’ll never get in.” Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.
It was the last line that spoke to me the most. 

Friend, you don’t have to do everything. You don’t have to be everything to everyone. You don’t have to have it all figured out right now. Take your time. Take a moment to breathe. And do so with your spouse, your friend, and with yourself. Return to the center. Allow the child within, the one who cannot be weighed down by all our worries, and let God hold you against Her heart. 

In just a few days we begin our preparations for the nativity of Christ known as the season of Advent. Once more we will hear the invasive news that it is time to think about fresh possibilities for deliverance and human wholeness. Amidst the news of war and rumors of war, between the pages of bad news, and in light of the darkening days, the message we find during this season is...
peace.

But peace takes time. To get to the center of this promise, we have to want it, move toward it. This means we need to make space to lean into what we are preparing for:  the vulnerability of God made known in the birth of Christ. 

Friends, before the calendar gets away from us, remember, don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “Where are you?” Take time to see where the holy breaks into the daily. In the days to come, I invite us to open our broken, wearied, or tired hearts to the healing grace of God, who always stands inviting us to that place of peace...

the center, where the light of Christ dwells.


As you go about your day and through this season, may you know God’s presence; may you hear the good news of Christ’s love for you; and may the Holy Spirit surround you as you walk and wait for peace.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Through Stained Glass: A Mid-Week Confession-Eucharist

Okay, I have a confession.

Rarely do I do these as your pastor. But, I have to make it known.

You ready?

...deep, dramatic breath...

I’ve already started making my list of all the things I want to do/accomplish in 2018.

Yea, I’m one of those people.  What makes me different is that instead of calling it a “New Year’s Resolution” list, I call it, “The Things I’m Going to Try and Do that Will Bring a Smile to My Face” list.

What a catchy name, yea?

Want to know what is number one on my list?

To live from a place of thankfulness.

Did you know in Greek the word for thanksgiving is Eucharist?

Which is what the long prayer we offer up before we celebrate communion is often titled “The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving”.

The Great Thanksgiving prayer is in fact that—a prayer of thanks. It tells the story of the gospel, it reminds us of God’s promises, Christ’s faithfulness, and the Holy Spirit’s presence. The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving gives thanks for creation, then for redemption (a fancy word meaning the action of God not leaving us to our own devices), moving through Christ's conception and birth to his suffering and death and then to his resurrection and ascension. In giving thanks and retelling the story of salvation history, we are reminded of God’s graces and how in the simple meal of bread and juice/wine, we are united as God’s family, on earth, and in heaven.

Communion, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist—it is a meal of thanksgiving. It is a taste of what will be and a reminder of how all of life is a gift. A gift best experienced when shared with one another.

So yea, I want to live this type of life—a Eucharistic life. And there is no better time to start than today, in this season of thanksgiving.

I’m thankful for you, friend. I’m thankful that somewhere along the way your story and my story crossed, and that together we are telling the life-giving story of God.

What a story it is, too. It is one full of beauty and heartache, good times and hard times, bountiful harvests and valleys of dry bones. Yet the thesis, the main point, the good news in it all is the promise of God’s faithfulness.

So, as we move into the official start to these ‘holy days,’ I share with you one of my favorite quotes from Presbyterian pastor and writer, Frederick Buchner:

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you.

May you know how thankful we are for you. May you know how delighted God is to call you God’s own. May you know, in the deepest part of your being, the truth in the psalmist words:

God is God,
     And God has bathed us in light.
Festoon the shrine with garlands,
    hang colored banners above the altar!
You’re our God, and we thank you.
    O my God, we lift high your praise.
Thank God—God’s so good.

    God’s love never quits!