Archive for the ‘Faith’ Category

Traveling Light, Agile, Flexible

May 26, 2017

It’s 7:30 am. I’m checking out of the hotel, but I’m not leaving the conference until about 3:00 pm. I ask the person at the desk if there’s a place to leave my baggage.

I hand her my backpack. “That’s all?” Yes, I replied. I’ve learned.

People all the time make travel much more difficult and anxiety ridden than they should. They wrestle with baggage through the airport. When you travel alone, you have to take it all into the restroom stall with you. Ever try that?

Then there’s the worry about overhead space. If you are not among the first 30 or so, will there be space for my baggage?

If weather is bad and you miss a connection, you’re on standby for later flights. Often you’ll be the last one on. No room for the “roll-aboard” luggage.

My backpack fits under the seat in front of me. Unless I’m in a bulkhead seat, I’m fine. Even then, it’s easier to stow a small backpack than a hard-edged suitcase.

“That’s smart,” she said.

How do I do it?

I ruthlessly evaluate everything I carry. I look at size, weight, and utility. After years of travel, you figure out that you’ve carried tons of clothes and other things that you never used. Stop carrying them.

I’m an old man, and I’ve experienced many troubles–most of which never happened.

The baggage analogy is often used in life. That’s because it’s true.

It’s the same in life.

Have too many things? Ruthlessly pare down to the essentials.

Too many people in your past that hurt or disappointed you? Put them behind you. They don’t care about you. Why carry the burden with you?

God has injured or disappointed you? Put that god behind you. Read what Jesus said again with new eyes, devoid of theologies you’ve been taught. What did he actually say. It’s really a simple faith and experience of the Spirit of God.

Like Noel Paul Stookey of the folk group Peter, Paul & Mary wrote in Hymn about attending a church service at offering time

I just had time to write a note, and all I said was I believe in you.

What If Jesus Appeared Among Us Like He Did Before

May 17, 2017

What if we were walking into a market square in a city or a mall or someplace similar and what if we ran into Jesus?

He’d be dressed more or less like us. But he’d stand out in the crowd for some reason. Probably personality.

And what if he touched someone and made them well right there in front of our eyes?

What if he gave us instruction and teaching just like he did as recorded in the gospels?

Would we follow him?

Somewhere aroung 130 years ago, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote a novel called The Brothers Karamazov. Read it, but don’t watch the movie. Within the novel is a story.

Jesus visited Spain during the Inquisition. The Grand Inquisitor (a Roman Catholic Cardinal concerned with purity of the faith as he knew it and probably also concerned with personal power) heard about some guy going around healing and teaching. 

He had him arrested and thrown into jail. Then he visited Jesus in jail. He told him he should never have come back. People really didn’t want freedom and spirit. What they really wanted was their daily bread and security. He says, you know I’ll have to kill you all over again. We can’t have someone running around filling the people’s heads with your teaching. We have the Church to think about.

What if we met Jesus today? I mean, in the flesh. Person to person. Would we follow him? Or would we join the crowd killing him?

Offering Ourselves As a Living Sacrifice

March 29, 2017

“I appeal to you therefore to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”

This was a summation statement by Paul in his discussion to the Christ-followers in Rome.

We are all sinners–that is, we all fall short of doing what we should at all times and can commit any number of acts that separate us from God and people.

We acknowledge our belief that God brought Jesus back to life after he was killed.

We are brought to understanding that there are no divisions within the community of Christ-followers (the church). We are all the same.

Then Paul says, “therefore.”

That means given all these facts, we must do this next.

But what does this mean?

We do not come from a culture of killing live animals on the alter at the Temple.

First Jesus, then Paul, revolutionized the way we think of temples by referring to our bodies as the Temple of the Holy Spirit (that is, God).

Then not only did Jesus revolutionize relationships–basing them on love instead of power, Jesus also revolutionized what we think about God. God does not live in some stone building where we bring animals for a ritual slaughter.

Instead, we see it that our bodies are a temple in which the Spirit dwells. And we offer it to God as a sacrifice–not as one who is killed, but as one who lives.

I’m not sure what all Paul had in mind when he wrote that. But I’m guessing it has to do with things such as

  • Doing things that are pleasing to God
  • Putting into practice the teachings of Jesus about love
  • Putting others ahead of me
  • Giving not only our tithe, but also offerings, generously

As we try to focus during Lent on a Jesus sacrificed and resurrected, maybe we move beyond (at least in America, if not western culture) the Easter bunny, new clothes, candy, and other trivialization of the holiday.

Maybe an act of service. At least once a day. Or, maybe, just as a natural part of living every day.

What Form of Sacrifice Works For You

March 2, 2017

Lent began yesterday. Somehow Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday just went past me, almost unnoticed. I was not raised in a tradition of emphasizing Lent. My virtual friend, Jon Swanson, has written a book for people like me–Lent for Non-Lent People. You can check it out, if you’re like me.

I guess it was the guy who gave up watermelon for Lent back when I was a kid that emphasized the frivolous nature of such traditions. That was back when Catholics fasted on every Friday. We had two or three Catholic kids in our school. The school cafeteria served either fish sticks or grilled cheese every Friday. I couldn’t stand either one (terribly finicky eater back in those days). Figured I could never become Catholic. Ah, kids and their ideas.

But I digress.

I’ve been reading people’s stories about their Lent experience. Many seem to be turning the fasting or sacrifice idea on its head a little. Instead of giving up something that they normally eat, they are finding ways to serve.

How about that? A special way of serving as a Lenten sacrifice? That sounds intriguing.

As a culture we build up Advent as anticipation of Christmas, but not so much Lent as anticipation of Easter. I guess there are so many secular Christmas songs–usually about snow, friends gathering, food, that sort of thing.

Easter is the end of winter, beginning of spring. Bad weather. Mud. Tornadoes. We’re tired of friends coming over mooching all the food.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the meaning of the resurrection. How we would not be Christian without it. I am a liberal in many ways, but I never understood liberal theology that couldn’t explain miracles, so they didn’t think a resurrection such as described by all those eye witness writers could have happened.

Bill Hybels just explained his “Do…Done” explanation again last week at Willow Creek. Use it with a seeker who asks. Some people say we get on God’s good side by what we Do. The more we Do the better. That is, until we discover it’s a gerbil wheel getting us no where. Then we discover the Done–what Jesus already has Done for us. We just acknowledge it and believe. It’s so simple.

So Easter–we celebrate the “Done”, the culmination of what began at Christmas.

How do you focus?

Do I Have Faith In The Groundhog To Predict Weather?

February 2, 2017

If the groundhog comes out of his hole on Feb. 2 and sees his shadow, he is frightened, returns to hibernation, and there will be six more weeks of winter. –American tradition

If calendars and dates are human constructions to help us keep track of things, do groundhogs even know what day it is?

Do you know that from now until the first day of spring is about six weeks?

Back to our friend, the groundhog. How many of us have faith in its ability to predict weather?

But Paul in his short example of Abraham (Romans 4) uses trust, believe, and have faith an astounding 16 times as verbs describing Abraham. Repeating a word just once lends emphasis. 16 times! Think Paul was making a point?

And what came first–belief or religion?

Belief.

Belief in, trust in, having faith in God is our core response to life.

What about those who do not believe or are not sure about this believe thing?

Well, obviously we should be helping and guiding them toward belief.

Should we differentiate according to race, gender, tribal affiliation, geography, or anything else? No.

If they have faith in God, we should embrace them. Not grill them about whether they accept every tenet of our particular branch of religion.

If they are a child in their belief (not necessarily age), then we should be teaching them the appropriate disciplines (study, meditation, worship, etc.) to help them grow to maturity in faith. (Paul says that elsewhere.)

If they have not faith, it is our duty not to condemn them, but to welcome them. And show them the fruit of faith. And lead them to faith.

Some of us like the mystery and majesty of a Catholic mass (I do, and I’m not Catholic). Some like an old-fashioned protestant worship with organ and hymns written in the 1800s. Some like guitars and drums (I do, go figure, must be bipolar or something). Some like quiet contemplation and prayer.

That’s just different types of people and different styles of upbringing.

What matters is what Noel Paul Stookey wrote in his song Hymn about visiting a church at offering time:

“I just had time to write a note, and all I said was ‘I believe in you’.”

First Comes Faith

February 1, 2017

“Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  — Paul, the apostle, writing to Christians in Rome

We know from a careful reading of the Old Testament that Abraham was not the only person in the world who believed in (or had faith in) the one God, the creator of the universe. Sometimes he’d run into someone during his journeys who was a believer.

But we have Abraham’s story. That’s because he was the father of three great religions who all worship the single God, not the usual gamut of pagan gods of their era or ours.

Abraham wasn’t called righteous by God because of any particular ritual that he did. Circumcision, the foundation of Jewish ritual, was not yet invented. There was no formal religion.

Abraham simply believed.

And he had faith that God would lead him to where he needed to go. God would protect Abraham. And God would provide a family for his legacy.

I like Paul. The more I study the more I get away from those superficial interpretations saying Paul hated groups of people. You can do all the thinking about theology and meanings of things you want, but Paul already in just the fourth chapter of his letter has told us many times–it’s all about having faith in God, faith in Jesus’ resurrection.

Ever wonder how Abraham came to that faith? Was he taught by his father or mother? Did it just come to him? Were there some teachers or gurus?

We’re not told. Maybe a good thing or we’d turn that into a ritual.

And what about us? Do we think that someone must act like us, agree with our politics, agree with our rituals before we’ll have anything to do with them?

Or, are we simply to believe? And then act where God calls us having the simple faith that God will take us where we need to go to do the right service at the time.

Why do we make things so complicated?

The Inevitable Result of Great Expectations

December 26, 2016

Clark Griswald had built up a great expectation of a “fun, old-fashioned, family Christmas”. It all went wrong, of course. Or the movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” wouldn’t be funny.

One of the subtleties within the movie revealed that the “old-fashioned” Christmas gatherings were not fun. They were stressful. 

And talk about stress–from the failure to bring a power saw to cut down the “perfect, Griswald family tree” at the tree farm, to the dried out tree that flames out, to the new tree from the front yard that contained a squirrel, then the dog and squirrel destroying the house, to the SWAT team–there was plenty to go around.

Some expectations stress us out. And everyone around us. Stress breeds like rabbits.

Jewish people 2,000 years ago (plus or minus a couple of hundred years) had built up great expectations for a new king (called Messiah, or in Greek, Christ–the anointed one of God).

Jesus came. But he fulfilled a bunch of other expectations than what many had. It was a confusion time for many.

Still confusing today.

The disagreements stress out many. Cause many splits among people.

Do you continually build great expectations only to be crushed by reality?

Do you allow others’ differing expectations of the same event to derail your own hopes?

Advent is another way of saying expectation. 

Perhaps that one expectation has been fulfilled. But perhaps we continue to build other expectations. 

Be careful what you hope for.

What is your expectation in the light of Jesus coming?

Rejoice at the Coming of Peace

December 23, 2016

If there is one word that describes Advent and Christmas, it would be peace. We use that word often in December. Of course, then we file it away with the Christmas decorations until next December.

I have two foundational principles–peace and justice. These guide my political decisions and theological reflections. If Christmas is peace, Easter must be justice.

Thanks to ever present news and efficient news gathering, we are constantly presented with violence events everywhere in the world. We could easily think that the world is “going to hell in a hand basket.” It is depressing. Just picking up my phone with the latest iOS operating system, the screen lights up and I see notifications. Guy was shot in Milan. Someone was shot somewhere else.

Did Jesus really usher in an era of peace? Would his birth have made it on CNN? A breathless Wolf Blitzer, “Here I am live in Bethlehem…” OK, probably not. As they say in the news business, if it bleeds it leads.

If you can cleanse your mind for a bit of all those news pieces, you can see that the world really is getting better over the centuries. Overall we live better. We recognize peace and justice more than ever.

However, like the author William Gibson observed, “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.”

Pause and reflect over the big picture. Jesus’ birth leads to death and then resurrection. But that’s not all. It all points to the New Heaven and New Earth. The New Jerusalem. Jesuit priest and philosopher Pierre Teilhard (one of my favorites) called it the Omega Point.

Augustus Caesar called himself the Prince of Peace. He didn’t last long. Jesus was called the Prince of Peace and he guides us toward peace still some 2,000 years later.

Merry Christmas, and Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward all humans.

Who Do You Say I Am?

December 21, 2016

Jesus is ________.  –sign at a church in downtown Seattle

Jesus and his guys were hanging out at a notorious pagan-influenced area northeast of the Sea of Galillee. They were just chatting around about what people were saying.

Then Jesus asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

One of my news feeds last night served up a headline that brought back up the “Jesus was a hoax” meme. That thought is hardly original. Paul the apostle refuted that one soon after the events.

I was at a technology conference several years ago where the company was showing off technology that could detect wave forms in a signal previously undetectable. The conference theme–“Some things must be believed before they can be seen.”

If your mind is fogged over by cynicism, doubt, negativity, ignorance (willful ignorance?), then you will not see.

John offers seven “I am” statements:

  • The bread of life
  • The light of the world
  • The good shepherd
  • The gate
  • The resurrection and the life
  • The way, the truth, the life
  • The vine

This week I offered the thought “for everyone.”

But this just talks around the issue. (And don’t we love just talking around the issue rather than confronting our own thoughts and feelings?)

How would you fill in the blank? Who do you say Jesus is?

An Invitation To A Way Of Life And A Life

December 19, 2016

I thought, wow, this is one heck of a poor invitation.

At the airport last week traveling on a vacation, I spotted one of those religious pamphlets someone left behind. It said something about going to Hell.

I had been lost in thought, or maybe non-thinking, and the headline jarred me back to consciousness.

Is that any way to invite someone into a better life?

We are in Advent season–the annual time of reflection upon the miracle of Jesus. Something we think we can understand, but really we can’t.

But isn’t the coming of Jesus an invitation? An invitation into a better life now, as well as “life” in a philosophical or theological sense?

The shepherds were invited to participate in the birth story. The Magi were invited through the special star they saw, contemplated and followed.

Later we have John (the Baptizer) who invited people to turn their lives around and live spirit-filled lives.

Then we have two sides of Jesus. He was the teacher who updated Wisdom teaching to a new level. He invited people to live a new life and taught how to do it. Then came death and resurrection and the invitation to life after death.

Jesus’ invitations were not without risk and challenges. But he always invited people. Disappointed many times as people fell away or refused to accept the invitation, to be sure, but the invitation–that was always out there.

And I don’t think he left pamphlets in restrooms shouting out that we’re all going to Hell.

Advent is a time of invitation into a fuller, richer life with-God.