Prisoners

So, if you consider me as your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.  Philemon 1-25  Paul referring to himself as a prisoner of Christ, out of love, appeals to Philemon upon the return of Onesimus, a slave who has run away. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just run away from the things which enslave us? Inevitably we find that running away only prolongs the healing. It would also be nice if every time we all had a “Paul” to appeal on our behalf, that we might turn and face the “pain of any issue” and be received in love. We don’t always get that physical support when we feel we need it the most. Although Paul was not able to go back with Onesimus, he reminds Philemon that what he is asking of him is in the Spirit of Christ. We are all imprisoned by something. From food to relationships we are captured by our own desires, needs and wants in life. It’s not all bad! However, the question we must continually ask our selves concerns the driving force of our actions as we live to achieve our goals. For Paul, it was his passion for the Gospel. From this one letter we don’t know the outcome of this relationship between Philemon and Onesimus. Yet from both sides, Paul’s challenge to Philemon and Onesimus remains our challenge. In what ways will we be a prisoner of Christ today?

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Tablets

My child, keep my words…write them on the tablet of your heart.  Proverbs 7:1-27  I own an iPad. Admittedly, I take it almost everywhere I go. It is of great use to me particularly when I am bored (like riding in a car). There are other times when it has kept me out of “trouble” enabling me to ignore the little things in life that frustrate me. Sometimes it is just to hard to pray when you are frustrated, and your head is filled with things you know you shouldn’t do or say because your heart won’t let you. For me it is the classic conflict that is helped by a couple games of solitaire, just long enough to allow the frustration to subside and let the Word of God that is written on the tablet of my heart, help me to continue to be the person to which God has called me.

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The Best We Can

…everyone who loves the parent loves the child. 1 John 5:1-12  I remember the time I felt courageous enough to share with my mother how I felt as I was growing up and her part in making me feel the way I did. I had recently graduated from college and working at my father’s business. I’m not exactly sure why it seemed the right time but I just needed her to know. It wasn’t pretty. She was gracious enough to listen to everything I said without interruption. After a moment of silence, she simply stated, “I did the best that I could.” If I had thought that I wasn’t her favorite daughter before, I certainly didn’t win any browny points that day. Although I had no way of knowing how much of life was ahead of me because of her, I immediately realized my mother’s perfect love up to and including that moment; how much life I had actually lived because of her. Coming from very humble beginnings herself, she had a college graduate as proof. She had done the best she could. It took me a while to forgive myself for being so cruel that day. In spite of my “audacity of the self”, she never held it over me. So much more is God’s perfect love deep enough  to forgive things we think are unforgivable and not hold our selfish feelings against us. Each of us in our journey towards love through Christ must do the best we can.

Perfect Love

…perfect love casts out fear… 1 John 4:7-21  Truly, who among us can perfectly love? Who among us walks without the occasion of some doubt? Who among us occasionally reconsiders decisions to be made or regrets decisions already fulfilled? As much as we strive towards this perfection it is not ours to perfectly attain. Try as we might there is always some wonder if we’ve done the right things or if we are moving in the right direction. How is the fear ever removed? If we could live with perfect love – would not the world be a perfect place? We have to settle for striving for perfection and recognize that we will make mistakes. When we make mistakes we must learn to forgive ourselves. Christ, the perfect love of the Father, understands this about us. Himself, called to the people of Israel, time and again stepped out of his own box to which he was called, to heal, bless and forgive those who brought their faith before him. So too we are called to love, knowing that what ever our dreams, desires, frustrations or fears, God’s perfect Love for his creation encourages us to continue striving towards him in spite of our imperfectness and because of our faith in him.

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Never Alone

“Lord if you had been here…” John 11:17-29  I remember the last night I spent with my mother in the hospital. I didn’t really want to go but I was scheduled to preach and I only had one day to write a sermon. I waited as long as I could, leaving my mother’s care to the evening nurse who assured me she would call if anything changed, and acquiesced knowing that my sister would be returning first thing in the morning . Exhausted, I took my time getting home taking an hour and forty five minutes as opposed to the usual hour and a half. No sooner had I walked into the house and sat down on the nearest chair, my cell phone rang. Along with my brother and sister we never left her alone. We spent evenings, nights and weekends making sure she knew that we weren’t going to leave her side. When we weren’t there one of her sisters was there to give us some time to do the things we needed to do in our our own personal lives. This went on for weeks. I hadn’t thought of what would happen when no one from the family was able to be with her. I only knew that I wanted to be there if she passed away. As time would have it she died while a stranger was in the room. Had I remained with her would she have lived another day? Jesus loved Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus. His ministry didn’t allow him to physically be with them 24 hours a day. He assures the Martha that her faith in Him makes the difference. So it is with each of us who believes in the presence of the Spirit of God. Even in death, we are never alone.

Centering Prayer

Saturday’s Meditation: Eve of 7 Epiphany

Psalm 19

The law of the Lord is perfect,
   reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
   making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
   rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
   enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is pure,
   enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
   and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
   even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
   and drippings of the honeycomb. 

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
   be acceptable to you,
   O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. 

Controversy

If I am not doing the works… then do not believe me…  John 10:31-42  What would the Olympics be without some controversy? The Russian skater performs a slightly more technical program but flawed. The South Korean skater performs a slightly less technical program but is perfect. Although judging in figure skating has gone through some changes over the years, there are still times when disparities occur and judging is unclear to the viewer. As viewers we see the works. Our eyes see perfection and we think surely that person belongs on top. We see imperfection and nothing else the person does seems to matter. Though we are held accountable for wrongdoing, the human factor in judging is what makes the difference. Praise God that from a spiritual perspective, God’s relationship with us is not held by human factors! Thank God that we are judged by our heart, the faith within and the love we express for God and one another. These are the works we must continually put forth with confidence knowing that God sees past not only the imperfection but the mistakes and shortcomings as well, even when no one else can. Eventually we learn to focus on the works pleasing to God rather than the works that please other people.

But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works…

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Timing

And now… abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence… 1 John 2:18-29  I recently read and article about President Obama’s decision to pursue some issues concerning justice and equality. These are issues he did not press hard during his first term, but now believes it to be the right time. The reality is that there are in fact some things he can do as President (such as pardons) that he can not do serving in any other office or capacity in this land. Often we want things to happen as quickly as possible. When they don’t, a variety of ill emotions rise to the occasion. Whether we like it or not there really is a time for everything. We do our best to remain focused on our goal and the change that we expect externally actually begins to happen internally. We learn to maximize every moment and strategize every move that we have in preparation for the goals we are trying to reach. In terms of our relationship with God, his timing in our lives often requires maximizing moments and strategizing moves (unseen from our perspective), because what he has prepared for us is far greater than what we could have prepared on our own. So we take courage and know that at the right time, God’s blessings will turn in our favor.

Agents Of The Gift

Do not love the world or the things in the world. 1 John 2:12-17  “Don’t chase the dollar, chase the dream.” A line straight out of the movie “BIG” is excellent encouragement from the producer of a gifted, young, up and coming rap star. It worked, but unfortunately short-lived, when the part of the “world” that is rivalry; physically took his life. 1 Timothy 6:10 reads; “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” This reminds us that our desire to use our gifts successfully can not be driven by riches. Cultivating any gift whether in music, sports, dance, etc., requires discipline. If our desire is to have success in that gift we have to work at it. Such is our spiritual relationship with God. When we focus on the gift that is life in the Spirit as expressed in the life of Christ. We then participate as producers and agents of the gift of the Spirit that God has given us. Focusing on the world takes away from God. Focusing on the gift of the Spirit gives back.

The gifts he gave were … for building up the body of Christ…until all of us come to the unity of the faith… Ephesians 4

Make Room For Faith

How then does he now see? John 9:18-41  Judgment by definition is the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions. We are always coming to some conclusion about what we’ve seen, heard, or experienced even if they aren’t all sensible. This is usually a good place to make room for faith. Even today Jesus’ homemade remedy for healing a blind man from birth is nothing short of a miracle, but miracles come from God. Thus the blind man concluded and believed Jesus to be a prophet from God. The Pharisees didn’t experience Jesus in that way.I often ask myself, what were the Pharisees more upset about? Were they upset because Jesus could do something that they could not do, that a man who was blind could now see or fear of losing God’s favor? We all have some tendency to discredit or judge things we don’t understand. It’s a defense mechanism. If you were the one who received a miracle what conclusion would you come to? If you have yet to receive a miracle, are you willing to believe that it could happen to you? Or – would you prefer to defend that it just couldn’t happen for someone else?