Thursday, August 30, 2018

Ministry Remnants: the Value of Journaling

In last night's prayer meeting a friend and long-time parishioner spoke of using his journal in devotions: "It's kind of new for me but I really like it." He spoke of writing down his prayers and I could tell this was something that just flowed from his heart.

"One morning", he said, "I realized I was writing a love letter to God." At that point he began to weep as he reveled in the goodness of God.

Do you journal? Even non-writers should do it. Maybe especially non-writers should do it. And we follow a long line of distinguished people. Indeed, many say keeping a journal is key to ordering one's life and living meaningfully and thoughtfully.

I would suggest that one of our best examples of journal-writing is King David. The Psalms are clearly in the genre of something like a personal journal, David often telling us of the journey of his heart. Certainly there are many love letters to God in the Psalms.

As my friend shared the new joy of the journal I was thrilled. He is up in years a bit, learning, growing, strengthening. His journal is deepening his life with God.

How is your life with God? Write your thoughts and prayers in a journal. It really helps.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Ministry Remnants

I've been reading and pondering the story of Jonah. This morning I shared from the first two chapters and then a consideration of the question: "Why does God send the belly of the whale?"

I suggested 4 reasons:
  • Due to our stubborness
  • To bless us
  • To bless others
  • To bring about closeness with us
There is more, always more. Is the belly of the whale really a good thing? Does God send it? Of course in Jonah's case he sent it to deliver him from the drink and then, in turn, to break his stubbornness. Then the above effects could come to pass. "For the carnal mind is enmity against God." But when Jonah repented a way was open for peace with God. He went through the belly just as Christ did to atone for the world. Jonah's suffering helped him get there for himself; Christ's suffering did it for the world.

I am tempted to give up the question. Is the belly really necessary? Must we suffer to be reconciled? Certainly we must die to ourselves and certainly we are not eager to do so. Suffering takes us there. "Yet he learned obedience by the things that he suffered."

Even the path of dying to self is suffering. No good thing comes without it. Suffering is a given no matter what. When we accept that instead of rage against it or try to avoid it, the world is open to us. This is being real.

Jesus shows the way. This is why the cross is glorious. We beat the suffering of life by bearing it gladly, dying to self which insatiably seeks pampering and the easy life. It is the only way, and I am a beginner. Maybe we all are.

Take up your cross, follow the Master. I once wrote that with aplomb as a young, eager college student. I now write it in hopes I will receive the grace to live such a way in peace. I hope you will, too.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Meditation from Jonah

Meditation from Jonah

You never know how thought or word,
action, random though it seemed,
within God's vast compendium
has weight and import.

For God-writ sparrow eulogies,
countless, pointless though they seem,
speak layers of the deepest clue:
“To Him we matter!”

So never think the stuff of life,
beasts and work and nature, too,
are “one with God” (the pantheist lie) –
Oh no – He owns them!

Instead believe with dancing joy,
thoughts and action, people, too;
like compass answer polar call,
fit His glad purpose.

What painful burden lays you low?
Joyless deeds that starve the soul?
Each, all of these and infinite more,
within His goodness --

Will show that He can take the ill,
good things, too – for all is His,
and make them serve Him flawlessly:
so trust Him always.

- - - - - - - -

Can you believe this is true in the failings of life? Painful shortcomings, lost opportunities, watching others excel through dint of diligence and hard work while one's lack prevails? Can God work even in this? Is there mercy and grace for the shortfalls we bring on ourselves?

What of those who suffer profoundly through no fault of their own? Is there grace for them? Is God working even in that and so should they trust Him?

I think the answer is yes, for if there is a God I see no other answer. Why does he allow suffering? I can only answer with Job and shut my mouth: I do not know. But I trust him not to test over-much.

Life is a grand testing in which we fail myriad ways. 
But He never gives up. 

Those who excel should inspire us. 
Those who fail should scare us, yes, but also engender appropriate pity and service. 

"Lord, grant humble gratitude before those who do well, 
tender care for those who fall short in the journey."

Friday, August 3, 2018

Did Trials prepare Jesus for Ministry?

Next time I will morsel some crumbs about how...trials prepared Jesus for ministry. 

Jesus needed preparation? How can that be?

I said the above in a post below and decided I might make good on the pledge.

Why did Jesus need trials to prepare him? Because he was human, that is all. He needed household-training from his mother and trade-apprenticeship from his father. Though he was the son of God he did not know these things without effort. That would not be human.

It was emphatically not some kind of artificial thing so that he could identify with us. He could have done that by fiat -- through pure knowledge and sheer power. As another esteemed mentor, Dr. Bill Ury, said in response to such reasoning: "Why, then, did not God just save from heaven?"

He could have, just as you and I can attempt redemptive work without getting our hands dirty. But it cannot be done. We have to be with, to become like. That's the world God made. That's the one he entered. Though he can suspend the ways of his world, he usually does not. And Jesus did not. Much the rather, he submitted to those ways just as we do in our common humanity.

Only his was a willing submission. He never had to become human. But once he did, game on. No looking back and no undoing. He entered our world and knew it in all its pain and trial and death. It was first-hand knowledge: not to posture himself or pretend some kind of empathy, but to actually be with in every way.

So how did his trials prepare him? Same as ours. The tempting in the desert toughened him, wisened him, gave him understanding to overcome many future assaults.

This is all I know and I know it barely. If Jesus were not human, we have no hope, for only a dying God can save a dying race. And to die he had to be human.

But if truly human he must suffer trials necessary to his training. Otherwise his humanity is not as ours.

This may seem arcane, but it is the heart of the gospel. And it is as real and earthy as we can get, if we will. We far prefer a sanitized Jesus in a religious box. That is easier, we imagine, but is actually worthless because unreal.

I go to prayer, to one I dare to believe is real: to one who really understands my trials and can give me understanding help -- one might even say camaraderie.

I pray for the grace to believe it and to enter in.