Saturday, July 24, 2010

Prayer changes you

Ezekiel 36:25-27 (New International Version)

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

What a great image of baptism, huh?

I'm not a huge follower of Christian radio in general. It tends to have plenty of gospel in the music but have a tendency to overcompensate for it by having too much law on the talk. Be that as it may, the other morning I was channel-surfing on the drive to class and happened upon this message on prayer from John MacArthur, pastor at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California.

If you follow the link, you don't have to buy anything, but I encourage you to either listen to the broadcast episode or read the transcript. The gist of his teaching is that when we as God for something, He doesn't just give us the gift, He implants the very giver- His Holy Spirit, into our hearts. This really backs up the idea that when we pray, God changes us. (Which by the way, I'm convinced he does psychologically, chemically and physiologically too -see report on NPR)

Luke 11:11-13 (New International Version)

 11"Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

MacArthur's lesson really reminded me of a couple of things that I think of as central to my faith walk and among the most important reasons for prayer.

One is that if we want to be more like Jesus, we want His character traits. What are they? Look at the Beatitudes in Matthew 5;  meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, pure hearted, peacemakers. Or the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control. Or how about 1 Corinthians 13;  not envying, not rude, keeping no record of wrongs servants, Or Philippians 2; humble servants?

The other is that if we want to develop these character traits and become more Christ-like, we need to spend more time with Him.

"Come near to God and he will come near to you." -James 4:8a.

Think of God like tree. Humans exhale carbon dioxide, trees exhale oxygen. We cough our prayers to God and He offers us in return THE "Breathe of Heaven." Mystical? maybe, but it seems to me what this world could use right now (myself included, maybe me especially) is a little less material and a little more mystical.

"And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." ~Micah 6:8.

How do you come to really love mercy so that you are more likely to act justly? How about by walking humbly with God? Spend some time praying and God will spend time infusing you with His Spirit.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Turned Upside-Down, and Back Again

Players meant to be their own playwrights
Branches blocked out the sun, denying saplings sunlight
The tenants foreclosed on the landlord
The clay criticized the potter

But for our sake the God became a priest
The Divine became a prophet
The last shall be first
The dispossessed and the untouchable
became precious belongings and firmly embraced siblings and kin
Aliens became neighbors
The disaffected and disenfranchised found their voice and were listened too and heard
Widows and barren women became mothers
Orphans became heirs

The king of kings became servant of all
The innocent became the atoning sacrifice
His death conquered death

The stone the builders rejected became the cornerstone
So that the scattered could become gathered
The many could become one
The divergent could become equal
Disciples became friends
Followers became leaders
Members parts of the whole

Students became masters
Fishermen altered the course of civilization
Revolutionary became establishment
and the persecuted began persecuting
Pilgrims sought religious freedom in order to be able to establish theocracies
and the lions are thrown to the christians

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Great cartoon about gnats

John Branch
San Antonio …
Jul 20, 2010
Matthew 23:23-24
23"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

This is a great cartoon illustrating some of the problem with the institutional thinking of our churches, clergy and leadership in Western Christianity today. I don't mean to pick on Catholicism. I think that there is plenty of gnat-straining going on in the Lutheran church, and all our churches, frankly. Don't you love how Jesus sometimes used snarky sarcasm to make His points?

Pat Bagley
Salt Lake Tribune
Jul 20, 2010
Here's another great one about how Republicans are, once again, abusing religion as an expedient political tool for their advantage.

Stomp, pout, huff, whine, tantrum, etc.

Ordinarily I try to use this blog for devotions, reflections, or rants of my own, but this morning's "God Pause" devotion from the Luther Seminary was one that really hit me right between the eyes so I thought I'd share it here.

How often do we get to feeling like the brother who stayed home and worked in the story of the prodigal son? It's not that I don't want to do the right thing or work hard and make sacrifices, and I'd like to think that I try to do right either just because it's the right thing to do, or because it will benefit the most people, not just myself, or in gratitude for all God's done for me- not to try to earn His favor or for any kind of material reward. Be that as it may, it still grates on my nerves that it seems like there are so many people who have it so much better, or who really don't care about anyone but themselves or doing what's right- yet it almost seems like they're shallowness and selfishness is rewarded, not punished.

So once again, I end up asking God to help me be content because I know that His grace is sufficient. And again and again, He reveals to me just how blessed and coddled I am. Like the two pairs of missionaries who spoke at our church. One couple in one of the most densely populated, lease Christian, and most impoverished places in the world- Calcutta, India. Another couple inn one of the most dangerous, most plagued with sectarian and tribal tension and violence between Muslims and supposed Christians in Jos, Nigeria. And here I am complaining about not being able to lose weight or not being able to suddenly become a rich and famous, award winning professional writer. Perspective, people, perspective.

Tuesday, 7/20/2010 Psalm 73:[3-14] 23-28

"It's NOT fair!" What parent hasn't heard these words? They are often sputtered with quivering lip, hot tears, crossed arms, and, maybe, a stomped foot. Reading Psalm 73 (particularly vv. 3–14), I almost hear the psalmist, Asaph, lamenting, "It's not fair!" as he looks from a society outside, across the fence into the green grass of affluence, privilege and power. As today's socioeconomic disparity increases, it is understandable that our neighbors and, perhaps, we ourselves, may increasingly cry, "It's NOT fair!" It isn't fair. God is pained and angered when justice and kindness are ignored, when God's children are disregarded.

Guided by God, Asaph resists temptation to act violently and oppress others. He decides the longed-for prosperity is not worth estrangement from God. As the parent might hold the tearful child's hand to comfort them, Asaph feels God "hold [his] right hand." Asaph proclaims, "it is good to be near God." Indeed, it is good. 

Dear Heavenly Parent, thank you for holding our hands and being our refuge. Guide us to hold the hands of our neighbors, share our resources, and include them fully in our communities. Amen.

Mary Simonson Clark, Lutheran Malaria Initiative Coordinator, Minneapolis Area Synod, Master of Arts/Master of Social Work, 2007

Psalm 73:[3-14] 23-28 (NRSV)

3  For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

4  For they have no pain; their bodies are sound and sleek.

5  They are not in trouble as others are; they are not plagued like other people.

6  Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them like a garment.

7  Their eyes swell out with fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.

8  They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.

9  They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues range over the earth.

10  Therefore the people turn and praise them, and find no fault in them.

11  And they say, "How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?"

12  Such are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.

13  All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.

14  For all day long I have been plagued, and am punished every morning.

23  Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.

24  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor.

25  Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.

26  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength  of my heart and my portion forever.

27  Indeed, those who are far from you will perish; you put an end to those who are false to you.

28  But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, to tell of all your works.
return to devotion

Convicting quote

"You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." ~Ann Lamott

Friday, July 16, 2010

Two ways of thinking

These are a couple of the most concise explanations of what I feel is wrong with politics and religion in America that I have ever heard. They are listener comments (letters-to-the-editor) from NPR's afternoon news program All Things Considered. Click here to listen to/see a transcript in the original context.

SIEGEL: And now your letters about yesterday's program. Many of you wrote about our story on Tea Party supporters and their belief that the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress are subverting the Constitution.
Well, Peter Lury(ph) of Richmond, Virginia, writes: One interviewee proudly proclaimed she does not study this hallowed document, but it's hard to understand why she claims the Obama administration is eviscerating the Constitution when it's not clear that the small copy she keeps in her purse has ever been read, much less understood.
NORRIS: And David Steigerwald(ph) of Columbus, Ohio, had this to say: I'm struck by the similarities between the Tea Party's concept of the Constitution and the way fundamentalists treat the Bible. Each is considered a sacred text, handed down from God through a handful of prophets and treated as immutable and inviolable. And yet, in both cases, the texts are read very selectively. Bits and pieces are plucked out, always without context, to defend a rigid political position. I'd wager the two groups overlap a lot in membership, as well as mentality.
I really don't think that it's so much a problem of conservative/liberal. We don't really understand what those terms mean anymore in America today.

I'm not so sure that it's a problem of Christian/nonchirstian. If only because too few Christians understand and really believe what Jesus taught or the example He set. Also because too many people abuse Christianity as a politically expedient tool or as an emotional weapon.

I think that the issue may be one of law and gospel, and frankly, as I've said before on this blog, an issue of love versus fear (1 John 4:18). Jesus died so that I can be forgiven an thereby be capable of a relationship with God. God makes me whole so that I can be capable of healthier relationships with others. It's all about the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18).

It seems to me that an awful lot of us who call ourselves Christian are not sharing grace and mercy and healing with those who need it, but instead are consumed with suspicion and frustration and indignation. Guess what, these are evidence of anger and insecurity and they eventually give birth to hatred and prejudice.

It also seems to me that an awful lot of us who call ourselves patriotic are not genuinely committed to the Constitutional ideals of unity, security, the common good, liberty, equality, empathy, responsibility, and participatory democracy, let alone civil debate.  Just as the only Bible verse many of us remember is John 3:16, the only Amendment any of us care about is the right to bear arms.

I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but I realize that even Peter, Paul and John were imperfect, sinful men. I may think that Martin Luther wrote a lot of wise things about theology- but I realize that he was also dead wrong about a lot of things (like antisemitism).

I thank God for the maturity, foresight and intellects of men like Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Madison, and Payne. But they would all be quick to admit that they were just men, not demigods. They were fallible and finite. They designed a system of checks and balances to account for that. They knew that they couldn't know what our time would be like, so the intentionally devised a system and a Constitution that would  be adaptable, flexible, and relevant- not rigid, restrictive, or archaic- and most certainly not beneficial to a narrow and elect, privileged few.

Genuine Christians are humble servants. Fundamentalists are arrogant Pharisees, Judaizers (Galations 5:1-12), and white-washed hypocrites (Matt. 23:17).

Genuine Americans are egalitarians, compassionate idealists, and empathetic community builders. Tea Party extremist are at best deluded disciples of dangerous demagogues and at worst deceitful and volatile radicals who only wrap themselves in the flag and misuse religion to hide what they really are, mislead others, and deny to themselves that maybe there's a possibility that they're wrong.

President Obama reflected on this problem in his book The Audacity of Hope. When he was a Constitutional Law professor at the University of Chicago, he wondered if his colleagues in the Theology department had the same struggle with students who tried to cite narrow references to back up their predetermined points of view but rarely bothered to read the document they so vehemently declared justified their positions.

One of the best things we can do as Christians, is to actually read our Bibles. One of the best things we can do as American citizens is to actually read the Constitution.