Unbroken Communion

“If we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord. 
Therefore whether we live or die, we belong to God.” 
Romans 14:8 (Common English Bible)
     For many of us our religious life is a bundle of shreds and patches. There is an unmistakable change in our spirit and attitude when we move from our private devotions to the common affairs of the day. We leave something behind when we leave our time of solitude with God. We do not meet all of life in the presence of the unseen. The result is a faith that appears stitched-up so many times that we are embarrassed.
     Here, in this sentence from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Roman Church, we are urged to clothe ourselves in another garment – to approach all of life in a conscious and all-controlling communion with God. This is a call to live in such a manner that when we pass from one thing to another, from one time of day to another, there is no change of atmosphere. It is to clothe ourselves with the conscious and intentional recognition that all of life is lived before God, that all of life is consecrated ground.
     God seeks unbroken communion with each of us. What that looks like is to face every moment of life, every matter that requires our attention, in the fellowship of an unseen friend. Everything is to be viewed in the light of God’s presence. It is this unfailing sense of God’s presence that makes life a continual Holy Space.
     “Burning bush” moments are those that are aflame with an unmistakable presence of God. Naturally, this expression is taken from the Old Testament when Moses was confronted by God in a bush that was engulfed in flames but not destroyed. Often they are welcomed moments by people of faith. Such moments provide confidence that we do not tread the complexities and difficulties of life alone. They are moments when God shows-up and by that holy presence, we are strengthened. Yet, the entire forest of our lives is not aflame with the glory of the Lord. Paul’s invitation here in Romans is to live every moment in ceaseless worship and experience the whole world as God’s Holy Temple.

The Puzzle of Prayer

“We always thank God for all of you when we mention you constantly in our prayers.”
1 Thessalonians 1:2 (Common English Bible)
     It is not unusual for someone to ask me, “Please pray for me.” Often my response is an invitation to immediate prayer. My desire is to take the request for prayer seriously. By praying with the person immediately, I wish to say that I care deeply about them and that I appreciate their confidence in the power of prayer. Recently, however, I have begun to question, “Just what do they expect from this prayer?” “Do they really believe my prayer to do any good?”
      Naturally, the Bible has much to say about prayer. What is often unrealized is just how frequently the mention of prayer in the Bible is one of complaint. The palmists, the prophets, Job and the apostle Paul often questioned the value of prayer, sometimes rather bluntly! Listen to a portion of Psalm 88, “But I cry out to you, Lord! My prayer meets you first thing in the morning! Why do you reject my very being, Lord? Why do you hide your face from me (verse 13, 14)?” It is clear that today’s church is not the first to question the usefulness of prayer.
      It is important – and helpful – to note, however, that in each complaint that is uttered there is present a fervent belief that something can be expected from prayer. Prayer is never given up on in the Bible, never dismissed as not of any use. What makes each of those who wrestle with prayer people of amazing stature is their absolute confidence in the power of prayer – power to disrupt at any moment the ordinary with the extraordinary. Without reserve or embarrassment each character in the Bible shared in the same compulsion to pray.
     I will freely share that I have no idea how prayer works. The question itself may be foolish simply because it strives to understand God. And someone once wisely declared that if we can ever grasp God then we must go looking for another God. Any God we can understand with our finite minds is simply too small to save us. What I am confident of is that God was very active in the drama recorded in the Bible and continues to be just as involved in the unfolding drama of life today. And God invites us, repeatedly, to seek the inflowing of God’s grace through regular prayer. Refusal to pray – even when prayer was questioned –simply was not an option for the people of faith in the Bible.

The Silent Word

“Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet.”
Luke 24:19 (Common English Bible)
     I was told this week that a member of the church I have served for better than two years somehow has the notion that the regular reading of the Bible isn’t important. They do read each day a devotional provided by the church and that devotional does have a sentence of scripture provided prior to each meditation – much like the one you are reading now. But that is all.  The Bible remains a closed book in their home. It is unimaginable that this person listens to me each week and concludes that reading the Bible is unimportant.
     The words you are reading now are human words. The words of the devotional mentioned above are human words. Certainly, I hope that these words are helpful in directing people to the one, Holy Word that is the Bible. It is my prayer that my words here each week provide some deeper insight and understanding to God’s Word. Yet, I submit, my words – or any human words – are not an adequate substitute for God’s Word recorded in the Bible. Only the Bible is capable of communicating “the silent word.”
     “The silent word” that I speak of here is that unspoken word that is heard in the heart. It is that word spoken by the Holy Spirit to convey the reality of God with an imagination and force that human words are incapable. It is a word that has uncommon resonance with the particulars of our daily life: the myriad little and large decisions that press for our attention each day. God certainly uses the stumbling human words of women and men to help convey the silent word of God’s kingdom. But it is God’s Word in the Bible that has a unique power to bring the silent word to life in our hearts. It is a word that ultimately silences our chatter and confronts us with the living word that is Christ.
     In this sentence of scripture from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is presented as a prophet that is powerful in deeds and words. The mighty deeds and the mighty words Jesus spoke were inseparable.  With considerable force, Luke seeks to be clear that Jesus’ words were not less important than Jesus’ deeds. When a paralyzed man was brought to Jesus for healing, his first act was the spoken word, “Your sins are forgiven.” Luke wants us to understand that when God’s Word is spoken – or read – the silent word finds lodgment in the human heart.  Sooner or later, that silent word accomplishes what no human word can, it conforms us to the image of Christ.

The Cure for Care

“Don’t get upset over evildoers”
Psalm 37:1
     Here is a simple word of wisdom, “Don’t get upset over evildoers.” There are numerous reasons this counsel is wise; becoming upset rarely helps the situation, it often becomes a hindrance to what we truly desire and can lead us to a place of weakness rather than strength. Worse, becoming upset may lead to jealousy. Frequently, the climax of jealousy is behavior that is equal to the evildoer. What begins as a disturbed emotion finishes in behavior that is evil.
     Fortunately, the Psalms recognize that this is easier said than done. Rather than abandoning us to figure out how to appropriate this counsel into our daily lives, the Psalms offer a pathway. First, trust in the Lord and do what is right. The word here translated as “trust” is found elsewhere in the Old Testament as “careless.” Literally, then, we are directed to, “Be careless in the Lord.” Instead of carrying the burden of care – the care about what evildoers do – we are asked to let care be absent! God is powerfully at work in the world. When evildoers appear to have a favored position in the world they have not escaped God’s notice. Let the care, or burden about the evildoers behavior be God’s.
     Second, enjoy the Lord. What is spoken of here is a deep and abiding relationship with God that is similar to a rich, joy-filled relationship with a spouse. Those who set about with ardent purpose to discover that kind of relationship with God have little inclination to fret much about the behavior of evildoers. Yet, the majority of those who confess faith in God remain content with the occasional crumb that falls from the Lord’s Table; the sporadic attendance in worship, a prayer here and there and perhaps reaching for the Bible when our lives are disturbed. As with a spouse, this neglect of a relationship rarely leads to anything that truly satisfies. Let us be ambitious for a deeper relationship with the Lord – one where our experience is marked unmistakably with joy.
     Third, commit your way to the Lord. Any purpose, any ambition, any decision that must be made, Psalms invites us to commit it all to the Lord. Not merely when the way becomes difficult and we lose direction. From the beginning of each day we are asked to commit our thoughts, speech and decisions to God. God declares in the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, that, “I am the Alpha” – the beginning. God likes to be there in the beginning of all that we do. The promise of the Bible is that with this kind of solidarity with God we receive a peace that passes all understanding. It is a peace that disarms worry and angst about what evildoers may be doing.
     Finally, be still before the Lord and wait for him. Having done all this, and with sincere purpose of heart and mind, trusting in the Lord, enjoying the Lord and committing your way to the Lord, the Psalms asks that we now just rest – to simply be still. This may be the most difficult for many of us. Waiting isn’t something that comes easily. Yet, integral to faith is the knowledge that life isn’t something to face alone, apart from God. Just as an effective leader hands off responsibility to others we are asked to refer some of life’s concerns to God.  This pathway, found in the first seven verses of this Psalm, is the cure for becoming upset with those who do evil.

What Holds Us Together

“Carry each other’s burdens and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Galatians 6:2 (Common English Bible)
     We live today in a period of considerable religious upheaval. It is not the first time in our nation’s history. I doubt it will be the last. Entire congregations are now separating from denominations for another that more closely aligns with their particular theology and reading of the Bible. People are leaving particular churches and moving to others that are either more conservative or more liberal. Apparently they have made the decision that they cannot worship with those who may hear something else from the Lord. What is unfortunate in all this division is the failure to grasp that our common beliefs and our common challenge of declining church participation – and our common experience of God’s grace – is infinitely more important than the matters that divide us.
      Reversing the unfortunate decisions of separation may not be realistic however deeply we may cherish the idea of one visible and united Body of Christ. Rather large theological hurdles have been put into place. Yet, this sentence from Galatians does speak of an immediate summons to all Christian people to seek from God a common strength to confront a world that is rapidly discarding the most basic beliefs of our common confession. Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. Therefore all Christians must exist for one another, in the apostle’s words, “Carry each other’s burdens.” Only by this will the larger church, “fulfill the law of Christ.”
     What is the law of Christ? Nothing could be plainer: “This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) Here is Christ’s summons to slam the door on all recrimination and jealousy and bitterness toward one another and live for and not against one another. This present religious turmoil and spiritual angst demands it. With declining interest in the church now at a national scale, we simply cannot indulge in petty infighting and rivalry.
     This is not a request that the church abandon theological discussion and debate. Such conversation advances a robust faith. Each of us must speak our convictions as we discern God’s whisper. Yet, such convictions must be tempered with humility, the humility that acknowledges that there remains more truth to be heard by the church. Without ignoring our differences, the church must strive for a new spirit of understanding, sympathy and return to a deep spiritual communion with our Lord, the Head of the Church. Such a recovery of humility and civil discourse may prove to be a formidable force for bringing calm to the present spiritual storm. More, a distressed and confused generation may once again catch a glimpse of heaven and say together, “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, and in his Son, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, the giver of life.”