​A moment for questions

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So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”   John 20:25-27 (NRSV)

As many of us do, I live with a heart like Thomas, asking “show me.”  What specifically am I asking for?  In the Bible, there are many stories where the proof is shown.  Am I asking to see the wounds of Christ? Am I seeking a burning bush, a rainbow or to be swallowed by a whale until I have an understanding?  Maybe really I am just asking for some clarity.  How important is it that I believe in God and Satan or burning bushes and rainbow promises.  It doesn’t seem likely that we will ever have the privilege of the certainty that Thomas received.  So, what can we be sure of?

Perhaps more important than certainty is being able to recognize love and hate and to know that good and evil do exist.  We may never see a burning bush, hear the audible voice of God, or be swallowed by a whale.  But we can recognize the power of love, the peace that comes after a storm, and the push of our conscience to follow our gut.  Sometimes the stories in scripture frustrate me because the literal interpretation makes them implausible.  The intended message, however, is not.

When I see the sadness in the world, I think “There can’t be a God,” and the despair I feel brings me back to the story of Thomas. The disciples gathered in a house after his death.  They were full of the desperation they must have felt for the loss of Jesus and the leadership they had come to rely on.   Jesus entered and in the act of love and understanding showed Thomas his wounds and offered comfort.

The absence of God leaves despair, and the presence of God brings peace.  That is clear enough for me.  God is Love.  Jesus shows us what love looks like.  By our loving each other and bringing comfort and peace and we remove doubt and despair.

A moment for joy

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This evening, I with many others will begin a weekend retreat.  For those who cannot be there tonight, I want to share the opening discussion.  Some of the words are my own, but much credit must go to the books I have read this year. The most influential books are cited below.

The theme of the weekend:

WHOLEHEARTED JOY

Wholehearted  (whole·heart·ed) adjective–showing or characterized by complete sincerity and commitment. Synonyms:  devoted, enthusiastic and unshakeable.

What are we devoted to?  What is the condition of our heart?

The Dalai Lama says love, kindness, and affection are the source of joy.

Archbishop Desmund Tutu says we should have a generosity of spirit, be big-hearted, be broadminded, be forgiving, be kind, be magnanimous, be an oasis of peace.

There are difficulties in life that make wholehearted joy sometimes seem distant or unattainable.  Saturday morning at the retreat we will explore some of the things that fill the spaces in our heart and prevent the fulness of love from entering in.  We will release them as best we can over the weekend to allow more room in our hearts for love, kindness, affection, and joy!

Before we begin this process, we need a solid foundation.  So, let’s start with the solid foundation of God’s love.  We were created by love, in love, for love.  God delights in us.  God wants us to be happy and full of joy.  Until we believe this with our whole hearts, we will keep working to be happy thinking that we must control our lives, thinking it is up to us to make things good.

In God’s story of creation, his love story of the beginning of the world, everything is good from the start.  Take a moment here and read the story.   I am sure you have already read it, but I encourage you to reread it.  Read it as poetry and, listen for the love the excitement and the joy as our creator forms the world and us.

Genesis 1 (NRSV)

What do you imagine God was feeling?  Can you see the care he was taking?  And every day he declared His creation good!  On the seventh day, God rested.  God must have thought his work was complete or he would have continued.  But, God had thought of everything, made provisions for it, and so he rested.

Proverbs 8:22-31  Wisdom in creation joins with God in delight!

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
    or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
    when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
    when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
    so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
    then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
    rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
    and delighting in the human race.

Psalm 104 is a song of praise for God’s creation, and it is full of joy! Can you hear the joy?

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
    O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
    wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
    you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
    you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
    fire and flame your ministers.

You set the earth on its foundations,
    so that it shall never be shaken…

In wisdom you have made them all;
The earth is full of your creatures…

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

 

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer. 1 Timothy 4:4-5

In his wisdom, God created us in His image, and he delights in us.  All that we are and all that we are becoming.  He is pleased with the process of mankind being and becoming like him, and he has provided everything for it.  He blesses us from the beginning and eagerly waits for us to rest with him in love.
Take a moment this evening to make a list of all the good things that God has blessed you with, in your life.  Include the good attributes he has given you to share with his creation.  Use this list and write your own Psalm of praise to your Creator who created you; by love, in love, and for love.
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Citations:

LAMA, DALAI TUTU ARCHBISHOP DESMOND. BOOK OF JOY. ARROW BOOKS LTD, 2018.

Benner, David G. Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality. IVP Books, 2015.

“BibleGateway.” BibleGateway.com: A Searchable Online Bible in over 150 Versions and 50 Languages., http://www.biblegateway.com/.

A moment of suspense

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You meet those who gladly do right,
    those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
    because you hid yourself we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
    and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name,
    or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
    and do not remember iniquity forever.
    Now consider, we are all your people.  Isaiah 64:5-9

Joy in the absence of feeling God’s presence can be challenging.  But we must trust. We must be obedient.  We must persevere.  In this scripture, though Isaiah is feeling abandoned, he remains faithful to God and pleads for Him to show himself again.  He likens himself and his people to clay in the potter’s hand, ready, to be molded and formed.  In times like this, we are to be aware, be fit and be ready.

Be aware of the inner workings of our hearts.  Listen deeply for the longings we have and what they are telling us about ourselves.  Be aware of the needs around us.  An awareness of the longings of others is essential as we are all connected and called together in some way.

Be fit.  We must continue to act on the knowledge of God even when the feeling of His presence is missing.  Be loving and do loving acts.  Continue to seek God and understanding.  Stay in the practice of your faith.

Be ready.  He will not leave you in suspense forever.  When the work of His hand begins to unfold, and His purpose is more and more evident, be ready to do that which His hands so lovingly molded you to do.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you. And accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

 

 

A moment of bitterness

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He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart… Mark 3:5

Sometimes our anger is justified. Anger is a necessary emotion. It tells us when something is wrong. It is a warning to look for a problem. Bitterness is never justified. Bitterness often is what happens when we see a problem and instead of addressing it head on we build a fortress around it and protect ourselves from the issue that sparked the anger. The problem is that when we create that strong fortress, we also block out any possibility of healing, forgiveness or love. We sit alone in our fort, the bitterness grows, we add weapons to the walls, and fire at anyone who attempts to enter.

This calls to my mind an excerpt from a book that I read years ago. I laughed and cried when I read it because it hit so close to home.

God is visiting her soul with a terrible rot called madness. First, she is only mad at her husband. Years pass and she is mad at he family. As time goes on she is mad at the Church. Then she is mad at the mailman and mad at the waitress. Practicing, always practicing, perfecting her madness. Mad, all the time mad. Madness.            (Debi Pearl pg. 63)

So what do we do to keep from going mad?

actions for good

pro-verbs

PROVERBS 3

BE LOYAL    Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; v.3

Be good to those you encounter your friends, your family and the people you meet only for a moment.

BE TRUSTING    Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. v.5

We cannot rely on our own thoughts to fix our own thoughts. We need a clear perspective.  Seek God’s perspective he has everyone’s best interest at heart.

GIVE HONOR    Honor the Lord with your substance…v.9

Honor begins in the heart. When we hold God in high esteem, we will begin to hold His creation in the same regard.  We will be grateful for what he has shared with us.   And gratitude is always a healer of the spirit.

SEEK WISDOM      My child, do not let these escape from your sight: keep sound wisdom and prudence,…v. 21

We must be careful not to act on our emotion because they are not always in line with the truth. Look to scriptures for guidance and take care to remember what is loving.

FEAR NOT     …for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught. v. 26

When we protect our own hearts, it is often out of fear. We build bitterness around our hearts creating walls that cannot be penetrated. When we understand God as the creator and protector of that which he loves we can walk more securely and rest more easily.

BE GOOD     Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. v. 27 

It comes up over and over, when trying to find healing for yourself, do something for others.

PRETEND

When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are.  And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were. (C. S. Lewis pg. 188)

 

Citations:

Pearl, Debi. Created to Be His Help Meet: Discover How God Can Make Your Marriage Glorious. No Greater Joy Ministries, 2014.

Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. HarperCollins, 2001.

All Bible quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version