A moment of Complaining

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Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever. Psalm 107:1

From Mount Hor the Israelites set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. Numbers 21:4-9

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ– by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God– not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:1-10

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” John 3:14-21

There are times when it is difficult to see God’s mercy in our lives and the world. Life can be relentless in its struggles. March 28th will mark a whole year since Montana’s stay home directive was put in place. As the year unfolded and the guidelines shifted and lifted, we have struggled to make sense of many things. The past 12 months have genuinely been–a wilderness time. This is the 4th Sunday in Lent, and today’s OT reading offers us an opportunity to reflect on the perspective of God’s people in the wilderness as well as our perspectives in this wilderness of our time.

There is an authenticity to the readings in the Old Testament. They are raw and honest about the messiness of humanity. We witness in today’s reading people who are frustrated, hungry, and unhappy. And I can’t help but recall reading in Exodus Chapters 15,16, and 17, another time when the Israelites were complaining about the water, the food, and Moses’s leadership. In Exodus, Moses spoke to God on behalf of his people, and they received water, food, and a place to rest.

Now, here again in today’s scripture, they are complaining. However, this time the Israelites are not only complaining about Moses; they complain about God and his provision for them. They are shortsighted as they focus on the wilderness’s difficulties and fail to recall how bad the situation was in Egypt that God delivered them from.

The ability to see God’s mercy, as he responds to the complaining by sending a poisonous serpent, is challenging. But as we read on, we see God’s desire was for his people to recognize their poor behavior and ask appropriately for help. Moses prays for his people, and God, in His mercy, offers a way out.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.

Do we recognize God’s mercy in our lives, or are we complaining about the circumstances in which we find ourselves?
The truth is, life is hard, and there are many justifiable reasons to complain.
I have been known to complain. When I complain to God, it sounds like this…” Really, God, this is what today is going to look like? Really, This is too hard; I can’t.”
I think these scriptures may be telling us there is a right and a wrong way to complain.
Venting our frustrations and blaming is the wrong approach. It is a toxic approach and harms us as well as those around us.
It promotes complaint competition that can send a whole conversation spiraling.
Complaining changes our perception of the world, shifting our focus to disappointments and causing us to miss the blessings.
Complaining helps rewire the brain into negativity- bias where negative thoughts will come more quickly and easily than positive ones.
This bias promotes pessimism, and pessimism is known to be unhealthy both physically and mentally. Complaining also kills creativity and creates a victim mentality. When we see others as the reason for our troubles, we fail to look at our own actions and behaviors. It becomes more challenging to seek possible solutions.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.

It may not seem merciful that God sent the serpent, but it did get the Israelites attention. They shifted their focus and could see more clearly.

So what is the proper way to complain?

  1. We must be sure we are not the problem. The Israelites were so focused on being angry they did not see what they needed to change.
  2. Be specific about your need, not your disappointment. God delivered his people from Egypt. Of course, he will care for them in the wilderness. Though it may not look the way they thought it should.
  3. Be realistic. There is a big difference between need and want. What we desire is not always what we require.
  4. Be sure to ask the right person for help. Complaining to each other rarely does good. Moses knew the correct approach and, in love, would speak to God on their behalf.
  5. Speak your feelings. Feelings are real, but they are not the truth. Adding, “I feel” validates where you are without telling your brain things won’t or can’t change.

Life is hard. But when we shift our focus away from the things that are causing discomfort to the God whose mercy endures forever, our perception of everything changes. Instead of seeing only our difficulties, we see the way through them.

What we don’t want to miss is the message we hear in Chapter 2 of Ephesians,
“—By grace, you have been saved—.” “God, who is rich in mercy…made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.”

Our faith in Jesus Christ brings us out of the darkness into the light. In the light of Christ, we can see clearly. Jesus also spent time in the wilderness. It is during this time of Lent that we reflect on his time of suffering. He, too, must have found it arduous to make sense of the situation he was in. “He was in anguish, and his sweat was like great drops of blood.” He prayed for God to take this responsibility from him, and yet in obedience to God’s will and for our sake, he did not waver.

We don’t want to miss John’s message to us in the Gospel.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” Eternal life- what does this mean? Endless life, indestructible life, imperishable life, immutable life, undying life, everlasting life, boundless life, perpetual life, lasting or existing forever, without end or beginning. This is the life our God wants for us. Nothing that comes our way can change this gift that is offered. God has given us a way out of our suffering in the gift of Jesus Christ. His desire is that we trust and believe.
We may not have the ability to make sense of what has happened and is happening in our lives and our world. We do have a God who is rich in mercy is showing us the way through it.

So perhaps I should add to my conversation of “Really God?” this prayer.
“You, God, are eternal, and this moment is not. I will go where you lead me, but please, do lead me.”

It is for the gift of Jesus Christ, who leads the way that we should.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever.

a Moment of Eagerness

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I was watching a youtube video of the Volcano in Kilauea and happened to notice a comment below the video that read, “Watching a bubbling cauldron of lava is soothing when compared to watching the insanity of politics.” I did not find the volcanic image soothing, but I appreciated the analogy.

Watching lava finding its way out of the rock from the center of the earth made me very aware of how small this time in history is compared to the earth’s age. Scientists estimate that the earth’s age is 4.5 billion years old, and its estimated lifespan is 7.6 billion years. In contrast, the estimated lifespan of humans is 78.9 years. Our current difficulties, like our lives, are just a blip on the timeline of the earth. And yet, today’s scriptures tell us how very significant we are.  

We hear in Psalm 139 how important we are by the message of how well God knows us.

God discerns our thoughts.

God is acquainted with all our ways.

God’s hand is upon us.

God knew us even before our formation in the womb.

I am blown away. As I read the words,

How deep I find your thoughts, O God! * how great is the sum of them! To count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.” Book of Common Prayer    

We do not have enough years on earth to come even close to knowing God the way he knows us.

The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible says, ” It is not beneath God’s dignity to get involved in ordinary history and national politics.” “The aim of God in history is the creation of an inclusive community of loving persons with God himself at the very center of this community as its prime Sustainer and most glorious Inhabitant.”

Yes, there is a great deal of disturbance in our nation at this time. The LIturgical readings for 2 Epiphany do not necessarily address politics. However, it is evident in them; we have a God who gets involved.  

In the Old Testament Book of 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20), we read how deeply God is involved in the house of Eli. Eli knows God, but his faith seems to be dimming as it has been quite some time without direct communication. Samuel, who does not recognize God’s call, mistakes it for Eli’s. But God is persistent and eager to be heard.

There is an eagerness about Samuel as well, as he listens and tries to respond to the call, first with Eli and then under Eli’s direction, he eagerly responds to God. Eli is aware that he has failed to build a loving community within his household. He did not know God as God wished to be known. Eli’s eagerness to hear the message though it would be disagreeable, and his acceptance of God’s judgment as righteous indicates that he is seeking a closer relationship with God.  

In 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, we are told that anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him. We belong to God. We are of great value to God, so much that we are the dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. We are not alone. God is deeply involved. He wants us to recognize Him as He reveals himself to us.

In John 1:43-51, we are given a beautiful image of that recognition. Jesus is building his loving community. As the apostles are drawn to him and recognizing him as the Christ, his community begins to form. Jesus isn’t selecting perfect people or specific skillsets; he is choosing those who are seeking him. Jesus saw Nathanael under the fig tree. One commentary says that it was a shaded place to study. Nathanael would likely have been studying scripture when Jesus, the Word, saw him. As Jesus tells Nathaniel how he recognized him, Nathaniel recognizes Jesus, and in that instant, a relationship grows.  

Nathanael’s relationship is significant, But Jesus goes on to say, we will see more extraordinary things, “heaven will be opened.”  Our relationship with Jesus is both small and intimate and vast and glorious.

Our lives are a tiny part of the 7.6 billion years of the earth’s expected life. And yet, each of us is individually, intimately, and entirely known by God. We are valued beyond our comprehension.  

As we are united in spirit, God’s aim in history to create an inclusive community of loving persons becomes our aim.  

As co-creators, we must

Be like Samuel, eager to listen to and share Truth.

Be like Eli, eager to hear even Truth, which makes us uncomfortable.

We must be like Nathanael, seeking Truth and eager to have it be recognized in us.

And we must be like Jesus, inviting others into His beloved community.

God has billions of years to bring his people closer together and closer to him. We have a small piece of that time to do our part.

a moment to take a knee

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“that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:25-27 (NRSV)

The first time I saw my son, take a knee on the soccer field for an injured teammate, I was moved. My little boy was becoming a gentleman. In soccer, players take a knee to show respect and concern for another who is injured. At that moment, noise and movement on the field will stop, and the attention will turn to the player and those attending to them. It is a moment of support.

In the military, taking a knee is also a show of respect. A soldier in this posture at the gravesite of a fallen friend honors the lost. It is a moment of sorrow.

In prayer, being on your knees is a show of humility. It is an acknowledgment that there is a Divine being who cares for all creation. It is a moment of supplication.

At this time, our broken country reflected in our broken hearts needs a moment of solidarity. As the publicity grows on this subject, the shifting of our focus has also turned. What we turn toward is significant. As a native Louisiana girl, though not a sports enthusiast, I cannot help but be a Saints fan. Watching Drew Brees these last few days first turn toward the flag, showing his love for his country and then after criticism, with humility, turn toward his teammates and show his love for them I am touched. His character, though challenged, is unwavering. “I live by two very simple Christian fundamentals, and that is love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself, The first one is very self-explanatory. The second one, love your neighbor as yourself, what does that mean to me? It means love all, respect all, and accept all.”  

I appreciate Drew Brees; in his faith and posture of humility, his pride in his country, and his love for humanity. I admire how his character demonstrates them woven together with love.

We have lost many lives these past months with Covid-19. We have lost many lives over many years to violence as a result of racial prejudice. We have lost faith in each other. Our country is gravely injured. Our flag represents us all. When one member suffers, all suffer together. Let us with sincerity come together as “One Nation, under God, indivisible with Liberty and Justice for all.”

 Take a knee. 

A moment the heart hears

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Often I wonder, as I pray, where do prayers go? Can anyone hear them? The words, “When we pray from the heart, the heart hears.” came to mind and has been with me all week.

At this time, when many of us cannot be together to pray or offer support and encouragement face to face, I would like to share these reflections with you.

I believe that prayer is a conversation of the heart. With the power of the Holy Spirit, the love of Christ, and an omnipresent God, our prayers are invisible threads that tie us all together. God both hears and responds to the heart, with his heart, by speaking to our hearts and to the hearts of those for whom we pray. Though I cannot visibly attest to God’s presence, I am assured, by the words speaking to my heart, how much we are loved. I pray that these words may reach your heart and give you hope.

Many of us are praying for the sick who are far away. We are praying for the dying who cannot have loved ones at their bedside. We are praying for the lonely and shut-in. And we wonder, does it matter at all? 

Yes! When a heart speaks, another heart hears.

We pray from our hearts:

Genesis 24:45–“Before I finished praying in my heart

Prayer of Manasseh 1:11–And now I bend the knee of my heart, imploring you for your kindness.

Our hearts connect to God’s:

Genesis 8:21–The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart

Luke 7:13–When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her, and he said, “Don’t cry.”

God speaks from His heart to ours:

Proverbs 2:10–For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

2 Thessalonians 3:5–May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

Our hearts hear:

Song of Songs 5:2–I slept, but my heart was awake. 

2 Corinthians 3:2–You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts.

Praying for each other is a conversation of the heart:

Romans 10:1–Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.

Colossians 2:2–I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself.  

Conversations of the heart make a difference:

Psalm 21:2–You have granted him his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips.

Philemon 1:7–Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

The apostle Paul, in his ministry, knew the pain of being separated from those he cared for deeply. He did not lose heart and continued to offer prayers for the hearts of others.

1 Thessalonians 2:17–As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face.

He prays:

1 Thessalonians 3:13–And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Perhaps the thread of prayer is felt as a tug connecting one’s heart to God’s and God’s heart to another’s pulling us all closer together.

“Wherever a person is in their life’s journey, there may come a time when the longings of their heart ask, ‘Is this it? Is this all there is?’ In these moments, someone could have a tug in their heart that says, ‘Maybe there’s more.  I want to take it to that next stage .”- Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

May your heart, in this moment, hear the promise of God’s heart hearing.