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Archive for February, 2015

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The Time of Trial

Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Matthew 26:41

Jesus in the GardenJesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane with three of his disciples. It is his last night on earth, and he came to the Garden to pray. A few hours earlier, Jesus and his disciples were sharing his Last Supper. At this meal, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and instituted the sacrament of Communion. In the Garden, Jesus is agitated, knowing what will soon occur. The disciples are tired – perhaps from the late hour, a big dinner, worry about what is about to unfold, or some combination of reasons. He asks them to stay awake while he prays, but they fall asleep.

Times of trial come to all of us – sometimes several times in a day! There are at least two ways to handle life’s challenges. First, we can avoid them as diligently and for as long as possible. Second, we can face them head–on, resigning ourselves to the fact that we are not going to avoid them. The first method makes us a victim, often reacting to our difficulties kicking, screaming, and fruitlessly begging for things to return to the way they were. The second method allows us to become a co-creator, or co-controller of the challenge. We face what we need to address with our eyes wide open and our senses fully engaged. This does not have to be a masochistic act. Rather, it is accepting what is to come and knowing, with God’s help, we will make it through. It is seeking help when necessary. Regardless of the trial – surgery, interpersonal strife, financial hardship, depression, serious illness, or job dissatisfaction – people chose to either run from the problem or to journey through it. Too often, the most destructive effect of a looming trial comes from our worry about it. Research consistently shows that most of our worries do not happen, and what happens is seldom as bad as we imagine. When we do not know what is coming, we imagine the worst. We make ourselves physically and emotionally sick from worry long before our specific challenge manifests itself, if it ever does.

I believe Jesus’ message to the disciples to “Stay awake!” was a reminder to remain present and faithful in each moment. Jesus knew he was about to suffer a horribly painful death. Jesus also knew that, with God’s help, he would make it through to the other side. We are assured of the same. Jesus wanted his disciples to be fully present to the events of that moment in time, for they would be establishing his church for the generations to come. It is in the moments of our lives that we find the power and strength to handle our times of trial, not in the pre-trial anxiety. We must learn to stay awake to those moments.

Come home to church this Sunday. Bolster your spirit, for the flesh is weak.

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Dust to Dust

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Genesis 3:19

Ash WednesdayYesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. It lasts for 46 days and is a season of preparation for Easter. During Lent, Christians are encouraged to pray and fast. These are important practices because in order to prepare ourselves to receive the new life contained in Easter, we must first shake off the shackles of that which keeps us from receiving new life.

Fasting is sacrificing something that we will miss in order to remind us of something else of importance. Commonly, fasting is giving up a certain type of food, often dessert. Fasting, however, need not be limited to food. We can deprive ourselves of other desires in our lives, so that our deprivation reminds us throughout each day of the reason for our sacrifice.

Prayer is spending time with God. Most of the time, for most of us, praying is simply talking to God. We share our hopes and concerns; we pray for others having a difficult time. We express gratitude for the blessings of the day. One thing we often fail to do in prayer, however, is to listen. Lent is an opportunity for intense listening. When we listen with an open heart and mind, we open ourselves to transformation and rebirth.

Much of the time, we are narcissistic creatures. Our perception is that the world revolves around us, and we believe that our ego – the self-image that is formed by the world – is our true self. Unfortunately, when our ego has free rein to shape us how it will, we come more to resemble beings of earth than of spirit. Sometimes, I feel the need for an ego-fast. Some fear that by allowing our earthly egos to die or diminish we will become mindless, colorless clones. Instead, we become more complete expressions of the unique God-character we were created to become.

Lent, when experienced prayerfully, is a great equalizer. When we strip ourselves of earthly possessions – those transient, egoistic things that set us apart from others – we are truly one in the Spirit. We are not the same, but we are one. We are neither more nor less unique than our neighbors are. Lent encourages us to get back to our spiritual roots, back to the image of God from which we were created. Only when we release the need to set ourselves apart from others will we begin to manifest as the truly unique and precious expressions of God that we are. And we will notice and appreciate the God-expressions of others around us. As for our bodies, they come from dust, and to dust they will return.

Come home to church this Sunday. A little “dusting” may be in order.

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A Box of Chocolates

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7a

A box of chocolatesIn the movie Forrest Gump, Forrest often has difficulty understanding life’s twists and turns, as well as the way others act. His mother had a way of putting life’s puzzles into words Forrest could understand. One of his favorite sayings from his mother was, “Life is like a box of chocolates, Forrest. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Forrest loved chocolates, so he understood the analogy. Inevitably, when he bought a box of chocolates for someone, he would eat a few before giving the rest away. He knew that there are varieties of flavors in every box of chocolates, all sharing at least one thing in common – chocolate.

Personally, facing a box of chocolates is somewhat daunting for me because I do not like coconut. I do not like the taste, and I abhor the texture. I learned, early on, that many – but not all – of the circular and oval chocolates were filled with coconut. I also learned that many – but not all – of the square and rectangular candies had caramel or some other filling I really liked. Even trying to sort chocolates by geometric shape, however, did not always prevent a mouthful of something I detested. I never knew what I was gonna get.

Forrest’s mother’s reference to life being like a box of chocolates is certainly true when dealing with people – you never know what you’re gonna get. Although the candies in a box of chocolates look relatively homogenous on the outside, they are very different on the inside. With people, however, the homogeneity is more internal than external. Most folks look and act very differently, but there is something good and pure within everyone – the Spirit of God. Connecting deeply with another, spirit to spirit, is not unlike the taste of chocolate on the tongue – sweet, savory, and satisfying. And that connection, once made, can cover for a lot of unpleasantness on the surface. Those we love are not perfect. They are fully capable of leaving us angry, sad, hurt, and disappointed. Yet, we stay with them because of connections that bind us together in spite of our quirky frailties. All the candies in a box of chocolates share something good in common – chocolate – just as all people share something good in common. When we experience another person, we will find deep beauty only when we look beyond skin color, hairstyle, clothes, sexual orientation, and education level. On the surface, people are like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get. Deep inside, however, we find the image of God.

Come home to church this Sunday. You never know what you’re gonna get…

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Run, Forrest, Run!

But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

 Isaiah 40:31

 

Run, Forrest, RunThe namesake of the movie, Forrest Gump, was bullied as a child. His schoolmates made fun of him, hurling insults and rocks. His only friend, Jenny, encouraged him to flee from his tormentors, saying, “Run, Forrest, run!” And so he ran. Running away from trouble was clearly his best option as a youth because he was always outnumbered. He soon discovered that he could often outrun trouble. Not only was he fast, he could run fast for a very long time. During one of her visits to Forrest as a young adult, Jenny bought him a pair of running shoes. When she left again, leaving Forrest heartbroken, he decided to run. He ended up running across the country, coast to coast, several times before deciding he was finished with running.

 

Many of us run from trouble because running seems to be our best option. In his childhood, Forrest ran from his tormentors. As an adult, he ran from the hurt of losing the love of his life – Jenny – repeatedly. The problem with running away from trouble is that we cannot run forever, and trouble usually catches up to us anyway. Obviously, most of us do not physically run from our problems, as Forrest Gump did. We do, however, let dreaded phone calls roll to voicemail. We commit to beginning the diet our doctor says we need – tomorrow. We avoid confronting and repairing dysfunctional relationships. These are ways to run that are not so hard on the knees, but they are hard on the spirit.

 

At some point, we must face our life challenges head-on. One of the reasons we avoid our problems is fear that we do not have the resolve or the resources to address them. We cannot see how to solve a problem, and so we avoid it for as long as we can, often making the problem worse. In that sense, avoiding our challenges is a faith issue. The author of the book of Isaiah writes that if we “wait for the Lord” our strength will be renewed, and we will “run and not be weary.” In this passage, waiting on the Lord refers to trusting in or relying upon the Lord. To trust in the Lord does not mean that we impulsively act on a problem without first researching and praying about our options. God sometimes provides guidance in obvious ways, but God’s communications are often subtle. For me, at some point, I begin to feel at peace about one option over the others. At that point, I know it is time to act. We prayerfully wait on the Lord for guidance, and then we act. There is no need to continue running away from what we fear.

 

Come home to church this Sunday. Peace does not run, it waits.

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