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Archive for March, 2015

Life Notes

 

What Time is it?

But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. Mark 13:32-33

Earlier this week I thought, “It is time to start writing a Life Note for this week.” It was about 7:00 PM on Monday evening. I do not routinely begin a Life Note at 7:00 PM on Monday evenings, but that was not what I meant. I meant that it was about time to begin this week’s Life Note. Confusing? Yes, the English language is full of words, like time, with multiple meanings. In general, I like to begin writing my weekly blog several days before publishing it on Thursday mornings. That gives me time to reconsider, refine, and review my writing on a particular topic. Thus, it was time to begin.

There are at least two Greek words that describe time. The first, chronos, refers to the actual time, such as “It is now 7:00 PM.” The second, kairos, expresses a less specific aspect of time, sometimes referring to a stage of life. “It is time to write my will,” is an example. Expressing our final wishes in a will is not an urgent task for most of us, but completing it before we pass from this life is important. Beginning a Life Note is not an urgent task for Monday evenings, but it is important (at least to me) to start thinking about what and when I will begin writing.

From a whole-life perspective, what time is it for you? The context for the passage from Mark, above, is about the second coming of Christ. There is much disagreement about the nature of that appearance, but one thing is clear – no one knows the time. Therefore, the time to prepare is always now. We are not guaranteed another moment of physical embodiment beyond the current one. There are experiences, learning opportunities, accomplishments, and relationships that each of us is specifically gifted for. While I believe our life’s work continues beyond death, there is much to be done while we are physically manifested. What unfinished tasks need your attention at this time in your life?

This is the fifth week of Lent, the season of preparation for Easter. Lent is a 6-week season, so for anyone planning to follow one of the many Lenten practices, it is time to begin! This Sunday is Palm Sunday. Next week is Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter. For those who have not begun, it is time.

Come home to church this Sunday. It is time.

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Life Notes

Failing Successfully

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5

Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. Matthew 19:30

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Matthew 19:24

Jesus makes a number of difficult and paradoxical pronouncements throughout his ministry. He tells us the poor in spirit, meek, and persecuted will be blessed. Can you imagine a parent wanting their child to grow up poor and meek? Blessed, yes. Persecuted? No way. Can you imagine a coach encouraging a prospective athlete to come in last, or a business professor teaching the benefits of poverty? By today’s standards of success, the Bible can seem a formula for failure.

The Paschal Mystery is the mystery of the Lamb, the Lamb being Jesus. It refers to the truths of Jesus that are not widely understood, and the New Testament is full of them. Fr. Richard Rohr sums up the Paschal Mystery by saying, “The way up is the way down.” Paradoxical truths are perhaps not as hard to understand as they are to accept. It is risky to pattern a life after them, especially for those to whom earthly success is important. In just about every country and age, except my own, I am a rich man. Therefore, the passage from Matthew 19, about the difficulty for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, seems particularly harsh. After all, I am a good person. I am active in my church. I study the Bible, and I pray daily. I have worked long and hard for my success. Why would the kingdom of God be difficult for me to enter?

The Paschal Mystery is mysterious because spiritual success and material success are often confused, different, and sometimes mutually exclusive. Fear of failure prevents us from stretching ourselves to new heights, both spiritually and materially. In our culture, the poor are considered deprived, perhaps even failures. In Jesus-speak, those who desire material wealth beyond their need are poor and have failed. But think about this: No one appreciates success more than one who has repeatedly failed. Those who have not failed may take their success for granted. No one appreciates the grace of forgiveness more than one who has sinned horribly. No one appreciates health like one who has been ill. The challenge, then, is remaining mindful of the source and scope of our blessings. We find the kingdom of God by entirely relying on God for our life and sustenance, and by being grateful for what we receive. We need not fear failing as we strive to deepen our spirituality. Failure is not a permanent state, but it can become an entrance into a deeper relationship with God. Indeed, the way up, many times, is down.

Come home to church this Sunday. A reliant faith is the key to the kingdom of God.

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Rules of Forgiveness

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:12-14

There is a popular saying that I do not care for. It goes like this: “It is easier to beg forgiveness than to ask permission.” Perhaps the reason I am not fond of this philosophy is that I usually hear it from an employee or child after they have done something I wish they had discussed with me first. I believe forgiveness is appropriate for anyone who is sorry for what has been done. If one continues to do something they know is not right, however, it is difficult to believe they are truly sorry for it. Perhaps they are not sorry for what they did, but only regret they were caught. Of course, there are others times when forgiving someone is in our best interest, even if the other person is not seeking our forgiveness.

The comedian Emo Phillips said, “I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn’t work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.” While I agree that God willingly and repeatedly grants forgiveness, I also believe there are expectations attached to forgiveness. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul advises us to forgive others as we have been forgiven. He also says to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient in our dealings with others.

Repentance – literally to turn around – is a common expectation for forgiveness. When we repent of our sin, we acknowledge a need to change something within, and so we seek to turn around. Confession of our sins is another expectation for forgiveness. When we confess, we accept responsibility for our actions. If there are rules of forgiveness, they likely include accepting responsibility for our actions and being willing to change.

Paul, however, sums up forgiveness in a word, love. In typical Paul-style, he uses many words to get to the point, but love is clearly there. Our need to forgive or to be forgiven always occurs in relationship to another – to God, to a family member, to a friend or co-worker. If we love that person, or at least if we value the relationship, we will not intentionally do them harm. When we say or do something harmful, we want to make it right. Thus, we seek forgiveness out of love. Likewise, we are more likely to grant forgiveness when we have been wronged if we love another or value our relationship with them. The rule of forgiveness, then, is actually very simple: love one another.

Come home to church this Sunday. If you must steal a bicycle to go, seek forgiveness.

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A Disturbing Intruder

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.  –James 2:14-17

A gift of grace is something positive received that is not earned or deserved. I often consider God’s grace to be like something nice I do for another who cannot respond in kind. Certainly, there are aspects of God’s grace that fall into that category, such as salvation. There are, however, gifts and graces from God that may not be so free. In his devotional, Seize the Day, Dr. Charles Ringma writes: “Grace always calls us to a response. God’s action toward us is never meant to leave us as we are, but is a challenge to move us forward. Grace is thus never a convenient gift, but a disturbing intruder.” 

I love the life God has granted me. I am comfortable and relatively secure, certainly more so than most others in this world. I am not motivated to change my life, even for the better, if it means risking my comfort and security. While I give God the glory for my many blessings, is that enough? The writer of James says, “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” In other words, people of faith cannot retain their blessings by hoarding them. I am reminded of the lyrics of an old folk song: “Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more!” Gifts of grace are meant to change us and move us forward. When we commit to making the lives of others better, our own lives also improve because our gifts multiply by being shared.

Certainly, we have the free will to determine the purposes for which we will share what we are given. Indeed, we have a responsibility to pass along our gifts in intentional and responsible ways. But our gifts are to be used for purposes beyond our own selfish desires. In that respect, as Dr. Ringma writes, gifts of grace may not be such a convenient gift after all, but a “disturbing intruder.”  They are like doors inviting us out of our comforts and into new experiences in community with others. Acknowledging and being thankful for our gifts of grace is important, not because we hope to be loved more (which is not possible), but so that love and grace can flow through us to others. Like a faucet that must be left open for water to flow, grace is made new by flowing through us. Our cup remains full, even as the waters of love and life flow to others.

Come home to church this Sunday. Accept the invitation of this disturbing intruder.

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