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Archive for June, 2016

Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 1: Faith Heals

Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak., for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. Matthew 9:20-22

The relationship between healing and faith is difficult to understand, impossible to predict, and a connection Jesus mentions many times throughout his ministry. He often healed someone, only to give credit to that person’s faith. I used to believe Jesus was being modest. After all, he was a humble man. He credits faith with healing so many times, however, that I find myself rethinking his modesty. Dare we believe that faith truly does heal?

I have tried to apply faith with instances of serious illness in people I know, but with ambiguous results. I remember praying hard for my mother’s recovery from a stroke. She had been a healthy, determined woman, and I could easily visualize her fighting her way back to health. But she never did. Rather, she slipped into a steady decline and passed away 10 weeks later. The times when an unlikely healing has occurred, and there have been a few, I find myself wondering if it was a God-healing or a talented physician. Clearly, God works through the hands and hearts of God’s people. If I were keeping score, however, of the number of times I believe my faith brought the outcome I prayed for, faith would be losing by a landslide. Is this due to my weak faith, or my lack of understanding about healing?

Not all healings are equal, nor all they all physical. When we pray for healing, we are generally praying for restoration to a prior state of being. We pray for what we, in our limited understanding, believe to be the best outcome. Do we possess the perspective to know what is best in any situation? There are numerous examples of physical healings in the Bible, but we can assume all those people died of something, eventually. There are also instances where God does not heal the physical ailment of a faithful person – Paul comes to mind. Paul used his infirmity as a reminder of his total reliance on grace. Even Jesus, the night before his crucifixion, prays for God to “take this cup from me.” Ultimately, he yields by saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” I have often wondered why God did not rescue Jesus from the cross. But wait – Jesus was rescued, just not in the way we humans would have requested.

If faith truly does heal, there is a lot of pressure on us to be well. Wellness comes under our control, instead of our being victimized by illnesses we can do nothing about. Faith is our connection to God – it is the thread by which the human meets the divine. Faith assures us there is more to life than what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell – there is more beyond our human knowledge and efforts. Would God grant us a desire contrary to our ultimate good? There were many times, as a parent that I refused to grant a desire of my children, knowing they were better off without having their wish granted.

What is out there, and how and when it may or may not bless us remains a mystery. Dare we believe that faith heals? Dare we believe it does not?

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Life Notes

The Eternity of a Moment

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Luke 1:14-15

Living in the moment is a constant challenge for me. I find reliving memories of the past or dreaming about the future much more compelling. Unfortunately, neither of these activities is productive. In fact, it is downright unhealthy when the past and/or future consume us. The only place where we can act is in the now; this time is where we meet reality. I realize this may sound uncomfortably abstract, but it is actually extremely practical.

If I stand in an open field, tangents emanate on a two-dimensional plane from that point in every direction – north, south, east, west, and everywhere in between. In a truly open field, I can move in any direction I chose and, at least in theory, alter the course of each moment based on my choice of direction. That is not all, however, because we do not live in a two-dimensional world. The tangents emanating from that moment also extend out spherically above and below me. Although I may not be able to travel physically along those paths, I can send a degree of consciousness along them, again altering my momentary experiences. The key to living a moment is in exploring its many secrets.

Every moment presents us with infinite possibilities, the combination of which shape our future realities in both small and large ways. When we choose to focus on the past or future – ignoring the moment – we give up more than we can imagine. In fact, our world becomes imaginary because we cannot actually live in the past or the future. We separate ourselves from those around us. Living in the moment is a conscious choice we must make repeatedly and requires focus and attention. It is much easier for me to allow my focus and attention to wander and, when it does, it wanders back or forward in time. The now, however, is an infinitely richer, safer, and more interesting state in which to exist.

The kingdom of God is always near and available to us from any point in space and at any point in time. It is a matter of whether we choose to enter fully into the moments we are given. Only by being fully present can we experience the nearness of that kingdom. If we are lost in past regrets or day-dreaming of future possibilities, we miss the opportunity. Jesus told us many times that the kingdom of God is near. We will never experience the kingdom until we learn to be fully present to our moments. Only then, will we know and experience the good news of the kingdom.

To be (present) or not to be (present), that is (indeed) the question!

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Life Notes

The Boxer

In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade,

And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him ‘til he cried out

In his anger and his shame, “I am leaving! I am leaving!” But the fighter still remains…

“The Boxer,” written by Paul Simon

I am not a fan of boxing, so I do not pretend to have been a follower of Mohammed Ali. I thought it curious when he joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name from Cassius Clay. I knew little of the Nation of Islam, except that their “Nation” seemed obsessively angry. Mohammed Ali impressed me as loud and arrogant. Like most other white folks at the time, I did not understand. Even today, I cannot understand in the same way as one who is a member of countless generations of oppressed people. No, I did not appreciate Mohammed Ali, the boxer, but I do admire the passion with which he stood up against racism, discrimination, and the Vietnam War; the way he used his fame to give voice to a greater cause.

In the late 1960’s, the folk-prophet Paul Simon wrote a song titled, “The Boxer.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3LFML_pxlY) The song tells the story of a young man in New York City who suffers a series of knockdowns, but always manages to get back on his feet and climb back into the ring of his life. The song is an analogy for our life journey. We each “carry the reminders” of our struggles, our failures, and our losses. We have scars, limps, aches, and pains from life’s many battles. Even the great Mohammed Ali was silenced in his later years by Parkinson’s disease. We do not age gracefully and, sooner or later, the combined forces of life deal a knockout punch from which we will not rise, at least not on this side of the grave.

Ian Maclaren, a 19th Century preacher, is credited for the popular bit of folk wisdom, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” How true. There are times in every life when our only comfort comes from the shadows, times we feel we cannot take another step or fight another day. The enemy might be cancer, betrayal, or the loss of a loved one, but we find ourselves in a boxing ring not of our choosing. Something inside drives us to continue through our anger and our shame to whatever lies on the other side. We get hit where we live, and it hurts. Eventually, we find ourselves down and out. We only hope to have left a positive mark on the world that so scarred us, praying the battles we fought somehow improved the world that also blessed us so richly.

So, rest in peace, Mohammed Ali. May your causes long outlive your years on earth.

Life Notes will be on vacation next week. Feel free to browse through my archives.

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Weightier Matters

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

Matthew 23:23-24

How does one eat an elephant? An elephant is eaten one bite at a time, of course. No doubt, the same is true of swallowing a camel. Years ago I heard the story of the boiled frog. If you place a frog in a pot of boiling water, the frog will simply jump out. If you place a frog in room temperature water and bring it slowly to a boil, the frog will lay in the water, comfortably, until it has been boiled to death. The proverbial slippery slope offers a comfortable path-to-nowhere-good. Before long, in Jesus’ example, we become so consumed and comfortable straining gnats we find we have swallowed a camel.

Biblical references to “the Law” point to the 600+ laws listed in the first 5 books of the Old Testament – the rules for righteous living established by the early Hebrews. The belief was that one must obey the Law – all of it – in order to earn one’s salvation. The “scribes and Pharisees” that Jesus was often so critical of were the religious leaders of the day. They were pious and believed themselves to be a holy cut above the common folks. Modern day equivalents to the scribes and Pharisees may be some of the televangelists and others who believe their grasp on ultimate truth is exclusive. They tell us the Gospel is so clear and the path so easy – all we must do is follow a set of rules they are more than happy to glean for us from the Bible. To me, this is the “camel” that Jesus references – we lose sight of the forest by focusing on the trees; we miss the larger purpose by focusing exclusively on the details.

Jesus called the scribes and the Pharisees “hypocrites” because they attended to the letter of the Law but ignored the spirit of the law. Granted, the spirit of the law is more difficult to discern, requiring much prayer and contemplation. The spirit of the Law is not generally black and white because it can vary from situation to situation. It requires the application of love and perspective, making decisions more challenging. What is a loving act in one arena may be received as cold and heartless in another. In Jesus’ own words, the “weightier matters of the law,” or the spirit of the law, are “justice and mercy and faith.” It is much easier to ignore justice, mercy, and faith and simply follow a set of rules. It is much easier to write a check to a soup kitchen than to actually go and serve the poor. Certainly, soup kitchens need money, but if we think we can fulfill our obligations for justice and mercy by simply writing a check, we have probably swallowed a camel. We miss the point. God’s children need benefactors, certainly, but they also need helping hands. The weightier matters of the Law require service to others that improves their condition, not simply following a set of rules.

Those who follow a blind guide down a slippery slope may end up swallowing a camel.

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