Monday, June 27, 2011

The Diversity of the Bible

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;  with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.     --  Ps. 89:1 

How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me?    -- Ps. 13:1 

After Pentacost, the Daily Common Lectionary goes in two directions.  One strand is called Complementary and the other is called Semicontinuous.  I have no idea why, but it does give pastors some choice as to which passages, and messages, they would like to emphasize.  The passages above were the choices for the Psalm reading yesterday. 

The diversity of these two verses, chosen for the same day, fascinates me.  The Bible contains something for everyone!  When you are feeling high on God's love, there is Psalm 89 to confirm your thoughts.  And, when you are feeling lost and alone, there is Psalm 13, to echo you.  Either way, you find support.

Different viewpoints like these occur throughout the Bible, not just in the Psalms.  That's understandable:  different writers have different perspectives, or even the same writer is not always in the same frame of mind from one day to the next.  This diversity suits the diversity of our experiences.  But sometimes there are out-and-out contradictions between passages that tell the same story.  What is that about?

Why, for example, are there two different histories of the Israelites during the later part of the First Temple period?  1 & 2 Kings, and 1 & 2 Chronicles, hold much in common, but there are also striking differences between them.  Both histories are found next to each other in the Bible, and both are valued equally.

And why are there four different Gospels?  Wouldn't it have been so much easier to have one?  Many people obviously think so because there have been many attempts over the years to harmonize the Gospels into one story.  The wonderful thing about them, however, is that though each one has a unique point of view, and though there are some contradictions between them, taken together they illustrate the life and death and resurrection of Jesus more fully than any one of them could have ever done alone.

Does this diversity, and sometimes contradiction, make the Bible nonsensical?  No, but it does make it challenging.  And that is as it should be.  Because God is the God of everyone.  We are all different, and we sometimes understand God in completely contrary ways.  This too is challenging.

That a few people of great wisdom and understanding chose to contain such very diverse material in one book is a wonderful affirmation of unity.  For here, in this one book, we have a place in which we can all find recognition.  If we didn't have this diversity, or if we tried to erase the differences in the Bible, by lifting up certain passages as the truth and ignoring other passages which say the opposite (which many people do when they are trying to argue their own viewpoint), then we would lose something very important.   God would no longer be able, via the Bible, to speak to each one of us.  For, we cannot erase our own differences. 

Peter W. Marty, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Minnesota, writes about the church in similar language.  "[People] find out that no matter how flawed the individuals within it may be, the church still happens to be the garden of God's grace... with so many people...with whom you have nothing in common except your common humanity... and God. ... [The] church is the primary expression of the embodiment of God."  (The Lutheran Magazine, July 2011, pg. 11)  The same could be said of the Bible.  The Bible is also the "garden of God's grace," and is also common ground for so many people.  The Bible embodies us all.

So perhaps, instead of trying to separate ourselves over our differences, or harmonize the differences away, we should take a leaf from our own book.

Dear God, may I always remember to value the diversity of your people.  Please help me keep in mind that there is also much to learn from those who understand you differently than I do.  Love always, Pam

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Different Sacrifice

After these things God tested Abraham.  He said to him, "Abraham!"  And he said, "Here I am."  He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.  ... When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order.  He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.  But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!"  And he said, "Here I am."  He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me."  And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns.  Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son."     -- from Gen. 22:1-14

This verse is part of the upcoming Sunday's readings, which we study each week in our Wed. night Bible study.  It speaks powerfully to me.

In the past, I have read this passage as a hard story, difficult to understand:  why would God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son, the one promised to him at long last?  The most frequent commentary on this passage tells us that this story illustrates the importance of Abraham's complete devotion to God, above everything else.  But still, it's a hard passage to understand.

In my experience, God has asked me to do hard things, really hard things sometimes, but never has he asked me to harm someone else.  Every hard thing God has asked me to do, has been for the good of all concerned.  If I heard God telling me to sacrifice one of my sons, I would doubt my sanity.  I would consider checking myself into a mental institution.  Wouldn't I?

I had a sort of epiphany about this passage last night.  For I see too much of myself in this passage.

I have been struggling a lot lately, trying to find the right balance in my life between spending time with my family and spending time reading and writing about faith.  This has been a struggle for a long time.  I place a high value on spending time in daily devotions.  Doing so deeply enriches my life.  I also place a high value on spending time with my family.  This also deeply enriches my life, and theirs, as well.  When I spend too much time devoted to one of these parts of my life, the other one suffers, and so, as a result, do I. 

However, I have probably tended to neglect my family more than I have neglected my time with God.  I know God wants me to love and care for my family, but I have frequently thought that my devotion to God takes precedence.  And so, I have encouraged my children to watch more television, or play more video games, just so that I will have more time to read and write.  As a result, they are losing out.  They are being sacrificed.

I have been doing pretty much just what Abraham did.  Abraham believed he was obeying God's will by sacrificing Isaac.  I was thinking that pursuing my studies, devoting so much time to reading and writing, was what God wanted me to do -- even though that meant I would spend less time with my children.

But God did not want Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  Isaac was part of Abraham's promise. Slowly, I am hearing God tell me something different, too.  I am starting to get, after much repetition, and from many sources, that the consequence of giving my children so much "plugged-in" time is their spiritual death.  For I see that my children are not having enough time relating to real people, or managing the real challenges of life, or learning how to do many different things, or appreciating the world around them.  When they become adults, how will they know these things?  Realizing this, seeing the dire consequence of my neglect, has made my blood run cold.  I have to change the way I do things.

God provided Abraham with a different sacrifice.  What is my ram?  What else can I sacrifice?

Perhaps, God has been providing me with an answer to this as well.  Lately, I have been feeling overwhelmed by all the books I have to read.  I have piles of books on three sides of my reading chair.  "So many books, so little time" has been my unhappy mantra.  I feel increasing pressure to read fast and read often, just to get through them.  And yet nothing is really grabbing me.

I have always justified the time I spend reading with the fact that these books about Christianity, religious history, and other faiths, help me understand my faith and God better.  And, I have reasoned that the kids don't need me as much anymore.

Perhaps I need to cut myself off from books the way an alcoholic cuts out alcohol, or a chain-smoker stops smoking.  I will do so, and see what happens.

Dear God, thank you for guiding me to see your message clearly and completely.  Thank you for opening my eyes to my own faults and for not giving up on me.  Love always, Pam

Saturday, June 18, 2011


For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.   Romans 8:19   

Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.  -- 2 Tim.1:14

This week many of the readings have been touching on my thoughts about creation and the role we play in that creation, as children of God.  I've been wondering lately if God created the Earth, and all that is in it, entirely for one purpose.  And that single purpose is for us to learn to love as God loves -- to learn how to love unconditionally and sacrificially -- so that life on Earth will be the same as it is in Heaven.

God created a beautifully interconnected, interdependent world.  Over this creation, God gave humankind dominion:  the authority and power to rule.  When God gave us dominion, he gave us free will.  For if we do not have free will, the ability to make choices, we would not have dominion -- dominion would be God's.

God also created a very diverse world.  He told humankind to be fruitful and multiply.  In making us different from one another and telling us to multiply, God guaranteed that the human population would grow in diversity.

Why does God give us free will?  And why does God want us to live amongst a great diversity of people?  Because love does not depend upon our obedience to the ones we love, nor on their obedience to us.  We are loved unconditionally and sacrificially by God, and we are meant to love one another unconditionally and sacrificially.

I believe God waits in longing for us to do this completely.  He has given us dominion.  And he taught us how to take care of his creation.  He has taught us, in thought, word, and deed, how to love unconditionally and sacrificially:  do not judge; forgive as we have been forgiven; do not covet; do not kill; love kindness; visit those in prison; care for the sick, the widow, the orphan; welcome the stranger; give sustenance to the hungry and thirsty; love not wealth, not prestige; turn our hearts to our children; walk humbly with God; love one another as Jesus loved us; etc., etc., etc.  This knowledge has been passed down through the millenia.

But, we learn best by a combination of shared knowledge and experience.  I believe that we have been given dominion in this world in order to experience the successes and failures, the highs and lows, of choosing, or not choosing, to love as God wants us to love.  The question is:  Are we learning what we need to learn?

God gave us dominion.  Why have so many children of God become bystanders, waiting for someone else to come to the rescue of those in need?  Instead of being bystanders, let us become allies of those in need, engaged in making this world a better place.  For we are meant to follow God's will, so that his Kingdom will come, on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Dear God, please give me the courage and strength to do whatever I can to make this world a better place.  Love always, Pam

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Christian Unity

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption.  When we cry, "Abba!  Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ -- if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.     -- Romans 8:14-17

I attended the ELCA Grand Canyon Synod Assembly this last Friday and Saturday, and felt very clearly God's presence there, working on me. 

To start, the worship service on Friday morning had for its Gospel reading John 17:20-26:  I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. ... so that the world may believe that you have sent me....   This is the same Gospel reading that was the focus of the national Conference on Christian Unity in 2009, which was the last Christian gathering I attended.  This made my ears perk up, I can tell you!

Then the Bible Study on Jonah spoke so wonderfully to me, as it did to many at the Assembly.  I especially appreciated Rev. Timothy Swanson asking us to think about what is Nineveh for us personally.  What is it that we, I, want to run away from?

Well, I've been tempted, more than once lately, to give up on trying to promote Christian unity.  Because I'm beginning to learn that Christian unity means much more than getting Lutherans, Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodist, Pentacostals, etc., together for fellowship opportunities or work projects.  Those are very good things, but that is not where the real division lies.  The real division in Christianity, and with all people of faith, is between those who want to exclude and those who want to include. The most inclusive includers want to welcome all people into one, world-wide, Kingdom of God, while the most exclusive excluders want to build protective walls around their members who alone represent the Kingdom of God.  (In my journal, I drew a circle to represent includers, and a square to represent excluders, but I can't figure out how to put that in this posting!)

Now, I know that God has been calling me to promote Christian unity for the last four years.  However, since the excluders want no part of what the includers want, I am at a loss as to how I am supposed to even try to bring these two groups of people together.  Seeing how impossible this calling is, I want to run away altogether.  Just like Jonah wanted to run away from evil, wicked, crime-ridden, corpse-filled, Nineveh.  It seemed an impossible task, to Jonah, to turn the hearts of the Ninevites to God.  But God insisted that Jonah proclaim his message.

Driving home from the assembly, I was listening to a lecture on The Archeology of the Holy Land (The Teaching Company, Great Courses Series).  In lecture 6, Prof. Jodi Magness discusses the beginnings of the deep divisions between Israel in the north and Judah in the south which began after King Solomon died.  I learned that the divisions became more than just logistical because the Israelites to the north, who later became known as Samaritans, practiced an "inclusive Yahwism', while the Judeans to the south, who later became known as the Jews, practiced an "exclusive Yahwism".  For example, the Israelites/Samaritans intermarried and they built their own temples for Yahweh.  The Judeans/Jews, however, became focused on blood purity, especially after their return from exile, and they insisted that Yahweh could only be worshipped in Jerusalem.  (Tough luck on anyone who lived far away).

This reminded me of one of the verses we studied when I went to the Conference on Christian Unity mentioned above.  In Ezekiel 37:16-17, God asks the prophet to take two sticks representing the two divided kingdoms, and God promises to make them one stick, in order that they may be one in my hand. 

And I was reminded of the many times that Jesus associated with Samaritans in the Gospels.  Jesus preached that God's Kingdom was within reach of everyone: Jews, Samaritans, even non-Israelites.  He tried to tell people about God, who, as even Jonah knew, is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.... (Jonah 4:2)  But not everyone believed his message. 

Thinking about my Nineveh provided some clarity to me, reiterated clarity, as to what God is asking me to do.  I wonder if God always calls us to what we find most difficult, not only to enlarge his kingdom, but to teach us what we need to learn about that kingdom.

I am an includer.  I want everyone to be an includer.  I am really bothered by those who exclude.  I have expended my energy, and lost a lot of sleep, trying to make a square look like a circle.  What would happen, I wonder, if I simply draw a bigger circle, one that embraces the square?  For if I only love those who think and act like me, what more do I do than others?

Dear and Heavenly Father, please keep showing me what it is I need to do.  For I can do nothing on my own.  Love always, Pam

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


...discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers.  Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins....  Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ.     --  from 1 Peter 4:7-11

These were the words I read yesterday evening after a long, difficult afternoon with the kids.  They were very convicting.

I was tired yesterday.  The kids, unfortunately, were wired.  Needless to say, I didn't get a rest.  I got grumpy instead.  I knew I was not being very kind, but that didn't stop my bad mood.  If anything, it made it worse.

My tiredness was my own fault to begin with.  I had stayed up late the night before, writing.  I can see that I'm going to have stop doing that.  How can I teach my kids about kindness, and controlling their temper, when I am not always kind, and I cannot always control my temper?  I just doesn't work.  I need to follow my own rules.

The house is getting messier and messier, as well.  The last few days, I've spent too much time reading.  And even though I put off cleaning the house for my own pleasure, a messy house also puts me in a messy mood.  Peter says,"discipline yourselves."   Yes, this I need to do.

I can see that maintaining a balance between family and studying/writing and the house is going to be a constant struggle.  One that I will have to think about on a daily basis.

In today's readings, I first was struck by these words in Ps. 99:

Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called on his name.  They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.  He spoke to them in a pillar of cloud; and they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.  O Lord, our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.  Extol the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy.    

God does hear me when I cry to him.  God does forgive.  But God also corrects me when I have done wrong.

I read also:  ...hear in heaven your dwelling place, forgive, act, and render to all whose hearts you know...  --  from 1 Kings 8:38-39

There can be no doubt that God knows our hearts.  When I am less than the person God wants me to be, if I am tuned into God's word, I hear God correct me.  And for this I am grateful.  For even though recognizing my transgressions is painful, I am glad to know where I have gone wrong and what I need to do to repair the damage I have done.  

The passage above in 1 Kings ends with the words, "so that they may fear you all the days that they live in the land."  To my way of thinking, God does not correct me so that I will fear him.  God wants what is best for all.  I know this.  I know that my getting angry at my children is not right; anger harms our relationship in so many ways.   God corrects me because he loves us all.  So, to my way of thinking, the passage should say, "so that they may love you all the days that they live in the land."  For that is how I feel.  I am grateful for the correction.  

How is this possible?  When other people correct me, I don't always respond this way.  Depending on how I am corrected, I may feel really peeved about it.  What is the difference?  Perhaps it is because I know that God loves me.  And his way of correcting me is gentle.  Just the note I need to hear.  If only I could learn how to correct my children in this same loving way, always.

Dear and Loving Lord, please help me.  I need constant reminders.  Take this unruly heart and mold it to follow your ways in all things.  I wish I were able to always speak to my children the way you speak to me.  Is it possible?  Love always, Pam

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Glory of the Lord

... the whole congregation drew near and stood before the Lord.  And Moses said, "This is the thing that the Lord commanded you to do, so that the glory of the Lord may appear to you."  Then Moses said to Aaron, "Draw near to the altar and sacrifice your sin offering, and make atonement for yourself and for the people; and sacrifice the offering of the people, and make atonement for them; as the Lord commanded."   -- Lev. 9:5b-7

I was thinking earlier today about God's grace.  Grace to me is undeserved forgiveness:  forgiveness, even though we have sinned.    Sin distances us from God.  Whether we recognize this or not, we feel its effects.  When we return to God, even in the silence of our hearts, God, who knows our hearts, embraces us with his love and forgiveness.  God forgives even the worst sinner.

Recently, I learned the stories of two people who were affected by undeserved forgiveness.  Mitch Albom tells the story of Henry Covington in his book "have a little faith: a true story."  Henry Covington had a difficult life from the beginning.  Then as an adolescent, he began to make one bad choice after another -- from bad to worse, actually.  He himself said that he broke every one of the Ten Commandments.  When he reached his very lowest point, he begged for God to help him change his life.  God did.  And then, Henry Covington devoted the rest of his life to helping other people like himself turn their lives around.  The sacrifices he made to offer his neighbors a helping hand are astounding.

From a very unexpected source, television's "Undercover Boss," came the story of the Chief Development Officer of Subway, Don Feltman.  He came to Subway from the music industry.  His habitual drinking as a musician wasn't compatible with the cooperate world so he hid it as well as he could.  Until one day, when he had an "on the job meltdown" and collapsed.  After rehab, Fred deLuca, the CEO of Subway, gave him a second chance.  One can hear in Don's voice, as he tells his story, the depth of his gratitude.  In this show, he in turn looks behind the rough exteriors of some of the employees he meets, finds out their stories, and lends them a helping hand.

If you can take away all the specific ancient rites of sacrifice, the message in Leviticus resounds with meaning still today.  That message is:  Repentance brings into view the glory of the Lord.  God knows when we are truly repentant, we don't even have to say the words aloud.  God forgives.  And this forgiveness, totally undeserved as we know it to be, fills us with gratitude and the desire to change our lives.  We in turn are asked to reciprocate, to forgive others as God has forgiven us.  In this way, God's glory will abound.

Mark W. Thompsen writes beautifully of this forgiveness in "Jesus, the Word, and the Way of the Cross."  "Only love that is willing to share human suffering and bear with human faithlessness and rebellion is capable of sharing transforming grace and forgiveness with us.  Only Divine vulnerable love which does not crush our resistance but persuasively draws us out of brokenness and overwhelms us with grace and forgiveness is capable of transforming our lives.  Compassion, grace, forgiveness and trust emerge from an encounter with compassion, grace, forgiveness, and trust." (pg. 129) 

I believe that it is when we experience forgiveness, unexpectedly and undeservedly, that "the glory of the Lord appears" in full force.  I'm sure that anyone who has experienced this would agree.

Dear God, your grace overwhelms me, fills me with light and wonder, and moves me to share it with others.  In this, I believe, thy will is done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.  Love always, Pam

Sunday, June 5, 2011

None May Boast

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....  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your doing; it is the gift of God -- not the result of works, so that none may boast.     --  from Eph. 2:3-10

God made us alive even though we were dead through our trespasses.  By his grace, we have been saved so that none may boast.  As Jesus said, "When you have done all that is commanded you, say, "We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty." (Luke 17:10)

This says to me that we cannot lord our righteousness, our perceived righteousness, over anyone else.  We cannot say that we are better Christians than others.  We cannot judge another as unworthy of God's grace.  For we were unworthy, we are still unworthy, and yet God's grace saved, and continues to save, us.  All of our good deeds only come about as the result of God's grace to begin with.

Then how do we respond to those whom we think have it all wrong?  Certainly not by judging them to be outside of God's grace.  Who are we to judge whom God will grace?  "God saved us when we were dead through our trespasses."  When we judge our neighbor as being outside of God's grace, and ourselves as correspondingly righteous, we have become less humble.  Being judgmental in this way only serves to separate ourselves from the other, either in anger or in alienation.  If our desire is to help someone understand God's way as we understand it, then this attitude defeats our purpose before we even get started.

So, how do we rightly engage people who think differently about Jesus than we do?  This is a recurring question for me.  About four years ago, I began to think about Christian unity.  Most recently, a week or so ago, I was asking myself this question again.  Later that same day, after a group discussion about Islam, my pastor recommended a book he had recently read.  I took a glance at it.  The first words I read were:  "How do we engage the other?"  Needless to say, I asked to borrow it.

After reading just the first few pages of "Jesus, the Word, and the Way of the Cross," by Mark W. Thompsen, I felt that God was again speaking to me.  Mr. Thompsen writes that one must approach any kind of witnessing of Jesus from the perspective of Christ's crucifixion.  The reason I found this so striking is because a couple of years ago, when I was in the midst of struggling with all my being to prevent our church from splitting over different understandings, I woke up one morning thinking about Jesus' death.

This was not something I cared to think about.  In fact, I was surprised and disturbed by my thoughts.  I wanted to know how to prevent my church from dividing, not why Jesus died.  To me, Christians placed too much emphasis on Jesus' death, and not enough on his life.  In my devotionals that morning, in Oswald Chamber's "My Utmost for His Highest," I read, "You are brought face to face with a difficult case....  This is your line of service -- to see that nothing is between Jesus and yourself.  Is there?  If there is, you must get through it...." (Oct. 3)  That directness forced me to try to figure out what Jesus' death meant.   Unfortunately, I got bogged down in theories of atonement.

Now here again, with this book, was a pairing up of Jesus' crucifixion with our ability to engage the one who thinks differently.  What is it about Jesus' death that is so important in this situation?  Well, it is not atonement.  According to Thompsen, "The depth and breadth of the significance of Jesus' non-violent prophetic ministry and the violent death inflicted upon him is often lost in a simplistic theory of the atonement."  I could relate!

The importance of Jesus' crucifixion lies in understanding that in "contrast to all forms of Christian arrogance, intolerance and imperialism, Jesus' disciples are called to be servants washing people's feet, 'Christ-minded' persons...."  (pg. 9)  Jesus' mission was marked by compassion for those who were physically and spiritually disabled, and by vulnerability in offering himself as a living example of God's way, even unto his own death.  If we want to be one with Christ, then we must humbly live and breathe and have our being in him who humbly lived and breathed and died to bring the Gospel, the good news of God, to all.

Dear God, please be with me as I struggle to listen to your word, and share it with others.  Love always, Pam.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Enlighten the Eyes of the Heart

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe....  -- Eph. 1:17-19

These words of Paul's to his church in Ephesus speak to me today.  I feel as if Paul is saying this prayer for me.  The words are just what I need to hear.  They provide a wonderful conclusion for the latest workings of God in my life.

Recently, I have been puzzling out how to balance family time and the time I want to spend reading and writing.  My University job is finished and the kids are out of school for the summer.   I now have as much time as I want to focus on my faith and my family. 

A family vacation to Minnesota, planned to be filled with activities for the kids' entertainment, got me thinking about how much time, if any, I could expect to set aside for quiet contemplation, reading, and writing.   I feel called to spend time each day in this way.  But, and this is a big "but," I do not want to neglect my family, or miss spending valuable time with them.  I do not want to look back on my life and regret that I was not present for my children.  I worry about this because, for a short time a few years ago, I did neglect my family in my pursuit of God.

Well, I figured it out, and the vacation was a lot of fun for all of us.  The time I set aside for myself was minimal.  The night before we returned home, I thought, "Perhaps, this is what I need to do from now on.  Focus much more on my family.  Let my devotions take a back-burner."

The next morning, we had a couple hours to wait at our gate at the airport.  I thought about getting a cup of tea, and I remembered walking passed a Starbucks.  As I headed in that direction, I thought, "If only there was a bookstore in this part of the terminal.  What could be better than a cup of tea and a new book to read?"  Next to the Starbucks, I saw a nice little bookstore.  My lucky day!

Nothing appealed to me, until I saw "The Alchemist," by Paulo Coelho.  I had recently read "Have a Little Faith," by Mitch Albom, and on the cover of this book was the praise:  " a non-fiction version of 'The Alchemist.'"  Intrigued, I bought this book, along with my cup of tea.  It turned out to be the story of a young man following his calling, his dream, his "Personal Legend."

I see many similarities between the main character and myself.  Paulo Coelho has clearly spent a great deal of time analyzing what it means to follow one's personal calling, which he describes as "God's blessing, it is the path that God chose for you here on Earth.  Whenever we do something that fills us with enthusiasm, we are following our legend."  He has learned that there are many common obstacles along the way.

One obstacle that he describes struck a chord with me:  love.  "We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream."  The main character in the story, a shepherd, struggles past many obstacles, some of which I can relate to in my journey, but then is nearly stopped by love.  Fortunately, he learns that love wants what is best for the loved one.  Love expands when we are true to ourselves. 

The shepherd is advised that many people give up their dreams just when they are within sight of them, whether because of fear of failure, or because of thankfulness for what has been given so far, or for fear of what comes after success.  The shepherd boy learns to listen to his heart, to read the signs around him, and trust that God will continue to be with him, wherever he goes.

Perhaps, I was meant to read this book.  I took away from this story that maintaining a balance in my life means not only not losing those I love, but it also means not losing myself. 

Thank you, dear God, for encouraging me with exactly the right and perfect words today.  Please give me, as you will, a spirit of wisdom and revelation.  Enlighten the eyes of my heart so that I may know your will for me.  Love always, Pam

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Obedience Comes From Love

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.   --  John 14:15

I obey the commandments, or strive to obey them, because I love God, and I want to love my neighbor as God loves me.  God's commandments show us how to love our neighbor as God loves us.  I obey his will as an expression of my love, and gratitude.

I have not, however, always thought this way.  A few years ago, I compiled a little book filled with the teachings of Jesus.  I wanted to understand if Christianity was as exclusive as many Christians make it out to be.  I came to understand the words, "I am the way, and the truth and the life..." in a way that was not exclusionary at all.  When I was finished, I felt that I knew how to find God's Kingdom:  follow the commandments.  This was a way that was open to anyone.  But, my understanding was still compromised.  Because at this stage, to say that one was saved by faith alone, was incomprehensible to me.  Jesus taught us how to be saved:  follow the commandments.

In my desire to seek God, I became a lover of the law. I knew all of the commandments that Jesus taught his disciples.  But, in my sincere efforts to follow them, I found myself being judgmental of other people.  Or, I would see that I became arrogant when I managed to get things right.  Trying to be Good, I discovered that I was not being very good at all.  I was not being very loving.  I was certainly not loving my neighbor as God loved me.  Understanding God's love for me was the key to understanding how to love my neighbor.

For even when I make mistakes, I know God still loves me.  I feel his love for me.  I know he wants what is truly best, even though this can be challenging.  I see that he waits for me to be ready.  He does not give up on me when I don't understand, but comes back again at a later time.  He repeats the same message gently or strongly, as required.  Leading me gently, or strongly, as required.  For this, I am grateful and astounded and feel blessed. God's love for me has been steadfast, and patient, and gentle, and insistent.  This is how God wants me to love my neighbor.  This is how Jesus taught us to love. 

My understanding of Jesus' words, "I am the way, and the truth and the life..." has deepened.  God is love.  Love is the way, and the truth, and the life.  Following the commandments does not lead us to God's love.  God's love leads us to following the commandments.  We need only seek God with all our heart.  God will do the rest.  And in this regard, if faith is love of God, then we are saved by faith alone.  Whether this speaks of our faith, or God's faith in us, I am still wondering.

I read today in "Jesus, the Word, and the Way of the Cross," by Mark W. Thompsen, that Martin Luther believed that a Christian should, "in every way deal with his neighbor as he sees that God through Christ has dealt and still deals with him.  ...and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christs to one another and Christ may be the same in all, that is, that we may be truly Christians." (pg. 72)

I hear in these words my own growing understanding that it is for our sake that God requires these things of us.  For learning to love one another sacrificially, as Christ taught us to love, as the Father loves us, makes us part of one another.  As Jesus said to Peter as he began to wash his feet, "unless I do this, you will have no part of me."   In emptying ourselves of our own desires and giving ourselves lovingly in service to one another, we become of one mind with Christ.  For the mind of Christ was to empty himself for love of God.  To me, this is a good definition of a Christian.

Oddly enough, this desire to empty oneself for love of God is found in many of the world's religions.

Dear God, thank you for making me so distinctly aware of your presence in my life.  May your example of love be kept before me daily.  Love always, Pam

P.S.  I got a day off-track in my readings, so decided to read last Sunday's lectionary, which I had skipped, today.  I'm glad, as it fit so well with my other readings for today.  I love when that happens.