Sunday, November 27, 2011

Eternal Life

"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.  Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.  I do not accept glory from human beings.  But I know that you do not have the love of God in you.  I have come in my Father's name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him.  How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God?  Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope."     -- John 5:39-46

There have been many attempts over the millenia to determine what it is we must do in order to win God's favor and gain eternal life.  Here we see Jesus admonishing the people of his day, who searched the Scriptures in this way.  They wanted to nail down all the rules of Moses, thinking that if they just followed all of them, every last tittle and jot, then they would be doing what God wanted them to do. Scribes and Pharisees are not the only ones who do this.  Christians do this too, just as fervently.  They may consider all the laws of Moses, adding to them from the Gospels or Epistles, or they may create a separate list.

"What is wrong with that?" you might ask.  Reading the Scriptures in order to understand God's will is a good thing.  Yes, it is.  But, searching for rules, and tabulating a list, and thinking that following this list will guarantee you God's favor, is another thing -- not a good thing.  For what happens in actuality, when we do this?

We replace God's Living Word with letters, with a contract.  And we replace our seeking, loving heart with a blind or hard one.  Think about it.

On the one hand, we have someone who is open to hearing God's word for him or her, on a continual basis; who turns to God, via Scripture and prayer, who seeks to understand what God wants, and who listens to what God's will is for him or her.  That person is connected to the one true living God.  And as Jesus said, "This is eternal life, that they know thee, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." (John 17:3)   This is eternal life, lived eternally.

And, on the other hand, we have a person trying to follow a list of rules, compiled by him- or herself, or someone else, whose goal is to gain something, some future reward:  eternal life.  Complete the list and you are set.  You can even judge how well you, and your neighbor, are doing.  And you can be sure that, in the afterlife, you will meet God.  And yet you may have just missed having a completely different Life.  For, where was God's influence in your life on a daily basis?  Where was your heart, mind, body, and soul?

Contracts like these rarely worked for the ancient Jews.  Why?  Because the rules were detached from the Living Word.  A living God was no longer a factor.  It was the Letter that mattered.  Not the heart.  Not the soul.  Not the mind.  Not the body.  Compassion had no place in the Letter.  Mercy had no place.  If the Letter said: "An adulteress must be stoned."  Then an adulteress must be stoned.  End of story.

But what did Jesus do?  He placed compassion, mercy, and love, above the rules.  The rules are meaningless if our connection to one another is denied.  Our continual connection to God, through our body, mind, heart, and soul, and our continual connection to one another are our primary responsibility.  The ties that ought to bind us to God, and to our neighbor, are ties of love -- pure and simple -- not ties of law.  When we are tied to God and our neighbor with love, everything else that is good, and necessary, will follow.

Dear God, may we always be turned to you, daily, allowing you to guide and mold us into the people you want us to be.  Love always, Pam

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What Must I Do?

"... for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."  Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?"  And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."    -- Matt. 25:35-40

This parable tells us that we can find Jesus in the poorest of the poor:  in the hungry and homeless, in the stranger, in the sick and lonely, in those imprisoned, in "the least of these who are members of my family."  And yet, those who are the least, can also find Jesus in the ones who share their plenty, who care for the sick, who provide for the hungry, who free the oppressed.  Mother Teresa said that when she cared for the poorest of the poor in India, she saw Jesus in them. When we saw her caring for the poorest of the poor, we saw Jesus in her.

We are ALL members of God's family.  We are all created by God, and connected to each other by God.

This connection makes me think of the etymology of the word "compassion." It comes from the same root as the word "womb."  Like a mother whose womb viscerally shifts when her child is hurt, we are meant to feel such a connection to those in need.  That is the meaning of compassion:  to be moved, viscerally, by the plight of someone else, and help them, automatically.

Unfortunately, we don't often feel connected to our fellow human beings in this way.  We more often see ourselves as separate entities.

I am reminded of recent readings about Buddhism, in Huston Smith's "World Religions."  Buddha believed that life, as normally lived, is full of suffering.  It doesn't have to be, but it is, because we separate ourselves from each other.  Smith explains Buddha's insight:  "Our duty to our fellows is to understand them as extensions, other aspects, of ourselves -- fellow facets of the same Reality. This is some distance from the way people normally understand their neighbors.  The customary human outlook lies a good halfway toward Ibsen's description of a lunatic asylum in which 'each shuts himself in a cask of self, the cask stopped with a bung of self and seasoned in a well of self.'  ...Where is the man who is as concerned that no one go hungry as that his own children be fed?  ...Here, said the Buddha, is where the trouble lies; this is why we suffer.  Instead of linking our faith and love and destiny to the whole, we persist in strapping these to the puny burros of our separate selves." (pg. 103)  When we separate ourselves from others, in any way, we create suffering in the world.

Now, this parable is NOT meant to teach us that life is about what line we are standing in at the end of days.  That too separates us from our neighbor.  The righteous ones in the story had no  memory of what they had done. They didn't try to earn their place in line.  They simply loved their neighbor as themselves.  They helped where help was needed.  They had compassion.

Yet, so often, we read passages like these in the Bible, and we sidestep their intent.  We codify them:  "What must I do to have eternal life?"  Well, I must feed the hungry, take water to the thirsty, take clothes to the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned.  THAT will get me into heaven.  Or, I must tithe -- no not tithe, I must "sell everything and give to the poor.  THAT will get me into heaven.  Or, I must have faith (the right faith, no less); repent, confess, and be baptized by immersion.  THAT will get me into heaven.   Our lives then become all about our individual selves.

What about simply staying connected?  Whatever happened to simply loving God with all our being, and loving our neighbor as ourselves?  Oh, that's much too hard -- let's think of something else we can do.

Dear Lord, in our great desire to seek you, we all look for THE way.  I am no different.  I too have made this same mistake.  But our guiding light is Jesus, who loved you with his whole being and had compassion for everyone.   May we too grow and blossom in that divine love.  Your truly, Pam

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Whatever the Lord Says to Me, I Will Speak

The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, 'Look, the words of the prophets with one accord are favorable to the king; let your word be like the word of one of them, and speak favorably.'  But Micaiah said, 'As the Lord lives, whatever the Lord says to me, I will speak.'    -- 1 Kings 22:13-14

As I have written in the past in this blog, there are times when I feel God asking me to give someone a message.  And, more often than not, the message is critical.  I wish things were different in that respect, but that is the way it is.  (Please read, "The Word of God Came to Me," November 11, for the background story to what I am writing today.)

Now, today, it is clear to me that God is giving me another task.  Really, it is the same task he gave me before, only now I have a new opponent:  a fellow blogger whose primary purpose seems to be excluding people from the Kingdom of God (see,  When I was first invited to follow this blogger, I said, "No, thanks.  Why would I follow someone who thinks so differently than I do?"  But then I felt that God wanted me to stay connected to this blogger for some reason.  I thought it was so that I would learn how to "love my enemy".  But now I think that I have just been slow to see God's real purpose in wanting me to follow this blogger.

For, Christian exclusion was the catalyst that pushed me forward along this particular journey.  God has filled me with passionate anger at those who exclude others from His Kingdom.  God gave me a voice, and the courage to "say what I need to say", even when it meant opposing friends, fellow church members, and even my previous pastor.   No one gets to exclude anyone from God's Kingdom.  That is God's job.  We don't get to say who is going to heaven or hell, and we don't get to say who is not going to heaven or hell.   

Now I have always felt that it is much more important to step in and put a stop to someone's actions when he or she is harming someone else, or neglecting someone else, than it is to step in and try to correct someone's beliefs.  I have always felt that there were more important things to worry about, like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, teaching the children, etc.  Which is one reason why it was so hard for me to learn to speak up in the first place.  Who am I to tell someone they are wrong in their thinking?

At the same time, Christian unity, which ties the whole diverse body of Christ together with our common love for Jesus, is of paramount importance.  So, I am not about to tell someone that their understanding of the meaning of Christ's Eucharist is wrong because it is different from mine.  Or anything like that.

However, I see something else going on when people start proclaiming that they know who gets into God's Kingdom and who does not.  I can no longer turn away, and merely shake my head at those who exclude.  Nor am I meant to.  I believe to the core of my being that I am called upon by God to actively oppose those who try to push people out of the Kingdom of God.

I know I am fighting against a very strong current here.  I seriously doubt that my efforts will make any difference.  However, to do nothing is not an option for me.  Doing nothing to oppose evil only makes it louder and stronger.  And, if I do not admonish those whom I am called to admonish, then I am a party to their crime.  I become an accomplice to it.

My greatest worry is that I, too, will "lose the plot" and stop loving my "enemy" -- that I will return evil for evil.  Perhaps that is why I spent so much time, after I was invited to follow this person's blog, struggling to know how to respond to him.  Somehow, I have to respond with love.  I have to keep the teachings of Jesus in my thoughts, words, and deeds.

A few days ago, a friend, who is a messenger of encouragement to me and many others, gave me a scripture passage -- just because she thought of me when she read it.  It was Paul's words of advice to Timothy:  "Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.  ... focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers and teaching others.  ... Give your complete attention to these matters. ... Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching.  Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and on the salvation of those who hear you."  (from Timothy 4:12-16)  Thank you, my friend.  For, I hear in these words not only much needed comfort, but also words of caution.  I must not, in my effort to correct, go too far and be un-Christian.  I must always approach people with the love of Christ.

I will try, dear Lord.  And I will keep the 'eyes of my heart' and 'the ears of my heart' focused on your message.  Love always, Pam

Monday, November 14, 2011


You say, 'We know that God's judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with the truth.'  Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?  Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience?  Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  -- Romans 2:2-4

I know I should not judge other people, but I am finding myself struggling once again with feelings of anger toward one particular person.  I think I have forgiven him, I think I've moved past the "terrible, awful" (as one friend puts it) events of the past, but then something happens to trigger all the negative feelings again.   Sometimes I get so angry, I want to track him down and scream at him.  But I know that would be wrong, and not at all helpful.

I have to keep telling myself that it's not my place to judge.  As I wrote in yesterday's blog posting, there is good and bad in everyone.  Like Peter, this person has great goodness, mixed in with the bad.  Like me.  I'm not perfect, either.  No one is. 

We want people to be all good, or all bad:  to be perfectly good, or perfectly evil.  That would make things so much easier.  Then the people who are all good would be so easy to love; and the people who are all bad would be so easy to hate.  But God made us imperfect, filled with both good and bad, mixed together.  And he told us to love each other.

I have to learn to love people despite their flaws, their issues, their transgressions.  Just as God loves me despite my flaws, issues, and transgressions.  So that I do not become a hypocrite, I must not judge this person.  I must leave that up to God.

It helps me to remember the good in this person.  I learned a lot of good things from him, and I admired some parts of his character.  I also understand his history, which helps me to understand why he is the way he is.  But even if I did not know of any tangible good in a person who oppresses me, I would still have to trust that there is some goodness there, somewhere.

For God does not make junk.

Dear God, thank you for turning my heart back to you.  Whenever I write out my thoughts, you always help me see the light.  Love always, Pam

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How Are We Doing?

      "When a defiling evil spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil.  When it doesn't find anyone, it says, 'I'll go back to my old haunt.'  On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant.  It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up.  That person ends up far worse off than if he'd never gotten cleaned up in the first place.
      "That's what this generation is like.  You may think you have cleaned out the junk from your lives and gotten ready for God, but you weren't hospitable to my kingdom message, and now all the devils are moving back in."     -- Matt. 12:43-45

So many of the daily readings lately have been messages of warning or of God's punishment:  from Amos, Joel, Ezekiel, Zephaniah, and from John's Revelation.  Perhaps this is because the church year is winding down.  As the season of Pentacost, which celebrates the development of the Church, comes to a close, perhaps now is the perfect time to examine how well we are following Christ's "kingdom message." 

So, how are we doing?  Do we cling to our money like the rich young man, or do we give it away freely?  Do we forgive those who trespass against us as Jesus did, or do we hold a bitter grudge?  Do we judge who's in and who's out of the kingdom of God like the Pharisees did, or do we leave that to God?  Do we bury our talent in the dirt, and hide our light under a bushel, or do we use them fearlessly according to God's desire?  Do we have compassion upon all those in need, even people of other cultures and other faiths like the Good Samaritan, or do we turn away?

I don't know about you, but I have failed in all of these, and other, areas over the last year.  Oh, I've made some progress, learned a few things about myself and God, but I still need to work on distancing myself from my worst inklings. 

It's really up to each one of us to keep ourselves "hospitable" to Jesus' message.  Complacency, or resting on our laurels, is not an option.  Neither for ourselves, nor for the church which represents Christ to the world.  No one is immune from "losing the plot", so to speak.  You don't have to look very far, even in the Gospels, to see this is the case. 

All of the disciples who followed Jesus had a hard time understanding his kingdom message.  The ones that we know the best are the ones who mess up the most:  Peter, the "rock" and, all too often, the "stumbling block"; Judas, who thought too much about the money; Thomas, who had to touch and feel before he believed; and even Paul, the reformed Pharisee, who not only wrote the greatest homilies on grace, but also wrote the most rules for who was, or was not, saved. 

There is within each of us, like the disciples of history, the possibility of great miracles of goodness, and great feats of wickedness.   We must be aware of this.  And address our shortcomings.  Our greatest worth, St. Francis believed, was in striving to "transform into virtue the impudence, dishonor, unfaithfulness, and malice within."  How do we do this? 

First, we should look to the words and example of Jesus.  As Christians, Jesus, above all, is our guide.  Second, we must look at ourselves with complete honesty, and recognize where we fall short.  And third, we must seek God's help in getting us to where He wants us to be.

Dear God, please keep my heart and mind open to Your Word.  And please grant me the courage to follow your ways.  Love always, Pam

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Word of God Came to Me

Then the Word of God came to me:  'Son of man, now turn and face the mountains of Israel and preach against them....         --  Ezekiel 6:1

A friend asked me a couple of days ago if I had ever felt God giving me a message to give to someone else.  She gave me examples of when she felt God wanted her to pass along messages of encouragement.  This friend's exuberant love for people is one of the things I love about her; she is unlike anyone I have ever met in this regard.

Unfortunately, I could only think of examples in which I felt God telling me to be critical of someone or some group of people.  And I worry about this.  No one likes to be criticized.  I don't like to be criticized.  It rarely ends up well.  Besides, who am I to judge?  I'm not perfect.  Jesus preached against judgmentalism.  And yet, I cannot doubt that God has asked me to be, at times, a voice of caution, a voice of judgment.  I actually believe God prepared me for this role.

Four years ago, I was filled with an anger that seemed to come from nowhere.  Out of the blue, I felt my blood begin to boil over the exclusiveness of so many Christians:  they welcome people in, but then push them back out because of differences in beliefs or lifestyle.  Day after day, this anger plagued me, and I couldn't figure out why.  Nothing had happened that I could think of.  In an effort to get rid of these thoughts, I decided to look in the Bible and see what God had to say about it.  I started reading the Gospel of Matthew, and read until I came to verse 5:47, "if you only salute your brother, what more are you doing than others?"  I felt as if God had given me an answer to my concern.  Yes, I thought, God does not want us to only love those who think like we do.  This is a mistake on our part.

Perhaps all this angst was part of the reason I had not sought out a church since we had moved to town a year earlier.  But soon after this, I began to miss hearing the words of God on a regular basis.  So, at the beginning of 2008, I became a member of the nearest Lutheran church.

Then I was filled with the desire to study all the teachings of Jesus.  Staying up late at night, waking up early in the morning, squeezing as many hours in the day as I could, I immersed myself in the Gospels, trying to make sense of Jesus' message.  I ate the words of Jesus.  I woke up in the middle of the night with the words of Jesus on my lips.  I was obsessed.  Everything else in my life took a back-burner:  my house, my jobs, and even my family.  Finally, after about six months, around Christmas, I was able to reach a sense of completion, and be present in my life again.  But I was a changed person.  I was filled with all of Jesus' teachings.  And I began to feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life, leading me.

I felt that I was being led to do something.  But what?  My understanding of Jesus' message was so different than that of some other Christians I met.  I found myself wanting to argue.  But I had been taught that there are three things you never talk about, let alone argue about.  Those three things were:  politics, sex, and religion.  So I kept my thoughts to myself, though at times they were shouting at me.  I wanted to speak up, but at the same time, I didn't want to be disagreeable.

Our church began offering healing services.  I went.  I prayed for understanding and courage:  for the understanding to know what God wanted me to say, and for the courage to say it.  When I got in my car to go home, John Mayer's "Say What You Need to Say" was playing on the radio.  It's a very repetitive song.  I disliked the song because of that, but I became grateful for the repetition:  it took a while for the words to sink in.  When they did, I had to laugh.  By the time I got home, I remember saying to myself, "Okay, God, I'll speak up, but I'm certainly going to become a thorn in someone's side."  Never were truer words spoken.  That was in February 2009.

Immediately, God began presenting me with one person after another, teaching me to find my voice, teaching me how to disagree, teaching me what was worth arguing about, and what was not. I learned to first disagree with my friends.  Then family.  Then acquaintances at church.  Then, in August 2009, when our congregation began to argue and divide over the issue of accepting same-sex couples in committed, monogamous relationships, I felt compelled to speak up, both privately to my pastor, and publicly to the entire congregation, about Christian unity.  Staying silent was not an option.  I felt like that was exactly what God had been preparing me for all along.

And now what?  Well, now things are much quieter.  Thank God.  Only occasionally do I still feel compelled to voice my concerns to fellow Christians.  Lucky you.

Dear Lord, is this what you had in mind when you formed me in my mother's womb?  You certainly gave me a heart for justice.  I hope I have not let you down too much.  Love always, Pam