Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Worship the Lord...with your MIND!

I grew up in churches that had all the answers. Heaven was up, hell was down, and we knew who was going in which direction. God created the world in six days - one hundred and forty-four hours. The Red Sea parted just like in the movie...

We reduced the mystery of the Unknowable God to Four Spiritual Laws that would fit on a post card and still leave room for "The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it." We didn't have room for questions, because we were certain of everything.

That’s from a wonderful Day1 sermon by The Rev. Dr. Brett Younger. He’s an associate professor of preaching at the McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta. It’s entitled Loving God with All Your Mind. An Episcopalian is recommending a Baptist’s preaching! It’s food for THOUGHT and something to pray about...

The first and greatest commandment:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (Matthew 22:37)

Your words, Jesus. That same text in Deuteronomy specifies heart, soul and strength. You call us to engage the mind as well. So, why should we check our brains at the church door?

Over 200 years ago John Wesley suggested that reason should accompany our experience of Scripture. So, why would we park our IQ in the narthex?

I believe with all my heart and soul. Indeed, I feel your presence. And my mind is engaged. It is not a threat to faith.

The Bible frames your relationship with humanity. It’s packed with praise, admonition and teaching. And it contains gray areas, contradictions and paradox - to make us think!

Lord Christ, I’ve never been particularly good at memorizing Scripture, but I certainly enjoy thinking about it. I’m especially drawn to passages that elude my comprehension, the sections subject to interpretation. That’s why your Word is fresh every day, year after year.

Holy Spirit, fill our church with cerebral worship. Transform doubters to seekers, seekers to students and students to we worship with heart, soul, strength and mind. Amen.

~ ~ ~ ~

Did you know that the title most often given to Jesus in the New Testament is not "Master" or "Lord," as you might expect, but "Teacher"? On a number of occasions, we read that the crowds were astonished, not by miracles, but by his teaching. When Jesus called disciples, he called them to be learners. The Greek word mathates, usually translated disciples, could just as easily be rendered students.

If we don't include our minds in our love for God, we end up worshipping simple ideas about God rather than humbling ourselves before the Infinite. When we think hard, we begin to realize the ways in which we might be wrong. We learn to factor in a lot of uncertainty. We ask harder questions.

The best teachers help us understand that God calls us to learn, because learning is one of the ways we find our way to the most meaningful life.
(The Rev. Dr. Brett Younger on Day1)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Failure Is Not Fatal

This profound line from an Amy Grant song has stuck with me for 25 years:

…the more I try to be the best the more I get the worst.*

Christ-followers are not immune to failure. Some wounds are self-inflicted and some are just plain baffling.

It drives us to our knees (in prayer, that is), and in doing so, we gain the power to bounce back.

Father God,

I know a football coach, a man strong in his faith, whose season has imploded. I know a politician, a man strong in his faith, whose campaign has collapsed.

High achievers. People of faith. Facing failure. How do we sort this out?

~ ~ ~

Faith does not necessarily protect us from hubris. Holy Spirit, illuminate my blind spots.

We mistakenly bundle ego and aspirations with our faith. Holy Spirit, give me discernment.

A faithful life may prompt Divine correction. That’s an irony that can really sting. Holy Spirit, may I learn and grow from such pruning.

And then, bad stuff happens that defies explanation. Evil? Chance? Accident? Holy Spirit, prepare me for setbacks with perspective and endurance.

~ ~ ~

Lord Christ, I have learned that some degree of failure is inevitable. We are flawed. People with the mightiest faith are still sinners.

Faith may not shield us from failure, but it will soften the blow. It’s the trampoline we fall upon when we fail…and we bounce back!

We learn from these wounds, they heal and our trust in you grows.

St. Paul understood. He coped with flogging, mob violence, a shipwreck and imprisonment:

…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Roman 8:37-39)

Failure isn’t fatal. Thanks be to God! Amen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reckless Extravagance

Lord Christ, the annual stewardship program has begun at my church. I’m reminded of the Gospel story about your anointing at Bethany.

Mary poured expensive perfume on your feet. It was probably worth a workman’s annual wage. She concluded the intimate ritual by wiping your feet with her hair.

An expression of devotion. An act of worship. But the onlookers saw it as reckless extravagance.

Pledge card in hand, I react like Mary’s critics. My mental calculator whirs as I count the cost. Am I holding too tightly to financial resources that really belong to you, to material blessings received from your gracious hand?

Holy Spirit, with your help, I aspire to giving that truly reflects my relationship with Jesus. I aspire to reckless extravagance in service to the Lord I love. Amen.

Credit for the theme of reckless extravagance, from Mark 14:1-11, goes to Annabel Robinson, writing for Scripture Union USA’s Encounter with God, 2/13/11. She’s Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Regina in Canada.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Behold Thy Gracious Hand! Work...

Certainly, there are days when work is a four-letter word, but ideally, it’s an expression of our service to God and ministry in the marketplace (to borrow a thought from Father Thomas Keating.)

I return to The Book of Common Prayer and its Contemporary Collects for inspiration on the subject of work:

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life
 shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with your
 people where they work; make those who carry on the industries
 and commerce of this land responsive to your will; and give 
to us all a pride in what we do...

Father, my career interest developed in childhood, and I've been blessed to pursue it for forty years. There have been twists and turns, for sure. I've survived ownership changes, family relocation, downsizings, recessions and several of my own very big mistakes. I've logged twenty-eight years with my current employer and a variety of challenging assignments. Behold thy gracious hand!

I have worked for leaders who were ahead of the curve, faithful to their employees, dedicated to their families and communities. They have been inspiring and worthy role models. Behold thy gracious hand!

Lord Christ, I've been blessed with work. I've been blessed by work. Holy Spirit, help me as I strive to bless others through my work: us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but
 for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for
 our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of
 other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out
 of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns 
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.