Archive for the ‘Closeness to God’ Category

Paralytic Point   2 comments

A verse jumped off the page at me in Mark 2 this morning. The story of the four men bringing their crippled friend to see Jesus is one of those classic tales that is told in early discipleship teachings. Rightfully so, too, as it is a great visual for children to learn of how much Jesus loved the man and healed him. It is also an early look into how the teachers of the day would challenge Jesus because of the forgiveness of sins issue Jesus raised to their objection. There’s another hidden treasure embedded because the man got up, picked up his mat, and walked away. Carrying one’s mat on the Sabbath was also breaking the law.

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What jumped at me today was not the additional tale of the crowd size. The house was filled to the brim and even at the door (and I’m assuming windows) crowds were gathered to hear Jesus. Why? What was he doing? Did they all know about the mat and roof story that was about to happen? Nope!

Between describing the crowd and the introduction of the crippled man and his companions, the text simply says this, Jesus was preaching the word to them (Mark 2:2). That’s it. He wasn’t healing the lame or the blind or the deaf. He wasn’t performing other miracles of any kind or even magic tricks. He wasn’t glowing in the dark and telling people to pray to him. He wasn’t turning water into wine (I’d follow him around for that-just kidding). He was preaching the word to them.

Overlooked a lot in the teachings about Jesus today is how much he preached. The stories and healings and miracles and dialogues are rich with messages to share, and they should be shared. But we see more than a time or two in Scripture that when he is out and about he is teaching and preaching, “as one with authority.” His preaching was powerful, penetrating, unique, bold, and obviously engaging to have so many come from all over the place to hear him.

Maybe I should ditch my scrolls of questions about how things are done when I get to heaven and just do the Mary thing – sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him teach. Perhaps that’s the point.

Lonely, or Perfect?   Leave a comment

Mark’s first chapter indicates a couple of times that Jesus went to lonely or secluded places.

The first reference is that Jesus got up early and went to the wilderness, arid, a lonely place where he could pray. Morning quiet time is what works best for me. What about you? Any other time of day is far too difficult because my mind has already hit overdrive later and is challenging at best to bring to a crawl for a sound, fulfilling time alone with God. It isn’t impossible, just hard to achieve for me.

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The other reference is when Jesus was simply trapped in place by large crowds. Of course he had the compassion to heal them all and cast out all of their evil spirits, so he would do so (and I’d say) with great joy. But this was overwhelming for his human capacity, so for any kind of rest or opportunity to spend time in prayer, he had to go to secluded places. Seclusion is an intentional separation where you are either running from something or being forced somewhere not of your own will.

Seclusion has negative connotations. Loneliness can be similar, but in this case, it is an intentional choice. For me it would be to say that each morning when I get up and around and have my cup of coffee that I have my quiet time because it is mandated, a command, an order. If it is something I have to do, my motivation is decreased greatly. If it is something that I want to do, desire comes easily.

Where I go for my quiet time is in the peaceful setting of my home office. I say peaceful simply because early in the morning it is very quiet. I’m literally surrounded by work opportunities but ignore them for this sacred moment. I’m up long before my wife and can read and meditate, using candles to set the mood if I like or low lighting. I’ll read Scripture and poetry and then open my laptop and write in this journal. Often, my prayer itself comes through these moments without the traditional-formal closing of the eyes and bowing of the head. In here, in this time, I am in the arms of God, sipping coffee and enjoying the presence.

It is a lonely place, but I’m anything but alone. That makes it perfect!

Overflow Leadership   Leave a comment

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I grew up at the end of the age of full-service service stations. My Dad and his brother co-owned one and I could not wait to be old enough to work there. When I turned 13, I was finally given my opportunity. With training on the cash register and gas pumps, checking tires and oil levels, I was placed in charge of the gas customers. There was one rule I had to live by in front of all others–when the bell rang to indicate a vehicle had pulled in to get gas I was never to walk to provide their services.

Principle: Whenever you serve others, RUN!

That principle guided much of my work life for several years, especially whenever customer service was involved. Anyone who had a need was served as quickly as possible because they were the most highly valued person on earth at that moment. While that is a wonderful principle for service, the methodology needs some tweaking for those serving in ministry.

Much of the service of a ministerial leader is built upon the spiritual health of the leader. The better their connection with the Divine, the more authentic the service they provide. This is true for more than professional clergy; it applies to all those who serve others in God’s name and is easily applied to all who serve in caring capacities.

The key to offering relevant service is in how we serve, not necessarily how fast. Pastors can tell you that if they “run” every time someone in their congregation needs some form of pastoral care, they will burn out sooner than later. Yes, there are times when running is appropriate, but to do so as a regular practice often comes from an unhealthy sense of duty, as if you are being graded by your speed. When this occurs, it’s as if you are serving God because of a debt.

You do not owe God anything.

The best way to serve one another is not to see how quickly you can react, but how authentically you can respond. If leaders are to be true vessels for the Lord, then we must do what it takes to ensure we are being filled. Cars don’t get far on empty tanks (or batteries, tipping the cap to electric tech here). Leaders do not serve effectively when drained.

Lead from your strong connection with God. Do everything it takes to tap into the strength God gives you because of how you relate with God. Your connection is uniquely yours, so do whatever practices work best for you, be it meditation, prayer, Scripture/Lectio, silence, etc. Whatever it is that best fills you with the Presence, allow God’s love to flow through you. This is done with great joy because you know that what you are sharing is God’s gift of love for everyone in your path.

The best service you can offer to others comes from overflow and not obligation.

No Sad Songs Allowed   Leave a comment

Birds greet each morning with a song. Even if the weather is less than admirable, their song remains the same. More importantly, their song does not change in tone, mood, or volume, not that I have noticed anyway.

I wager that this is a glimpse of the heavenly. I know that Scriptures talk about no need for a sun since God provides the light, but I often imagine life in God’s presence to still have a lot in common with the life we experience now. I hope there are mornings and afternoons and nights. I hope there are temperatures that fluctuate and that it rains and gets windy and snows. I can almost imagine living in perfect simplicity as if in a country cabin complete with fireplace (and, please, central air).

My imagination can take me to what I’ll call heaven while still having no real clue what it is like. That’s ok with me. I don’t need to know because my soul understands the most important part of all—eternity with God and those who have gone before me. What else do I really need to know? Of course I want to play golf, but in addition to the fun of the game, I can’t wait to see my divots grow back in an instant and have the trees toss my errant shots back onto the fairway. It’ll be fun to laugh with the sand as I whack away fruitlessly to get my ball onto the green.

I won’t need a caddy either because I’ll have something I’ve never really had, knees that are intact and functional. That would be new. It won’t bother me either if I will have lost all of this weight that I can’t seem to dispose of here on earth. I try. Ok, not really. I wonder if I’ll have hair, and this time on the top of my head like I used to have instead of my back and arms and chest. Will my teeth be white (think pearly)?

I try to live my life basking in the joy of God’s presence. Life to the full means life that is joy-driven. It is a happy life in spite of all this crazy old world can throw at me. Sometimes I do really well with this while other times it is work just to muster a smile. My moods change like the wind occasionally just like it is with every other human. My song is not always filled with joy.

But the birds remind me—every morning—that a time is coming when I will greet the new day with laughter, smiles, and the loving glow that comes from an overflow of God’s incredible grace. Even on a cloudy, rainy and cold morning, how can I help but sing?

Burned Out Christmas Lights   Leave a comment

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The Christmas lights I grew up with were so much easier to work with. If a bulb burned out somewhere in the string, it was because the first non-burning light bulb was no longer working. All you had to do was replace that first bulb and the rest of the lights would come back on.

As time would have it, Christmas lights have evolved like everything else. Now when a section of lights goes out, it is not nearly so simple a solution. In fact, it could be any one of those bulbs that might have burned out. It could also be that somewhere in that section one of the tiny wires has broken and the bulbs themselves are actually fine.

Pre-lit trees have been even less friendly to me. Heaven help you if one of those bulbs burn out or you have a broken wire somewhere in the tree. The last time we encountered this, we ended up cutting all of the lights out of our formerly convenient tree and replacing them with strings of loose lights. When replacing problem A with problem C, sometimes it seems best to revert to problem B. It’s a trap!

When I hear the story of the shepherds in Luke 2:8-20, I hear a lot of narratives. One that stands out in my mind today is how the glory of the Lord shone about the whole scene when the angels were delivering the Good News about the birth of Jesus. Biblical interpreters refer to this as a radiant light. It’s the kind of light that would cause you to hold up your hand or arm to protect your eyes. Today, we would put on our sunglasses or hope our transition lenses would soon catch up to the display before us. Think Griswold’s house, you’ll understand.

But this light wasn’t blinding. As soon as the angels left and took the light with them, the shepherds huddled together and decided they needed to go find this child. I love how the text refers to their actions as hurried from there. They excitedly went into the village wondering where the child was, found him and worshipped, and then told everyone they saw the whole story about God’s presence and angels and a Savior. They had all become little lights who received their energy from the big light.

Isn’t that the job of all believers even after all this time? We are the little lights that still have the responsibility of shining on everyone we encounter. The light within us is the light of Christ. Scriptures offer plenty of examples of how we should never allow our lights to be covered or burned out.

Life happens, and this year’s events have certainly made it more challenging to shine. How does one live as a radiant beam when only seeing people in 2-dimensional Zoom meetings or over the phone? Everything is different, and what would be challenges any other time have been magnified many times over. Think of all those who have lost loved ones but have been unable to have formal services to declare that love. Think of all those situations where entire households have been wiped out. This of all those who have been out of work for nearly a year now and face life in the streets if something doesn’t happen soon. Think of all those healthcare workers who are worn to a frazzle. Think of all those who have seen injustice upon injustice because of the color of their skin. What happens when so many lights either go out or are turned off?

Your responsibility as a believer is simple and not designed to solve all the world’s problems. Shine where you are! That’s it. If you shine the light of Christ in the small piece of this world where you reside, then it is hoped that those encountering you will be encouraged to shine their lights. Do the math. If you shine and inspire the next guy or gal to do so, then they’ll inspire the next, and so on and so on. The next thing you know, the whole tree of your community is well lit for all to see.

This Christmas, shine. Sing about that little light of yours. Make it your Christmas song. You know the tune.