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Archive for November, 2015

Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

— From Luke 21: 25-36; scroll down to read.

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Jesus said there’d be times like this–days when we’d see “distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.”

He said we’d find “signs in the sun, the moon and the stars.”

Indeed, the signs of breakdowns are everywhere, more apparent in the 24-hour news cycle than in the skies.

But we see the more hopeful signs of which Jesus spoke when he said, “So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

Amid all the news of destruction and confusion and breaking down, we see the signs of the kingdom of God breaking in wherever love is put into action: wherever the poor and homeless are fed; wherever the sick are prayed over and prisoners visited; wherever immigrants and refugees fleeing “distressed nations” are welcomed with open, loving arms.

At first glance, the words of Jesus from Luke 21 contain some gloomy words that may seem a strange message for today, the first Sunday of Advent and the Advent Season. Advent Season leads us to Christmas, which is supposed to be, as the secular Christmas song goes, the “Hap- Hap- Happiest time of the year.”

But the Son of Man is coming, and is always near enough to offer Hope and healing to an ever-broken world in need of God’s love and healing powers.

Be on guard that your heart does not get weighed down.

Be peace in the ever-violent world.

Be the love you expect to receive in the end.

    Luke 21:
    25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

    26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

    27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.

    28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

    29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees;

    30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.

    31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

    32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.

    33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

    34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,

    35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.”

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Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
—The Book of Common Prayer

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But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

— Jesus

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Where can we turn for contentment in a culture of such massive commercialism and consumerism when it leads to such mass discontent?

Can contentment be bought at a cut-rate price in the form of a new and wider-screen TV?

Nothing would make me happier than to walk out of a Best Buy or some other Big Box Store with the most dazzling TV the store has to offer.

I’d be happy not only with such an electronic jewel, but also happy to have bought it at a heavily reduced, Black Friday price. Buying some expensive new “toy” makes me feel good.

Being the capitalist that I am–being the beneficiary of capitalism that produced the wonder of this computer I’m writing on–I love great stuff and creature comforts as much as anybody. Capitalism always prevails over communism because, as that great philosopher and music-making genius Frank Zappa put it, “People like stuff.”

We all want lots of stuff to make our lives as comfortable and convenient as our lives can be. We want lots of money and things that make us happy and enhance our quality of life and give us a sense of security. It’s only natural. (And I’m a natural man.)

The beauty of capitalism–practiced ethically and justly–is that it gives us the incentive to work hard and improve our lot in life and buy great stuff in the process.

But the coolest stuff on earth can’t fill up what’s known as “the God-shaped hole within us.” Only God can fill that void. Contentment lies in the life of the spirit, fulfilled by God and things money can’t buy.

Buying and owning neat stuff is fine as long as we’re mindful that we’re all plagued by varying degrees of stress, anxiety, worry and insecurity that neat stuff can’t relieve.

Jesus, who knew and understand the human condition better than any merchant of mass merchandizing or anyone else ever will, understood that we’re all plagued by anxiety and the insecurities we try so hard to deny and to hide from others.

As the meme at the top of this post suggests, if we can’t be content with the love and peace and grace and harmony that this Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Season represent, nothing we can buy will give us the relief of contentment.

To find contentment, be counter-cultural. Be in the world but not of it.

Seek spiritual growth and depth. If you’re a ‘”cultural Christian”* wracked by a sense of dis-ease and discontent, consider turning to the disciplines of regular Bible reading and study, prayer, reflection and meditation, worship, mentoring a child or feeding the homeless, and fasting–not just from food but from anything that inhibits rather than enhances spiritual growth and maturity and a closer walk with our Lord.

Consider the beauty of “enoughism”–being grateful to God for what you have as opposed to obsessing over what you don’t have, what you can’t afford or what you wish we had.

    Matthew 6 (King James Version)
    25 “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

    28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

    31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
    ———–
    * A cultural Christian: one who believes in God and identifies as a Christian who may only attend church at Christmas and Easter; one who prays when feeling down or really in need of a lift from God; one who gives money to church ministries during the holidays or when some catastrophe breaks out somewhere and leaves millions in need; one who would rather his or her child be subjected to a state-sponsored prayer in school rather than taking the time to pray with the child before heading off to school.

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It’s a hard thing every time I miss Thanksgiving Day or Christmas away from my nearest and dearest loved ones and my beloved American homeland.

Thanksgiving Day is just one of the best things about being an American, a time for memories and saying grace or having toasts over a fabulously gluttonous meal, and leftovers, and football and more football, and feeding and being with the poor without judgment, and all the traditions that bind us and make us the most amazing country there has ever been or ever will be, warts and arguments and all.

I hope your Thanksgiving is as beautiful as this picture and message about gratitude.

And I hope my Dallas Cowboys roll over the undefeated Carolina Panthers.

That would go a long way in relieving this homesick expat’s yearning to be with loved ones and lots of leftover turkey sandwiches.

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P1030844
“I Am Not Old”
I am not old she said
I am rare.
I am the standing ovation
At the end of the play.
I am the retrospective
Of my life as art…

I am the hours
Connected like dots
Into good sense

I am the fullness
Of existing.

You think I am waiting to die…
But I am waiting to be found
I am a treasure.
I am a map.
And these wrinkles are
Imprints of my journey
Ask me anything.

— Samantha Reynolds, who blogs at bentlily: see her six rules of writing here

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“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. . . . having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”

— Philippians 1:6, 11

If you're truly a "self-made" success, raise your hand so we can worship you.

If you’re truly a “self-made” success, raise your hand so we can worship you.

One of the most pervasive of American myths is the notion of “self-made man.”

I once ministered in hospital chaplaincy to a patient in his mid-forties who told me that it took his recovering from a life-threatening wreck for him to get over his “self-made” image.

This successful businessman confided,  “I’ve always bragged and bragged about being ‘a self-made man.’ How foolish is that?”

The patient’s story was right out of Horatio Alger–the inspiring yarn of a man who rose from “rags to riches.”

The first time I saw him he was fighting for his life in the E.R. after a head-on crash. I ministered to his family throughout the night; then he and his loved ones turned out to be one of those families I ministered to for months as he survived multiple surgeries and a long recovery in Intensive Care.

As commonly happens in these cases, his leaving the cheerless hospital and going home after a grueling recovery was bittersweet. He and his family were joyous about the liberation. But they were sad about leaving all the doctors, nurses and caregivers who had made this “self-made man” new  with so much physical and spiritual care. And as happy as we were for them, we the caregivers were a little sad to see them go.

Thanksgiving is a good time to remember we can’t possibly be “self-made” or “self -maintained.”

All our meaningful gifts are communal. Whatever success I’ve had in two careers–journalism and ministry–and whatever happiness and joy I’ve taken from the wonderful, fulfilling life I’ve enjoyed springs from what others have done for me as much as what I’ve done for myself. Maybe more.

Here’s a Thanksgiving Season thought: We can’t thankful to God and others enough that we’re not “self-made.”

There’s no making it through a day, much less a life, without care, support and maintenance from others.

But, in case you happen to be the exception, raise your hand so that I and everybody else can bow down and worship you.

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Where is this supposedly good God today?

Where is this supposedly good God today?

These are such disorienting times that a devout Christian might be excused for doubting the Good News in the wake the god-awful news of madness and mayhem in “the real world.”

If Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God on earth and gave us a foretaste of the heavenly kingdom yet to come, one might be forgiven for thinking that Heaven must be over-rated.

One might be forgiven for wondering with the atheist what’s so loving and good about a God who allows so much suffering.

But we have the bible, which quotes many a believer who shakes a fist in anger and doubt at a God who seems to have given up and gone into some kind of cosmic retreat from us all.

Doubt is OK. Doubt is good. It’s a far better thing to live in the tension between certainty and doubt than to live in such certainty that you slaughter people in the name of whatever God you’ve created in your mind.

The eternal God to whom we sometimes doubting Christians remain faithful is the God who never promised that this living, breathing world would be safe and secure. The Son of God himself reminded us that we would have severe trials and tribulations on this side of the heavenly realm.

But the Son of God himself incarnated the God who is with us in our suffering. That’s always been the divine promise, that God is ever so close to us as to suffer what we suffer.

In his terrifying but powerful little book Night, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel offers up this response to the age-old question of where God is in the midst of misery:

 

“Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing…And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes.
“And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.

“Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’
“And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
“‘Where He is? This is where–hanging here from this gallows…'”

 

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Back in poetry study in my school days a hundred years, we studied Rudyard Kipling’s classic “If.”
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I hope it’s still taught to young students. I hope it hasn’t been banned from curriculums by the stiff-minded dimwits in the p.c. posses who dismiss the whole meaning of it because they’ve deemed it sexist. It’s (somewhat) about being a man, after all–and in some circles today the worst thing you can be is a man, my daughter.

The times never stop changing, but good and serious literature speaks to every new age with the vigor of wisdom renewed. Kipling’s simple but profound poem in the voice of a loving father is about keeping your head and living a life of integrity. It’s as fresh and relevant today for all of us, as sons and daughters, as it was when Kipling wrote it 120 years ago.
If

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

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