Living In Two Worlds

“But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are   image                                expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

                                      Philippians 3:20

The election is over and Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States (or will be when the electoral college completes its work).  Some of you are jumping up and down with joy, throwing your Make America Great hats into the air.  Others are jumping up and down in anger and fear over the prospect of a Trump presidency.  Before we get carried away on an emotional high or low, let’s pause for a moment and remember who we are.  We are Christians, beloved children of God, saved by grace and called to faithfulness and love.  President Obama said we are Americans before we are Republicans or Democrats, but I say we are the people of God before we are the people of America.

As citizens of God’s kingdom, we are called to live holy lives.  Holy doesn’t mean self-righteous or arrogant.  It is a biblical term used to describe something or someone set apart for God’s special purposes.  That means we are set aside, drawn out of the crowds that surround us, to make the love, mercy, justice and righteousness of God visible in the world by living out those qualities in our lives.  The Bible is clear – God calls us to care for the widow and orphan, to seek justice and live in humility, to show mercy to others, and to love – love our neighbor, love our enemy, and love ourselves.

So no matter who you voted for, remember, our first citizenship is in God’s kingdom, and the first call on our lives is to live by the laws of that kingdom.  There have been numerous reports of Trump supporters accosting or threatening people from Muslims to liberals.  If you see that happening, stand up for those under attack.  There have been protests,  mostly peaceful, across the country against the Trump election with fires set and traffic stopped.  If you see that, urge protesters to refrain from injuring others or infringing on others’ rights. 

And in the months and years ahead, let us continue to live first as God’s people.  Let us commit ourselves to remaining open, to listening and considering Trump’s proposals, supporting what we can.  But let us also speak truth to power, Republican or Democrat,  when it is wrong as we  defend the weak, encourage the underprivileged and stand for justice.  Let’s remember all who feel outcast – African American, Latino, Asian, the disabled.  But let’s also recognize the pain and isolation of the white working class who have been taken for granted for too long.  Church judicatories have focused on urban needs, not a bad thing, but too often we have done it at the expense of rural areas.  There are few resources devoted to their needs as conferences have cut budgets and staff.  Let us now reach out with the love of God to neighbors near and far, people in red hats and white dresses, for as Paul reminds us, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female,” there is no longer Republican or Democrat; “for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Finally, let us pray for President Trump, for President Obama, for Secretary Clinton, and for all who have a role to play in leading our nation.  May God grant them wisdom, strength of character and a commitment to justice and mercy.

Prayer:  Almighty God, remind me in these days that though the mountains tremble and the sea roars, you are still God.  In victory or defeat, I owe my first allegiance not to a political candidate or party, not even to an earthly nation, but to you.  Let my life be filled with the light of your love; let your goodness and mercy shine in all I say and do.  Keep my heart open to my neighbor, whether they supported Trump or Clinton.  Help me to seek your will for our nation and empower me to stand with those whom you love in their times of trial.  May I live everyday as a citizen of your kingdom, redeemed by your son, Jesus Christ, and called to holy living.  Amen.

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Rowboats and Sailboats

Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of imagehosts.                                           Zechariah 4:6b

Are you a rowboat or a sailboat?  I recently read a description of churches distinguishing between rowboat churches and sailboat churches, and I think the analogy can be applied to people as well as congregations.*

A rowboat person takes stock of the gifts and talents God has provided, rolls up their sleeves, and says, okay, it’s time for me to get to work.  They are grateful for what God has provided, offer thanks, and then step forward to add their contributions.  They assess, can I do this.  If the answer is yes, They work hard, stay focused and get the job done.

A sailboat person, however, has a different approach.  They don’t pick up the paddle and start moving the boat forward under their own power in the direction their paddling takes them.  No, they set their sails to catch the wind of God’s Spirit.  Yes, they have to put up the sails and tend the tiller, but they leave room throughout their life for God’s Spirit to be present.  With God involved, they are always attentive to the way God is setting the direction of the wind and providing for forward momentum on God’s path, because when they move with the wind, they go farther and faster.

Sometimes, we get caught up in acting like rowboats, choosing the direction, working up a sweat trying to get where we want to go.  We listen for God’s call, and then decide if we’re equipped to do that.  If we decide to move forward, we’re grateful for the boat and our strength, give thanks to the Lord, and then forget about God as we start rowing.  Prayer becomes the bookends of our lives – maybe a short morning prayer or devotion, then a day of hard work followed by a short prayer at bedtime.  God set a direction, we waved goodbye, and headed out from port.

But God wants more for us.  God’s desire is to be in communion with us, to share the load in all we do, to fill our sails and help us set a direction by which we can go farther.  To become a sailboat, however, we have to be attentive to the wind throughout our journey, sensitive to shifts in the wind, looking for the new things God is doing, and always seeking to be faithful.  Prayer is no longer reciting words – it is seeking God and resting in God’s presence, doing our part but always aware of God’s leading, trusting the Lord.

Who will you be today?  A rowboat, thanking God and then intent on getting through the day by yourself?  Or a sailboat, tacking as needed to keep God’s Spirit filling your life and sending you forward?

Prayer:  Spirit of God, fill my life today.  Keep me always running before the wind, depending on you for direction and looking to stay focused on your presence every moment of my day.  Remind me again and again that apart from you, my accomplishments are empty.  With your power in my life, however, I can be an on-going  witness for the love and grace of God.  This I ask through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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*The analogy comes from Joan S. Gray’s book, Spiritual Leadership for Church Officers, Geneva Press, 2009.

 

With A Song in My Heart and Praise on My Lips

image                  Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.”                   Hebrews 13:15

 

Most mornings, the dog wakes me up, ready for his morning walk.  He starts to whine somewhere between 6:45 and 7:30 am, and whatever stage of sleep I’m in, I quickly find myself focused on getting him outside.  I jump out of bed, throw on a pair of sweats and some old shoes, scoop up the dog, and head downstairs.  I snatch up his collar as we pass by the rack, fill my pocket with treats and waste bags, and head out the door.  Four or five houses down the street, I finally find myself truly awake and aware of my surroundings.

And then somewhere before the corner, I realize I am humming a song to myself.  I never consciously decide to hum, it just seems to happen.  And I never choose what I’m going to hum.  Whatever song I’m humming just comes unbidden, creeping out of my subconscious so that I begin humming or singing without realizing it.  And suddenly, I find myself mouthing song lyrics.  Today, it was “Let’s go fly a kite, up to the highest height,” from Mary Poppins  Another day it might be a Broadway showtune or a Billy Joel song.  And sometimes it is a hymn – one day last week I realized I was humming “Fairest Lord Jesus” and trying to remember all the words.

I don’t know what causes a particular song to come to mind – perhaps a smell, a sense of the weather, some other association – who knows what.  But I wondered what it would be like to wake up every morning with songs of praise to God on my lips.  Don’t get me wrong – I love the Lord and give God all the glory for the good in my life.  But I admit, I do not “continually offer a sacrifice of praise” in song to God.

Oh, I can decide I should sing a hymn or praise song while I’m walking, but I wonder what it would take for that unconscious process to end up putting a sacred song into my head without my having to think, “Okay, what religious song should I sing?”.  What would be needed to make God’s praise the unbidden song on my lips in the morning instead of a rock and roll oldie that would only yield to a hymn after conscious thought and choice?

As I wondered about that, I remembered how I learned to drive a stick shift.  I started my driving on a ’64 VW Beetle with a stick shift.  I remember how I went through a mental checklist at every stop light – brake with one foot, push in the clutch with the other, come to a stop, move the stick into into 1st gear with the clutch in, when the light turned green begin to let the clutch out as I feathered the gas, go.  I went through that checklist at every stoplight, ticking off step after step.  But over time, I was able to skip a checklist step mentally – I just did it without thinking about it.  And at last, the whole process became automatic, second nature.

Maybe that’s how God’s praise needs to be.   Perhaps I need to be more intentional about running my praise checklist every day – rehearsing the reasons for thanking God, reminding myself of God’s praiseworthy characteristics and repeating songs and words that express that praise and thanksgiving.  Then, maybe God’s praises would come more unconsciously to my mind as songs and lyrics suddenly appear on my lips.  So first thing in the morning, I can give thanks to God for this new day; last thing in the evening, I can praise God for all the good that has happened during the day; and intermittently during the day, I can pause to give thanks where it is truly due – to the Lord who is over all things.  So maybe as I change my routine, the songs of my heart will become more about God and less about the glory days of rock and roll!

Prayer:  Lord of love and life, from you comes every good and perfect gift.  Accept my words of thanks and praise for who you are and for what you have done in my life and the life of the world.  Keep my heart ever grateful; keep my mind centered on your love, and keep my eyes open to see your compassionate hand at work around me.  Let songs of your praise be ever in my heart, my mind and on my lips.  For with thanksgiving and praise, I ask this in Christ’s holy name.  Amen.

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Imitate Me!

“I appeal to you, then, be imitators of me. ”                                                                      1 Corinthians 4:16

Before I went into ministry, I worked in the corporate world.  I rode the train into Philadelphia every morning. This was a time when both men and women wore business suits every day.  I had suits with skirts and suits with pants.  And many of the men wore 3 piece suits, mostly with however, white or tan shirts.  These were the uniforms of the day.

One year, we hired a new senior executive from outside the company.  From the very beginning, he set a new style.  He wore pink shirts, and frequently sported a bow tie.  Almost every day, while others wore ordinary white or neutral business shirts, he wore a pink shirt and bow tie with his suit.  And despite his colorful wardrobe, he also began to move up in the company, receiving promotions and gaining power and status.  It wasn’t long before pink shirts started showing up on junior executives in his own and other departments.  They wanted to be like him!

Imitation, it has been said, is the purest form of flattery.  It’s also a natural reaction to seeing another’s success.  When basketball stars wear a particular brand of shoe, there are many who go out and buy that same shoe, hoping to be like LeBron James or Stephan Curry.  When a movie star endorses a beauty product saying she uses it, women will flock to the store to buy the same product.  And unfortunately, when a powerful public figure spews hate and discrimination, there are some in our society who will rush to imitate.

Just this summer, the Wellesley, Mass. school system reported that racist, anti-immigrant, and homophobic online posts had been made by Wellesley High School students.  This is in an affluent, upscale suburb of Boston, and this kind of language had never been an issue there before.  Over the last year, we have heard too many racist comments and slurs against people groups, words that were likely imitated by these youth.  Is this what we want our culture to become?

The Apostle Paul says “Imitate me!”  And in 1 Corinthians, he expands that: “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ!”  We don’t imitate Paul because we want to be like Paul; we imitate him because we want to be like Christ.  God sent us not a book of instruction, but a person, the Son, to show us how to live.  He is to be the one we imitate.

Paul makes it clear in Philippians what that kind of life looks like.  “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Let these attitudes fill your heart and direct your life.  Let us keep our focus on the God of Jesus Christ who calls us to live holy lives of love, grace and truth..

Prayer:  Heavenly master, help me to keep my eyes on you and your son, Jesus Christ.  Let my life reflect your love.  Let my heart be filled with your goodness.  Let those who look at me see a child of your kingdom who strives each day to be worthy of the grace you have given me.  For I ask it in Christ’s holy name.  Amen.   

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Half A Billion Betrayals

“He stands up for widows and for children whose fathers have died.  He loves outsiders living among you. He gives them food and clothes.”                                                                                             Deuteronomy 10:18

In January, 2010, a massive earthquake struck Haiti and devastated Port au Prince.  Between 100,000 and 150,000 people were estimated killed (Haitian government estimates approached 250,000), and an estimated 3 million people were affected.  Over a quarter million homes were destroyed.  In the aftermath of the earthquake, the international community and international aid organizations pledged enormous support.  Hundreds of millions of dollars were committed to help the devastated nation.

Reports by the Washington Post, CNN and others show that the promised aid was never fully given.  Six months after the quake, 98% of the rubble was still in the streets, with thousands of bodies rotting within the rubble.  Initial aid took the form of food, water and tarps to provide some form of shelter, but promises of new housing failed to materialize. The Miami Herald said some good work was being done, but much of the money that was spent was misdirected:  “Millions were spent on ad campaigns telling people to wash their hands. Telling them to wash their hands when there’s no water or soap is a slap in the face.” (Goldberg, Eleanor (11 January 2012). “Haiti Earthquake Recovery: Where Did All The Money Go? (INFOGRAPHIC)”. Huffington Post.)

In 2015, NPR and ProPublica investigated the disappearance of $500 million donated to the American Red Cross for Haitian relief, “one of the most successful fundraisers ever”. The  American Red Cross claimed that 130,000 homes had been built, but the investigation discovered that only six had been built. Investigators reviewed “hundreds” of pages of internal documents and interviewed former and current staff members.  They investigated the organization’s claim that 4.5 million Haitians had been helped “back on their feet.” The claim was vigorously disputed by Joel Boutroue, a Haitian government advisor, who stated that this number would cover “100 percent of the urban area” in every city in Haiti. A number of other claims did not hold up under investigation, and it was found that the project was riddled with “multiple staffing changes”, bureaucratic delays and a language barrier as many of the Red Cross officials did not speak French or Creole.   (Wikipedia, 2010 Haiti Earthquake, accessed 10-7-160

Yesterday, Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti straight on.  Initial estimates are that at least 300 were killed in the storm, but that number could rise.  The images of storm-struck Haiti raised in my mind questions about our response to the earlier disaster.  If we had been less concerned with getting credit, with donors getting to designate the direction of their dollars, with appearances and organizational greed, and been more concerned with actually helping people, might some of those deaths have been avoided?  If we had built the houses that were promised, if we had mounted campaigns to rebuild with the same dedication we did on our own Louisiana- Mississippi coast, could we have prevented the loss of so many lives?  Do we bear some responsibility for the loss of life in Haiti?

We serve a God who cares for the widow and the orphan, for the poor and dispossessed.  And that God calls us to reach out in compassion to extend God’s love without looking for publicity, without seeking credit, but looking only to embody the love of God for God’s people.  In Isaiah 43, God promises that “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you…”  God’s will is that these children of God not suffer in hurricanes and floods.  You and I have been called to be the instruments of that promise, to care for God’s children and ensure that love triumphs over greed and selfishness.  Yes, let’s pray for the people in the path of Hurricane Matthew, but let’s do more than that.  Let’s make a real difference in their lives so the next time, we aren’t wondering why the situation is still so bad.

Prayer:  O God, our refuge in the storms of life, you have created your church to be a city on a hill, a light on a lampstand.  Help us to be that shining light, that promise of abundant life to a struggling world.  Let us set aside every selfish thought and self-centered desire, and instead focus on the needs of the world, both near and far. Let our hearts be moved to respond imagewith love and care.  For the sake of your son, Jesus Christ, our Savior.  Amen.

Power vs License

 

image“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

2 Timothy 1:7

Years ago our family used to drive by a house in Wayne that we called “Nouveau Riche on Chelsea.”  It was a huge house, with its rear facing the road we drove on.  The house had originally been just a really big house.  But at some point a new owner took over, and decorated the back yard.  There was a pool, a colonnade, and more statues than I could count.  It looked like someone had said, “I want to show how much money I have so buy one of everything!”  It was incredibly ostentatious, and our family made it a fame to see who could call out “Nouveau Riche on Chelsea!” first as we drove by.

Money and power – two things that as a child I thought, if you got it, you flaunt it!  Got money?  Then let the world know!  Got power?  Then show it off!  It seemed to me as a child that someone who had money or power could do whatever they wanted, and if they didn’t do what they wanted, then they obviously didn’t really have enough money or power.  After all, wasn’t the point  to be able to do whatever you wanted to do?

Then I grew up.  As a parent, there were things I wanted to do, things I had the power and the money to do,  but I didn’t do them because I voluntarily limited myself for some reason.  Maybe I didn’t do something because it would hurt someone I cared about; perhaps I restrained myself because I wanted something else even more.  And sometimes, I held back because I had no need to show off money or power.  Of course, I didn’t have the kind of exorbitant money or power that the owner of that house must have had, but I certainly had enough to do what I wanted.  But I restrained myself.

Paul reminds us that a spirit of power does not mean doing whatever we please.  God’s gift of power comes most clearly when it also comes with a spirit of self-discipline.  Like the person who could sit at home clipping coupons and never work (not me!), like the corporate CEO who could tell people to jump and their only response would be “How high?”, some people have power and money but don’t feel a need to show it off to the world, but are content to balance power and money with a spirit of self-discipline.

It occurred to me that many people who feel the need to blatantly exercise power or spend money are people who are trying to convince themselves of their own worth.  They base their sense of self on how others see them.  If others cower in the face of their power, they know they are powerful.  If others are impressed by their spending, they feel rich.  I had a babysitter for my kids years ago who always felt it was important to tell me how much her mother had paid for every outfit she wore.  I got tired of her monologue pretty quick – she didn’t last long as our babysitter.

As Christians, our worth doesn’t depend on how others see us; our worth comes from God. God loves us, therefore we are worthwhile.  Not the other way around – we are worthwhile therefore God loves us. No, we derive our sense of worth from the love that God gives us, from our awareness that we are frail, sinful humans who are loved anyway by the author of creation.  And that gives us the ability to exercise power with self-discipline.  We don’t have to show off our money; we don’t have to make people jump in order to know we are worthwhile.  We know it because we know the Lord.  And that knowledge gives us both power and self-discipline.

Prayer:  Your love, O God, transforms me from sinful a human being to a beloved child of the king.  Fill me with the power of your presence; let me exercise that power with self-discipline and love, as your son, Jesus, did.  Amen.

 

Praying for Clinton and Trump?

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First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.

                                                                                                1 Timothy 2:1-2

 

In 1981, James Hinkley, Jr., attempted to assassinate President Reagan in an effort to impress Jodie Foster, the actress about whom Hinkley was obsessed.  Although Reagan survived, his Press Secretary, James Brady, was shot and paralyzed.  In 2014, he died from causes related to the shooting over thirty years prior.  After the shooting, Brady and his wife became activists for gun control.  At one point, Brady’s wife was struggling with her anger at the press for what she was as mistreatment of her husband in newspaper articles.  She struggled with her anger, not knowing how to get over it.  A wise pastor counseled her to begin praying for reporters, and not just praying for some amorphous group, but to pray for one or two by name as individuals.

In the beginning Mrs. Brady struggled to pray anything meaningful, but she kept at it. Day after day, she asked God to bless and support specific reporters who had been especially harsh in their words about her husband.  Her prayers were half-hearted at first, praying because she had to, not because she truly wanted the object of her prayers to be blessed.  She reports that it took quite a while, but at last she began to pray in a new way.  She discovered that the act of praying for someone had, over time, opened her heart to care about them and to want what was best for them.  Her prayers became genuine expressions of care and concern.

In the letter to Timothy, Paul reminds us that we are not invited to pick and choose for whom we will pray.  God expects us to offer prayer support to all of our leaders.  If you’re a Republican, that means praying for President Obama and Hillary Clinton; if you’re a Democrat, it means offering prayers for Donald Trump and Paul Ryan.  At first those prayers may be half-hearted and elementary, but if you stick with it, praying regularly for the leaders with whom you disagree as well as those you support, you may find, over time, that your heart opens to care for them as God cares for them.  That doesn’t mean you have to agree with their policies or support their positions, but it does mean that you and I can learn to exercise that love for one another that is God’s expectation for all people.

When we move beyond simplistic prayers to truly seeking the good for another person, we discover that they are a whole person, not just some demagogue.  We are reminded that each of us needs forgiveness, grace and love.  And we may learn that the ones we like are as flawed as those with whom we disagree.  Furthermore, whether we support a particular leader or not, they are often in a position where their words and actions can have tremendous influence in our world.  Should we not keep them in prayer, asking God to help their words and actions build people up rather than tearing down and destroying?

So I invite you in the campaign season to begin a discipline of prayer, asking God’s blessing not only on the candidates you support, but on those with whom you disagree.  Let us love one another, showing that caring spirit in our prayers, as we lift before the Lord all “who are in high positions.”

Prayer:   Gracious God, you have called us to love one another and to seek the good for each other.  And so today I lift up to you (name of politician you do not support).  I pray that you will bless them in their life.  In this campaign season, give them strength and stamina, clarity of thought and insight into the needs of your people.  Help me to care about them as an individual even when I disagree with their policies.  Open their heart to your love, that they may lead in ways that offer life and love to the world.  For I pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.