Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights
Luke 8 20 :14
The seed that fell among the thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go their way, they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures and do not mature.

I have been a night person my whole life. In one of the parsonages we lived in when I was a kid the top floor had a little landing, a sitting area, a small office, and one large room that was as large as half the house downstairs. Our parents arranged all four beds and each girl had our own little space. I used to wait until the other three girls were asleep and sit up in bed to play jacks – without the ball bouncing.
Over the years I have followed everyone’s advice: pray, yoga, meditate, create plot lines, deep breathing… you name it. And still I start out praying, but eventually I run out of things to pray for and/or meditate about. And worry moves in.
And so, there I was, again in the middle of the night, awake and worrying: what’s that popping sound in the car’s steering? I can close my eyes and see all the scenarios of what could happen on the roads when the steering goes out if one of us were driving. What is going to happen with the  writing? Can I write anything other people will want to read?
For years I worried about why I couldn’t just quit worrying, be like everyone else and just give it all to God in one big lump. I got very weary of the don’t worry, be happy people. Can it really be that easy? Honestly, I thought I had a spiritual problem.
The idea came to me… I should say, in my seeking, the Holy Spirit prompted a memory from my education. When I ran out of things to pray about, and worry stopped by to chat, I changed tactics.
“Yes, that is a legitimate worry,” I told myself. I thought it through, and then turned to God. “Okay, God, I can’t handle this myself. Heal this hurt.” or “Yes, that person may have misunderstood what I was trying to say. Go between me and her/him and soothe any hard feelings.”  Soon the past had pretty well been dealt with. For a few years longer, I repeated the activity nightly, and now it’s no longer necessary to do that. When worry comes I stop then, examine the worry, dismiss it or take the time to talk to God about it.
In a sense, I did have a spiritual problem, but not the one I thought.  I was trying to be a ‘don’t worry person’ when God was waiting for me to figure out how to and when I was ready for him to help me deal with my ‘worry gene.’
I won’t presume to be the only person who has a worry gene. We all know worry is but one of the non-clinical things that grow into obsessions. This scripture names two more of the common things that become obsessions. Sometimes we hold onto our pain or hurts until we see the whole world through the eyes of hurt and pain. They become an obsession. But we have to keep giving whatever it is to God before it become a life habit or takes hold of us as an obsession. Otherwise it will darken our life, complicate our emotional health, raise our blood pressure and ruin our joyful relationship with God and the people around us.
The scripture ends with ‘And they don’t mature.”  For years worry choked my growth as a person and a Christian, but didn’t kill it. God and I worked through it. God is faithful.
So I pray: God, help me recognize when I am in danger of letting something overtake my life. Help me not to ignore it because it’s easier to suppress than face the unpleasant parts of my personality. Help me not to dwell on it, but give it to you until we have conquered its danger to my spiritual and emotional life.

Post-Resurrection People

In the days following your resurrection you appeared to many different people:

You appeared to Mary Magdalen, The woman of many sins: a forgiven sinner.

You appeared to Peter, The very man who, under pressure, denied he knew you.

You appeared to  the travelers on the road to Emmaus,

Discouraged, sad of heart, defeated of spirit.

You appeared to the disciples in the upper room,

Hiding, frightened because they thought you, their leader was dead.

And even Thomas.

You appeared to him. He who needed proof to believe,

Who wanted to believe, yet was hesitant.

 

One of my novels is a novel inside of a novel. The main character was reading a novel. Both were important to the story line. I tried writing both at the same time, and realized it was impossible, so I wrote the two novels separately, using two different styles and two different voices.  When I spoke of the first novel I spoke as me, and when I talked about the novel inside the first novel, I spoke as the character of the first novel to whom I attributed that novel. My husband would tell me I sounded multi-personality-like.  Even now I sound like two different people.

Indeed, I sometimes think, half-seriously, that there are two people in me. One is the person who loves people and enjoys being with people. The other is the hermit – the melancholy creative person who wants nothing but to be left alone. While not a clinical multiple personality problem, I suspect all of us have distinct sides to our personality.

In fact, as I look at the list of people you appeared to after your resurrection I realized I have resembled many of them at one time or another.

I am a forgiven sinner. Yet a times in my life I struggle with temptation.

I know who I belong to, but at times, by my actions, I betray or even deny my faith under pressure.

I’m often ashamed about how easily I am discouraged, how often I am sad, defeated in spirit. In all the confirmation you send my way in life, one rejection one negative comment sends me down the path of discouragement.

Then there are times I withdraw from the community, frightened I am not equal to the task before me. Doubting I am the person for the job. And I need proof you are with me.

As with all the people you appeared to after your resurrection you come to me in spirit. You forgive, reassure, send people into my life to keep me on track, and by your presence let me know you will always provide the strength needed to live victoriously.

As a post-resurrection person, I learn you are constant in your relationship with me, no matter which of these people I resemble today.

And so I pray:

God, Help me embrace my faith in the power of your resurrection so I become fearful, worried, unsure of myself in my walk with you. Thank you for your constant presence and encouragement. Help me continue growing beyond the pulls of all the  influences around me.

 

 

 

 

Domesticating God

Psalm 99

The Lord reigns,

let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. Great is the Lord in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise your great and awesome name—  he is holy.

The King is mighty, he loves justice— you have established equity; in Jacob you have done  what is just and right Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy.

Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel was among those who called on his name; they called on the Lord and he answered them. He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud; they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them.

Lord our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds. Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy.

“Any time we begin to define religions as doing this and not doing that, we need Psalm 99.” –Peter W. Marty (Feasting on The Word)

We domesticate things, that is, we try to reduce everything down to our dominion: dogs, cats, ferrets, birds, gerbils, white mice, snakes, lizards, chimps, wolves, lions, tigers and bears and whatever else that will consent to share our abode. Often we have to be reminded they still have instincts from the wild. And we all have to learn we can’t do that to other people.

The idea has come up in my reading about this text that we have domesticated God. We have defined our ‘religion’ in behavioral terms and think of God as a mentor or friend.

The trouble with that is when we no longer need religion to ‘tell us how to run our lives’ and have outgrown the need for a mentor, we no longer need God. Our only definition of God is the source of love. The only thing relevant to us is the relationship. But we have to be reminded our relationships with God is not all there is to God.

So we need Psalm 99. The Lord reigns, nations tremble. Holy is He! Mighty King, lover of justice. Extol the Lord. God spoke in the pillar of cloud. Extol the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is Holy.

Those are off the leash words. Wild words. Words that take God out of the bounds of our comfortable relationships with a friendly, loving God. And we’re not always sure we are comfortable with them. We forget God is the holy one…the essence of holy. God is The Holy. God is The Justice. Mercy and love tempers some of the things Holy and Justice requires and God comes to us, through Jesus, on a level we understand. But that does not change who God is.

This Psalm reminds me I cannot reduce God down to my terms. God’s Holiness is beyond my wildest understanding and imagination. God is not a He or a She. God is not national. God is Spirit and international with no preference for any one nation or denomination, one worship style or another.

Granted, we speak of God in symbols so we can get a better grasp on who God is. That means we seek, and I think God uses, symbols that mean something to us. But if we find new symbols for God, we forget we are not really changing God.

And we all seek to worship God in ways that are meaningful to us, and I think that is acceptable to God. However, we need to be reminded in our worship we are entering into God’s presence in a way meaningful to us, not coaxing God into our box.

When we domesticate God, it makes relationship language difficult. Our tendency is to begin regarding our relationship with God like the ones we have with people. And we expect him to interact with us like people do, so we are afraid to really trust God. I understand it’s hard to hold both the view of the Otherness of God and the God who loves me so much he sent Jesus to connect with me and show me His love at the same time. But if we can somehow discover the richness of this contrast, our relationship with God becomes without equal.

So I pray:

God, help me let you out of the cage, so to speak, and allow you to be beyond my understanding without fear. Help me trust you because you come to my level so I might understand and accept you into my life, and yet remain the God beyond domestication.

Mercy, Mercy

Matt 5:7   Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy (RSV)

Even without religious applications we understand two things about mercy: it is given not earned and it modifies other actions.

We present our case, explain why we did or said or thought what we did, and take any responsibility for it/them. We then ask the other to judge us with mercy, because we did not begin with malice in our hearts.

As a modifier it essentially changes negative situations into positive situations. After all, it is through mercy that I receive forgiveness instead of the punishment justice calls for. God’s mercy.

But mercy isn’t a primary motivator. It begins with love, moves to compassion, and shows up in the action of mercy. With God’s primary nature being love, compassion and mercy are natural components of his actions toward the creation he loves. Whether we are right or wrong in our assumption, we have come to expect mercy from God.

And here is the hard part for humans. Love is not our primary motivation. With humanity’s encounter with and embrace of evil, we are primarily self-centered. So how do we come to the place where we are merciful people?

First, I realize I don’t feel mercy . . . I feel compassion. Mercy is the course of action I follow in response to that feeling. Compassion is born of the love we know as agape love. Devine love. Love that does not seek profit for the giver. Love that is applied simply because it’s part of the giver.

Now where do humans, self-centered as we are, manufacture that kind of love? That’s our first response isn’t it? If I just live right I can learn to love like that. We all are capable of merciful acts, but to become a merciful person, we have to have God’s love in us.

But it’s not exactly spontaneous. We first recognize and face the fact of the wrong that has been done. We admit the deserved punishment, but feel compassion for the wrongdoer, – knowing without God we would be in the same place – God’s love fills us and we understand forgiveness instead of punishment. Now we are capable of showing mercy. And finally, we decide to show mercy. I include the last step because we understand without God’s love in us we can know mercy is called for and refuse to apply it.

It’s fairly obvious, then what we need to seek. The indwelling, to use an old-fashioned but self-explanatory term, of God’s love. To this end we seek the deepest relationship with God that is possible for each of us.

This scripture teaches we receive mercy as we give it. And now it makes sense. Mercy is not an automatic response unless we know God’s love, and because we know God’s love we experience mercy, therefore, we know love and feel the compassion that is the parent of mercy. It’s a circle.

When I break that circle I am acting as if I have not received mercy. It’s like ignoring mercy has been applied to me, and I must return to mercy’s source and ask God to show me the mercy of forgiveness for my hard heart. And the circle can begin again.

And so I pray,
God, I don’t want to show mercy simply to buy my way into heaven. I want to have impact on the world around me. Help me keep my heart and life in constant contact with you. As I experience your compassion that results in mercy towards me, show me the places in my life that call for compassion and mercy.

What the World Needs

Us. That’s what the world needs.
We who have learned fractious living is unproductive.
We who have learned there is a time and place to give voice to our inner critic.
We who tire of both extremes insisting they are the only proper and right choice.
We who are adopting peacemaking as life’s philosophy.
We who share grace instead of insults in life’s stress filled moments.

You. That’s what the world needs.
Your individual voice that soothes your world’s hurts.
You who rub balm instead of salt into open wounds.
You who understand just because you know gossip doesn’t mean you have to share it.
You who are aware of and mindful of other’s feelings and reactions.
You who, by example, can teach our world about balance.

Me. That’s what the world needs.
Me, who God has redeemed and refined to reflect who God is.
Me, who has dedicated talents and self to God’s expression.
Me, who can change the atmosphere in which I dwell by sharing the quiet joy of God.
Me, who can make a difference in the world when I give that which makes me unique.
Me, who the Holy Spirit empowers me so others can see God.

God’s People. That’s what the world needs.
God’s people to be present and active.
God’s people to step up and be the means of Grace for a fractured world.
God’s people to give positive input instead of dropping out and criticizing.
God’s people’s witness to build-up, and not tear down.
God’s people to face reality but re-enforce good, wherever it is found.

And so I pray:
God, I realize the world needs more than one word solutions. It’s not a simple world we live in, and we have left you out. Help me be part the positive movement leading the way back to you as our world begins to realize what we have is not working. But to do that, help me live each day in your presence and be a reflection of you in the part of the world you have put me in.

Come

Come, you who have written off Christmas

As a useless commercial, greedy,

Networking through-giving-the-right-gift-to-the-right person,

And raking in all you can get celebration.

 

Come, you who weary of trying to please,

Or gain approval of the people who depend on you

And who you love with all your heart,

By providing the perfect holiday experience.

 

Come, you who refuse to celebrate because you believe

It’s the wrong time of the year,

Or merely the ancient believers’ redemption of an old pagan worship day

Was merely the early Christians’ effort to wrestle dominance from other belief systems.

 

Come, you who cannot see beyond the secular celebrations

Of Santa, elves, goodwill, and tender made for TV movies.

Who, when you have outgrown those things,

No longer find meaning in the celebration.

 

Come, discover the simple, uncomplicated,

Love motivated, God-initiated gift that began all this.

And as humans, we’ve turned it into madness as we, as usual,

Have gotten things backwards, and put the emphasis on the wrong things.

 

Come, return to the celebration

Of a loving Creator longing for a relationship with the people of his creation.

Of that same Spirit of power and might giving that most precious son

To humanity as the example of God, the Father’s, existance and scope of love.

 

Come to the celebration,

Not of the date, or of merely the traditions, or the giving and receiving,

Not merely the spirit of Christmastide’s goodwill,

But of the eternal love that prompted that first gift of a baby named Jesus.

 

So, come, put it all aside:

The studies that tells us what we’ve gotten wrong,

The disapproval of what the season has become,

And celebrate, with heart, mind, and spirit, the gift that changed the meaning of giving.

Look Up

Isiah 60 and 63

Chapter sixty three verse eight:  He said, ‘They are my very own people. Surely they will not betray me again.” And he became their Savior. Vs 11 Then they remembered those days of old when … they cried out “Where is the one who brought Israel through the sea…Where is the one who sent his Holy Spirit..?”

60:1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn! Lift up your eyes and look about you:

 

To me there is a picture here of a people who,

Having neglected the vital relationship with God,

Have become weary, self-absorbed, bent over with cares.

Finally they say to themselves,

 

“Where is that God who used to be with us?“

God hears, says these are my people.

Surely they will listen now,

And prepares a savior.

 

When the people straighten and look up,

God already has the savior ready to send.

For centuries Isiah’s words have been acknowledged

To be speaking of the Christ’s coming.

 

So again, I see the picture of my people who are bent over,

Who are now weary with self-absorption,

Troubled at the chasms that have grown up between us,

Searching for new ways to satisfy the old needs that never go away.

 

And when, or if, we straighten, look up, and ask

“Does it have to be this way?

Is there not a better way?”

God has already prepared the answer.

 

He doesn’t ask us to return to our ancestor’s way of living,

Or an antiquated philosophy –

He calls us to return to his presence.

In doing so, we turn from the negative and begin the journey to wholeness.

 

This time of year most of our moods lighten in the festivity.

Some of us hide behind preparing the season for everyone else,

Hoping for a different outcome that will be more satisfying this year,

While others truly find momentary fulfilment in the preparation.

 

We all hope to carry the spirit with us into the next year –

But too often when the season is over, the joy goes with it.

So why don’t try something new ?

God is waiting for that first realization he has already sent the answer.

 

Look up.

 

Ask, “Didn’t there used to be a different way?”

Let God remind us there is joy in believing he is with us.

Let God remind us he wants to live in us and help carry the load.

Let God remind us when we turn around to look for him,

 

He is already standing there, his face toward us.

Let God remind us of the name of Jesus, Emmanuel – God with us.

He has already sent a savior,

But we call it Christmas.

L