Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Heat is On

The Bible often uses animals to teach us something - sheep, goats, serpents, wolves in sheep's clothing, and there's even a talking donkey.  This past week I learned something from my dog.

For Father's Day I got a new gas grill, so last Saturday I set out to put it all together.  That's never an easy task, especially for a DIY flunkey like me, but I accepted the challenge and unloaded all the pieces on my back porch.  It was moderately warm outside, so I opened the door to let our dog inside assuming he'd enjoy the air conditioned house rather than be outside with me, but to my surprise he refused and took a place on the back porch as I worked. 

In all, it took me about an hour and a half to put the grill together while Zeebo, our dog, lay on the deck.  At one point I took notice of him and there he was with his panting tongue hanging out, and a thought dawned on me.  He would rather endure the heat and be close to me rather than be more comfortable inside but away from me.  I was impressed by his dedication while I began to question mine.

Am I dedicated enough to God to endure the heat or do I retreat to comfort as soon as the temperature rises?

God followers have always found themselves in heated situations.  The heat was on Jewish prophets when their message of repentance was rejected by their very own kings and queens.  The apostles felt the heat when they were told to stop stirring up trouble with their talk of the resurrected Jesus.   The early church experienced  literal heat as they faced the threat of being burned at the stake unless they recanted their faith in Jesus. 

The heat has always been on God followers and it has always been easier to retreat to the comfort of conformity rather than face the heat of ridicule and oppression.  Am I, are you, dedicated enough to the Lord to endure the heat and be with him or will I, we, desert Him to the comfort of conformity?

Jesus asked this very question to his apostles as at one point in his ministry people started to feel the heat of discipleship and many deserted Him.  As the crowds retreated Jesus turned to his most dedicated followers, the Twelve, and asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”  Peter, in the spirit of Zeebo, replied, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

Regardless of how heated it got Peter knew that it is always better to be with Jesus, the giver of life, than to be without Him in the cool and comfortable confines of conformity.

It's hot out there and maybe getting even hotter, and the dedication of all of us who call ourselves Christians is being tested.   When tempted to abandon Jesus, I'll think about my dog who endured the heat just to be close to me.  May I be so faithful.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Remember Me - A Communion Meditation

Several years ago Henriann and I were invited to a "free" dinner.  We knew the meal came with a sales pitch for some home security equipment, but didn’t expect the degree of pressure put on us to invest in this life saving equipment.  The only way we felt like we could get out of the dinner before midnight was to agree to a meeting at our home where we would get some more information.  The sales visit came and went and we managed to not spend any money, but I did learn the old adage to be true - there are no free lunches. 

I should have known better - no one asks you for dinner without having some agenda.  Some may be more noble than others but no one calls you around a table without wanting something.  And that's okay.  People need to sell products.  People need to pitch deals.  But it is a rare exception if someone invites you to dinner and they have no agenda.  After all, who has ever been invited to someone's house for a meal and then sent to a private dining room all by themselves and told to eat and leave the dishes behind?  It just doesn’t happen.   

People invite people to a table for a reason, and it may be as innocent as establishing a friendship or deepening one.  It may be simply to offer some support or wish you well on an upcoming adventure.  But every meal has an agenda on the menu.

Each Sunday we are called to a table.  Called by Jesus himself to eat with him, and, like everyone else, Jesus has an agenda.  But what exactly is it?

His agenda is simple - remember.

Remember who I am.  The preexistent son of God. God himself privileged with all the privileges of deity.  Remember that all things came into existence through me and all things are sustained  by me.

Remember that I came.  In spite of these privileges I left heaven to become one of you.  To live the life you live.  To experience the joy and pain of humanity.  Remember I, the creator, took on the likeness of the created.

Remember why I came.  I became like you because without me you were lost.  You sinned and needed a perfect and sinless sacrifice.  Remember that I suffered great pain so you wouldn't.  Remember I did this out of a deep love that you can only begin to imagine. 

Remember that I will come again.   I can’t tell you when but I will, and when I do we can eat another meal - a meal of victory and celebration.   

"Come to my table," Jesus bids us.  "Eat the bread and drink the wine I have prepared.  Come dine with me ... and remember."

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Call Me ... Me

Well, about a week has passed since Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the much ballyhooed cover of Vanity Fair.  As a Christian minister I still don’t know exactly what to think and really have decided not to think too much about the specifics of Jenner's plight.  She never asked me for advice and I doubt she reads my blog anyway!

Yet, the event has caused me to think about aspects of my own life that I'm not quite so happy about.  And, as a preacher and spiritual adviser, it has caused me to think about how to counsel people who have lesser but similar issues that Jenner's plight has brought to the forefront.  How do I, we, deal with those things in our life that we would like to change?

Let me explore this with three questions I need to ask myself when I feel uncomfortable or dissatisfied with who I am.

Do I really want to change in the first place?
I must be aware that I can be easily deceived into thinking that I need to be someone or something else when in actuality I don't.  Often times I sense that if only I was, you fill in the blank, I would be much better off.   I can often fall prey to the "grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" mentality when really the grass on the other side of the fence only looks greener or is just a different shade of green.  There may be some things in my life that need to change, but there also some things that are quite fine and what I really want is to be different or like someone else.  It doesn’t seem wise to me to make changes for the sole reason to be different or to be like someone else.  Besides, some of the things I think I want to change may be the very things that make me unique and wonderful

Will change actually make things better?
A second question I need to ask is whether or not change is going to make things any better.  Change can be somewhat like a drug that gives a temporary high but really doesn’t address the underlying issue that is causing the problem.   Treating problems with change can sometimes bring temporary relief but unless we deal with the real issue, the problem will simply manifest itself again when the high from the change wears off.  Change in job, address, and other circumstances may promise much more than they are able to deliver.  Some people have made significant changes in their life thinking that change was the answer to their problems only to be sadly disappointed.    

Do I pursue change or consider acceptance?
This question perhaps is most relevant in light of current events.  It is a fact there are some things I simply cannot change about myself, and there are some things I can only change at great cost, personal and financial. Some of these costs may be prohibitive to most of us.  Some of these changes can actually destroy who I am.  I am wary that some people see change as the only alternative when acceptance is actually the real path they need to take.

When troubled by who I am or what my circumstances are, I need to seriously consider acceptance rather than pursue change.  It very well may be that the thing I want to change about myself is providing me a unique way to serve the world and changing that may nullify that unique and wonderful trait about myself that equips me to serve as only I can.

I think about the apostle Paul who obviously had something about himself that he wanted to change.  He refers to it as his thorn in the flesh and repeatedly asks God to remove it - to change him!  No one knows for sure what Paul is wrestling with but it is clear that Paul thinks he would be better off if God would intervene.  God doesn't.  In essence, God doesn’t think that change is what Paul needs.  Paul needs to accept whatever it is that he can’t change and what God won’t change.  Paul comes to terms with this thorn, his weakness, and ceases to be obsessed with change and trusts that he is better off as he is rather than what he wants to be.

Could this be what I need to do this as well?  To trust that I am better off as I am rather than what I want to be.  Maybe the very thing I want to change about myself will make me less than myself and make me less effective and influential than I can be as I am.  Maybe what I perceive as a weakness or flaw is in actuality a strength or an opportunity.  Maybe I need to stop asking God to change me and come to accept myself and seek out the unique ways I can serve given who I am and what my circumstances are.

Paul is able to shake his obsession with change and, in accepting his weakness, he is able to do great things.  Great people do that!   Great people at some point stop obsessing with change and attack life head on as who they are.

Change may not be what is needed.  Change may not even be realistic.  Perhaps acceptance is the key that will unlock our ultimate potential.

The words of Reinhold Niebuhr which have come to be known as the Serenity Prayer are appropriate:

        God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
        The courage to change the things I can,
        And the wisdom to know the difference.