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Nothing to Prove: The Power of Love

Nothing to Prove The Power of LoveMessage for Lent 1 on Matthew 4:1-11 given on Sunday, March 1, 2020 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

Have you noticed that we do not feel temptations when we feel strong, confidant, capable, and in healthy relationships? No, temptation and testing happen when we are at our weakest—when we are vulnerable, going through transition, full of doubt, riddled with insecurity, questioning our purpose, or feeling unworthy.

Perhaps you have heard of checking in with yourself using the HALT method: H–Hungry; A–Angry; L–Lonely; T–Tired. These are the times we are likely to give in to temptation and do things we will regret later. It could be anything from losing our temper, impulse buying, over-eating, controlling others’ behavior, not exercising, having that 2nd, 3rd or 4th drink, saying something we shouldn’t, getting into others’ business—you get the idea. Perhaps we all have a “go-to” behavior when we are “hangry” (hungry and angry) as my daughter calls it, plus lonely or tired. It is so easy to give in to an immediate comfort, or to release steam rather than take care of the real, normal human needs we have underneath.

The devil certainly seems to be going after Jesus when he is at his weakest. He is testing Jesus with everything he’s got at the worst possible moment. If Jesus took the HALT test – he would come up with red flags everywhere:

Hungry—Jesus has not eaten in 40 days. I have hard time fasting for 1 meal, so I can’t imagine 40 days. Severe symptoms of starvation start around 35-40 days, so suffice it to say, Jesus was mad hungry.
Angry—The Holy Spirit leads him out to the wilderness. Jesus was just baptized and is supposed to be starting his ministry, and now he’s got to spend over a month fasting and fighting off the demons and wild animals of the wilderness? I would be more than a little angry if it were me.
Lonely—No doubt. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else around until the devil shows up. Jesus finally has someone to talk with and this is the companion he gets?
Tired—Forty days without food in the wilderness would wear anybody out—I would imagine Jesus is just exhausted at the end of this ordeal.

So, of course, this is when temptation comes. The devil tests him—not with just any old garden-variety wiles, but with temptations that look particularly good—ones that would solve his predicament pretty quickly. Jesus could satisfy all of his own needs himself and give up relying on God.

• Jesus could solve his hunger with some immediate bread
• Jesus wouldn’t feel so lonely if just one or two angels would show up for a dramatic rescue
• Jesus could get a sense of self and power back, eliminating his anger at being led out into the wilderness if he just worships the devil a little bit so he can possess all the kingdoms of the world
• surely all of this would give him an energy boost and he would not be so darn tired after this wilderness ordeal

Jesus could put a HALT to the Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired situation that the devil has so convincingly put before him. But, like all temptations, Jesus sees that they may satisfy for the moment, but they are fleeting—they will not deeply satisfy any needs of his for the long haul, not for the journey of ministry, nor for the stretch of eternity—none of which he can do if he gives up now on relying on God.

How does Jesus resist this even in his weakened state? I prayed about this very question, and the answer I received was surprisingly simple. Just before Jesus is sent into the wilderness he was Baptized—the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit alights on him and God speaks up with a very important testimony. God told him God loved him. God said, “This is my beloved son. You are loved, you are mine, I love you.

No amount of bread, power, angels, attention or glory could be more meaningful, more deeply satisfying, or longer lasting than being Beloved in the eyes of God, his father. Jesus already had everything he needed—he had nothing to prove, nothing more to gain, nothing more he truly craved. In his human form, Jesus had God-sized hole in heart, and it was already filled with love. This love sustained him while he felt physically hungry and tired, and emotionally angry and lonely.

The funny thing is, Jesus was baptized at the beginning of his ministry but he has not healed anyone and has not done anything big for God. He was not loved by God as a reward, after resisting the temptations of the devil—he was loved before ever going into the wilderness. He did not do anything to deserve God’s love. He was beloved at the beginning—a priori love! Jesus received this pure, beloved, embrace of God unconditionally, and he believed it, he soaked it up, he survived the wilderness wrapped in love, and so can we.

We all have God-sized hole in our heart that only God can fill. It is hard to believe and difficult to receive because we know deep down that we do not deserve God’s love—that’s the point though, isn’t it? We do not deserve it. Jesus did not earn it either—we are in the same baptismal boat as Jesus. We are just beloved by God—pure and simple—loved from the beginning—a priori love and grace. We too, have everything we need—God’s absolute love for us—so we have nothing to prove to God or anyone else. And when we are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired—we forget and think that our favorite food will fill that God-sized hole in our heart, or alcohol, or money, or trying harder, or the perfect relationship, or a bigger house, or like Adam and Eve—the perfect apple, or more knowledge, or the next internet guru life coach, but then we come here and we remember. We remember it’s all about God’s complete love for us—which comes in the shape of bread and wine, forgiveness and peace and community in Jesus Christ, who defeated the devil and temptation FOR us.

There is a Cherokee legend about the rite of passage when a young teenage boy becomes a man. His father takes him into the woods and blindfolds him. The boy has to sit through the night blindfolded for twelve hours alone in the wilderness. He hears the wolves howl, the bear tread nearby, and all the terrifying sounds of the night around him for the entire night alone. When he survives the night and removes his blindfold, and he sees his father, who has been sitting nearby, keeping watch over his beloved son.

You are God’s beloved son or daughter. Take a minute throughout your day during Lent and breathe in a daily meditation, “I am God’s beloved child.” Pick up a hand-held prayer cross or a Lenten devotional as a daily reminder this Lent that already have all you need. When our deeper longings are satisfied by how much God loves us, take notice of how that shapes your day—

• we need less approval from others,
• we don’t need to get in the last word,
• we can bypass whatever indulgence tempts us away from relying on God’s love as our source of all we need
• we can let go and let God manage other people instead of us,
• we can relax our fear about tomorrow, what the future holds and put it in God’s hands
• we can HALT and take care of our real needs in healthy ways without guilt.

The Beatles were right, All You Need is Love—all we need is God’s love. Nothing else will satisfy like God’s boundless, unmerited, powerful, all-encompassing, ever-living, everlasting love.

 

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From Calamities to Consolation

From Calamaties to Consolation3Message for Ash Wednesday on 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 given on February 26, 2020 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

A few weeks ago Dan and I went to Costco and the grocery store together. When our children were still at home, we used to joke that going to the store together was like a date—a chance to have a longer conversation with just the two of us.

Now that he is working two jobs and I am commuting, our schedules do not mesh very well, so when we got in the car to go to the store, we joked that it was another Costco/grocery store date. He told me about a conversation he and our daughter, Leah had on a long walk when they were exercising together over Christmas break. They were talking about how easy it is in our family conversation to catastrophize things—to get into a “catalog of calamities” as if everything in life was going wrong, and it was all falling apart.

Leah said to Dan, “We get this from mom.”

I was wondering to myself, When did our Costco/grocery store date turn into a forum on my issues? Let’s talk about your issues instead, Dan—like when you leap into the future and decide what is going to happen a year from now in everyone’s life and you can’t seem to get this morning’s cereal bowl into the dishwasher! But that will have to wait for the next Costco/grocery store date.

I was in the hot seat that day and Dan was inviting me into the self-examination of Lent a few weeks early, so I decided to dive deep into the conversation, and admit that it was true. In fact, I can tell you without a moment’s hesitation how awful our life became in 2007-08 and how we had catalog of calamities like Job: Uncle Henry died in the spring; a few months later, Dan’s mom died after painful, 9-year battle with Alzheimer’s; the next month my favorite aunt died; the next month I was diagnosed with two kinds of breast cancer; five months later Dan’s dad was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer; a week later we got a $10,000 tax bill because of mistake our accountant made on our taxes; nine months later my mom was diagnosed with advanced liver disease; the next year Dan’s dad died; we had two years of my being really ill before she died, and nine months later my grandmother died.

We tried to hold it together with two congregations and three busy kids.

I did have the catalog of calamities in my head because it felt like too much—maybe it was not too much for those who were dealing with it without fighting cancer at the same time, and then trying to recover from it, but it nearly broke me.

Imagine my comfort when I read our passage for today from 2 Corinthians—Paul has a catalog of calamities as well—and he even uses the word! In verse 5 he has endured “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger!” In chapter 11 of 2 Corinthians he adds flogging, stoning, shipwrecks, being lost at sea, being cold and naked, danger from bandits, the wilderness, rivers, and being near death. Sounds pretty awful to me (maybe he is my biblical soulmate!).

First Paul gives us permission to lament and name that life is hard. Sometimes we do have to list of our catalog of calamities and we need someone to hear it and say, “yeah, that’s really awful, and I am sorry that this is such a hard time.”

There are forty-two Psalms of individual lament full of the faithful coming to God in complaint about the hardships of life. For example, Psalm 13:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain[a] in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Martin Luther said of the Psalms of Lament, “What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid the storm winds of every kind? . . . Where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation? There again you look into the hearts of the saints, as into death, yes, as into hell itself. . . . And that they speak these words to God and with God, this I repeat, is the best thing of all. This gives the words double earnestness and life.”

Perhaps you are beginning Lent in a season of lament—where you need to name your catalog of calamites, to have someone hear and validate that life is hard sometimes, help you give it to God, and know that you are not alone in your suffering.

We hear in Paul’s list of hardships that some of them came as the result of living in a fallen world—afflictions and cancer, a horn in the flesh, death and grief. Some came as a result of what other’s did to him—beatings, riots, exorbitant tax bills, broken relationships. Still others came as a result of being faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ—hunger, labor, sleepless nights, floggings, serving congregations and taking care of family. If you are in lament, then please, let me know, so I can visit, and we can lament and pray together. When we know we are not in lament alone, it is easier to express it, feel it, and eventually move forward to the next step.

That is where Paul leads us—to the next step. He does not get stuck, stay, or dwell in the calamities, and that is our temptation—that’s my temptation—to remain in lament. It’s tempting to rehearse the list of catastrophes over and over—it is hard to admit that maybe even I take pride that my lot has been worse than others. Maybe Dan heard me ramping up a new catalog of calamities—recovering from a more complicated hip surgery, training a new administrative assistant…

Paul pulls us away from getting stuck in our catalog of calamities and instead pushes us to recognize that pain, affliction and hardship are the very time and the exact place that we become ambassadors for Christ. In hardship our ego meets it match and it begins to let go—we cannot control it all, fix it all, nor do it all. In our pain, we crack open—we open our heart and our lives for the Spirit of Jesus to flow in so that we might become vessels for Christ—what Paul calls becoming “the righteousness of God.”

In the midst of our desolations, the Spirit of Jesus flows consolations into and through us, making us a messenger of the goodness of God. Our difficulties then become a witness to the goodness of God, rather than of how bad we got it. So following his catalog of calamities, Paul moves into the “series of spiritual gifts” he received through Christ when, in the midst of suffering, he was able to “Let go and Let God.” He received purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech and the power of God with weapons of righteousness! Wow! If all that can come through hardship—sign me up! I need a double portion of all of those gifts.

When I went through our worst catalog of calamities, I was not broken, but I was broken open, and after being carried through that time by the Spirit of Jesus, and the love and help of so many people, I began to focus more on prayer and spiritual practices. My whole relationship with God changed and the focus of my ministry shifted. I began to study spirituality and focused on deepening my relationship with God so that I might begin to be an ambassador for Christ.

I suppose it’s good for my family to keep me humble and remind me that I am not yet there!

But this is our invitation in Lent. We can cry out to God and lament out difficulties. And then we can let our hardships soften our ego, release our control, and break us open, so that we can join Paul in trusting that even when in our hardships everything is unknown, we are known by God; and when we are dying, we are always alive in Christ; and when we are in pain, we are not separated from God; and when we are sorrowful, we can rejoice in Christ; and when we are poor, we are rich in Jesus; and when we have nothing, we possess everything we need in God.

So, welcome the Lenten journey and its self-examination, fasting, prayer, giving, and acts of love, so that in its desolation, you may experience the consolation of Christ, as Jesus makes you an ambassador for the goodness of God even now.

 

 

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Grandfather's Transfiguration

3GenerationPic DanBabaGrandfatherMessage for Transfiguration Sunday on Matthew 17:1-9 for February 23, 2020 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

Today I am going to tell you a family story. If you have heard my husband Dan preach here, you may remember that he is a 6th generation Presbyterian pastor, which has afforded us a lot of stories from the ancestors who came before him. One of my favorite family stories comes from his grandfather and relates to our Gospel story of Jesus on the mount of Transfiguration with the miraculous appearance of Moses and Elijah.

Dan was about 24, and was in seminary, so it was clear to everyone that he, like his father, grandfather, great grandfather, great-great grandfather and great-great-great-grandfather, was going into the ministry.

Grandfather was 91—he was already a hard guy to talk with and his advanced age didn’t make it easier. Grandfather was brilliant—in addition to his Divinity degree from Princeton seminary, he also had Master degree in Semitic languages, so he knew Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic when he studied the biblical text. He was always working things out in his head, but he was not very good at letting people get to know him. Grandfather was more of a brooding introvert—somewhat of a tortured soul who could write and preach, direct programs and explicate mission, but did not let people in and know him very well. This was more difficult when he compared himself to his brother, also a minister (I know none of you have ever experienced sibling rivalry!), who was an extrovert, and a “darling” of the pulpit and the national church, where he held a very public position.

During Christmas break of his second year of seminary, Dan’s great Aunt Bertha died, and Dan went to Washington DC for the funeral. He and great Aunt Bertha shared a birthday, so they had a special connection. Dan actually missed the service because of a snowstorm but got to the house later and spent the rest of the weekend with family. After lunch on Sunday afternoon before he had to leave, Grandfather cornered him in the house and started talking with him about some of his experiences in ministry.

Now Dan had never had a significant conversation with Grandfather in his life –none of the grandkids had. It was as if Grandfather suddenly realized his grandson was going into the family business and he was 91 and may never have a chance to tell him anything ever again. And he suddenly decided to press the “download” button, like on a computer.

Grandfather shared some of his experiences, some of his struggles in ministry—basically his biography in the church—what he did in parish ministry, some things about being the Director of Foreign Missions and living in the Philippines. And after sharing some of these experiences, Grandfather then turned the story of the Transfiguration.

And he shared how he puzzled over this text all of his life—how it made no sense to him. Jesus is Transfigured before the disciples into this image of the resurrection before he goes down into Jerusalem to face the cross, and who shows up by his side in this moment of the fullness of God’s glory? Moses and Elijah.

Moses makes sense—he freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and led them through the wilderness. Moses received the 10 Commandments on Mt. Sinai and instructed them in the Law. He had intimate relationship with God—going up on a mountain to talk with God and understand God’s purpose and plan. Moses brought them to the edge of the Promised Land and gave them his final instructions in the book of Deuteronomy—everything they would need to moved forward.

But why Elijah? Why is Elijah on the mount of Transfiguration with Moses giving Jesus, and with him, Peter, James and John the spiritual vision and strength they need to face the cross? There were so many other leaders in the Hebrew Scriptures that would have made more sense. If we had Mt. Rushmore of the faith, Elijah might be there, but he would be the Teddy Roosevelt of the faces.

• Why not Solomon who built the great Temple and asked for the gift of wisdom?

• Wouldn’t it make more sense to have King David? He not only wrote the poetry, psalms and hymns of faith, but he was their most significant king. David brought Israel into national prominence—Israel became a powerhouse nation during David’s reign.

• Or if it had to be prophet, why not Isaiah or Jeremiah—at least they have a whole book of Scripture named for them.Grandfather puzzled over this text in his old age and had struggled to come to an insight about the meaning under the meaning. Somehow, the presence of Elijah on the mount of Transfiguration was the key to unlocking the passage for him if he could just figure it out.

Finally, as he reflected back on his life and ministry, the answer he had been seeking came to him as a gift of revelation.

Moses, on the one side of Jesus, responded to God’s call by saying, “no—I am not worthy—I am not skilled enough—I am slow of speech and tongue—I can’t do it—I cannot be or do what you want or what you think I can do. Today we would call that low self-esteem, self-negation, or even “worm theology.” This can come from verses like Psalm 22:6 which says, “I am worm and no human,” which the Reformers like Luther and Calvin emphasized contributing to “Lutheran guilt.”

Elijah, on the other side of Jesus, had the opposite problem. He had a contest with 450 prophets of Baal to see whose god would rain down fire on their sacrifice—and of course, Elijah won. But after this, instead of giving praise to God, Elijah says, “I am the only one left. If it weren’t for me, no one would praise you, God; no one would get it right, no one would be faithful to you. I am the only one. Elijah was full of pride, hubris, and a really big head—thinking that God can’t do anything without him—that it’s all up to him and him alone.

For Jesus to do what God calls him to, he needs to walk with middle path between these two ways of following God’s call. He cannot walk all the way over with Moses telling God he cannot do it and he’s not worthy and he does not have it what it takes, because God will make him able.

And he cannot be over here with Elijah saying it’s all about me, I am doing this alone, I am the only one, and I am the Savior of the world—because he’s not getting through the cross with God holding him fast.

The disciples who follow this Jesus—are also called to walk with middle path—confident that yes, we are worthy to serve and be called by God AND humble enough to know that God has greater plans, and more people, and more ways to accomplish salvation beyond us than we can possibly imagine.

So, you are not a worm and you are not God’s greatest and only gift to the church. Discipleship walking down the mount of Transfiguration is the middle path of confident humility.

Then this 91-year old man who had such a hard time sharing anything at all, looked at Dan and with tears in his eyes said, “but God uses people even at the extremes.”

And that, for grandfather, was accepting grace near the end of his life—because there were times when he felt so unworthy, he would brood with Moses; and there were other times when he had a towering ego with Elijah, when no one in the church could get it right but him—and yet, as he looked back on his life, God used him anyway.

So, as we seek to follow Jesus in traveling the middle path with confident humility—we can trust with Moses, Elijah and Grandfather, that faithfulness is not about doing it perfectly but about being available for God to use us, flaws and all.

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The Power of Our Thoughts and Beliefs

The Power of Your Thoughts and BeliefsMessage for Epiphany 6 on Matthew 5:21-37 and Deuteronomy 30:15-20 given on February 16, 2020 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

A version of this sermon was first posted on this site on Febraury 13, 2017

I stayed home with my children for nine years while they were small and ran a home business with Mary Kay Cosmetics as a sales consultant and later, as a Sales Director. No, I never drove a pink car, but I did drive a free red Grand Am for several years. In addition to training us on the details of good skin care, make up application, a large part of the training involved how to think: how our mindset affects our behavior, how our attitude affects our outcomes. We were encouraged to get rid of “stinkin’ thinkin’,” and to start each day with a “check-up from the neck-up” by repeating positive affirmations.

I have never been one for platitudes because, especially as a person of faith, I find life to be full of paradox, irony, mystery, complex emotions and unexpected experiences, but over time, I began to appreciate some of the wisdom these teachings contained. My favorite phrase of how our mindset affects our behavior is, “you bring about what you think about.” I tried to teach my children that “you bring about what you think about,” but they were skeptical at first as well. That is, until one day, when my parents were visiting us when we lived in St. Louis.

The bushes in the yard really needed to be trimmed, so my dad thought he would get out the hedge trimmer and give us a hand with the yard work. But before he went outside, he regaled us with the humorous tale from several years beforehand when he was out trimming the hedges. He wasn’t paying close enough attention and the power cord got caught in the hedge trimmer and sliced it in two.

We had a good laugh, and out he went to trim the hedge. About fifteen minutes later, he came back in the house—guess what happened?! Yup, he cut the power cord with the hedge trimmer, because “you bring about, what you think about!”

Thoughts and beliefs, like emotions, are a form of energy—energy that produces behavior and outcomes in the physical world.

You bring about what you think about. This is a simplified summary of some of what Jesus is talking about in this part of Sermon on the Mount. What we think about matters. Our inner life is important because it manifests itself in our behavior whether we intend it to or not.

To justify judgmental thoughts and bad behavior, you have probably heard people say, as I have, “well, at least I haven’t killed anybody,” as if this were the standard of decent behavior. Jesus stops this up short by saying that we have completely missed the purpose of the Law, which is not just to restrict a few choice bad behaviors, but rather, to preserve the well-being of the whole community, all of humanity. Such community well-being begins in our mind with our thoughts, attitudes, and our beliefs.

Have you not had the experience when you are mad at someone, and you keep thinking about it and thinking about it, it gets bigger and bigger—and you get more angry, not less. What we focus on, what we pay attention to, what we feed—what we think about gets bigger. That kind of anger affects all our relationships. We feel mad at someone at work but make a sniping remark to our spouse or kid when we get home. It always comes out, somehow, does it not? Because we bring about what we think about.

Jesus’ sermon points us to the intention of the Law which is so clearly described in Deuteronomy: to help us choose life. “Be reconciled to your brother or sister and then bring your offering to the Lord”—that’s what it means to not murder. None of us can say, “well, at least I haven’t killed anybody”—yeah, we have—we have damaged relationships and hurt the well-being of our community when our negative or destructive thoughts come out in our words and our behavior, even when we did not intend it to.

The same depth of understanding applies to the other 10 Commandments. Jesus highlights, thou shall not commit adultery. When we look at another person with lust, we commit adultery. When our thoughts are focused on our own desires, we think of the other person like an object. And when we think of someone like an object, we treat them instrumentally—for our own gain—rather than as one who bears the image of God. Thoughts lead to behavior. Witness the #Metoo movement. We must make a conscious effort at this in our culture because “sex sells”—the objectification of especially women in advertising everything from cars to cowboy boots makes lust a profitable marketing strategy.

It is also because of negative cultural attitudes towards women that Jesus expands his teaching on adultery to include divorce. As you know, in ancient times, women were considered property which was passed from the father to the husband in marriage. Men were within their rights to issue a certificate of divorce for frivolous reasons, including if his wife burned the bread. If there was not a male relative to take in a divorced woman, she would be left destitute. Patriarchal thoughts and beliefs were definitely having unjust, real-world consequences in the lives of women.

By elevating divorce to breaking the sixth Commandment against adultery Jesus dismantles the patriarchal power structure and pushes the male-dominated culture to re-think attitudes toward women in order change male behavior toward them. “Choose life,” says Jesus, life for the whole community, including women.

Does this mean that there’s no such thing as a life-giving divorce? Of course, not. I know many people who are better off for ending an unhealthy relationship. Jesus’ wants our attitude toward our spouse and others, to bring about respect, honor, and well-being for everyone involved.

The same is true in our work against anti-racism. Ask any black or brown-skinned person you know how many times in the last year they have been followed in a store, or someone has moved their purse when they have sat down, or refused to look them in the eye and shake their hand. Beliefs and attitudes come out in behavior—white people may not see it, but we have to learn about this and understand it in our work against racism.

In a poem called, “clothesline,” Marilyn Maciel beautifully describes the importance of our thoughts:

if words could be seen
as they floated out
of our mouths
would we feel no
shame
as they passed beyond
our lips?
if we were to string
our words
on a communal clothesline
would we feel proud
as our thoughts
flapped in the
breeze?

So, does Jesus then, leave us with the tall order of thinking perfect thoughts that lead to flawless behavior? Is he preaching the expectation of not only works-righteousness, but thought-righteousness? An unattainable goal that none of us can meet in this life?

I don’t think so, because he adds this admonition in the middle of our passage:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.”

It doesn’t sound like grace, but I think it is: grace in the form of hyperbole and exaggeration. If we all poke out our eyes for engaging in impure, damaging thoughts, and if we all cut off our hands for doing something we should not have done, every last one of us would be blind and without hands. In other words, none of us can do this on our own. We will all flunk. Some days, I flunk before I have even gotten out of bed in the morning.

So, while our thoughts and our behaviors do matter to God, Jesus knows we cannot do it alone and we are not going to get it right all the time. Which is he why he came to be like us in human form. Jesus came to be not only the salvation of our souls, but also the source of our strength, the forgiveness for our sins, and the model for how we are to think and behave. The Apostle Paul in Philippians says is this way: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Step 11 of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.” Through our own prayer and meditation, we can daily open ourselves to conscious contact with God to receive God’s will for us and the ability to behave that way in our daily life.

This is what Paul meant in Romans when he said, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed through the renewing of your minds.” Since what we focus on, what we pay attention to, what we feed—what we think about gets bigger, we want to feed our mind with faith, with prayer, with love, with Scripture. During out Midweek Lenten services, we will practice different types of contemplative prayer to help each of us “increase our conscious contact with God.” Fr. Richard Rohr calls contemplative prayer “divine therapy” when God can changes us from the inside.

Knowledge and ability, thoughts and behaviors. Jesus is our source for both those of things, and our forgiveness when we fall short. But as we are transformed through the renewing of our minds in Christ, we can bring about what God thinks about. That’s what it means for us to be the church together—to be the kingdom of God--to bring about what God thinks about!

 

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