On December Five and Twenty

In our family, we make aepfel skivers on Christmas morning – it’s tradition. It got me to thinking about how many other things we associate with Christmas that are simply tradition, man-made precepts, which are not exactly biblical. Many Christians like to say, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” but this is, in fact, is a mere half-truth. The book of Luke states this about the night Christ was born; “In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock.” (Luke 2:8) Generally, shepherds only stay out with their sheep at night two times a year, in the late summer when the sheep are mated, or in the early spring when the lambs are born. Anyone who is familiar with animal husbandry, can tell you that mating season can be managed without camping out in the fields, but birthing is a different story. Babies – whether human or animal – are born when they are born, and more times than not, it’s the middle of the night, suggesting that the time of year when Christ was born was in early spring, “as shepherds watched their flock at night.” We celebrate the “Nativity of the Christ Child,” which is what early Christians called it, on December 25th bcause it’s a tradition; a tradtion based upon something other than what the Bible teaches. In the early “church” only the anniversary of Christ’s death was revered, as was the death of all the martyrs, but the early Bishops, who it seems would say just about anything to get the pagans to convert, started reasoning that perhaps Christ’s birth coincided with the Roman celebration of the Winter Solstice which was December 25th. Because Christ, reasoned Augustine of Hippo, ” for symbolic reasons,” would choose to be born on that day – the Winter solstice, when the sun begins to bring the light back into the world. Since then, more and more “traditions” have been added over the centuries –wise men arriving at the manger (they in fact arrived at the “house where they saw the child and his mother Mary…” Matt 2:11), evergreen trees decorated with brightly colored “witch” balls and set ablaze with light, mistletoe, holly, St. Nick/Santa, giving of gifts, reindeer and elves, songs about chesnuts and snow – layer upon layer of blending that which is holy with that whih is not. Today, as millions of people across the world gather to celebrate the tradition of Christmas, I would submit this for consideration: In Matthew 15, Jesus asks the Pharisees, “And why do you, by your traditions, break the direct commandments of God?” Telling them further that Isaiah had it right about them when he prophesied, “Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas…” Paul also addresses the subject of following man-made ideas when he states in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths.” And I wonder, with all of the “traditions” we hold dear about Christmas, traditions that even non-believers celebrate, have we turned aside to myths, because it pleases our itchy ears? Something to ponder, to seriously and thoughtfully consider so that we do not find ourselves amongst the Loadiceans, thinking “we are rich” when we are in fact “wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked, neither hot nor cold and must be spit out of the Lord’s mouth.” ~SLM

The Year of the Whale

whale tail1
“The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” (Jonah 1:1-3)
Sometimes, Jonah is the story of our lives. We know what we are supposed to do, we know what is required, but somehow, we just can’t see our way to it. We run, heading off in the opposite direction, believing we can flee from it. But fleeing doesn’t necessarily involve going somewhere else. We can flee and never leave the comfort of home, because ignoring something, neglecting it or procrastinating is also a form of escape, a mental one. When we focus on anything and everything, but what we know we are called to do, we are just as guilty of fleeing from God as Jonah was, only without having to pack any bags or pay a fare.

Whether it’s physically or mentally, usually running away doesn’t turn out so well. Sooner or later, our actions cause the people around us anguish, putting them in distress for our sake, while we slumber through the storm, until we are roused from our stupor, are tossed into the raging waters, and find ourselves in the belly of a beast.

At times, we have to get to the very end of our rope, before we even consider that we may have made the wrong move, and in those times, we usually have to crash into the tumultuous seas of consequence, before we look up, before we remember God.

So what can we do, then, from the depths of our denial? Jonah’s answer was prayer. He prayed for forgiveness, for mercy, for repentance and thanksgiving, promising to turn back, to remember God and to make amends by saying, “what I have vowed, I will pay,” because the thought of being banished from the sight of the Lord, was scarier than setting out to do His will.

Jonah knew that submitting to God’s will is a hard task, costing us everything, and on occasion, even our very will to live. Maybe that is why we resist, because it doesn’t turn out to be what we hoped or longed for, what we expected for our lives, but is exactly what we knew He would do, what we expected of Him.

No matter how far we run, or how many times, the Lord, in his mercy pursues us with His abounding love and grace. He patiently waits for us to turn, to realize how fully we live when we submit to His ways, reeling us back into his presence with arms wide open.

And for his mercy, I am grateful beyond words. Praise God.
~SLM

Blindness: The Best Medicine

​In my Monday night group, we’re studying the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul, and we were asked why we thought God would strike Paul blind to get His point across. Was it to simply humble him, or did God have something else in mind on that fateful day on the road to Damascus?

Among the possible reasons we came up with were: 1) When one sense is taken away, we compensate through one or more of our other senses, so maybe blindness obliged Paul to listen; and 2) Sometimes, drastic measures are called for so that we may “see” what God is saying.

Listening is, by far, the one thing humankind struggles with the most. We have been given eyes to “see” and ears to “hear,” but we can’t seem to coordinate their use. When we see, we seldomly listen, and listening is paramount to recognizing the voice of Wisdom, the voice of God.

Like Paul, we can become so convinced of our own wisdom that we can’t even see what is right in front of our faces. We think we know, and we’re passionate about it, even when what we “know” is completely wrong. We tend to live life in a bubble of our own making, and when we look for validity, we tend to only see those things that confirm our correctness, our righteousness, giving us a false sense truth. That’s why we are told that we shouldn’t worry about the speck in our neighbor’s eye, when we have a board in our own. It’s because we look at the world with impaired vision, and reality is more vast than our limited scope can comprehend, and perhaps, being struck blind is what we need, when we can’t see any other point of view but our own, when our prejudice gets in the way of our ability to see the truth.

Often times, it does, indeed, take something drastic to stop us in our tracks. A bolt from the blue is exactly what is needed, a shock to our senses meant to get our attention, to help us reevaluate what we think we know, to make us see things in a new way. Paul’s whole life changed after that fateful day. His blindness gave him the chance to listen, to evaluate in a new light, God’s light, all he had learned and studied up to that point in his life. Sometimes blindness the best medicine to show us how we’ve been blind, to humble us with the light of truth, and to send us down a whole new road.

~SLM

What Love is: A Litmus Test

It seems that the world is upside down right now, that everything is wrong side out and backwards. We want the madness to stop, but we’re at a loss as to how. We say we want to get along, that we want peace and love, but from the virulence and frequency of the bombastic and self-righteous screeds that are posted every day to facebook, twitter and any number of “social” forums, it is clear that most of us have no idea of what we’re doing or why. We want desperately for things to go differently, to head in a new direction, the direction of unity, but it seems we’ve lost our way. We don’t know anything about kindness, tolerance and love, or if we had ever learned, we’ve forgotten, developed a collective case of CRS (can’t remember shit), as if modern life has divorced us from knowing, understanding exactly what it means to love.

So how do we know what love is? It sounds like a simplistic question, but is it really? We think we know what it is; we think love is about the sentiments reflected in a popular song, quotes by the Dalai Lama or Mother Teresa, a warm and fuzzy feeling about our friends and family, or a heart shaped emoji we use to react to our friend’s posts. But, love is so much more than these, greater than our trivialities. It is the one thing that never fails, and is perhaps the most challenging feet we could attempt in our lives. And, we do know what it looks like, because we’ve been given a litmus test for love, a laundry list by which to check our actions. The test goes like this:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.  1 Corinthians 13:4-8

We must test everything against this standard, continually asking ourselves; is it patience or is it pride, is it kindness or cattiness, is it truth or rumor parading as truth, does it persistently hope for the best or is it flip and conceited, is if faith-filled or self-filled? If the words we speak (or type) cannot pass this test, if they are unkind, conceited, ill-mannered, selfish, proud, a diatribe of what’s wrong, we are not speaking from a place of love.

Here’s what else we’ve been told about love:

Forget about the wrong things people do to you, and do not try to get even. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Leviticus 19:18

But I say to you, love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. If you do this, you will be true children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:44-45

If we are jealous, act impatiently, are brutish, or delight in situations that prompt us to say “ain’t karma a bitch,” we do not know love. If we take it upon ourselves to “get even” with those who would do us harm, we are not coming from a place of love, but of darkness and hate. What then, do we do with hate? There is no reasoning with it, any brute force or mighty action that can stop it, because hate is not the cure for itself. There is only one antidote to hate, only one power mighty enough to stop it in its tracks: Love.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

If we love one another, we don’t give up on each other. We aren’t gleeful or smug when evil things happen to others, even when they are our enemies. We continue to hope for the very best with all the patience in the universe, because that is what we have been called to do, what we’ve been commanded to do,  and the example we are expected to set as a follower of Christ.

~SLM

I heard this on the radio this morning and thought it appropriate for this post – thank you Danny Gokey for this beautiful song!

Do as I Say…

Funny how this seeking for a higher meaning works, just when you think you’ve got something figured out, your turn your perspective a fraction of a degree, and suddenly it’s a whole new landscape.  There are certain verses that seem to return again and again, to show you that what you thought you knew was, in reality, only a small sampling of a greater truth, a greater equation, and that’s why I’ve landed back on Isaiah 29:13, which states, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,”  It’s not just about being estranged from God, but also about duplicity; about our persistent habit of commingling words and actions, our false logic of substitution in which we assume our words and actions are interchangeable, and our expectation that others do what we cannot ourselves do.

We can say all the right things in flowery prose and elegant verse. We can talk our fool heads off about what is right, what is fair, what we think others should do, or be willing to do. We can be as socially acceptable and politically correct as the best little soldier out there, but the true test of where we live is in the heart, and while we can say anything, and oft times we actually do, our actions are the reflection of our thoughts and beliefs. The heart is where action resides. If we say we are against bullying, but bully others in order to prove they are bullies, then we become what we call, we use our lips to prove our “rightness” while showing what lives in our hearts: a bully. We can talk of peace and cooperation, we can take others to task for what they say or don’t say, but if our actions don’t back up our lips, we are nothing but liars, hypocrites.  We can talk a big game, but when it comes right down to it, our hearts reveal our true intent, our true thoughts and feelings, our true core beliefs, and how we act speaks to what is in our hearts.

Words and actions are not the same; they do not bear the same weight. While words can be illuminating, clarifying, and insightful, they can also be deceiving, misguided and false. Actions on the other hand, are like a mirror; they merely reveal and reflect who we are in our heart of hearts.

“Do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.” (Matthew 6:5)

~SLM

Proverbs 12: The 3 P’s of Discipline

Proverbs 12 starts with this simple thought:  “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid.” Wow, if ever there was a mantra for the pursuit of Wisdom this would be it; the idea that accepting and even loving discipline produces knowledge, and those who cannot, or will exercise it are fools. It is knowledge and understanding that lead us to Wisdom, and it’s through discipline that we gain knowledge. Discipline is the key, and it occurs to me that discipline should be spelled with 3 P’s.

The first P is pretense, the act of deception. Fools pretend to know, they make up answers to sound more important, more impressive; they are sanctimonious in their opinions, clinging to them stubbornly. But, when we pretend, we lie, we give false testimony, we give bad advice and eventually we become trapped by our tongues. Luke 6:45 tells us, “a good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Discipline has no use for deception. Not knowing the truth of a situation doesn’t make us less, it doesn’t mean that we are not smart or that we are worthless. It simply means that we do not know, and all the nonsense in the world will not change the truth.

The second P is prudence, the act of discretion. Fools rush to judgment, and that rarely turns out well. When we are not judicious with a situation, our reckless words and deeds inflict pain and suffering that we cannot take back – once the thoughts are verbalized and the deeds are done, the words and actions are out there forever, and no amount of back-peddling, no amount of contrition can change it. Matthew 7:2 tells us, “in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Discipline demands discretion, and if we approach life with humility, deliberation, and wisdom, when situations do arise, we can persevere, using the “measure” we would have given unto us.

P number 3 is patience, the act of imperturbability. Fools are easily annoyed – they over react and fly off the handle, act rashly and make snap judgments. In essence, they lack patience. Discipline requires patience, lots of patience, patience to wait for the right timing, to dig a little deeper, to contemplate our next move, to listen to the voice of God. We are wise when we look past the apparent, practicing forbearance and tolerance, looking behind the curtain with consideration and understanding, and acting judiciously.

Correction is a gift from God.  When we are so mired in our own self-righteousness, we are operating from a place of arrogance, a place where we are so filled with ourselves and our own opinions that there is literally no room for a divergent thought.  When we’re in that place we can’t even hear the wind blowing let alone the promptings of Spirit. Verse 14 says, “From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward,” and if our goal is to live life in His Wisdom, then we should welcome discipline, be thankful for it, realizing that sometimes fine-tuning is just what is needed for our growth and happiness.

~SLM

Proverbs 9:1-6 Wisdom’s Feast

In Matthew 22, Christ tells the parable of the King and the wedding banquet in which the king had prepared the feast (slaughtered his oxen and fat calves and mixed the wine), but those who had been invited refused to come, so he had his servants go out and gather people from the street corners to fill the wedding hall. This parable shares many of the same aspects as does Solomon’s tale of Wisdom’s feast. Wisdom has fashioned her seven pillars (principles) and prepared a place for us, has made everything ready, and stands by the door waiting for us to arrive.  The messengers have been sent forth, and are standing in the midst of our lives, calling out to us to take part in the banquet.

The goal is not to simply get to the table, but to eat from the table; to eat the bread and drink the wine that Wisdom has prepared. Wisdom’s table is not the culmination, but the commencement of the journey. Christ said to his disciples in John 6:26, “you seek me not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” Sitting at Wisdom’s table creates a hunger in us to “eat of the loaves,” to accept the bread of life and to drink of the cup of truth. And, the more we eat, the more we wish to eat, the more we understand, the more we wish to understand.

I just kept thinking of the Eucharist, of Christ blessing the bread, saying a prayer of thanksgiving for the wine, and noting how Holy Communion is connected to these passages Proverbs 9: “Come eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake all thoughtlessness and live; and walk in the way of understanding.”

 

~SLM