Thursday, March 21, 2019

Gathered

Two blogs might be too many, but for now I'm hopping between them.  Read today's ramblings over at Theology Thicket.

"Gathered"

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Glory


"And all were astounded at the greatness of God." --Luke 9:43


Amazed. Astonished. Awe-struck.
It takes a lot to bring us to this level, especially today.  
We are more easily hardened and cynical.
We are prone to wander, quick to wonder
  whether God is even with us at all.

God, forgive our doubting and despising.
Overwhelm us with your glory.
Help us hear and see your love and grace.
Help us to be still and know that you are God.
Even now.
Thanks.


Monday, February 11, 2019

God Speed

The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper. --Genesis 39:23

God made Joseph prosper.  This is a central theme in Joseph's story.  It's why, at the end of the story, Joseph can confidently tell his brothers, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good" (Genesis 50:20). 

As I wondered about God prospering Joseph, I looked up Gen. 39:23 in Hebrew and found that
the word for prosper or success in Hebrew is צָלַח tsalach and, interestingly one of the word's primary meanings is "to rush."  Might this be where we got the phrase "God speed"?  It turns out that it is:
From Middle English phrase God spede (“may God cause you to succeed”), from God (“God”) + spede, singular subjunctive of speden (“to prosper”), from Old English spēdan, from spēd (“success”) (from wiktionary)
The first place the word tsalach shows up in the Bible is in Genesis 24 where Abraham sends his servant back to his homeland to find a wife for Isaac.  The servant prays for success in his quest, and providentially the first woman he meets turns out to be a perfect match for Isaac.  When the servant first meets her, "The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether or not the Lord had made his journey successful" (Gen. 24:21).  Had God tsalach-ed?  And indeed God did.

I'm intrigued by the idea that speed and success are connected as signs that one is experiencing God's favor.  When I was asking God about whether it was time to leave the church where I was pastor and take a call at a new church, I was overwhelmed by the speed with which that new call came, and that speed was one of the reasons I felt I was seeing God's hand at work.  I had expected to be looking for at least a year or more, since that's what others had told me to expect because the market for pastors is small.  I put my PIF (Presbyterian for resume) up on our search system in January.  Within a few days I had inquiries, by April I had a job offer, and I started the new position on June 1.  In church world, that is definitely God speed.  

The church I went to, on the other hand, had been searching for awhile and had begun to despair about whether they would ever find a new pastor.  One of the verses from the Bible that renewed their hope was Jeremiah 29:11:
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
But here the Hebrew word that's translated in the NIV as "prosper" is not tsalach, it's shalom, a word that's often translated "peace" but which has a broader meaning: completeness, wholeness, contentment, and, yes, prosperity. In my coming to that church, tsalach and shalom came together, quickly for me, and slowly for them.  Maybe not surprising, after all, since "with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day" (2 Peter 3:8).  

Maybe God's speed is often outside our comprehension because, as John tells us, "God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5).  Light is the fastest thing there is.  Einstein theorized that nothing could move faster than light, and though scientists have found some plasma that moves pretty fast, it's still not as fast as light. (Read more at space.com)

I have often said I wished for a matter transporter like the one in Star Trek so that I could go visit people who live far away from me.  Curious about that, I discovered this:
We are stuck on the idea that 300,000 kilometres a second is a speed limit [the speed of light], because we intuitively believe that time runs at a constant universal rate. However, we have proven in many different experimental tests that time clearly does not run at a constant rate between different frames of reference. So with the right technology, you can sit in your star-drive spacecraft and make a quick cup of tea while eons pass by outside. It’s not about speed, it’s about reducing your personal travel time between two distant points. And that has a natural limit – of zero.
As Woody Allen once said: Time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening at once. Space-time is nature’s way of keeping everything from happening in the same place at once.  (Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2011-10-light-speed.html#jCp )
"It's about reducing your personal travel time between two distant points."  So I wonder if, when we're praying for someone, it is as if we have transcended the bounds of time and space, moving at God speed, if you will, to make a spiritual connection, even if we cannot experience that physically?

And maybe Woody Allen isn't too far off, if we consider that Ecclesiastes says something similar:


So, then, God made things happen for Joseph at God speed, and God made my job transition happen at God speed.  How have you seen God's speed in your life?

Wherever you are and whatever is happening with you, I wish you Godspeed.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Aspirations Remembered

In pondering my star word for 2019, #aspire, I find myself looking back today instead of forward.  Long before I became a pastor, before I had gone back to school and finished my bachelors, I met God in a new and deeper way in the midst of a powerful worship service and told God I wanted to help others know him in this deeper way.  For me, the change was from God being someone I knew about to being someone I knew, from being someone out there to being someone in here, from being someone I feared and somewhat distrusted to being someone I loved and wanted to know more.  Those are the foundational aspirations that led me to become a pastor, and those are the aspirations that came to mind today as I read Genesis 28:18-22 in which Jacob realizes that God is good and faithful, and so Jacob commits to trusting God with his life.

I'm posting this here as a reminder to myself of that original aspiration so that it will continue to guide me in my future aspirations, and in my future discouragements, when I need to remember that it's not so much about budgets and polity and buildings and programs.  It's about knowing God deeply and being transformed by God's grace.

Thanks, God.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Star Word 2019 - Aspire

This is my third year doing star words and my first year doing them on the actual day of Epiphany, January 6, the day we celebrate the wise men finding Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12).  When we give out the stars, I encourage lots of prayer and pondering, some googling, lots of Bible-searching.  It is my hope that everyone will find new insights from God about their lives with God as they seek God about their words.

My relationship with my own words has been somewhat ironic.  The first year, I got "guidance" and laughed because I thought it was such an ironic word to put on a star.  Little did I know that within six months of receiving that word, my search for guidance would lead me to a new call in a state I had never even visited before.

Last year, my word was "coming" and I scoffed because it was such a simple, mundane word.  But then I realized that "advent" means "coming" and that the expectant waiting about which I had preached for the entire month of December would be my theme for the rest of the year.

This year I got "aspire" and like before my initial reaction was skeptical.  I am distrustful of my own aspirations and goals.  They haven't gone the way I thought for so much of my life, so I don't make them in any formal way anymore.  Maybe God was acknowledging this when my first Bible search turned up Genesis 37:6, "Listen to my dream." These are Joseph's words to his brothers when he tells them about his dreams in which they are all bowing down to him.  The dream does come true, but not before Joseph is tossed in a cistern, and then sold off to slavers, and then sold to a high official in Egypt, and then thrown into prison.  Following our dreams doesn't mean an easy, beautiful journey.

Like all people, I do have hopes and aspirations, and what has helped me make peace with this word, even this early in the year, is finding it in Eugene Peterson's book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction in the chapter on Psalm 131 and humility:

"...the virtue of aspiration--an impatience with mediocrity and a dissatisfaction with all things created until we are at home with the Creator, the hopeful striving for the best God has for us..."
"Aspiration is the channeled, creative energy that moves us to growth in Christ, shaping goals in the Spirit."

Channeled, creative energy sounds like fun.  Growth in Christ is an aspiration I can trust. 

Here's another aspiration I like:


There are lots of books I aspire to read.  One of them is "The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life" by Rosamund Stone Zander, Benjamin Zander.  Another one is "The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art" by Irwin Raphael McManus.

So we'll see where this goes.  May God guide my seeking and my aspiring so that it all goes according to his will and plans. And may God bless you as you seek him in the days ahead.

(P.S. If you'd like a star word, comment below and I'll send you one.)

Monday, December 31, 2018

I Thought I Knew Silence

By Rob Krabbe
The day before the end of the story —journal entry from October 2nd 2003:

I thought I knew silence
Quiet spreading out the wrinkles
As if her soft hands against the sheets
Like a thousand times.
I thought I knew nothing
Emptied my mind and thought I felt nothing
I must be dead.
The lost years of quiet empty streets
The night sounds, poisoned by demon’s shrieks
Quiet, spreading out the lies
I thought I knew the faces
The lines. I wish I’d never seen them
Quiet spreading out the lost battles,
Soldiers dead and rotting on the field. I
thought I knew repose
I thought I knew masks, now laid down
Quiet spreading out the night I never knew sleep.
There’s a fullness in this emptiness
There’s majesty in this nothingness
There’s glory for my King in this
There’s love in His heavenly kiss
There’s joy in a moment to confess
His words do my spirit caress
His righteousness, doth my mind impress
He sanctifies as I deeply transgress
He brings to day, that which I suppress
He sends away, that which I obsess
There’s nothing for this moment to sing
Not a word, in this moment to say
Not a breath in this moment to breath
Not a way for this moment to pass
A thousand prayers, and answers
I can now pack up into a box
Place high upon the highest shelf of history
Laying down, the need to understand the mystery
The memories of days, when God’s ways
Were nothing like the wants of my heart
Now depart, the learnings and faith, and art
And settle down in the most beautiful surrender.
A million doves and white and gray
A thunder from the heavens
The waters rushing instantly insanely quietly say: “I am well pleased”.
And in a gush of tears, all my pain is washed away
In a moment of complete deathlike silence
The loudest quiet says me the fool,
But brings me the love, spreading through my veins
As he spread out the wrinkled loudnesses,
The echoes of madness, the desperate needs,
with the quiet of His beautiful hands against the sheets.
Yes, there was a day, when my neck upon the block,
The sword cut through the air, a foredance of steel and blood.
Till in that thousandth of a second, Abraham’s hand,
Stopped and held firmly by the angels,
The whisp of air.
God said “that’s enough, I know your heart”
God said “that’s enough, I will heal you as has been asked.”
God said “get up” as I trembling, tried to bow, but just fell flat on my face on the ground.
Then in surprising gentle voice:
“I want to just hold you,
Close to my breast,
You are my child,
Shhh now . . .
I don’t breathe, but let me, just for you,
Just be quiet with me. Then, be, more quiet,”
Together we took in the most beautiful and complete silence.

Saying Goodbye to My 2018 Star Word

On the first Sunday of 2018, we gave out stars in worship.  Each one had a word on it, a word about which we were to seek God.  My word for 2018 was "coming."  I thought it was too mundane a word, so I didn't expect much from it, but I'd preached on how to seek God about our words, so I did what I said to do.  I prayed, I searched the Bible, I pondered.  The scripture that stuck, and that has been my Facebook cover photo for most of the year is Isaiah 60:22:

At the right time, I, the Lord, will make it happen.

Not that I, Melissa, will make it happen.
Not that someone else in my life will make it happen.
Not that someone else in the world will make it happen.
God will make it happen.
Because there are some things that only God can do.
And even the things that I can make happen will work much better if I do them with God, in God's timing, and with God's strength.

Sometimes I still charge ahead, but I have been more careful about that this year.   There have been more moments of asking God, "Now?" I've realized that sometimes I charged ahead because I felt guilty about not doing something, anything, rather than wait.

There was a point at which I heard God saying, "Don't do this now," and I did it anyway, and it went ok but it didn't go tremendously well.  I felt better for having done something, and I didn't beat myself up for it not going as well as I'd hoped because I knew it wasn't the right time and I'd done it anyway.  I learned some things, and learning is good.  Most of all I learned that I can do better if I listen to God.

This silly little star word "coming" is the meaning of the fancier word "advent" which we use for a whole season in December when we talk so much about Jesus coming the first time and that he's coming again.  And we say, sometimes rather tritely, that Jesus comes now whenever we let him into our hearts and into our lives.  I prefer to work on abiding with Jesus, remembering that he is with us always (Matt. 28:20), and that God is always holding our hand (Isaiah 41:13).  But just because he's always here doesn't mean the results are always instant, so "coming" has reminded me that God's making things happen even when I think nothing's happening.  This has helped me to keep on praying for things I think are impossible or that I have no idea how to fix or are beyond my reach.

"Coming" reminds me of the story in Daniel 10 in which Daniel prays and when the angel shows up three weeks later, he says that God had heard Daniel and sent this angel, but he'd been delayed:
"But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia" (Daniel 10:13).
The answer was coming, the angel was coming, but there was a heavenly battle happening.  Daniel could do nothing about any of that except wait and keep praying, and this year my star word "coming" has reminded me to do the same.

2018
I'm surprised to find that just like last year I'm a little sad to say goodbye to this star word.  It's been a good little friend pointing me to God in some unexpected ways.

Thanks, God.

2017