Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Fighting Anger

Ephesians 4.25-32

25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Speak words of Grace. These words of Paul found in Ephesian speak to me as a writer. Being a writer in the Kingdom has been my call. How to write words of love and Christ in a world bent on anger and violence. Of course anger comes with being human, as Paul notes. What Paul gets at in his riff on anger is that dwelling in anger will create in us a space for the devil and violence to enter. Paul sees anger that extends past the night’s sleep as toxic and the bombings, murders wars and the rest of the day’s news seem to witness to the truth of Paul’s words. Yet, how do we exit from the land of anger?

We are living in a time where material comforts are most widely available, and yet anger seems to increase daily. Politicians use anger to climb the polls. How do we speak words of peace into the endemic rage that has settled into the hearts of humans everywhere. How do we get out of the Kingdom of Wrath and find our place in the Kingdom of God? I remember being a angry young man. My father had abandon my family before I entered into Kindergarten. I direct the anger toward myself and not being good enough to love. And as I continued to live into this anger, the world enclosed into a certain type of Hell. Then, in the coming of the Lord Jesus into my life I learn the secret of exiting my anger and entering into the Kingdom of God.

I called my father after not hearing from him for over 30 years. I place myself onto the cross of forgiveness and then a miracle happened. I return to life. Forgiveness of sins became my ticket out of hell. The rule of Paul’s is a gift. It is the prison break we all need. Jesus forgives us and then grants us the gift to extend forgiveness to those that hurt us. When we reconcile, we reconcile to God and we move a step closer to being the people of God.

Friday, September 9, 2016

One Night in a Coffee Shop

Ephesians 4-17-24 17 

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19 They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

She told me how she hated her father for abandoning the family when she was a girl. All of her relationships with men had been poisoned by his leaving since. She told stories of date rapes and boyfriends in college betraying her with coffee shop poets who pine away to be the next Silvia Plath. She laid all of this misery on the lap of her father who left the family and married her best friend’s mother. Even that friendship had grown bitter as everyone chose sides. The heart hardens when we dwell in our stories. As I listen to her story at that cafe in Vail, I reviewed my own stories. Our impromptu date turned into something else.

I shared how I forgave my father who too abandon my family. By forgiving as God forgives, I found a peace. It is illuminating to see St Paul highlight both ignorance and the hardness of heart as two elements of living that must be over come to grow closer to God. As I prayed through this passage, the long ago conversation came back to me. I was single and had grown attracted to the young woman of woe. Though as we continued, I shared about my forgiving my father and reconnecting with him. I shared my faith with her. It was our last date, as she found no romantic sparks between us. Yet, she did seek me out three weeks later. She said she had called her father and forgave him. It was powerful to soften her heart.

A few years later I had left Vail for seminary. I had forgotten our conversation. I return to visit Vail and to my old friends at my old church, Eagle Vail Presbyterian Church. There to my surprise was the same woman. She had joined with her new husband. Forgiveness has a long reach and when we enter it with Jesus, a new life reforms out of our old stories. She had found God in her act of forgiveness. The lusts for revenge were replaced with a reconciliation to those who had hurt her.

She told me that I had made a big difference in her life in our conversation. I said no, it was Jesus who showed us both how to transcend our mutual pain and bring us both a new life. I shook hands with her husband. Love makes us new again.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Ligament of Love

Ephesians 4.9-16 9 
(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Ligament of love sounds like a bad romance moving, like some when the guy seems all wrong and then turns out to be the love of the girl’s life after some misadventures. But after “ligament of love: came to me in praying through Ephesians 4.9-16 it became so much more of an insight that has the power to transform. Paul In Ephesians 4 asked us to live a life worthy of the Gospel of Jesus. To do so means the very counter-cultural practice of humility and gentleness. We are taught to be self confident and powerful rather than recognizing the truth of being mere mortal who will face the grave. Humility starts with the understanding the truth of our bless of our lives. We were born to life without our consent and we all have to leave life and no amount of exercise and eating right will change the reality of decay.

We also have to rely on our parents for the first part of our lives to live. Then, as we grow, we need the bonds of others to make throughs the journey and adventure of life. The same-made individual is a pretty lie we tell ourselves to pretend to be the God of our lives. Yet, the truth eludes us in this pretty little lie. To live a life worthy of love we have to work to maintain the unity of the Spirit as there is one Spirit, one Lord, one community which we are part of. Love is the bond or the ligament that holds the whole together stitching muscle to bone. None of our gifts do as any good unless they are in the service of love. No amount of money, fame or power will change the equation. We need love to live a life worthy of glory. To be part of this great body of love, we have to embrace humility and gentleness. If the are to be attached to the ligament of love, we have to face the truth. We are not the God of our stories. In any of the roles we are called to play, be they teacher, preacher, evangelist, prophet, or even apostle, we are called to the honesty of humility and the grace of gentleness.

We are not the head of the church. Jesus is. We are called to love in unity no matter how hard it can get. And it can get hard. When my son lost his eye to his tumor condition, I knew it would be tough to love others. Just yesterday, as he was swimming with a new friend, a little girl of 6 years, I had to learn again and pray to God to build more muscle on the ligament of love attached to Jesus. He had his googles on and she could see his missing eye, them he took them off and she freaked out. He then put back his googles per her requests and said for him never to to take off his googles again. The hardness raise had to find it within myself to love the little girl, even as she hurt my son. I saw in her my own habit of trying to be God and the damage it causes.

Only when we see we have no choice in our births or death and the only way through life is love, can we hear the Gospel. Only when I attach to God can I build the muscle of love, for my love needs the ligament of Jesus to build on.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Efforts of a Toddler

Ephesians 4:1-9 
 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.”

As I meditated on this passage what struck me was “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit.” Here Paul says that it is hard work to maintain unity… something that anyone that has spent time in the church or with human beings, knows takes effort… and he says that this is a spiritual practice. He gives us the tools in the previous verse in that we have to make the effort to be humble and gentle with patience we bear one another in love. Many times in myself I have the thought that church would be great if it was not for this guy or that guy. Yet, the effort is not with me changing the other guy but allowing Christ Jesus to change and transform me into a more humble and loving guy. I think this the greatest challenge within the Gospel… letting go of my wanting to be God and allow God to change me. When we allow God to work on us, then we start to live worthy of God’s calling.

Usually, we think of calling in terms of vocation. God is calling us to ministry, we say, meaning becoming a professional teacher, preacher or missionary, which there is a certain amount of truth to say so. Yet calling here in this passage goes deeper and expands calling from what we do for a living to our whole being and identity in Christ. Living a live worth our calling is living a life where we bear one another in love. We take the time for one another and we gather in the name of Jesus in all of our interactions and encounters with everyone.

In all human interaction arise the potential to encounter God. The person who is working customer care over the phone at our local utility. The guy that annoys at church who you are not to certain about because he spouts crazy conspiracy theories about bar codes. In all encounters, we have the possibility of discovering the revealed risen Lord who is always with us until the end of the age. When we find Jesus in all of our interactions with others, we have confront our own limitations and weakness or in other words humility forces itself on us. I am not the God who can save, but can point to the God who can. When we find God, we find how he dealt with us gently and we can extend such gentleness to others. Yes, it takes effort and the Gospel is not an invitation to live in autopilot with God handling the controls, but God graciously allows our efforts life a father who lets his son experiment with legos and doesn’t step to show him the right way to do it. We grow in love and Christ due to the effort. Will we fail to bear one another in love. Yes. But God picks up the fallen toddler we are and allows us to try again in forgiveness. We learn and we become closer to others and God.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Floating Down Toward The God Who Is Love

This part of a series of post generated by praying though Ephesians by Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) In Bold are the words that were highlighted in my prayers

Ephesians 3:14-22

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. 

To be filled with God within as Ephesians 3.14-22 promises, we have to empty ourselves of our own strife and stories. Love need to be strengthen within us as we are full of our own desires to be the God of our own lives, a god unlike the real God of the Holy Trinity. While the Holy Trinity full engages in relationship and communion, the false idol of our God wants to control and dominate with a will to desires. We fundamentally misunderstand God when we deny the truth of God being love. We are fearful of love. For to love, we say to ourselves it to lose power, because we fundamentally fail to comprehend true power.

When I fell in love with my wife, I felt a surge of true power that comes from entering into a relationship. To enter into a relationship to fully, we have to lose the compulsion to compel the other to our will. We enter into a dance with the other as in the dance we sharpen our steps and in the long run when forge a new identity within the growing love. For good reason, Lord Jesus goes by the Lord of the Dance, for all love leads to a kind of Dance. And when we aim to bend the world to our will, we will find we are fighting up current and though it may seem like we are making it up the river, we are actually doing nothing but wasting our energy in trying to be God. Only when we fully enter the river of love do we get swept away into the ocean of God. We find that love has shaped us and we are filled with gratitude and love.

The reasons we don’t trust the love are varied, and yet can be summed up as indulging in our habit of wanting to be the God or commander of our lives, which is impossible. I live in a social world where so many things that make me up, like my genetics, my location of birth, my parents and their stories, the gifts of health and wellness are all beyond my choice. When we lie to ourselves and say that yes the vast bulk of what makes our identity can be forged by our hands, we are led down a false tributary leading to stagnate water. How can we change our parents? How can we change our spouses?… our children? … our very biology? When we see this for the false flow for what it is and enter into love and flow toward the great ocean of God, then we find we actually do have power to transform by the will of God into loving creatures in the waves of the fruit of the Spirit. We find love.