Peace River Press

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Jubilee of Liberty

"Count off seven sabbath years, a total of forty-nine years.  Then you shall sound the trumpet everywhere in the land on the tenth day of the seventh month.  Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants.  It shall be a jubilee for you.  Each person shall return to his family property and each to his own clan.  The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you.  Do not sow seed in your fields and do not harvest the land of whatever might grow upon it.  Because it is a jubilee and is to be holy, eat only what is taken directly from the fields." - Leviticus 25:8-12

Such a remarkable economic plan to be carried out by a nation and its citizens; on the fiftieth year, everyone starts over again.  It was a year of reorganization; it was a year of accounting; it was a year of new beginnings, with farm land that had a year to rejuvenate, to be enriched by a season of rest.

In today's complicated economy the whole idea of a Jubilee year would seem utterly impossible.  But I wonder ... I wonder if there is not some mysterious wisdom in "scheduling" a common recession, scheduling a year of national austerity that we all share in and endure together, as we retool for the next fifty years of productivity.  I know ... this will never happen by our own design, but I wonder if this does not place in spite of our efforts.  Recessions do come.  And when endured with faith and faced with courage, when we are forced to retool for the future, the recessions do ultimately end.

So if indeed we are in a recession (and that is debated, I know) then we best be approaching in the spirit of Jubilee.  There needs to be an intentional rejoicing for it may mean we are readying for an even more pruductive future.

I recall in my farming community upbringing, the Harvest Dance was held not matter the harvest, bountiful or lean.  For what greater time is there needed the encouragement of community joy.

PRAYER FOCUS:  Lord, if this is our Jubilee, then we shall rejoice ...





Thurday, October 23, 2008

There Is More To Life

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your animals, nor the aliens living within your gates.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.  therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." - Exodus 20:8-11

This is one of the Great Ten Commandments.  And within in these words there is a lifetime of spiritual understanding.  And now more than ever, I find this commandment's reason and wisdom to be every more self-evident.

Something is made holy when it is placed in the service of God.  The seventh day is the day that we with clear intention enjoy the service of God.  It means experiencing the joy found in the fellowship of the gathered family of God.  It means taking time to place onself in the wonder of Creation and simply enjoy being present within it.  It means the celebration of the Providence of God by allowing one's workers, even one's land and animals, factory and shop, to take a day to simply enjoy the fruit of six days of labor.  The Sabbath is a weekly reminder that the abundant life must always be more than one's labor.  The Sabbath is the rejuvenantion of life, the life of the human soul, the life of the farm's soil, the life of the source of labor, the life of the economy, the life of the community.  Life as we know it requires its rest, if there is no rest, there is no rejuvenation and thus life ceases to be, it diminishes into lifeless existence.

Thus respecting the Sabbath is no about respecting some God-given rule, the Sabbath is about respecting the ways of God-given life.

Remember the Sabbath; do not forget it; enjoy it for it provides us with a reason and means for living.

PRAYER FOCUS: Lord, let me not be so foolish as to believe I have no need for Sabbath...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Waiting for the Honey Bee

They went on from there and passed through Galilee.  He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again."  But the disciples did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. - Mark 9:30-32

I have always found comfort in observing Jesus' struggle with the ways of our human condition.  Here Jesus struggles to be understood by his disciples and he struggles to inspire them to enter into the further conversation.

I would suspect that most preachers and pastors can identify with this moment in the ministry of Jesus.  They have heard that frustrated voice within which cries, "Lord, why can I not get this concept across to these people I so love?"  You pray, you write, you practice, you illustrate, you explain, you try and try over and over again and you look into their eyes and you see that look which confesses, "Pastor, I don't understand."  I am sure many of us have shared this anguish with the Lord.

I had a botanist, of all people, bring some comfort to me in this regard.  He picked up a flower and then said to me.  'Pastor, do you see this flower?  it is perfect in every way, the beauty of the blossom, the fragrance it offers forth, it is ready in every way to carry out its mission of bringing its wondrous life into the future.  Yet, it must wait for the coming of that honey bee in order for that life mission to be accomplished.  So it is often with spiritual teaching.  We set the word in a person's heart and there it often waits for the coming of the moment that brings that planted word to life.  So, Pastor, proclaim the Word with all you have and, in time, it will come to life."

So it was with the disciples ... there came a day when they DID understand that which they had already heard.


PRAYER FOCUS: Lord, keep teaching me the miracle of patient faithfulness...


Friday, October 17, 2008

The God Who Speaks

The Tempter came and said to Jesus, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.'  But Jesus answered, "It is written, 'One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" - Matthew 4:3,4

The Bible from Genesis to Revelation believes in the God who speaks.  We have not a silent God, unknowable, indescribable, totally beyond our human understanding.  As human beings are defined by our ability to form interior throught and then communicate it over into the thoughts of another, so the Mind of the Divine makes itself known to the mind of the human.  True, we can never fully know God, that is beyond us; we can never fully describe God, that is beyond us; we can never completely understand God, for that too is beyond us.  But we can still hear the voice of God making known the heart and mind of God.

In the story of origin, Genesis speaks of our humanity being created in the image of God.  That visual notion of the image of God might be broadened in its sensory application.  Might it be that we were endowed with this capacity to communicate thoughts from one mind to another.  Possibly that is an aspect of what it means to be human ... we can "hear" the voice of the God out there and thus the God out there becomes also the God in here, within the realm of our inner selves.

Poets, writers, they are artists who put into words the thoughts and feelings we have within us all ... and thus prophets, preachers, people in prayer, may be artists who put into words the thoughts and feelings of God, the God out there  who is shouting and proclaiming, the God in here who is whispering and guiding.

PRAYER FOCUS:  Lord, let me never forget that You are the God worth listening to ...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Moses was working the flocks of his father-in-law, leading them through the wilderness ot the mountainside of Mount Horeb, known by many as the mountain of God.  There the angels of the Lord appeared to him in a burning bush.  the bush was in flames but was not consumed by the fire.  This caused Moses to say, "I must go over and investigate why this bush is ablaze but is not yet consumed." - Exodus 3:1-3
Each morning on the way to work, I drive by a giraffe standing by the side of the road.
Yes, a giraffe.  There, behind a chain link fence in the ditch runs along side the highway, stands a giraffe.  I would say maybe ten feet tall, this statue has been there for months.  I do not know how he got there.  I do not know why he is there.  I do not know if he will ever go away.  But every morning, when I drive by, I always check to see if he is still there.
Moses had a burning bush and when he went to examine this strange occurrence, he heard the voice of God.  Possibly I have a giraffe by the side of the road.  One day I will have to investigate the mystery of that lost giraffe.
I find in life that burning bushes and out-of-place giraffes are more commonplace than we might first believe.  Mysterious surprises that snatch us from the flow of the ordinary day.  Who knows ... maybe God places these strange occurrences to see who still has the curiosity to investigate the mysteries of life.  And when we dare to take that little side trip into the extraordinary, God begins to speak.
PRAYER FOCUS:  Lord, why is that giraffe there, standing by the road ... ("Come near, Jim, and I will tell you why.")
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
"For the realm of God is not about rules concerning what we should or should not eat or drink but rather it is about doing the right things for the right reasons, about being at peace and making the peace and about rejoicing and giving reason for others to rejoice.  The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and finds respect among people.  Let us then as Christians pursue that which makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding in the spirit of true community." - Romans 14:17-19
"I'm looking for the perfect Church,"  the visitor said to me.  "I have been too many churches where they didn't preach enough against sin."
"Okay," I thought.  And then said, "Well, we are against sin.  What else do you need to know about us?"
Maybe it is all the "Thou Shall Not's" in the Ten Commandments that tempt us to create a negative definition of the Christian life.  But I like Paul's emphasis here in Romans when he provides a positive definition for the Christian Way.  He defines the godly life by what we are to be and do rather than by what we are NOT to be and NOT to do.
It reminds me of that old joke about a man married to two women.  One woman wanted her husband to have youthful black hair, so each night she pulled out his gray hair.  the other woman thought his gray hair made him look distinguished, so each night she pulled out his black hair.  In time, both woman became so sad, for neither woman could believe that they ended up being married to a bald man.
I am not sure that if you eliminate all the sin if you necessarily end up with a saint.  My sense is that we all could benefit by cleansing ourselves of some things and by adding to our lives a good measure of other things, like righteousness, peace and joy.
PRAYER FOCUS:  Lord, help me to pursue that which makes for peace and mutual upbuilding ... 
Friday, October 10, 2008
Before You Leave
"Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.  And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed ..." - Luke 9:28,29
After three days of battling the flu, this morning I returned to the land of the living.  Or at least I thought.  I started my car and the gas tank told me that it was empty.  So I pulled into my local self-serve gas station and is my course, I gave the clerk a $20. and said I'll take the newspaper and the rest on pump 11.  "Thank you, sir."  I walk to the car reading the headlines, open the door and drive off.  At the traffic light I look down and the gas tank is as empty as ever.I had driven off without pumping the gasoline.  So I drive back and confess my absent-mindedness to the clerk, who graciously just chuckled commenting, "Yes, I was wondering what happened to you."
All this got me to thinking.  How often do we go to prayer and drive off without filling the tank?  An aspect of prayer, a mighty important aspect of prayer, is filling the emptiness within with the presence of the love and strength of God.  So don't be so preoccupied with reading the headlines that you drive off without fueling up.
PRAYER FOCUS:  Lord, slow me down ...
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Mocking the Innocent
"Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, 'Prophesy!  Who is it that struck you?'  They kept heaping many other insults on him." - Luke 22:63-65
Though it has happened many times in history, I have noticed that lately many books have hit the market condemning religion, Christianity, even God.  It's a free country and God has thick skin, yet I wonder what is the motivation someone might have to mock a God they do not believe exists.
To be sure, all insitutions even religious ones, even the Church, are not above criticism.  Goodness knows, there have been many horrible things done in the name of  God. We must all have the humility to keep asking the question,  In what I do, what is MY will and what is God's will?  Is my action an expression of the feeling and thought of God or more an expression of MY feelings and thoughts?
In regard to the goodness of the Christian faith, I suppose one's evaluation of it depends upon what one is beholding.  If you look at the Crusades, Inquisitions, the Salem Witch Trials, and the like, you do get a rather dim view of the lord and the Lord's Church.  Yes, there is sin to confess, no denying.
Yet ... I tend to see hospitals with names such as Saint Mary's and Good Samaritan, Baptist and Methodist all over the world.  I tend to see more than half of the world's colleges and universities were born as Christian endeavors.  I tend to see Salvation Army lodges and Children's Homes, Habitat for Humanity houses and downtown soup kitchens.  I see Young Men's Christian
Association (YMCA) and YWCA programs all through this land.  I see Goodwill Industries and Hospice, thousands of local church clothes closets and food pantries for the poor.  I see tender care for the shut-in and youth workers by the thousands, I see parochial schools at work in the inner city and billions of dollars directed toward emergency relief.
Yes, I suppose it is what you behold that determines how you feel about something. 
I sense that taking God and Christianity too seriously is not the problem, it is that not enough us do take god and the teachings of Christ seriously enough.
But there are some things that we have and haven't done in the name of the Lord that do not reflect well upon God's ability to inspire good and godly living.
PRAYER FOCUS:  Lord, help us all to represent Your Spirit in higher, nobler, holier, more loving ways ...
Monday, October 6, 2008
"Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert with thanksgiving." - Colossians 4:2
I rose early this morning to pray, four o'clock to be exact.  And as I prayed I began to slip back into blissful sleep.  When I jolted back awake, I had to laugh for my Bible was open to the above verse.  "Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert with thanksgiving."
An intriguing idea, this notion of keeping alert through the act of thanksgiving. I sense that this arises from a profound understanding of human nature.  We do tend to rouse our enthusiasm when we count our blessings.  Counting sheep may slumber us to sleep; but counting our blessings brings us to life.  As it logically should.  We are drawn toward joy.  And when we find the first trickle of joy it primes the pump of our soul, and more and more joy begins to flow.
So I challenge you to try this experiment ... when you are feeling drowsy and slow, take some time to count a few blessings, try twenty blessings to begin.  And take note what it does to the climate of your soul.
PRAYER FOCUS:  Lord, I am thankful for ...

Notes and further reading suggestions.