THE MIRACLE OF THE MUNDANE

mundane

What stories can you tell of God working in your life?  What comes to mind?  For me,  I tell the stories of when God worked in an unmistakable way for my good.  Something about it was meaningful and miraculous.  These stories do not come around that often and I think it is one element that makes them memorable.

But how many ways has God been at work in the seemingly mundane and trivial actions of life and I missed it?  I only counted the big stuff and missed the little things.  The God who works in the details of creation also works in the everyday activities of our lives in ways we will not see until after he has moved on.

Author David Ramos, in his devotional Climbing with Abraham, recounts Abraham’s buying of a tomb for his recently deceased wife, Sarah.

Then Abraham rose from beside his dead wife and spoke to the Hittites. He said, “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead.” (Genesis 23:-4)

Abraham was an incredibly rich man, but he owned no land in this space that God promised to his descendants.  Abraham’s purchase of the tomb was meant to secure a permanent spot for his current and future needs for burial.  It was this tomb that would provide the permanent resting place for Sarah, Abraham, and their family.

In the larger picture, it signaled the trust that Abraham put in God’s promise that he would own more than this little spit of land.  David suggests that this was Abraham acting in the normal course of life, but also displaying a future hope that all the land around this field and cave would belong to his descendants.  God used the ordinary course of life to signal his intentions to keep his promise.

I agree with David.  God uses our “normal” and our “mundane” to accomplish greater things than we ever considered.  Sometimes we are aware of it and sometimes we are not.  Often, I only see God’s hand in the small things when I look back over a sweep of time.

I recognize God’s hand at work in his leading us to Pennsylvania.   While the story of the connecting with Perkiomenville Mennonite Church is pretty exciting stuff, there are a number of small, mundane choices and circumstances that preceded that connection.  There was a move from Oregon to California, odd jobs, small shifts in planning, missed real estate opportunities, job changes, and even a firing.  In the course of all these smaller actions, a larger plan was at play.  My experience suggests that it is not the last act.

We do not always live on the edge of the exciting or incredible.  The glorious impossible comes in the incredibly ordinary if we allow the Lord to live in us.  Even today, God is working in our living and in our choices.  It may be worth stopping on the path and looking backward to see how he has fit the pieces together.

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THE TIME BETWEEN

Holy-Saturday-2

And he (Joseph of Arimathea) bought a linen shroud and, taking him (Jesus) down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.  (Mark 15:46)

Jesus’ body is now safe.  It is safe from the elements.  It is safe from the carnivores.  To our human way of thinking, only time and decay can break his body down any more.  He is behind the stone.  He is dead and buried.

Today we visit tombs as if somehow that person’s spirit lingers nears and hears our questions and sees our tears.  Our rational mind knows it is not true, but rationalism does not drive us to walk in graveyards.  Some may call it emotionalism, of which there is a certain amount.  Others call it being delusional, driven by the need or desire to have that person close to us again.

What some will explain away, I will posit as real – we want to connect with the eternal, maybe even the divine.  Somehow, we believe that life does not end with the final breath.  But Death interrupts those desires, so it seems.  Death whispers that this is the end and the grave has spoken the final word.  The connection is severed and no one hears.  All is lost.  All is dead, locked in an impenetrable tomb.

And so it seems.  None of us have seen a dead person come back to life.  Neither had Joseph.  When Joseph maneuvered that stone into that deep groove, it sat immovable.  He was not looking to move it again.  For all intent and purposes, that was the final act.  After a day or two of grieving, we start putting life back together.  We move on and start to construct a new reality.

You protest, “But that is not the whole story!”

True.  It is hard not to look past this part of the story and move on to the REAL climax.  Resurrection Sunday is the big news and we cannot wait to celebrate.  But there is hardly room for celebration if the dead are still dead.

Besides that, we need this time of waiting.  We need the space between death and life, despair and hope.  It is in this time between that Jesus laid buried and all the old ways, the old traditions, and even the old law laid buried as well.  We not only grieve Jesus’ passing, but we grieve the loss of what was tradition and religion.  It was what we knew.  But it has come to an end in his death.

It is this way so that come the dawn of the third day, not only does Jesus come alive – and with him hope and joy and laughter – but something new will be born with him.  All the old will not be resurrected. A new covenant is ratified, a new people are formed, and new life comes, not through the law, but through the Holy Spirit.  We will be people of the resurrection come Sunday.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he or she IS a new creation.  The old is gone!  The new is here now!  Paul writing his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 17.

But for this day, we live in the time between…and we wait.

TAKE UP AND FOLLOW

called-to-service2And they led him (Jesus) out to crucify him. And they compelled a passer-by, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross.  (Mark 15:20c-21) 

The processional to the place of execution was moving too slowly.  The prisoner could not keep up with the desired pace because he was exhausted, battered, and spent.  Up all night, hungry, scourged, and now forced to carry a beam of wood that a healthy man would labor to carry  – if he carried one at all.

Thus, they found a healthy man, a face in the crowd, but one who was sturdy and strong.  Who knows what work he did.  Maybe he was a farmer or a craftsman.  His job now?  To pick up the crossbeam and follow.

Simon ventured to Jerusalem from the country, maybe because he stayed there as a pilgrim rather than stay in the city.  He hailed from North Africa, the Greek city of Cyrene.  Maybe he moved to the outskirts of Jerusalem, a wanderer returning from the Diaspora and wanting to live in the homeland of his ancestors.  It does not matter in the moment.  He was a face in the crowd and he was compelled to carry the cross of Jesus and follow.

There is an echo in the wind that whips through this procession.  If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. Simon may have been forced carried the cross of Christ, but he was carrying his own cross, though he did not know it.  He carried the cross on which would hang the sin of the world, including his own.  AS he followed Jesus to the brow of Golgatha, he followed with the instrument of sure death for Jesus and sure life for himself.

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

And we are called to take up the cross and follow.  No, it is not the cross some people think of when they feel hard pressed to carry a particular unwanted burden, “Well that is just my cross to bear.”  This is a choice.  We are called to choose to take up an instrument of death and follow Jesus.

Simon appeared not to have a choice in the matter.  But we do.  As I stand, gazing at the Lord who will die for me, would I interrupt the train to Skull Hill to grab the cross?  Will I take it up now, dying to myself and my will to take up His will and follow?
Lord Jesus, you became sin for me.  While you could not carry the cross all the way to the Hill, you would still be secured to it with no escape.  You did not just carry my sin there with that wood.  You became my sin and set me free.  Now you bid me follow you and be willing to lay my life down not for sin, but for love.  You bid me deny myself, take up the cross, and follow.  Oh, that I will daily have the will to make that choice.

 

COME TO THE TABLE

Last Supper, traditional Jewish feast

Jesus gave “all” to those who were his “friends,” to the ones would not be strong enough to stand with him in just a few hours.  Jesus gave all to him who was his enemy, the one who would betray him for reasons the gospel writers leave unmentioned.

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”  23 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. 24 “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. 25 “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  (Mark 14:22-25)

The same night – the night he was betrayed, deserted, arrested, and mocked – Jesus gave.  When we were weak, dead, his enemies – when we were sinners, Christ died.

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Not one of us – including me – was offered this gift when we were at our best.  We can say that our best is never good enough but let us not be fooled that we ever came around and gave the Lord our best and that made him love us.  Rather, we were doing our worst.  And Jesus loved us and gave himself for us.

When absolutely nothing recommended us.  When we were his enemies.  Enemies!!  When are we inclined to cuddle our kids?  When are we more disposed to give good gifts to friends?  When they are mad at us, insolent, snotty, and self-absorbed?  But the love of Jesus is utterly unaccountable – except that he is God and God is love. (Walter Wangerin, Reliving the Passion, pg. 54)

This is not sentimental drivel.  It is not sappy helplessness in the face of our misdeeds.  It is deep, enduring compassion that aims to take the Lord’s enemies and invite them to be his friends.  It is his invitation for us to eat at his table and he will be our meal. It is through him that we will be made worthy of the feast.

Take, eat, this is my body…take, drink, this is the blood of the new covenant.

As we head towards Easter, 2018, we hear again this invitation to eat a meal of which we are not worthy and so join in the covenant community that Jesus is forming from those who were against him.  In his love, he invites us to his table.

He said come to the table, come join the sinners who have been redeemed
Take your place beside the Savior now, sit down and be set free
Come to the table

(Sidewalk ProphetsCome to the Table)

WAITING IN THE DARK

my_deepest_darkness_by_meemzzzThere is one thing that seems to drive us crazy as Americas –  waiting.  If we are ready to check out at the grocery store, we will search for the line we perceive is moving the fastest.  If that line slows to a crawl, we will change lanes, even if we are next in line.

Now add to the waiting that it is dark.  There is no sense of where you are going or where you are at the moment.  We want to move out.  We want to get going.  We just can’t find the door or the window because it is pitch black.

We will sometimes take decisive action on life matters while not having enough light to know what we are getting ourselves into.  We just feel like we need to be in motion.  We will not wait in the dark; we will move out, hoping we run into the door.

Or maybe this is just me that feels like not taking action is a waste of time.

I was reading a piece from Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest, where he says, “There is a “darkness” that comes from too much light— that is the time to listen. The story of Abram and Hagar in Genesis 16 is an excellent example of listening to so-called good advice during a time of darkness, rather than waiting for God to send the light. When God gives you a vision and darkness follows, wait. God will bring the vision He has given you to reality in your life if you will wait for His timing.”

Oh, yes, Abram and Hagar.  Abram received the covenant promise that his children many years after him would receive the land where he stood.  When “the plan” did not seem to be working out, Sarai prompted him to consider a surrogate mom, which he did.  If you read Genesis 16 and 21, you know the outcome.

There was a time I thought I knew the plan.  The more life I live, the more I realize I lived in the dark for much of my life.  I did not receive great revelations.  I did not hit on any realizations.  When I am willing to wait, even in the dark, God presents the plan at the right time (yes, I do believe God is an active participant in global and individual activities).  When I have not been willing to wait, it brought about heartache.  When I have waited for light, I get what God is up to.  When I stumble in the dark, I just get bruised shins and wounded pride.

We stepped out of formal pastoral ministry for six years and wondered if the Lord would ever lead us back there.  We were in the dark about what God intended.  Now, we are again serving a congregation, though I never thought it would come through a transcontinental move.  I was truly in the dark about that piece of the plan.  We worked and served and waited.  When the plan came to light, then we moved.

We were not idle during that time.  We worked and we served.  We even tested some doors to see if God might be leading us to a different kind of ministry.  Nothing lit up.  So we continued to wait, working and serving while we waited.

Are you waiting for some revelation from God and it feels like you are in the dark about many things?  It is time to wait.  But for how long, you ask.  As long as it takes for God to turn on the light and reveal his next step.

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For those who would like to meditate on this thought through music, here is John Waller and his song from the movie Fireproof called While I’m Waiting.

 

FIRST WORD – HOPE

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We greeted the new year on a late-night shuttle.  Arriving home in Pennsylvania, we retrieved our luggage in time to board a bus to the economy parking lot. In the back, a little girl and her mom counted down the seconds as the old year rolled out and the New Year rolled in.  2018 had begun!

I have to admit I feel kind of like Calvin from “Calvin and Hobbes.”  In one cartoon strip, Calvin is musing how nothing is really new.  It’s the same old arguments, pollution, wars, and bad news.  The calendar did not wipe them away.  The track is still the track.  Get ready for another round.

With nothing apparently changing, then what is the fuss over the turn of the calendar?

When I turn my mind to this question, the one-word answer that comes to me is hope.  When we start something new, whether it is a new year, a new job, or a new relationship, we go into “the new” with a sense of hope.  We hope this year turns out well. We hope this new job brings other opportunities. We hope this new relationship includes much happiness.

But “hope” for us is often wishful thinking.  It is something we desire, but do not see it as guaranteed.  We look for it to happen, but if it does not come to pass, well, we will not be too surprised.

But what kind of hope is that?

When I read of hope in the Scriptures, I perceive a different light being cast.  This is a hope that comes with confidence.  It is a clarity that says, “I may not see it as I pictured it, but I know it will get done.”  Somehow, when my lot is cast with Jesus Christ, hope takes on a new meaning and a new assuredness.

I have this set of hopes for the new year, hope grounded in the work that Jesus is continuing to do in me and those I love.  I hope that I see some of the old things I started in 2017 bear new fruit.  I hope that my old relationships take on new meaning even as I enjoy the longevity of knowing each person.  I hope that old wisdom is augmented by new discoveries and new insights.  And I hope my love for Jesus and his ancient story continues to make new inroads into my heart.

Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

May you have HOPE in 2018, a sure sense that things will be new, even in the old and steady rhythms that came from the years past.  May you see Jesus at work in new ways even as you enjoy and grow in the established patterns of living.  In all things, may hope be your habit.

RESET

This is not how I expected to spend the day after Thanksgiving. No, I am not in line at Walmart or Lowe’s waiting for a door-buster. I am sitting at a Starbucks waiting for word on the state of our car, the one we just purchased. It has a hitch in the transmission and we are hoping it is not terribly bad. The service center where my car is being diagnosed is quite a distance from my home, so I am waiting.

That seems appropriate for Advent – waiting for news – good news, I hope. And while I wait, I have time to think about the coming year and the things I hope to see come about (sounds suspiciously like goal setting). In a way, this time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s becomes the chance to hit a reset button. What have I wanted to do in 2017 and what would I like to see happen in 2018?

I wait and consider reading a book while I wait. Maybe I will be inspired or challenged and reconsider the size and scope of one of my goals. Or maybe it will shape what I will preach this Sunday, or change the direction of the Christian Growth class we are leading.

Today could also be one great reset button. It is a day just to breathe, a gift from my car to me for its ills. It becomes a day retreat, a chance to stop amidst the busyness of life and enjoy some down time. Cheryl often asks if I actually take a break on Fridays, which is my typical day off. Now I really have to be off.

Today, I stop and hit the reset button. It will not reset life or direction. It just resets me. I have this moment in life to “power down” from the constant push forward. I can blog, journal, think, or do none of these. Okay, I blogged. And it will be okay if I accomplish little else. I am sitting in a Starbucks and resetting.

Genesis 2:2-3 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

It would seem if it were good enough for God, it is good enough for me as well.

EXPECTING THE BEST

keep-calm-and-expect-the-best

Dreaming is fun. When a group of friends dream together, the air crackles with the energy of the possibilities being generated in the room. That is, until someone like me begins to ground the ideas in the reality of pitfalls and problems. After one such dream session again deadened by my lack of optimism, one of my friends finally asked me, “Don’t you ever expect the best?”

That question hit me square in the heart. By nature, I am a problem solver.  And where there is no problem, sometimes I look for something to fix any way. When looking at ideas or reviewing something we have accomplished, I easily see the pitfalls that need to be fixed.  That starts with recognizing there are pitfalls.

The “gift” itself has a pitfall, at least in my practice of it. That pitfall is not recognizing the good that is in front of me.  I have to consciously and intentionally look for what is good, what will work, or what has worked.  Maybe it is better said that I need to put the search for problems on the back burner and let the good come to a boil first. Then we can return to the issues that might hamper the good stuff.

Over time, my processing has changed.  I look for what is good and name it before trying to make adjustments. I actually make it a point to speak some of positive I see before going into problem-finding mode.

Beyond a personal confession, what does this have to do with anything?

Given the widespread uncertainty and tension around us, a common question that circles around us is, “What bad thing is coming next?”   We wonder what else could happen that will rock the world and not in a good way.  Is it even possible to expect anything good?

There are people in my church congregation that are experiencing hard times in their bodies, jobs, and even relationships. It has gone on for so long or come on so strongly and suddenly that they ask, “Is there any good to expect?”

Enter the Psalmist who wonders with us:

“Many people say, ‘Who will show us better times?’” (Psalm 4:6a)

Is there any good we can expect? Can we dream of the best and not have it thwarted by some form of evil or hardship?

The psalmist lamented that the times were hard and the only thing we could do is pray, keep our hearts right, and not scream into our pillows. How does one expect the best when the best cannot be found?

While the Psalmist speaks hard truth, he also has this center of hope and makes his plea to Yahweh:

Let your face smile on us, Lord.
You have given me greater joy
than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine.
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe. (Psalm 4:6b-8)

The best good things come from the Lord – our joy, our provision, our rest. Who can show us any good? If we rely on friends, they may fail us. If we rely on government, it will not come through. If we rely on ourselves, we will not fulfill our own good because we cannot do and be all things, no matter how competent or charismatic. The best comes from the Lord. When he smiles on us and turns his face towards us, we will know the best. we can expect the best.

Okay, I hear it in my head – I asked the Lord for the best and nothing changed. I have known this as well. I have asked for relief or change. It did not matter in the moment. Nothing happened. So why should I have hope? How can I still expect the best? Because the Lord himself keeps his word and gives his word at the right time. His own character says he will show us good and be with us in hard times. This does not translate into God doing what we expect or want. It means he will gives us what is best for us. In receiving his best in his time, we can have great joy and sleep in peace.

I usually do not want to hear this in the middle of pain and doubt. This is perspective I have come to only after going through some deep waters in the past. I may yet have deep waters ahead. And the Lord will be the same in those times. He will be faithful and he will bring me through to a place of rest and joy. It is His best that I can expect.

ALWAYS AT THE BEGINNING

quotefancy-2818654-3840x2160.jpgThe fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
    To him belongs eternal praise.

Psalm 111:10

I was reading the above passage together with Ezekiel 15 and 16.  In those verses, the elders of Ezekiel’s time went to the Lord for a word.  But the Lord told them they came to him as they would a fortune teller.  He was just one among many “gods” of whom they would inquire.  And the Lord refused to indulge them.  If they wanted a word so much, they should go consult one of their oracles – or return to him alone.

Those who fear the Lord will hear him, be known by him and be marked as His.  Those who follow his precepts have a good understanding.  The Lord invites them to come to him for wisdom and knowledge.  He invites us to know him.

If we truly want to know God in all his facets, we face an eternal task, an impossible feat.  In reality, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the depth of that wisdom cannot be found.  One lives “at the beginning” of that search always.

Though this is true,  we must not give up the quest.  We must be willing to see the quest in all its facets – it is wanting to know the Lord is all his being, even if we can only grasp the smallest fraction of that knowing.  It is living righteously in personal life as well as in dealing with neighbors.  It is keeping our personal and professional affairs pure and being concerned about all God has made – human and the rest of creation.  It is not hedging our bet by keeping a god or two on the side to consult when we question the word of the Lord.

I am only at the beginning of an eternal search, a quest that leads to knowing, grasping and beating with the heart of God.  While I may only be at the beginning, I can rest assured that this journey is worth every step for there is more than enough wisdom for humanity in this quest than in all the other quests one can undertake.

COURAGE FOR TODAY

I continue to be a part of a group of people seeking to have courageous conversations with one another.  What makes them courageous is we all come from different points of view that have been used by some to create division.  We want to talk to one another about how we came toImage result for courage understand life as we do and how that affects our decisions.  No one is being asked to change their views, but be open to hearing how others view life.  It does not seem like too much to ask.

However, we all realize that this process sparks fear.  The concern is what happens if I am exposed to ideas that might shape or affect my deeply held beliefs.  What if I am changed by the process?  What if I look at my beliefs and suppositions differently?  That certainly is fearful.  It takes courage to face the possibility of change.

It also seems to take a lot of courage to live in our world today.  The headlines scream fear.  We fear the effects of two hurricanes (with more to come?), the actions of the current US administration (repeal of DACA and mangling the health care system), the push and pull over monuments to past actions (some see sin, others see pride), and the actions of a world leader who seems so far away, but whose impetuous style leads him to believe he can strike our homeland with a nuclear missile.  This is not the sum total of our world’s issues.  But these alone cause fear and one’s opinion of them causes fear in others.

The world is unstable and it seems there is much to fear.

I believe that this level of instability is unprecedented.  Certainly, we are more aware of what is transpiring in the world than past generations.  Also, we know of events and decisions almost as they happen.  The news comes at us so quickly that we cannot form a response fast enough to cope with it all.  It is easier to take sides, put a stake in the ground, and declare a point of view, right or wrong, and not consider whether there are other options or points of view to weigh.  It is easier to give in to fear.

Today, we need courage, not fear.

Courage today would be to resist the urge to jump to conclusions or take a side without knowing what another person thinks or how someone is affected by today’s events. Courage would be sitting at the table and asking for dialogue and not debate.  Courage would be noting the fair and valuable points in another’s point of view.  Courage would be seeing that, sometimes, people on opposite sides of an issue want the same thing.

Our courageous conversation group is still feeling its way forward and hoping to see more people come to the table.  We have our own issues in our little borough that are dividing neighbors – should we build a new middle school or not and how should policing happen here in this area.  We would hope to learn to speak candidly and kindly, sharing points of view but calming the rancor of the current debates.  As we invite more people to the table, we will do so with courage. After all, someone might have a good idea that needs to be heard and needs the courage of others to help say it.