Scripture: Isaiah 43:1-7 The whole point and purpose of this blog is to encourage a deeper and more satifying life of prayer. I do not claim to be a great biblical scholar or a spititual guru who can direct you into some deeper realm of yourself but I can walk with you as we proceed down a similar path. The method I use is a hybrid of sorts. I have sat with spirital directors that have introduced me to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatious of Loyola, I have engaged in Lectio Divina, I have sat in silence and meditated on Christ within. All of which are great tools but geared around a lifestyle of a monk. I would love to be a monk but my wife may not appriciate it as much as me.
All of the various traditions I have studied require time. Time is probably the scarest resource in your life. Time is the one things that every human gets equally,we are all alloted twenty-four hours each day. And out of those twenty-four hours we determine what activities are important to us and we divide our day out into a schedule. Sleep gets eight hours, work eight hours, I will eat a couple of meals which will take around 3 hours, and around 2 hours of driving I have already scheduled 21 of my hours leaving three hours of my day open. I am already tired. I am sure you understand what is going on. In basically 3 short hours we are trying to fit in shopping, family, games, television, reading, soccer practice, intimacy, homework, the list will continue on and on. We are to put into a window of 3 hours everything about our lives other than mere survival. It is no wonder that our culture is plagued with depression, fatigue,and anxiety. We do way too much. Our days are filled with hobbies and entertainments to the point we are nearing a breaking point.
We cannot fit our “life” into the 3 hour window so we cut out a meal, gaining an hour, we stay awake and only sleep for 6 hours instead of the recomended 8 and we gain 2 more hours. Now we have 3 extra hours to spend in helping your son with math or your daughter with her dribbling skills. But what is the cost? We have 24 hours in a day. At first it sounds like plenty. I could get so much done in 24 hours…yet I don’t. Time management is important. But what does this have to do with prayer or a life with God? If you have only three hours a day to do everything outside of basic survival what will you invest your time in? If you are like me you look at the time requirements of the spiritual excercises and you think where will I get the time to spend five hours in prayer? So we turn away from these activities an instead we invest the minutes of our day else where. We are spread so thin in the time department that businesses have made billions of dollars on calanders, planners, and apps to assist us in our time management.
I encourage you to utilize these tools. Because if you plan out your day you may find a few extra minutes hiding between breakfast and bed. I mention this only because I realize time is valuble. The lack of time in our lives can cause incredile stress and illness. Yet time was created by God for us. That is what I where my mind goes as I am using my few minutes to pray. According to the creation story, the week is split into seven cycles of light and dark, and within those cycle various things happened: the creation of light, water, land, trees, bugs, whales, horses, and humanity. Then there was one day set aside to do nothing. One day set aside to enjoy what was created the week before. Have we ever really considered the amazing love and grace God had to encourage us to take one day, one 24 hour period of time in a week to not do anything beyond enjoying the world around you. This is the first thing to consider as we pray and reflect on the scriptures today. We were given one full day to rest and enjoy our family, friends, and God. Why do we then fill that day with the business we carry on during the other 6 days?
The thing about that seems to pop out at me in this scripture is that God is there with us. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” God is with us every hour of the day. How often do we take time to recognize this? We spend all but 3 hours of our day working, sleeping, and eating. When we have a break we only want to rest to do something that does not require us to perform. Then we wonder why does God seem so far away?
Jesus said once that he is the bread of life, that if you were to eat of His flesh and to drink of His blood then you would have life. For many this statement points to the mystery of the eucharist or communion. But let us think about this in our daily life. Around 3 hours of our day is spent prepairing and consuming food stuffs. One of the most powerful spiritual disiplines is a fast, where instead of investing the time in eating we invest in prayer. Three hours a day we focus on bread. What if you were to use a portion of this time to focus on your relationship with God?
What if while you are eatng your breakfast (Which you should do) you were to read a portion of scripture and just spend some time reflecting on that passage. And while you are drinking your coffee, talking with Jesus about it. I did this today I sat reflecting on Isaiah 43 while I ate my bowl of Quaker Oats, it is amazing at how that set the course for my day.
Then at lunch the second meal of the day reflect again examining your life in more detail while you and Jesus engage again with the passage. What does it mean to you to know that God formed you? Does it actually help you face your work day by knowing that God has redeemed you? As you eat your ham salad sandwich what is Jesus saying to you? He is with you while you eat. Feeding you the bread of life.
Imagine, you have just spent around 2 hours in prayer. Two hours with God. If you have spent this time reflecting on Isaiah 43 consider how percious that relationship with God is becoming now that you have spent 2 hours eating with Him? If you were to do this a few days a week would you notice a change in your relationship?
This is my challange to you, I challange you to spend your breakfast and lunch with God eating of the bread of life. Now you know my personal excersises for spiritual development. I eat with God. And after that time I will continue to reflect on our conversations and I then write my reflections down. This is just a small way that I have found to encourage my spiritual development. We are all busy and to imagine adding more things to our schedules scares us, but our reationship with God is important. I encurage you each to find a way to spend time with God. If you need help contact a pastor or spiritual director to help, if fact I encourage you to do this as well. Have lunch with one and together see what God is doing in your lives as you eat.
A life with God is as simple as eating bread. Yet it is the most important thing to do. He is walking with us as we work and walk down the paths of life and time, when we take th tim to share with Him we will then begin to recognize how amazing His love for us truly is.
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-12
In my lifetime, which I realize has not been too long; I have had a pretty good run of various jobs. I have worked as an assistant to a soil scientist, where I helped collect and prepare samples for various tests that would be used to help promote agricultural practices in Kansas. I have taught English in a foreign country, I have moved from entry-level positions to a branch manager position in the rental car industry. And I have worked from a temporary position to department management in retail. I say this not because I am beating my own drum, because I am no longer most of those things, because I am still trying to grow up and figure out what I want to do with my life. There is one thing that I have observed in my treks through the various corporate worlds; people are always unprepared.
When I was in the rental car industry those in positions above me would dread visits from their superiors. They lived in constant fear that the regional manager would walk in unannounced and they would be removed from their position. They had a right to fear because most of them were not organized and the reports that they were to keep were not easily found. The location I worked in was a bit different, we did not have a direct supervisor working on site so my coworkers and I have to keep the records for ourselves and make sure that when our direct supervisor would show up the information was ready for them. We created graphs, charts, and lists for ourselves trying to figure out how we could do better because we actually did not know or did not have access to the proper report to get information that was vital to making our location profitable. Because we went above and beyond, because we sought answers and reported to ourselves, when our manager came to the office and asked questions we could readily answer the questions. We could tell them quickly that one body shop provided 83% of referrals and that another body shop’s referrals had gown 25% in the previous 3 months.
Where others in our company were afraid to speak with the managers we were not, because the job we were there to perform we knew and knew it well. The reports that we as lower level managers were to keep were organized and up to date. There were 3 of us in that office, we worked without a manager for almost one year, and because of that when a new location was set to open one of us was chosen, not because we had the greatest profits, but because we approached our job without fear and were prepared.
Fearing a visit from a manager is something that I find annoying. The supervisors I have enjoyed working under are the ones that have delegated tasks, and are confident that they have been done. They have reporting systems that each person checks off and files and when they are visited they and each of us can confidently answer the questions asked and give reasons for any inadequacy that is found. I tend to not work well with the managers that make a mad dash to make sure every task is done at the last minute. That is a personal preference of mine. It is not gospel or anything; in fact there are people that actually work better under the management style that annoys me the most.
This is the image that I get as I began to read this passage. We have a manager; well a king really, then there is an unannounced visit from a bunch of wise guys, and a whole bunch of people that should be able to provide answers. The manager is caught totally unprepared and heads are about to roll.
Wise men from the east come to Jerusalem and they ask, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” Just think about this for a moment, don’t think about it as dusty old history or a biblical study, but think of it as a manager making one of those unannounced visits and asking for a report. Knowing when and where a king is born is one of those things that someone should know, especially if this potential king was going to be your king. So these wise men are going around asking where’s the king? Where’s the king? And everyone in the office is saying, huh? They were totally and utterly unprepared.
The office or the kingdom is in trouble, everyone fears for their life because someone dropped the ball. Suddenly the scholars are pouring over the books trying to figure out what they missed but it is too late, they are a step behind, from that point on they are playing catch up. They should have known. They knew the prophecies; they had been looking at them studying them for years. They had people set aside to study and prepare for this coming phenomenon. Yet in all their studies they missed something right before their eyes.
Someone did see. The unexpected saw. We call them the kings, the wise men of the east. The east is a very big place. East of Jerusalem is half of the world, India, China, Japan, Russia, Jordan, Iraq, and Iran. Nearly every nation we hear about in the news today is East of Israel. Meaning that these men came from some ancient culture east of this nation. East was Assyria, Babylon, and Persia. East is the land of exile and from the east the king was seen. These wise men were priests and educated men of another culture, most likely practitioners of another religion even, yet these people saw what all the learned people of Israel failed to see.
“For we observed his star at it’s rising, and have come to pay him homage.” They were looking and observing they not only knew where to go but also had interpreted what the meaning was behind what they saw. The King is here.
The word became flesh and dwelled among us. And the word was the light of man. But mankind loves the darkness. Those of the land of exile saw the rising of the star and those that should have seen it were blind to it. The religious were so caught up in their study of words that they missed the playing out of the very Word of God.
This passage is a story about each of us. Today we celebrate the recognition of the king, the epiphany. An epiphany is a mystery revealed or a great revelation. If you ask me this is a great day! What is being revealed what mystery will we see? We are seeing a new dawn the beginning of a new day a new age. I want to challenge your thinking for a bit. The religious leaders poured hours into the study of scriptures yet they missed the most important event of history. What about us today? We have put such emphasis on scriptures, we have bible studies, bible colleges, and bible camps and yet our churches are filled with people that are biblically illiterate. Our phones have bible apps, our kindles and nooks have access to hundreds of bible translations and yet many of us miss the point. We scour the scriptures for answers to our ever changing culture and it seems as if our culture leaves us behind and we are left fighting for our vary existence.
But what if we are missing the point, what if in all our searching in scripture we are missing the story behind the words? Who saw the rising of the start? Who saw the first glimmer of the light of God? It was not those living outside the temple of the living God, but the magi of a pagan religion. What did they have that those that possessed the scriptures lacked? They were looking and willing to respond to what they observed.
Jesus came and with Him came the Kingdom of God. Throughout His ministry He cried out to all that would listen, “the Kingdom of God is here.” That is a key point; the kingdom is not there it is here. Jesus then set out to heal the sick, feed the hungry. He touched the untouchable and he listened to the stories of the people society rejected. He did all this in the open, many called him Rabbi but his degree was only an honorary degree. He was given this honor because he lived the knowledge, not because he attended a university.
The power of the word is not in the print, but the story held within. That story began with God. God loved so much that He created a world that was filled with beauty and amazement, that world is filled with all sorts of creatures and races. That story was written down and preserved through one but it was not limited to them. It was and still is those outside that often see the clearest. Today even in the deepest persecuted nation people come to God through Jesus even without knowing the proper words. Just this month Christianity today ran an article speaking about the followers of Jesus that are Muslims. Cultural Muslims just as Christian as you or I, yet express their faith differently. I know that it happens because I know people who are among these people. We have heard their stories we have seen their ministries.
This has always happened it happened in Ireland nearly 1700 years ago, it happened in Rome nearly 2000 years ago, it has happened in India, Mongolia, Africa, and Russia. Christ in spirit works in the lives of people before they even know the words to say or the story behind them. CS Lewis called it the natural Law in Mere Christianity, early Quakers called it the day of visitation of the light within. God is working all around us. The king is here.
He is where people are feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, caring for the widow and the orphans. Jesus says the things done for the least of them are done to him. That is the kingdom. It is Here and there; it is in Israel and Persia, Russia, and Iran. Our mission and our ministry is not to beat people over the head with scriptures but to pay homage to the rising start that we see in the story around us. It is there we interact and love God and love mankind. When we neglect ministry to the least we are blinding our own eyes and missing the coming of the king among us. But if we do not study, fast, pray, and worship we also miss something. Jesus says we are no longer servants but Friends because we know what he is doing. It is thought our spiritual life we connect with God and find the direction.
Those pagan priests studied and they saw. They left their homes and brought Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh to place at the feet of the child born to be king of humanity. While they did that all of Jerusalem trembled in fear. They feared because the balance of power was shifting. What the world found to be important the kingdom of God found to be empty and worthless.
The King is here, but are we looking? Are we seeing His rising star or are we caught unprepared for our day of visitation? Let us consider those things as we enter into this time of open worship, prayer, and Holy Expectancy as we commune with God in the manner of Friends.
Scripture: Ephesians 3:1-12
I have been sick for nearly a week. I hate being sick because when I am sick I miss out on life around me. I could not go to watch the Hobbit with my wife and son, because I was at home sick. To be restricted from something is not all that fun.
Or is it? In today’s passage I was struck by Paul’s excitment for being a prisioner. He is excited to be restricted from life. Does this strike you as odd? We can take a logical approach that he was excited because he was imprisioned do to his strongly held beliefs, and the excitment comes from firmly standing on his principles. Which is a good approach. I think it is even a correct answer. He is excited to be sitting in prision because of the mysteries of Christ.
There is an excitment that builds when you pursue the right cause even if the culture around you finds it wrong. In the past few years I have become more entrenched in the core values held by the Society of Friends: the values of simplicity, peace, integrety, community, and equality. I have latched on to these values because I see them as being right something worth holding onto. I believe that it is right to promote a life lived in simplicity so that I can free more of the tools God has given me to serve Him in His kingdom. I have come to realize that even though my nation is at war, the promotion of life and peaceful means of resolving conflict is important. Not because I think that all war will end right away but because I firmly believe that there is a way to make peace without killing innocent life. As I listen to and watch news programs I realize that honesty and integrety has lost value in our culture, as I see people from all sides crying about the other while both are participating in the same actions. I drive along the streets and see buildings being torn to pieces by people just haveing a good time, and the community just sitting back expecting someone else to do something about it. And in that same breath blaming others for their problems.
Simplicity, Peace, Integrety, Community, and Equality. They are ideas true, but they are the ideals that I am called to pursue. These are the ideals that I find sum up the essences of what the Kingdom of God is all about. They are the spice of life, the salt of the earth. Even in a world that seems so empty of theses values I have a desire, a longing, a passion really to do everything I can to bring it about. It is a mystery. I cannot explain why I have this desire, but just as mysteriously I do not want to force my values onto anyone else.
There is a liberty in this restriction! That is why Paul I excited to be in the chains for his God. He has tasted the spice of life, life in he most pure sense and he willingly does what ever he can to share that with others. Paul did everything to pursue this life and to share this life. He did not force anyone to submit to his vision. He was actually beaten and imprisioned because others opposed his views and still he was excited.
As I pray, and as I recover from illness I wonder if I have ever really had that type of passion? Would I truly totally pursue the values that I have grown to love to such a degree that I would be willing to lose everything for them, even my freedom? Am I so sure that the mystery in God that I have found is so much stronger than ay other aspect of life that I can freely give myself and everything around me over to Him mknowing that He will take care of me? Would I willingly stand before murderous humans and willingly share what I have found to be most meaingful to me?
Deep questions…questions that I would venture each of us would answer similarly at first. I want to say yes I am willing, but then I must ask what have I done to bring the spice of life to the world around me? How many resources did I invest in improving my community, or how have I actually tried to promote peace in a war torn world? You see we are not prisioners of Christ, but we are all really bound by the world. We have passions but those passions are not bound in the mysteries of God but in the strength of mankind.
Well I’m tired of being sick, and I’m tired of not being excited by the mysteries of God. So what am I going to do? Well that is where the life of prayer comes in. I cannot do anything alone. Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If I say that I believe that then maybe I should start living it. I will pray using the scripures, letting the words whirl around in my head, and let the Spirit of God direct them into the very center of my heart. And out of the quiet place of prayer, I will then ask for the strength to change.
We have passions, but let our passions be directed by God. We have desires, let our desires be full of God. We have hope because God have provided that hope to us. Let us be willing to lose it all for the mystery that is Christ.