Tuesday, March 4, 2014

What is a holy Lent?

I'm challenged by the Ash Wednesday liturgy that calls us to observe a "Holy Lent." When I was growing up as a catholic school boy in southeastern Michigan, Lent was presented to us as a time to make small sacrifices. The reason for the sacrifice was never clearly explained. We simply "gave something up" for Lent. Usually it was something we liked -- soft drinks, candy -- as I got older and more of a smart Alec I would choose Brussels Sprouts or Broccoli.

As I now understand it to be "holy" means to be set a part for God. God is holy. We become holy by drawing near to God. Therefore, to observe a "Holy Lent" means, quite simply, to draw near (or nearer) to God. First of all I have to remember that God never moves. God can be no closer to me now then God has ever been. God is omnipresent. What moves or changes is me. My life, my brokenness creates a barrier and the illusion of distance. It is that perception that must change to have a "Holy Lent." I need to see that God's love is the same as it has always been. I need to be reminded that no matter who I am, what I've done, where I've been, etc. God still loves me and calls me to a better relationship and a better way of living.

There are certain time honored practices that help me break through my barriers and deepen my awareness of the never changing presence of a loving God. Through the centuries Christians have engaged in these practices (sometimes called spiritual disciplines). Lent is a time to make space for prayer. It is a time to meditate on God's goodness and the grace and love lavished upon us by the coming, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is a time to practice self denial (we call it fasting) or abstinence. The purpose of doing this is focus. I give up something allowed (food beverage, the Internet) as a conscious offering to God and then use the surrendered time and energy to move closer to God.

I think, however, that in modern America we are so individualistic and so "me" centered, engaging in spiritual disciplines on our own and or our own benefit is just another form of consumer religion. Maybe what I should give up is myself by joining a group or investing time in someone in need. Maybe what would make this Lent truly holy and God like would be to emulate Jesus. Jesus who "did come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28)." What would make Lent holy would be for me to gave my life in as a sacrifice of service to others and working to make this world a better place.

If you have to "give something up" this season: why not make it yourself?

Be blessed,


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Starting the Year 2014

I am not one who makes New Year's resolutions. Usually, when I need to make a change in my life, I come to point where the benefits of change outweigh the inconvenience of change. Either way it has little to do with flipping the dates on the calendar. Having said that, whatever motivates us to make positive change in our lives is a good thing -- if the calendar does it for you then good for you.

I have reached the point on my spiritual journey where it is definitely time to make some changes. I've been reading a lot and praying and thinking over the past few months. I have followed a routine for the past 8 years, trying to live a rhythm in my spiritual life. I have tried to spend a half an hour a day in bible reading and prayer. A day a month with my covenant brothers and a week a year on retreat. What I have found is that the above routine is no longer enough and that, for my own personal spiritual growth, it has become time to take the next step forward.

A balanced spiritual life needs balance in all of my life. I choose to work harder on my key relationships. I choose to work more intentionally on my intellectual and thought life. I am choosing to be even more intentional about improving my physical health and stamina. Life (and ministry) is a marathon and, like St. Paul wrote long before me, I will be more intentional about my training regimen.

The plan? There has to be a plan: 1) I will stick to the half hour + for daily bible reading and prayer. 2) I will add a hour a day for reading that will stretch and challenge my mind. 3) I will more intentionally work to build and develop the key relationships in my life -- paying closer attention, listening, setting up times to meet. 4) I Once the blizzard of 2014 goes away I'll get back to the gym while renewing my vigil on the fuel I am putting in my body.

So, not a New Year's resolution . . . but a commitment to change. The question I ask myself is this: "what do I want this life to look like a year from now?"

Friday, October 18, 2013

Job -- an introduction

Job was written by a gifted poet and theologian. The book was written to explore the problem of how a just God could allow the innocent to suffer. This is a modern as well as an ancient issue. Modern people also ask: Why are there innocent casualties in war, why do children get cancer, why is there AIDS? The author of Job, using great skill, artistry, and magnificent poetry, uses the older story of Job’s misfortunes and restoration as the framework for this extended discussion. The book of Job challenges the assumption that goodness is always rewarded with material prosperity while wickedness is punished with temporal suffering. Job maintains his integrity in the face of social pressure and cultural convention to eventually win an audience with God. The date of this book is uncertain but is generally dated in the 5th or 6th century BC. The author is unknown. The book of Job explores the question of why bad things happen to good people but leaves that question largely unanswered. Job reveals his anger and frustration in what he believes to be unjust punishment at the hand of God, and when he finally gets his audience with God, finds his question remains largely unanswered. 

Job can be outlined as follows:

·         Job 1 and 2      Introduction
·         Job 3-31          Poetic dialogue: these are three cycles of speeches between Job and his comforters
·         Job 28, 32-37  Speeches of Elihu reflecting an orthodox understanding
·         Job 38-42:6     Divine resolution
·         Job 42:7-17     Epilogue

Job teaches that the answer to life’s more difficult questions is not as important as making the effort to struggle with these questions. Some questions have no answers but the questioning is often part of the growth process.

Malachi -- Introduction

Malachi means “my messenger”, which may have been the prophet’s name or a pseudonym. The book is dated around 450 BC, just before or after Nehemiah became governor of Jerusalem and roughly 60 years after Haggai and Zechariah pushed for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. Malachi writes during a time of Persian dominance and when the nation had little or no political defense or other national identifiers. He argues that Judah must live by the Law to keep the people’s purity and devotion to God. This devotion to the Law will lead to national stability and prosperity for all. The Day of the Lord will separate the good from the bad.

Malachi can be outlined as follows:

·         Malachi 1:1-3:12         Religious decline and hope for recovery
·         Malachi 3:13-18          How and when the good will triumph over the bad
·         Malachi 4:1-6              The day of the Lord

 Malachi predicts that Elijah will return and “prepare the way” for the coming Messiah. (Jesus will refer to John the Baptist as “the Elijah who was to come”.)

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Nehemiah -- an introduction

Nehemiah was probably written by the same hand as Ezra and, even though in the Canon it follows Ezra, it was likely written before Ezra and contains events that precede Ezra’s mission. Nehemiah’s personal memoirs provide reflections on the events of the time, prayers, and accounts of his determination to ease the suffering of the Judeans. The book also contains worship material: a psalm of confession and repentance and a record of the re-dedication service of the Temple of God.

Nehemiah can be outlined as follows:

·         Nehemiah 1:1-2:10      Nehemiah’s commission
·         Nehemiah 2:11-3:32    Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem
·         Nehemiah 4:1-23         Attempts to block the rebuilding project
·         Nehemiah 5:1-13         Internal troubles and the plight of the poor
·         Nehemiah 5:14-19       Nehemiah defends his governorship
·         Nehemiah 6:1-19         The plot of the enemy
·         Nehemiah 7:1-73         Guards and patrols
·         Nehemiah 7:73-8:12    The reading of the law and renewal of the covenant
·         Nehemiah 8:13-18       Renewal of the celebration of the festival of the booths
·         Nehemiah 9:1-5           A day of fasting
·         Nehemiah 9:6-37         Confession and prayer
·         Nehemiah 9:38-10:39  Renewal of the Covenant and its obligations
·         Nehemiah 11:1-24       Re-population of Jerusalem
·         Nehemiah 11:25-36     Re-population of Judea
·         Nehemiah 12:1-26       List of priests and Levites
·         Nehemiah 12:27-47     Dedication of the walls
·         Nehemiah 13:1-31       Nehemiah’s reforms

            Vital lesson: One man, Nehemiah, is moved to repentance when he learns of the state of Jerusalem and the Lord’s temple. Out of this repentance comes a series of actions and decisions that lead to the restoration of the city and the rebuilding of the place of worship.