Day Thirty Three: In Spite Of

Psalm 110
Proverbs 3:1-12
James 4:11-17

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how often
God’s power,
God’s presence,
God’s purpose,
is made manifest in spite of,
rather than because of,
me ….

I know, as Christians, we are called to be light to the world
as we walk in and with and through the Light of Life;
I know, as God called me into ordained ministry,
it was with the command to watch my life and doctrine closely that those who listened might be saved;
but I also know that countless people have experienced the church as a hurtful and unwelcome place,
and that, many times, my own service has been offered from a space of brokenness, exhaustion, distraction, and/or poverty.

The grace of today’s Scriptures
is that God continues to be God
in spite of …

… external circumstances that threaten to overwhelm
or destroy us:

“You were forged a strong scepter by God of Zion; now rule,
though surrounded by enemies!
(Psalm 110:2) …

… our fickleness and forgetfulness:

But don’t, dear friend, resent God’s discipline; don’t sulk under his loving correction.”
(Proverbs 3:11) …

… our preoccupation with our own life plans and the accumulation of power and possessions:
“yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”
(James 4:14) …

… our words – so concerned with pride and judgement rather than peace and affirmation:
But who are you to judge your neighbour?
(James 4:12b).

Time and time and time again,
we get it wrong; we let what is happening around us detract from or destroy what is happening within us; we fail to live up to the purposes for which we were forged; we commit, as James points out in verse 17, the sin of knowing what is right but neglecting to do it.

But being good – and, in turn, good ambassadors of the Gospel – does not begin with the best of intentions or a to-do list of right behaviours.

It starts with and is sustained by an intimate friendship with God
(see Proverbs 3:5-6)
who will make straight our paths,
and speak through our poverty,
and transform our tiredness,
and use our brokenness,
and receive our “sorrys,”
and cover our inadequacies and excuses,
and correct us when we head off
in the wrong direction …

… and the very evidence of God’s power, presence and purpose at work in spite of all of this is precisely the light
– the lifeline –
that others need in the midst of their own struggles.

Trust God today
with where you feel weak,
or broken,
or tired,
or inadequate,
or distracted.

Feel His/Her favour resting upon you in spite of everything else that is happening in and around you.

Receive the gift of healing, of nourishment, of peace. 

Day 1: Turn us again

Psalm 80:1-8, 18-20
Isaiah 64:1-9
Mark 13:24-37
1 Corinthians 1:3-9

One of my favourite memories of my children’s Montessori preschool remains their particular way of celebrating birthdays. Once a year, each child had the opportunity to sit in the centre of a circle of their peers while their teacher ambled around them, spinning a large globe in her hand.
All together they chanted:

The earth goes round the sun,
The earth goes round the sun,
Three hundred and sixty five days a year
the earth goes round the sun.

Five, six, seven  times she would circle and they would chant  until the birthday boy’s (or girl’s) new age had been counted.

It was a sacred moment, not only of remembering all the years that had passed before and brought them to that particular time and place, but also of rooting their lives within the greater context of a world that would continue to move and spin – three hundred and sixty five days a year, year after year after year.

The start of the Advent season is a similarly sacred time; an opportunity to reflect on the days that have passed within the greater context of God’s continuing plan to bring the entire earth into right and whole relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So we pause ….

We pause and hold at the centre of our thoughts, our prayers, the abundance of tears which we’ve choked on or choked back over the past year ….

We pause and open ourselves fully to the anxiety that we have not wanted to acknowledge as the earth has quaked and flooded and the sun has scorched ….

We pause and feel the weight of our own sinfulness and selfishness as it ripples through our family, into our community, into our society at large; even into our leadership, until we are smothered by our iniquity and immortality ….

We pause
in the darkness of sin
and the dis-ease of despair,
with no magic word to offer
a world so broken
that it seems beyond repair ….

It is in the painful pause that the significance of the Advent season is borne. Three hundred and sixty five days of the year, year after year after year, the world keeps on turning, going about its business; trying through its busyness to drown out its groaning, aching need for a Saviour. Advent reminds every Christian of the call to watch and to wait for the Word, the Light of the World, to come again and save us.

“Turn us again, O God; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved,” the Psalmist beseeches (verses 4, 8, and 20).

“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,” Isaiah invites (verse 1).

Today, practise the pause. 

Offer God the hurt and anxiety that you might have felt over the past year. 

Express your empathy and concern for the pain of the world.

Then pray repeatedly the plea of the Psalmist or Isaiah’s invitation.

Grow up!

In Ephesians 4:1-16, the apostle Paul provides a perfect picture of what it means to be a Christian: walk – no! RUN – on the road God has called us to travel. No one sitting on their hands idle. No one strolling down a path that leads to nowhere. No one declaring at the top of their lungs, “I’ll do it my way!” No fits and starts; no frantic, inconsistent bursts of activity … but all of us, as part of a Christian community, traveling together in the same direction, sharing:

  • the same faith,
  • the same hope,
  • the same baptism,
  • the same God and Father of all.

In essence, in this passage, Paul instructs those who call themselves Christians to act like grown ups: pouring themselves out for each other in acts of love, accepting one another’s differences, mending any disagreements, serving one another with humility and discipline.

It’s actually a little offensive, especially as adults, to be told that we need to grow up but when we look closely at our actions or talk to those who have left the church disillusioned, it becomes a pertinent word for us when …

… we come to the table to share in the body and blood of Christ but are actually not speaking to each other because of deep-seated mistrust and resentment …

… we are so moved by our Sunday worship that we sign up for a ministry or a course we  feel that God is calling us to but within a week have lost all passion and energy and will to show up and let God surprise us …

… we can’t wait to make it to a leadership position because then we no longer have to be a follower but have the power to pursue our own picture, to advance our own agenda …

… we pick and choose Scripture in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves and others downright terrible about themselves …

… we make others pay for the privilege of worshipping with us, praying with us, fellowshipping with us or learning with us, rather than tithing consistently so that the church can do whatever, whenever she hears the Spirit prompting …

… we show up only if we’re interested in who’s preaching or what they have to say or, simply, have an errand-free morning for a change …

… we claim to love the uniqueness, the newness of a church community then set out to make it exactly the same as the one from which we came …

… we just can’t seem to show up on time – not for one another; not even for God …

… we stop showing up at all because we no longer “feel” the worship or know the songs or like the way that things are being done ….

Paul reminds us that in many ways we are still infants, small children, spiritual babes who God wants to grow up knowing the whole truth and telling it in love.

And the truth begins with:

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,
a sinner, a fake, a fraud,
a babe in the woods who has failed to stay on your straight paths
but strolled off on my own meandering way.

Forgive me for 
the poverty of my faith,
the withholding of my love,
the enormity of my ego,
the strife in my relationships,
the lack of discipline in my discipleship
and humility in my leadership.

Show me how I cling to my childish ways;
strip me of my preconceived ideas and grand notions;
put me into deep waters where I will learn to depend on your strength and your grace;
comfort and sustain me as I experience the pain of growth
and the inconvenience of having to change direction
and learning to walk at a new pace.

In the name of the One who descended to the dead
and ascended into heaven,
may I be free from the things that hold me back –
the hurts, the grudges, the time pressures, the secret ambitions –
that I may move rhythmically and easily 
with you and with all your beloved:
a fully mature adult;
fully developed;
fully alive, in and through, and with Christ.

Me, me, me is the language of infants whose world revolves around their needs; the talk of toddlers throwing tantrums in the middle of the floor when they cannot get their way.

“We” is the language that permeates us with Oneness;  that connects us with the triune nature of God; that allows our differences to become gifts to one another and our disagreements to be dealt with humbly and gently, even as we stay together through the difficulty and discomfort of conflict or change.

May there be more of “we” and less of “me” as we surrender to Christ as the source of everything we do and the head who keeps us in step with each other.