Love seems to be growing colder

I am looking for a job. For the first time in 40 years, I have joined the ranks of the unemployed and am looking for a job.

But wait, aren’t you a pastor? Isn’t God supposed to open some door for you to begin caring for people in a congregation again?

Sometimes God just doesn’t work that way. Sometimes, even for pastors, there are those times in which God is silent. There are times that the world seems to get its way.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have not lost my faith in God or my calling. I know that sometimes God uses pauses and unknown spaces in which to strengthen our hearts and our spirits. After all, this is not a world of happy ever after but of suffering, sorrow, sickness, violence, and death.

I am more than willing to wash dishes. cook hamburgers, or scrub floors to make my way. What troubles me is finding out how many economic predators there are out there trying to make money off those who have very little money to spend.

Since I am new to the unemployment game, I tried to use an online service to see what might be available in my area. This was a big mistake. Now my email is flooded with offers to give me credit cards, sell me insurance, offer me jobs if I am willing to pay a “small fee” in advance. In other words, I am now viewed as a sheep by a bunch of wolves.

If you have never been unemployed because you were forced out of a position you have no idea how painful and emotionally crushing the experience can be. To have this vexatious desolation compounded by those seeking to make money off your misery does make one wonder if, in fact, love is growing colder in our world.

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I have no doubt the Lord will care for me and my wife. I will find a job. I will continue to do my volunteer work as a spiritual director and servant in the church I am attending. My hope lies beyond my current circumstances and situations. However, my heart goes out to those who will give in to the scams and false hopes offered by individuals who could have the kind of heart to prey on those who are already down.

Matthew 24:12 and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. (Matt. 24:12 NAB)

Starting Over….Again

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Above is a labyrinth I built in Winters, Texas. It was built during a time of transition, a transition I desired and embraced. I thought it would be the transition which would provide the opportunities for spiritual growth, professional practice and a connected community that would take me to the end of my days of service this side of eternity.

However, like the labyrinth, life has a way of taking us in different directions on our walk with God. There is ultimately one destination, but ranges of stages and circumstances.

Today, I find myself starting over. The decision to do so formed by circumstances and situations, deceptions and distortions I never expected to face. At first, this reality was terrifying. The games which were being played and the manipulations would have rivaled any reality show on TV. I did not know who I could trust. I did not know who I could believe. I was told my idealism was my flaw and those who told me they could be trusted proved they could not. I wanted to fight back. My mind began to turn to lawyers and thought out retaliation of my own design.

Our sin nature has enormous power when we are hurt and fearful.

Then came a time of consolation. I was given a gift of peace that came out of nowhere. I would start again. It would be hard, but I have been in hard places before. It would require escaping the mental videos and emotional loops which were dominating so much of my waking thought. I would need to have faith and trust that the consolation I received was from God.

But these are opportunities, not obstacles. I had made a turn in the labyrinth of my life.

I can remember a time in my life that all I had was an old car and a low paying job. It was perhaps the time my faith was most confirmed. It was a time in which I discovered the great joy in my life outside of my walk with God. It was the time I met the love of my life and my soulmate.

I have more resources now than then, but I do not yet have a means of new income.  I also do not have quite as much energy as 40 years ago. I do, however, have a history of experiences and confident assurances that God will provide what I need and that my calling is not yet over. I already have found a community of faith that has uplifted my soul and soothed the pain of being cast off by a group that claims to be compassionate and connected (obviously, these words show I still have a bit of healing to do). Yet, God has already opened doors for opportunities to touch lives and build the faith of others.

Perhaps this starting over stuff is not so bad after all. The labyrinth of life still has one goal and the path seems as hopeful as ever.

What Does it Mean When We Say We Love God?

I have been listening to a book by Anne Lamott. In this book she shares a story about losing a beloved pet dog to death. The story made both my wife and I come close to crying.

God has made us with the capacity to deeply love animals and for animals to love us. However, death is part of the animal world just as it is part of ours. Death hurts.

Another pain that some people I have guided and advised have experienced is the pain of losing a loved one through unwanted separation. I have set with those whose loved one’s left them, without warning, for another person. These people are devastated. They blame themselves. They cry out why God why?

Then there are those I have cried with those whose loved ones were separated from them by incarceration and others by duty. When all you can hope for is a visit through an occasional phone call or through a thick glass pain, it hurts.

Sometimes that pain can come and do its damage even though the separation is only temporary. I cried like baby all the way from Brownwood to Bedford when I left my first daughter for the first time at the college she would be attending. I knew she would be okay, but I was not. It hurt.

We like to be with the people we love, with the animals we love, and when we are separated, pain can be present. But what about the God we say we love? Do we feel sorrow when God seems distant? Do we weep when we feel find we have moved away from God, for God never moves away from us? Is there sorrow when the relationship is not right?
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If we never have these feelings, what does that say about our declaring that we love God? This is food for reflection.

Coincidences or Grace

I asked my wife Juanell if she would like to preach for me in two weeks while I take some personal time off for reflection and restoration. She said she would. Since I follow the lectionary, she asked me what was the sermon text for that week. I got out my favorite lectionary guide and gave her the text. She smile and said, “This is the text I used for the lesson I gave at the state school this week. Was this a coincidence or an act of grace?

A few weeks ago, while finishing up at the Food Bank at the other church I serve (I serve a two church charge), I was putting up the last box of food we had put together for our clients (I prefer to call them community members) and then began to lock up the church. As I was locking up, I remembered that I had left a list of things I need to pick up at the store on my way home.  I had left the list in the kitchen area. As I picked up the list, I noticed their was a message on the church land line. I listen to the message. I was one of the people who normally came to the food bank. The voice had a desperate tone. They would not be able to make it to the food bank that day and wondered if it was possible for someone to bring it to their house. So I went back, got the one box (large box) of food and loaded it into my car and delivered the food to their house. Was my forgetting my list and finding that message a coincidence or was it grace.

These are just two of the countless experiences I have had in my life. I no longer believe in coincidences, but I do believe in the interaction of the grace of God in this world that take place continually with or without our being aware.

I am slowly (because of my hard headedness) learning that perhaps the greatest threat to anyone’s spiritual growth is that of despondency. Despondency is sometimes called acedia in the writings of the spiritual teachers of the past. It is a spiritual sickness that can distract us from the ever present reality of God’s activity in our lives. Despondency would like us to embrace coincidences rather than grasping the continually grace God seeks to give us in all situations and circumstances of life.

I am convinced God really does want a continual ongoing conversations with us. I am convinced that God speaks throughout our days in the language of events, encounters, thoughts, and moments. I also believe this language is very easy to understand if we will but just actively willing to let God be the teacher. This language is the language of grace.

This is my prayer, “God, please let me learn to hear your voice in everything I encounter this day and know that there are not coincidences, only your loving grace reaching out to us to help us understand what true reality is.”

 

Treasure in Jars of Clay

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In 2 Corinthians, we are told we have a treasure in “jars of clay.”

What is this treasure?

I believe it is a transformation of value. I believe it is a savings account for God. It has nothing to do with our salvation, but it can have an influence upon the salvation of others.

It believe this treasure is what remains when our lives go through the test of God’s fire. I believe this treasure is a reward of relationship and revelation that we will ultimately discover the true value only when we move beyond time into the Kingdom of God that is already replacing this reality.

I ask people today if they can remember people they when to school with who dropped out. Then, at that time, they thought this was in their best interest. As I have grown older, much older, I have never found a person who made this decision who know thinks they made the right choice.

Each day we make decisions that will have an impact on our lives now and in the future. The question we should always be asking ourselves is, “What decisions am I making for Jesus?” These decisions and the resulting actions will someday prove what kind of treasure God has been able to store in us.

Will we regret the decisions we have made. Will we find ourselves the spiritual drop outs of all eternity?

Seeking spiritual direction and involving ourselves in a more intentional spiritual life can help us discern what is likely treasure and what will be burned up as trash.

The Danger/Opportunity of Politics

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For those who seek the narrow road, discernment becomes a very valuable tool. Discernment gives us the ability to feel confident about the will of God. This is true of all aspect of our lives. It is especially true when it comes to our responsibility to vote.

However, unless a person has the spiritual gift of discernment, to be able to use discernment as a spiritual tool for life in an effective manner takes time, discipline, and likely the aid of a spiritual director. I pray more people will be willing to invest themselves in the development of this valuable spiritual tool. I am hoping you, the reader, are one of those people.

In our world today, all of us who have the freedom granted to us by our governing authority face the challenge of being influenced by our social history, our perceived place, our self-interests, and sources developed by secular influences rather than prayerful discernment in deciding if, or how, we will vote.

In developing a discerning process for our involvement in our governing authority, I believe there are some things we need to understand. These things come directly from the Scripture, which, for me, is the authority for life we should value deeply, not as a fourth member of the Godhead, but as a gift of guidance and direction given us by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Note the following verse: Romans 13:1 Every person should place themselves under the authority of the government. There isn’t any authority unless it comes from God, and the authorities that are there have been put in place by God. (Rom. 13:1 CEB)

The words translated authority of the government carries the meaning of a legitimate authority. The legitimate authority of the United States is our constitution.   The constitution provides the legitimacy for every aspect of our government. Every person who serves the United States in an office of government takes an oath that contains the words,  “and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,”

According to the Scripture, the authority of government is considered a good thing in the plan and purpose of God. Romans 13:4 tells us the authority of government is for our good

Now to a point that confuses some people.  Government is not the same as politics. Politics by definition is, the process of making decisions that apply to members of a group. It literally comes from the word polis, the affairs of the cities. Some have defined politics as the art of compromise.

If you would, look closely at this next passage from Scripture, “Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. The devil said, “I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want.  Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.”  Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”  (Lk. 4:5-8 CEB)

In this account, Satan is striving to get Jesus to compromise. Jesus discerns Satan’s intent and responds with a higher authority. This is not to say compromise is bad. Everyone compromises everyday. We compromise in decisions of behavior, relationships, desires, and purposes. Compromise that does not come with discernment, however, always bears the risk of deception.

The third thing that is very important for us to understand is that, even if we disagree with how others perceive how the legitimate authority of government is used, we must never, ever, let it come between us and the love God wants us to have for others.

Spiritual maturity should always produce humility. When we let political differences bring out the emotions and behaviors of our selfish, limited, finite nature, we are not being discerning of God’s will. To allow this puts us square in the middle of a conflict we cannot win. There are no winners and losers in secular political struggles, only victims. If  we believe we are the winners in a political conflict, we have lost more than we may realize.

Please look at the following verse, “Although we live in the world, we don’t fight our battles with human methods.” (2 Cor. 10:3 CEB)

Now, read it again an see which words grab your attention. Ask yourself, “Why do these words grab your attention more than others?” Read through the passage again. Do you see yourself in line with this passage? Do you see yourself in line with the world?

Maybe, just maybe, a process of discernment has started.

One more thing. Politics gives us more than just an opportunity to be more discerning, it also gives us good seed for our prayers.

Pray for kings and everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity. This is right and it pleases God our savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:2-4 CEB)

Blessings………..

Spirituality, Stress, and Sorrow

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The above picture is from one of the churches I am currently serving. This stained glass portrait of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane takes us nearly the whole north wall of the worship center. It is old, well-made, and very inspirational. This picture is a visual story of spirituality, suffering and sorrow.

In an age of health and wealth gospels and moral therapeutic deism, there is not much attention paid to a faith that can willingly embrace an intimacy with God (my definition of spirituality) while one is experiencing suffering and sorrow. However, suffering and sorrow are two distinct realities every human being will face.

Today, I attended the morning prayer service at a local Anglican church. It was a small group that gathered. As each person entered, they briefly knelt before the alter and then took their seats. It was difficult for one of the people to carry out this act. Obviously it was painful, but I could tell it was very important to them. Even in their pain, their desire was to show reverence to the Lord who died for them.

I am learning more about pain and suffering  and spirituality personally this year that I ever have before. I do not like it when people ask me how I am. I don’t want to lie and it is hard for me to think they really want my truthful answer. I have had hard times before. I have suffered from grief before, but never with the soul crushing anguish that can creep up on me at any time. I have always been quite physically able to do whatever was needed. Now, I am thankful if I can get out of bed without feeling like I will collapse.

I have also learned a lot about God during these times of sever stress and physical pain. God knows these experiences much more than I and God does care. God knows exactly how I feel and when things seem their bleakest, God provides consolation. Sometimes the consolation is just the ability to pray. Other times it is an act of love and/or affection from my soulmate or a contact that affirms my life has had value to others. Then there are other times when God’s very presence fills me with awe and a closeness beyond the ability to express in words.

God does keep divine promises, “Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand.” (Isa. 41:10 CEB)

To this I say, “Abba, Father,” Amen.