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.

The Power of the Eucharist, the Need for Communion

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Each Sunday is a source of excitement for me. It matters not if I am facing the possibility of conflict or the expectation of a joyful celebrate, the excitement is there. For almost ever Sunday for the past thirty-nine years God has spoken through me and to me in the art form and profound foolishness of the sermon.

But there is another reason I get excited on Sundays these days. Recently, every Sunday has been a time I have engaged in the mystery and power of the means of grace we call communion, or the Eucharist.

I have discovered that neither depression, physical or emotional pain, feelings of betrayal or an encounter with evil can lessen or diminish by even a hair, the power which comes when the Holy Spirit, through a mystery beyond my ability to understand, makes the bread and wine the body of blood of Jesus. It touches me deeply and gives my spirit strength.

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” I do remember, but I also experience in this moment the promise of a time to come. I experience the joy at that moment of being at the table with Jesus as Jesus joins with me and others in a unity we can only dream of in this world that still groans under condemnation.

Yesterday, I went to a meeting carrying the weight of a situation outside of my control. If given the choice I likely would not have gone to the meeting. In fact, with the burden I am carrying, the only thing I had to look forward to at this meeting was the expectation of communion, of the experience of grace that comes when we are called to the table.

Yet, for some reason, even though our religious orientation is a sacramental one, communion was not served.

I left that meeting troubled. I drove home in silence.

Perhaps this neglect was just an oversight of an overworked leadership. This is what I will chose to believe. However, this experience of absence reminded me of just how powerful the Eucharist is and how dependent I am on it for spiritual strength.

The Lament of Love

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The part of the marriage vow we say but hope does not happen is the phrase, “for better or for worse.” In the last few months my soul mate (Juanell) and I have seen some of the worst. Our illness have not been terminal, but very painful, weakening and seemingly chronic. Our emotional ups and downs (our grandson’s cancer, and other family members health struggles) have been at the least draining and at worst, the pit of depression. And then comes the spiritual stuggles, the likes of which we have never before had to face.

However, though the grace of God we have perserved. No, not just perserved but have received gift after gift of God’s grace and consolatons. You see, we share in the lament of our love. When things get dark, one of us looks for the candle of perseverance while the other looks for the matches of hope. We find light. Light in our devotions, our service, and in most of all, in our prayers. We do not let despondancy last very long.

Today, Juanell read these verses from her devotional, “We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out. We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies.”(2 Cor. 4:8-10 CEB)

She look at me, smiled, and I gave a semi-smile back. I knew what see was thinking and I knew it was time for my pity party to end. When your conscious is clean and your prayers of forgiveness and reliance are molded into a cup which God fills with grace, the lament of love becomes the tie that binds.

The Relationship that Heals

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I receive a daily email from, Thoughtful Mind <quotes@thoughtful-mind.com>. The quote for today (Inspiring Quote for May 17th, 2018) is this:

“If you don’t think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again. All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation and a weakened immune system. Learn how to cope, sweet friend. There will always be dark days.”    ― Kris Carr

I can fully agree with this quote. And yes, there will always be dark days. Our Lord even gave us this warning, “But the gate that leads to life is narrow and the road difficult, so few people find it.” (Matt. 7:14 CEB)

Yet, I believe with all my heart, even the difficult times that stress us, weaken us, and tear us down, can become an opportunity to deepen our faith.

I have learned through experience after experience this world is not fair. I have learned that those who say they are your friends and supports can turn out to be just the opposite. I have also learned that though you try to open and transparent, there always be those who question your motives or will try to drag you down due to motives of their own.

In this midst of these challenges (even as I write this blog I get hit with another pain causing incident) our only way of coping, not escaping, burying in the back of our minds, or creating an illusion of wellness, is to recognize our own powerlessness and grab hold to the pole of patience that is anchored in our faith in our Lord.

I proclaim this often and believe it completely, Jesus said, “I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.” (Matt. 28:20 CEB)

Even when our minds and bodies cannot live by this amazing truth, our hearts can.

Holding to Consolation in the Deepest of Desolation

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Yesterday I wrote about one of the most wonderful consolations I have ever been given by God. But today, I have been thrown into the deepest desolation.

The role of pastor in this day and age (unless one is a master  of marketing a consumer-driven social structure) is difficult at best and a slow, agonizing, endeavor at its worst. God is always there, but within the mystery of divine love, free-will, and a creation under a curse, the question, “Why, Lord, why?”, becomes a mantra of everyday life.

I know my current sufferings and desolations are nothing compared to what my  Lord experienced, but still, it hurts and hurts deeply. We pray for humility but when that humility comes as we experience ripping and tearing of our integrity, despondency rises in power.

I believe Jesus knew the cross was going to be hard and hurtful, but until it was happening, I doubt he had a pre-consciousness of just how the pain would come and how soul searing it would be.

None of us know when desolation will strike, but we do know it will come. When it comes, there is little we can do to prepare for just how bad it will hurt. Still, like our Lord, we can know it will pass and it will end (though sometimes we wonder if this is true).

So today, I hold to the gift I received yesterday as a child would hold a security blanket or a lover would hold their beloved.

I am aware the issues I now face will likely pursue and disturb me as I seek to serve in a denomination of good accountability but blemished with a few who are willing to use any weakness or perceived error by someone to advance their own status or agenda. Yet, the consolation I was given yesterday reminds me the One I love and serve will open doors no human or diabolical power can close.

For this I am most thankful. Because of Jesus, we always can have hope. Because of Jesus I have hope.