Some thoughts on approaching Pentecost…

Being a Christian is not mainly about believing certain truths.  Being a Christian is about belonging to God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Being a Christian is about living daily in fellowship with Christ and in partnership in expanding God’s reign in the world through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Here’s some food for thought on this subject from Andrew Murray.  How different the world would be if all Christians acted like this!

We find the Christian life so difficult because we seek for God’s blessing while we still live in our own will.  We desire to live the Christian life according to our own liking.  We make our own plans and then we ask the Lord Jesus to come in and take care that sin shall not conquer us too much, and that we shall not go too far wrong. …  But our relationship with Jesus ought to be such that we are entirely at his disposal, and every day come to him humbly and straightforwardly and say: “Lord, is there anything in me that is not according to thy will, that has not been ordered by thee, or that is not given up to thee?” 

from Absolute Surrender,   1897

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These words appear in God’s Word dozens of times.  Over and over from the mouths of prophets, angels, apostles, and our Lord himself, comes the invitation to cast off fear, anxiety, and worry in all their pernicious forms.  Acting out of anxieties we often do things that create more problems instead of less.  Worry can make us sick, steal our joy, drive us to self-medicate in all kinds of ways, and turn us into people nobody wants to be around.  “Fear not,” says God to the beloved ones (that’s us). This is not a suggestion; it is both a divine commandment and a gracious invitation. We cannot by force of will keep fear and worry from coming into our minds. We do have a choice, however, in how we handle them when they come.  We can continue to let anxiety rule our lives or we can turn to Jesus.

I vote for turning to Jesus.  Instead of flailing around trying to be in control of things we have little control over, why not  give our torments over and over again in prayer to the One who can really do what needs to be done?  Intentionally and habitually claiming God’s promises in scripture for our problems is more productive than lying awake fretting. Will the worries come back? Probably.  Will the discomfort go away immediately? No.  But all spiritual victories begin from the kneeling position.
Try this approach if how you are dealing with anxiety is not working for you.  Let handing off worries to God become second nature even if you have to give them back a thousand times a day.  The spiritual discipline of putting things where they need to go instead of trying to control the uncontrollable is powerful.  Let me know how it works for you.

What does it really mean to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus?  Most every Sunday our congregation proclaims in the Apostles’ Creed that “on the third day Jesus rose again from the dead.” But  if you pushed most Christians to the wall and asked them what difference this really makes in their lives, they would be hard pressed to answer.

I don’t believe it is all about us going to heaven when we die.  I do believe in life after this earthly life, but a bodily resurrection is not necessary for that.   He could have just ascended directly into heaven, sat down at the right hand of the Father, and let that be that.  What difference does it really to us make that he came back in a body after he died?

As I ponder all this, what comes to me is that Jesus came back in a body to claim our bodies, our lives, (and all creation for that matter) in the here-and-now for God.  When I read the stories about the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, what I see is a Jesus who takes possession of people, pours out his Spirit into them, and enters into a partnership with them to reclaim the world for God.  Unless we get this, I think we miss the big message of Easter.

Every Christian is meant to be possessed.  One of the reasons Christianity in our culture has become so anemic is that we think we can be Christian and do church just fine without being God-possessed, without having God at the center of our lives.  This keeps us on the good side of respectable without making us  move out of our comfort zones.  Otherwise we might start acting like those first Christians who were absolute fanatics.

Well, hear the good news of the resurrection (or the bad news depending on how you look at it): Jesus is alive and prowling around in the world right now.  He is after everything you are and have.  He is not interested  in the little bits and pieces of yourself you might be willing to give when it’s convenient.  He wants to take possession, fill you with his own Spirit, and give you a new life in partnership with God.  Easter is  a celebration of God’s committment to this world and our committment to God’s mission.  Otherwise, we may as well just let the Easter bunny have it.

Dear Jesus, it is Holy Week and I am thankful you died on the cross for me.  But I have to say that I really do not want to go there myself.  In fact I have arranged my life carefully to lengthen the odds against coming near any crosses.   There are locked doors and security codes between me and the rabble.  I avoid Judas’ lips by keeping anyone like Judas out of my life.  I spend most of my time doing things that earn me the good opinion of others and a nice salary.  When all else fails, I make excuses and run away.  I am happy to let you do the heavy lifting while I follow at a distance, feeling sad for you and glad it is not me.

I realize that my allergy to crosses is a natural human response to pain.  You accepted it, not because you loved pain, but because you love us.  You love us like a mother tiger loves her young. And in return I fit you into my busy schedule when it is convenient for me.  I spend most of what you give me on myself.  I rarely shed a drop of psychic, let alone physical, blood for you.  I can talk the talk quite well for public consumption, but you know that the via dolorosa seldom sees my feet.

Lord, I feel you tugging on my life. But I cannot make myself love you more.  What I can do is pray. So I pray this:  light your flame in me, and by the Spirit’s power, do not let me smother it under a tepid blanket of moderation.

 

The following from Anne Lamotte- so honest, so true- made me laugh and feel the joy of living by grace:

I am reluctant to say I heard directly from God the other day, because somehow Bill Maher or one of the other fundamentalists might get word of it, and condemn me as being as stupid and dangerous as Mother Theresa or the Parisian terrorists.  But I did hear from God. So sue me.

I rarely do–almost never in fact, directly, which is one of my real problems with the Divine It. … But I did hear the other day, in the least likely of places–my church.  I had been nuts since the first of the year, …  There were reasons–the anxieties of December, a month which, if I were God’s West Coast Rep, I would cancel; the stress of the small victories book tour, 14 nights, 14 airports,42 fattening meals, all the losses in my family’s life this fall; a new relationship that fell apart. You know the drill. It’s called Real Life. It’s hard here. It just is.

And my solution had been my conviction that I needed a neck lift.

A lot of us grew up in the sun, in an era when the only skin advice was that the best tanning aids were tin foil reflectors, and baby oil.  Also, then I got a little tiny bit old.  But part of my work involves being on stage, under bright lights, which are not ideal to showing off one’s neck.  Listen, I have a good little neck, long and thin, which has successfully kept my head attached to my torso for 60 years now. It’s a huge head, like a bowling ball, filled with sandstorms of activity, 96% of it meaningless, scary, or outright destructive.  I really do appreciate it. It’s the little neck that could.

But I got fixated on it, like a helicopter mom, and had begun researching “mini neck lifts.” One reads about them everywhere–less invasive, less recovery time, local anaesthesia. Magic! Yay.  Yet I am a feminist, a passionate supporter of women’s rights, a follower of Jesus, especially His pleas that we take care of His poor.  So I thought I couldn’t actually do it. But I was ashamed after the first of the year that I thought of it so constantly and of my conviction that I wanted to do it, and ashamed of my shame about it.  Obviously, I needed to fix this situation, which–left to my own devices–is my battle cry.

But I’m NOT left to my own devices. I believe in two things, God and my friends. They are both Love, and they stay close to me no matter how awful I am being.  Both have very low standards, which is all I have going for myself.  So I tried to heal myself of my obsessed and ashamed mind with my obsessive and ashamed mind. You know how well that works. Then I found myself in church. It was a nightmare, as my large heavy head had insisted on accompanying me.

But they say that when all else fails to follow instructions, so, it being church and all, I did what they say. It was silent confession. My usual confession is, “Look–I think we both know what we have on our hands here.” But last Sunday, I said in silence that I was hating on myself for wanting a mini neck lift, and for being totally obsessed, in the face of my community’s and world’s profound suffering.  And in the silence, I heard a voice say, gently, “It’s okay.”  It was shocking. I opened my eyes to the sound, but all 25 congregants had their eyes closed. I gaped. It’s okay? Wait–what?

And that was it–that it is okay to want a necklift, and it is okay to be screwed up and human and sad and cuckoo.  I started laughing to myself. This literally had not occured to me.  Grace as spiritual WD-40, as bouyancy, as vitamins, 2nd winds. I got into serious affection with myself. I said to myself, “It’s okay. Get a neck lift, don’t get a neck lift. I’m right here, either way.”

I have been in a dangerously happy mood ever since. My friend Lori pointed out that you were chastised as a child for being too full of yourself. But I was full of myself, of amused love for my former trogydyte self. It was so Rumi, so Wavy Gravy. It was heaven.  The obsession and self-contempt were lifted. Well–ish. Mostly.  A few days later, I saw my county’s best plastic surgeon.

He said “Oh, yeah–the famous mini-neck lift. Fabulous! But then you’ll require the mini facelift, because the mini neck lift creates new creases in your face. So you will need general anaesthesia, and two weeks off. Also, these procedures will make the wrinkles and crowsfeet around your eyes look 50% deeper, so we’d need to fix that, too, while we’re at it. And then your eyes would not be nearly as expressive. So maybe we’ll do it somewhere down the road?”

I shook my head and laughed with something like joy. I said what my grandson says when he agrees to do what I say. I said, “Deal!” The surgeon replied, “Deal,” and we shook hands on it. I hate to say anything that might trigger Bill Maher or Richard Dawkins, but I felt like God had reached down again and touched me. God sometimes looks like someone finally, finally telling the truth.

Steve Hayner died last Saturday.  I was privileged to work with him when he was President of Columbia Theological Seminary.  Steve and his wife Sharol had a ministry together that was wide and deep, not the least of which was the Caringbridge blog they wrote while he lived with cancer for these last nine months or so.  Steve signed all his correspondence “joyfully” – easy to say but often not so easy to experience in real life.  Steve and Sharol have showed us that living joyfully is possible when God is at the center of our lives- no matter what the circumstances.

In their own words:

From Sharol: ” I imagine that the disciples muttered when Jesus was crucified and buried “Why this waste?”  And yet, without this waste we would never know life as it was meant to be lived, life with eternal significance, death robbed of its sting and hopelessness.  Because of Jesus’ death, we can have life, abundant and eternal life.  In the past months I have muttered, “Why this waste?” and yet I am reminded that in God’s hands nothing is ever wasted.”

From Steve: “I woke up one day this week and realized that I couldn’t locate anything like a genuine ‘faith’ inside me which would provide enough strength to pray or reflect or to meditate.  But then it occurred to me that I didn’t need any.  God’s grace is not about me.  So whatever God has for me is going to come from outside anyway.  There are so many people who ask us how they can help – and that morning I realized they were helping by simply “being faith” for me.  They were welcoming God’s grace when I couldn’t even do that much.”

From Steve: “I wonder what new surprises and fears I will discover in the weeks ahead, or how God will guide these unexpected bits of my complex journey.  I want to come to the end with strength and courage.  But life isn’t always linear.  I realize that maintaining my balance depends on my willingness to face the unexpected with humility and transparency, as well as endurance and fortitude.”

Thanks, Steve and Sharol, for showing us how to live and die faithfully and joyfully.

There are times and seasons in life, and my community is in a season of death and waiting for death. Since Christmas we have lost four long-time members of our congregation (including a daughter and mother within days of each other).  There have been deaths in church members’ families in other places, and we have been laboring in prayer with the Hayners as Steve approaches the end of this life. I have also been walking through the valley of the shadow of Alzheimer’s disease with my own family as my Father continues to decline.

This week when we got word that Steve’s death was imminent on the same day that yet another church member died, one of my colleagues wrote “I feel like this day may crack under the weight of eternity.”

As I lay awake processing all of this, a fragment of an old gospel song floated up out of my Baptist childhood: “where could I go but to the Lord?”  I was amazed on googleing it to find that it is connected with Elvis. There is even a copy of The King’s home movies floating around on the internet accompanied by his singing this song!  I laughed at the thought and that cheered me up a little (thanks Elvis.)

Where could I go, where could I go, seeking a refuge for my soul,

Needing a friend to help me in the end, where could I go but to the Lord?

Beyond reason, beyond my ability to make any emotional sense at all out of the weight of death that is pressing in on us, when every door closes, I am so thankful that there is a place to go.

It is a season of death, and also of comfort and eternal life.  Thanks be to God.

I was having coffee with an associate pastor of a large urban congregation. In the course of our conversation he remarked that “I sometimes feel like we are producing a religious product for sophisticated consumers.”  That made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.  “Producing a product for consumers”- is this what I have been doing with my life for the last 30 years?  Everything in me screamed “no!”  But if not this, then what exactly is the goal of all those programs, sermons, classes, Sunday school lessons, mission trips, meetings, etc., etc., etc.?  To put a finer point on it, what do we really want to see happen to people and through them as a result of being part of a church?

After I lived with this question for a while what emerged for me was the phrase “conformed to the image of Christ.” (Rom. 8:29)  The fruit of a faithful church is people being conformed, even better transformed, into being like Jesus.  And transformed people can transform communities.  And transformed communities can transform the world. Further, this kind of transformation is not something that church leaders can engineer and manage like another program.  When it begins to happen, the Holy Spirit will be managing and transforming us instead.

What we can do is to ask different questions, such as “What does God want us to be doing now?” instead of “what can we do with the money we have in the bank?”  We can reorder our common life to create more spaces where people might experience God.  We can reclaim prayer as the foundational activity of the church, an earth-shaking activity because it unleashes God’s power.  We can repent of being religious consumers and pray to be transformed more and more into a community on a mission with God.  When it happens it’s a miracle!

This is what I want to spend whatever time I have left doing.  I think this is what the crazy times we live in call for.  For me, this is what it’s all for.

A woman once confessed to me that she had turned down the call to serve as an elder in her church because she was afraid of being asked to lead prayer.  Some people are more afraid of this than they are of snakes, tornadoes or the heartbreak of psoriosis.  My guess is that they were cowed into silence by those who can and do effortlessly spout out intricate orations to God on a second’s notice.  That is sad because Jesus himself suggested that God likes short, sincere prayers and may even take off points for windy ones.

So for all the saints who feel faint at the thought of their Sunday School teacher turning to them and saying “Sam, would you close us in prayer'” here is the Joan Gray foolproof five step method for doing it in public.

1. Address God.  Say “God,”  “Dear God,”  “Lord” or whatever feels good to you.  One of my favorites, though it is a little long is “Dear Three-in-one and One-in-three.”

2.  State the obvious.  Where are you and what is going on.  “We are here at this committee meeting trying to do the business of your church.”  “We came to circle tonight needing to be together and hear your Word.”  “We are so sad that our good friend Sue is sick.”  Beginners should not make this section more than one sentence.  You can expand as you get more comfortable.

3.  Say what you want.  “We need your Holy Spirit to guide us.”  “We want our sick friends to get well.”  This can be a couple of sentences but keep it short.  You can always cover yourself with a neat line from the Episcopal prayer book: “God give us all the things we need whether we have remembered to pray for them or not.”

4.  Thank God.  It is important to acknowledge God’s providential care for us, so thank God in advance for whatever God is going to do in response to our prayers.  A simple “Thank you, God” covers this nicely.

5.  Say “We pray this in Jesus’ name.  AMEN.”  And quit.

Try this out and let me know how you get on.

As 2015 begins I feel the blogging juices bubbling up again.  This makes me happy because I love to communicate and through blogging I can communicate with you from home in the comfort of my bathrobe- what could be better?

In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that this Sailing Life blog will have very little to do with actual boats on water.  Instead it will float on the metaphor of the wind as Holy Spirit-God who is always nudging our messy lives/church/world toward good.  Making friends with this Wind seems to me to be the thing that empowers and guides everything else.  At least I find that when I get over myself and let God lead, I seem to end up in more blessed places that I can navigate to by myself.

To get started here’s a nugget from a wild woman of God

We learn through pain that some of the things we thought were castles turn out to be prisons, and we desperately want out, but even though we built them, we can’t find the door.  Yet maybe if you ask God for help in knowing which direction to face, you’ll have a moment of intuition.  Maybe you’ll see at least one next right step to take.

Anne Lamott

Help, Thanks, Wow   (I really like this book)