Sunday, June 30, 2013


8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Rest is vital for us all.  No matter how much we try to push our bodies, minds, or souls, eventually they wear down and cry out of us to cease, STOP.  We pop down in the chair after mowing the lawn or we collapse into bed at night.  And after minutes or hours, we will ourselves to get up and start over again.

Sabbath is different the rest.  Sabbath is a pattern God established.  And it is a pattern that was established before the giving of the Commandments on Mount Sinai.  It actually began right after the People of God crossed over the Red Sea, in those first few moments when they could taste freedom in the air.  The first thing the People of God did as they started off on wandering in the wilderness... was complain about bread!  And so, God sends "manna" (a Hebrew word that means, what in the word is this??)  And along with this bread-oatmeal like sweet substance that has all the nutritional value of Frosted Flake!  God also sent a intentional directions: 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 

In those first few days of wandering, God already wanted people to understand that Sabbath, intentional resting for the sake of resting is vital.  It is vital to stop and realize what is around us.  To cease from the frenzied pace that causes life to be a blur.  To just be and realize that the world will go on without us.  For the People of God in the wilderness in the book of Exodus, Sabbath was also a complete reversal from life in Egypt.  In Egypt, Pharaoh made the people work and work; making brick after brick; toiling day after day; and it was never enough.  Pharaoh's brick making policy was never stop, never quit, and never rest.

God's life policy is stop, quit, rest, because God is God and you are not.  So many people today wake up every morning already feeling behind in what they want to accomplish.  We rush around.  Sabbath says, enough!  Trust that we have enough food for this day.  Trust that we have enough money for this day.  Trust that you are enough for this day.  Perhaps that last sentence is the most vital part of Sabbath practice.  YOU are enough for this day, without the reports you produce or the items you check off your to-do list.  You are ENOUGH for this day because you are made in the image of God.  You are enough for THIS DAY, because this day is holy, wholly set apart to be different.  Because only when we observe, practice a different way once a week, will the rest of the week gain some perspective and balance.  

Suddenly we see that it is not just about a day, it is about every day.  Soon we realize that we have enough when we sit down for dinner on Wednesday.  Soon we realize that we have enough when browsing through Best Buy.  Soon we realize we have enough when we laugh with friends or share a cup of coffee with someone who is hurting.  That is the practice of Sabbath.  And you don't need to read countless books or get an advanced degree ~ you just need to live this way...starting today.

May you sense traces of God's grace as all of us realize we have/are enough.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

10 Commandments ~ God

The first three commandments have to do with humans having a faithful relationship with God.  From Exodus 20:

2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.  4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.  7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

Basically, the first three are: 1). No other gods before me; 2). No idols; 3). Words when talking about God matter.  As I posted previously, I realize because these are spoken in the negative, they awaken a lot of guilt within us.  A couple of thoughts on this.  

The first commandment essentially says that God recognizes that there are other gods in this world.  And God's concern is when we let these other gods take the place of what Paul Tillich called, "our ultimate concern".  For Tillich there was no atheist, because everyone has something s/he worships and puts at the very center of his/her life.  For some it is work and money; for others it is a relationship; for still others it is the desire to be famous ~ hence why People and US Magazines sell so well even as print media is crumbling.  God recognizes our desire to have something tangible to hold onto and that we can end up making this 'god' in our life.  And essentially, God says, "Be careful."

Think of it this way, I am watching my daughter play basketball out in our driveway.  The ball gets away from her, rolls into the street, she looks both ways, no cars, starts to cross, when I see a car coming, what would you do:
1).  Lean out the window and gently say, "Dearest daughter, I doth beseech thee to watchth for that car"
2).  Lean out the window and shout out the top of your lungs: "Watch OUT!!"

Remember, God has been wandering with these people in the wilderness for several chapters in Exodus before we get to Mount Sinai where the 10 Commandments are given.  God knows them...their whining for manna/bread, their desires to go back to know...where they were servants, their whining for water.  Perhaps God even has a divine hunch that these people might be tempted to make a golden calf if given a chance (see Exodus 32).

So, God says, "Be careful", because our relationship with God matters.  How we picture God matters, we what to be careful what we put at the center of our lives, how we imagine God, and how we talk about God.  Be careful.  That is not to suggest we don't enter into conversations about God.  But it also means that we don't get offended the second someone suggest God is not a white male with a flowing beard and robe to match.  We listen.  We know God as Abba (daddy) and as the Mother Hen who gathers her brood.  And we know that neither of those images fully capture God or exhaust the expansiveness of God.  

When Moses asked for God's name in Exodus 3, some kind of identifying mark that Moses could tell the people in Egypt when they questions whether Moses was really legit, God says, "I AM".  I am sure that really cleared it up for Moses.  God will not be confined or defined.  God told Moses that.  Yet, we want God to be of the reasons why we built huge churches.  We want God to be of the reasons why we argue so much about what words are kosher to describe God.  We want God to be within our control.  And the first three commandments caution us in those efforts.

We can still think about God: God who is known and God who is beyond our comprehension.  We can still admire art depicted God (such as the Sistine Chapel picture above), but not as the only way.  We can still speak about God, always with humility and knowing that we don't know as much as we think we do.

These first three commandments remind me that my relationship with God matters and offer me some thoughts about how I might enter into that relationship.  Remember also that this is not the only time God tries to speak about our relationship with God.  In Jeremiah God will say the new covenant will be written on people's hearts.  And in the the New Testament, God comes to us in the form and flesh of Jesus Christ, a whole new way to imagine our relationship with God.  May you sense the traces of God's grace as you engage in your relationship with God each and every day this week.

Blessings ~

Sunday, June 9, 2013

10 Commandments Revisited

When was the last time you reviewed the 10 Commandments? a matter of fact, Wes, I was just thinking to myself the other day about this.  Or, I just happen to always carry a copy of this in my wallet right next to the US Constitution.  Or maybe not so much.  You may have learned the 10 Commandments when you were a kid...or even memorized the every word.  But at some point we forget about this until around Easter when one of a t.v. station re-plays the movie which bears the same name.  

Where do we start with the 10 Commandments?

Some initial thoughts:

The 10 Commandments are found in Exodus chapter 20.  This is after the Israelite people have liberated from the land of Egypt.  This is after they have crossed the Red Sea.  This is after wandering in the wilderness for some time.  It was not as though the people of God entered the wilderness and immediately God gave them the rules.  Rather it took some time...And it took a lot of grumbling on the part of the people that they were hungry, thirsty, and wanted to go back to Egypt (you know where they were basically slaves.  It is amazing how much as people we can idealize the past.)

At some point they come to Mount Sinai also known as Mount Horeb.  And the people engage in a ritual cleansing where they wash themselves and their clothes (an early sort of baptism) before they even approach the mountain.  And then comes these words:

Exodus 20
And God spoke all these words:  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before[a] me.  “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,  but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.   “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.   “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.  “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.  “You shall not murder.  “You shall not commit adultery.  “You shall not steal.  “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.   “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

Part of the struggle people have with the 10 Commandments is they are written in the negative, they only tell us what not to do, what is off-limits or out of bounds.  When that is coupled with pastor's sermons who amplify the negative, continue to add onto the above 19 verses with more negativity, it leaves a legacy of guilt.  

On the other hand, because they only speak in negative terms, there is a lot of positive ways we can act.  Re-read the above passage and see that it really gives humans a lot of free will to make decisions.  The metaphor of a baseball field might help.  The Commandments are the outfield wall, go beyond that and our relationship with God and each other gets into difficult territory.  But there is lots of ways we can live that are on solid ground and in God's realm.  

Over the next several posts I will talk briefly about the Commandments.  I want to be clear that I do this with some trepidation and trembling.  Trying to describe or define God's covenant too much and soon the one commenting is in difficult territory.  Yet, our children are learning about these in Summer Sunday school and I hope/pray this can be a helpful resource for families.  I want to be clear that while these are written in the negative, part of what God is getting at is what is helpful for whole life.  Sometimes as a parent I find it difficult to always be calm, cool and collected.  Sometimes my patience wears thins.  Remember the People of God have traveled well into the wilderness and during that time they grumbled a lot.  Think of the last car trip with kids you took, that kind of grumbling. The "Are we there yet?!" kind of grumbling.  Maybe God was responding in a less than positive way because of that.  I know people don't like to think we have that much influence on God, and maybe we don't.  But in some ways every time we pray a prayer of confession...which often deals directly with the way we are not living out the commandments/covenant of life...we are saying sorry because we believe our actions and words matter in our relationship with God.

One final comment.  After this post I will refer to this the covenant of the People of God with God rather than "Commandments."  Language matters.  And honestly, the word "commandments" can build a wall of resistance.  If you felt some initial surge of resistance to this post, I pray you will stick with me.  I pray that in the following posts you find new ways to appreciate and even live this wisdom God offered people years ago.  I think this covenant can offers us more than just a trace of God's grace and even God's presence.


Saturday, June 1, 2013

Prayer postures

Recently, our church began a sermon series on the Lord's Prayer.  Since I have already posted with some thoughts on this central prayer, I will only add that this Prayer encapsulates a living faith that Jesus embodied in his life.  He sought a life-giving relationship with God.  He tried to live in this world, not according to human rules or laws or rulers, but according to God's wisdom and love (what he called the Kingdom of God).  He sought to break bread and share with others.  He sought to forgive others.  He sought to see each person as a beloved child of God.  Every Sunday we say these familiar words which have left a well-worn rut in our minds, like the tires of a truck leave in the mud.  Yet, how often do we let these words linger and even challenge the way we live our life?  

Part of what the Lord's Prayer reminds me of is that there are two dimensions to prayer.  There is a vertical dimension and a horizontal dimension.  The vertical is what connects humans to God; the horizontal connects humans one to another.  We address this prayer to God.  Jesus used the word Abba, which really does not mean 'Father' as much as it means Daddy...and lets also remember that later in Matthew Jesus says God is like a Mother hen gathering her brood under her wing.  The prayer connects us to God.  But the prayer is not about us as individuals, it is about us together.  The prayer uses the plural pronouns: our, us, and we.  When you try to say the Lord's Prayer alone it does not always sound quite right.  We need others voices to add depth and diversity to what we are saying. We need others to help embody the communal or horizontal dimension of the prayer.

Moreover, I think the Lord's Prayer reminds us that when we connect with God it is not only about listing our petitions, or our needs/wants/desires to God; the Lord's Prayer invites us to patiently listen.  We pray for God's Kingdom (or realm or presence) to come.  We need to listen for the nudges of God in our life.  If we think that prayer is only us talking and we never let God get a word in edgewise, or simply sit in silence, we might miss an important part of the vertical dimension of prayer.

Likewise, the along the horizontal dimension of prayer there is both acceptance of what is and an invitation to agency on our prayer.  Prayer does things to us.  It calls us out of complacency and yet also reminds us that God's realm coming in our midst does not rest only on our shoulders.  As a kid growing up I remember Smoky the Bear saying in a deep, gruff voice, "Only YOU can prevent forest fires."  Sometimes we think that we are the only agents of change in this world.  But some changes come in spite of us!  Some changes happen beyond our control.  Yet, we don't just sit around either.  Faith invites our human response to God and to those we brush up against.  

I invite you to spend some time this week with the Lord's Prayer.  What words or images capture you?  Which words or images leaving you questioning?  Do you sense the horizontal and vertical dimensions?  Think about the prayer in your voice and how others add a depth to the words.

And may the traces of God's grace move as you pray these words Jesus taught us!

Blessings and peace

The Bible Part Two

For the last month our church has been discussing David Lose's Making Sense of Scripture.  We discussed questions concerning how the Bible is true, how to read the Bible for deeper understanding, and how the Bible was put together.  The conversation was a blessing and allowed people to be honest about their doubts, questions, and insights.  

I am thankful for books like this that invite us to open the pages of Scripture rather than thinking the Bible is only for people with seminary degrees on the wall.  In fact, the whole reformed faith is built upon people reading Scripture together.  Martin Luther translated the Bible so people in his congregation could read the Word.  

Yet, it is difficult to wrap our minds around some stories and we can get discouraged when stories seem so distant from our lives; which is why it is good to read in a community.  Verses you struggle with, someone else might have a keen insight into.  Trying to read the Bible as a solo endeavor can be frustrating, but when we read with each other it opens us to other ways of reading.  One of the definitions of "religion" is to re-read.  Every Sunday we gather to re-read the Words that have spoken to our ancestors.  We re-read Scripture and Scripture has a chance to re-read our lives and enter in with a fresh Word. 

As a brief, over simplified, summary of our conversation, we learned that the Bible is true not in a way that we can prove.  Rather to claim the Bible is true is more like the way I say I love my family is true.  I cannot prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt.  In fact, it is really only since the Enlightenment that some have even tried to prove the Bible true using a scientific approach.  Before that, for thousands of years in the hearts of millions, Scripture was true in a completely different way.  We spoke about reading Scripture not in a linear fashion, but as a way of quenching our human thirst.  We read not looking "just for the facts, ma'am".  But we read to see which of the tiny words on the thin pages awaken different emotions and insights and questions.  Finally, we learned that the Bible did not just descend on a cloud from the heavens, but was actually thoughtfully put together by humans who included some books and did not include others.  They included books that were being widely read by faithful communities.  There can be great insights into the faith from other books not included, but there was really no conspiracy...despite what Dan Brown may think.

I pray you will find your Bible and find time to engage others in reading.  Other friends, other family members, others in your church.  There is so much in the good book that can awaken a connection to God if only we are willing to dwell with these words.

God's blessings and peace 

God's Calling - We don't have it all figured out

  A few weeks ago, I offered the analogy of the Slinky as a serendipitous example of the ways calling can go off course and still end up in ...