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Thursday, September 29, 2016

on mission

Opening Prayer: O gracious and loving God, you work everywhere reconciling, loving, and healing your people and your creation. In your Son and through the power of your Holy Spirit, you invite each of us to join you in your work. We, young and old, lay and ordained, ask you to form us more and more in your image and likeness, through our prayer and worship of you and through the study of your scripture, that our eyes will be fully opened to your mission in the world. Then, God, into our communities, our nation, and the world, send us to serve with Christ, taking risks to give life and hope to all people and all of your creation. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen. ~The Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts

Scripture: Matthew 15:21-28

Journal: What is your mission?  Who and what is God calling you to these days?  How will you tell the difference between the things and the people that he has called you to and the things and the people that are a distraction to what he’s called you to?  Is there a “Canaanite woman” that you need to give your attention to this day?

Reflection: We hear a lot these days about our need to be missional.  "The church is only really the church when it is on mission," the experts say.  And they are so right.  But what in the world does that mean?  What is it supposed to look like?  Well, Jesus gives us a wonderful picture—albeit rather odd—right here in Matthew 15.  And if we can get past our initial resistance to the image he's using, and really hear what he is trying to say, I think it has a lot to teach us.
     Jesus and his disciples were traveling through Tyre and Sidon when a Canaanite woman approached them, begging for mercy for her demon-oppressed daughter.  But, we are told, Jesus did not answer her a word.  Interesting.  That’s not a side of Jesus that we are used to seeing.  Why in the world would he hear this desperate cry and say absolutely nothing?  Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Jesus knew his mission.  And knowing your mission has a lot to do with knowing not only what you have been called to do, but knowing who you have been called to do it to.  Jesus did not let needs and demands and agendas and expectations determine his course, but only the voice and will of his Father.  So he stayed true to his mission: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."  And this woman was a definitely not one of Israel's lost sheep, but a Canaanite.
     The Canaanites were one of the peoples that inhabited the Promised Land before the Israelites finally arrived from their forty year pilgrimage in the wilderness.  The Canaanites were notorious enemies of God's chosen people, constantly worshipping and serving their own gods rather than the God of Israel.  So God commanded the Israelites, because of his deep love for them (his chosen people and his treasured possession), to drive all of the Canaanites out of the Promised Land, lest they remain in the land and infect the children of Israel with their defiant mindset and detestable practices.  God wanted the hearts of his people to remain pure and holy, fully belonging to him in every way (Deuteronomy 7:1-6).  So naturally the disciples, like all true Israelites, tell Jesus to send this Canaanite woman away.
     That's where it really gets interesting, because then she comes and kneels before Jesus, begging for his help.  And when she does so, Jesus makes an incredibly interesting statement: "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."  Now if we can get past the fact that it appears like Jesus is calling her a dog, we can see the amazing quality of what he is saying.  I was called to the lost sheep of Israel.  They are the ones I came to proclaim the good news to.  Your day will come.  The Father has a plan for that as well, and I will fully trust his plan.  But for me, right now, my mission is to the lost sheep of Israel.  And if I allow myself to get diverted or distracted from what the Father has sent me to do and to be, it would be like taking the bread right out of the mouths of the very ones I have been called to.  I mean, none of us would ever do that to our own children, right?  But that is what Jesus says we're doing when we know our mission and allow something or someone to distract or divert us from that mission.  When we are not being about what God has called us to be about, we are disobedient.
     One day a good friend of mine was innocently asked by someone in our church if he would consider teaching Sunday School for a group of Middle School students.  And before the request was fully out of his mouth my friend had already replied with a quick and firm no.  "Well, don't you even want to pray about it?" the man asked.  To which my friend replied, "I've been praying about that all of my life.  Let me tell you what God has told me I am to be about."  And he went on to list a number of things that God had clearly communicated to him that he was to be about—his mission, if you will.  Then he went on to say, "If I said yes to your request, I would be disobedient to what God has called me to be about."  In essence, that's what Jesus seems to be saying here, but the story does not end there.
     “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." the woman replies.  And what a beautiful reply it is.  “I'm not asking for the children's bread,” says the woman, “I realize that you were sent for them.  All I'm asking is for a few of the crumbs that might fall off the table.  That will not cost you (or them) anything, as far as your mission and direction is concerned.  She understood mission.  And Jesus fully realized that she understood mission.  In fact, he was moved with compassion.  “Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done to you as you desire.’  And her daughter was healed instantly.”
     So, it seems, not only do we need to be clear and focused on what our mission is, we also need to be open when someone or something outside of those parameters comes along that is in need of our touch or our help.  We must live in that creative tension between being focused and being open.  Which means we must be depend on God to show us the way.  We must constantly be seeking the heart and the voice of God on a regular basis to guide us in all we do.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: What Thou wilt, when Thou wilt, how Thou wilt.  This is the cry of my heart, O God. ~John Newton

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

the need to be needed

Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, forgive me for not having a place for struggle in my life and the lives of those around me.  Forgive me for my tendency to jump right in and try to rescue people, instead of seeking your will and your direction for the situation.  I know that by doing that there are times when I get in the way of what you are actually trying to accomplish.  Forgive me for my need to be needed.  Help me to turn first to you this day, that I might only do what you tell me to do.  Amen.

Scripture: Matthew 14:22-33

Journal: Where do you find yourself in this story?  How does it intersect with your life right now?  What is God saying to you through it?

Reflection: “Timing is everything,” or so the old saying goes anyway.  That particularly seems true in this instance.  Jesus dismisses the crowds and immediately goes up on the mountainside by himself to pray.  We can’t be sure exactly what time this took place, all we know is that it was before the evening came.  For when evening came he was already there alone, and the disciples were already on the sea being battered by the waves.  Yet it wasn’t until the fourth watch of the night that he went out to them—still struggling and fighting to stay afloat—walking on the sea.  Interesting timing to say the least.
     The disciples had probably been struggling for somewhere around twelve hours, and where was Jesus?  He was praying.  I don’t know, maybe Jesus was so enthralled in prayer that he didn’t even notice that the disciples were on the verge of being swept away.  I doubt that was the case.  Or maybe he understood the value of struggle in the process of life and growth and was just waiting for the appropriate time to rescue them.  That seems much more possible.  Or maybe Jesus didn’t do anything until he heard the Father tell him to.  I have a sneaking suspicion that this was the real reason.  After all, how many times in the Scriptures did Jesus say something like, “I only do what the Father tells me to do?”  That’s what makes Jesus so different from me, he didn’t have the need to be needed; he simply did what the Father said.  That’s why he was able to pray and be still before God even as the disciples struggled.  He trusted the Father.
     Maybe that’s why we have such a hard time allowing people to struggle.  We want to charge in and rescue them.  Maybe it is because we care so deeply for them.  Or maybe it is because we so desperately need to be need ourselves.  Henri Nouwen once said, “In order to be of service to others, we have to die to them.” In order to really be of help to people, we cannot act out of our own needs and fears, but only out of love.  We just need to trust God to be the one who comes to their rescue, in his own time, and in his own way.  And if he invites us to be a part of that, so be it.  Because if we try to do it ourselves there is a great likelihood that we might actually hinder, rather than help, what he is doing in their lives.
     So let us start where Jesus started, by kneeling before the Father in prayer and seeking his will and his direction for whatever situation might confront us, or our families, or our friends.  For he alone is truly able to rescue any of us.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, may my feet be set in motion this day only in response to prayer, rather than in response to my own need to be needed.  Amen.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

compassion

Opening Prayer: Lord, open our eyes that we may see you in our brothers and sisters. Lord, open our ears that we may hear the cries of the hungry, the cold, the frightened, the oppressed. Lord, open our hearts that we may love each other as you love us. Renew in us your spirit. Lord, free us and make us one. Amen. ~Mother Teresa

Scripture: Matthew 14:13-21

Journal: How is your compassion level these days?  Where (or to whom) is God asking you to show compassion today?  How will you do that?

Reflection: There seems to be a direct link between compassion and the giving of ourselves in life and ministry.  It seems that one always needs to be the fuel of the other.  Jesus had just heard the news of John the Baptist’s gruesome death and had decided to pull away from the crowds and go into solitude to process it all, but the crowds just couldn’t stay away.  They hurried around the lake and were waiting for him when he and his disciples reached the other side.  I don’t know about you, but if it were me, I would’ve been thinking, “Good grief.  Can’t you guys give me a little time and space?  After all, my cousin has been brutally executed.  Go away and come back another day.”  And who knows, maybe the disciples were feeling the same way.  But not Jesus.  He had compassion.  The word used here literally means that he was moved with love from the very depths of his being.  While the disciples were saying, “Send them away,” Jesus was saying, “They need not go away.  In fact, you give them something to eat.”
     It seems that the giving of ourselves—or our loaves and fish in this instance—must flow out of a heart of compassion.  Somehow we have to be able to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and imagine what battles they must be fighting in their lives.  Because when we do, it does something in our hearts that makes this giving of life—and the multiplication of our meager resources—possible.  Who are the crowds for you today?  Who is God asking you to show compassion to, and how?

Prayer

Closing Prayer: May I live this day compassionate of heart, gentle in word, gracious in awareness, courageous in thought, generous in love. ~John O'Donohue

Monday, September 26, 2016

covetousness

Opening Prayer: O Almighty God, eternal Treasure of all good things, thou fillest all things with plenteousness; Thou clothest the lillies of the field, and feedest the young ravens that call upon thee: Thou art all-sufficient in thy self, and all-sufficient to us, let thy Providence be my store-house, thy dispensation of temporal things the limit of my labour, my own necessity the measures of my desire: but never let my desires of this world be greedy, nor my labour immoderate, nor my care vexatious, and distracting, but prudent, moderate, holy, subordinate to thy Will, the measure thou hast appointed for me. ~Jeremy Taylor

Scripture: Luke 12:13-21

Journal: What does covetousness mean to you?  How does it most often show itself in your life?  In your heart and soul?  How can you be on your guard against all of it?  What are you trying to store in your barns these days?

Reflection: If you look up the word covetousness in the dictionary it will tell you that it means the state of being wrongfully or greedily desirous of something.  The Greek word used here is pleonexia, which means the constant desire for more.  It comes from the root word pleonekt─ôs meaning an eager desire for more, particularly what someone else has.  Which means that covetousness can take many forms, money and possessions simply being its most frequent expression.  But covetousness can mean eagerly desiring (and thus seeking) lots of things: from possessions, to gifts and abilities, to accomplishments and achievements, to power, to importance, to affirmation, to attention, to acclaim, to significance, to success—you name it.  We can build bigger barns to try and hold just about anything.  Then those things become the focal point of our lives, rather than being rich toward God.
     Therefore, when Jesus tells us to be on our guard against all kinds of covetousness, he really means it.  Because covetousness is a tricky thing, it can wear many different disguises.  It can sneak into our lives through many different doors, often without us even recognizing it.  And when it does, it subtly diverts our focus and our attention away from God and onto building bigger barns.  Where are you eagerly desiring more?  And is that a good thing?

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Teach me, O God, to labour for the true riches, to seek the Kingdome of heaven and its righteousness, to be content with what thou providest, to be in this world like a stranger, with affections set upon heaven, labouring for, and longing after the possessions of thy Kingdomes; but never suffer my affectious to dwell below, but give me a heart compassionate to the poor, liberal to the needy, open and free in all my communications, without base ends, or greedy designs, or unworthy sorts of gain; but let my strife be to gain thy favour, to obtain the blessedness of doing good to others, and giving to them that want, and the blessedness of receiving from thee pardon and support, grace and holiness perseverance and glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. ~Jeremy Taylor

Sunday, September 25, 2016

disruption

Opening Prayer: Disturb us, Lord, when we are too pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little, when we arrived safely because we sailed too close to the shore.
     Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new heaven to dim.
     Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wilder seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.  We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push back the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.  This we ask in the name of our Captain, who is Jesus Christ. ~Sir Francis Drake

Scripture: Matthew 13:53-14:12

Journal: Who has been a prophetic voice in your life lately?  How did they disrupt you?  How did they offer you hope?  What was it about their message that disrupted you?  What has been the fruit of that message since then?

Reflection: The life of a prophet is certainly not an easy one; just ask Jesus and John the Baptist.  Not only is it a lonely job, but it is also one that is fraught with danger. Because the prophet is the one who is called upon to speak out, whatever that may look like.  And, in most cases, the ones he is called to speak out to generally don’t receive it real well.  Jesus lived in his hometown for most of his life.  Yet it was not until he began to speak out that the people of that town began to have a problem with him.  The reason for that is that the prophet’s job is to disrupt and to offer hope.  The problem being that people have to be able to endure the disrupting part in order to get to the hopeful part, and none of us likes to be disrupted.  Yet it is a necessary part of the spiritual journey.
     What role has disruption played in your spiritual journey lately?  Where and how, and through whom, did that disruption take place?  And what was your response to it?  Were you like those in the Scriptures for today, or were you able to listen to and embrace the disruption, knowing that the end result of it would be new life and hope?

Prayer

Closing Prayer: O Lord, our God, help us to always be open to the voices of the prophets you send into our lives, knowing that if we embrace your message through them that whatever disruption may initially arise from their words will always be followed by the hope of new life with you.  Amen.

Friday, September 23, 2016

sit at his feet

Opening Prayer: Help us, Lord Jesus, to give you our full and undivided attention this day.  Amen.

Scripture: Luke 10:38-42

Journal: How does this story intersect with or describe your life right now?  What would it look like to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to what he says today?

Reflection: How do I not allow the chaos and busyness of this life, as well as the many worries and cares of this day, to dominate my heart and soul?  How do I keep the many demands and expectations and agendas that others have for me, as well as those I have for myself, from determining what I will do this day?  How will I allow myself to be led by something deeper and larger than my circumstances?  How will I live a life that is focused on the important rather than just the urgent?  How will I center myself and my life on the one thing rather than being dragged around by the many things?
     My answer to all of these questions is the same as Martha and Mary: to sit at his feet and listen to what he says.  The saints called it contemplation—simply being with Jesus.  Contemplation is that space and that time where I sit in the presence of Jesus and give him my full attention.  It is the place where he is able to get his hands on me, to draw me into his passionate embrace, and to whisper his words of deep affection in my ears, so that everything else that distracts and consumes me will loosen its grip on my heart and soul.  It is the place where genuine transformation occurs.  It is the best part, the good portion, the essential thing.  It is a wonder then that I do not do it more often.  Maybe that’s why I stay so distracted.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me listen to you today instead of all of the other voices within and around me that are clamoring for my attention.  May your voice alone be the one that guides my life—my being and my doing—today.  Amen.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

the storehouse

Opening Prayer: O God, it is by your gift that evening follows day and that rest restores us after labor, while we rejoice to receive these blessings, make us mindful that they come from your gracious hand. Amen.  ~Saint Augustine

Scripture: Matthew 13:52

Journal: What treasures has God put in your storehouse lately?  What are the old treasures he has deposited in you in days gone by that you still cherish and pass along?  What are the new treasures he has deposited in you lately?  How might you give those away in the future?

Reflection: It is God’s very nature—by his Spirit living within us—to constantly be depositing his treasures in our souls.  Our very souls are his storehouse, a place where all kinds of words and images and gifts and graces and pearls of wisdom are deposited in us by the Giver of all good gifts.  And these treasures weren’t meant merely for us alone, but were meant to be shared—to enrich and enliven the hearts and souls of those who cross our paths.  What a beautiful picture of life with Jesus!  What a beautiful picture of the true essence of the life of ministry.
     And the wonder of wonders is that the storehouse never gets too full.  Our souls are spacious enough and expansive enough to hold an enormous amount of fullness, as we savor and cherish the treasures of old, while at the same time continuing to make room for the treasures that are brand new.  May we, O God, be good stewards of the many treasures you have given to us.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: O God, giver of all good gifts, we ask that we who have freely received your abundant treasures, both new and old, might freely offer those treasure to those that cross our paths this day.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

through

Opening Prayer: Lord God, help us to know that your path leads through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, even when we do not see your footprints.  Give us the courage and the faith to follow you today.  Amen.

Scripture: Psalm 77:19-20

Journal: What is God leading you through, rather than around or away from these days?  How is he asking you to trust him?

Reflection: The spiritual journey is not an easy one.  It is a deep work of the heart and soul.  It requires every ounce of us.  It requires absolute trust and total surrender.  It requires that we be willing to face, and walk through, our stuff.  As a wise saint once said, “There is no way out, only through.”  That is how God forms his life in us, by leading us through.  It is not a journey for the faint of heart.  His path always seems to lead through the sea, rather than around or away from it.  His way always seems to take us through the mighty waters, where we must trust his heart and his hand to deliver us.  It asks us to being willing to embrace our pain and our sorrow and our struggle rather than avoiding, denying, or medicating it.  Life with him requires us to have the courage to enter the cocoon of transformation, to enter into the belly of the whale.  It requires us to step into the chaos of the seas and the mighty waters with only his hand to protect and sustain us.  So whatever the chaos that might lie before us today, may we always be aware that he is in the midst of it, and that he will lead us through it in a way that does something extraordinarily beautiful in our hearts and souls.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: O God! Your way is holy! No god is great like God! You’re the God who makes things happen; you showed everyone what you can do—You pulled your people out of the worst kind of trouble, rescued the children of Jacob and Joseph. (Psalm 77:13-15, The Message)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

search

Opening Prayer: Teach me to seek you, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, or find you unless you show yourself to me.  Let me seek you in my desire, and desire you in my seeking.  Let me find you by loving you, let me love you when I find you. ~St. Anselm

Scripture: Matthew 13:44

Journal: What hidden treasure have you found lately?  How hard have you been looking?  Where?  What does it look like to search for the hidden treasure of God’s kingdom in our lives and hearts?

Reflection: It would have to be hidden wouldn’t it?  After all, it would be far too easy if it were just laying out in plain sight.  Then where would the searching be?  And there is something very good and beautiful that happens in the searching.
     There is treasure this very day that is waiting to be found.  And when found, it will capture our hearts and souls.  The only question is: Will I search for it?  Or will I get swept up into the busyness and chaos of the day and lose track of the fact that there is treasure buried in the field?
     And the field, and thus the treasure, is not as far off as we would imagine.  In fact, it is right under our noses.  For one of the main places the treasure is hidden is within the field of our own hearts and souls.  All we have to do is look within, to the place where the Spirit of God resides, and we will find it.  But the question is, will we?

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, you are indeed the treasure hidden in a field.  Help me to seek and search and dig and hunt until I finally find you today.  And when I do, capture my heart and soul completely with your beauty and majesty in a way that totally reorders my affections and priorities, as well as my entire life.  Amen.

Monday, September 19, 2016

listen

Opening Prayer: “He who has ears let him hear.”  Those are your words to us today Jesus.  Help us to be obedient to that call.  Amen.

Scripture: Matthew 13:9, 16-17, 43

Journal: How is your spiritual hearing these days?  Are you making time and space in your life to listen to God?  If not, why not?  What have God been telling you lately?  Spend some time just listening to God today.

Reflection: The ups and downs of our spiritual lives depend on our obedience—that is, our attentive listening—to the movements of the Spirit of God within us.  Without this listening our spiritual life eventually becomes subject to the windswept waves of our emotions. (Bread for the Journey by Henri J. M. Nouwen)

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Speak, O Lord, for your servant is listening.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

great

Opening Prayer: Our Father, here I am, at your disposal, your child, to use me to continue your loving the world, by giving Jesus to me and through me, to each other and the world.  Let us pray for each other as we allow Jesus to love in us and through us with the love with which His Father loves him. —Seeking the Heart of God by Mother Teresa

Scripture: Matthew 20:20-28

Journal: How do you try to be great on a daily basis?  How do you typically put yourself first?  What would it look like to turn that around and seek to be a servant?

Reflection: Okay, I’ll admit it.  Deep within me lies the selfish, ugly desire to be great in the minds and eyes of those around me; to be famous and sought after and respected and admired.  So as much as I would like to show my disgust and disdain at Zebedee’s wife and his two sons, I cannot.  I cannot become indignant with them because I get it.  And not only do I get it, but I do it.  I do the exact same thing.  Oh it might be in much more subtle ways, but I still do it.
     But you, Lord Jesus, tell me that I am supposed to be different from the world around me.  In fact, all of us who call you Lord and Master are supposed to be different than that.  You tell us that becoming great in the way the world tells us to become great, is not the way of your kingdom.  It will not get us the seats to the right and left of you in glory.  Becoming great in your kingdom has to do with being a servant, in fact being the slave of all.  Becoming great in your kingdom does not involve us trying to be first, but intentionally putting ourselves last.  It has to do with giving our lives away, the same way you did.  So how will I do that today?

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Go forth now as God’s servant.  Remember God’s presence often and draw strength from the knowledge that the One who calls and sends also sustains.  Amen. —A Guide to Prayer, Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck

Friday, September 16, 2016

father love

Opening Prayer: O Thou who art the only-begotten Son, teach us, we beseech Thee, to pray, “Our Father.”  We thank Thee, Lord, for these Living Blessed Words which Thou hast given us.  We thank Thee for the millions who in them have learnt to know and worship the father, and for what they have been to us.  Lord, it is as if we needed days and weeks in Thy school of prayer with each separate petition; so deep and full are they.  But we look to Thee to lead us deeper into their meaning: do it, we pray Thee, for Thy Name’s sake; Thy name is Son of the Father.  (With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray)

Scripture: Luke 11:1-13

Journal: What happens within you when you think of God as your Father?  How does your time in prayer help you to see him in that way?  How does seeing God as your Father affect your prayer life?

Reflection: It is interesting that Jesus begins and ends this little instructional session on prayer with the image of God as our Father.  Obviously he is trying to help mold and shape both our thinking and our practice.  In fact, one always affects the other.  What we truly believe about God will always determine our practice; and our practice, in turn, will always impact what we genuinely believe to be true about God.  It is a continual loop.
     Therefore, Jesus is trying to firmly establish the idea of the Fatherhood and the Father-love of God deep in our hearts, minds, and souls.  Because this one image determines, to a large degree, how we see and relate to God.  He calls on fathers to consider how they feel about their own children and to use that as a frame of reference for how God truly feels about all of us.
     The way you feel about your own children—your deep love and affection for them, what you truly desire for them, and how you care for them—is only just beginning to scratch the surface of how your Heavenly Father, your Abba, feels about you.  Your desire for them to be joyful and free and prosperous and happy and free from shame is just the beginning of what I desire for you.  I am your Abba.  I love you immensely.  I care about every little thing that happens to you, every little detail of your life.  Live in my love.  Prayer is one of the main ways you can do that.  When you pray to me as Abba it helps you come to see me as your loving Father.  A Father who longs for you to be whole and peaceful and true to who you really are, who you were created to be.  A Father who longs to see you being fruitful and giving and loving the way I am.  A Father who longs for you to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are deeply, unconditionally, and eternally loved.  I love you.  You are my beloved and with you I am well-pleased.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Lord Jesus, reveal to us the Father.  Let His name, His infinite Father-love, the love with which He loved Thee, according to Thy prayer, be in us.  Then shall we say aright, “Our Father!”  Then shall we apprehend Thy teaching and the first spontaneous breathing of our heart will be: “Our Father, Thy Name, Thy Kingdom, Thy Will.”  And we shall bring our own needs and our sins and our temptations to Him in the confidence that the love of such a Father cares for all.  Blessed Lord, we are Thy scholars, we trust Thee; do teach us to pray, “Our Father.”  Amen. (With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

weeds and wheat

Opening Prayer: Father, allow the soil of my soul to be a place that is fertile and receptive to all that you desire to plant within me.  Tend it carefully and nurture all that has sprung up in me that is of you; that I may be a garden of your delight. Through Jesus.  Amen.

Scripture: Matthew 13:24-30

Journal: What is the state of your life and soul these days?  Where is there wheat?  Where are there weeds?  How does this story speak to your life today?

Reflection: I don’t know about you, but I’m often tempted, when I read a parable like this, to take the easy way out.  I am tempted to separate and divide and differentiate myself from others, creating a comfortable space for me to exist in the story.  In this case, I quickly tell myself that I am the wheat and they (whoever they may be) are the weeds and thus I am able to comfortably dismiss the story at that.  But the parables of Jesus do not leave me that option.  They are true on so many different levels that they invite me to look at the story from many different angles until I find the angle by which God wants to speak to me that day.
     The truth is that I cannot conveniently separate myself from them because the fact of the matter is that I am always a mixture of both.  I am always a messy combination of weeds and wheat.  Both are always growing side by side within me, not just around me.  I am not given the option of merely being a spectator in the story, but am called to be a participant.  I am asked to consider where the wheat is in my life.  What is good and beautiful that is growing within me these days?  And I am also asked to consider where the weeds are.  What is not so beautiful, but hinders and chokes out the life and the fruit God wants to grow in me?  And what am I supposed to do with that?
     I am not given an out in the story.  I am given an invitation to come further in.  To consider the tension of living life with both wheat and weeds growing within me, and how he wants to meet me in the middle of that.  And what he wants to do within me as a result of that.  He wants me to consider the life that he wants for me (and in me) and how best to nurture and grow that life in my soul.  He wants me to consider what his hopes and dreams for me are, and not settle for anything short of that.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Grow your good grace in me, O God.  Make me receptive to the ways that you water and tend this garden of my heart.  Prune me where I need pruning, nurture me where I need nurturing, weed me where I need weeding, and care for me tenderly where I need your tender care.  I love you, O Gardner of my soul.  In the tenderness of Jesus.  Amen.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

contemplation

Opening Prayer: One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock. ~Psalm 27:4-5

Scripture: Psalm 27:1-8

Journal: How often do you simply sit in God’s presence and gaze upon him, and he upon you?  Try that today.  Sense the love and the healing and the connection that comes from simply being with him.  Try this for a period of time each day and see what it begins to do in you.

Reflection: Unlike meditation, an active and reflective kind of prayer, contemplation is a more passive and receptive way to pray in which silent presence exposes the final poverty of a “figuring things out” approach to prayer.  Contemplation is seeing, beholding, being in the presence of something that eludes our ability to capture it in concepts or language.  In the Christian tradition, contemplative prayer involves not only seeing but also, and even more to the point, being seen by God.
     All relationships, including our relationship with God, are born and sustained in acts of mutual regard, seeing another and being seen by another.  How we are seen determines the emotional ground of our interactions.  If shame forms the emotional atmosphere of our being seen by God, others, and self, corrosive self-hatred can be the only outcome.  But ground our relationships—our experiences of seeing and being seen by God, self, and others—in compassionate grace, and appropriate self-love has a chance of taking hold, growing, prospering.
     Grace empowers contemplation with compassion, and only in that reassuring place do we dare to take tentative steps in the direction of seeing ourselves as God see us.  Healing happens only when we trust enough to be “exposed” in the presence of another and find ourselves embraced rather than condemned to lonely self-derision.
     What happens in God’s compassionate presence is that without our knowing how or when, God’s loving care slowly heals our vision, rearranges our memories, and takes our story into the heart of the revolutionary story of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  God’s compassionate presence, if given a chance, keeps extending the depth and breadth of its silent, healing touch until one day, quite miraculously, we notice that our need to demonize ourselves has ever so slightly loosened its grip on our soul.  This is the slow work of grace. (The Grace of Mattering: Safety from Shame by Joe McHugh, Weavings, Volume XXXI, Number 4, Aug/Sept/Oct 2016)

Prayer

Closing Prayer: You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” Hide not your face from me. ~Psalm 27:8-9

Monday, September 12, 2016

shame

Opening Prayer: Gracious Father, it’s nearly impossible for me to imagine there was a day when the emotion of shame did not exist. In their innocence, our first parents were absolutely free of any need to turn away from your gaze, or from the gaze of one another. There was no need to fear, cover up, hide, pose, pretend, get defensive, feel guilty, make excuses, blame the other, want to disappear, do penance, numb out, medicate, or try any other broken attempt to deal with the disintegrating effects of shame.  It is only in you, Lord Jesus, that we now find hope to deal with both our guilt and our shame. ~Scotty Smith

Scripture: Romans 5:1-5

Journal: Where in your life are you still a prisoner to shame?  What does freedom from shame look like?  How does that happen? Will you move toward freedom form shame today?

Reflection: When shame has the chance to burrow its way into a soul’s most sensitive yet unprotected places, that person finds it hard to be seen up close by anyone, including God, without a fretful impulse to turn away, to avert the eyes, to flee from the vulnerable familiarity love invites.  Shame’s victims believe everybody sees them the way they see themselves: as unredeemable, undeserving of being taken seriously, certainly unworthy of being loved, fiercely wary and painfully incapable of even taking a chance on love themselves.  Shame is the contaminated ground in which the seeds of emotional self-destruction take deep root.
     People who travel with shame as their companion fear exposure more than anything else.  The mere possibility of having one’s defectiveness abruptly seen by another evokes a panic so pervasive and terrifying that it can’t even be acknowledged, much less faced, disarmed, and finally embraced in sustained moments of God’s extravagant, compassionate grace.
     Such individuals are driven to live in hiding, out of sight—from God, from others, from self.  Alienation like this converts shame from feeling into a way of life in which people become their shame.  In the process, a person falls into line behind Adam and Eve, waiting nervously for the inevitable expulsion from Eden’s garden, a cold-blooded excommunication from life.
     Shame is the spirit that works overtime to stop God’s love in its tracks, turning the possibility of love into an unattainable dream that’s finally and sadly abandoned.  It also keeps people from honoring and enjoying the instinctive desire to be desired, to be seen as worthwhile, to experience oneself as God's beloved.  And shame fills individuals with resentment and rage against those who seem to find love, significance, and personal safety with so little apparent effort.
     Shame and I were longtime companions, and hard experience has taught me that silent contemplation alone emboldens one’s soul to reach out in hope to the Cross, our one sure path to safe, nurturing, holy ground.  Contemplation shows us that God is nothing like us: although we may turn away from God, others, and self in shame, God never turns away from us.  In fact, contemplation’s silent glance turns out to be the fertile ground in which God’s redeeming love takes root.  In this safe place we start to see by being seen as worthwhile, by knowing that we matter.
     Slowly learning to trust enough to be seen by God as lovable—to be held in God’s healing gaze—is what can finally lure us out of hiding, out of the shadows and into the warming light of God’s creative love.  It’s almost like being led back to Eden and discovering that God never wanted us to leave in the first place.  We were expelled because we learned, or perhaps better, were taught to believe the lies that instilled shame.  In contemplation’s soul-sculpting silence we learn to trust the healing truth of our worth and lovableness. (The Grace of Mattering: Safety from Shame by Joe McHugh, Weavings, Volume XXXI, Number 4, Aug/Sept/Oct 2016)

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Jesus, we cry out for freedom today—freedom in our ongoing struggles with shame, both the shame we feel and the shame we give. Though our guilt has been completely taken care of by your work on the cross, Jesus, we still feel varying degrees of shame, and we act out in a variety of destructive ways. We need grace upon grace—a deeper healing, a greater liberation.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

story

Opening Prayer: O Jesus, speak to me during this time about the story you are telling, the story I was made for.  Open my eyes, Lord, to the ways that story is being told—and lived—in the events and circumstances of this day.  Show me how all that happens to me this day echoes your larger Story if only I will keep my heart focused on you.  In your name I pray.  Amen.

Scripture: Matthew 13:10-17

Journal: What is your story with God these days?  How has God used story in your life recently to capture your heart in a new and fresh way?  How might you tell that story in a way that allows others to take part in it?

Reflection: He replied, “You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it. I don’t want Isaiah’s forecast repeated all over again . . . (The Message)
     The power of story is an amazing thing.  Jesus knew this all too well, that’s why he spoke in parables.  He knew that stories have a way of opening us up to truth that we cannot see, hear, or understand otherwise.  They have the ability to slip past our defenses and penetrate our hearts; even when our hearts are calloused, or our ears are weak, or our eyes are dull.  Stories create new ways of seeing and being.  That’s why songs and books and art and poetry have the ability to speak to us in ways that other things do not.  They put us in touch with the larger, or deeper, story that is going on within and around us.  They help us stay in touch with our own story with God, and the story of what God is doing in our lives and in our world.

Prayer

Closing Prayer: Write your blessed name, O Lord, upon my heart, there to remain, so indelibly engraved that no prosperity, no adversity, shall ever move me from your love. ~Thomas a Kempis