Tuesday, March 28, 2006

No Control

Martin Luther wrote something profound about the commandment "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." He wrote, "We are to fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way." Obeying that commandment is more than not lying about someone, it is making sure that you give your neighbor the benefit of the doubt.

One of the most painful experiences we can have in life is being slandered and torn down by others. It is especially painful when it is the result of a lie or misunderstanding. People can be especially hard on others, even those we trust. Such slandering even happens among Christians.

Only through Christ can we bear such pain and find relief. We have no control over how others react, but we do have the ability to put our faith in the Lord and allow him to be our guide. In a lament Jeremiah expressed to the Lord his pain about others slandering him: "For I hear many whispering: 'Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!' All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. (Jer 20:10a)" It's easy to stumble under such hurtful words, but the Lord gives us strength. He certainly does for Jeremiah when he concludes his lament saying: "Sing to the Lord; praise the Lord! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers. (Jer 20:13)"

When you experience such betrayal sing to the Lord. Through your lament you can find hope and relief, for through your lament you find the Word of God and the wonderful gospel.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Finding Joy in God's Word

I'm thinking about the Ten Commandments and Psalm 19 this week. God's commandments in Exodus 20 are a wonderful guide for life. They are abused as a political tool when Christians battle over where they are posted, instead of battling about how to live by them.

In Psalm 19 it says "The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes." (Ps 19:7-8) Being engaged in God's word and sincerely obeying the Lord's commands is a delight, for it gives meaning to every day and puts into proper perspective all that one encounters from day to day.

Take today for instance. I read panic in a colleague's e-mail as she discussed the bird flu. I felt lost as I tried to straighten out some miscommunication among my friends. I sensed exhaustion as my four-year-old kids have learned to take "pushing the envelope" to new uncharted heights. But through it all the word of God and his commands bring me guidance, peace, and strength. It also says in Psalm 19 that there is great reward in keeping God's law. Those rewards are reaped today as I follow the Lord through this world of chaos.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

What's In A Name?

In the Scriptures there are many people who go by more than one name. No one tops Jesus when it comes to name variety. Some students of the Bible have counted more than 100 different names for Jesus. Abram, Sarai, Jacob, Simon, Saul are others who go by different names in the Bible.

God changed Abram and Sarai's names as a reflection of both their faith and the reality of what God created them to be. The name Abram meant "father exalted" His name becomes Abraham, "father of multitudes." Sarai meant "princess." Her name then becomes Sarah, "princess of many." The name change was not too big, essentially they remained the same, but it was changed just enough to show Abraham and Sarah that they were blessed more than they ever realized. They would become the parents of a great nation with descendants as numerous as the stars.

In Mark 8 Jesus foretells that he will be soon killed and on the third day rise again. When Peter argues against such a prediction Jesus scolds him. He then describes to his disciples what it means to follow him. "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it."

When we become disciples of Christ through baptism we are given a new name, much like Abraham and Sarah. In fact we are given many new names: "child of God," "brother" or "sister," "friend." Our old name reflected us as individuals. Our new names reflect our relationships with God and others. As disciples God takes our focus away from self-centered desire and worry and moves our focus outward toward others. But its important to remember that when God renamed Abram and Sarai he kept the heart of who they where. The change was not that big. They always were "Father" and "Princess" but now their focus is outward instead of inward.

Baptized in Christ, the very best of our old selves remain. We can hold on to the names our parents have given us. But when we deny ourselves we change our focus and recognize that our place in the world is greater than we can ever see by ourselves. God has called you to great things. As a disciple you will touch the lives of many people. By denying ourselves, not only do we see a bigger purpose for our lives, but we actually are taking steps to living out the lifes that God desires for us.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Ash Wednesday

In a parable in Luke 18 Jesus compares two men who go to the temple to pray: a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee thanks God that he is not like other sinners. The tax collector with heartfelt repentance only says "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Jesus expects us to be like the tax collector.

The forty day season of Lent exists so we can come before the Lord and say "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." One way we do this is by making changes in your life. For some it means giving something up, a reminder that we are too dependent on worldly things. A TV addict might give up TV, a soda addict might give up soda... Or you may choose to do the opposite, and do something you haven't done before. Today I walked over a mile to and from my office. I hope I can keep that up throughout Lent.

The best way, however, to make a change in your life and recognize your sinfulness is to worship more faithfully during Lent. We enter worship as repentant sinners so that our hearts might be open to the message of God's grace. In the Ash Wednesday worship service we hear the words from Psalm 51 that calls on God to "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." With ashes on our forehead (that remind us of our mortality) and a repentant heart we are ready to hear God's grace so that the changes made in our lives are real and lasting.