Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Genesis & Tornadoes

What a way to begin the story of God and God's creation. Genesis lays it all out for us. God is the source of all creation and proclaims that it's all good. God creates humans in his image, giving us the unique ability to make our own choices and pull away.  Being created in God's image comes with a calling: you will be blessed by being a blessing to others. The story of Abraham and Sarah and their family over the generations reveals that our families are not quite so flawed after all. If God can do amazing things through them, God will do amazing things through us as well.

I love then the way Genesis ends. Joseph, the unjustly mistreated favorite son of Jacob, forgives his brothers and shares a truth about God that still gives us hope.

Then [Joseph's] brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, "We are here as your slaves." But Joseph said to them, "Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones." In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them. - Genesis 50:18-21

Being human means living the ups and downs of life. At times we feel like we are king of the world. David felt that way in Psalm 8.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. - Psalm 8:3-5

At other times we know we deserve no forgiveness and feel deep bitterness and regret for our actions. That's the way Joseph's brothers felt at the end of Genesis. But God never gives up.

Consider these examples Genesis:
1. Adam & Eve eat the forbidden fruit, are banished from the Garden, but God still provides for them.
2. Cain murders his brother and is banished to wander, but God protects him from those who would kill him.
3. The wickedness of humanity moves God to flood the earth, but God saves Noah and promises never again by giving us the sign of the rainbow.
4. Abraham and Sarah take matters into their own hands and Abraham fathers a son Ishmael through Hagar, but God still blesses them with a son Issac.
5. Jacob tricks his father Issac into giving him the blessing, but God still creates a great nation through him.
6. The brothers of Joseph sell him into slavery, but God makes sure that they eventually will be saved from starvation through him.

I think of the tornadoes that struck central Illinois this past Sunday and I know that many families are devastated. Genesis reveals that God has not abandoned them. God will work through such disasters for good. In Christ, God is one with those who have perished. Look for the stories to come out in the aftermath of the tornado and the other disasters that surround us, and find our Creator God of Genesis in action.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lectio Divina

Lectio divina is a four-step process: reading, mediating, praying and contemplating, traditionally known as lectio, meditatio, oratio and contemplatio. It could be said these four steps are like a path that leads away from the noise of the city to the beauty of nature. These steps can be seen as relational – a deepening exchange between two friends. Or they can be called transformational – a microcosm of the change taking place in us as we go from creatures dead in sin to a new creation in Christ. It’s important to see these steps as natural, for they are common to any meaningful experience we have in life. First, we “read” the experience, then we reflect on it. Next, we talk about it, and finally, we bring it into ourselves and let it become part of who we are.

Lectio – Reading and Listening to the Text
Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent. Some Christians focus for a few moments on one thing to block out the noise of life. A favorite prayer or Bible verse gently recited can help you become peacefully aware of God’s presence. Examples include verses from the Psalms like “Be still, and know that I am God,” or “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”  Then turn to the text and read it slowly, gently. Savor each portion of the reading, constantly listening for the “still, small voice” of a word or phrase that somehow says, “I am for you today.” Do not expect lightning or ecstasies. In lectio divina, God is teaching us to listen, to seek God in silence. God does not reach out and grab us, rather, he softly invites us ever more deeply into his presence. Once you have found a verse or phrase that is special to you, stop your reading and move into the next phase – meditation.

Meditatio – Meditation
Now make the selected word or phrase of Scripture your own. Treasure it as a special message from a loved one. Although mediation is commonly understood as very passive, Christian meditation on God’s Word is an active encounter with the text. This is God’s Word for you. Deny for a moment the temptation to apply it to one specific situation in your life. Repeat it slowly to yourself, allowing it to interact with your whole world of thoughts, concerns, memories and ideas. Don’t worry if you are distracted by seemingly unimportant or unrelated thoughts. Memories and other thoughts are simply parts of yourself that, when they rise up during prayer, are asking to be given to God along with the rest of you. God wants all of you, and that includes even your most commonplace or most annoying thoughts. Allow this pondering to invite you into dialogue with God.

Oratio – Prayer
Speak to God. Whether you use words or ideas or images, or all three, is not important. Interact with God as you would with one who you know loves and accepts you. Give to God what you have discovered in yourself during your experience of meditatio. Experience God using the word or phrase that God has given you as a means of blessing. Give to God what you have found within your heart.

Contemplatio – Contemplation
This part is difficult to describe because it is God’s initiative – it is God acting on his desire to be present to you. All you have to do is be there. Simply rest in God’s embrace. Be patient. When God invites you to return to your pondering of the Bible passage or to your inner dialog with him, do so. Learn to use words when words are helpful, and to let go of words when they no longer are necessary.  Rejoice in the knowledge that God is with you in both words and silence, in spiritual activity and inner receptivity.


Sometimes in this process one will return several times to the printed text, either to savor the literary context of the word or phrase, or to seek a new word or phrase to ponder. At other times, only a single word or phrase will fill the entire time set aside for lectio divina. It is not necessary to anxiously assess the quality of one’s lectio divina. This is not a performance. The only goal is BEING IN THE PRESENCE OF GOD BY PRAYING THE SCRIPTURES.  

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Like Trees Planted by Streams of Water

When I think about why anyone should bother digging into the Scriptures and becoming comfortable with studying the Bible I can come up with many reasons. But ultimately the answer is found within the Bible itself. Psalm 1 is an introduction to the entire collection of 150 Psalms and it makes a good case as to why you should continue to not only encounter the rest of the Psalms, but the whole of Scripture.

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do no wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1)

In the next few months I'm going on a journey with some of my friends in my church through the Greatest Story, which is the Scriptures. Psalm 1 will remind us why this journey is worth taking and continuing on. There are many paths we can take as we go through life. Most of those paths travel through the same worldly values and priorities and actions we're used to seeing and living every day. In Psalm 1 those paths are very familiar: going with the crowd, doing the same thing every day, cynically seeing only the poison that's out there.

Those grounded in the Bible travel a different path, one of hope. "They are like trees planted by steams of water." The Word of God reveals our Creator's love for us and the hope that we can abide in God's love for an abundant life right now.

Look at Chapter 1 of the Greatest Story: Bible Introduction and think about how the stories of Scripture can have that kind of power for you... to lead you on a path beside life-giving water.

What stories in your life have come to define you?
What stories and books from others do you find yourself referring to over and over again?

Let's go on this journey together.