God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Friday, November 26, 2010

Leading People Out of Darkness

Every Christmas I pull out old much loved movies and am moved by them once again. One of my favorites is It’s a Wonderful Life. The opening scene of the movie begins with a chorus of prayer being offered on behalf of George Bailey, who is facing the crisis of his life.

I owe everything to George Bailey, help him Dear Father.
Joseph, Jesus, and Mary, help my friend Mr. Bailey.
Help, my son George tonight.
He never thinks about himself God, that’s why he’s in trouble.
George is a good guy. Give him a break God.
I know him, dear Lord, watch over him tonight.
Please, God, something’s the matter with Daddy.

In one of the darkest sections of the film, George wanders out - on Christmas Eve - into the dark night, heading for Martini's Italian restaurant and bar. Seated at the bar, he drinks heavily and utters a prayer for help that is heard up above:

Lord, I’m not a praying man, but if You're up there
and You can hear me, show me the way.
I'm at the end of my rope; show me the way, O God.

The bartender Nick and Mr. Martini are worried about his heavy drinking. Near him at the bar is Mr. Welch, husband of Zuzu's school teacher. He angrily punches George in the mouth, and explains how his wife cried for an hour after George screamed at her on the phone. In defense of George, Martini throws Mr. Welch out of the bar. Sporting a bloody lip, George mumbles cynically: "That's what you get for praying." He interprets the sock in the mouth as the only answer to his prayer. He reaches for his insurance policy in his coat pocket, convinced that his suicide will be the best solution for everyone.

How many of us have felt as if the prayer of the heart we have prayed has been answered by a slap in the face. And yet, George isn’t the only one praying. The town is pouring out their prayers for him. And George is sent a very special answer, in the unexpected form of Clarence. A bumbling first time angle who shows George how loved he is and what a wonderful life he had.

What is your prayer this Christmas? The Christmas story is the story of prayers, and longing: the longing for a savior, a messiah who will come and lead the people out of darkness. One of the prayers spoken is by the priest Zechariah who has been silenced because he didn’t believe that God would send the answer to his prayer for a child. When God sends the answer he refuses to hear and see what is before him and is silenced by God until the birth of his son John. On John’s birth Zechariah sings this prayer:
By tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:78-79
May God guide your feet this Christmas and may you pray the prayer of your soul knowing the answer is already on the way in an unexpected, surprising way,

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Plenty to be Thankful For

(I've Got) Plenty to Be Thankful For
Irving Berlin
I've got plenty to be thankful for
I haven't got a great big yacht
To sail from shore to shore
Still I've got plenty to be thankful for
I've got plenty to be thankful for
No private car, no caviar
No carpet on my floor
Still I've got plenty to be thankful for
I've got eyes to see with
Ears to hear with
Arms to hug with
Lips to kiss with
Someone to adore
How could anybody ask for more?
My needs are small, I buy them all
At the five and ten cent store
Oh, I've got plenty to be thankful for

One of my favorite movies is HOLIDAY INN. In this movie Jim (Bing Crosby) decides to open an inn that will only be open on the holidays and on those holidays he will put on a musical show and dinner. So He buys an Inn in Connecticut and finds a beautiful girl, Linda to be the female lead. He begins creating shows for the holidays. During this year, Jim fall in love with Linda, but Jim’s old partner Ted (Fred Astaire) comes along and steals Linda away. So Jim is down in the dumps, feeling blue and has to write the Thanksgiving song. He writes a song (I’VE GOT) PLENTY TO BE THANKFUL FOR. Jim plays this song as he is being giving his Thanksgiving dinner. As a song about not having a lot of material rewards is sang, Jim interspersed comments about his true feelings: I’ve got plenty to be thankful for, (are you kidding); I’ve got eyes to see, (you need glasses); ears to hear, (a little flat to)... Jim is not really in the mood to give thanks. Life looks lonely for him. There are some of us in a similar boat this year. We are not looking forward to the holidays, because we will be alone with either no family close or unhealthy family dynamics that we hate getting caught up in. We aren’t feeling very thankful because we have lost a job, might be losing a job, are just barely hanging on from paycheck to paycheck. We are having trouble giving thanks because illness has struck ourselves or those we love. So how can we sing praise, be thankful when the world doesn’t always feel like a safe place.

One of the places I turn to when I am not sure I want to be thankful or am not feeling very thankful is the Psalms. They express every emotion you may be going through. When you are feeling down, like the world is against you the psalms of lament speak to you heart. The psalmists poor out their hearts about their illness, grief, enemies and cry to God for action. They cry to God to do something, to change the circumstances. Their hearts are poured out, wide open. You hear and feel all of the pain, hurt, anguish, and anger. And then there is a pause a break, a space in which God has time to work. In that space, the psalmist goes from pain to hope, from despair to possibility. In the movie, there is Jim in the pit; yet in comes his housekeeper, who tells him to pick himself up. The girl really loves you, go and get her.

At thanksgiving time we are meant to pause and look around, and find those places where we can be hopeful. We can stop for a moment and remember what there is to be thankful for. We can remember that God is there waiting to be with us in the midst of our trial. That today even, for just a moment we have plenty to be thankful for.

Psalm 40
11 Do not, O Lord, withhold your mercy from me;
let your steadfast love and your faithfulness keep me safe forever.
12 For evils have encompassed me without number;
my iniquities have overtaken me, until I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails me.
13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me;
O Lord, make haste to help me.
14 Let all those be put to shame and confusion who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor who desire my hurt.
15 Let those be appalled because of their shame who say to me, "Aha, Aha!"
16 But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation say continually,
"Great is the Lord!"
17 As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
do not delay, O my God.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Light and Truth this Thanksgiving

We limit not the truth of God
To our poor reach of mind,
By notions of our day and sect,
Crude, partial, and confined.
No, let a new and better hope
Within our hearts be stirred:

The Lord hath yet more light and truth
To break forth from His Word.

Darkling our great forefathers went
The first steps of the way;
’Twas but the dawning yet to grow
Into the perfect day.
And grow it shall, our glorious sun
More fervid rays afford:

The valleys passed, ascending still,
Our souls would higher climb,
And look down from supernal heights
On all the bygone time.
Upward we press, the air is clear,
And the sphere-music heard:

O Father, Son, and Spirit, send
Us increase from above;
Enlarge, expand all Christian souls
To comprehend Thy love,
And make us to go on, to know
With nobler powers conferred:
                   George Rawson (ellacombe)

Every summer my family gets together and sings this hymn as we remember where we come from and who we come from.  We are ancestors (many greats removed granddaughter) of John Robinson.  This song is a song I always want my congregations to sing at Thanksgiving.  A time of the year when we remember that God even in our darkest hour can provide a ray of hope and allow us to be thankful that we were blessed with a great harvest, that we have family and friends around to share food and fellowship.  The words of this hymn have always spoke to me; partly because of family memories and pride and being related to the Pilgrim Pastor who sent the Pilgrims to America, partly as they speak of a longing we have to know that God is always present, always revealing something more to us; partly as a hope that the light shines and  to be as rea­dy to re­ceive it as any truth; partly to remind me that when ever I think that I know it all, have it all understood, God is their waiting to teach me something new, something more.  May you take time this Thanksgiving to let the light of God's word pour onto you.

The Lord hath yet more light and truth To break forth from His Word.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Wonder of Snow and the Silence of Pastors

In Wyoming and Colorado during late October there is something that happens in the animal kingdom that makes people stop what they were doing. Bull elks start playing with each other and ramming heads. One late October Reed and I were two feet away from them (through a picture window). They looked like they were having fun. They weren’t trying to hurt each other but they kept butting heads. It was amazing to watch. But even more amazing was the sense of wonder that filled us. There was no noise as everyone (pastor's and their families) stared out the windows watching. The wonder and joy in the air was electric.

You get that same feeling if you have ever been around a child or a group of children the day it snows? There is an excitement that cannot be contained. The kids are so bouncy; they cannot be still even if they wanted to. They jump and laugh and stare out the window watching it fall. They are waiting for that moment when they can get out in the snow and play. There is such joy and excitement that it’s contagious.

Now think about how most of us adults respond to the snow. There is anxiety about what this means. Will it snow so much that school will be canceled and we have to figure out what to do with the kids. We think about the shoveling we will have to do that lead to sore backs and muscles. We wonder where the scraper is, where the boots, gloves, and hats are. We wonder whether there is any salt and how bad will the roads be. Snow seems like a lot of work. There is so much more to do. The wonder and beauty of the snow sometimes seems lost on us.

In Matthew Jesus talks about the attitude we can have. If "your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light (Matt 6:22).” But if we have an attitude of obligation, duty, worry about where our next pay check is coming from, where we will get clothes, food, a job our eyes will be closed to the experience of God’s presence. Our eyes reflect what we are filled with. Right now it is easy to be filled with worry. Every time we turn on the tv or read the newspaper we are given anxiety about the future. So how do we choose to let our eyes reflect the hope Jesus gives us that a new day is possible. Jesus suggests an answer: when we have lost the capacity to wonder, we need to become like children again. We need to be with children and learn from them. We can then experience the joy of wonder.
Think about the excitement of falling in love with Jesus the very first time. There is nothing that can compare to the sense of wonder and awe. You want to get out and build the kingdom. You want to learn all that you can about Jesus’ life, the bible. You want to grow closer and closer to God through prayer and meditation. Life is suddenly so full and exciting. When you begin then to experience God’s presence in the people and world around us we become like the crowds who gathered around Jesus as he healed, taught, and welcomed the world into a life with God. “They all shook their heads in wonder, astonished at God's greatness, God's majestic greatness (Luke 9:43).” If we change the way we approach other people and the world around us, we may be astonished by what God has waiting for us. If you are willing, you will be open to the movement of God in your life and the life around you. “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well (Psalm 119:14).”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Muslims and Christians the extremes

I have been preparing for the class I am teaching tonight on Islam.  I thought this video on the Changing the Story website was really powerful.  It poses an interesting question.  If we view all Muslims as terrorists why shouldn't they view all Christians as members of the KKK and ends with the statement you can't let  a few radicals shape your perspective.  What an important point.  If we let the few extreme define who we are we never get to truly learn and respect each other. 

I thought this was a similar point my son wanted me to learn while watching the Rally to Restore Sanity and or Fear.  He really likes John Stewart and wanted to go but Wisconsin is a little far from Washington.  The main point I took away is that we spend so much time in fear mode, crisis mode, everything we hear puts us in a camp of fear or crisis that we have a hard time looking at the world through the eyes of calmness. 

Do we as Christians want to be defined by the extremes?  For me this extreme is the branch of Christianity that says there is only one way to practice the faith, only one way to speak of God, only one way to interpret the Bible.  The problem is that it is not the way I would choose.  My walk as a Christian causes me to remember that I follow a homeless Guy, an itinerant preacher, radical teacher who met people where they were.  If you need a lesson about being tolerant that is what you got.  If you were hurt you received healing.  If you were lost he helped you become found. 

So why do we have such are a hard time meeting Muslims as Jesus would with an open heart, an open mind and a welcoming embrace?