Why Are You Here?

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 “Why are you here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:9b and 13b (Common English Bible)

Reflection:

I sometimes hear this from people I speak with, “I’m working harder than ever before with fewer results.” In that statement, I hear an undertone of discouragement, frustration, resignation, despair, regret for not having chosen a different life path or a hint of nostalgia that yearns for the good ole’ days. If the conversation goes a little further along those lines, I hear things such as, “Maybe this is not my calling.” “I just don’t know what else to do.” “I’m burned out.” Or, “I’m tired of pushing a lethargic ‘wet noodle.'”

In 1 Kings 19, we find the prophet Elijah is weary, burned out, angry, and bemoaning his lack of success at leading the Israelites to be faithful to God. His single-minded faithfulness to God has brought troubles upon him. He is on the run and fearful for his life. His life and ministry have been for too long steeping in the boiling waters of social tensions, withering opposition, interpersonal clashes, and constant threats. He has had enough of it all and is fleeing from his ministry. He is holed up in a cave and ready to give up, but God will not let him quit.

God encounters Elijah at the cave and twice asks him, “Why are you here, Elijah?” Elijah responds with snarky pessimism and an exaggerated claim of self-importance. He blames God for the predicament he’s in and in essence says, “I am the only one in all of Israel that is faithful to your divine cause in the world! I’m here because of you!” Elijah need not be so discouraged or take himself so seriously because he is far from being the only person committed to the divine cause. There are 7,000 more faithful Israelites that are also carrying on God’s divine purpose.

After upheaving winds, earthquakes, and fire, God speaks to Elijah, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel interprets,  in a voice without sound. No birds sing. No trees rustle in the wind. No insects buzz. No crickets chirp. No creeks gurgle. No coyote howls. Nothing. No audible noise. Nature stands still and silent. It’s just Elijah and God’s quiet presence.

God reminds Elijah that a prophet does not belong out in the desert atop a mountain, hiding in a cave, separated from the troubles of life but in the world, carrying out God’s work, no matter how difficult it may be. Elijah is renewed through his encounter with God and returns back into the world’s arena as an agent of God’s divine purposes.

Like Elijah, we can find ourselves in some lonely caves during life from time to time, fleeing from life’s pressures, wallowing in self-pity, and self-righteousness. Sometimes we even come to blame God for our predicaments. But God meets us where we are at, in the stillness of crucial moments. God asks us the same question asked of Elijah, “Why are you here?” We realize it’s not a question asking about the circumstances that led us to retreat into the lonely deserts and caves of our own making. Instead, it is a question of life purpose accompanied by God’s affirmation. That is, “Why are you here when there is so much left to do in the world? You’re needed in the world to carry out my divine cause. And, I’m with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).

Prayer: Merciful God, overflowing with a redemptive purpose for our fractured world, enable us by your Spirit to have one foot on the ground, and the other raised to proceed on the journey your Son Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, leads us in.  Prayer adapted from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s reflections, in Thoughts of St. Ignatius. 

No Place to Hide

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Mark 7: 24  From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice.

Reflection:

Maye, Isaac, and I walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in July during our summer vacation. We sat on a pew and admired the architecture of the sanctuary, observed the tourists taking pictures while trying to pay attention to the evening Mass for young people occurring at the same time.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I turned to look back. The man asked if my last name was Saenz to which I responded, “Yes.” He went on to tell me that he recognized me because I look like my younger brother Ricky. He added that he was from a city 15 miles from my hometown of Rio Grande City and that he played golf on occasion with my dad. We chatted a while, took a group picture I texted to my brother and parted ways.

I never thought I’d be noticed in a city with millions of people, but I was.

Jesus was trying to escape notice but he could not escape notice. In the ensuing story, a Syro-phoenician Greek woman finds out Jesus is in the region of Tyre, north of the Israeli border, and goes out to him to ask for her daughter’s healing. Jesus proclaims her daughter is well and the woman returns home and finds her daughter healed and lying peacefully in bed.

The Unconcealable Christ cannot be hidden to a world that is hurting and searching. As disciples, we can’t be secret Christians who follow an unconcealable Christ that seeks to know others and be known by others.

Prayer: Reveal yourself through me today, Lord, through the words of my mouth and witness of life. Amen.

 

A Good Name

 

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“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all.”               Proverbs 22:1-2

Reflection: This instructional or wisdom saying is directed at the rich and powerful, not the poor. It is a reminder to the rich and powerful to treat the poor and powerless with dignity, justice, generosity, and compassion because God cares and advocates for them.

Poverty is real in our Great Plains Kansas/Nebraska area. In 2016, Kansas ranked 20th and Nebraska 15th in the U.S. in the percentage of people who fell below the 2016 poverty line – $24,340 for a family of four. Also, Kansas ranked 36th and Nebraska 39th in the rate of households that at some point during the year experienced difficulty providing enough food due to a lack of money or resources (talkpoverty.org).

There is a tendency to blame the poor for their poverty. Behaviors such as poor life choices, a lazy work ethic, having too many children, a lack of education, and so on are often cited. While we find passages in scripture where laziness is mentioned as a root cause of poverty (Prov. 6:6, 10:4-5, 13:4, etc.), more often, the prophets cite social structures at the macro-level as the root cause of poverty.  The prophets denounced social structures built upon greed, injustice, inequality, and segregation that caused disparities and poverty.

Congregations receive a “good name” before the Lord when they alleviate the acute and chronic pangs of hunger and poverty with immediate assistance ministries such as food banks and clothing closets. And, they receive a “good name” before the Lord that is better than silver or gold when they implement initiatives and advocate for policies and just structures that eliminate barriers the poor and powerless confront so that all can access and enjoy the fullness of life.  As individuals, we also receive a “good name” before the Lord when we treat the poor with human dignity and honor because in so doing, we align ourselves with God’s love and care for them who rises to argue their case (Isaiah 3:13).

Prayer:  Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

 

 

 

Hope for the Human Family

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Scripture: Ephesians 3:14-21

For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all
we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Reflection: 

Maye, Isaac, and I saw the exhibit film “Dark Universe” at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, last week. It features exquisite renderings and visualizations of the cosmic phenomena of the universe and the breakthroughs that give astronomers an increasingly detailed and precise picture of how our universe formed and evolved. I walked away from the film overwhelmed by both the vastness of our expanding universe and the smallness of our planet against the whole of the universe.

I left wondering if we are the only civilization in the whole vast universe? Even if we are not the only civilization in the universe, there would be millions of light years between us and other civilizations. If we are the only human civilization within millions of light years from other civilizations, and this precious little, fragile planet is our home, then why so much human struggle, so much hatred, so much strife, violence, and warring in the world? Should we not work together to find the way of love, peace, and justice in our families, our congregations, our communities, in our nation, and our world?

In his prayer, Paul positions himself atop a cosmic vantage point overlooking the whole human family which includes all ethnic groups and peoples. His prayer embraces the whole human family as he prays for the unity of the world’s peoples under the Lordship of Christ. He prays that all people would know the love of Christ and be filled with the fullness of God.

Through prayer, Paul is able to see a vision of the glorious splendor of God’s everlasting kingdom that endures throughout all generations. He was able to understand that the Lord is faithful in all his words and gracious in all his deeds, just, kind, and near to all who call on him no matter where they may find themselves on this small,  beloved little planet situated in a small cosmic corner of the Milky Way Galaxy within our vast and ever-expanding universe. To God be the glory!

Prayer for Peace

Gentle Spirit, Breathe in us the wind of truth, wisdom, and righteousness. May your Presence inspire us to create labyrinths of peace. Compassionate One, Make our hearts burn with love, honoring all peoples and creation. Bless all nations, every family, and community while we seek to work for justice and unity. Prince of Peace, Lead us to ways of healing and reconciliation we pray with those who suffer and struggle. Bless us with your reconciling love that knows no boundaries as we seek to live in community, justice, and peace. So be it. 

By Rev. Elizabeth Tapia from the Philippines, director of Mission Theology for Global Ministries

Medicine for the Soul

 

 

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Scripture – Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Reflection

David is credited as the author of Psalm 23. It is no surprise because David was a shepherd boy, and he knew about the realities and dangers of shepherding a flock. Psalm 23 is profound in meaning and scope. It uses strong metaphors that acknowledge the threats and opposition one faces in life. It’s six short verses span over the course of one’s life experience and beyond.  Scholars believe that the psalm’s reference to the “house of the Lord” in verse 6 is a reference to the temple that David hoped to build (2 Samuel 7:1-14).  So, David must have written the psalm later on in his tempered and mature life as he reflected back upon God’s faithfulness and steadfast love toward him throughout the years.

Many of us first heard the comforting psalm when we were children in Sunday School or during vacation bible school or at home during our family devotional and prayer times. We often hear this psalm read to comfort those who mourn at memorial and funeral services. The simplistic beauty and comfort contained in the twenty-third Psalm, especially during times of distress, is appreciated by all of us. Many of us know this beautiful psalm by heart.

Bernhard Anderson (1916-2007), a United Methodist pastor and Old Testament scholar, has best expressed the value of the twenty-third Psalm when he wrote, “No single psalm has expressed more powerfully humanity’s prayer of confidence ‘out of the depths’ to the God whose purpose alone gives meaning to the span of life, from womb to tomb.”

Each time we read or recite Psalm 23, we take into our souls, a powerful spiritual medicine that refreshes, renews, and restores our faith, our hope, and our strength to keep moving forward in life in both good and challenging times. Reading and reciting Psalm 23 brings us into a deeper dependence upon God’s love and grace and fills us with the assurance that our Good Shepherd, Christ himself, walks with us along our life’s path. Psalm 23’s words of assurance anchor us through life’s long nights, they spiritually restore our weary souls, and they enable us to feel more alive and connected to God and to others.

I invite you to start your days this coming week by reading or reciting Psalm 23. If you have time, practice “Lectio Divina” or “Divine Reading” to open yourself to what God wants to say to you.

For example, select a short portion of Psalm 23 each day such as “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

  • Step 1 – Read the passage slowly and reflectively so that it sinks into you.
  • Step 2 – Meditate on the passage so that you take from it what God wants to give you.
  • Step 3 – Respond by letting your heart speak to God.
  • Step 4 – Contemplate by resting in the Word of God. Listen at the deepest level of your being to God who speaks within you with a still small voice. As you listen, you’ll be gradually transformed from within. Then take what you read and contemplated in the Word of God into your daily life.
  • Step 5 – Keep a written journal to record how God is transforming your life.

Prayer

More than ever I find myself in your hands, O God.

Leadership Lessons I Learned by Watching my Father

Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:1-7

So, my son, throw yourself into this work for Christ. Pass on what you heard from me—the whole congregation saying Amen!—to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others. When the going gets rough, take it on the chin with the rest of us, the way Jesus did. A soldier on duty doesn’t get caught up in making deals at the marketplace. He concentrates on carrying out orders. An athlete who refuses to play by the rules will never get anywhere. It’s the diligent farmer who gets the produce. Think it over. God will make it all plain.

Reflection: 

Happy Father’s Day!

Country Western singer Rodney Atkins sings, “Watching You.” The song’s refrain goes like this:

“I’ve been watching you, dad, ain’t that cool? I’m your buckaroo, I wanna be like you and eat, and grow as tall as you are. We got cowboy boots and camo pants. Yeah, we’re just alike, hey, aint’ we dad? I wanna do everything you do. So I’ve been watching you.”

Dad did not wear cowboy boots or camo pants, but I grew up watching him as a leader in our church, in public education, and in the broader community. Dad is now 83 and very active. He is a veteran who out of high school served four years in the U.S. military with the Air Force. He retired from the field of public education after 52 years of service as a classroom teacher, high school principal, school superintendent, and dean of my hometown community college. He stays engaged with life and people teaching his Sunday School class, something he’s done since the third week after joining First United Methodist Church in Rio Grande City in 1960. He is a member of the Lions Club and visits elementary schools to provide vision testing for children and eyeglasses for those that need them. He serves as an advocate for the South Texas region of the Retired Texas Teachers Association and makes several trips a year to Austin to talk with legislators about issues affecting retired teachers. He walks 4 miles a day, does his own lawn (in 100+ degree weather), and plays golf on the weekends, often scoring better my brother, sons, and me!  I’ve seen him love mom for 58 years, teach us about life, love his grandchildren, help others succeed, and never really ask for anything in return because as he says, “I’m just doing what I am supposed to do.” Yes, I’ve been watching him.

Below are some leadership maxims for the type of leadership I try to practice which I learned from watching my dad.

  1. Stay focused on the mission. That’s your job as a leader. Treat what you do as if it’s the most important job in the world because it makes a difference in people’s lives and in the world and it’s your responsibility for its success. Besides, people are counting you.
  2. Cast a vision that makes people stretch and aspire without exasperating them and give them what they need to succeed. When the vision is accomplished, cast another, and another, and another always stretching people to be a little more and see a little further – “un poquito mas.” At first, some might complain a little but will feel great about themselves and their work when they accomplish it.
  3. Over plan for success and ensure that details are paid attention to – details matter and it’s the small things and little touches that separate good from excellent.
  4. Secure and align material and human resources to accomplish the mission.
  5. Thank the people – always! Especially the invisible ones, the ones that work in the background making things go well – they matter the most. Give away credit to others. Assume responsibility when things do not succeed then work to make them right.
  6. Act confidently to inspire confidence in others, especially in times of uncertainty and chaos. Stay calm. God is with you.
  7. Coach the people to expect more of themselves and to take pride in what they do. People have a depth of talent and gifts. A good leader will identify and call forth the abundant treasury of people’s gifts, talents, and resources.
  8. Delegate authority, responsibility, and accountability to others and specify the expectations and outcomes – they will do better than we imagine.
  9. See the whole of the organization, its interdependencies, its culture, and its direction and lead forward with hope for a brighter future with principle, integrity, firmness, gentleness, and fairness.
  10. If we you forget why you do what you’re doing, take what you do for granted, or lose focus on what you’re doing, go back to # 1.
  11. Above God and your family because they are the ones who care most about you and will be with you when it’s all said and done.

The apostle Paul mentored Timothy, his spiritual son. Timothy was a student of Paul. Timothy watched Paul minister in all sorts of situations with all sorts of people in all sorts of places. Now as Paul is ready to finish his course, he asks Timothy to carry forth the mission. “Pass on what you heard from me—the whole congregation saying Amen!—to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others.”

Perhaps you did not have a biological father to walk alongside you, model, or mentor you in life. But, I’m sure there have been other men in your life you have watched that have inspired you, challenged you, who expected great things from you, and who believed in you. As you have been mentored by a father figure, mentor others and bless their lives with the bounty and richness of your life experience, your faith, your wisdom, and your accompaniment.

Happy Father’s Day! Feliz Dia de Padres.

Seven Fold Blessing Prayer for Father’s

May God be gracious to you. May God bless you. May God make his face shine upon you. May you be strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might. May you be filled with joy. May God give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. (Drawn from Psalm 67:1, Colossians 1:11, Psalm 20:4)

When Things Seem Hopeless – June 24, 2018

 

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“The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” (Rembrandt, 1633)

Scripture: Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Reflection:

The disciples fear and despair for their lives. Their boat is swamped with water and about to sink in the middle of the lake during a great windstorm. Jesus is sound asleep, seemingly oblivious to their danger. They are frustrated by Jesus’ inaction in the face of their impending doom and wonder if he cares for them. They despair because they have hope and their hope is unfulfilled. All despair presupposes hope. “Where hope and life are frustrated in every respect,” says Jurgen Moltmann, “the hope turns against the hoper and eats into him.”

I have heard many people caught up in seasons of impending danger speak words similar to those of the disciples, “Teacher, do you not care that we are, or that I am perishing?” In fact, I’ve thought and spoken similar words myself on occasions throughout difficult seasons in my life.

In seasons of impending danger, our anxious thoughts tend to move from trust in God to fear, from initiative to resignation, from seeking the spiritual strength and grace of our Christian community to isolation and loneliness.  This movement away from trust in God, from agency, and from the Christian community, drives us deeper into the grip of fear and despair. But we are never without hope!

The good news in this text is that the disciples have hope in Christ; more than they think. They are able to turn to him for help amid their own fears and lack of faith. They have faith in Christ, against their own lack of faith. They hope in Christ, against their hopelessness. Christ rises to calm the raging sea outside of them and calms their raging fears and despair within them.

There will be times when the great windstorms of life will shake our hope and our faith in God and in humanity. Our prayers, our hopes, and our agency will seem small, empty, and frustrated by the largeness of what we face individually, as a church, a community, our country, or as a global community. We will wonder in frustration, “Does God even care?” And still, we pray, we hope, we dare to trust, we dare to take agency, and we continue to seek the spiritual strength and grace of the Christian community, as we watch for the hope-filled world of God to unfold.

We pray, hope, and watch until our fears are overcome by the assurance of God’s enduring and everlasting love from which nothing can separate us from (Romans 8:38-39).

We pray until we can say with awe, wonder, and praise, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Prayer based on Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

We are at our wit’s end in our calamity, O Lord. Hear our cries of faith and hope to you and bring us out of our distress.  Still the storm, and hush the beating waves that engulf us. Bring us into the haven of your peace. Thank you for your steadfast love for us which endures forever.

Extraordinary Power

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Scripture:

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Reflection:

Paul persevered through much mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual affliction because of the mission that was given to him by Jesus Christ. That was, to “be a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 9:15-16; 13:47). He describes his afflictions as a distressing and gradual act of dying or sacrificially giving up his own life so that others would live for Christ in the world as a result of knowing the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

The afflictions Paul humanly endured for the sake of others were enough to bring him down, perhaps lead him to quit, but he does not. He is a fragile clay jar filled to overflow by God’s extraordinary power and grace, not a superhero. Paul comes through his afflictions and perseveres in his mission not by drawing from his own limited and insufficient inner resources and wits, but from God’s extraordinary and abundant source of power and grace for living.

Troubles in our life come and go, sometimes they chronically stay around for years.  Job says “People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire (Job 5:7). Whatever the difficulties we may encounter in our lives or their intensity, variety, or duration, the extraordinary and abundant power and grace of God is always present in us to bring us through them; especially with things around us look dim, withered, or hopeless.

The Serenity Prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.

Agents of a New Normal

 

Isaiah angelScripture: Isaiah 6:1-8 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Reflection: 

We cannot remain the same when we get a glimpse of the greatness and holiness of the Lord. Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord when he was in the temple and he experienced a deep conviction for his sin. He cries out, “Woe is me!” Not only did he experience personal conviction of his sin, he vicariously experienced the weight of his own people’s corporate sin that in many ways shut God out, with disastrous results.

Isaiah was a product of and participant in a social context described by spiritual lostness, futile worship practices, corrupt leadership, greed, injustice, and political crisis. Knowledge of his own sinfulness and the sinfulness of his own community created a crisis in him because he knows that he can never be the same after his vision of the greatness, the glory, and holiness of the Lord. He could either betray his vision and conviction, ignore God, and just keep on going along to get along in a world where brokenness was normalized. Or, he would have to live the rest of his life speaking up for a new normal of God’s reign, even if his speaking up meant rejection from family, friends, and society.

Isaiah chooses to offer his whole self for the mission to go to a moribund people with spiritually calloused hearts, dull ears, and closed eyes. He says, “Here I am. Send me!” In so doing, he reorders, realigns, and refocuses his life upon God and God’s mission for the world. God forgives Isaiah and sends him back into the world because God loves the world and seeks to save it (John 3:16-17). God turns Isaiah outward beyond himself, toward unity with God’s vision for the world and the world that God loves. Isaiah accepts and pursues the mission given to him by the Lord to proclaim an unpopular message of repentance, reconciliation, restoration, refreshing, and revival. Most of the people in his community would reject Isaiah’s ministry and message of God’s new normal. Some would eventually listen. Isaiah was faithful to his mission, the outcomes were left to God.

Like God sent Isaiah to a broken people, God sent his only son Jesus Christ to a broken world so that whosoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16-17). Christ sent the Holy Spirit to enable us to live as children of God and agents of hope in the Reign of God amid a broken world (Rom. 8:12-17).

Let us expectantly seek a new vision of the greatness, glory, and holiness of the Lord in the months to come as we practice our daily disciplines of worship, study, prayer, and meditation. A new vision will empower us to offer ourselves more fully as Christ’s agents of faith, hope, and love into and for the sake of a world that has normalized its brokenness.

The Covenant Prayer by John Wesley:

I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

 

 

 

Hoping and Waiting in a VUCA World – Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018

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Holy Spirit Come by Beverly Guilliams – Fine Art America

Scripture: Romans 8:22-27

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Reflection: 

Our world can be described as volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous or VUCA. VUCA is an acronym used to describe or to reflect on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of an extreme condition or situation. The term derives from military vocabulary resulting from the end of the Cold War in the early 1990’s. The dictionary defines the words for the abbreviated letters as follows:

  • Volatile: liable to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worse. Likely to become dangerous or out of control.
  • Uncertain: Not exactly known or decided. Not definite or sure. Having some doubt about situations or outcomes.
  • Complex: Not easily explained or understood. Not simple.
  • Ambiguous: Having more than one possible meaning. Not expressed or understood clearly even when all the information is present.

VUCA is disruptive. Organizations assess VUCA conditions or situations to gain insight and foresight when strategizing approaches to mitigate and manage their next steps for their organization or business to ensure the greatest possibility of success.

The Christian community the apostle Paul writes to lives in a crazy death-ridden first-century Roman VUCA world. Their vision of a new creation where life would flourish was dimmed by the ever-present and overwhelming power of death and chaos in their lives. Their response was to withdraw, insulate, and isolate themselves from the crazy world because of their fears.

Paul writes to encourage and counsel the faith community in Rome to hold on to the hope that God is at work in the midst of their struggles and longings, creating, redeeming, and transforming the crazy VUCA world they live in.  God was now the center of their lives through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. No longer condemned and held in bondage by sin and or the fear of death, they were free to really live life to the fullest despite their circumstance.

The Roman Christians already had the power of God to remain in the struggles with courage and freedom undergirded by faith in God and hope for tomorrow. Their struggle is not meaningless. With God and for God, their struggle for a new creation has meaning and purpose.

Paul Tillich (Shaking the Foundations) describes waiting in hope for the new creation that we already possess as children of God this way: “But, although waiting is not having, it is also having. The fact that we wait for something shows that in some way we already possess it. Waiting anticipates that which is not yet real. If we wait in hope and patience, the power of that for which we wait is already effective within us. He who waits in an ultimate sense is not far from that for which he waits. He who waits in absolute seriousness is already grasped by that for which he waits.”

What the new creation will look like is unknown. But we can actively wait for the emergent new creation in hope. Like the first-century Christians living in a VUCA world, we too can trust in the power of God that is at work in the world through known and unknown ways. In the meantime, there is pain and troubles – birth pangs – but those pains and troubles are outweighed and overcome by the hope of a new creation that lies before us and which we already possess. The Holy Spirit enables us to imagine a different world, a new creation moving in the direction of ultimate redemption and healing. As such, we can look with hope beyond our own VUCA world and freely live life with a conviction and courage in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the knowledge that nothing, not even a crazy death-ridden VUCA world, could ever separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:31-39).

God is wise and good, making provision for the moments when we would experience weakness of courage, faith, or hope. God sent the Holy Spirit into the world to keep us connected with God through prayer, the conduit of God’s grace in our time of need (Phil. 4:4-6). May we seek, find, and experience the interceding presence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, renewing us at those times when we groan and begin to lose hope in the new creation amid the temporality of our VUCA world.

Prayer for the Presence of the Holy Spirit

Come, for you continue always unmoved,
yet at every instant you are wholly in movement;
you draw near to us who lie in hell,
yet you remain higher than the heavens.
Come, for your name fills our heart with longing
and is ever on our lips;
yet who you are and what your nature is, we cannot say or know.
Come, Alone to the alone;
Come, for you, yourself are the desire that is in me.
Come, my breath and my life.

(Simeon the New Theologian, in K. Ware, “The Holy Spirit in the Personal Life of the Christian,” in Unity in the Spirit [Geneva: WCC, 1979], pp. 139–69)