The true activity of the Kingdom

Thoughts on Mark 10:13-16

Earlier the disciples were rebuking a man who used your name to cast out demons, now they are turning away parents who want to bring their children to you so you can bless them. These disciples were good intended, weren’t they helping you manage your ministry, protecting your name and your schedule. But they were wrong. They didn’t get what you were about, did they?

When you found out what was going on, you were indignant and set them straight.

Healing people and casting out demons is clean up work, deconstructing the work of sin and death so that life and wholeness can be achieved. Welcoming and blessing the children is an exact picture of the activity of your Kingdom. Your plan from the beginning  was for humankind to be child-like, innocent, playful, properly dependent. The work of the incarnation is to restore us to such a state.

Lord, Jesus, wipe my soul’s slate clean, erase the sin and death promoting choices I make; I come to you now as a child, eager to play with you, to have you carry me in your arms speak words of affirmation and acceptance. Thank you and Amen.

Replace my envy with Love

Thoughts on Mark 9:38-40

Today’s reading continues yesterday’s theme…John, the beloved disciple, tells you about forbidding a man from using your name to do mighty works because he was not one who was part of the crew following you. And you correct his thinking. “Let people outside your enclave, who do good in my name be. Good done is good.” Lord, dismiss my parochial thinking about good being done, ministry taking place. Bless all who minister in your name or for your name. Even the ones who carry your name only in theory.

Replace my envy with love. Amen.

My ego’s bubble gets burst

bubbleThoughts on Mark 9:30-37

You begin some serious teaching. You secretly take your disciples on an intensive crash course on what it means for you to be the savior of the world. You tell them about your upcoming betrayal, death and resurrection. They don’t get it at all, maybe they were afraid to appear dumb so they didn’t ask for an explanation. Or maybe they were hoping that if they ignored the topic, you’d quit talking about dying. They wanted to talk about the coming of the kingdom, it’s glory and their elevated role in its institution. But given the opportunity to talk about it, they were silent. At least they had sense enough to know such discussions would not please you. Good teacher that you are, you used this moment to teach them two important lessons of the Kingdom life; one advances in the Kingdom by letting others go ahead and by honoring the powerless.

A lesson I need to be reminded of over and over again. Sure I talk about desiring the Kingdom to advance, but I find myself envious when you use other people to move it forward. I hear of the popularity of other people’s blogs and my ego begins it’s mild, but persistent outrage. Her writing isn’t any better than mine, why don’t people “like” and “share” my posts? Why can’t I write as well as her? I try to be content with being a two talent gal and not resent those who have been given five talents, but it’s hard. Such ego flares are prophetic. They remind me of just how far I am from your humility.

I remember what William Law says about such outbursts of pride in his book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. Basically he says that when others cause me envy, I am to pray for the other; pray that God will bless and prosper them in in the very thing that arouses my envy; pray for God to grant them happiness in regard to their writing and ministry. He says that “praying thusly will cause the devil to leave off of this temptation since it leads to greater love of the other and greater humility to the self.”

Yikes. Oh Lord, your correction bursts the inflated bubble of my ego’s need to be preferred. Grant me the grace to gratefully receive and invest the two talents you’ve given me. Bless Jennifer and Susan and Micha and all the other five talent women who use their gifts to forward your kingdom. Honor them and increase their harvest for your sake. Amen

Big Picture vs little irritants

Thoughts on Mark 9:14-29

Earlier you sent your disciples out two by two and gave them authority to heal people and to cast out evil spirits. Today you return from the mountain and come upon a scene of chaos and disruption. The scribes arguing with your disciples, the crowds gawking and eager for a show. “What’s going on?” you ask. A man with a son who had been tormented by an evil spirit since his childhood had brought him to you hoping you would heal the boy. Since you were not around, the disciples, practiced as they were at casting out spirits, felt up to handling the situation. But apparently not. Later, when they question you about why they weren’t up to snuff, you explained how the power of the Spirit is generated by the behind the scenes practices of prayer and fasting.

Here is another moment  when it seems you are a bit testy with the crowd and with your disciples. Humanly, I can understand this. You were up on the mountain talking with Elijah and Moses, and then Peter, James and John about what was just around the corner: your death. With this weighty, big picture scenario on your mind, you return and find your disciples, the ones to whom you’ve chosen to entrust the job of carrying out your mission, squabbling with religious authorities and ineffective in exercising the power of the Spirit. Who wouldn’t be impatient?

But you center down and give your attention to the worrying father. You put all else on pause and talk to the man, gathering his history, his story, his pain, even his doubt. How gracious you are and how brave and true he was. He did not let his doubt keep him from coming to you and asking for what he desired. He owned his disbelief and trusted that the amount of belief he did have would be sufficient. And it was.

Jesus, you modeled for me how to love my neighbor well. I have my own weighty, big picture scenario filling my head and my mind, and yet, if I follow your example, I am to not miss out on the opportunity to pay attention to those around me, their needs, their concerns. And then do what I can, by your grace and power to address their issues. Oh, Jesus. give me such a mind and heart, one that is consumed with the big picture, doing whatever is necessary for my transformation into your image; and then knows the path to this goal leads through the active loving of my neighbor.

Silly example, but how kind you are to allow me to practice what I preach immediately. Here I am, composing this lofty and very significant piece about you and how important it is to pay attention to the needs of those around me, with my dog jumping up on my chair trying to sit on my lap totally disrupting my important work. I’m irritated with her and rise to banish her to the other room when I notice how eager she is to play; so I put my important work aside and take her outside for a run in our yard. She’s excited, rushing from spot to spot, the snow is melting and there are new smells to discover. And then I notice. Where the snow has melted daffodils have begun to emerge! Spring is around the corner and I am filled with joy and hope. I would of missed this if I had continued on with my important work.

Then there’s the uncertain, but hopeful father, the one who dared to trust his faith in you rather than his doubts about you. From him I learn how to handle my fears and my doubts: come to you anyway. Don’t let my doubts, in whatever from they take, keep me from you. Let my faith in who you are and all you promise be stronger than my doubts. Doubt is passing faith is rising. Running to you, trusting you, even with my limited faith gives grace to increase my belief and decrease my unbelief. The amount of faith I have, when acted upon, is enough!

And those earnest, but ineffective disciples; learn from them, Debby. The power of the Spirit cannot be taken for granted. You cannot rest on your laurels. Sure, God showed up in a profound way at those retreats in January and used you and your gifts to create space for Jesus to connect with the ones he loves, but in order to be the vessel that carries such graces, you must continue to pursue the Kingdom of God, and practice the disciplines of the Spirit. Be mindful of the necessity of remaining connected to the vine to be a fruitful branch.

Thank you and Amen.

The Law, the Prophet and Jesus walk into a bar….

Thoughts on Mark 9:2-13

Such a meeting was not unusual for you, you often went off by yourself to pray and probably had such conversations on a regular basis. But today, you took Peter, James and John along with you, allowing them to witness your glory, giving them a lesson in who you truly are. Transfigured, your divinity shown through your humanity and you were dazzling. The Law and the Prophets are embodied in you. Dumbfounded, Peter talks when he has nothing to say, filling the air with noise and busyness. A cloud, hiding you, hovering over you and then a voice: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Then emptiness; no cloud, no glory, no heroes of history; just Jesus.

Lord, Jesus, take me with you up the mountain; teach me your glory and your purpose. Let me hear the voice of God naming you and giving me instruction. When you do, when you graciously grant me a glimpse of the kingdom reality, I am like Peter, at a loss for what to do. I busy myself with lofty plans for my ministry, my life, let me build a system to capture this precious experience, to make it tangible and repeatable. Nope. A cloud descends, vision is lost. I am left with only the assurance of who you are and who I am to be in relationship with you. You are God’s beloved son and I am to do what you tell me to do, follow your words, not build structures to contain you.

Loving Father, grant me the grace to go up the mountain, witness the glory of your son and then do what he says. Thank you and amen.

How to be honored by God

Thoughts on Mark 8:34-9:1

If I’m serious about following you, I will deny myself (so no to my ego and my sinful tendencies), commit myself to choose to die (carry with me the awareness and means of death) and then go where you go, do what you do, let you lead. If I hang on to my own wishes, my own ways, my own sense of control, my life will be dead to joy and purpose. What good will it do me to be physically alive, but numb and dead inside? Besides there is no guarantee that all my attempts to determine the fate and safety of my life will pay off. I can’t control the circumstances of my existence. Death/illness comes unexpectedly and/or eventually. Unless I honor you and your words in the midst of this crazy, life, you will not honor me in your glorious life. I want to taste the power of the Kingdom Now. Thank you and Amen.

A warning from Jesus

Thoughts on Mark 8:14-21

You were still musing over the exchange you had just finished with the Pharisees. And the disciples were worried about what they were going to eat. Your tone of voice sounds a bit snippy here, Jesus. Is it? Or am I projecting onto you what I expect to hear? Impatience, Irritation. hmm.

How often do I miss the chance to learn the deeper things of the spirit because I am consumed with the temporary, the workaday worries of this life?

Why do you spend so much mental energy thinking about what you’re going to eat? How you’re going to pay your bills? Have you ever gone hungry? Remember the time I gave you the down payment for your house? When I arranged to have your car fixed when you had no cash for it? Don’t sweat the small stuff. Focus on the big picture. Get it?

Once again, Jesus, with you in the boat is where transformation takes place. You speak of profound spiritual truths and I fuss over what I’m going to eat for lunch. My assumption of your angry dismissal of me comes to the surface and I must dive beneath it. My life stance as being the source of impatience is now the “bread” I’m worrying over, it’s a distraction that pulls me away from hearing your truth. (Debby, take your eyes off yourself and listen to Jesus, he’s telling you something very important.) You are warning me about how something useful and good when used properly (leaven) can go bad and be harmful when not. What is the useful and good that I need to be cautious about? I’ll sit with you in the boat for a minute around that.

My time. It is one thing I have plenty of. Do I use it wisely or let it rot and spoil?

What about you? What good and useful thing in your life is Jesus warning you about?