When you give up and go fishing

Thoughts on John 21:1-14

I said I’d die for you and then I denied you. I ran to the tomb on the news that you were raised and found it empty. I was in the room with the other disciples during the times you appeared, and I wasn’t singled out, I was just one one the few. Mary got your special engagement, even doubting Thomas got your one on one attention. Me, I’m just one of the crowd. Before you died you called me Peter, the rock, the one on whom you’d build your church and now, we barely have eye contact. Maybe my denials put me out of favor with you and your plans. I give up. Before you came along I was a great fisherman, if I’m not going to be a player in your game, I may as well go back to Galilee and resume my fishing career.

Dammit, I used to be a good fisherman, but I’ve been at it all night and not even a nibble. And this clown on the beach is telling me to fish on the other side of my boat. I’ll do it, so I can prove the clown a fool.

What! A boatload of fish! This seems familiar. Once before when I did what I was told by someone who didn’t know a sardine from a talapia, I pulled in so many fish the nets almost broke.

Of course, goody two shoes, John, is the first to recognize you. And then I look more closely and I see it is you. Without thinking I’m out of the boat and swimming to you.

We exchange no particular words at this time, but I am quick to do as you ask. I bring you the fish, and allow you to feed me. You are sending me a message. This haul of fish was meant for me alone. It’s almost a reenactment of the miracle you performed on the day you asked me to follow you. Your message penetrates my thick skull. I am one of the crowd and at the same time special to you. This satisfies me. Thank you.

How frequently I assume my screw ups disqualify me from your grace. How often my ego expects to be singled out, elevated, paid attention to. How regularly I assume I can manage on my own, take care of myself. Lord, you let my insecurities, my ego demands, my false self carry out it’s patterned habits but you do not abandon me to them. You wait on the beach, giving words of life and encouragement, when I pay attention I hear your particular message, our secret code word for the love we share. Running to you, obeying you, letting you feed me is sufficient. I am content. 

Addendum: Dear Friends, perhaps you can relate to my prayerful musings. Maybe like me you assume God is unhappy with you; or get your feelings hurt when you are overlooked; or you attempt to control your life out out of anger or just plain old forgetting that God is God and you’re not. My suggestion to you is to hear God’s voice of love speaking to you in a very unique way. Run to Jesus, sit with him and let him feed you. Blessings.

Join the joyful doubters

Thoughts on Luke 24:35-48

It’s the evening of first day of the week, the disciples are still together, wondering about the reports of an empty tomb and sightings of you, when suddenly you appear in their midst. Startled and frightened is an understatement. At first they thought you were a ghost, like they were experiencing a Folie à deux. You gave them more credit than they deserved. You seemed surprised that they were troubled and doubting. All along you had been telling them the truth about what would unfold to accomplish your mission: suffering, dying, rising on the third day; you had given them enough information so that they might have expected your resurrection. Their doubts proved their disbelief. Patiently, you give them hands on evidence proving that all you had told them about yourself and your plans for humankind were true.

The scripture says “they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered.” Joy and doubt were vying for prominence in their hearts. You, alive, talking to them, showing them your wounds – this was too good to be true. Yet here you were, asking for something to eat.

And now you give them a new identity, a new purpose, “You are witnesses of these things.” A witness, one who reports what they have seen or experienced.

Lord, I count myself one of these joyful doubters. Like them, I’ve heard you tell me the truth about who you are and who I am, what power is yours and how you share it with me, what purpose is yours and how you need me to help bring it about. This is reality and your intention for me. You patiently allow the truth to sink into my thick head, giving me proof after proof of your power and your love. Like them, joy and doubt compete for my heart. Help me to align myself with joy and belief. Thank you and amen.

Whether you are a Mary or a Gardener

Thoughts on John 20:11-18

Where in my life do I feel like Mary? Standing outside the tomb weeping? Dreams have died?  Hope is lost? Despair has set in? I can’t think of any area of my life so disheartened. So I will sit and allow the HS to awaken my sorrow. Nothing comes to my awareness. So thank you for that, Lord. But I know there are many who weep with Mary. So caught up with sorrow that your figure and voice are unrecognizable. Teach me how to help them hear you call their name.

  1. Dare to ask why. Lord, make me bold like the angels, recognizing and validating the other’s sadness or suffering. This takes a lot of selflessness on my part which I resist. To inquire after another’s heart means I will have to attentively listen to their response. This takes time and presence and I admit, I hoard my time and attention. Lord, grant me the grace to love well enough to ask why and remain emotionally connected to the ones you love.
  2. Ask questions that uncover the pain. Jesus, you asked the same question the angels did and then you went one layer deeper, “Whom are you seeking?” Lord, help me help people know that the alleviation of their pain is found in you. They may be crying over a loss of health, a difficult job, unruly children, all valid reasons to be sorrowful; but restored health, a new job or well-behaved children will not ultimately erase the source of their sadness.  Lord, teach me to gently point them to the who they seek, not the what they seek.
  3. Speak to them the personal words of Jesus. When you called her by her name, she recognized you. Attune my heart to hear the words of love and comfort you want to communicate to the one you love, and have given me to love in your place. This is risky! Disguise yourself as a gardener in me, let me be the channel, connecting you with the one you love. I need to get out of the way, there is no room for pride on my part. My job is to listen to the other and to you and by faith offer the love your Spirit prompts. A little scary.

Addendum: So for the Mary’s out there. Know the Lord knows your sorrow and is near whether you recognize him or not. He may show up through your best friend, or by reading this post. Listen for your name.

Legitimate, but unnecessary fear

Thoughts on Matthew 28:8-15

The Mary’s went to the tomb, just to be at the place where the one they loved lay buried. The shock of an earthquake, the fright of an angel descending, the power of the rolled stone, the awe of an empty tomb, the hope of their loved one’s resurrection being true, the job of passing the message on to the other disciples, no wonder they quickly departed with fear and great joy.

They obeyed and you met them. There’s a lesson here for me. When given a word or a work to accomplish by the Holy Spirit, I am to set to the task. The work will arouse fear and joy within me, as any God-given assignment should. Fear because the work is beyond me, I will need to depend upon you to get it done. Joy because I get to do it! You’ve chosen me to be your hands and mouth, what a privilege.

I’ve found this principle true regardless of the size of the task. I’m a city mouse transplanted to the country and the idea of planting a garden ignites great fear and insecurity within me; I don’t know what the heck I’m doing, I could do it all wrong.

I am called to capture your work with my words, again fear and insecurity; I don’t have anything worth saying, it’s all been said before by much more eloquent and wise people.

IMG_4529In both situations joy emerges as I obey. The delight in clearing a space of weeds, so daffodils can emerge; the satisfaction that comes from pushing the publish button on my blog; all I’m responsible for is to do as I’ve been asked, the fruit is your job. My garden and my heart are transformed through such obedience. I remind myself that joy is a fruit of the spirit, it cannot be manufactured, only grown. Tend your garden, dear Jesus.

You met the Mary’s with the words, “Do not be afraid.” My fear at the assignment is legitimate, but not necessary. When doing what you’ve asked of me, in partnership with you, there is no need for fear. I cannot fail, I cannot be defeated, I will not be shamed. I can confidently go about the business I’ve been given. Heck, you turned death into victory. It is not beyond your ability to transform my attempts at weeding and writing into things of beauty and truth. So be it.

Thank you and amen.

 

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.