Jesus, what are you thinking?

“But he (God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”—2 Corinthians 12:9 

Jesus, what ARE you thinking?  Feeling, or thinking, that I am insignificant is a strange thing to be considering during Lent, but that is a word I was given to ponder.  Some of the words the dictionary uses to define insignificant are:  too small or unimportant to be worth consideration, of no account, worthless, meaningless, and irrelevant.  These are heavy words and could really give a person a complex, I’m thinking, but overall, in the big picture, aren’t we all insignificant?

I love pictures taken by the Hubble telescope.  I know the colors in these pictures are enhanced to show heat, but I think they are magnificent. These pictures show the vast heavens and, even then, there is still more.  In the whole of this one universe, earth is a very tiny, almost non-dot.  Even smaller is the place on that earth where we live; smaller still is a single person.  Insignificant, right?  Wrong!!

This week we commemorated the Annunciation of our Lord to the Virgin Mary.  God always planned to live with humans and he planned to come and live on an insignificant planet, to an insignificant country, to a small village where he chose to be born in a barn, or a cave, as a helpless baby of an insignificant young woman who was not married. How low can you go?  You would assume that God would come to be born of royalty, live with the rich and powerful where he would be noticed and could make a huge splash but, though we might choose so, he did not. Philippians 2:6-8 tells us that Jesus chose to empty himself of his God-ness and take on our humanity with all of its limitations—all of them, but he did not sin. He knows how we feel.

We are not insignificant, because God made us and knows who we are.  Scripture tells us that he knew us before we were born.  Our name is carved on the palm of his hand.  He stores our tears in his bottle.  He counts the hairs on our head, and he has come, not only to dwell with us but, to dwell in us. Why did he choose us—you and me?  Because he loves us!!  That’s it. 

The powerful don’t often recognize Jesus and they might not know their need of him.  Those of us who are weak and sinful know that we do.  In the kingdom of God, the power and strength of Jesus is poured into our very weakness and insignificance. We are not worms groveling in the dirt in our sin and weakness of which we repent in sackcloth and ashes during Lent, begging God for another chance, as I used to believe.  But we do acknowledge that we are sinners saved, constantly forgiven, and transformed by the grace of God, alone. The Bible shows us that Jesus seems to prefer to hang out with these insignificant people and that IS the Good News. If it weren’t Lent, we could shout, “Halleluiah!”  But since it is, and if you would rather, you could say, “Thank you, Jesus.”  I might do both.

Advertisements

I can’t do this!

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”—Philippians 4:13.

 It was a beautiful morning as I left my house to attend the early Lenten service at church.  It was dark and the moon hadn’t disappeared behind the mountains. It was still high in the sky.  As I returned home, the eastern horizon was on fire with orangey-gold as the sun was rising.  God had just said to it, “It’s time to get up and do it again.” (Smile.)

I hope your Lent is going well.  I must admit that I don’t understand the deep feeling of “inadequacy” that was given me to ponder as my Lenten assignment from God.  We all feel inadequate sometimes don’t we?  I know I do. Some days, I stare at my computer whispering to myself, or maybe to God, “I can’t do this.”  But after I am still for a bit, words begin to come.

When I was young and in school, there were things I really could not do well.  I am lousy at all sports.  I can’t throw or catch a ball.  The ball usually hit me when I tried.  I am not a math person – trust me.  I liked history but I don’t remember dates.  Geography – I don’t remember where places are, but then they don’t stay put anymore do they?  I loved music, especially singing, English, reading – I loved reading – and art.  I did feel inadequate when I couldn’t do well, but I’m ok with that, now.  God didn’t call me to play ball, draw maps, or remember dates. I felt very inadequate raising five children. There may be something that still needs healing here, in which case…the feeling will come back. It is fading, now. God is still working to make inner space in me and transforming me in the process. That’s what he does with us.  Jesus probably felt inadequate on his way to the cross.  He knows how we feel.

Sarah Young, in her book, JESUS CALLING, wrote with Jesus speaking, “…..relax and be on the lookout for what I am doing.  This mind-set will free you to enjoy me and to find what I have planned for you to do.  This is far better than trying to make things go according to your own plan……I can equip you to do absolutely anything, as long as it is my will…..”  God must have inspired Sarah to write this for me. Or maybe it was written for you.  His will is the key.  “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” We all can.

In meditation, I still sit under the tree with Jesus and my path splits to either side of us.  I have a print of this photo in my office and on my Facebook page.  The last few days I have noticed that there is something in my lap as I sit, but I can’t tell if it is a book—the Bible, or a journal?  A math book?  No, that can’t be it. Maybe it is a book of maps or, perhaps, it is my laptop.  (We can do all things, if they are God’s will, through Jesus who strengthens us.)

“I can’t do everything, but I can do something….Lord, what would you have me do?” – From the motto, The Daughters of the King

 

Hang on Tight

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”—Jeremiah 29:11

I pray about my assignment for Lent—the one about pondering some deep feelings.  Jesus told me that he needs to give me more interior space so I need to let go of these fears. “Another layer is coming off,” I heard. This may be harder than making space in my home as I had planned.  Or giving up chocolate—neither going well.  I pray about “insecurity.”  Jesus is showing up beside me on this journey in some very surprising and tangible ways.  I had thought my insecurity “issues” were mostly healed, but any of us may have this issue at times.

Without going into much detail, I was born, by forceps delivery, five months after Pearl Harbor.  It was revealed to me in prayer that I didn’t believe that the world was safe—picked up from my mother while in the womb, probably. After age one, between the ages of seven and 13, we moved at least seven times.  I had to start over in meeting new people, going to new schools, churches, etc.   One summer, we were homeless.  Not living on the street homeless, but we did not have a home. My parents were without jobs.  Our large family had to split up so we could live with friends.  Even though I stayed with my best friend, eventually we were asked to leave, it was embarrassing for a sensitive, shy introvert of 12. The rootlessness continued after we married and Dave went into the military. After that, we lived in Longmont for 21 years which I planned to be our last move. God had other plans and so I have become accustomed to the nomadic life.  I had food issues also, but that will wait for another story, perhaps.

Insecurity creeps in occasionally when life changes, when I wonder where I fit, etc., but I have learned that, in Jesus, I soon find my footing.  God has used these experiences to mold compassion in me and without them I would not be who I am today. This morning, in church—I love the early morning Lenten services.  It is dark when I go but when I come home the sun has started to spread a rosy glow on the eastern horizon (a kind of metaphor, I think)—I have a picture of sitting under the tree with the path to either side. “Give me Jesus” I pray. He comes to sit with me. We are in this together. 

Did Jesus have insecurity, too, on his journey to the cross? He was like us in all ways but sin. The Bible doesn’t record this directly, but were they expressed when he was in prayer?  Many times Jesus was in conflict with the religious authorities. His family thought he was crazy. When he started to understand that he was headed toward the cross, did he wonder if he understood his mission correctly?   Did he wonder if he was on the right path and express this to his father? “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” Mark 1:35.  Was it then?

There are many times where situations may cause insecurity in the life of an apprentice of Jesus—well, maybe not you—but he has been there before and will guide us through.  Hang on tight and Pay Attention.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”—Joshua 1:9

Lent is messy business

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.—Joel 2:12-13

Lent is messy business!  Most especially if you let Jesus have control of it.  How could that happen?  Well, first of all, you allow Jesus to have his say-so in your life and as you sit with him in prayer, you give him permission to transform you into his image. Then, go from there.

You all know that my winter has been rough.  There has not been enough light or sun-filled days.  Because of this, I have had more winter depression than usual although it has been better, recently, with the return of longer, light-filled days.  But there has been inner turmoil even then.  That usually means a bit of transformation is in the making.  I was looking forward to Lent and had some “giving-up” and “taking-on” planned, so imagine my surprise on Tuesday of this week during prayer when I was, suddenly, given names for the inner turmoil.  They came in the form of feelings.  I feel insecure, inadequate, and insignificant.  I feel somehow lost and abandoned.  Oh. Umm?  As I looked these feelings in the face, I was puzzled because they are not accurate of me.  I am none of these or at least only marginally so, I thought.  What is this about?  I often come out of a deeper than normal winter depression in a new place.  Apparently, Jesus has taken over Lent?

In my prayer on Ash Wednesday, I asked, “In light of all these feelings, what do you want me to do for Lent?”  I had thought about the taking better care of my body and de-cluttering the house—making space.  Jesus said, “Keep it simple.”  “Oh.” What does “simple” mean here?  Then I said, “What about others?  What shall I do there?” The answer, “I’ll take care of that.” “Uh oh.”  Well, maybe, I’ll keep you posted in this process.  Anyway, don’t be too surprised about what Jesus does with your Lent if you let him.  Remember Lent is a gift not a rule.

I am thinking about these feelings.  I don’t really know why the depth of them is there for me, but I know that Jesus knows and he must want to do something with them.  And I know, that as we walk this Lenten journey with Jesus to the cross, he has felt every single one of them, himself.

“In Christ alone my hope is found.  He is my light, my strength, my song.
This Cornerstone, this solid ground; firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace, when fears are stilled, when strivings cease.
My Comforter, my All in All. Here in the love of Christ I stand.”
(Stuart Townend, Keith Getty)

Happy Lent.

An Ash Wednesday Meditation

Today on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, we hear these words:

“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning
of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now
kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.”—
THE BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER 

These words from The Book of Common Prayer begin to answer the question of why we have the season of Lent.  It is a gift the Church has given us. It gives us a time to take inventory of ourselves—to look at the things done and left undone in our lives.  It gives us time to look at our relationships—with God, ourselves and others.  St. Benedict, in the Rule for his monasteries, would like his monks to make a little Lent each day, but he knows that most of us can’t and won’t take the time for this.   Lent is a time to make space in our life for God and it calls us to certain practices that help us do this.

Today, ashes are imposed on our foreheads with the following words:  “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

We remember that we are created by God to live in a relationship of Love with him and with others.  Dust doesn’t mean that we are worms, of little or no account, crawling around in the dirt. Dust is a creation of God and it helps us know who we are. God has known forever. Isaiah says, “Before I was born the Lord called me.”—Isaiah 49:1.  The psalmist acknowledges this as he says, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”—Psalm 139:13. 

We remember that God passionately desires to have this relationship with us. He remembers us.  He says in Isaiah, Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;”—Isaiah 49:15-16.  God loves us.  He misses us.

We remember that we often fall short of living in this relationship in our daily lives and we need help. Lent brings us to this, and so we pray, “Forgive us, Lord, when we forget these things and start believing we are the creator and can do our own thing.  We are sorry.  Restore us again, Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.  Amen.” 

I pray that your Lenten practices will help you remember and come closer, once again, to the One who loves you most and to the ones with whom you travel this journey.  Mine, too.

 

What!! Lent already?

Jesus says, “Are you tired?  Worn out?  Burned out on religion?  Come to me.  Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.  I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.—Matthew 11:28-30, THE MESSAGE

Lent already?  I’m pretty sure that we just had Easter a few months ago.  The old saying that “time flies when you’re having fun” must be true.  We didn’t observe Lent in the tradition in which I grew up, so this was all new to me when we became Episcopalians. I loved the rites and rituals of the church.  They nurtured the God-life in me so I took them very seriously and I still do.  I gave up meat for the whole of Lent, except for Sundays, and took on any other possible Lenten suggestion for self-denial as well. 

After a few years, I found that these practices weren’t helping me much, anymore.  I had a hard time staying with my “giving up.”  Maybe, God was trying to encourage me to take another step in my spiritual journey. So, I added self-examination and confession.  I usually had a Lenten meditation booklet provided by the church that I used during my quiet time. I didn’t know what spiritual growth was all about, so it is a good thing that God knew and urged me on.  I still had trouble with that giving-up food thing, but that was part of Lent, wasn’t it?  That is a great Lenten discipline….except…for me, it had nothing to do with growing closer to God and others.  It was more about “doing something” for Lent.  A “rule” that I had loved but was no longer working for me. 

Later, when available, I added an additional communion service and a Lenten study. I went to a retreat, a quiet day or a quiet morning each year—maybe more than one—and, I still tried to give up something.  After I adopted a rule of life, I checked to see how I was doing with that during Lent.  If I was letting one part of the rule or another slide, I would give it attention. It gave a sense of control over my Lenten discipline.

 All of these and more are good and helpful practices, but as we grow as apprentices of Jesus, we might need something else.  Those practices that helped in the beginning had become duty for me and I was bored with them? They weren’t helping me grow closer to Jesus or to others which, I believe, is what it is all about.  A day or two ago it came to me, Lent is GRACE—a gift from God. It is a time when our focus is on growing the God-life in us.  It is not a “rule” nor is it a “duty.” Lent is not “law.”  It is a Gift of Love.  Enter the light bulb over my head.   Did I just hear Jesus say, “Duh”?  Would he say that? Well, maybe.  I need to ponder this.

There is evidence that Lent was observed in the early Church as a preparation for baptism and Easter.  It was a time of prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation for baptism or recalling one’s baptism which was done at the celebration of Easter. If Lent is Grace and a gift from God given to us as a time for spiritual growth, how does Jesus want me to make use of it? How can I open myself to receive this Grace? Do I need to give up anything? What should I take on?  How can I grow in love with God and others?  The scripture from Matthew, above, may hint at the answer.  I think it’s a matter of intention.  Maybe Lent is about letting Jesus lead us through this grace-filled period so that we might celebrate Easter with great joy? 

Well, what activity could I give up in order to spend more quality time with Jesus?  And, how about “giving up” those clothes in the closet I don’t wear, or that I continually throw on the bed after I try them on? The clothing bank is in need of these. I could give things that are cluttering my house to the ARC?   If I give up certain foods, I can donate the money that would be spent on them to the Outreach Committee or food bank to help feed those in need? What could I take out of my life to make more space for loving God and others? And, maybe I could focus on an element of the Trinity Way (our rule of life) where I’m struggling?  (And, I will give up sugar because my sugar addiction is out of control and I need to. I believe God is pleased when we take care of our bodies.   You can hold me accountable in this.)

I’ll pray about these, but whatever I choose, or you choose in the next few days, if our Lenten practices do not help us grow into the Image of Jesus, nor make space for him and others in our lives, it is not really fulfilling its purpose.

 I pray for you a Grace-filled and Holy Lent.  Bless you, Donna