Friday, April 24, 2015

Daily lesson for April 24, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Psalm 105 verse 41:

"He opened the rock, and water gushed out;
it flowed through the desert like a river."

Within each human soul there is a rock, that when struck has within itself a great rush of living water which is human flourishing.  In various religious traditions the water within has been called "charisma" or "awakening" or "enlightenment" or "the Spirit of God".  It gushes forth, slaking our deepest thirsts and spilling out to water not only ourselves but also both the people and the place around us.  It is the water of pure joy. And the rock where the water is found is the Christ (1 Cor 10:4) -- eternal, universal, and waiting to be tapped in every human being.

The unleashing of the water in the rock cannot be manufactured. We cannot drill for it.  We cannot discover it. In some sense it must discover us. It must be revealed as to where it is. As the LORD said to Moses, "Strike the rock."  Before that moment, the rock looked just like all other rocks -- massively solid and impenetrable.  But once revealed, the rock is discovered to be the capstone entryway to life abundant. We cannot find this rock ourselves; we do not need to find this rock ourselves. All we need to do is trust that it is present and that when we are thirsty enough (that is to say, ready) its capstone will be revealed and its water will gush forth.  This may happen while reading a book, or hearing a sermon, or being struck suddenly by some new insight.  But once found, then suddenly it is seen that every rock around us. (that is, each human soul) has the same hidden water within.

Once opened, the rock's water is a constant source of life. It spills forth and turns a desert into a fertile field and makes what once was a wilderness blossom with love and beauty. It is a blessing to all around. It is living water.

At the festival which commemorated the Israelites' journey through the wilderness and how God provided them with water from the rock, Jesus "stood and said in a loud voice, 'Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.'"  This wonderful invitation must be heard!  Even in the desert the water is present. It is alive. It is within. All we have to do is hold out and wait for its Christ-rock source to be revealed.  And once the Christ-rock is opened, the water is for anyone who is thirsty is invited to come and drink, live, and flourish. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Daily Lesson for April 23, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Daniel chapter 5 verses 

17 Then Daniel answered and said before the king . . . “I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. 18 O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty. 19 And because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whom he would, he killed, and whom he would, he kept alive; whom he would, he raised up, and whom he would, he humbled. 20 But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him. 21 He was driven from among the children of mankind . . . until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will. 22 And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, 23 but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven . . . And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.
Then Belshazzar gave the command, and Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put around his neck, and a proclamation was made about him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

It is so easy for all of us to get so caught up in the issues of the day that we lose our sense of human kindness. In these anxious times we are now living in it is so easy to get caught up in making enemies of people on the other side of the political aisle. Sensational media constantly fuels the whole drama, profiting off of its own 24/7 demonization of political leaders.  It is a type of warfare; and just like in any other war the first casualty is truth and the mortal risk is the human soul. 

Just like in all generations, there are substantive issues to be addressed in this one.  But they should be addressed civilly and without resort to our calling one another Godless, soulless, demon-possessed, or whatever other manner of evil will surely be heard on tonight's news.  There has to be another way.

Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the great workers for peace in both this and the last century, once reflected on what kind of change is necessary in how we see and speak to those in power and those on the opposing side of an issue:

"The people in the movement can write very good protest letters, but they are not yet able to write love letters. We need to learn to write to the Congress and to the President of the United States letters that they will not put in the trashcan. We need to write the kind of letter that they will like to receive. The way you speak, the kind of language you use and the kind of understanding you express should not turn people off.  Because the people you write to are also persons like all of us."

The prophet Daniel did just this in today's lesson. He told the king the hard truth that because the king was arrogant the kingdom would be taken from him. Yet, because Daniel spoke his truth clearly and without malice, the king respected him and actually even honored  him.

To be right on an issue is one thing; but to be honored even by one's opponent is quite another. This is something to be strived after today. For as Jesus said, "Love your enemies; bless and do not curse."  These are words found in the Bible; and these have a far great chance of changing our world than whatever vitriol we will hear tonight on the news. 

In fact, they are the only words which have any chance at all. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Daily Lesson for April 22, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Luke 4 verses 42 and 43:

42 And when it was day, he departed and went into a desolate place. And the people sought him and came to him, and would have kept him from leaving them, 43 but he said to them, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

A pastor friend of mine told me that saying no is always necessary in order for us to then say a deeper yes.

Most of our lives are filled with constant demands on our time.  It's one thing after another -- work, kids, grand kids, ball games, volunteering, church.  It's one incessant demand on our time after another. And it's all good stuff. It's very god stuff.  But is it our stuff?  Is it what we are supposed to be doing with our lives right now?

Jesus came preaching and healing in the little village of Capernaum just beside the Sea of Galilee. He had a great little ministry going with enough to say grace over a thousand times. It was great work and people loved him for it. It would have been enough to keep him busy for all his life.   He would have been the best thing that ever happened to the little village of Capernaum.

But there must have been something inside of Jesus telling him that this wasn't it -- that there was something else. He was doing what he felt called to do thus far, but something in his spirit told him it wasn't what he was called to do next. 

So, the text says he went away to a desolate or deserted place. He found some stillness. He sought quiet.  He sought God. And when those with their needs came to him to beg him to come back Jesus had the courage within himself to say in order to say a deeper yes.

The "tyranny of the urgent" is what most often stands in the way of the important. In order to do what is important, we have to step back from purports to be urgent; for anything and everything will insist on its urgency. The truly human task is to step from the incessant demands of what we are doing now in order that we might discern and discover what we are called to do next. This involves distance, disengagement, and probably the disappointment of others.  Only those with the courage to say no to today will be able to say the deeper yes to tomorrow.

I know Jesus must have disappointed all those back in Capernaum with all their legitimate human needs. But I'm also glad he said no to them, so that he might say yes to the world. This was his purpose in life. Among many competing voices he listened for this purpose and found us. May we do the same. May we find the courage to say no so that we might also say a deeper yes. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Daily lesson for April 21, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from 1 John 4:

17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

The opposite of love is not hate but fear. As John beautifully puts it, "Perfect love casts out all fear."  When we know and accept deeply within ourselves that we are loved -- that at the core of our being we are "beloved" -- then there is no fear.   Just a few verses before our lesson today, John says, "God is love."  God is love and we are loved ("beloved"); we do not know God until we know Him as absolute love and we do not know ourselves until we know we are absolutely loved. To know these things is to no longer fear God. For God's perfect (absolute) love casts out all fear of God.

But true love does not end with our being loved , but with our loving. True love always makes the receiver of God's absolute love into a giver also.  This too is the meaning of "perfect love".  It is love which is whole and complete -- love which flows in and through and also spills out. Love is not yet perfect if it does not spill out. It stagnates and putrefies.

A metaphor to help. The Dead Sea is dead because it has no outflow. It is what is called an endoric body of water -- meaning water comes in but is not released so eventually it dies. After many millenia, the silt carried by the Jordan River into the Trans-Jordan valley has stagnated and hardened and made what was once a living sea now dead.

We love because God first loved us.  But if we withhold this love from others -- if we give in to bitterness, resentment, hatred or anger  -- then the love within us calcifies and hardens and eventually ends in the death of our spirit within.  Knowing deep in our heart that we have not loved as we should, we calcify and we begin to yet fear God once more; God again becomes a God of wrath and vengeance. In other words, we again make God into our own image. 

God truly is love; and we are beloved. There is no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear. But the key to knowing and letting ourselves be beloved is to allow the love of God flow through us -- to our brothers and our sisters, our neighbors and even our enemies. To withhold that love is to calcify and die; to let it flow through us is to be a beautiful and beloved font of God's love in a dry and weary land. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Daily Lesson for April 20, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from 1 John 3 verses 19 through 21:

19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God.

And Psalm 25 verse 11:

"For your name's sake, O Lord,
pardon my guilt, for it is great."

The joy of the spiritual journey is the coming to know ourselves beloved.  To be beloved is to accept that God is love and that we are the object of that love. It is a joyous thing to be beloved because there is no selfishness in its acceptance. It is just "right" -- like when two people are in love. This is why the love of marriage is such a wonderful metaphor for God's love.  It is beautiful to give love and to receive and the receiving of love is a gift of love in return. We let ourselves be loved, and in doing so we are then loving the lover back. As the psalmist says, we accept our pardon and forgiveness (the ultimate sign of love) not selfishly, but "for [God's]  name's sake".

Bernard of Clairvaugh put all this quite beautifully in what he called The Four Loves. He said we first begin by loving ourselves for ourselves' sake. Then we move on to loving God for ourselves' sake. Then we progress to love God for God's sake. But, finally, we come to a place of loving ourselves again -- but now for God's sake.

It is God's joy to love us. Let us make God's joy complete by accepting that love and knowing and loving ourselves as we are -- as God's beloved. 

A poem for reflection from Raymond Carver:

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Daily lesson for April 17, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Psalm 16 verse 11:

"You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore."

Stephanie, one of our pastors at church, is leading a class on designed to help people discover their gifts and live out their calling. I thought it was beautiful that among those who attended the class on Wednesday night were a college student discerning her major and a recently widowed 90-year-old woman who is looking for the next act in life. Where else can you find that except at church?

Stephanie's handout from Wednesday night's class included a quote from the novelist E.L. Doctorow specifically about writing, but also about life:

"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

I think one of the things Stephanie is trying to do is encourage us all not to be anxious about the trip, but to take it slow, enjoy the ride, and let what's down the road be revealed in its own due time. In other words, trust the road and trust ourselves on the road. 

The lesson from the psalmist today says, "You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy." It seems to be saying the same thing another quote I thought of during Stephanie's class says.  This one is from the great mystic Howard Thurman:

"Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."

Discovering our call is really about letting our lives and hearts speak to us. It is about discovering our joy and doing it.  We can do that in college, and at 90, and every step in between. We can make the whole trip that way; and we can be joyously alive while doing it. 

To God be the glory . . .

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Daily Lesson for April 16, 2015

Today's daily lesson comes from Luke chapter 3 verses 10 and 11:

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

In his book "A New Earth: Awakening to You Life's Purpose", Eckhart Tolle says that our ego selves really do not want to have but rather want to want. Ostensibly, to have would be to reach a point of satisfaction -- our needs and wants met by what we have. But in reality what we have is never enough; we always want more.  And our wants are never quite satisfied.  This is the story of Adam and Eve, who could eat of all the fruit of the Garden save the one they wanted.   And it is the reason my house is so cluttered with toys my kids never play with. The next toy always holds the promise of fulfillment, but the promise is always broken.

The beginning of transformation for us comes first in noticing how our desires are never met.  The act of noticing is the beginning of consciousness; and consciousness, Tolle says, is what allows us to shift from being a people with perpetual desires to a people for whom enough is enough. 

We can practice the consciousness of enough being enough.  One ancient and very practical way to do that is to give things away. In today's lesson John the Baptist tells those with more than they need to give away the extra to those without enough. Anyone who has ever tried to do something like this knows how difficult it can be at first. We are attached to our things -- even our extra things.  Yet it is wrong attachment; it is ego attachment. The giving away frees us from this ego attachment and opens a space for us to realize (come to consciousness) that what we need is not what we are wanting but rather what we already have within us. For the kingdom of God is within us.

This is all pretty heady psychological stuff; so let me finish up with a prayer my plain spoken, West Texan grandfather used to teach the boys in his Sunday School class to pray, "Lord, fix my wanter."  Our wanters can be fixed; but in order to fix them we will need to change our havers also.