Friday, December 19, 2014

Daily Lesson for December 19, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson comes from 2 Peter chapter 2 verse 19:

"They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved."

Some years ago, Will Willimon the chaplain of Duke Chapel  commented on the crisis of the party culture at Duke University and the need for faculty and administrators to play a stronger role in shaping and guiding the lives of the university's students.  "Leaving them to themselves," Willimon said, "they become the willing victims of the most totalitarian form of government ever devised, namely, submission to their peers, obeisance to people who are just like them."

There is a crisis on a lot of our college campuses. College is a time of freedom from the authority and rule of parents.  But Godly freedom never means license. As Augustine put it, true freedom is the "freedom to choose the good."

The so-called freedom a lot of young people are exercising will end up shackling them later in life -- if it doesn't kill them first.  They need and deserve teachers, administrators, mentors, clergy and other adults who care enough to teach them what real freedom is all about.  That takes time, energy, and the guts to tell these young people the truth.

I say they and their lives are worth it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Daily Lesson for December 18, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Matthew chapter 3 verses 11b and 12:

11b He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

All of us have a true and also a false self. The true self is who we are when we are when we feel completely at home in our own skin. It is the self which is spontaneous, alive, and without judgment. It is the self we act out of when we dance and make googly eyes before a baby. We do it for he pure joy of it -- and because we know they will not tell.

The false self is a facade built up around the true self. Like the chaff which encases a kernel of wheat, the false self is there to protect and shield us from harm. That is an important and necessary task -- protecting the soul from the wounds of this world. But ultimately, the false self ends up being a kind of protective prison -- one the true self must be freed from in order to give to the world what is was made to give. And what it was made to give to the world is also what the world needs from it - the kernel, the essence, the true self.

Christ comes to reveal our true self to the world. Though hidden in a protective chaff-like shield, Christ comes to give us the courage to risk living without the shield. Yes, this makes us more vulnerable and at greater risk to the world and its wounding ways; but it also makes us more, well, alive.

I want to be my true self -- my joyous, compassionate creative, playful, funny, goofy, singing and sort-of dancing and always intelligent self. I want my children to be raised by this true self. I want my wife to laugh with me at this true self. I want the whole world to know and be blessed by this true self. And I know none of that can happen so long as I'm hiding it behind my false self.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Daily Lesson for December 17, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson is from Psalm 119 verses 58 and 59:

58 I entreat your favor with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
59 When I think on my ways,
I turn my feet to your testimonies.

Last week our church hosted a conversation with one of our former ministers who is now dying of cancer. Always straight to the point, he titled the evening: "A Conversation About Death and Dying with a Dying Man". It was holy ground with a holy man.

At one point in the evening I asked him what we should do with regret. He became very serious, and said he believes there is no place for regret, as regret is a form of recondemning and repunishing ourselves -- the very opposite of grace and the acceptance of grace.

He was absolutely right. Christ has died for us. He is risen, and he sits at the right hand of God, interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:34). He does not condemn us; how dare we condemn ourselves!  No, let us turn our feet to His testimonies -- away from ourselves and our self-loathing, and toward the one who is the "Father of all mercies" (2 Cor. 1:3). His grace really is sufficient (2 Cor 12:9).

There is no place for regret in our lives. When it creeps in -- as it shall always try -- let us turn and run to God's promises. God is greater than our sin; and his mercy far outweighs our misdeeds.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Daily Lesson for December 16, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Isaiah chapter 9 verses 2 and 4 through 7:

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

The Prophet Isaiah spoke hose words in a time of deep darkness for his people and nation.  A noxious mix of political criminality, oppression of the lower classes, entangling alliances with corrupt foreign governments, and the spiritual decadence of all the people, had cost the nation it's soul.  Finally, the inevitable happened; the nation fell and the people were carried off into bondage in Babylon. They thought there could be no darker day than the one when the people were forced to sing the songs of Zion, while Zion itself burned behind them. Yet, the darkest days of Babylon itself were still to come.

It was to such a dark time and people as this that Isaiah spoke his words of light:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

It is a word of light from on High to a people who had lost all light within -- a word of hope from God to a people without hope in this world.  And two and a half millenia later, it is a word for us.

Our country struggles to hold on to its soul. Divisions within seek to pull us apart. Threats from outside leave us desperate for whatever will make us secure.  All while our people live in the decadence of richness of things and poverty of spirit. We swing between a totalitarian police state, where government is everywhere, and mere anarchy. Our Babylon is not far; perhaps it is already here.

And to this time the word from Isaiah comes. At the darkest season, the light comes. And when both oppression and lawlessness threaten a child is born, a Son comes,

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

He comes just when we need him most. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Daily Lesson for December 15, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Luke chapter 22 verses 41 through 43:

 41 And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 43 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.

There is absolute freedom of petition in the presence of God.

Most of us are afraid to pray for what we wish.  We are afraid because we are anxious about bringing our own desires before God. We are anxious about ourselves and what it is that we desire and, if it were known, how it would be received. 

The saints, on the other hand, seem to pray freely.  They speak honestly and pray for what they desire. The act of exposing themselves and their desires does not create anxiety in them. And even the prospect of praying for something that is not in the will of God does not trouble them. They are free and at ease in their prayers and petition and they try to teach others that it is okay to be the same. This is why St. Paul wrote the church at Philippi saying, "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God," (Philippians 4:6).

We are free to bring our requests before God. We are free to pray our heart's desire. We are free even to pray for things to happen which are not in the will of God - because even while our prayers may not always be in accordance with God's will, prayer itself always is.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Daily Lesson for December 12, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Psalm 35 verses 21 and 26:

21 They open wide their mouths against me;
they say, “Aha, Aha!
Our eyes have seen it!”
26 Let them be put to shame and disappointed altogether who rejoice at my calamity!
Let them be clothed with shame and dishonor
who magnify themselves against me!

The Germans have a peculiar word, Schadenfreude, which literally means "harm-joy" and is the name for the feeling of delight one gets from the misfortune of others.

Now you might wonder just what kind of people would have a word for such a sick delight? My answer, an honest people.

The truth is we've all done it.  We've all taken delight in somebody else's misfortunes, mistakes, mishaps, misadventures, and missed opportunities.  Something happened to diminish them and we felt bigger. We said we hated it for them, but the truth is we delighted in it; that's why we picked up the phone to tell somebody else. It gave us pleasure to tell of somebody else's misery. It gave us delight to tell on them. And we did it under the pretense of "a prayer concern". Come on; we are only deceiving ourselves. We definitely aren't deceiving God.

God knows our hearts; and God knows there is no place for Schadenfreude in the hearts of His people.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Daily Lesson for December 11, 2014

Today's Daily Lesson comes from Psalm 37 verse 4:

"Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart."

The transformation of desire is one of the central processes of the spiritual life. As we grow in the knowledge and love of God and depths of God, God gives us the desires of our hearts.

Notice what the Psalm does not say; it does not say God gives us what our hearts desire. For that there would be no transformation necessary. God would be a giant slot machine, dispensing whatever we ask for. Spare us the God who gives us what our hearts desire! That is idolatry in the first degree.

No, God actually transforms our desires. God takes our old desires and buries them in the Paschal mystery of death and resurrection. In God, our desires are no longer the same because we are no longer the same. God gives us new desires within our hearts because we ourselves are new people in God.

So how does this happen? Where does it begin? We are told it begins in delighting ourselves in the LORD. I take that to me to learn to delight in the eternal things of God - what remains when all shall be said and done. Ultimately, this means to delight ourselves in love because love never ends.

To receive the gift of God's love, to accept it, and delight in being beloved transforms the desires of our hearts. It makes us desire to be not only recipients of God's love, but also givers of it as well. In other words, it changes us to be like God Himself. 

We love because He first loved us; and He gives us the gift of being able to delight in His love, and the desire to share it with others.

How beautiful.