Friday, May 31, 2013

God So Loved The Cosmos

This weekend, I am with Great Plains Yearly Meeting, who are gathering for their annual sessions in Wichita, Kansas. The theme of the gathering is ecological stewardship, and in our Bible study we are exploring Paul’s vision of cosmic restoration in Jesus Christ. Especially because many Christians still associate the environmental movement with New Age spiritualism, it is good for us to engage with the ample biblical witness that calls on us to care for God’s creation.

How could we ever have missed it? From start to finish, from Genesis to Revelation, God has consistently revealed that the wages of sin is death – not just for us, but for all life. We learn in the story of the Fallthat humanity’s choice to turn away from God is directly connected with the twisting and destruction of the creation. Throughout the Old Testament God repeatedly reminds humanity that the earth belongs to him, and that we are merely tenants in the land. And in the Book of Revelation, we are warned that God will destroy those who destroy the earth!

God has so much more love than we usually imagine possible. Not only does God love each one of us, and all of humanity, with unceasing faithfulness; he loves the whole of his creation just as much! 

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I Surrender All

Desire is endless. There are so many things in my life that I have wanted, yet when I obtained them, the satisfaction was fleeting, at best. So many times the thought has passed through my mind, If only I had this thing, I would be completely satisfied. How many times must that line of thinking prove to be untrue before I am able to completely root it out?

It would be easier if this cycle of desire and disappointment only applied to bad things. If this were so, I could focus on only desiring the good things, and then I could be satisfied. Instead, I have found that some of the most insidious temptations come clothed as angels of light. Even the things of God – the Bible, the Church, works of mercy and justice – can all too easily become idols. Anything that takes my eyes off of Jesus leads me astray, and that can include the very ministry that I believe he has given me to do!

It is easy to be deceived. When a person is addicted to drugs, alcohol, pornography or ostentatious wealth, the problem – and its solution – is often clear: Get sober; stop watching; share your resources with others. But how about when my addiction is the approval of the church community, or the good feelings I get from feeding the hungry? What if the warm fuzzies I get from worship become a habit-forming dependency? How will I recognize when the good things in my life become a stumbling block in my walk of discipleship to Jesus?

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

I Must Decrease

When I was a teenager and in my early 20s, I was pretty miserable most of the time. For years, I flailed around in search of meaning and purpose for my life. I explored and studied, seeking to find meaning in some philosophy, political system, or great idea. I thought I was willing to sacrifice anything for the truth. Yet, throughout my experience of darkness, loss of meaning and despair, I never let go of the illusion that I was in control of my own destiny. The fortress of my life may have been burning down around me, but I was king of the castle!

When I made the decision to follow Jesus, I encountered a whole new kind of fire. I began to perceive that my choice to surrender my life to God would involve a kind of agony I had never allowed myself to experience before. Startlingly, when I told Jesus that he could have control over my life, he took me up on the offer!

One moment that drove this reality home for me was a conversation that I had shortly after committing to become a disciple. I had done something thoughtless. I was careless with the feelings of another person. I acted selfishly. And when they confronted me about how my actions had been hurtful, I wanted to shrug it off. It wasn’t such a big deal, really, I told myself.

Then came the words I’ll never forget: You talk so much about Jesus, yet you act this way!

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Monday, May 20, 2013

A Gospel For Hungry People

This Sunday at Capitol Hill Friends, we looked at Luke 10:1-24, the story of when Jesus sends out 72 of his disciples to go ahead of him into Samaria and share the good news: The kingdom of God has come near to you.

 Jesus sends his followers out in utter vulnerability. He instructs them to take nothing with them for the journey – no money, no supplies, not even shoes! We know from the previous chapter that Samaria is not a safe place for the Jewish disciples. Rejection – possibly even violence – is a realistic expectation for these missionaries being sent into cross-cultural ministry. Jesus sends them out in pairs, so at least they have each other, but they’re basically defenseless.

 As disciples of Jesus who find ourselves called to live in the midst of Empire, there is a great temptation to look for ways to protect ourselves. We live in a culture that is constantly retelling the story of domination: Money makes the world go ’round. Might makes right. You get what you deserve. It is an enormous challenge to remain open, to see the signs of the kingdom of God in our midst. And even when we can see it, the way of peace that we find ourselves called into by Jesus is so intensely counter-cultural that we have to wonder: Does following Jesus mean becoming a social outcast?

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Do You Believe?

I belong to a faith tradition that highly values action. Drawing on the broad witness of Scripture, Quakers are convinced that the sign of true faith is that it is lived out in daily life. Reciting a creed, affirming a statement of faith, or even reading the Bible, is no guarantee of faithfulness. We can say, “Lord, Lord,” all we want – but if our lives do not demonstrate the content of our faith, our words ring hollow.

For many of us, this begs the question: What is the point of having shared beliefs at all? If the whole point of the gospel is right action, could it be that intellectual beliefs are superfluous at best – and, at worst, even harmful? In a world with numerous competing belief systems, holding firmly to a particular set of beliefs – for example, about who Jesus is – might seem exclusive or narrow-minded. In this environment, why not just focus on loving others as best we can, without all the barriers that belief often seems to present?

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Eyes To See

Human beings are amazingly imaginative, inventive creatures, and nowhere do we demonstrate more creativity than in our quest to impose a sense of meaning, order and control over our lives. We eagerly develop worldviews that help us understand our existence, seeing the world through our assumptions and systems of meaning.

Some of our ways of perceiving the world are helpful; others are harmful. But all of our worldviews have the potential to become destructive when we make the mistake of placing them at the center, in the place of God. Rather than allowing our worldviews serve as a lens that makes it easier for us to see what the Spirit is doing the world, we often begin to worship the lens itself. We begin to assign ultimate meaning to the eye rather than to the light that allows us to see.

One of the most powerful worldviews we find ourselves enmeshed in today is that of the money economy. Even 2,000 years ago, Jesus taught of the dangers of pursuing and accumulating wealth. The lure of wealth, power and security is immense, yet Jesus warnsNo one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

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Thursday, May 09, 2013

Are You Lonely?

I recently read a post by Suzannah Paul, in which she reflects on her own experience of living in a culture of isolation. She describes the present era as one in which our common experience is intense loneliness, where genuine community seems always out of reach. Of course, most of us have become quite adept at hiding our anguish. Judging by photos on Facebook, one would imagine that almost everyone has dazzling social lives! The illusion that everyone else is doing great only intensifies the alienation we feel. Paul writes:

I suspect that there’s more of us [lonely, isolated folks] than we realize. Digital connection bridges some divides while camouflaging–and widening–others. Is loneliness the ironic, invisible thread connecting so many?
In my city, we are constantly surrounded by people, and yet the social emptiness can be almost palpable. Most of us self-medicate, in one way or another – typically with a burnout-enducing cycle of overwork and substance abuse. It doesn’t help that many DC residents are transient professionals who expect to be in the region for only a few years. Why bother putting down roots if they’ll all be ripped up the next time you switch jobs?

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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Disciples Beyond the Classroom

By the end of my first semester in college, I was convinced that learning a foreign language was out of my reach. Though I had done alright in high school, my first college-level Spanish course knocked me flat. It got so bad, in fact, that I ended up taking it pass/fail, and I barely squeaked by with credit. Clearly, I was no good at learning languages!
The following year, however, I spent seven months living and studying in Mexico. It was one of the most formative experiences of my life, exposing me to a culture totally distinct from my own. I fell in love with the people, places and heritage of Mexico, and I will always carry them with me.
Not to mention that my Spanish language proficiency improved dramatically. My semester abroad began with several weeks of intensive language instruction to bring me up to a passable conversational level, and for most of my seven months abroad I spoke almost exclusively in Spanish. By the time I returned for the fall semester in Kansas, I was ready to take – and pass! – Spanish literature classes. I realized that I was actually quite good at learning languages!
So what changed? 

Friday, May 03, 2013

Growing In Any Weather – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #53

Dear friends,

Spring took its time arriving this month in DC. We experienced several major shifts in weather – from the high eighties several weeks ago, down to the forties more recently. The climate here has shifted back and forth: We have seen hot and cold; muggy and dry; overcast days and others full of light. Sometimes, when things got really cold, misty and gloomy, it was hard to believe that we were in springtime and headed towards summer.

The trees knew, though. Despite all the ups and downs of an increasingly unpredictable weather cycle, the plants knew the signs of the times. Even in the midst of bitter cold, the trees began to bud; flowers bloomed and leaves slowly began to emerge. While I entertained doubts about whether we would ever see spring, the trees lived in hope.

The quiet hope and determination of the trees serve as a sign to me. This is how I am called to live: not being blown about by every change of conditions, but instead rooted in faith that God is sending the rain, sun and temperature I need to grow and thrive, even if I can’t quite imagine it yet.

Just like the trees, Capitol Hill Friends is a living, growing organism. As a community following Jesus, we live in hope. Though the outward conditions of life here often run counter to the loving relationships that we sense God calling us into, we persist in trust that the rain will fall, the sun will shine and the Spirit will blow among us.

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