Monday, July 24, 2017

Hope for a Glass Half-Full

Lectionary Reading: Romans 8:26-39 (NRSV)

"We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."

We review these famous words from the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28.  They can be daunting when one considers all of the awful things that human beings endure.

We know that all things change and sometimes it is for the better but many times our perception tells us otherwise.

Our human bodies begin to degrade and we spend billions on products to halt this process.  Eventually time wins out and our bodies fail us.  From a Christian perspective, one could take the balcony view on human life and point toward life after death in order to claim that the good would be the heavenly reward.

But getting there can be problematic.  Dementia sometimes takes hold of us along the way from point A to point B and we may rightly critique this statement to ask, "How in the world does Alzheimer's work for anyone's good?"

It is difficult to see the good in many of the
annoyances that life throws at us.  Maybe the
good comes in how we handle them.
In order to preserve the integrity of the Biblical statement, some then claim that the problem lies with the afflicted.  Either some unconfessed sin or lack of faith is trotted out as the culprit for the dementia. What might be a better solution is to admit that Paul is talking in generalities.  We know that when we go with an absolute, we can usually find loopholes in the logic.

I look at Paul's statement and believe that God can work with any awful situation and cause some good to arise.  This is the crux of the crucifixion and the resurrection for me.  I don't believe that God caused the suffering and death of Jesus.  Rather, human stubbornness called for this.  Yet, in spite of humanity's work against God's love in Christ, God shows us that suffering and death do not get the last word.

We are people of the resurrection and this statement of Paul's reminds us to see God at work even in the midst of suffering.  God may grant us the strength and courage to endure hardship and troubles when they come our way.  We see God at work through suffering not as the author but as the rock in the midst of the storm.

This important perspective is one in which we gather together when we worship to remind ourselves of the strength that we have available.  In this, we are working together for good in all circumstances and for all peoples.  Thanks be to God!


Photo by Janet Hughes via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.   


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Bondage to Decay

Lectionary Reading: Romans 8:12-25 (NRSV)

Paul continues in this week's reading concerning the division of the flesh and the spirit.  It seems as if Paul is really trying to hammer home our reliance on the flesh.  This dependence on the body is quite natural for people since we live within our bodies.  They are our homes.

They have needs that force their attention upon us.

Hunger can pull me out of prayer and pain may make it difficult to concentrate on anything substantial.  Another example might be how the bladders of children or youth shrink exponentially during a sermon (okay, that might speak more about the delivery than about our attention spans).

Our bodies restrict us in their limitations.

When I was starting for my 8th grade basketball team, I thought it would be cool to dunk the ball but my size and my athletic ability limited me.

The year before this, I experienced even greater limitation as I recovered from an Achilles heel injury.   I spent about six months recovering - some of the time on complete bed rest and the remaining time on crutches.  For the times I was unable to even get out of bed, it made me consider what a blessing it is to walk.  Being able to get around independently is something I had definitely taken for granted.  Being unable to get out of bed for any of my body's needs also made me keenly aware of my own dependence on the physical aspect of our lives.

As I get older, I discover that I can no longer eat anything I want.

I require more sleep.

I seem to get sick more often than when I was younger.

I am more aware of bodily break-downs that I previously ignored (or simply didn't happen).

Okay, there are a lot of good caption possibilities here.
I really resonated with Paul's description, "bondage to decay" as I recognize my own body's expanding limitations.  At the same time, being adopted by God must be more than just pie in the sky that we look forward to when this life is over.

I'm wondering if a focus on the spirit may not move us past the flesh but might allow us not to be subject to it quite so easily.  Our culture seems to idolize everything young and beautiful.  While most recognize the shallow nature of this, our desire for a fountain of youth seems to continue to capture our attention.

What if the spirit's leading allows us to incorporate our bodies into our selves without becoming slaves to them?

As I finished this blog post, I was actually thinking of rewarding myself with some ice cream.  Hmm.  Maybe I need to spend a little time in prayer instead.

In Christ,

Sam


Picture by Marla J Aleman via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

I May or May Not Be Comfortable with Ambiguity

Lectionary Reading: Romans 8:1-11 (NRSV) 

The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome that "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  This kind of spiritual assurance is helpful as we begin to understand that it is the grace of God rather than any effort on our part that allows us to see our own righteousness.

It is through the incarnation, life, teaching, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we find ourselves right with God.

Each individual may find a different touchstone in Christ with which he or she identifies more than another.  Some may be drawn to Christmas (incarnation) while others may find Easter (resurrection) better defines their relationship.  Still others may find meaning in the disciplines during Lent (suffering and death).  To name it so broadly is to be somewhat ambiguous.

Clarity in communication can be very helpful!
Human beings enjoy certainty.  

If I were to comment, "I heard the woman with the hearing aids," the statement is ambiguous in that it is unclear whether I or the woman use hearing aids.  So clear communication is important.

However, when we entertain the mystery of God, clarity may not be readily available.  

As we deal with God's call upon our lives, it would be nice to have blazing letters in the sky directing us to specific action.  However, the call is likely to be a little more subtle!

Paul becomes a little ambiguous when he states, "if Christ is in you" rather than assuming he is speaking to a congregation where all are "in Christ."  This makes Christians a little nervous as we may think to ourselves, "how do I know for sure if Christ is in me?"

This gets into the doctrine of assurance.  Some speak of knowing the exact moment of your salvation when you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior.  Other congregations are not as clear and Christians grow up in the church with this identity never questioned.

That is, until someone questions it.

Sometimes the certainty with which Christians tout their own strong relationship appears as if they never have any doubts.  This bravado may actually keep people from living with a stronger faith because they assume that their faith is lacking.  It is better to be honest and let people know that due to the ambiguous nature of faith in an unseen God, there will be doubts from time to time.  We will have questions.  Assurance is nice, but it doesn't mean the same thing for each person.

This is similar to the touchstones we may more closely associate with in our own lives - as you think about these attributes, do you more closely identify with incarnation, life, teaching, suffering, death or resurrection?  

All are helpful, but it is okay to claim the one you favor.  As we each claim something different for our own relationship in Christ, it is good to allow the variety within the Spirit. This comfort with the ambiguity with how we identify as Christian actually may give us more assurance and certainty within the broader setting as the Body of Christ.

And so we can relax in the Spirit as we join in worship with one another, knowing that we each bring a little bit different viewpoint to the table.  Shared understanding becomes fuller understanding.  That gives me greater assurance after all!

In Christ,

Sam


Photo by dbowman2001 via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

One Step Forward...

Lectionary Reading for Sunday: Romans 7:15-25 (NRSV)

A lot of television sitcoms revolve around miscommunication.  Marital conflict seems to be a staple of humor to which most people can relate.  Even single people had parents that argued now and then.

For some couples, this is the appropriate
designation.  But we can learn how to defuse ourselves.
As I was typing pre-marital counseling in preparation for this blog, I mis-keyed "pre-martial" instead of "pre-marital."  For some marriages, "pre-martial" might be a better fit!  Although we prescribe several sessions of pre-marital counseling before the wedding ceremony, it has been mentioned that it might be even more helpful to require a check-in after a year.

After living together for a year, most couples begin to discover their irritabilities.  Usually there has been a fight that has resulted in hurt feelings on both sides.  No one ever plans on repeating this if they can help it!  However, we do end up fighting again even though this is not our preferred way of sharing life together.

And while conflict is inevitable between two people in close quarters, how one handles that conflict is entirely manageable.  I try to lay out ground rules for couples such as keeping their discussion centered around the issue at hand.  Most of us live by the rule that "the best defense is a good offense."  This may work in sports but in a marriage, this is highly unproductive.

If a couple can agree to this rule and keep it, they will find their conflict easier to resolve.

In today's reading, the apostle Paul speaks of doing other than what he truly desires to do.  We have all been in situations where we should have kept our tongues but we let them loose.  How do we retain control of ourselves if our behavior is destructive?

Why do we do that which we know will harm us?

If Paul continues to have difficulties in Christ with his own behavior, what hope do we have?

Paul ends this reading with thanks to Jesus Christ even as he remains mixed in his allegiances.  It seems that our hope lies in the forgiveness we receive but it also may lie in the strength we can have in Christ to change.  It likely won't come in an instant but will take discipline.

And maybe this is why we have difficulty making substantial changes in our lives!  It is easier to revert back to what we know.

At the very least, we can look back and laugh at ourselves as we move forward in this life of faith!



Photo by Mark and Allegra Jaroski-B.. via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.