August 12, 2018

Pentecost: Not Alone

We’ve been looking at how God is working in and through us to make us diamonds and masterpieces. As we noted last week, it’s not necessarily the big and grand things that make the most difference. It can be the small things we do because we are women and men of faith.

At the Daughters of the King Assembly I spoke about last week; the keynote speaker was Deborah Smith Douglas. She is an author, speaker, spiritual advisor, and deeply faith-filled woman. Her topic was Deepening Prayer. Douglas reminded us all that in our faith journey, we are never alone.

She said, we are always in the company of the saints who have gone before. Some of these are well known women or men. Others are the everyday people who lived a life of faith and in doing so, changed their corner of the world. In fact, many of those considered saints, like Julian of Norwich or Mother Teresa had no aspirations for sainthood.

Mother Teresa, it has been learned from her letters, even doubted her own faith. She wrote, “Where is my faith? – even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness & darkness. – My God – how painful is this unknown pain. It pains without ceasing. – I have no faith. – I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart - & make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me – I am afraid to uncover them – because of the blasphemy – If there be God, - please forgive me.” - Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light

A long list of others who doubted their faith could be compiled. The Psalms are full of David’s wavering faith and fears. Psalm 42 is just one of many.

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
   so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
   for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
   the face of God?
My tears have been my food
   day and night,
while people say to me continually,
   ‘Where is your God?’

These things I remember,
   as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,*    and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
   a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
   and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
   my help and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
   therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
   from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
   at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows
   have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
   and at night his song is with me,
   a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock,
   ‘Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully
   because the enemy oppresses me?’
As with a deadly wound in my body,
   my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me continually,
   ‘Where is your God?’

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
   and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
   my help and my God.

David feels like he has been abandoned by God. People are even asking, “Where is your God?” He says “My tears have been my food day and night” and “my soul is cast down within me”. Yet ultimately, he is able to say that he will, “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”

Doubt doesn’t make our spiritual ancestors, or ourselves, any less suited to act on God’s call in our lives. Deborah Smith Douglas told the women at the recent retreat that we are part of the company of those who walk with and act for God now and in the past. She reminded the women that God rarely choses those with ‘clean hands’ or ‘pure blood’ to “come follow me”. Jesus chose fishermen and women to be his disciples. Over the centuries, God has used harlots, adulterers, murderers, cowards, and other widely assorted men and women. God uses you and me, too. 

This coming weekend, I will be leading a retreat that will look at 5 women of the Bible. Mary (Mother of Jesus), Mary Magdalene, Esther, Ruth, and Judith have been maligned, glorified, or ignored by history. We’ll see who they really were and what their lives can teach us about our lives of faith in the 21st Century.

If Mother Teresa, John of the Cross, 'Doubting' Thomas, and many others throughout the centuries can wonder about their faith and calling, we do not need to lose heart when we have our own questions. As Douglas noted last weekend, we are not alone. We can find community with our fore-bearers through gratitude, intercession, drawing near to God, and simply loving God and our neighbor.

Do you ever think you are unworthy because you have doubts?

What do you do when you feel alone and far from God?
Next week, we’ll start a series based on the women we will discuss at the Aug. 17-18 weekend. For those readers who might be at the meeting, this will be a chance for further learning. Others may find it interesting to discuss with friends in book or Bible study groups. 

August 5, 2018

Pentecost: Plans

For the past couple weeks, we've looked at how God works at making us masterpieces and diamonds, even though at this moment in time, we may look more like a mess of paint or just dust. God's work often involves changes to our plans. Being remade, even if we are willing isn't necessarily an easy process. 
Max Lucado notes, in his book And the Angels were Silent, that we all have gifts to ‘move the Kingdom down the road’. Focusing on the episode in Matthew 21 where Jesus sends 2 disciples to get a donkey right before his entry into Jerusalem, Lucado goes on to say, “All of us have a donkey. You and I each have something in our lives, which, if given back to God, could, like the donkey, move Jesus and his story further down the road. Maybe you can sing or hug or program a computer or speak Swahili or write a check. Whichever, that’s your donkey. Whichever, your donkey belongs to him. It really does belong to him. Your gifts are his and the donkey was his.

This past couple of days, I have been at the annual Assembly and Retreat of the Daughters of the King in the Diocese of the Rio Grande. Over the past 6 years, I was honored to use my gifts to move the Daughters of the King part of the Kingdom down the road a bit further as the diocesan president. Now it is someone else’s turn.

Of course, letting go of one ministry means I need to evaluate what to do with the time and talent I was using in that role. Proverbs 16:1-4 tells us, “The plans of the mind belong to mortals, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All one’s ways may be pure in one’s own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit. Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established. The Lord has made everything for its purpose…

As the citation notes, human minds make plans, but God weighs (tests) the spirit of the action. Only when we ‘commit our work to the Lord’ can we accomplish anything. I often ponder my gifts and contributions. Culture says that we can count our ‘success’ in numbers. Numbers of attendees, or purchases, or income. God doesn’t count that way. Back in 2016, Mark Roberts of Life for Leaders at the DuPree Institute remarked, “No matter the work you do, whether you’re a writer, a banker, a mother, a bricklayer, or you-name-it, your greatest success is the assurance that God values your work and that what you are doing makes a difference for God in the world.” 

We are often pointed to the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) as a way to measure our work for God. Are we producing or hiding our ‘talents’? Recently I heard a meditation pointing to the Parables of the Mustard Seed and Yeast as another way of measuring our ministry.

In those twin parables, Jesus tells the crowds, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches…[and] the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” (Matthew 13:31-33)

It is not necessarily the big things that make the greatest difference or impact. It is the small, day-to-day actions, which point to God’s love, that can create the most change. It’s easy to think we must do more, give more, or get more involved in issues. Doing little things may not seem to make a difference. You may have heard of the woman who each year planted a few daffodil bulbs. Ultimately the entire hillside was covered. A little mustard seed in the ground, as Jesus notes, becomes a bush for birds. Something similar happens when you mix a little yeast with flour and water. The next thing you know you have a bubbly mixture that will become bread. The bread can feed a crowd. The teaspoon of yeast couldn’t feed anyone, but the bread it makes does. 
Whether you are planting a mustard seed of a ministry that someday turns into an international blessing, adding a few daffodils to a hillside, or yeast to water and flour, the end result is a blessing to those involved.  

What is your ‘donkey’, Max Lucado asks? What mustard seed, daffodil bulb, or yeast are you nurturing?How is God working in you to grow a great harvest?