June 28, 2015

Priests to carry the Light into the Darkness

Seeking God is how to heal the brokenness of the past. Jesus says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5).

Isaiah continues his promises by saying “Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines; but you shall be called priests of the Lord, you shall be named ministers of our God; you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory. Because their shame was double, and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs.” (Isaiah 61:5-7)

St. Peter also tells us that we are a “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 3:9)

I just returned from a weekend at the Daughters of the King Triennial Assembly. The Order of the Daughters of the King is a lay sisterhood of women from around the world who take vows of prayer, service, and evangelism. As Daughters we seek to live into our baptismal covenant as deeply as possible and find that the vows help us do that. This was a joyful gathering of about 500 women from 18-20 countries and from every corner of the US.

There was some business, but much of the time was spent in praising God through worship and song and in fellowship. The speakers all reminded us that we are the Light of Christ in the dark world. At the end we were lighted a candle as a reminder to “Carry your candle, run to the darkness” (Go Light your World by Kathy Triccolli)

Let’s all remember that we are called to be Lights and Priests for our God.

Go Light your World (Kathy Triccolli)
There is a candle in every soul
Some brightly burning, some dark and cold
There is a Spirit who brings fire

There is a candle in every soul
Some brightly burning, some dark and cold
There is a Spirit who brings fire
Ignites a candle and makes His home

Carry your candle, run to the darkness
Seek out the hopeless, confused and torn

Hold out your candle for all to see it
Take your candle, and go light your world
Take your candle, and go light your world

Frustrated brother, see how he's tried to
Light his own candle some other way
See now your sister, she's been robbed and lied to
Still holds a candle without a flame

We are a family whose hearts are blazing
So let's raise our candles and light up the sky
Praying to our Father, in the name of Jesus
Make us a beacon in darkest times

Carry your candle, run to the darkness
Seek out the hopeless, confused and torn
Hold out your candle for all to see it
Take your candle, and go light your world
Take your candle, and go light your world

June 21, 2015

Rebuild the ruins

Verse 4 of Isaiah 61 makes me think of the destruction caused by wars currently going on and over the millennia before. It says, “They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”
Of course, Isaiah is assuring the people of Israel, who are in exile in Babylon, that they will return to their homeland and be able to rebuild their homes and the Temple. He says that God will bring them back and all will be well.
I think that this verse also calls us to action to make whole the ruins in our own lives, the devastations of past failures (or perhaps abuse) and to repair the things that we think are too badly ruined to be fixed. Maybe it’s a relationship or words spoken in anger. Perhaps we have betrayed a trust. Could it be that we have abandoned a dream of our own and allowed it to fall to ruin?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives 2 guidelines for ways to go about repairing this type of damage, which is sometimes more invisible than visible. Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” and “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy”.
To be meek is to be patient, humble, gentle, and even submissive. These are not things we like to be in our culture of grab what you can for yourself.
Mercy is being compassionate, kind, sympathetic. Again, not things valued in our culture. Both are ways to rebuild relationships with others and even with yourself.
It can seem easier to conform to the ‘world’ because as humans we like to be part of the ‘in’ crowd. The good news is that we are part of a bigger in crowd as Children of God! I John 4:4 tells us, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” The Christian group Mercy Me uses this verse as the basis for their song Greater.
Dave Peterson in a High Calling meditation notes, “Mistakenly we measure most people by their outer world when the true measure of a life is found on the inside. Our inner life with God determines whether we are pygmies or giants, whether we ride Shetlands or Clydesdales, and whether our lives turn out like David or Goliath.”
As we think about the ruins that need repaired in our lives and relationships, let’s remember, as Mercy Me sings, “Greater is the One living inside of me than he who is living in the world!” We ARE able to be humble and offer mercy precisely because “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Ask God for humility to rebuild the ruined things in your life and the ability to offer mercy to yourself or to another. With Dave Peterson of High Calling, let us pray to find the guidance for healing and building up what is broken.
Lord God, reveal to me my inner world. Help me to know more and more about why I am the way I am. Where I am bullied by old fears and pained by unhealed wounds, bring me relief. Replace all constricting forces within me, with the life-giving gifts of your Spirit. Amen.”

June 14, 2015

Comfort those who Mourn

We’ve looked at the first couple of verses of Isaiah 61 so far in our Pentecost journey through this inspiring chapter. We’ve seen that Isaiah 61 is not just the mission statement Christ claimed for his own ministry in Luke, but is our life’s ministry vision as well.
Today we will look at the last bit of verse 2 and verse 3. We are called to ‘comfort all who mourn’. This calls to mind Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where he states, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)
Jesus’ sermon has other parallels to Isaiah 61 that we’ll glance at in the coming weeks. This is a God ‘coincidence’ that I just recently realized myself. In fact, the first line of the Sermon relates to the first verse of this chapter. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says. The poor in spirit are open to the Spirit of God that allows them to proclaim God’s freedom and favor.
Today we see that Isaiah says that the Spirit of God will “comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion—to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.”
Mourning is more than just grief. The word connotes sorrow, regret and lamenting. In Hebrew the word can mean grief over a calamity as well as sorrow for something like death. In other words, Isaiah is promising that even those in the depths of seemingly unrelenting grief will be restored and made glad.
When grieving, the ancient Jews would rip their clothing, put ashes on their heads and not comb their hair and beards (an act that included oil). Isaiah promises that all that will be reversed and the symbols of joy and wholeness will be provided. Those who mourn will get a garland-to indicate celebration, oil (to cleanse and anoint themselves) and be given a mantle (clothing to replace the torn garment).
Jesus tells his disciples, “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (John 16:20) The Psalmist says “weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5b) and “I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (Jeremiah 31:13). Again and again, God promises to redeem our mourning. We live on the joyful side of the Resurrection and we can trust that our loving Father will indeed turn our “wailing into dancing…removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:11)
We are anointed for our ministries and clothed in the newness of life in baptism. Despite that, we are human and there are things that cause us to mourn. Injustice, death, loss, and other tragedies in life cause grief. It is unavoidable. However, even in our deepest grief we can remember that we are promised that ‘your grief will turn to joy’. We can journey through life's sorrows knowing that our Loving Father is with us to transform the mourning into joy.
What in your life is causing you to mourn? Can you accept Jesus’ promise that “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted”? Do you believe the promise of God that ‘Joy comes in the morning’?

June 7, 2015

Proclaim...the Lord's Favor

Isaiah 61:1 says “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me…” God promises we are filled with the Spirit and anointed to do the work of God. How do we start? Where do we start? Isaiah says we are “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…” We might say then ‘What can we do?’ The problems of the world seem daunting.
Jesus uses this verse as his mission statement for ministry in Luke 4:18. A few chapters later, John the Baptist sends some of his followers to ask “are you the one who is to come” and Jesus “replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.’” (Luke 7:22) Those held captive by disabilities and circumstances are being freed from those disabilities and circumstances. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians refers to this, “For he says, ‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2) Paul is referring to Isaiah 49:8 when God announces favor and restoration. He goes further to state that ‘NOW is the time of God’s favor’ and ‘NOW is the day of salvation’.
What is God’s ‘favor’? The definition of the word says it is an attitude of approval, support, an act of kindness beyond what is deserved. God’s favor is God’s grace seen and lived in Jesus Christ and given to us in the Spirit of the Living God. Like these birthday roses, God's favor is a beautiful and unexpected, even unmerited gift. God’s Kingdom is present in and among us and it is up to us to proclaim, tell, and demonstrate that God’s  favor has come.
Ann Voskamp challenges us to be People of the Word who are “for the voiceless, to stand with the silenced, to never make pain out to be invisible, as injustice is intolerable…so the hope of the Gospel can be of use anywhere it goes.” We are “People of the Cross…witnesses for the suffering, and responders to the victims, and testifiers of Truth, no matter the cost, no matter the risk, because Christ is The Truth — and where there isn’t Truth, there isn’t Christ. Why ever hide or cover-up the Truth?” That seems like a big challenge, but Voskamp reminds us “the mercies of God never fail and His mercy envelopes your every thrumming thought and begging pulse… Mercy is God making Himself your all encompassing safe placeso you can grow...Mercy is what begs us to be mercifully safe places for the suffering and victimized and abused and all the broken in our families, our communities, our churches, in our aching, breaking world, so every soul can enlarge and grow strong.” When we stand up for those who cannot defend themselves we ” proclaim liberty to the captives… [and] the year of the Lord’s favor.” Further, as Voskamp notes, “The Gospel always releases any need of covering up and makes a place for standing up and opening upThe Gospel always cups your face in the midst of your worst suffering — and offers you the cup of communion through your worst suffering.”
God’s Kingdom comes when we LIVE our faith. And we do this little by little, day by day. The song Thrive* by Casting Crowns says that “in this worn and weary land… we're reaching out To show them who You are” so that all can know the “Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible” found in the Good News of “living water flowing through… and flood our souls With one desire…” We are, as Voskamp says, People of the Word. We have met the Holy One and must desire to share the Love we found.
What can you do today to stand in the strength of God as People of the Word and proclaim freedom? How can you show the Joy, Faith, and Love of our God to someone who is lonely, hurting, broken? When can you offer God’s favor and grace to a hurting soul? Where can you help someone learn to ‘Thrive’ in God’s grace?
*Thrive by Casting Crowns 
Here in this worn and weary land
Where many a dream has died
Like a tree planted by the water
We never will run dry
So living water flowing through
God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls
With one desire
Just to know You and
To make You known
We lift Your name on High
Shine like the sun make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more
Than ordinary lives
It's time for us to more than just survive
We were made to thrive
Into Your word we're digging deep
To know our Father's heart
Into the world we're reaching out
To show them who You are
So living water flowing through
God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls
With one desire
Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible
Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible
Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible
Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible
Hey! We were made to Thrive