A Soul at Rest

“Turn again to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has treated you well.” Psalms 116:6

Over and over in the Old Testament stories, the people of God kept forgetting that “God had treated them well.” Every time, this forgetfulness occurred, it led to a crisis of faith. And every time, the whole community would stop behaving like the people of God.

One of my favorite teachers talks a lot about how the life of a Christian should be spent “at rest.” I struggle with his use of this word because I see that there is so much work to be done dismantling unjust world systems that we ought to get busy. I also see a lot of people who go to church, but never really become the hands and feet of Jesus doing the work that God has prepare for them to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in practicing Sabbath, quiet meditation, contemplation, and all kinds of prayer that brings us into the stillness of God. However, this is not what I call rest. This is work too! Developing a relationship with God is work. Jesus used to get up early in the morning to go spend time with God.  That is work! Listening is work. Sorting things out – discernment – is work.

So what is this thing that the psalmist calls “rest?” The hint in the verse is that it has to do with the soul. Even in the busiest and most awful of times, when our souls are shaken to their core, they can return to rest – worry free, quiet, and undisturbed in the presence of God. The key that the psalmist gives is to remember what God has done for you – that “God has treated you well!” And when we trust God, we can rest.

I ended a lesson about the Holy Spirit several years ago by asking if anyone had ever felt the comfort of the Spirit. An elderly woman raised her hand and told the story of the night her grown daughter was killed in an accident. She told of going to the hospital, then going to her daughter’s home to be with her grandchildren giving them the news that their mother wasn’t ever coming home again. She said that her soul rested in knowing God loved her and her daughter and her grandchildren. She was able to face the most horrible time of her life because she knew even in this unbearable pain that God would go on loving them. She said it was supernatural comfort for her soul to be able to rest at a time like this.

In times of difficulty, our souls may be shaken to the core, but they can return to rest as we remember God has (and will) treat us well.

Check out April’s Books.  She’d love for you to find the words “Follow” somewhere on this page (depending on your browser) and follow her blog too!

The DNA of Christ

A group of scientists have set out to examine DNA from the blood that is on both the Shroud of Turin (the cloth believed by many to have covered Jesus in the tomb) and the Sudarium of Oviedo (a veil believed by many to have covered the head of Christ while his dead body still hung on the cross). A study in 2016 showed that the blood on both the shroud and the veil were from the same person.

If indeed, it is the blood of Christ, these scientists want to map the DNA and use it to identify living descendants of Jesus’ relatives. What an interesting thought . . .  that Jesus had DNA . . .  that there are living descendants of his relatives who share his DNA and can be identified.  Maybe they live next door to you? Maybe they are you?

Weird, mysterious stuff!  I love it!

But did you know that scripture talks about the DNA of Jesus?

Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s sperma abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. (1Jo 3:9 NRS)

Sperma is the Greek word that, as you might imagine, describes the DNA material used in reproduction. In other words,

Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s DNA abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. (1Jo 3:9 NRS)

This is weird stuff. First, who doesn’t sin? Secondly, who has God’s DNA? Paul explains this in Romans:

It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as sperma. (Rom 9:8 NRS)

Interpreted into better English . . .

It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise who are counted as having God’s DNA. (Rom 9:8 NRS)

We all sin. That is a fact. But Paul teaches that God promises not to count those who have his DNA as sinners – instead they are God’s children.  In other words, those who desire and allow the Spirit of God to live within them, become a new race of people.  The Spirit changes our spiritual DNA. We take on the DNA of Christ. Sadly, we still make mistakes, still miss the mark, still sin, but God sees the DNA of Christ within us and does not count our sins against us.

In addition, the DNA of Christ, like a virus, mutates our spiritual DNA to become more and more like Christ. We call this sanctification in theology class and it is the work of the Spirit. In a way, the Spirit of God is the DNA of Christ joining itself to us and transforming us into usable vessels.

Weird, mysterious stuff!  I love it!

Check out April’s Books.  She’d love for you to find the words “Follow” somewhere on this page (depending on your browser) and follow her blog too!

The Best Thing about Holy Week

Next to Pentecost, Holy Week is my favorite date on the liturgical calendar. Pentecost – the sending of the Spirit of God into our hearts – was why Jesus came in the first place, but Holy Week was necessary before Pentecost could take place.

What many people don’t realize is that what happens during Holy Week is a two way reconciliation.  Paul wrote:

18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2Co 5:18-20 NRS)

In Christ, we are reconciled to God and also to each other. That is what I love most about Holy Week!

I had the privileged to take part in every service this week at my Church.  On Wednesday night, I had the honor of being the “odd” reader for the Stations of the Cross (My rector said I was especially qualified – since indeed – I am odd!) In addition, it means I read the story behind the “odd” stations of the cross and my friend read the stories of the “even” stations.  As I stood in the midst of the priests and the congregation gathered around each station, I looked out at them.  There I saw the followers of Jesus starring back at me. They were my friends and they were Jesus’ friends too.  Together we are his body – his hands and his feet – and we are called to serve him (and in doing so care for others!) with all that we are and all that we have.

We had gathered not just to remember Jesus’ death, but to remember why we are together.  And that is to do the work of Christ – to be his hands and feet. We each have different ministries, but we serve the same Lord.  It was overwhelming to me to look into their faces for we have been eternally joined together. This is my favorite thing about Holy Week.

Check out April’s Books.  She’d love for you to find the words “Follow” somewhere on this page (depending on your browser) and follow her blog too!

Dreaming is one of my Favorite Spiritual Practices

Joseph’s dreams got him in trouble. Daniel interpreted the dreams of important people. Jacob saw a ladder with angels climbing up and down. At Pentecost, Peter said the time had come for old men to dream dreams. Theologically speaking, dreaming is an ancient way God sometimes uses to speak to us.

Scientifically speaking, dreaming is a time when our short-term memory is transferring data to our long-term memory. Random bits and pieces of what is being transferred get picked up and linked together as images. Our logic center then tries to make sense of these images and a dream results. Like the one where I dreamed Eskimos were living in my ear – my logic center was simply explaining the ear infection that I had been fighting. I think my logic center has a great sense of humor, by the way!

But I also think that this is where the Holy Spirit can work – using the images to teach and inform us. This makes dreaming an easy spiritual practice. I pick a set of verses that I will meditate on for several nights (and during the day). Most recently, I picked Isaiah 40:31

But they who wait for the Lord
shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

I printed these verses out and read them randomly throughout the day. Then at night before I fell asleep, I meditated on them. I invited the Holy Spirit to join me in my dreaming. The first night, as I was falling asleep, I saw the image of a photograph in a gold frame. The photograph was of a motorcycle flying down the road. It woke me up. Out loud, I said to myself, “Well that has nothing to do with anything.” I laughed and I went back to sleep.

motorcycle

April waiting on the Lord

In the morning when I woke up, I read my verse again. Duh! The image had everything to do with my dream! What if God is telling me that I am like a motorcycle flying down the road instead of like a graceful eagle soaring in the sky? I felt rebuked and a little depressed about it, because I am happiest when I am speeding along, wind blowing all around me – not taking it easy. I wasn’t convinced I understood the message so I kept meditating.

The next day, in my news feed, there appeared a story about the golden eagle. Not only is the eagle strong, but it can fly up to 175 miles an hour in a dive.  The eagle is known to attack (and kill) deer and even wolves. The eagle isn’t up there just soaring around gracefully all day long; it has strength, speed, skill, and purpose! I liked this strong image.

However, when I put the image of the strong eagle together with the verse, I thought that what it must be saying is that those who have faith in the Lord as they wait will eventually be like strong speedy eagles (or the powerful speeding motorcycle) after the waiting is finally over. Again, it made me feel sad. Like I said, I find real joy in (a lot of) purposeful work. I will never be good at sitting still for endless months and years. Yet, I wasn’t convinced I understood the message.

Again, that night, I meditated on the powerful eagle, but I didn’t remember my dreams. However, lo and behold, in the morning, I stumbled upon a blog that the Bishop of the Atlanta diocese wrote about “Shine-Time.” In it he wrote:

Shine-time comes after waiting, after tears, sometimes even after they pronounce death. Shine-time waits long enough so God can call life out of death and so many will believe. Faith is knowing God’s timing is the perfect timing. – Bishop Rob Wright

Upon reading this, I realized . . .  I have been interpreting the eagle wrong! The eagle is not what we become at the end of a good long successful wait. The eagle is not what happens when the shine-time finally comes. The eagle is what the prophet is telling us to be like while we wait. In waiting, we get renewed (renewal is sometimes very hard work). In waiting, we mount up on our powerful wings. In waiting, we fly, we run! Waiting doesn’t mean we fly up to the thermals for an endless glide. And it certainly doesn’t mean we mope. Waiting is a time to prepare for shine–time – the glory of God to be revealed in us and through us.

But they who wait for the Lord
shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

Being like the eagle does not start when shine-time begins, it is not the end result of waiting, it is what we are to do as we wait! We wait as strong eagles who mount up with wings that dive 175 miles an hour. We wait without being weary and fainting. We wait in wonder and joy doing the work God has prepared for us to do in the waiting!

The prophet is telling us that those who have faith and hope in the goodness of the Lord will be able to spend their wait-times like strong powerful eagles who will not grow weary – like a speeding motorcycle on a mission!

I think of my friend Dr. Steve Hayner, past President of Colombia Theological Seminary, who spent his wait time with pancreatic cancer, ministering out of a heart of joy to everyone he encountered.  I think of my parents who waited 7 years to conceive a child (then – for better or worse – ended up with me). I think of Sara who waited for Isaac’s birth until she was too old to have a child. I think of African-American slaves who waited for freedom.  I think of people of every color waiting today for justice and reconciliation.

Let us wait like eagles!  We can do this, because we know the end of the story.

***

Check out April’s Books.  She’d love for you to find the words “Follow” somewhere on this page (depending on your browser) and follow her blog too!

Retreat at Camp Mikell

Good morning! I want to invite my women followers to a retreat at Camp Mikell in Toccoa, Georgia on May 5-7 organized by the Episcopal Church Women.  It is titled “Love Wins” on the Song of Songs.  There are lots of fun activities from yoga to crafts. It is going to be fun!  Please come if you can.  For more information, click here.

Vinyl Siding and Ash Wednesday

On an Ash Wednesday a few years back, I was leading worship in an historic church in rural Georgia where I was the pastor. The rustic mid-century modern building had been designed decades earlier by a student at Georgia Tech who had won a design competition sponsored by the denomination. This architect would later go on to settle in Florida and become a renowned designer of mid-century modern churches throughout the state. A society in his name offers yearly tours of these Florida churches. It was in a brochure from one of these tours that I saw my little church for the first time as it had looked just after it was built: rustic, truly unique, graceful, and beautiful.

vinyl

Sadly, however, long before I ever became pastor of the church, the congregants, who had no appreciation for the unique design and no knowledge that this was a famous architect’s first project, covered up the exterior of rough-hewed wood sourced from trees on the site with ugly yellow vinyl siding that had been permanently stained with mold and red Georgia clay over the years. To add insult to injury, they had also tar-papered the unique hyperbolic roof. The building had gone from beautiful to simply horrendous – a sort of Frankenstein with ghoulish parts that didn’t match.

I mentioned this building to a seasoned pastor one day. She said that she had always felt that a church building said something about the theology of people who worshiped there. She asked me what I thought about her theory. My response:

“They had had something beautiful, but they didn’t understand that beauty and so they made it into something truly ugly.”

I am talking about the building, but not just the building, also about the people. And not just about the people who attended church there. But about all of us.

The story of Jesus is beautiful – a story of God’s unconditional love for the world. But if we don’t understand it, if we distort it by putting conditions on that love, by limiting its capabilities, by turning it into a list of rules to follow, then it is very much like putting vinyl siding on top of beautiful rough-hewed wood.

The liturgy we followed that night as I led the Lenten worship allowed each congregant to approach me away from the others in order to receive the ashes. They were able to whisper to me a confession or a prayer request before I prayed for them and then put the ashes on their heads.

Midway through the disposition of ashes, an old man approached me. He whispered, “Pastor, I did something I should have been locked up for many years ago. Will God ever forgive me?” We prayed together asking God for forgiveness. Then I put the ashes on his head and said the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

He turned to go and then came back and whispered, “How do I know God has forgiven me?”

I whispered back, “God, through the death of Jesus, forgave you 2000 years ago. It may be Lent where we examine our lives for sin, but we know the resurrection has already come! You ARE forgiven!”

“God forgave me a long time ago?”

“Yes,” I shook my head and smiled.

He smiled back with tears.

Later that week, he came by and we talked. The theology he had heard all his life at this church was one of punishment not forgiveness. Vinyl siding had been placed over the story of Jesus’ love.  This old man had been living in sadness all those years instead of enjoying the beauty.

It may be Lent. We may examine our lives for sin. We may ask for forgiveness and change our ways, but let’s not forget that we know the end of the story. God loves us and we have been forgiven – there has been a resurrection!

Check out April’s Books.  She’d love for you to find the words “Follow” somewhere on this page (depending on your browser) and follow her blog too!

Uniting Christian Liberals and Religious Conservatives?

The quote below is fascinating. Trump’s approval rating among Republicans has gone up since the election and is extremely high, but his approval rating overall is extremely bad.

“Trump’s 40% approval rating is 21 points below average for a president finishing his first month in office, while his 87% approval rating among Republicans is second only to that of George W. Bush among all GOP presidents elected in the last 65 years.” – CNN

Conservatives and Liberals simply see things so differently! My theology professors put it this way…

Religious Conservatives have a list of rules that they believe individuals must follow (and make others follow) or risk God’s judgement. Adherence to religious law is their priority in in politics.

Secular Conservatives don’t care about religious rules, but just want a government that benefits them personally – usually financially. They don’t want to do any more for others than they need to do in order to keep society civil. Their personal wealth is their priority in politics.

Here is the fascinating thing!  Brilliantly, Secular Conservatives (beginning with Reagan and the moral majority — continuing to Trump) have done an incredible job of convincing Religious Conservatives that they are on the same page politically – when, in reality, they are not! Secular Conservatives are fine with gay marriage and abortion, but they will compromise if they need the Religious Conservative’s vote. Had Secular Conservatives not orchestrated this brilliant union, they would have had no chance in any of the recent Presidential elections.

Then there are the Liberals – whether religious or secular.  They are not focused on a set of rules for individuals to follow, but on building just communities where they believe both the individual and earth can thrive. This generally puts them in conflict with both Religious Conservatives (think abortion, gay rights, women’s rights, black lives matter, etc) and Secular Conservatives (think the pipeline, minimum wage, student loans, and wall street).

I think my professors were probably right. I have been chewing on their words for a long time.  What do you think?

If they are right, then my question becomes … how does this great divide between Religious Conservatives and Liberal Christians heal?  Can it?  Would love to hear your ideas.

Check out April’s Books, for group and individual reading.  She’d love for you to find the words “Follow” somewhere on this page (depending on your browser) and follow her blog too!

Progressives: Let’s Destroy the Silos!

 The thing progressives MUST remember IF we are to resist injustice successfully and permanently is:
 .
 
“Injustice isn’t dismantled until ALL injustice is dismantled.”
 .
It is natural to be more concerned about specific injustices simply because some are in your daily experience more than others.  Because I am white, female, and middle age, I see sexism and ageism more easily than I see racism. Those are my silos.  On the other hand, my male African-American friend tells me he sees racism way more than any other kind of injustice. Racism is his silo. He didn’t even know there was such a thing as ageism (where you believe age alone makes someone less capable than a younger person therefore denying them equal opportunities).  Likewise, until a few years ago, I had very little knowledge of the extent of injustices against Native Americans.
.
But if I only work on sexism and he only works on racism, never supporting each other and others, we have a problem.  First, our numbers aren’t going to be strong enough to change the political mess we have going on.  But secondly, we would be missing what really needs to be changed: the heart. We must stop working solely on our particular silo and begin to fight the root causes of all injustice.
 .
To do this, we have to think outside of our silos and start working together to change the way people think.  We have to educate those hiding behind their religion – believing it is okay to pay women less.  We have to educate those hiding behind social norms – believing it is okay to deny old people jobs just because of their age.  We have to educate those who think poverty is self-inflicted – believing it is okay to defund public education and healthcare.
 .
Progressives, let’s destroy the “my silo only” thinking and band together. After all, the same disease causes all injustice.  That disease is the absence of love for others.  When love is absent, hate, fear, ignorance, and selfishness take up residence.  We will never have justice until we have dismantled what has moved in.  And then replaced it with love.  It sounds prosaic, but it is a truth that is as ancient as humanity itself.
 .
So I encourage you to look outside your own silo.  Develop relationships with those different from yourself. Check yourself to see how you are practicing injustice unknowingly.  Start taking up the concerns of others as if they were your own.

***

Check out April’s Book, Dismantling Injustice, for group and individual reading.  She’d love for you to find the words “Follow” somewhere on this page (depending on your browser) and follow her blog too!

Christians Fighting Selfish Battles

Jesus’ hometown was shocked the day he stood in the synagogue and announced his mission:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to:

  • bring good news to the oppressed
  • bind up the brokenhearted
  • proclaim liberty to the captives
  • release to the prisoners
  • proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor

(Isa 61:1-2).

This was Jesus’ inaugural address. Those of us who are followers of Jesus are to take up Jesus’ mission statement as our own. If we are not out there today working on behalf of the oppressed, the brokenhearted, those held captive by injustice, and those held prisoner without hope or grace, then are we really followers of Christ? No, we aren’t.

I challenge us today to pray over the mission of Jesus. Read each line of the verses above then stop and ask Christ to show you what part you are to take on today. You may be a teacher standing up for a child being left behind. You may be a corporate leader seeking out minorities to hire. You may be visiting a neighbor who is wrapped up in depression or grief. You may be protesting the death penalty, immigration laws, or any number of things – making calls to your government representatives.

If we are not part of the mission of God on this very day, then who are we following on this day? If we are too wrapped up in our own problems to be bothered with Jesus’ mission, then we need to realign our priorities – rethink what a problem really is. The alternative – Christians fighting selfish battles – is devastating to all of humanity.

***

Check out April’s Books, the Disorderly Parable Bible Studies, for group and individual reading.  She’d love for you to find the words “Follow” somewhere on this page (depending on your browser) and follow her blog too!