Thursday, November 19, 2015

Addressing Troubled Hearts

     Dear friends, my heart is troubled today.  As it should be!  I worry not for those who are troubled but for those who have become desensitized to the pain and suffering in this world - Those of us who no longer see or hear the cries of those in need.  Having a troubled heart and the tension that goes with it is good…it proves you are alive and connected with God and creation.  Systematic Racism, Immigration, Refugees and what your response is towards them…exclusion or inclusion.  Fear or love!

     I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker who was against taking refugees into this country.  Ironically her parents were refugees from Germany after World War II and were sponsored by another American family.  So we talked and what started as a conversation that we were on opposite sides of soon became one of mutual understanding.  She wasn’t opposed to “sponsoring” refugees she was opposed to the government taking them in.  Then it dawned on me that both sides of the argument were wrong and right!  The conservatives want no refugees and the liberals do…but here is the problem on both sides – both sides want the government to act.  That is a real problem because it distances us from the problem!  No government can legislate compassion…that happens in the heart and is a very personal thing.  This country has gotten it wrong many times in the past.  With Slavery, Racism and right across the bridge in Philly which has laws against feeding the homeless right outside of the liberty bell…a country which has always proclaimed liberty for all peoples.  The statue of liberty, the symbolic entry point into this country reads:

Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, 
Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Author: Emma Lazarus

     Ironically the homeless are not welcome outside the liberty bell.  How appropriate that the author’s name is Lazarus which means God is my help!  Lazarus is the only person’s name given in the parables by Jesus.  Jesus gave this homeless man a name when he was invisible to those around him in life.  Yet the rich man has no name in the story.  You see God knows each of their names…it’s personal.

     My colleague didn’t want the government to act; she wanted her people to act.  It’s easy to say that we have our own homeless and suffering right here.  Then do something about it…feed them…learn their names.  Where is your heart leading you?  Be present and enter into another’s suffering and you will see God in the other and they will see God in you.  Make no mistake, however, that nothing you do out of love is ever without risk!  But that’s what will change your heart and that’s what will change the world.  Each of us must take responsibility and accountability for acting out against injustice and oppression and for easing the suffering of another.  And we do this by going into the world and learning people’s names, by sharing their stories and by making compassion personal.  God doesn’t care about governments - they will come and go.  God cares only about each one of our hearts - for that is eternal!  God knows each of their names, will He know yours?!

     We don’t love to earn God’s love - we love to demonstrate it!  My troubled friends - lift up your lamps into the dark places of the world and shine forth the light of Christ for others to see!  Shalom!

Your faithful servant,


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Thanks Giving

"The secret of my success is that at an early age
I discovered I was not God." - Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Dickens said “There is always something to be thankful for”.  Sometimes though we get caught up in the day to day “stuff”!  Thanksgiving is a day filled with many great holiday memories… for me that would be of food, family and football.  Originally, however, it was a day to give thanks for safe passage and for the harvest.

When you think on those first Pilgrims you realize that they were an oppressed people which were seeking freedom and looking for the land of milk and honey.  Their trust was placed firmly with God.  This is very similar to the story of Exodus where an oppressed people were seeking freedom from Egypt…both were looking for the promised land, overflowing with milk and honey, and both were trusting in the same God to deliver them there. It wasn’t so easy however, both groups of people gave in to fear and doubt at times, both facing starvation not used to their new environments.  God provided through Moses to the Israelites and God provided to the Pilgrims through the openness of the Native Americans to share their food and knowledge of the land with the first settlers.  The food was abundant but the settlers not knowing their new found environment found scarcity and fear, facing harsh weather and starvation.  Our early settlers found help in the Native Americans and gave thanks to God for their survival, as well as their new found neighbors.  This month we celebrate our abundance and yes ….our excess!  In America the Holidays take on a much more materialistic and individual nature as opposed to celebrating and giving thanks for our reliance on God and our neighbors. 

The land still flows with milk and honey… only now it’s processed!  With so, so much, many of us still feel that we don’t have enough…many of us still feel scarcity.  In our current economic situation one can easily feel the squeeze of this scarcity mentality, the fear of not having enough! In times like these we especially need to remember that we are connected and dependant on God and one another whether we like it or not.  Alone we are nothing!

When you sit down for your Holiday meal try to note the connections with the world.  Where did the turkey come from?  The Earth…the farmer….the feed…the butcher etc.  What is needed to take your car to your families house…imagine if while preparing your meal the electricity were to go out…Imagine what would happen to our lifestyle if we removed electricity from the equation…all this stuff is assumed, and as such taken for granted!

When looked at in this way… with all that we have been blessed with… at this place and at this time….the glass isn’t half full…. it’s overflowing…That is to say that we are truly blessed and we really do have so much to be grateful for.   Most all of us right here and now live in the top 1-10% of the entire world through no effort of our own, but by just where we were born and by God’s grace.  Most of us have never gone to bed hungry unless by choice.  The earth was created by God in abundance, but in order to live this abundance together we must SHARE it with one another. 

A couple years back I spent the day with my wife at the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. I saw the film taken by the American’s that liberated the camp at Wars end.  The piles of emaciated bodies will be forever etched in my mind!  In horror and with a sense of despair…I asked myself how could this have happened…then a small inner voice showed me the connection.  The German people were oppresses after WWI, they were blamed for everything and were made to pay reparations which bankrupted the country, leaving them with nothing and no self esteem.  They lived in isolation and fear.  They needed hope and unity but instead of turning to God and their neighbors they put their salvation in a man and his ideals…what appeared to be hope became a nightmare instead!  Fear…Scarcity…Isolation…through these things all manner of evil can arise in the world unchecked!  Thank God the world rose up and responded!  Today in the shadow of that camp three lights burn in the darkness… Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic memorial chapels symbolize that God’s light never goes out for those who put their trust and faith in him rather than in any man!

So today as you look at the news and notice the issues that affect our world note the isolation, the scarcity and the fear that is portrayed to us…Amidst these global issues: the economy, climate change, poverty, war…we still have so so much to be thankful for.  Let us remember where we come from. And with humble and appreciative hearts let us put our trust where it belongs…in our Lord and our God.

And the gift of God’s Grace freely given to us…OUR ABUNDANCE…is then to be freely shared with those who have less… for only in communion with God and our neighbors are we ALL truly blessed.

Happy Thanks Giving!
Your faithful servant,

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Fear and Trust

How do we even begin to slay our giants?  Sometimes it seems like we are all alone in facing our Goliaths.  The challenges of today are so daunting that we easily become faint of heart.  We throw up our hands and cry out – Why?  Where is God right now?!  Unemployment overshadows the hope of paying the bills and putting food on the table.  Homelessness continues to create fear and challenges community systems. Church denominations are divided in seeking Christian unity.  Cancer taunts our friends and family.  Broken relationships strain our marriages and family dynamics.  Discipline problems and bullying threaten the education and selfworth of our children.  The list goes on and on and on.

How, as disciples, can we have faith in God?  You know in Hebrew there is no such word for faith…no need for it!  They all knew God existed!  The word relates to trusting!  That’s the question - How can we really trust God?  Isn’t trust the basis for ALL relationships?  So how do we trust God with all the things we face each and every day that can stop us DEAD right in our tracks?

God chose an unlikely partner.  God chose one who appeared to be weak.  God chose one who stood in God’s strength – not the strength of their own perceived power, self-reliance and self-righteousness, not the strength of ego and pride.  David stood up in this moment to the Philistines in order to bring God’s triumph and peace to his people. …and he did it with a small smooth stone.

Stones are significant in Scripture.  Stones were often markers of God’s presence and action; helping God’s people to remember what God had done in their lives!  Sort of like monuments today.  God had been calling Israel to be living stones to show the world that God was right there in their midst…and here this lowly shepherd boy reaches for a small stone to remember and to know that God was with him; that he was not standing against all the chaos and evil in the world alone - but rather God was there too.

How are we called to be standing stones - reminders of God working in and through our lives?  Do others see in us the love of Jesus being poured out into the world?  Do we witness how God has worked in our lives…sometimes as large as a monument… sometimes as small as a pebble?  But no matter how big or small - God is there…although sometimes we may not see it.  God is not far far away but acting in the world in ways we can only imagine.  And in sharing our stories - we come to show others that they too might come to believe and trust in the living God –especially when facing their own giants.

It’s interesting that the scriptures time and time again say do not be afraid…365 times!  Which is not to say that there are not fearsome things in the world…rather God chooses to tell His children - as a mother would whisper into the frightened ear of a child that I am right here with you through it all.  Through trusting God we come to know peace - even though there are real things to fear, they need not paralyze us, they need not have dominion over us; they need not own us - because we are not alone in this… are we?

Fearsome things ARE in our lives each and every day…but they don’t have the last word.  Whether you are facing a giant, facing a storm, or are in a place of suffering or brokenness or paralyzed by gripping fear…the important thing is that however and wherever you are… you will not be alone…right there in the midst of it all - God will be with you.  Shalom!

Your faithful servant,