Monday, November 29, 2010

Prince of Peace

Today in my morning prayers I explored Jesus, the "Prince of Peace."  I focused on the word, "shalom," a  word that means so much more than our English word, "peace."  I read a commentary on "Jesus Christ, the prince of peace" by Joon Surh Park which helped me understand how complex the Hebrew word is.  Shalom connotes wholeness, restoration of relationships that have been broken by our failure to acknowledge the presence of God in our lives, and a return to the pattern that God intends for our lives.  Only through opening our hearts to God can we have the shalom that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, exemplifies.  May God's shalom be yours this Advent and Christmas season.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The First Sunday in Advent

This morning I began my discipline for Advent, in which I explore some of the names referring to Jesus.  Today I looked at the name, "Wonderful Counselor."  I read a sermon in which the term "counselor" as it applied to Jesus was discussed.  I was struck in this sermon by the idea of Jesus as one who is a wise counselor, one who has experienced the hurt and joy of every human's existence, one who is able to prescribe exactly what we need, who advised us to love God, ourselves, and our neighbors and who expanded the meaning of who a neighbor is, who taught us that we must forgive others just as God forgives us, who taught us that true greatness comes from serving others.  I had never thought of Jesus in the role of a human counselor despite having sung the words in Messiah many times.  This morning's meditation on the words "Wonderful Counselor" convinced me that I was doing the right thing by centering my morning prayers and meditation on the names of Jesus.  Who knows what new perspectives thinking about what Jesus means to so many different people will reveal to me this Advent?

Thursday, November 25, 2010


My family is spending Thanksgiving with relatives in another town, and I woke up excited about the day that we will have with our extended family.  My prayer this morning is that we don't become so caught up with enjoying each other and the good food that we forgot the source of the blessings that are ours today and every day.  I wish anyone who may read this post a day filled with gratitude for the wonderful gifts that God has given us, even if you are not an American celebrating this day of special significance in American history.

Ordering My Days

The past several days have been quite busy, and this morning I prayed that I would be more open to God's leading in the ordering of my days.  I find that I am spending an inordinate amount of time on the computer and yet am finding little fulfillment in what I am doing.  I see that this time is taking away from my time with others, and so I have prayed that God would lead me to discern what is necessary and beneficial to me in my computer use and what needs to be set aside for other times.  There are so many wonderful blogs that I want to follow, I want to post regularly on my own blog, and I want to use my computer to find needed information and for my own recreation.  I have confined myself to using the computer only in the early morning as an aid to my prayer life and for recreation and to using the computer during other times in the day when it will not take my attention away from others and from work that I want to do, and I believe that God is leading me to a healthier use of all my time, including my computer time.

My prayer each day is that I will allow God to order my days.  I have not reached the point that I have been able to turn the planning of my days over to God completely.  I still make plans and then have to pray that God will bless the plans I've made or reorder them according to God's will.  When I do make plans before I've prayed about them, I ask for acceptance of whatever may come, even when my plans are altered, praying that I will recognize God's hand at work in the re-ordering of the plans I've made.  I find that I am becoming less rigid about sticking to my previously made plans when circumstances alter them and have been able to let go of the frustrations that used to bedevil me when I was unable to follow through on my plans.  I know that if I continue to seek God's leading, I will be able through God's grace to turn the ordering of my days over completely to God.  Until that transformation is complete, I am content to learn the discipline of having my own orders for the day altered.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Advent Is Almost Here

Today's project in our home was to decorate for the Holidays.  We decided that when we return home from our Thanksgiving visit with family we wanted to return ready for the beginning of Advent, since the Sunday following Thanksgiving is the first Sunday in Advent this year.  Most of the work is done, though we do have a few things to finish up tomorrow.  I'm exhausted, but excited.  I love the Holiday season, but this year I feel a special anticipation of the coming of Christmas.  I am longing for Christmas to come and sense that Advent will be the time of preparation that it is supposed to be.  For me, like most Americans, Advent is usually treated as part of an extended Christmas celebration, but this year Advent will have a special significance for me, complementary to, but distinctive from, Christmas.  During this Advent, I'm asking God to lead me to understand some of the differences that the birth and ministry of Jesus have made in our lives, to contemplate what life might have been like had Jesus not come into the world.  As we decorated our home, I became aware that none of the joys that these decorations represent would be present in our hearts if Jesus had not been born.  May the coming season of Advent be a time of repentance, contemplation, and preparation for me and all who follow Jesus.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Answers to Prayer

Today didn't go as planned.  A friend dropped by this morning unexpectedly and spent the morning visiting with us.  All that I had planned to accomplished was set aside, and, to my surprise, I wasn't upset at all.  I sat down, had a cup of coffee, and rejoiced that our friend had stopped by.  Earlier I had prayed that no matter how my plans were altered by the circumstances of the day, I would accept whatever came with joy, and I discovered that this morning I was able to do that, with God's help.

This afternoon I worked hard at cleaning up our yard.  The first "crop" of autumn leaves had fallen, and I was anxious to get ahead of them before they became too much to manage.  Ordinarily, this is a job I despise, but this afternoon I felt differently.  As I worked, I remembered that I had prayed that I would be able to offer every task of the day as a joyful offering, and I sensed God transforming my attitude of thinking of my yard work as drudgery into a pleasant experience.  Though I was completely exhausted by the end of the afternoon, I felt great satisfaction and I knew that my morning prayers had been answered.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Asking Questions, Seeking Answers

Lately, I have been reading the gospel of John and, as I compare it in a very cursory way to the synoptic gospels that I read first, I find it to be perplexing, raising more questions than it answers.  The purpose of this gospel seems to be quite different from that of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and I will have to spend much more time seeking answers to the questions John's gospel raises for me.  I have read the gospels many times before, but the act of writing summaries of the passages I read and listing questions that are raised has made me read them in a completely new way.  I look forward to going back to compare the four gospels directly and then exploring in detail possible answers to the questions that have been raised by reading research of scholars and commentators who know far more than I about the interpretations of the gospels' teachings and the backgrounds against which the gospels were written.

For me, understanding more about the life and ministry of Jesus is increasingly important in my faith journey, and I long to be more knowledgable about everything about the life and times of the man who continues to be a great mystery for me.  After a half-century of calling myself a Christian, I still have so little understanding of who and why Jesus was and is.  I feel certain that I am not alone in feeling this way, and it is something about which I pray every day.  I would love to hear the thoughts of others about how best to explore what the gospels have to teach about Jesus and how others who are full of questions seek to have their questions answered.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Magic of Autumn

Earlier this month, I wrote a post that began with some words about autumn in our area.  In it I mentioned that our autumns are not as spectacular as those in some other parts of the country because of the large number of evergreen trees in our forests.  Last fall, we made our first trip to New England, and the trees there were spectacular.  We encountered autumn's beauty around every bend in the road and each time we stepped outside our lodgings.  I had never seen forests where every tree seemed to glow with colors of such great beauty.

I didn't believe we would have much in the way of autumn color this year.  We've had a very dry summer, and I fully expected the leaves of most trees to turn brown and fall quickly from the trees.  Over the past few days, I've had occasion to drive through the countryside in several directions, and today I went for a bike ride in the park across from our house.  Suddenly in just a matter of days, the trees have begun to turn beautiful reds, yellows, and golds.  I recognized that the beauty of the New England autumn was so amazing because I had never seen forests in which almost all the trees were deciduous.  I saw our autumn show of color through new eyes this fall, recognizing that, while different from New England's, it can be just as beautiful, with the deep green of the pines contrasting with the colors of the sweet gums, dogwoods, maples, sycamores, hickories, and oaks.

As I rode my bike this afternoon, I thought about the difference in viewing the autumn show from my car and from my bike.  As I drove, I saw great bursts of color against the evergreens and the sky, but from my bike, I could see the infinite varieties of shading that blend together to make the great sweeps of color I saw from my car.  In one spot along my circuit, I passed a vine glowing with a fiery red that seemed almost alive as it climbed a tree.  In other seasons, this vine would be considered a weed that might one day choke the tree, but now the vine justified its existence by revealing a color so brilliant it can only exist in nature.  One can never underestimate the power of nature to inspire and renew us.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pride Goeth Before . . .

For the past several days, I've been mulling over how to write my next post.  Once more, I've let pride get in the way of my relationship with God and with others.  For some time, I have had the impression that my wife was unhappy about the way her life is going and have been praying about how best to help her.  I want so much for her to have the same joy I've been experiencing.  When I thought the time was right, and without much prayer about whether it was indeed the right time, I proceeded to tell her what she needed to do to be happy.  Not surprisingly she took exception to my unsolicited advice and was hurt that I had presumed to try to "improve" her.  Immediately, I knew that I had allowed false pride--an unwarranted belief that I was somehow more "in touch with God," more holy--to cause me to assume things about my wife that were not true.  As she explained to me, her comments that I had interpreted as symptoms of unhappiness were instead heartfelt complaints about matters that were troubling her, comments that she felt she could only share with me and that these comments in no way indicated an underlying unhappiness with life.  Because of my misinterpretation of these comments, she wondered whether she should not keep them from me, too.

My pride had caused the person I care so much about to feel suddenly that she could no longer share her inmost thoughts and doubts with me, lest I use them to "diagnose" her mental state.  After much discussion and my profound apologies for my overweening desire to take upon myself the mission of enabling her to be happy, we came to an understanding that reaffirmed our love for each other.  In the process, I learned much about my wife that I should have known after 40+ years of marriage, and I resolved to continue to ask God help me to open my heart more so that I can replace my excessive pride with a more genuine ability to minister to the needs of those I love.

Friday, November 5, 2010

All of Life Becomes Holy

A few days ago I wrote a post in which I mentioned a chore that I was not looking forward to, suggesting that God was directing me to get on with it.  As I reflect back on that post, I'm not sure I said exactly what I  intended to say, because I don't believe that God is directing every small detail of our lives, like when we should do our chores.  What I wanted to convey then, and hope to convey now, is that as God works in our lives, God changes our attitudes.  By leading me to see all my tasks as opportunities for service, even those tasks that were formerly distasteful, those distasteful tasks become joyful rather than onerous.  Mundane obligations are elevated to sacred offerings, and all of life becomes holy.  This is the transformative power of God, and when one realizes this profound shift in perspective, it is as if God is taking control of the small details of our lives.  This is because we see God's spirit at work in our changed hearts and minds, even when God is not speaking to us at that very moment.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Hurt and Forgiveness

This morning my wife made a comment that hurt me deeply.  A little later she repeated the same comment.  When I told her that her comment caused me pain, she immediately apologized, saying that she was only "kidding."  For a while we didn't say much to each other, and as I thought about the interaction in an objective way and prayed about it, it dawned on me that my wife had quickly apologized for the pain she had caused me and that the words "I'm sorry" do not come easy for her.  I realized that something had changed in our relationship and that the change was for the better.  My wife had not intended to hurt me with her remark, and I probably took what she said too seriously.

As I was growing up, my father teased me constantly, and the more he realized that his teasing hurt me or made me angry, the more persistent he was.  That teasing has poisoned our relationship for my entire life, and to this day, I am not close to my father.  My father treated his two grandsons in the same way, and neither of them have ever wanted to spend much time with him because of it.  As I analyzed why my wife's innocuous tease had provoked such a strong reaction in me, I understood that my reaction to my wife's remark grew out of the pain my father's treatment had caused me, and that I was overreacting to her comment.

As an adult, I know that my father's behavior toward his sons and grandsons must stem from some behavior on the part of someone in his own family during his formative years.  As I considered my conversation with my wife over the incident this morning, I thought about how relationships between parents and children affect their offspring for generations, how hurtful behaviors are passed down from one generation to the next.  I prayed that my own relationships with my son and daughter were more loving, that I treated them with more kindness and respect, than I had experienced in my relationship with my father.  May my heart be filled with compassion, respect, and love for all those around me, and may I be quick to forgive those who have wronged me.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Ramble about Joy, Meditation, Inspiration, and God's Leading

Today is a cool, rainy day where I live, my favorite sort of day.  Because we live so far south in the US, our fall starts rather late, and on this second day of November, autumn has just begun.  Out my back windows, I can see my neighbor's red maple, one of the few in our area, and it is turning the most beautiful red imaginable.  Every autumn it is spectacular, and I feel fortunate to have a great view of it.  Autumn is the season I enjoy most, because it is often damp and rainy, and the crisp, cool air is invigorating without being uncomfortably cold.  We don't have as much fall color as many regions of the country because we have so many evergreen trees here, so a tree like the red maple I described is especially appreciated.

I am at home alone for much of the day today, and I have lots of time to appreciate the glory of nature and to think and meditate.  I have found much that inspires me, both outside my windows and on my computer screen, and I wonder if God is not giving me this day as a time of renewal and recharging.  It is the kind of day that everyone needs from time to time.  Though I have run some errands and look forward to taking care of some household chores, I am thankful for having an unhurried day with no deadlines or appointments.  When I prayed this morning, I prayed that God would lead me to what was needed for this day, since I had made few plans, and it seems that is what is happening.

I have a rather onerous chore left to do outside, and the rain seems to have subsided enough to allow me to do it.  As I luxuriated in this long expanse of time to myself and enjoyed the inspiration God is sending me, I wondered if I should tackle this chore.  As I thought about it, it seemed God was reminding me that if I offer the task to God as a joyful offering, it won't be nearly so onerous, and that it is something that needs to be done before we have another hard rain.  It seemed that God was saying, "Think how nice it will be when the next bad storm comes.  You will be able to look outside and be glad that you did this work, rather than be frustrated that you put it off, because if you do procrastinate, the problem will still be there demanding your attention." So, I'm going to follow God's leading in a bit, doing my work as a joyful offering and thanking God for making this task less daunting.