Friday, January 30, 2009

Beyond Ourselves

Religion that is pure and undefiled
before God and the Father is this:
to visit orphans and widows
in their affliction, and to
keep oneself unstained
from the world.

James 1:27

It is a shock to our sensibilities. One’s mind cannot sufficiently wrap around the image to even get a clear picture. How did our world get to this point? Unseen by scientists, there are three invisible rings that surround the world. They are made up of children standing hand in hand–143 million of them. They are the world’s orphans in the 21st century.

Given the definition of pure religion, as found in this passage of James, it would appear that the challenges facing Christians in the 21st century haven’t changed from the 1st century. Hundreds of years later the world continues to work feverishly to divert our attention away from reality. While searing images of emaciated children and desperate women may flash before us they are quickly soothed by promises of a good night’s sleep.

When we find ourselves in the midst of a crisis it is difficult to think next door much less globally. Most of the time we feel only what is affecting us in our self focused reality. And, the stains of the world assure us that it is our right to focus and concentrate on ourselves.

James, however, reminds us that to live a religion that is pure is to live outside of ourselves and live in the disappointments, sorrows, discouragements of another. More than likely it will be painful, but the result will be a clearer view on what is pure and undefiled while at the same time heightening our awareness of what may be staining our souls.

Jesus, there are times when I cannot see
anything or anyone other than myself.
Forgive me. Open my eyes, today, to the
reality you would have me see.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thoughts on God's Power

May you be strengthened with all power,
according to his glorious might,
for all endurance and patience with joy...
Colossians 1:11

His power is at work in us, and if only we set our mind on the things which concern Him, we will see this power in operation. The power of God makes great works possible, but is just as operative in the small, perhaps unnoticed, things of life.

The power of God is great, yet He gives of it freely for His purposes. We have to wait for the power. There is no time for delay, as the Spirit has already come; the waiting is to prevent us dashing ahead, reliant on our own ability instead of His enabling. Even when works of power or "miracles" occur, these only confirm the message: "Look heavenward!"

The works of power are a signpost which says, "Go, in this direction, to God." But it was never intended that we worship the signpost!

Celtic Book of Prayer

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

An Essay on Living in a Community

By C. Alexandria Mangrum

Community, like a bed sheet, is seemingly thin and disposable. In fact, however, it is irreplaceable—winter or summer. Community systems envelop us, offering protection and warmth when needed, taking a background position when necessary, and sometimes becoming inevitably annoying.

Ten years of my life were lived in a tiny community of one-thousand people ranging from dot comers to aging hippies to conservative war-veterans. Eclectic. Eccentric. A good sampling of them gathered Sunday mornings at the Mendocino Presbyterian Church, a picturesque sanctuary on the coastal bluffs of Northern California. Ordained to lead this jamboree of personas was my father, Revered Bill Mangrum. Sunday after Sunday he stood up and taught the ways of God in exchange for their stories, concerns, prayers, insults and laughter alike. Thought I was very young when we arrived, it was not long before the people of the Church grew into my life as well, giving me the same joys and hassles as my parents. When roaming the village I knew there was nothing to fear for many of the shop-owners were parishioners as well; I was never far from a friendly face.

Nevertheless, in adolescence I wanted rid of this clan of yammering Jesus freaks who shared all too many of their sentiments and life advice with me week after week. Outside of church I had a life of my own, a life I thought un-influenced by the members of this spiritual community. However, as I soon discovered, town was small and the church members too entwined for me to escape their faces or their gossiping. No matter what, neither my actions nor airs could not deceive them. I was familiar; they understood me simply because they had seen my best and worst.

In time we move away. No longer did I have to separate who I wanted to be from the way I felt my previous community forced me to be. Little did I realize, however, how the familiarity they offered would be missed.

I have never felt as safe as I did sitting in the pews of our sanctuary. In that place I was surrounded by people who invested much of their time, energy, and prayers into my family, even, if at times, their investments were uninvited and exhausting. Today though I live even further away, I carry their lessons with me. I no longer ignore or scorn community because I realize how much those who care for us can shape us by always offering a helping hand. I try to support others, even if I don’t completely agree with or understand them. And, because of my community, I am slower to judge and gossip. However difficult life in a tiny community may seem, relationships there are no more adverse or avoidable than they are in the larger world. Though, like the ever present bed sheets, community envelops our lives till death do us part.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Down Deep

He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.

Daniel 2:22

Five miles down, in the ocean depths, lives a fish that nobody has ever seen. Because it lives in an environment completely devoid of light, as far as scientists are able to discover, it is a species that has no need for eyes. Eyes, after all, are only necessary for the purpose of taking in light.

Many of us have a memory of the darkest day of my life. It is that moment when light was completely sucked out of our environment, our lives. Immobilized we had no sense of how to move forward. The darkness robs us of our sense of place.

Unfortunately, an honest journey for the life of the Jesus follower can match this darkness. When we enter into an intimate relationship with Jesus we are led to the light that dwells with Him to reveal the deep and hidden things that live in the five mile depths of our souls. Our response to these revelations is repentance, literally meaning, turning and going in the other direction. What else could be our response when Light shines on stuff that lives without light?

Days of stumbling around in the dark, frequently startled by his Light shining on what we need to turn away from doesn’t sound very appealing. But, unlike the deepest dwelling fish, at least there is some light. And, when we consciously turn to go in the other direction, our eyes will take in such quantities of light that we will discover we are no longer living as bottom dwellers.

Jesus, I don’t want to
travel down to my depths.
But, I do want to see what it is
that I need to turn away from in order to
live completely in Your light.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Rope of Rags

Jeremiah sank in the mud.
Jeremiah 38:6c

Having just washed my car of previous road grime I gingerly drove through the recent snow melt of slosh, mud and water. Almost immediately my right front tire sank and the back wheels were spinning. I was in a hole with no traction. But in an age where finding help seems difficult, help came almost immediately in the form of a passer by and the gas station attendant. After sanding the ice underneath the back wheels I tried again, still to no avail. It was only after both gentlemen stood in the watery hole themselves and pushed the front end that the wheels grabbed and I was again on my way.

Granted it may be a silly illustration but it prompted my thinking about when Jeremiah was thrown into an empty well and sank in the mud. His hole was deep with no apparent means of exit. And even though Jeremiah was a great prophet, a man who had conversations with God he still needed someone's help. All his goodness, his obedience to God, his commitment to the life God had given him didn’t preserve him from that muddy hole.

Jeremiah’s help is named Ebed-melech who lends a hand by risking his position in the king’s house--pleading for Jeremiah’s rescue. Making a rope of old clothes and rags Ebed-melech drops it down and Jeremiah is on his way again.

It’s a story of how we need each other, no matter who, what or why. Coming alongside, lending a hand, making a rope, whatever it takes to help the one who has fallen in a hole is living the Jesus way.

Jesus, help me to see and know what I
need to do to help my neighbor, friend,
brother or sister get out of the mud.


Friday, January 23, 2009

A Promise

And Gideon said to him,
"Please, sir, if the LORD
is with us, why then has
all this happened to us?
And where are all
his wonderful deeds
that our fathers recounted to us...?"

Judges 6:12-13a

Oh God, why is this happening were my first words after hanging up the phone. Having moved five times in four years, this move, to work with a Christian organization, was supposed to be the move that would begin the financial stability we desperately needed. Now, four months later, sitting in a near empty house, we were learning a difficult lesson–our chosen state of residence had laws that allowed employers to fire employees without warning or reason. Where was God?

Gideon lived the upheaval of having to move frequently. Israel was under an oppressive regime that swarmed over them devouring their crops, destroying their pastures, consuming their lives. Gideon finds sanctuary in a cave. No wonder, when assured of the LORD’s presence, he asks why then has all this happened.

Sometimes we, too, are cave dwellers. Retreat seems our only resource, afraid that if we poke out our head we will feel the smack of another blow. And we ask, why then has all this happened? In the case of Israel many of their problems were because of their disobedience. Gideon was one who had remained faithful to the LORD and yet he was not immune from the difficulties.

The LORD never does answer Gideon’s why question. Instead the LORD responds by giving Gideon a task that seems beyond his ability. And when Gideon objects the response he hears isn’t an answer but a promise...I will be with you.

Jesus help me to accept the unexpected
within the security of your promise,
"I will be with you."


Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Specific Character

At the time, discipline isn’t much fun...
Later, of course,
it pays off handsomely,
for it’s the well-trained
who find themselves mature
in their relationship with God.

Hebrews 12:11 (The Message)

It hurts me more than it hurts you were the most ridiculous words I heard as a child. How could being disciplined possibly hurt my parents more than it hurt me? It made absolutely no sense until years later when I found myself disciplining my own child. My intention was to bring about the definition of discipline—a specific character or pattern of behavior. I found that disciplining, like being disciplined, hurts like crazy. Good discipline isn’t given or received easily.

If a relationship with God is our desire it’s a guarantee that discipline will be involved. Avoiding or resisting the challenging moments of our lives can become the wall that prevents us from seeing God moving us towards a specific character or pattern of behavior. Allowing the pain of what is happening now keeps us distracted from discovering who we are and what God may want us to become.

Athletes speak of breaking through a barrier in the midst of training. Discipline gets them through. Experiencing the pain, the hardship, the crises of our lives and yet break through the barrier, is to discover the handsome pay off–a well-trained, mature relationship with God.

Perhaps God is saying, “It hurts me more than it hurts you,” but, inflicting pain isn’t what he’s after. His discipline has a break through goal in mind.

Jesus, I don’t like being disciplined.
It hurts! I need your help to break
through the barrier and discover
who you want me to be.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Confident Praying

Elijah said to Ahab, "Up on your feet!
Eat and drink–celebrate!
Rain is on the way;I hear it coming!"
Things happened fast. And God strengthened Elijah mightily...
Elijah ran in front of Ahab’s chariot.

I Kings 18:41, 45-46a (The Message)

Elijah was a prophet who didn’t move through life easily or smoothly. He did, however, speak the truth, walked with God and prayed, energetically. In chapter 17 of I Kings, Elijah prays over the dead son of a widow, O God, my God...Why have you killed her son? His prayer confidence got results! Scripture says, God listened to Elijah’s prayer and put breath back into the son's body.

Now a three year Elijah predicted drought had settled in on the land and the people of Israel were desperate. They were looking at other "god" possibilities that might help them out. Having spent time talking with God over the crisis, Elijah puts together a "god" competition (read the whole of I Kings 18)–the earth bound god Baal against I AM. For hour upon hour the prophets of Baal cried out full throttle but all they managed were hoarse voices. Elijah, on the other hand, confidently approaches the altar and prays, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make it known right now that you are God...reveal to this people that you are God, the true God. That’s all it took! God responded with such intense fire that the altar and everything around it was incinerated. Sheets of rain followed as well as God giving Elijah so much energy he out ran a chariot of horses! All a result of praying with confidence.

Praying confidently–it’s a thought worth pondering. When we pray is it with the confidence of Elijah or do we make ourselves hoarse with our Baal crying?

Jesus, thank you for listening to me!
Teach me how to talk to you
with "Elijah confidence" believing
that no matter the circumstances
you will give methe energy to out run the horses.
Image--Slaughter of Prophets of Baal, Gustave Dore, 1864.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Floods and Fires

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you; when you walk
through fire, you shall not be
Isaiah 43:2

Abraham, Moses, Joseph, David, Esther, Daniel, Mary...Jesus...,Peter, Paul, Timothy–they all survived the journey from childhood to adulthood. Yet there isn’t one of them that didn’t endure a "flood" or "fire" at least one time in their lives. The truth is most of them lived through numerous encounters, with overwhelming events, that surely left them feeling soggy and charred.

Experience tells us that it takes some pain to grow up. We didn’t learn to walk without falling down or ride a bike without skinned knees. Why should it be any different growing up spiritually? Eugene Peterson says that, "growing up and growing up in Christ are the same thing." When I first heard these words twenty-five years ago I left the room completely confused. How could they possibly be the same? But with each passing year my growing up continues. And like those who have gone before me, along the way have come the "flood" and "fire" challenges that have strengthened body, soul, mind and heart.

By opening our hearts to each encounter with "flood" or "fire" the possibility of becoming more like Jesus increases. Those experiences are what will help us grow up in Christ. There is one guarantee. While this "growing up" won’t overwhelm us, there will be some “skinned knee” pain attached to it. However, no "fire" will ever consume us.

Jesus, you have power over water and fire!
I accept the floods and the fires
that will ultimately keep me
growing up in You.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Food for Thought

...and to aspire to live quietly...

1 Thessalonians 4:11a

In I Thessalonians 4:11 we are told to study to be quiet or study to be still. This stillness must begin in the heart. It is a decision, an active choice, to become still, to still your soul. Sometimes, it is as if there is a bunch of monkeys in the tree-which-is-your-mind; and you will not still them by shouting. If you speak quietly and gently--just as you would to a petulant child--peace will result. The mind is like a child, always wanting more, something new; each thing it sees it wants.

It is stillness I need, Lord, and Thou in me dwelling.

Celtic Book of Prayer

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Angelic Visitations

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord’s.

Jeremiah 17:7

Life wasn’t complicated for Mary, difficult, yes, but complicated, no. She had simple needs, was an obedient child and looked to the future with eyes of practicality. She was well aware of how her life would unfold--hard work, marriage, children, a meager life. But then Gabriel bursts into her room. With a blast of Gabriel’s light life became complicated, at times lonely and definitely uncertain. Nothing would ever be the same for Mary.

I often wonder how I would respond should a blast of angelic light burst in on my morning prayers! Without a doubt it would be terrifying! While the initial thought creates a surge of excitement a second thought stops me short. Each morning when I cry out to God for his mercy and strength what would be my response if an angel did show up? I would be afraid.

But Mary doesn’t seem to be afraid! When the heat of questions surely began, the drought of rejection had cracked her heart and loneliness settled in, she continued to have her conversation with Gabriel. "Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a plan for you." Mary did not allow fear to have its way. Instead, in the midst of the heat and drought Mary sings! "God took one good look at me, and look what happened–I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!"

Jesus, thank you! Mary has given me hope!
She experienced suffering, the heat of rejection
and drought of loss.
Help me hear "You have nothing to fear.
I have a plan for you."

Image--The Annunciation: The Angel Gabriel, Gaudenzio Ferrari, before 1511. The National Gallery

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year...New Look

This month I will be observing one year of writing and posting Crooked Knees devotionals! With this anniversary I thought a new look might be in order.

Thank you for reading and I pray that God has somehow used even just a few of the words he has given me to encourage, restore and strengthen your soul.

May the refreshing power and presence of the Trinity--Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you in 2009.