Food for Thought-Letting Go of Your Inner Narcissist-Meeting Jacob’s God, Thoughts on Genesis 32:22-31

Iconology

If this passage does anything it tells us with no uncertainty that our relationship with God can be both painful and elusive. Once we encounter God, we will be physically and emotionally different people. And yet we still may never be able to put into words what happened.

God is never something or someone we can “pin” down. As much as we try, as close as God may get to us, God remains both near and far at the same time. God is like a parent, a shepherd, but also a king and creator. God is so close and distant. These images are sometimes side by side in the Bible, in creative tension with one another, and reveal the central aspect of Jacob’s encounter with the Divine; God is with us at the most crucial moments in our lives. How this occurs and the form which this occurs, are questions that Jacob and we will never have answered. Yet the reality of these moments (and this moment) is undeniable.

Our relationship with God is something that happens on God’s terms. This is a story about God coming to us, not us coming to God. For me, this is where this story touches our lives most directly. The way Jacob encounters God is fundamentally alien to the manner to the way in which western Christian culture has come to describe their own relationships of redemption and salvation.  This is not the way we like to tell our personal religious stories. Face it, we’re narcissists when it comes to relating our own conversions and encounters with God.  Our stories are about all about us.  We sinned, we messed up, we knew we need to change, we met Jesus, then somewhere near the end He became our Lord and personal savior and changed our lives. Jesus, God, (however you want to term who you feel most comfortable with) works his way in near the conclusion and does his divine salvation magic. Up to that point, it’s been all about us and our drama.   Again, my point is, we made the call.   It reminds of a person with very dirty carpets.  We called in a cleaner to work on our carpet after realizing that no matter how much stain remover we applied it could ever do the trick. We only needed the carpet cleaner, the hard working service professional, for a specific task (to come in at the end), then he could leave. He wasn’t crucial to the emotional crux of our story; how we slaved over those stains, how we almost became comfortable with the filth and grime in our homes, until we saw the light during a carpet cleaning program on television or someone took us to a carpet cleaning seminar across town. My point is this: the focus is always on us and our lives. The action centers on us and decision we took in our own salvation. Jacob’s story and scripture really doesn’t want us think that way. Jacob is completely unaware he needs God.  He is physically, literally, spiritually, emotionally in the dark.  He never gets to the “Prodigal Son” point where he realizes that his fathers pigs have it better than him.  He’s simply, out there in the desert, trying to figure out on his own, how he’s going  to get out of the mess he’s made of his own life.  In fact, Americans should identify with Jacob.   He’s the ultimate pull yourself up by your bootstraps kind of guy.  He has a work ethic if he has no other kind of ethic.  He has no idea he needs God at all.   Yes, we may know and realize we need God. But the understanding here is that God is moving toward us. God is calling the shots. God is determining the time and place. We have very little, if anything to do with the meeting and encounter that eventually occurs.  If anything is going to occur, if redemption is going to go down, it’s not going to be due to anything we’ve done or said, it’s going to ultimately rest with God.  Jacob is in the dark and God ambushes him.  This should either scare the hell out of you or feel incredibly liberating. As for me, I’m not quite sure where I come down.

God cannot be defined, categorize, or quantified by human means. It simply won’t work. God will only be defined and determined on God’s terms and in God’s time.

Food for Thought- On My Parabolic Nerves-Sermon on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Sixth Century Icon of Christ, St. Catherine's Monastery, Sinai

Sixth Century Icon of Christ, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai

What are these parables about? They keep coming at breakneck speed.  Yes, we get it.   Jesus knows lots of open ended wisdom stories about dudes with seeds, enemies who grow weed, men with pearls, and people who are ready to sell stuff and burn things.  This week we have five parables.  Count ‘em, one, two, three, four, five.  Get your metaphorical thinking caps on.  Make sure your allegorical seat belts are secure.  In the event of the loss of meaning due to sudden metaphor collapse, masks will fall from the sanctuary ceiling.  Please put your own on first before explaining any metaphors to those beside you.  Are we ready!

My first question of the morning: Are parables the best way to do something? I can imagine that some people thought yes and some people thought no.  The key to getting a parable is listening. And most people probably didn’t listen.

Do you remember the television show “Home Improvement”?  It starred Tim Allen as “Tim the Tool Man” Taylor.  Tim had his own local “home improvement” television show called “Tool Time”, sponsored by the Binford Tool Company.  He and his trusty sidekick “Al”, would build things, repair things, and overhaul the most mundane of ordinary items.  Can you put a 250 horsepower engine on a birdhouse? Yes, Tim would do it, often to disastrous consequences.  The highlight of the show was Tim’s conversation with his wise, worldly, and well-traveled neighbor Wilson. Wilson lived over the back fence and was always partially obscured. You could only see his eyes.  Wilson knew just the right thing to say to Tim. Tim didn’t often understand. In fact, Tim rarely understood on the first go.  Tim’s usual reply to Wilson was this, “unh?” Depending on how confused or confounded he was, the longer the “unnnh?” became.  The same reply was used when his wife Jill asked probing questions about anything. Tim, who added a chainsaw to the front of my car? “Unnh?”

I think a number of people, when then heard Jesus’ parable, often had Tim’s reaction.
They said, “Unnh?”  Weeds? Tares? Who? What? Unnh?

After all, parables may not the best way to give directions.  If I’m going away for the weekend and want to get someone to look after Ruby, would l get you to dog sit and then tell you her habits and needs by telling a parable?

Would I start off by saying, “the care of Ruby may best be compared to ….”  No. I wouldn’t do that. I would come right out and say. She needs to be feed a cup of food twice a day.

So why, in the name of all that’s holy does Jesus teach in parables? Why do the Gospel writers tell us that at once, you can picture the disciples, with their pensive little faces looking at Jesus and in the next moment, they are lost, hands up, going, “Unnh?”

Why does he say parables are his preferred method of teaching?

1. First of all, the people around him, fisherman and farmers alike were used to listening to parables.

Parables and stories like Jesus taught, about wheat, fish, seeds and such had been around for centuries. They were like the dirty jokes that never seem to die. The ones people have been telling on front porches for years.

They were stories that everybody knew and everybody could relate to. Somebody knew somebody who owned a field. Somebody knew somebody who planted a mustard tree. Somebody knew somebody who had wheat and weeds in their field.

2. Jesus changed the emphasis ever so slightly from what people were used to hearing; so they would pay attention.

This is what confused some people.

This is what threw them for a loop.
Maybe they had missed the point all along.
Maybe they needed to go back and listen to him again.
Perhaps their priorities were all wrong.
They need to listen as closely as possible to what Jesus says.

3. What is Jesus saying in today’s parabolic litany?

The first thing Jesus is saying is the kingdom is worthwhile.

It is something of value. Despite conventional wisdom, i.e. the mustard seed shrub.

Most people would want to pull up the mustard seed shrub.
The mustard seed shrub is like kudzu. It is an out of control shrub that starts small, quickly takes over in areas where it is not wanted, and becomes impossible to manage for those in charge.

He says we’re that out of control weed (we are the weeds in this case), like the Kudzu, that is taking over slowly but surely, the big powerful Roman empire (both of then and now) and just when you think you’ve got us managed, you realize you can’t stop us, we’re everywhere.
Instead of the tiny seed becoming a mighty tree like the cedars of Lebanon, it becomes a lowly bush. This is not some tiny seed that grows up into a big tree. This is the image Jesus wants us to challenge with us this morning.

Make no doubt about it, Jesus is making a bit of joke here. The kingdom of God is like a pungent smelly bushy weed. The man is truly funny. But he is also letting the powers at be known while God’s reign seems small and insignificant; it would soon take over the world.

4) The next thing Jesus wants us to be thinking about is this: the Kingdom of God is worth going after. It’s worth searching for and seeking after.

If we operate from the premise that the Kingdom of God is all around us; what are we doing in here?

The kingdom of God is out there! The people we meet in the world we encounter, that’s the kingdom of God.

It’s worth the effort of leaving our comfort zones, our preconceived ideas, and hopes that God will fill this place up based on our own good looks and charm.
The benefit of putting ourselves out there, on the evangelical and kingdom of God line far outweigh any of the fears, drawbacks, or concerns we think we are holding onto.
What we’ll receive in return, whatever that is and whenever that is, will be immeasurable, when compared to the joy we think we know at this moment.
This is good but it can be so much better.

5) The last thing Jesus is trying to tell us in his retelling of these traditional stories is this: there is joy in the seeking, finding, and living in the kingdom of God.

While we are out searching for the kingdom, while we’re out discovering new aspects of God’s grace and love, it’s supposed to be a joyful activity. Joy is supposed to be at the heart of what we’re doing.

Look at how happy these people in parables are. Look at the elation in their lives. They are overcome with happiness at finding what they sought; which is the kingdom. Where is the joy in our lives? Do our lives reflect the joy which motivates the journey we are undertaking and the life we are living?
Are we willing to let go of the transient joy of this world for the limitless joy that Christ offers?

Food for Though-A Devotion on Isaiah 56:1-8

A Devotion on Isaiah 56:1-8

By Richard Bryant

56 Thus says the LORD: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.

I meditate on the words: Maintain and Justice. I pray to do what is right. I ask for my salvation to come. I wait for the revelation of my deliverance. I ask, what will the revelation of my deliverance look like? Am I prepared for what I’ll see?
How am I maintaining justice today? Am I doing what is right in the eyes of the Lord? Am I ready for my salvation? Again, I ask, am I aware and ready to see the revelation of my own deliverance?

2 Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil.

Does my face reflect such joy and happiness? Do I go about my day with happiness by holding fast and keeping the Sabbath? Am I honoring God by honoring my life and God’s commandments? Do I take time, even in the midst of this busy summer season to give myself a break and give God a few minutes? Do I turn the cell phone off, shut down the computer, and step back from the world so I can step toward God?

Again, I meditate on the words: Maintain and Justice. I pray to do what is right. I ask for my salvation to come. I wait for the revelation of my deliverance.I listen to the words of the prophet. I do not put words into his mouth. I let his images fill my mind.

3 Do not let the foreigner joined to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the LORD: To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.

Meditate and pray upon this: what the Lord has given will not be cut off. We are connected to God. We can try to cut ourselves off from God but God will not disconnect from us. We become monuments to what God has done in our lives. Pray upon God’s connections and monuments in your life.

6 And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8 Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

Will I do as he says and live as he says? Will our house be called a house of prayer for all peoples?
Again, I meditate on the words: Maintain and Justice. I pray to do what is right. I ask for my salvation to come. I wait for the revelation of my deliverance.

Food for Thought-Some Thoughts on Evangelism and Matthew 13

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The best place for seekers and skeptics to have their questions answered is not in a service of Christian worship. Seekers and skeptics need one on one time with someone who will listen to them. They need to be with people can handle hard and difficult questions. Usually, this means a pastor. People in small groups who recite canned answers or simply give their testimonies and expect “it” to click are some of the least effective means of reaching skeptics. Conversation and honest dialogue works. Acknowledge that the questions they pose are genuine, solid and are worth exploring. Discount nothing. Listening is the key. When we respond, are we going to genuinely engage or will be simply reacting? Will we react in fear or respond to what we are hearing in faith? Will we keep listening? To do this, you need to be right there with whomever you’re listening to. Do and structure church however you want to, just know that the skeptics we need to reach will be reached over tea, coffee, and while out walking our dogs. Church is part of the equation but solid relationships and conversations are what heals hurt, doubt, and skepticism.

Church is a place for those who need help, want help, and those who sometimes don’t yet know they need help. Many people enter into side doors, Sunday School classrooms, small group meetings in comfortable living rooms, or worship settings seeking help. Other people don’t want help. They don’t need help. They are certain they have all the questions firmly answered. The doubts they have are real and are never going to be answered to an arbitrary standard they deem appropriate. I’m telling you now, these are the people we should most want in church. These are people we should want to be among our closest friends. They don’t understand us. However, we want to be understood and so do they. They take themselves seriously and so do we. We want people to see us for who we are, warts and all. To do this, we need to take the mystery of faith away. We must reveal Christian living to be the daily struggle that it is. The mystery of faith (according to the service of Word and Table) is in trying to explain and understand Jesus’ actions. No living human being as has ever “got” it. We accept it. We believe it. We live in to it. But there is no mystery to being a Christian. It’s hard. Some days it stinks, other days it’s great. If you want shatter a skeptic and destroy a doubter, take the mystery away. Confirm their doubts.  Let them see we are just the same.  Reveal to the world that Christianity is a warts and all belief system and people who claim to be anything other than that missed the Christian boat a long time ago. Kick the soap boxes out from under the self-righteous sexually obsessed scoundrels who are destroying our ability to do the real work of evangelism in the 21st century. The real deal is an amalgamation of imperfect but God loving people who keep trying to get living right. We’re just a group of people with an understanding that the world doesn’t have to be this way, the time is NOW, and death isn’t all she wrote.   So where are those relationships where the confounding nature of grace might begin to go to work on those most hardened skeptics and doubters?

–Richard Bryant

Food for Thought-Have You Understood All This? Thoughts on Matthew 13:31-52

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Jesus asks the disciples in verse 51, “Have you understood all this?” We don’t get an indication of a pause, delay, or the looks on their faces. He’s just run through a litany of some of the most important parables he’ll ever tell and which explain some of the most central concepts related to the coming “kingdom of God”. Matthew only says they answer with a single word, an affirmative, “yes.”

That question scares me. If Jesus came to me today and asked, “Have you understood all of this?” could I honestly give him the “yes” answer? This is one of the most important questions Jesus asks his disciples. It is a question I believe we need to hear him asking to each one of us. We’ve had a great deal of material thrown our way. It’s a tremendous amount to digest intellectually and spiritually. To understand it on the first go around, on one hearing, would be nearly impossible. Jesus isn’t introducing hard concepts. He’s not asking us to do differential equations. This is stuff we should be able to grasp. It’s in the living that the problems occur. How do we make the hard choices and prioritize like the people in the parables?

I think Jesus understands this. I believe he realizes we too often jump in and give hasty answers to hard questions. That’s why verse 52 is so important. “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of God,” is how he begins. Trained is the operative word there. Training is a process, an ongoing, step by step series of learning events. Scribes were some of the most methodically trained religious leaders in the era of 2nd Temple Judaism. In some ways, their training never ended. They were always in the text, learning new things, memorizing, living and breathing the scrolls. Our understanding, Jesus is saying, is always evolving. We are always growing into our understanding of the kingdom of God. It’s something that never stops and like the scribes, we keep working on, with that level of intensity, each day.

Food for Thought-Redeeming Redemption

Sometimes, when I read Jacob’s story (especially a bit beyond this’s week’s assigned text) that the work of redemption begins during the course of this night in the desert.  Yes, God had made a special covenant with both Jacob’s grandfather and father.  Jacob was part of that same arrangement.  Then, like many of us, he tried to alter the terms of the arrangement.  But even that itself, was inherent in God’s original idea for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  On the night in question, Jacob has an experience unlike his father or grandfather’s.  Whereas their encounters with God are described in vague (yet important) terms, “God showed” or “God said”, God comes to Jacob (in a dream) and stands beside him.  God stands shoulder to shoulder with Jacob.  He goes on to explain “the plan”, a revised arrangement, amended and in much greater detail than anything Abraham ever received.  The specificity of the overall vision which God shares with Jacob is absolutely staggering.  Abraham was shown a universe full of stars.  By comparison, Jacob received a detailed PowerPoint presentation from the creator of said universe.    Whatever redemption God began with Abraham, he’s doing it again, and in a much more specific and larger way with Jacob.   He’s redeeming redemption.  This pattern, of redeeming redemption, occurs time and time again throughout Israel’s history; sometimes in large ways, sometimes in small ways.  As a Christian, I believe the ultimate redeeming of redemption was through the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth.   Through his life and witness, we learn what it means to be redeemed again and again everyday.  I believe this idea of ongoing redemption, of redeeming the seemingly un-redeemable (i.e. Jacob) began under the night time sky in place called Beth-El.  If the less than virtuous physical embodiment of Israel, a man named Jacob, can be re-redeemed by the direct intervention of God, can’t we all?  I believe this to be seminal for understanding redemption as an ongoing action in our lives.  Redemption can be redeemed.

Food for Thought-Learn to Defy Conventional Wisdom, Let Jesus Do His Job: A Sermon on Matthew 13:24-43

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I like this parable because it runs against the conventional wisdom. I’m not big into conventional wisdom in general. Do you know what I mean? Conventional wisdom leads to housing bubbles, millions of cars being recalled, and eventually innocent people asking, “What happened?” I like to apply that same level of cautious skepticism when looking at some of the tried and true parables. If we want to learn something new, we might be wise to look for a new way in. That may mean the back door or even crawling through a window.

I’m going to open up a window, so we can see that connection, where conventional wisdom relates to our world and then meets up with the picture Jesus paints in this parable. Here we’re told the enemy, the devil, has sewn evil weeds in the gardens of our lives. Being the good gardeners that we are, we want to get these weeds out, do we not? We want to prune and weed right away. We can’t allow any evil, potentially satanic weeds to remain in our front lawns or back gardens. What would the neighbors think? “Look at the preacher’s house; sure is a pretty front porch and I love that old Oak Tree, I just don’t know about all those demonic weeds.” Or it’s like having a bad hand at cards; you want to get rid of ones that will do you no good later in the game as quickly as possible.
Against our better judgment, common sense, spiritual inclinations, Jesus comes in and says, “wait!” Slow, down. You want to hold on to your bad weeds and your good grass. You never know when that 2 of diamonds might be as handy as the ace of hearts. Keep them all. I’ll sort them out in the end. He says “wait” and we say, “whaaat?” What Jesus? You want us to do what? Let me get this straight. These weeds, obviously now identified as evil, even by you, you want us to leave in place, because you say so. Shouldn’t we get them all up now? The people on the news say if we leave them in place we will be in mortal danger. They could grow and spread among us. Jesus says to us, “if you pull them up now, you will pull up the good and the bad, you will do more harm than good. You won’t be able to tell the good from the bad. The best thing to do is let me do the sorting. That’s my job.”

Again, we continue. “Lord, we heard it on the radio, we can’t leave these evil weeds in place, they must be removed now.” Jesus comes back one more time. “I’m telling you, you will hurt yourself and many innocent good pieces of grass. Let me, God, worry about it. This is my issue, not yours. I know your would like it to be yours but I can handle it.”

You see why I love this parable. It exemplifies beauty that is the sovereignty of God. It also shows how we try to undermine God’s sovereignty by our own misguided attempts to do God’s job for God. God can handle it. God sees the world (a world that includes us and the weeds in our lives) in ways that we will never understand. We can only glimpse our gardens at this moment in time. He’s telling us this parable for this reason. We only see last night and this morning. Our perspectives are severely limited. Then the media and the world around us reinforce these same ideas that history started yesterday. This is where Jesus steps. Jesus always takes the long view. He knows that can’t take the bad without also harming the good. This is important to Jesus and should also be important to us. Preserving life at all costs is important to Jesus. He will deal with the evil in his own way which is different from our way. Secondly, Jesus knows that there are both weeds and good grass inside all of us. Again, these are indistinguishable from one another. In order to destroy the evil within us, to use our own time tested human methods, we would destroy ourselves.

Once more, Jesus’s method comes to the fore. Leave it to him. We don’t want to self-destruct or ruin ourselves. The key is to let Jesus help us work through the things which need to be pruned or removed from our lives. We also need to let him protect us from ourselves, save us from throwing out the good from the bad. We’d throw our own babies out with our own bath water. Jesus is the one who will stop us and say, “you may need that later, don’t be so quick to make a hasty judgment.” It’s an old fashioned way to say it but we still need to, “turn it all over to Jesus.”
As I mentioned earlier, this is a parable about letting Jesus do his job. The fancier way to say that might be to say it’s a judgment parable. We like to make judgments. We shouldn’t. Jesus likes to reserve judgment for the right time and place.

How do you tell the Baptists from the Methodists in the liquor store? The Methodists will look you in the eye, wave, and say hello. The Baptists keep staring and the floor, push their carts on by, and ignore you.

Christians know a thing or two about judgment. Or at least we think we do. For some reason, we have got it in our heads that judgment is a central component of Christian faith. Maybe it’s from movies, it could be from selective reading of the Bible, hanging out with the wrong sort of people, or listening to bad preaching on the radio-you know the kind I’m talking about-

The kind with lots of breath and inhalation after each word-
And the Lord said unto the Israelites, I will smite the heathen Jebusites with a plague of lice infested beavers on the third full moon of Avatar, Amen…

You know what I’m talking about. For any number reasons, whether it’s how we grew up, how we were taught, what we’ve heard, or encountered, we come away thinking judgment and then acting upon that judgment (let’s call it condemnation) is central to our faith and belief system.

On top of this, we have picked a role in this judgment. Though we know in the back of our minds that God is the one who does the judging.

That is, if and when judging is going to go down, when it’s going to actually happen, it’s going to fall to the deity. It’s not in our job description. In the back of our minds we know this. We can even profess it if pushed.But in reality, it has never, ever sank in. We have always seen ourselves as part and parcel of the judgment process.

Even though, we are the ones who are subject to being judged (we don’t recognize this, in fact, we usually ignore it altogether). Humans, especially Christian humans have always seen themselves as the 5th men (or women) or God’s judgment basketball team.We’re always right there, on the bench, yelling out, “put me in coach, I’m ready to judge,” I saw somebody walking down the street who I know was a sinner, I can spot them a mile away.

It reminds of how my granddaddy told me about getting out of jury duty. Just tell the lawyers you can spot a guilty man a mile away just by looking at him.We know who’s guilty. We can just tell, can’t we? That’s what we do. We judge people. We know who needs to be condemned. We’ve taken the burden off an already overworked God, have we not? Aren’t we doing God a favor, by spotting the people coming out the liquor store, or noticing who is buying what medicines at the pharmacy? As someone once told me, I kid you not, how do we know who to pray for if we don’t “look at their lives”? That is, we can justify our judgment, presuppositions, and gossip under the guise of prayer concerns. Brothers and sisters, I think the Lord’s got that game pretty well figured out. The only people we’re fooling are ourselves.

Paul has the answer, as he often does. Right there, in the first verse of Romans 8. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I know what you’re thinking. Everyone’s not in Christ Jesus are they. If they’ve not said the sinner’s prayer, done this, that or the other, then they’re not in, right? Aren’t they? Didn’t Jesus die for everyone’s sins? Jesus wasn’t like Santa Claus up there on the cross with a naughty and nice list, saying I’ll die for some and not others. He died for the salvation of the entire world. We’re all in Christ Jesus.  That’s fundamental.

Christ was condemned so we won’t have to be. The immediate questions of sin, judgment, pain, and immortality, Jesus answered once and for all with the events of Easter Sunday morning. What Paul does is raise is a much deeper question; will your mortal body be the end? Will physical death be all she wrote for us? Paul leaves the ultimate question of what happens in eternity unanswered because it is not our question to answer. As Jesus notes in today’s parable, that’s His call. But for you and me and Paul, everyone is offered the opportunity to enter into Jesus’ condemnation free do-over. That’s got everything to with Jesus and nothing to do with us. Just as being graceful, forgiving, and more empathetic have everything to do with how we live after we’ve been given our do-over. No one gave us the go ahead or permission to be judgmental jerks but Paul says you’ve been given the freedom to live free of condemnation, in your own life and how you treat others. You’ve got the green light to go forward and live life differently. This is not something you try. This isn’t an experiment. This is the first day of the rest of your life. Make that choice, seize that opportunity to let God be God in your life and the world around you, and your world will change forever.

Food for Thought-3 Ideas from Genesis 28:10-19

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  1. God can and does meet us in the most unexpected of ways.  God meets us at times and in ways we are initially unconscious and unaware of his presence.  Jacob’s story shows us how God is ready to meet us in the midst of our physical and spiritual darkness.  Where we think God isn’t, God is.  This, as scripture shows, is when we are often most receptive to God’s message and when God usually moves in our lives.
  2. God always has the home field advantage.  Even the lowliest piece of Palestinian desert, North Carolina swamp, or anything in between is sacred ground.   Where we are, there God is.  God is present and we are too busy, too consumed with our own lives to realize God is right in front of us.  The great Hasidic teacher, the Ba’al Shem Tov, taught that God is everywhere and if we’re not seeing him, most of us are just not looking properly.  Jacob wasn’t looking properly.  Are we?
  3. In the midst of pursuing reconciliation, rest is important. Jacob knew that clearing his mind was important before he met Esau.  He knew that something as simple as a good night’s sleep would hold in better stead before the morning’s big events.  It was this sound decision which laid the ground work for his encounter with God.  Preparation of body and mind, prayer-in one way or another, is key to doing the right thing.

Food for Thought-A Confession

I confess.  As much as I may complain about it, I enjoy doing my own bulletins.  You know why?  That’s the only way I know they’ll be right.  I thrive on margins.  Do you know what I mean?  That feeling of inner balance between both sides of the page, between left and right, top and bottom?  Forget templates, I like starting from scratch.  Giving me the blank canvas of a landscape sheet of 8.5 x 11 any day of the week.  Let me design my liturgical masterpiece, one font choice at a time.  Will it be Garamond 12?  Courier Bold?  Helsinki.   Yes, I’m in love with Helsinki.  Can one be in love with a font?  Oh and don’t get me started on that final, crisp fold.  What will it look like when it all lines up?  These aren’t just words on a page, this is a map, a map toward an experience with God, a map I helped draw, albeit with Microsoft Word and a few hundred font choices.  It needs to be right.  Does it not?  You can draw on it.  You can make notes all over the front and back.  You can even put announcements on the back cover.  This I do.  But that’s not what it’s about.  It’s a link in the sacred process of getting us from here to there.  Like that compass, GPS, car, or other pathfinding tool that gets you from point a to point b, the bulletin performs an important task.  It needs to be right and if done right, it can be a work of art.  This, I confess.