15 December 2020 – Reflection

The LORD our mountain

Psalm 125

 “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people, from this time forth and forevermore.”

 
Glacier National Park resides in the wide-open state of Montana. There are around 175 mountains within the confines of this area sanctioned as a national park. The Continental Divide finds part of its journey sharing some of these same mountains. The coolest thing about mountains is just how incredibly enormous they seem to be. The highest mountain in this park soars over 10,000 feet in height. Your attention is grabbed by their very existence, and their presence demands your eye to take a peek.  
 
How often do we find ourselves surrounded by thoughts or actions that seem to demand our attention? In the midst of these unprecedented times we find ourselves easily consumed by anxiety, depression, loneliness, pain, suffer, and hatred. It seems that we are more alone than ever leading us to start to believe some of these lies about ourselves. The beautiful concept behind this is our thoughts are not mountains. The LORD that surrounds us in times of need is.
 
Cities like Jerusalem founded their cities within these mountains for various reasons. One of which is for the defense that the mountains bring. It is nearly impossible to have a surprise attack sneak up on your city when you are surrounded by mountains. The chance of an army surviving the mountain climb were slim let alone surviving and being in shape enough to battle.
 
In the same way, Psalm 125 states, “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surround His people”. The LORD is our refuge and our strength. God has never hidden God’s self from us, the Bible states, “He draws near to those who draw near to Him”. This passage is the promise that just as these mountain ranges protect the people while demanding relevance so does our God. We can find comfort and peace knowing that the hardships that we face pale in comparison to the God that surrounds and protects God’s people.
 
This advent season is a time to remember that same LORD that is higher and greater than these incredible mountains is the same God that came to earth in the form of a child. The Son of God since the beginning of time has given up the throne is ordered to die a criminal’s death in order to save the very ones who crucified him.
 
The hands that He created are the very hands that would tie Him to the cross.
The mouths that He created are the very mouths that mocked Him.
The God who created all is the same God that was born a child.
The God who created all is the same God who paid our ransom with His life.

14 December 2020 – Reflection

Protection for the battle

Ephesians 6:10-17

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against schemes of the devil.”

When Americans think of the hardest working and mentally tough people in the world, the answer is pretty socially accepted as possibly the Navy Seals. If you never have read any books or posts on the training of a Navy Seal, I would highly recommend taking the time to do so. Navy Seals battle the elements and enemies with nothing but their gear and men/women serving alongside them. We are not sending the Navy Seals into an ice cream shop because ice cream was stolen. We are sending our most highly trained individuals into the most dangerous missions. The importance of training is to equip them to use their gear to execute their mission or even possibly save their (or their companies) lives.
 
Navy Seals spend 12 months in their initial training followed by 18 months in pre-deployment intensive specialized training. As we begin to relate this to scripture, the reason Navy Seals are successful on their missions is because of their training. Mainly their comfortability with their gear. As Christians, this passage calls us to equip ourselves with the armor of God. The armor includes a belt, breastplate, shoes, and shield all of which are used individually for protection. Each individually protect a part of the body to ensure that no one part is left vulnerable. As a full collection, no part of the body is susceptible to attack.
 
The metaphor used by Paul here is to express the importance of understanding our defense given by God for our protection within spiritual warfare. But, overall, I feel this scripture is saying, “spend time in the word, prayer, and obedience to understand this gear God has blessed us with. This understanding will come when we are in the heat of war and our second-nature relies on the hours we have spent in preparations for this moment.” The hours of prayer, talking to God, studying God’s Word, and the power of the Gospel.
 
Navy Seals are not given this equipment and training expecting to never use it. We spend years training for moments we know are coming. But more than anything, Jesus is coming. This Advent season reminds us of the humanity of Jesus Christ as God incarnate coming to humble Himself as a man. The very baby that grew up to defeat sin and death is the same God that is coming back to redeem all of God’s creation.

14 December 2020 – Saint John of the Cross

John is a saint because his life was a heroic effort to live up to his name: “of the Cross.” The folly of the cross came to full realization in time. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34b) is the story of John’s life. The Paschal Mystery—through death to life—strongly marks John as reformer, mystic-poet, and theologian-priest.

Ordained a Carmelite priest in 1567 at age 25, John met Teresa of Avila and like her, vowed himself to the primitive Rule of the Carmelites. As partner with Teresa and in his own right, John engaged in the work of reform, and came to experience the price of reform: increasing opposition, misunderstanding, persecution, imprisonment. He came to know the cross acutely—to experience the dying of Jesus—as he sat month after month in his dark, damp, narrow cell with only his God.

Yet, the paradox! In this dying of imprisonment John came to life, uttering poetry. In the darkness of the dungeon, John’s spirit came into the Light. There are many mystics, many poets; John is unique as mystic-poet, expressing in his prison-cross the ecstasy of mystical union with God in the Spiritual Canticle.

But as agony leads to ecstasy, so John had his Ascent to Mt. Carmel, as he named it in his prose masterpiece. As man-Christian-Carmelite, he experienced in himself this purifying ascent; as spiritual director, he sensed it in others; as psychologist-theologian, he described and analyzed it in his prose writings. His prose works are outstanding in underscoring the cost of discipleship, the path of union with God: rigorous discipline, abandonment, purification. Uniquely and strongly John underlines the gospel paradox: The cross leads to resurrection, agony to ecstasy, darkness to light, abandonment to possession, denial to self to union with God. If you want to save your life, you must lose it. John is truly “of the Cross.” He died at 49—a life short, but full.

13 December 2020 – Reflection

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; Luke 1:46-55; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Have you ever felt true relief? Good news often has that effect on us, as it should. I recall the countless times I sat with families in the Emergency Department as they waited to hear news about their loved one. These are not comfortable moments, watching family members tremble with fear, worries, and doubt, wondering if their world is going to suddenly fall apart. As a chaplain, we are first trained on being a non-anxious presence. But, of course, you learn that there are appropriate times when a word of encouragement, a prayer, or Scripture reading can provide tremendous comfort and relief. These serve as messages of hope and healing, messages that not all is lost.
 
Isaiah is no stranger to this message. Quite a remarkable thing to proclaim good news to the poor, the brokenhearted, and the prisoners. Who can doubt that such a proclamation is, in fact, good news? Consider how hearing of such things moves us to celebration. When Mary heard of how God was fulfilling God’s promise, she sang “My spirit rejoices!” Sometimes it all sounds a little too good to be true, and yet we still yearn for such a world relieved of its pain and misery.
 
Yet, we mustn’t simply sit and wait for the world to be at peace. To do so would be to miss the point. The good news that Jesus proclaims is meant to provoke us to work. There is something life-giving about good news that drives us to act for the good of the orphan, the widow, and the oppressed. We do not hide this news away. Rather, we proclaim it in our words and actions toward others. Like Mary, we too rejoice at the sound of good news, and we share this news with our neighbors.
 
This is not to say that all is left up to humanity. After all, it is the Spirit of God who moves us. But if the gospel does not transform our hearts to seek the well-being of our neighbors and even our enemies, then it is not good news at all. To envision peace on earth requires that we become peacemakers and that we mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. Thankfully, God does exactly this, and we should to.
 
In a world full of brokenness, I am reminded of the good news that Jesus proclaims every time I see examples of human compassion, love, and empathy. It’s a glimpse at the Kingdom of God and a reminder of who we are meant to be.
 
How has the good news transformed your heart? How has it provoked you to live differently?

13 December 2020 – Saint Lucia

A virgin and martyr of Syracuse in Sicily, whose feast is celebrated on December 13th.  According to the tradition, Saint Lucy was born of rich and noble parents in the year 283.  Her father was of Roman origin, but his early death left her dependent upon her mother, whose name, Eutychia, seems to indicate that she was of Greek heritage.

Like so many of the early martyrs, Lucy had consecrated her virginity to God, and she hoped to devote all her worldly goods to the service of the poor.

Her mother, Eutychia, arranged a marriage for her, but for three years she managed to postpone the marriage. Lucy prayed at the tomb of Saint Agatha, to change her mother’s mind about her faith.  As a result, her mother’s long haemorrhagic illness was cured and she agreed with Lucy’s desire to live for God.

Saint Lucy’s rejected bridegroom, Paschasius, denounced Lucy as a Christian. The governor planned to force her into prostitution, but when guards went to fetch her, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. The governor ordered her killed instead. After torture that included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set afire; the fire quickly went out. She prophesied against her persecutors, and was then executed by being stabbed to death with a dagger.

Legend says her eyesight was restored before her death. This and the meaning of her name led to her connection with eyes, the blind, eye trouble, and other eye ailments.

12 December 2020 – Reflection

Psalm 126; Habakkuk 3:13-19; Matthew 21: 28-32

Reading through this passage again, I waited for something fresh and revealing to stand out. After multiple rereads and rereads, verse four began to stick out in a new way. “They” came to the Lord, asking without reservation, for God to “restore  their fortunes like streams in Negev.” Negev referred to a riverbed in the middle of the desert that was dry most of the year. But, when rain would fall heavily, very quickly the bed would turn into a torrential stream. We are reminded, in a beautiful way, what may feel and even look like a desolate circumstance and situation, that God almighty is a God of “and suddenly.” And suddenly everything changed… What is dry and desolate, what seems hopeless of change, the God of hope can manifest swiftly.
 
Though in the midst of death and dormancy, winter and waiting, yet, the choosing of rejoicing in the Lord remains.  A “taking” of joy in God and God’s salvation. Declaration of God’s strength and salvation—despite and independent of circumstance and surrounding elements. Though what I see may appear to be dead and dormant, I choose to rejoice in the one that is life and alive. Christ manifests God’s nature and supersedes that which we see with our visible eyes. The Lord invites us to look at life and our circumstance through Christ and His lens— through His Truth. The “mind of Christ” is the act of partnering with Christ’s ways and thoughts—putting on His filter in every situation and every season of life.
 
Jesus presents direct words and reality to those hearing the parable. Even when they did see the natural evidence, they were not convinced nor changed their minds. The profound remark, personally, is Jesus’s statement, “you did not afterward change your minds and believe…”  The striking and incredible fact we, as humans, hold the ability to think and choose on our own. We are not held hostage to our thoughts but have the God given ability to change our minds, our thoughts (beliefs)—repent. A profound reality. The Advent season is a challenge of our beliefs and what we choose to trust and believe about what God says about God’s own self, as well as what God says about us. We are challenged to analyze what we believe to be true. We are challenged to change our beliefs where change is needed. 
 
Waiting, for instance, on God to answer our prayer or show up as we need—presents a tension of space and time of mystery and unknown that confronts our beliefs and our trust. Do we trust God to come through? Do we trust God’s timing? Ultimately, do we trust God alone? These questions surface our faith and trust, or lack thereof. I’m reminded of the saying,” you can wait in peace or you can wait in anxiety.” The peace or anxiety is directly connected to our thoughts and beliefs in the midst of that very situation. If I can identify where there is anxiety or fear, I can usually identify a false belief and lack of persuasion and Presence, of God’s truth in my life in that area. What in my thoughts are not God’s thoughts? What beliefs do I have currently, that don’t align with God’s truth, about God’s own self and God’s nature and character? 

12 December 2020 – Our Lady of Guadalupe

The feast in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe goes back to the 16th century. Chronicles of that period tell us the story.

A poor Indian named Cuauhtlatohuac was baptized and given the name Juan Diego. He was a 57-year-old widower, and lived in a small village near Mexico City. On Saturday morning December 9, 1531, he was on his way to a nearby barrio to attend Mass in honor of Our Lady.

Juan was walking by a hill called Tepeyac when he heard beautiful music like the warbling of birds. A radiant cloud appeared, and within it stood an Indian maiden dressed like an Aztec princess. The lady spoke to him in his own language and sent him to the bishop of Mexico, a Franciscan named Juan de Zumarraga. The bishop was to build a chapel in the place where the lady appeared.

Eventually the bishop told Juan to have the lady give him a sign. About this same time Juan’s uncle became seriously ill. This led poor Juan to try to avoid the lady. Nevertheless the lady found Juan, assured him that his uncle would recover, and provided roses for Juan to carry to the bishop in his cape or tilma.

On December 12, when Juan Diego opened his tilma in the bishop’s presence, the roses fell to the ground, and the bishop sank to his knees. On the tilma where the roses had been appeared an image of Mary exactly as she had appeared at the hill of Tepeyac.

11 December 2020 – Reflection

Psalm 126; Hab 3:2-6; Phil 3:12-16

“Rejoice in the Lord always” is a commission we are given by the apostle Paul in the book of Philippians. An invitation in any and all situations, to rejoice—in Christ. The word rejoice means: to exult, give joy, glory, gladden, enjoy, delight. Most of these are proactive actions and choices to do so. The Psalmist correlates the restored fortunes with laughter and joy and shouts of joy in this passage. Sometimes, we have to count it all joy in less than pleasing circumstances, an intentional choice and force of the will. Other times, the restoration and breakthrough of the Lord beckons joy, praise and thanksgiving out of us. 
 
The prophet Habakkuk in the beginning of chapter three confesses his reverence and awe of God’s power and glory. In the middle of these declarations and praise lies intercession for God to revive God’s work, and to remember God’s power and mercy over time. A cry is made for the Lord’s reviving work to be revealed and made known. Habakkuk ends this section declaring God’s ways are everlasting. He reminds the reader and quite possibly himself, that God’s ways are indeed everlasting. In Habakkuk’s desire for a manifestation of the Lord’s breakthrough in humanity’s view of time, is brought with a big picture 
 
Paul encourages his readers to press on. To press forward to the call of Christ; and the prize of His laying hold of us. The apostle encourages his community to forget those things which are behind and to move forward. As I read this passage, I’m reminded of the changing of seasons. When seasons change in nature, such as fall to winter, certain things stop and other things begin. A shift takes place and humans are, in a way, forced to change with nature. Nature does not ask for our permission to change its seasons. As Paul presses his listeners to keep their eyes forward on Christ, it requires looking above the tree line of the present; and letting go of the past. We keep our eyes on Christ’s feet walking with and before us, despite the change around us. We move forward, in the midst of shifting ground beneath us.

10 December 2020 – Reflection

Psalm 126; Hab 2:1-5; Phil 3:7-11

Harvest of Joy

(A Song of Ascents)

The Psalmist begins testifying to the Lord’s restoration of the fortunes of Zion. He portrays the joy that erupted from their mouths, as “like a dream.” The consequence of the Lord’s restoration was exuberant, verbal, declarations of joy and thanksgiving to what the Lord had done. Weeping and tears are exchanged for joy and shouts of joy. A “Harvest of Joy” manifests for what was sown in distress, pain and mourning. The Psalmist prophesies “joy for mourning, shouts of joy for the sowing of tears.”
 
In the beginning of the second chapter of Habakkuk, God affirms God’s timing and faithfulness to the prophet Habakkuk. YHWH speaks to the prophet that “the righteous live by faith,” and to hold fast in a time of waiting and tarrying — a time of unknown and mystery. “Wait for it,” says the Lord, “it will surely come and not delay.” The Lord’s faithfulness does not change in moments of perceived delay, waiting and mystery. Instead, our heart and faith is drawn into an invitation of trust, developing our endurance and communion in and with, YHWH.
 
The apostle Paul in the book of Philippians, chapter three, declares the knowledge of Christ as the ultimate reward in life. Whether in gain or loss, “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus” surpasses all. Paul confesses his losses as “rubbish” and of no equal to the revelation of the Christ. The apostle’s time of suffering (and ours alike) brings to the surface options of perspective. Both gain and loss, have power in themselves to influence our perspective. Paul’s confession to know Christ’s suffering AND resurrection, portray his desire to know Him in gain and loss. Christ as Lord, our Lord, is the surrendered posture to His governance and shepherding, in all circumstances. 

9 December 2020 – Reflection

Seasons of Waiting

Psalm 27; Malachi 2:10-3:1; Luke 1:5-17

“For all I know of seasons / Is that you take your time / You could have saved us in a second / Instead you sent a child. . .
 
A picture is painted of time when the Psalmist says, “One thing I have asked of the Lord to seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, gazing upon His beauty and inquiring in His temple.” Think about this: All the days of his life. Every moment, every emotion, every thought dedicated in the dwelling of the Lord’s house—and this was before the Lord’s temple existed in the hearts of His people. This was a physical place. The Psalmist’s life is so fulfilled by their relationship with God, that nothing else is needed — no family, no friends, no romantic relationship, no favorite food — to be joyous for the rest of their days.
We transition from this complete sense of faithfulness to the Lord to a sense of complete faithlessness in the book of Malachi. The minor prophet goes so far as to say, “Do not weep when the Lord does not accept your offering with favor” when a man is faithless to his wife. Malachi warns the reader to guard their spirit intently against faithlessness, remembering the consequences of a forgetful people who turn away from the Lord.
In the third text of Luke there is an exchange between an angel of the Lord and Zechariah, and the fruits of a faithful couple give root to a miracle baby who would set the stage for the true Miracle of Christ. The Lord had Zechariah and Elizabeth wait, and the result meant their child would be the forerunner of Christ in the flesh, promising a man who would turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.
Time is fickle. When we pray, we pray for the future, the past, and the present. We pray for time to slow down and for time to pass quickly. We pray out loud for a season of life, and we are silent for another. We worship for hours in joy or hardship, and then, we struggle to get the energy to worship at all. Meanwhile, God lives outside of time. God says to sit patiently and sit in rest. Because of Christ, our spirits can inquire in the Lord’s temple forever, without leaving our loved ones or the physical pleasantries of life, but how often do we stop to thank God for the opportunity? How often do we take a moment to breathe, to sit in the present and realize the gift of continual faithfulness no longer being linked by actions, time, and the physical temple, but rather a baby in a swaddling cloth? 
 
Like a seed You were sown / For the sake of us all / From Bethlehem’s soil / Grew Calvary’s sequoia”.
Hillsong Worship (Chris Davenport, Benjamin Hastings, Ben Tan)
 
What kind of season are you in? When can you take the time today to thank God for God’s timing?