Category Archives: Reflections

Spiritual Gardening

purple crocuses with closed bloom Français : D...
Purple Crocuses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everywhere I have lived I we have had a garden. They have varied by where we live. In upstate New York we had planted crocuses beside our front walk as soon as the snow melted they would pop up and bloom announcing the coming of spring. In central Indiana two white pines we had planted behind our home had grown tremendously since we left, now providing shade to that house. We brought our container gardens with us to Florida and merely days after planting the seeds had sprouted.

Redwoods among the fog (Photo credit Scott Catron)
Redwoods among the fog (Photo credit Scott Catron)

In traveling to various parks we have seen the variety of God’s gardens: sand dunes that continually shift with the wind, mountain fields that eek out an existence between the last snow melt and the first hard frost, brackish swamps that support trees brush just above high tide, and redwood trees that have withstood storms and droughts for centuries. While one can readily see the height and girth of a redwood tree, its roots are hidden. How deep must they grow to support such spires and weather the sun and the rain, wind and snow?

Growing in faith yields resilience to weather life’s tragedies and comedies, promotions and steady work. While the fruits of one’s faith may be readily seen by others —charity, prayer, calmness— resilience comes from having deep roots.

I pray that, according to the riches of the Father’s glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
—Ephesians 3:16-17.

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, July 26th at Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church.

Click below to hear this sermon.

Us and Them

I suppose people have always separated into factions: those like us versus those other people.

The news media seems to relish showing differences between Republicans and Democrats, even highlighting rifts within each party. Is a particular candidate conservative enough or liberal enough to be true to their party? Or has a particular candidate’s remark gone too far, serving more to excite an extreme segment of their party?

Listening to this harsh rhetoric every four years leaves me almost surprised that parties can come together to support one candidate for the general election. That the divisive rhetoric between parties continues between elections leaves me amazed that our various legislatures can accomplish anything.

The Apostle Paul had encountered similar divisiveness in the church at Ephesus between Jews and Christians.

For [Christ Jesus] is our peace;
in his flesh he has made both groups into one
and has broken down the dividing wall,
that is, the hostility between us.

— Ephesians 2:14

But what does he mean by “citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God”? Are we to unite in a middle ground, ignoring our differences or are we to value our differences and find a new harmony?

Elsewhere Paul described the Church as like a human body with different parts serving different functions. If we were all the same, we could accomplish little. If we were all eyes, we would lack teeth to eat with, or feet to walk, or hands to grow crops.

The problem with divisions is not our differences, but hostilities used to maintain those divisions.

Instead when we work together, enjoying our differences, we become a dwelling place for God.

When have you experienced harmonious collaboration?

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, July 19th, 2015.

Click below to hear this sermon.

Blessing All

Thank you for reading my blog this week. Your participation in my ministry by reading and occasionally telling me how my writings have affected your life and spiritual journey have been a real blessing to me.

May God bless you and your life this day, so that you may grow stronger in our Lord Jesus.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
— Ephesians 1:2

The apostle Paul began most of his letters with a blessing and prayer for his audience leading me to wonder how the world might change if we were to follow this practice, blessing our listeners at the beginning of each conversation. Such blessings might be generic, as some of the recipients would be unknown when the blessing was written. For example, I do not know who all is reading this blog, and since it may be available for years to come, you might be reading this entry after a current reader shared it with you perhaps months or even years after I wrote these words.

Which leads to questions about the sincerity of the blessing. Are blessings offered so easily valued by the recipient? Or conversely, when a blessing is offered before the giver meets the recipient, is a blessing so offered valued by the giver? At what point do freely offered blessings get lost in the blizzard of advertising we receive each day.

Some three-hundred years after Paul, Augustine of Hippo had written blessings for Caesar; blessings universally expected, but widely recognized as lies. Yet the blessings in Paul’s letters differ from such banal pro forma fluff for he uses the rest of his letter to give depth and substance to the divine blessings he lists at the beginning of this letters.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
— Ephesians 1:3-4

On the other hand, if the blessings are sincerely offered and openly received, perhaps the communication that follows will have greater honesty and usefulness.

Below you can hear (most) of my sermon from Sunday, July 12th.

Travel Light

A summer spent hiking in New Mexico and canoeing in Maine was the acme of my scouting experience. For two separate weeks I and a few of my friends traveled with no more than we could carry on our backs in very rugged places far from the rush of civilization. To prepare for these trips we learned to leave behind anything that we would not need. Every ounce mattered. Anything extra would be a distraction and burden for what lies ahead.

Hiker near Mount McKinley (NPS Photo/Kent Miller)
Hiker looking at Denali in Alaska (NPS Photo/Kent Miller source, Wikimedia)

Life can also benefit from leaving extra things behind.

Having moved several times, if I have not used something in the most recent 3 to 5 years I am likely to sell or give it to someone more likely to appreciate it. And when considering purchasing a new item, I think for a moment if I will still be using it in 3 to 5 years, if not, should I leave it for someone else to buy.

Healing: Physical or Spiritual

Does spiritual health affect physical healing?

A chaplain had told me that the hospital she served expected her to visit every patient frequently, for statistics showed that patients visited by a chaplain at least three times were discharged sooner.

Anointing Vial
Anointing Vial

Similarly the ritual of anointing that I carry in my pocket links spiritual care with physical health saying: “Spirit of the Living God, present with us now, enter into … in body, mind and spirit, forgive her/his sins, and heal her/him from all that harms her/him.”

Spiritual healing might not kill viruses nor bacteria; it might not mend broken bones nor close a nasty cut; it might not directly affect any of the multitude of diseases and illnesses that modern medicine can cure or at least name. But guilt and shame can burden more than a person’s soul, feelings of unmitigated remorse do cause real illnesses.

Conversely, feelings of joy and acceptance can and do improve one’s physical well-being. People who attend worship regularly live longer, happier, and healthier lives. The placebo effect, merely telling someone that a treatment will help, does make a physical difference.

Perhaps this is why the Greek word meaning “to save” is also used as “to heal.”

[Jesus] said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you;
go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

— Mark 5:31

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, June 28th, 2015.

See also: Naming Demons

A Dead Calm

I look at what is happening to the Church these days and wonder: Where is God? New churches have become a rarity. A growing congregation celebrates if it can merely keep pace with the growth of its community. Many congregations see their membership numbers decline and especially the number who attend worship each Sunday. More and more churches have closed and others contemplate how many months they can eke out an existence.

Today the church does not face violent persecution as it had in the first century, but a dead calm. Increasingly events are scheduled on Sunday mornings ignoring the spiritual needs of those who attend worship services. The result is the same.

Backhuysen, Ludolf - Christ in the Storm on th...
Backhuysen, Ludolf – Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee – 1695 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion;
and they woke him up and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
— Mark 4:38 (NRSV)

Mark’s Gospel tells of Jesus calming a storm while the Apostles attempted to cross a sea by rebuking the wind, by ordering it to be silent. Now many individuals perceive they can weather life’s storms by themselves without a church family, without a caring community of believers.

Or perhaps the Church has busied itself with internal controversies and neglected to communicate the story entrusted to it. Have we too long enjoyed the calm waters? Neglected to communicate how worshiping God positively affects our daily living? Neglected to communicate the importance of setting aside a day to connect with one another and with God?

How have you helped the church put its oars in the water so that it might continue to effectively communicate the love of God in the dead calm that culture provides?

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, June 21st, 2015.

Where Is God in All This?

I have experienced times when I wanted God to come in with a big hand and fix a few things. Something obvious like a timely, yet unexpected rain squall on an otherwise calm day that extinguishes a fire or a miraculous cure when none was expected.

Dandelion seeds (achenes) can be carried long ...
Dandelion seeds (achenes) can be carried long distances by the wind. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yet more often than not, miracles have been long in the making: diverse services coordinating to extinguish a blaze and aid those harmed by it; or slow and steady advancements in medicines; or even someone with exactly the right training available at the exact moment. As if God had sown a variety of seeds widely and generously, without knowing how each particular seed might contribute to answering a future prayer, but hoping that if enough seeds were sown a few would eventually lead to great things.

“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,
and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow,
he does not know how.”

— Mark 4:26-27 (NRSV)

What seeds has God planted in your life?

I will have more to say about this passage on Sunday, June 14th, 2015.

Sermon Notes on Hiatus

Due to several factors I have suspended posting my study notes each week.

Please look under the Reflections category for a preview of how I will illustrate this week’s lesson.

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All Things Die

Each week as we prepared to move we set aside bags and boxes of things to be donated or trashed. Things that we no longer needed or had fully served their useful life.

English: While my shed gently rusts. Cooler ou...
Decaying shed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Electronic equipment stops working. Clothes fray at their edges. Paint peels. Glass breaks or chips. Wood warps. Metal rusts.

Given enough time even mountains will wash away to the sea.

Nothing is permanent. All things wear out or break down. Nothing is exempt.

But what about people? Each day from the day we are conceived cells die and are absorbed by other cells. For most people, until our early twenties, the growth of new cells out paces older cells. But as we age beyond thirty increasingly we lose agility, strength, reflexes, creativity and the ability to recall information. Great gymnasts are seldom more than teenagers. Great athletes seldom older than thirty. Inventors typically achieve success in their forties. We fall victim to presbyopiapresbycusis, and dementia as our eyesight, hearing and cognition fade with age.

Yet there is more to life than meets the eye, more than science can measure. As we age we become increasingly aware of our connections with all people, with all things, and with God. Our past sufferings become lessons learned for future losses including the loss of life. We begin to recognize God in all things: in the good and beautiful as well as in the ugly and painful.

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
— 2 Corrinthians 4:16 – 5:1

Renewal

The Bible sets amazing standards for people of faith. If the ten commandments were not hard enough to live up to, Jesus interpreted them adding difficulty.

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.
— Matthew 5:21-22 (NRSV)

No wonder Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 3:1-2). What deep dark secret did he have in his life that might place him in danger of judgement? I like to write broad general confessions of sin so participants may write in their own sins and hear the assurance of pardon for those sins.

But what would it take for people to truly and perfectly live sin free lives? People who live real lives with daily temptations and compromises and imperfections? People affected by emotionally charged topics that lead to emotional outbursts?

Could real people set aside every past indiscretion and every past neglect and live new lives or would they have to start over? Or as Nicodemus suggested: crawl back inside one’s mother’s womb and be born again?

The amazing part of Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus is learning that God chooses us to be perfect. That we need only look upon Jesus to be healed of our imperfections so we can live lives as new people.