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Month: July 2005

as a mighty ocean

as a mighty ocean

O the deep, deep love of Jesus
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free,
Rolling as a mighty ocean
In its fullness over me.

Standing on a boat thirty miles offshore, with no land in sight in any direction, the imagery of this favorite hymn comes to life.

vast, unmeasured …

All there is is ocean — underneath me, all around me. There is seemingly no end to these waters, as far as both eye and imagination can see. This is what Jesus’ love is like! Without limit and without end! Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me …

boundless, free …

From this vantage point it is clear: the land does not put boundaries on the sea; the sea puts boundaries on the land. The sea is everything — foundation, source, sustainer — from which all else rises to life.

And the sea is itself a living thing, not made heavy or slow or inflexible by its great size. It is lithe and dancing and free! Always in motion, always changing, unpredictable, uncontrollable. You don’t tell Jesus what to do or where to go … but Jesus’ love is there, boundless and free, of its own choice, of his own will.

Today, from this happy vantage point, the wonder of the love of Jesus is impressed on me … It is like this! Like this ocean! Rolling in its fullness over me!

May the eyes of your heart, the eyes of your imagination, allow you too to fathom the breadth and depth of the love of Jesus for you …

on the water

on the water

I am not quite amphibious … but I do love the water. I love being in the water and on the water, watching the water move, listening to the water. Many of my most memorable life experiences have been associated with bodies of water — Huron, Superior, Prentiss Bay, Dog Lake, Dead River, Kennebec River, Big Sandy River, Cascapedia River, St. John River, Beck’s Pond, Bear Creek.

Water is essential to life, certainly in a physical sense, but — at least for me — also in a spiritual sense. Water refreshes, revives, soothes, excites. Water engulfs, uplifts, expands the mind, settles the heart. When I am on the water, I feel most myself and most connected — to the natural world and to the One who made it.

fixed on jesus

fixed on jesus

Let us run with determination the race that lies before us … keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.

There are a few phrases in scripture that speak with particular clarity and power. This is one of them. It speaks a word the Church needs to hear! This is what holds us together. This is what gives integrity to the Church’s mission. In the face of broad disagreement about theology, about ethics, about church and culture, about worship style, about evangelism, about mission itself, if we simply keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we will not lose our way.

Sure, we will even disagree about Jesus! But the key is not what we think about Jesus, or what we think Jesus is telling us or anybody else to do. The key is not what we think. The key is keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus! The key is not letting our attention be captured by other commitments, other priorities, other loves.

This word speaks to the Church, but it also speaks to me. In the midst of struggle and pain, joy and sorrow, success and failure, exhiliration and disapppointment, clarity and confusion … I keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. It is the only way …

poor in spirit

poor in spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven …

In Luke’s version, Jesus says, Blessed are you who are poor. Luke draws attention to Jesus’ offer of grace and favor to those people human society has cast aside. Luke celebrates Jesus’ stirring announcement of good news to the poor — to those who are quite literally poor. But in Matthew’s version, Jesus says, Blessed are the poor in spirit … Meaning those who recognize their own spiritual bankruptcy, who realize their desparate need for God’s grace and forgiveness? Probably …

But what if the word poor in this instance was still understood in its primitive sense as referrring to material poverty? Then what might Jesus mean by poor in spirit? Poor … in spirit. In spirit, laying aside claim to anything we may possess. Acknowledging in our hearts and minds that whether we have much or whether we have little, all that we have we hold in trust. It belongs to someone else. It is ours to use … at the pleasure of our Master.

When we are poor in spirit, our possessions do not control us. We let go. We let go of everything. We are poor … in spirit. We have nothing. And yet, we have everything … because ours is the kingdom of heaven! When we are poor in spirit, our possessions do not get in the way of our relationship with God. And when we are poor in spirit, our possessions do not get in the way of our relationships with each other. There are no “class” differences, because we are poor alike, and since what we have we hold in trust, what we have is readily shared. When we are truly poor in spirit, it may be that no one need be poor in reality! (See Acts 4:32-35!)

with boldness and humility

with boldness and humility

Two week before the opening of the United Church of Christ General Synod in Atlanta, I expressed my hopes for the coming deliberations:

May the Holy Spirit lead our church as we struggle with difficult issues, as we seek to know the mind of Christ. May we act with all boldness, and love each other with all humility …

It seems that my wish has come true. Reports from General Synod describe an especially solemn and respectful and careful deliberation on the issue of same-gender marriage, from committee work through the floor debate and the final delegate vote. The UCC Newsroom gave this report of the proceedings:

Delegates wrestled with the resolution for about an hour before casting a decisive vote in favor of the resolution that was refined and recommended late Sunday by a 54-member Synod committee. The document was altered by only one amendment, which delegates readily accepted, that expressed a spirit of concern for those who must deal with the resolution’s impact in the months ahead.

When debate was closed — with only a whimper of opposition — a hush fell over the great hall of Atlanta’s Georgia World Conference Center. The Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries, then asked moderator Eric C. Smith, who led the proceedings, for a moment of collective prayer. Delegates prayed silently.

Moments later, when voting began, a horde of raised hands — holding green voting cards — told the world that the resolution had passed overwhelmingly. Afterwards, instead of loud applause, there was a dignified moment of stillness broken only by the voice of the Rev. John H. Thomas who offered a prayer.

“Lord Jesus…We give thanks for your presence, especially here this morning,” the UCC’s general minister and president prayed in a soft, pastoral voice. “We have felt your warm embrace, stilling us as we tremble with joy, with hope, with fear, with disappointment…Let us use our hands not to clap, but to wipe away every tear…”

I am glad for the dignity and spiritual sensitivity of the process … even when I would have voted against the resolution itself. This issue has such power to divide, and that, I think, is what is most dangerous for the church as we struggle to be faithful. I can live with a church that has disagreements, even serious diagreements, among its members, as long as we are together genuinely seeking the mind of Christ and acknowledging our oneness with brothers and sisters who are doing the same.

Unfortunately, the grace and dignity of the Synod process has not been followed by the many of the folks offering their post-vote commentaries. Two examples from the UCC Blog:

One response: God is still speaking, but the General Synod of the UCC by passing the Resolution in Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All, has arrogantly supposed to speak for God. Marriage between one man and one woman is a reality established by God in creation and reflected in the church itself. This resolution does not validate same sex relationships but only invalidates and de-legitimizes the UCC as a religious body. This decision will force many congregations to disassociate and will cause the further decline of this historic denomination …

Another response: To those who want to continue hating, misinterpreting Scripture and selling our Lord short, see ya! Those of us who have taken on the mission of love, intelligence, acceptance and fair-mindness our Church will be stronger and our faith will be stronger!! We don’t need judgmental hate-mongers and homophobes in our midst. Go join those who can’t and don’t think for themselves. There are plenty of “leaders” like Dobson will will take your money and teach you how to hate even more.

There it is — “us” and “them” … the “good guys” and the unchristian heathens. Now matter where you come down on the issue, stooping to such name-calling is the real travesty. God forgive us. And God help us to continue to struggle together … with boldness and humility.

who am I?

who am I?

Who am I?

I may spend an inordinate amount of time and energy and worry trying to “make a name” for myself … when I already have a name. God has given me my name: my name is “child of God!” I am a human being, made in God’s own image, and my highest calling, indeed my only calling, is to reflect that image as best I can.

We need to remember our true names! We need to remember the true name God has given to each person we encounter. It is only when we forget that we lose ourselves in depair or become engulfed in great battles over politics or values. Remembering keeps things in perspective and reminds us we have nothing to lose … because everything that matters is already ours and will be ours forever.