Browsed by
Tag: god

we are the temple of the living god

we are the temple of the living god

We are the temple of the living God …

For my personal devotions at the beginning of each day, I read from a book by Frederick Buechner, entitled “Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith.” It is alphabetical dictionary of daily readings, each focussed on a single word. I am currently in the “h’s” and Monday’s word was “holiness.” The entry begins this way …

Only God is holy, just as only people are human. God’s holiness is God’s Godness. To speak of anything else as holy is to say that it has something of God’s mark upon it. Times, places, things, and people can all be holy, and when they are, they are usually not hard to recognize.

It got me thinking about holy places. Do you have a holy place?
… a place removed from the distractions and noise and clutter of your daily routine?
… a place where you see and hear more clearly?
… a place where you know that God is because you recognize his mark, because you feel God’s presence?
… a place where you know that regardless of whatever it is that someone or something else has done or may do to you or whatever it is that you have done or may do to yourself, that here you are OK?
… a place where you feel whole, where you feel connected, where you feel peace?
… a place where you are healed, forgiven, saved?
… a place that is not at all about you, but where, more than any other place, you feel yourself?
… a place that is full of God?

I pray that you have such a place. And as I think of each person I know and love, I am praying that they may have such a place …
… a place where you will know God is.
… a place you will know who you are.

We are the temple of the living God …

We are meant to be a holy place. Wherever we are, among whomever we are, you and I are meant to be a holy place, so that whenever friends or strangers are with us …
… they will see and hear more clearly.
… they will feel connected, forgiven, healed.
… they will feel OK.
… they will know God is, because they recognize the marks, because they feel God’s presence.

happy new year

happy new year

Humility is the first step
Acknowledging that you cannot
Pull the right strings, making life dance to your beat, or
Push the right buttons to guarantee the future
You have in mind.

Now is the time! the time to release pride and fear, the time to
Embrace the God who embraces you, to
Welcome the future God has in mind, to say

Yes! to God and Yes! to God’s way, to
Expect that God’s way leads to a glorious future for us all, and to
Act on that expectation, hoping and loving and serving and making peace,
Right here, right now!

well said …

well said …

A Christian View of War
By Oliver “Buzz” Thomas

“Pray for our troops.”

Millions of signs and bumper stickers carry the message, and part of me likes it. But part of me keeps waiting for another bumper sticker — the one I still haven’t seen. Whether Jesus would drive an SUV, I’m still not sure. Truth is he’d probably ride the bus. Or the subway. But if he had money for a car and didn’t give it all away to the hookers and the homeless before he got to the used-car lot, I’m pretty sure that his bumper sticker would say “pray for our enemies.”

Before you write me off as a left-wing crackpot, consider what we know. During his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said three things relevant to the subject of war:

• Blessed are the peacemakers.
• Turn the other cheek.
• Pray for your enemies.

Here’s something else we know. Three-quarters of the U.S. population consider themselves Christian. That translates into about 224 million Americans.

So why are so few of us taking the teachings of Jesus seriously when it comes to this latest war? Out here in the heartland, only a handful of churches are even talking about it.

Christian obligations

The most plausible explanation is that we’re scared. Some things, it seems, may trump religion. Fear is one of them. If Christians are afraid (and who could blame them after 9/11?), it’s not surprising that they’re listening to other voices besides Jesus’ when it comes to the war in Iraq. So what should the three-fourths of Americans who identify themselves as “Christian” make of the Iraq war?

We could spend a lot of time debating whether St. Augustine’s “Just War Theory” can be stretched to accommodate our invasion of Iraq, but at this late date it really doesn’t matter. We invaded. And, if the Just War Theory means anything, it means that we shouldn’t leave Iraq in a bigger mess than we found it. Americans of faith, it would seem, are obligated to do at least the following:

• Express concern for all suffering, including that of our enemies. That means more than paying lip service. As James, the brother of Jesus, said, it does not suffice to tell a hungry man “God bless you!” or “We will pray for you!” We must address his hunger. The same can be said for the additional food, health care, police and countless other things the Iraqi people need. And, though an immediate withdrawal would be precipitous, we must work diligently to respond to the Iraqis’ desire that our troops leave as quickly as possible.

• Recommit ourselves to the fundamental principles of justice and human rights that have been a hallmark of our faith, as well as of our nation. That means no more secret prisons, no more secret trials and no more torture. America cannot resort to the worst practices of the Gulag (where citizens were declared “enemies of the state” and whisked away to Siberian work camps without the benefit of a fair trial or the assistance of counsel) and expect to be an accepted member of the world community, much less a leader of it.

• Repudiate the statements of any religious or political leader who suggests that America has a special claim on God. He may have a special claim on us, but we do not have a special claim on him. Our beloved nation is a civil state, not a religious one. There are no references to God in our Constitution. The only reference to religion — other than in the First Amendment — is found in Article VI, which proclaims that there will be no religious test for public office in the USA. The Founding Fathers gave us a secular state in which all religions are free to flourish or flounder on their own initiative without interference by the government. Those running around claiming we are “in the army of God” or slapping up copies of the Ten Commandments on government buildings threaten to turn us into the very sort of society we are fighting against in this new war.

• Force our elected officials to address the conditions that have given rise to global terrorism in the first place. Terrorism exists for a reason. One of those reasons is that our society has been far too unconcerned about the plight of Muslim people around the world. Why, for example, have we not instituted a mini-Marshall Plan for the millions of Palestinians who have often gone without adequate land, roads, hospitals and schools since the 1967 war with Israel? Corruption among Palestinian leaders has squandered billions in the past, but responsible partners on the ground can and must be found. Private foundations with a long history of engagement might be a good place to start.

Tackling terrorism’s roots

We need not and should not repudiate our long-standing alliance with Israel to accomplish this. It’s simply that our religious traditions teach us that to whom much is given, much is required. The irony, of course, is that it’s in our best interest to relieve Palestinian suffering. True, some terrorist leaders come from affluent families and cite Western worldliness and decadence as their motivation for jihad, but the economic factor cannot be ignored. There is no better recruiting ground for the troops of terror than the maddening monotony and grinding poverty of a refugee camp.

In ancient times, particular gods were associated with particular nations. “Tribal deities,” we call them. Today we know better. God is not the mascot of Republicans, Democrats or, for that matter, Americans. God transcends all national and political affiliations. His precinct is the universe.

America is in the deep woods. Never have we been less popular in the eyes of the world. Never have we faced so unsettling an enemy. But before we circle the wagons, Christians should get serious about following the teachings of the one by whose name we are called. He might just know the way out.

Oliver “Buzz” Thomas is a minister in Tennessee and author of an upcoming book, 10 Things Your Minister Wants to Tell You (But Can’t Because He Needs the Job).

the face in the mirror

the face in the mirror

You should review the short documentary film made by a New York City high school student: A Girl Like Me. A September 19 editorial by Leonard Pitts led me to the site. As he writes, Be warned: if you have a heart, the new doll test will break it.

Our culture does a very poor job at recognizing and affirming real beauty. I believe beauty is there to be found, in many different sizes and shapes … and colors. So many fail to see beauty when they look into a mirror — or look into their own souls — because they have been convinced that they are too fat, too dark, not athletic enough, not smart enough, not good enough.

And God looked at all that God had made, and God saw that it was good!

a view through the trees

a view through the trees

ocean view through the trees on Monhegan Island

I like this photograph.

It is different from most of my other Monhegan photos — no stunning cliffs rising from the sea, no waves exploding on the rocks guarding the shoreline, no colorful lilies or picturesque lighthouses or interesting people — just this view through the trees.

Is it a photograph of the sea or is the sea just the background? Is our attention drawn by the dead tree in the foreground or do we see past the tree? Is it the dark lines of the dead tree or the bold greens of the living trees or orange of the lichen-covered rocks, the expansive sea in the distance or the intimate path in the near corner, that makes this photograph beautiful?

It is all these things. It is the way all the pieces of the photograph “fit” together and don’t fit together. It is the juxtaposition of life and death, of soft and hard, of light and dark, of sharp and smooth, of intimacy and immensity, that makes this photograph engaging … and beautiful. It is beautiful because it shows something real, this particular piece of earth as it is, as it has become, not something put together or composed by the artist, but something already there. Here is the artistry … of God: death and life, immediacy and transcendence, something that exists wholly oblivious to and careless of me, and yet of which, when I am present and when I pay attention, I am a part.

This is what we are like, too — products of God’s artistry, a strange juxtaposition of the heavenly and the mundane, full of contradictions, but beautiful as we are, beautiful because we are, beautiful because we are from God.

making sense, moving forward

making sense, moving forward

We live in a world that is so different from the world of the generations that have preceded us. The pace of change is dizzying. The amount of accessible — unavoidably accessible! — information is overwhelming. We bear the burden of knowing too much, almost more than we can bear to know. It is not only the problems of family and community and region that weigh on our hearts, but the problems of a whole world: famine and disease and natural disaster, war and oppression and unabashed genocide, injustice and mistrust and entrenched hatred. We know so much about the world and about the people who fill it, so much more about so many more people, so many people so different from us as we are so different from them — different traditions, different dreams, different perceptions, different values, different beliefs.

How do we make sense of this world? How do we stretch minds and hearts to “fit” all the information, all the people, in a way that allows us to move forward with eyes and ears still open? As believers, how do we reconcile ourselves and our faith to diverging and even openly hostile points of view?

Some do it by holding tightly to received traditions, by clinging to a clearly defined spiritual calculus that distinguishes between those who are right and those who are wrong, by subscribing to a parochial religious worldview that leaves most of humanity on the outside. In the face of a world full of questions, these folks survive by adopting a faith full of ready answers.

Others do it by redefining “truth” and “righteousness” and “salvation:” what matters is what is true for you, what is right is what allows us to co-exist, salvation is avoidance of conflict. In the face of a world full of questions, these folks survive by believing there really aren’t any answers.

But is there a third option? Is there a way for believers other than strict fundamentalism or uncritical pluralism? Can we make sense of this world without ignoring the majority of the facts? Can we move forward without abandoning our loyalty to a personal God? We need a third way, because the church is being torn apart, dangerously polarized, torn apart by people who are scared, scared of losing their faith, scared of losing their lives, polarized by people scared of obsolescence, scared of irrelevance, scared of being marginalized, scared of losing their souls.

I believe there is a third way. The first two ways have one important feature in common: fear … fear of losing, fear of criticism, fear of being wrong, fear of being irrelevant, fear of the daunting and dizzying and befuddling and overwhelming world in which we live! And the natural response to fear is … fight or flight! Taking control of a situation that is out of control by removing myself or by arming myself. “Solving” the threatening situation by taking a unilateral course of action. But, as believers, when we act unilaterally, when we “take control” — one way or another, we leave God out. We discover a third way when we let God in, when we listen — really listen — to God, instead of deciding for ourselves what we must do to survive and to “protect” the faith!

Perfect love drives out fear.

Love is the third way! Loving God with all your soul and all your mind and all your strength … and loving your neighbor as you love yourself.

God is not a cipher! God is not whatever we think God is or whatever we want God to be! God is a particular being, with a distinctive character and distinctive intentions. It is possible for us to be right about what we think we know of God, and it is possble for us to be utterly wrong about what we think we know of God! We must seek God, listen to God, wait for God, not pretend we already know exactly what God wants, or that we can never know what God wants. Our task is not to use God, as a war club or a slogan, but to love God.

In the same way, your neighbor is not a cipher, but a person, a person who deserves to be loved. Your primary task is not to defeat your neighbor, protect yourself from your neighbor, convert your neighbor, enlighten your neighbor, but to love your neighbor. Love your neighbor!

Don’t be scared! Love God and trust God to love you. In the face of a world full of questions, you don’t have to have all the answers … but you know there are answers!

You don’t have to fight or run away. You can move forward, with confidence in God, with hope for the future, with readiness to love your neighbor who is so very different from you, but equally loved by God. As believers, we take our cue from God, the God revealed in Jesus Christ, a God of love, a God of mercy, a God of grace. We love, we show mercy, we extend grace.

We don’t need to take control. We leave that to God. We know our job …

be patient

be patient

Be patient …

Do not let the burden of the enormous task ahead of you overwhelm you and debilitate you. Yours is not the responsibility of the end result, but only of the next step. Do what you can, what God has equipped you to do. Do that faithfully, one step, one piece, at a time, and God will make of it something good.

Do not worry about tomorrow; it will have enough worries of its own. And the God who walks with you today will be there to walk with you tomorrow, whatever tomorrow brings …

no excuses

no excuses

There are no excuses, only choices.

I shared that observation with our church family this last Sunday as part of the report given by our mission trip team. We had just returned from eleven days in West Virginia — we, being four adults and six high school students. That observation was underlined once more for me by what I saw and by what we did. We spent five days painting and repairing a home in a town in southwest West Virginia and spent several more days enjoying the West Virginia mountains and the challenge of play in the mountains.

One of our students, limited from birth by cerebral palsy, joined several of us in leaping ten feet from the top of a rock into the waters of the New River. He did not let his physical limitatations provide him an excuse, but did what he very much wanted to do!

Another student, skeptical of camping and her ability to “survive” the rigors of rafting and rock climbing and hard work, did just fine. She did not stay home; she did not hang back; she did not excuse herself from engaging these new experiences, but chose to go over the edge into the unknown … quite literally!

I have said many times to my own children that family history or genetic history may provide a reason or an explanation for certain behaviors, but not an excuse. We make choices. We do not choose what we are or what befalls us, but we do choose what we will do with what we have and how we will respond to what befalls us.

Too many of us are limited by our own lack of vision, our own lack of courage … our own lack of faith. Don’t give up! Don’t beat yourself! Embrace life and all its possibilities! Embrace God and all God is ready to do for you and with you!