Jun 28, 2008

A Call for Help

Answer me speedily, O LORD;
My spirit fails!
Do not hide Your face from me,
Lest I be like those who go down into the pit.
Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For in You do I trust;
Cause me to know the way in which I should walk,
For I lift up my soul to You.
Deliver me, O LORD, from my enemies;
In You I take shelter.
Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Your Spirit is good.
Lead me in the land of uprightness.
Revive me, O LORD, for Your name’s sake!
For Your righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble.
In Your mercy cut off my enemies,
And destroy all those who afflict my soul;
For I am Your servant. - Psalm 143: 7-12

The psalmist finds himself in a major crisis and calls out to God in his terror and hopelessness:

  • Holy God, answer quickly! I see destruction all around me and I'm afraid I will be brought down with it.

  • Lord, make your presence known to me for I am terrified by my loneliness.

  • Comforter, I need to hear your loving words in the morning that I might be assured of your love for me.

  • Counselor, give me direction on which path to choose, even though I cannot see a doorway at this point.

  • Mighty God, deliver me from my enemies (oftentimes, physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual foes).

  • Teacher, I need instruction in how to obey your will (perhaps weakness in this area was a catalyst for the present situation)

  • Good Shepherd, keep my feet on the narrow path, following you and your voice (sheep tend to wander off).

  • Giver of Life, restore life and health to my languishing soul, so that I may glorify you in all things. I was created to glorify God, and true fulfillment and purpose comes only as I pursue this end.

  • Alpha and Omega, send your mighty angels to encamp about me and defend me from my accusers, for my soul has become weak and wounded.

We live in difficult times. We not only contend with the struggles of making a living, paying bills, keeping a job, meeting obligations, raising a family, but we have inner battles to content with. Voices that tell us we are failures. Doubts about decisions we must make or have made. Concerns about our health or someone else's health. Habits of the past that have now caught up with us and keep us from growing in our faith. In our busyness, we try to defend ourselves and keep walking. Eventually, we find ourselves exhausted and bleeding. We wonder how we got to this point.

Meanwhile, God is waiting to answer our call. He is mighty to save. He is longing to help us. Reading over the psalm again, isn't it absolutely amazing what God offers us? All the power of the Trinity and all that love available to us. But we must be in the position to receive it. It cannot be a position of pride and arrogance. God lifts up the humble in spirit.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Psalm 51:17

Jun 14, 2008

Living in the Economy

Last night, we listened to a pair of authors on the Bill Moyers TV show NOW. Both Steve Fraser and Holly Sklar have done their homework on the steps leading up to and explanations for the present economic crisis which is affecting so many middle class Americans. Both were a wealth of information of past history and trends in America, and both had dire warnings if our country continues on the path that is going. No surprise there.

Both of the authors, in separate interviews, commented on the excessive greed of corporate America and their willing bedfellows - federal bureaucracy and government. With the presidency of Ronald Reagan, the wealthy received a starting flag to pursue wealth their way with no consequences or restraints. It was a repeat of the golden age of the late 1800's. Over the past decades, we have witnessed the appalling lack of integrity and restraint of CEO's, their boards of trustees, stockholders, politicians and judges who have convinced themselves that they deserve to amass insane amounts of wealth, with no thought as to sharing it with those below who have been responsible for making their companies and careers successful. The result is a HUGE gap between the unfathomably wealthy and the middle class, which is rapidly slipping into lower class and, barring a major change in government and corporate policies, ultimately headed for poverty levels. During this time, many of us who have always considered ourselves middle class are bewildered as to why it is so difficult to put food on the table, pay for gas for our cars, take care of our clothing needs, handle everyday home repairs, and meet medical needs. We keep adding part-time jobs to make ends meet, but the ends keep moving farther apart. We're working longer hours, being denied health insurance, and offered no security that we will have our jobs tomorrow. One of the authors made the point that we are somewhat fooled by the salaries we are earning, thinking that they are so much higher than what our fathers or grandfathers earned. It was pointed out that, with adjustments made for inflation, we are actually earning what our grandfather earned in the 1920s as far as purchasing power is concerned. That was probably a blue collar or agricultural job and not even considered middle class.

After an hour of assimilating this information and realizing that these authors were describing my husband's and my current financial situation and frustrations, it was easy to become depressed, angry, and ready to pile into a VW van and head for Washington (sorry, that's my Baby Boomer coming out!).

My next thought was, "How does God want us to respond to living in this era?" Historically, this trend is nothing new - the extremely wealthy possessing all the power and lording it over the lower classes. Economics has cycles just as does the weather. The pendulum usually does swing the other direction - eventually. Sometimes it takes decades and many broken lives and political upheavals. I believe my bigger concern in the present crisis is the absence of outrage over the lack of integrity being displayed by these men and women addicted to the god of Mammon. Power corrupts. Money can be an immense source of power, and very few can handle it in a manner that benefits others. But stop and think for a minute. If you don't believe in an ultimate source of right and wrong and your existence here on earth is all the joy and happiness you will ever experience, then why wouldn't you try to get as many toys as possible and experience as much of what this life has to offer? With this thinking, you are responsible for your own happiness. If you aren't happy, then you only have yourself to blame. From this perspective, these individuals can only wonder why we aren't clawing our way to the top like everyone else and hoarding as much as we can for ourselves.

I believe we need to consider the lack of moral values and spiritual foundation that currently premeates our country and how this poverty has given birth to the current situation. We have become heady over our own inventions, technology and investments. They have wooed us with their power, glitz and profitability. Obviously, the evil one is immensely pleased that we are distracted and so easily entertained, and he is busy daily offering us enticements for all our five senses. If he can keep us preoccupied, then we won't be aware that we are completely ignoring the true life, peace and joy that only Christ can offer. Satan (no coincidence he is referred to also as the Angel of Light) has been in the deception business for thousands of years and has perfected it. You don't stand a chance trying to fight him on your own.

We are currently facing an economic crisis in our country. As believers, we have a hope and a kingdom that this world does not acknowledge. Shouldn't that affect how we live our lives in the present circumstances? If things continue to get worse, and there isn't any indication that there is a solution around the corner, will the world see a difference in how we as believers navigate through these waters and how others are handling it? As we daily lift our needs before the Father and trust his care for us and our loved ones, by His grace we will be able to reach out in mercy and tenderness to those who don't share that hope and point to something greater than the riches of this world. It is often in the bleakest of nights that God's glory has opportunity to shine the brightest.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.

But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

- I Timothy 6:6-12

Jun 11, 2008

Not as Easy as It Looks

Sometimes it happens that, when you begin to pray, you find you can pray well. At other times, even when you have expended great effort, you may find your efforts frustrated. This experience is given to make you learn that you must exert yourself constantly, for having once gained the gift of prayer, you must be careful to keep it safe. - Evagrius of Pontus

Yes, and why would we think that prayer should be easy? My thinking is that, if this is something that is right and good and honors God, then he would honor it and protect it from distraction or temptation. This goes back to the brownie point system. If I do this, then I will be rewarded. Gee, I almost sound like a millennial - I should be rewarded for just showing up.

Prayer has frequently been presented in our culture as a gentle, passive, generous activity. It's a way of showing honor and respect to God and a gesture of support and encouragement to those we pray for. Paintings show individuals quietly and serenely on their knees or with hands folded in prayer. We are touched by their example of humility and entreaty.

At what point was prayer put on the level of an afternoon tea party? Nothing I read in scripture, nor do I see in the lives of the apostles, martyrs and saints, suggests anything but blood, sweat and tears when it comes to prayer. Think of Christ spending entire nights in prayer. Think of Hannah praying for a child. Consider the deacon Stephen as he was being stoned. There is a battle raging around us - greed, power, immorality, hatred, and covetousness. Our human resources are powerless against them. These enemies are greater than what we can see, touch, taste or feel. They can only be confronted and managed by a power stronger than ourselves. Initiating prayer against them is only the beginning, for that only puts the enemy into a rage. The heat rises and the attacks increase. You have been warned.

If we see prayer as an option or another way of coping with the stresses of life, then perhaps we have deluded ourselves into thinking that we are fairly protected and secure, thanks to our 401K, our steady income, health insurance, life insurance and retirement plan. The present economic crisis and energy shortage have revealed just how fragile these provisions can be. We have placed our trust in them for so many years that we have lost sight of who truly gives us life and our daily provisions. The true battle, however, is won, not in accruing more assets or increasing our insurance plans, but by continual communication with the Almighty God and wrestling with those forces unseen - as if our life depended on it. It does.

Jun 2, 2008

Stand up Straight

When an archer desires to shoot his arrows successfully, he first takes great pains over his posture and aligns himself accurately with his mark. It should be the same for you who are about to shoot the head of the wicked devil. Let us be concerned first for the good order of sensations and then for the good posture of inner thoughts. - St John Chrysostom

Chrysostom's statement caused me to stop and think of how often, when I am being "attacked" or sense spiritual oppression, I take a defensive position - just hoping to avoid the arrows flying around me. There I am crouching in the corner with my shield held up in front of me.

St. Chrysostom paints a very different scenario, one that makes me recall the consummate archer in Lord of the Rings - Legolas. When sensing attack, he lengthened himself to full height, drew the arrow from his quiver, and with great precision placed it against his bow. There was intention, concentration and a narrowing of focus, as he zeroed in on his target and gauged the distance between them. In archery, you don't have the advantage of the "shotgun" effect - hundreds of pieces fanning out toward the enemy in hopes that enough of them will mortally wound him. No, you have one arrow, carefully placed and intentionally directed toward your foe. The success of the directed arrow depends on the physical and mental disciplines of the past and the ability to let them play out at the exact moment of danger. Our battles are not won on the battlefield. They are won in our daily position before God and our participation in the life of the Body of Christ - prayer, humility, confession and worship. A posture check might be in order.