Month: January 2014
Scripture: Revelation 3:1-6
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, find but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, malady for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, stuff therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. Those who are victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out their names from the book of life, but will acknowledge their names before my Father and his angels. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Thought for the Day: The Book of Revelation is unusual for the apocalyptic genre, in that it contains letters to seven specific churches the author believed had conformed too much to the prevailing Roman culture. Contrary to popular belief, the text is in no way a prophecy about the end of the world, but is rather, a scathing indictment about losing one’s faith when the fight against oppression becomes so difficult that one faces prison or death.
Yesterday we toured the magnificent and extensive ruins of Sardis (as well as the much less impressive Philadelphia and Thyatira). Sardis was huge, a crossroads of trade on the Silk Road. Remains of Roman roads, as wide as any we use today, immediately conveyed the reach and influence of the Empire. The gymnasium (school) and Synagogue complex is in incredible shape, although much of that is because archaeologists restored it to its former splendor.
Much of The New Testament is an argument against Roman society, and when you’re standing under a Roman column that’s solid stone, seven feet in diameter and 40 feet high, you begin to understand how early followers of Jesus’ way of peaceful non-compliance could lose hope. Yet, like all once-great civilizations, the Roman Empire too crumbled under its own weight, and Jesus’ message of God’s universal love for all humans continues to spread to the ends of the earth.
It takes a lot of effort to be a counter-cultural voice. It takes courage, but more than any human attribute, it takes faith that God is working, in God’s own slow, calculated way, to make things better for everyone. God is the great equalizer who, through every one of us, works to topple the columns that support any empire of hate, war, greed, violence and oppression. You’ll never convince me this message isn’t just as important today as it was in Sardis and Philadelphia.
Prayer: Every day You amaze me with your patience and vision, God most holy. Inspire me to connect with You in ever deeper and more meaningful ways, so that I too might be the voice of freedom real faith makes impossible to stifle. Amen.
More photos and comments about the first day at our trip blog: http://lextheo.blogspot.com/2014/01/thyatira-philadephia-sardis.html
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 11:2
I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.
Thought for the Day: As I begin my journey in Paul’s footsteps today, store this passage takes on special significance. There is some scholarly disagreement about Paul’s authorship of the letters to the church at Corinth. While many accept that Paul did write the letters, they also agree that someone carrying on his traditions interpolated several sections at a later date.
This journey also has special significance for me because I’ve learned that many of the traditions of the modern Christian church were interpolated by Constantine and the Roman Empire after they stole the religion from its Jewish founders. Rome did a phenomenal job of wiping any traces of Jewishness from Jesus, the disciples, and the religion in general, replacing everything they didn’t understand (which was everything) with their Hellenized interpretation of the world. Over time, the Roman, not the Jewish traditions, became the foundation for Christianity. Tradition can be dangerous.
On the other hand, tradition is obvious everywhere in Izmir, Turkey, and it’s marvelous. Across from the hotel, there’s a church built in the 1600s. A fort built by Alexander the Great still stands atop an acropolis as you enter town. Food is cooked in the same way it has been for thousands of years, a mélange of smells brimming over with flavor, exotic spices creating tempting scents and tantalizing the taste buds of passersby. The people are, in keeping with their traditions, open, welcoming, and warm.
Tradition is a double-edged Scimitar.
Prayer: God who creates, inspires, and transcends all traditions, help me discern the difference between the ideas of the past that serve your modern purpose, and those that continue to veil our eyes to the truth. Amen.
Scripture: Colossians 3:9-11
Do not lie to each other, find since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, sovaldi which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, capsule circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Thought for the Day: This is a pretty powerful spiritual claim. The implication is that the Christ is working within every one of us to reignite our creative abilities, and to reunite us with the creative force that permeates the universe—God. As we consciously shed our human trappings, we are conformed to the image of God. As Jesus shows, that image is a being of love, compassion, selflessness and devotion.
The differences created by our ethnicities (I suggest the word “race” is inappropriate) and cultures are never insignificant, but rather than being afraid of each other, and rather than one group disenfranchising another, when we are conformed to the image of God, we embrace ethnic diversity and cultural differences as equal and magnificent manifestations of God. It’s a completely new way to consider each other, global relationships, and global economies.
In Jesus, Paul saw that the world had been changed completely—our eyes opened to a new way of looking at society, our minds opened to a new way of thinking about spirituality, and our hearts opened to a very real, life-changing experience of God within. And Paul’s best idea? It’s a change for everyone on the planet, that overrides any human social order, and there’s nothing we need to do or even can do, other than respond with thankfulness.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord of all creation, for opening my eyes, heart and soul to your presence within me, and within everyone I see around me. Yours is a glorious world! Amen.
Scripture: Deuteronomy 30:1-3
When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, online and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, capsule then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.
Thought for the Day: Reading this literally, it’s easy to see why some people insist God does things to them—God curses them or blesses them, and the curses or blessings are all based on some arcane, indefinable sense of “faith.” If something bad happens to me, my faith is weak. If something good happens to me, my faith is “strong.” I’ve either pleased God or pissed off God. This is not at all what passages like this are about. God does not curse or bless you for your perceived transgressions. Hopefully, this takes some stress away from your faith journey.
The Bible is a book of metaphor, and everything in it—especially in the First Testament, is written in response to a situation in which the Hebrew people found themselves. In this case, the Hebrew people have once again been scattered by a despot, and as the diaspora ends, Deuteronomy is written. It’s all written in poetic metaphor, though, not ever to be taken literally, other than the hints at historical context (which are always embellished as well).
Rather, this passage talks about the inevitable ebbs and flows anyone on a spiritual journey will encounter—and we’re all on a spiritual journey, whether we realize this or not. As we study and pray and work very hard to build a closer, more emotionally connected relationship with God, we will go through peaks and valleys. Like any journey, sometimes the road leads us away from our destination before turning back. My own journey is littered with times of incredible spiritual growth, and times when I could barely recognize the presence of God in my life, much less the world. But I knew then, and continue to understand now, that my spiritual ups and downs, and the ups and downs of my material life, have absolutely nothing to do with God. Life happens. Good stuff happens, bad stuff happens. God doesn’t conduct every second of every life in the entire universe, like Bernstein conducting the New York Symphony. Even in a symphony, the conductor just holds things together—musicians are individually responsible for playing the music and hitting the right notes. God is part of everything that happens in a much deeper, less direct way than biblical literalism can convey.
What I’ve learned is that when I simply trust that God exists, when I love the Lord, my God, with all my heart, mind and soul, then my compassion and joy, and my energy for spreading God’s love, reach their fullness in me. When I am distracted by the noise of the world, when I turn away from the mysticism of life, then I am truly dispersed among the nations. In my opinion though, the best lesson I’ve ever learned is that no matter where I think I am in my journey, God is always and ever with me. No exceptions.
Prayer: Help me recapture and spread the mysticism of Scripture, Lord who inspires all creative works. Inspire all of us to journey every closer to You, the One God of everything. Make yourself known to us, even when our faith lags, and we find ourselves dispersed from your righteous love. Amen.
Scripture: 2 Chronicles 1:10-12
Give me wisdom and knowledge, sale that I may lead this people, there for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, possessions or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.”
Thought for the Day: Does it require wisdom to ask for Wisdom? Humans do tend to create circular systems. Think about the banking and credit industry in this country. You can’t really get credit unless you’ve established credit, but to establish credit the creditor will run a report, which essentially ruins your credit. Nice system. No wonder everyone’s going broke. The banks are hoarding all the money, and will only lend it to you after they run a report they know will make you ineligible for a loan. I’ve got news for the banking industry: If I had $100,000, I wouldn’t need a loan for $100,000. And if you’d managed my money more wisely, you wouldn’t have needed me to bail you out a few years ago.
I mention this only because in re-reading Chronicles this morning, I realized that Solomon is a great model for the way a leader, and in our modern era perhaps the way an entire industry (like banking), should behave. When God offers Solomon absolutely anything his heart desires, Solomon doesn’t ask God for incredible wealth, he asks simply for wisdom—the ability to be so aware of God flowing through him, that he will always make a decision based in God’s righteousness. God always acts from compassion, justice, mercy and endless love. It is impossible for God to act differently, in fact.
What would our world look like if every human industry were based on God’s principled nature, rather than an endless drive for profit at any cost? What if there were no such things as conflict minerals, because the industries that needed what the Congo has to offer, treated the people who rightfully own the mineral with compassion, justice, mercy and love? I’ll give you a hint: because Solomon has the wisdom to ask for Wisdom, God blesses him with more material wealth and power than any king before or since. In return, Solomon uses that wealth to create a better society for his people, who in return labor for the society with joy and happiness, well-fed, housed, clothed, and safe from violence, or the possibility of freezing to death when the weather takes a turn for the worse. Wisdom creates a society of justice.
I understand the Bible portrays situations in an idyllic, sometimes utopian light—that’s its job, and it’s the way “histories” were written then. But simply because an idea is utopian doesn’t mean it’s worthless. In fact, it might be in the utopian vision that we find true Wisdom, and a solid foundation on which to design our own public and private institutions.
Prayer: I commit to discovering Your Wisdom, God who is Wisdom. Lead me to the situations I need to grow in both knowledge and wisdom. Show me the art and literature that fires my imagination with thoughts of changing the world. Give me the words to speak, and the courage to speak them, the way you so gloriously worked in the prophets of old. And God? Do this for all of us, even if we don’t ask for it. Amen.
Scripture: Joshua 24:14
Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, capsule and serve the Lord.
Thought for the Day: This passage from Joshua covers the Trinity of Biblical themes: live in awe of God, get rid of your old ideas about God, and serve God completely.
One of the most important themes in Joshua is the idea that the gods of old need to be abandoned. Joshua is part of a series of books that deal with the history of the Jewish people’s relationship to God (The Deuteronomistic History), and looks back on an earlier time. Abandoning the gods of our ancestors means we need to look at the way we are worshipping God. Many have read this passage and presumed it was about eliminating worship of Babylonian, or Assyrian gods. But this is a self-reflective passage that urged the ancient Israelites to reconsider the way their belief system had developed since Moses was given the Ten Commandments.
This continues to be good advice for all of us. Christianity has developed some unhealthy ideas about God and Jesus, most of them foisted upon the religion by non-Jewish, Hellenized men in the Fourth Century BCE, and then again during the Middle Ages. The problem is that, since these guys weren’t Jewish, they missed the context of the writing altogether. So instead of understanding Jesus and his message within the mystical Jewish world in which he lived, they developed the idea of Jesus as an atoning sacrifice—a ransom for our sin, in one of the most Rube Goldbergian schemes ever developed in religion.
We too need to abandon the gods of our ancestors, and take a look at what we really believe as Christians. Are we living our lives the way Jesus suggested—with peace, love, and understanding in our hearts? Are we in absolute awe of the majesty of the universe? Are we praying and meditating in order to connect with God, who lives within each and every one of us?
This Sunday, we’re having a celebration of commitment. It’s when we’ll all bring our pledge cards to church, but it’s also a time to recommit to the real teachings of Jesus, a time to recommit to following Jesus, rather than blindly worshipping a false idol. Jesus told people about THE WAY to a higher state of being, the way to live more closely connected to God. It’s time to recommit to discipleship, which can only lead us to a world of understanding and acceptance. Christians should never condemn homosexuals, Muslims, or anyone for that matter. Jesus didn’t! Yet I opened the (electronic) paper today, and the first story was about Christian persecution of homosexuals. What?!
It’s the 21st Century, brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s time for us to stop being so locked into the letters of the Bible, that we lose the deeper message about God’s presence within and around each and every one of us, no matter our sexual orientation, no matter our color or gender (and absolutely no matter our religion). God is either for every single one of us, or God does not, and cannot, exist. This is exactly the same discussion Jesus had with the Pharisees. Have we learned nothing in 2000 years?
Prayer: Today, and every day, I recommit my life to you, my God, my inspiration, my true love. Lift the veil of misunderstanding from my eyes, and remove the cloak of hatred from my heart. Make me more than a Christian, God. Make me a decent human being. Amen.
Thought for the Day: Today marks the Christian celebration of the Epiphany, the revelation or manifestation of God in human form. For me, it’s a rather ironic holiday. While it celebrates the manifestation of God in flesh, it also (traditionally) limits that manifestation to the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In my opinion, this is a gross misunderstanding of the nature of creation itself, and a perversion of the message of Jesus Christ, who I believe didn’t want to be worshipped, but wanted all of us to understand we too, are the Christ.
Jesus was what we might today call a Yogi, one who understood that his physical experience was just that—a physical experience, an accumulation of Godstuff in the flesh. This is not an exclusive trait though, this is true of every single living thing. The difference between Jesus and ourselves is that Jesus was fully aware of his existence as a non-temporal being in a temporary physical realm. He was so aware of God within his very being, that he was virtually indistinguishable from God. It’s clear to me that he did his best to explain this universal nature to everyone, and to help them realize their own internal God-connection (why else would he proclaim that we too would do even greater things than he had?), but lived at a time when that concept—God within, rather than on a throne in Heaven, was simply beyond their ability to comprehend.
And so it remains today, as the majority of Christians I meet worship Jesus (a form of false idolatry) rather than attempting to emulate him. Jesus was a teacher, not Zeus who came to visit from Mt. Olympus. Jesus was a Guru, someone who was completely aware of his true spiritual identity, and the true spiritual nature of all creation. Jesus was a human, intimately connected to God, perhaps more intimately than any human before or since, but a human nonetheless.
I think the Gospel writers and Paul, did the best they could to convey these ideas, but with a limited spiritual vocabulary and stuck in the idea of a God who lives “out there” somewhere, they missed some key points and confused Jesus’ message, which is simply this: We are all spiritually one with God, which makes us one with each other, and indeed, with everything that exists. We are all born with the ability to sense this connection, and to put it to use creating a different, better, more loving, more spiritually sophisticated world. Through prayer and meditation and service, we open our consciousness to a real epiphany, a real manifestation of God, not outside ourselves, but within every blood cell and every atom of our own bodies.
Prayer: Let me feel my inner light, God who is within us all! Wake me up, shake me up, and make me into your force for change in this still superstitious, physically obsessed world. Help us see the light in this darkness, and understand we are all called to be Christ—manifestations of your very being. Amen.
Scripture: Job 28:28
And he said to the human race, decease
“The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom,
and to shun evil is understanding.”
Scripture: The Quran 2:269
He giveth wisdom unto whom He will, and he unto whom wisdom is given, he truly hath received abundant good. But none remember except men of understanding.
Thought for the Day: “Fear” of God is better thought of as “awe.” We’re not supposed to be afraid of God—that would be insane! But retaining a little awe at the expansive wonder of the universe keeps us humble and brings us wisdom.
Maintaining wisdom takes some work. It means we—as a species, need to stop thinking we’re all that and a bag of chips (*snap*). Our wisdom, our creativity, our ability to question and wonder and discover, all come from God. If we maintain a sense of wonder about life, and do our best to always pursue greater understanding of our universe, then we will always be drawn closer to God—and to each other, because wisdom helps us realize we are all One.
While the dark ages were raging in Europe, Islam kept education and knowledge alive in the East. Science, medicine, education, the arts, freedom of speech—while Europeans were wallowing in squalor and burning every philosophy and science book they could get their hands on, the Muslims remembered that wisdom comes through understanding. They created the idea of null, got the world off the ridiculous Roman numeral system, advanced math and science and healthcare, and promoted understanding of all sorts—as an intellectual pursuit, as understanding among different peoples.
As Muslims understood the importance of education, particularly science and mathematics, they were also led to understanding and accepting the differences in people, and their belief systems. For quite some time, Jews, Christians and Muslims coexisted quite marvelously (as long as they were in Muslim lands), all welcome and secure, because the people who didn’t fall to fundamentalism in Europe discovered acceptance in the East. Together, Christians, Muslims and Jews discovered that real wisdom comes from awe and understanding, and never from rigid literalism.
Incredible things are possible when we work together. We knew that once, 1000 years ago. But as both the Bible and the Qur’an say, none remember except people of understanding. I wonder where all those people went?
Prayer: Give me the wisdom to see beyond my four walls, Holy Lord, so that the wonder of the universe fills me with awe, and the gentle breath of your word in my flesh brings me understanding. Amen.