Thin Places

Psalm 105:4 (ESV)

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.”  

Are you seeking?

“Worship constitutes the central setting in which the charge is given: “Seek YHWY and his strength; seek his face continually.” William P. Brown, is his book, Seeing the Psalms: A Theology of Metaphor, goes on the explain today’s passage, “It is in the temple or, more broadly, in God’s “Sanctuary presence” that God’s face is beheld.”[1] Accordingly, those entering the temple can encounter the face of the divine. Such a wonderful promise. It is the assurance that God can be found in a place. We no longer need wander until God appears to us. This is well and good, but we Christians don’t go to the temple, and in these “COVID times” were not entering a sanctuary anytime soon. This means we must seek the divine presence elsewhere, with masks on, and socially distanced. It may sound fruitless, but the ancient Celts had a great belief, “thin places.” These are special places “when the veil between heaven and earth seems thin and every day.”[2] A “thin place” describes a place in time where the space between heaven and earth grows thin and the Sacred and the secular seem to meet. The Celtics were deeply connected to the natural world and considered the Divine to be in the ordinary elements of everyday life. Though, for the ancient Celts the thin places were identified by specific locations and dates, we Christians can realize them as situations and stations were the Divine presence is undeniable. For me, I find my thin place surrounded by the books of my faith. In addition, I find my thin place in the aged settings of our faith: old church foundations, vacant pulpits, tarnished ware of a Communion set, on my knees beside the bed, to mention a few. In the midst of our pandemic, Are you seeking? Are you seeking the strength of the Lord to face your challenges? Consider finding your thin place. Try creating your thin place: regularly retreating to a special place to pray and reflect. You may be surprise by the Lord’s presence. Are you seeking? I hope you are.

“Stop seeking the presents of God, and start seeking the presence of God” Anonymous

[1] Brown, William P., Seeing the Psalms: A Theology of Metaphor, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, © 2002, p. 173.

[2], “Thin Places, Holy Spaces: Where Do You Encounter God?”

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It’s A New Day

Romans 13:12 (ESV)

“The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”  

Have you put on the armor of light?

A new day is at hand. As written in an old commentary on today’s verse, “Nothing can prevent tomorrow from dawning.”[1] The Apostle Paul took note of our casual habit of wearing the clothing of darkness. It brings to mind my actions last week. I had to go under my house to inspect something. I got filthy, and my blue jeans really showed the dirt. After I crawled out from under the house I went on and did a few more tasks. I forgot how dirty I had become from just crawling around in the darkness of the crawlspace. Then it came time to leave. I forgot about the condition of my attire. It was almost 11 o’clock that evening and I was still wearing those filthy pants. I had forgotten all about them and had paraded throughout the town for all to see. In keeping with the passage, I had held on to the habit of wearing the clothes I had been wearing, a habit of sorts. The good news: clothes can be changed. Returning to the old commentary, “The soiled and filthy garments of undisciplined behavior can be laid aside.” Then we can put on the “armor of light,” to be clothed with the deeds appropriate for the new day. A new kind of conduct is within our reach. Returning to my story, I no longer need to crawl under the house with my filthy blue jeans. I can come out into the light of the new day covered with garments which make it possible for me to face the day without dismay or shame. That is what happens when we wear “the armor of light.” Are you wearing the armor of light? Rest assured you are letting your “light so shine” before the people of your world that they will see your good works.   

“Let your light shine so brightly that others can see their way out of the dark.” Katrina Miller

[1] Buttrick, George, Arthur, The Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Abingdon, Nashville, © 1954, Volume 9, Romans 13:12, p. 610  

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Our Keys

Matthew 16:19 (ESV)

“[Jesus said] I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  

Do you have the keys?

Church keys seem to multiply on their own. I’ve yet to serve a church that had full control of the keys to the building. The situation begins like this: someone will be handed a church key for a specific task, and never return it. Sometime later, that keyholder will make a copy of that key and give the copy to someone else who needs to enter the church building. The day comes when the church must rekey the locks to control access, and the proliferation of church keys begin again. I’ve had the old keys dumped on my desk. There was a time all the keys of a certain issue looked alike. By the time the keys are returned, there can be twice as many as when the locks were first keyed. Why does anyone want a key to the church? Beats me! Possessing the church key is a big responsibility. With a key comes responsibility. In today’s passage, we may think the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” are Jesus offer for us to let ourselves into heaven. Not really. Jesus was truly giving his followers permission to interpret and apply scripture in Christ’s name. In a way, speak for Jesus. Such a privilege. It took only a few centuries for the church to take this and make it into a command to be the gatekeepers or key-masters of salvation. The church took it upon itself to identify the sin and the sinners and their unrepentant damnation. I think that it is much easier to tag people as sinners than it is to teach them about sin. For example, someday ask your Sunday school teacher, Who is a sinner? An answer will race out of their mouth, “We are,” or “They are!” Then follow that question with, What is sin? Then wait. The good news is that Jesus Christ has given us the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the authority to answer such questions, applying scripture to concrete situations in our lives. By the way, my answer to the question of sin, sin is any action we allow to get between ourselves and God. We have been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven, bearing a huge responsibility. Such keys are to be valued and used for the expansion of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

“The church and only the church has been given the keys to the kingdom of God so we have unique access to God that no one else has.”  Tony Evans

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Set Yourself Free

Genesis 45:5 (ESV)

[Joseph said] “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here [Egypt], for God sent me before you to preserve life.”

Can you forgive?

Joseph was sold by his brothers, and he ended up in Egypt. The quick story is that because of a drought and famine in the land of Canaan, the father heard there was grain for sale in Egypt and sent his sons to buy some. This led them to find their estranged brother. Their brother had found such success he was unrecognizable to them. To their surprise, Joseph was a leader in Egypt and they needed his grace. What a spot to be in. Have you ever held a grudge against someone and the day came when that person needed your grace? Did you find it difficult to forgive? Surprisingly, Joseph was very gracious. He seemed to have already forgiven his brothers, long before they appeared before him. To imagine the way Joseph’s life turned out, far better than if he had remained home, forgiveness may have come easier than for the rest of us. Nevertheless, to never forgive puts the grudge-holder in a prison of sorts, to be avoided, if at all possible. If Joseph had never forgiven his brothers his life could have been much like if he had been left by his brothers in that empty cistern, slowly dying. Can you forgive? Every time you do, you set yourself free.   

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Lewis B. Smedes, renowned Christian author, ethicist, and theologian

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Be Alive

Psalm 17:15 (ESV)

“As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”

Are you awake?

“Are you sleeping, are you sleeping, Brother John?” The words to this English translation of the French rhyme have omitted an important line, “Sonnez les matines!” or the call, “Ring the bells!” The French poet expressed that Brother John had a job to do, and he was oversleeping. Humorously, when the English translated the line, if my understanding of the French original was the true intention, it appears someone else took up the job in Brother John’s absence. We may not be sleeping through our job obligations, but God may have other expectations of us we’re not meeting. In essence, we’re sleeping through our God-given days. The life that may be missed. To be awake is to find the peace of being free of the expectations of other people, to be free of the weary work to satisfy ourselves, and to accept the call to follow Christ and be quite alive. Are you sleeping? Or, are you awake? Be awake, be alive.

“To be awake is to be alive.” Henry David Thoreau 

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Christmas Every Day

Titus 2:11 (NRSV)

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.”

Did you receive God’s gift?

This is the time of year churches like to hold, “Christmas in July,” when the emphasis is on the message of Christmas. My church will have their Christmas in July next Sunday, July 26th. The property and building will lack any Christmas oriented decorations. The lights and greenery are nowhere to be seen. The angels and the crèche will be out of sight in the attic. The beauty of such a service is that it can emphasize the greatest gift of all: the Son of God. Remove all of the distractions of Christmas and someone may hear the intended message of Scripture, the greatest gift is that through Christ there is salvation to all. Did you receive God’s gift? Perhaps! Some of you have opened it, and some of you have placed the unwrapped gift on a shelf for later consideration; however, others of you are waiting. For all of you, Merry Christmas!

“Peace on earth will come and stay, when we live Christmas every day.” Helen Steiner Rice, 1900-1981, American writer of religious and inspirational poetry

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Improvements Unnecessary

Romans 8:15 (ESV)

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!””

Have you been adopted?

“Families don’t have to match. You don’t have to look like someone else to love them.” Leigh Ann Tuohy, portrayed in the movie, The Blind Side, is the adopted mother of Michael Oher, making her family mixed-race. She and her husband, Sean, loved and nurtured Michael into adulthood, now a former National Football League offensive lineman. Turning our attention to today’s passage, imagine the racial mix of God’s everlasting family. Every time anyone is baptized they receive the Spirit of adoption. What does that feel like? It is a sense of belonging. The Scripture assures us we belong. The Spirit gives us the feeling we belong to Christ. And that is a feeling of acceptance of ourselves. As in, I’m OK with me. God loves me and wants me just as I am. Improvements unnecessary to be a member of God’s family. We don’t have to match to be loved by God. Yes, just as you are, you can be adopted by God.

If you make the wrong decision, it is never too late to make the right one.” Michael Oher, from his book, I Beat the Odds  

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Our Ultimate Choice

Romans 8:8 (ESV)

“Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Are you in the flesh?

The Apostle Paul saw people as being either in the flesh or in the Spirit. It is a simple understanding, and impacts his letters to Christians. For Paul there is no middle-ground. One person cannot live in the flesh and in the Spirit. Paul carried that understanding into his ministry: “But I, brothers and sisters, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:1) The difference between Paul’s people of the flesh and people in the Spirit, people in the flesh were not fully mature in Christ. Such people were acting like people who don’t belong to the Lord. They were people controlled by the desires of the flesh. Paul did help his reader discern a life living in the flesh. If one lived in the flesh they were not pleasing God. Now, I see the Christian life as a lot more complicated. I see us in between to the two extremes of in the flesh or in the Spirit. And Paul takes me in that direction when he writes, “you are not yet ready.” It seems to open the door for a more realistic understanding. Even for Paul, just as when children grow to be adults, there is a process for Christians as we mature from in the flesh to in the Spirit, moving from drinking milk to eating solid food. Are you in the flesh? Yes, for we all are, with the opportunity to mature toward living in the Spirit. Our progress is seen in our responses to the ultimate choice in life: pleasing ourselves or God.

“So here is what it comes down to: the ultimate choice in life is between pleasing ourselves and pleasing God.” Greg Laurie, American author and pastor

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God’s Choice

Matthew 11:25 (ESV) 
At that time Jesus declared (before the crowds near the Sea of Galilee), “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.”

Are you a child?

It is God’s call. We’d like to think that we’ve got some part in this but the understanding is clear from today’s passage, the Lord reveals things to some people and hides things from other people. You may think, “that’s not fair.” I hear children respond to their parents in such a way, “Mom, that’s not fair.” Well, as my dear friend who left this life far too soon used to say, “Get over yourself.” Yes, it was often directed at me. Reflecting upon God’s action an ancient commentary wrote on this, “From one group God in sovereign providence ( ) hid the truth; to the other he revealed it.”[1] How can this be? It is God’s word, and God chooses with whom to share God’s word. Just as when you come to speak of yourself, revealing your “truths,” you choose with whom you will share. No one can make you share your inner truths. Of course, you may realize the price of silence is beyond your willingness to pay. At this point I feel called to reveal to you the good news: you are a child, chosen by God to hear the truths of Scripture. Yes, some truths may seem out of reach, like the high kitchen cabinets of our youth. I have come to the opinion that if anyone is curious about Christ, long before, God has been trying to reveal Christ truths to them. The reason being, and I sincerely believe this truth, God chooses us before we choose God. And it goes so far, our desire to be Christians is God’s call, too. Are you a child (of God)? You are a child, because “the Bible tells me so.”   

“God always gives his best to those who leave the choice with him.” Jim Elliot, Christian missionary, killed during Operation Auca, an attempt to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador

[1] The Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 7, Abingdon Press, Nashville, © 1951, p. 389.  

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Free with a Cost

Romans 6:12 (ESV) 
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.”

Have you been enslaved?

If I cannot say “no” to it, it is likely I am enslaved to it. I did not need to read that anywhere to know it. It is the human condition. Whether it is another human, a box of candy, or even a bottle of alcohol, if I cannot say “no” to it I am enslaved to that person, that candy, and especially that alcohol. These are just three examples of the multitude of things that can enslave you and me. Anything can enslave us. And it may seem remarkable, but any of these examples can also cause us to sin. How can that be? “Sin is that which separates us from God.”[1] When we let the items that enslave us get between us and God, we sin. It does need explanation: people, candy, and alcohol are not sin. It is what we do in response to them that can be sin. Sin is any act of turning away from God. We sin; no object makes us sin; we choose to sin. Sadly, this means we choose to be enslaved. Have I been enslaved? Of course, when I chose to be enslaved. Have you been enslaved? Only you and God know for certain.

“Grace was free, but it doesn’t mean it was cheap. You were bought with a cost; that cost was a cross.” Anonymous

[1] Zepernick, Richard G., Can I Get a Witness, Xulon Press, © 1993, p. 45

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