Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The List of Thankfulness

"The List of Thankfulness"
Psalm 95

How many of you make lists?  (show of hands)

How many of you who make lists, mainly make To-Do Lists?  (show of hands)  Jan Luttrell is a great To-Do list maker.  And she gets a lot done each day.  It must be very gratifying to scratch out stuff on your list as you go through your day.  I always put, "Drink a cup of tea" on my To-Do list.  That way I know I'll get at least one thing done.

There are other kinds of lists you can make.  I saw a list this week that was titled, "Fun Things You Can Do On An Elevator."  Here it is:

1.  Stand silently and motionless in the corner, facing the wall, without getting off.
2.  Crack open your briefcase or purse and while peering inside, ask, "Got enough air in there?
3.  Drop a pen and wait until someone bends to pick it up; then scream, "That's mine!"
4.  Leave a box in the corner, and when someone gets on, ask them if they can hear ticking.
5.  Stare, grinning at another passenger for a while, then announce, "I have new socks on."
6.  Stare at another passenger for a while, then announce in horror, "You're one of THEM!" and back away slowly.
7.  Greet everyone with a warm handshake and ask them to call you Admiral.
8.  Dress up as the devil and then ask other people as they get in, "Going down?"
9.  Put a small desk in the elevator, and sit behind it.  When the door opens, ask the person standing there, "Do you have an appointment?"
10.  Announce in a creepy voice, over and over,  "I must find a more suitable host body."

How many of you would do such things?  (show of hands)

So far, during our Journaling Class, as well as Sunday mornings during sermons, I have suggested a few exercises to write about using lists.  Making lists, within the spiritual discipline of journaling can help you in a lot of ways.  Lists can be answers to important questions.  The more answers you have to look at, the less confusion you have to deal with.

Making a list can help you select and prioritize what is really important.  Looking at your lists, you can decide what is just minutia, and what really matters.  Once you have your list made, say of values you feel are important to exemplify in life, and you cross off those that really don't matter, or create the kind of ripple effect you hope for, then you've gone a long way in setting your priorities.  Now that you have a short list of your core values, you can develop the actions you will take in which those core values will shine through.

There are times in anyone's life where you feel chaotic, scattered, unclear and out of control.  Making a list of these situations, and looking at them on paper can help you organize and contain a sense of inner chaos, which can make your load feel more manageable.

This morning, I'm going to suggest you make a short list—no more than three items—of what you are thankful to God for.  We're going to use Psalm 95 as a guide for those three items for which we are thankful.  So, in a way, the list has already been made for you.  Easy-peasy assignment.  Until you see what the three things are.

The first thing Psalm 95 thanks God for is that,

The LORD is the greatest God,
king over all other gods.  (vs. 3)

That seems pretty straightforward, doesn't it?

An interesting fact is that the Old Testament doesn't dispute that there are other gods.  In fact, the Old Testament people assume there are.  They know there are.  At some points the Old Testament prophets make the case that these other gods are actually no-gods at all.  At other places, the other gods are acknowledged, but the people are told not to worship them.  At all!

These other gods were all over the place.  There was the god baal, who in many cultures around Israel, was the god of the storm.  Baal was the god who created and granted fertility of crops and people.  He was also the god of justice, of whom people were terrified because his justice was so harsh and punishing.  The goddesses, asherah, astarte, and anath, were consorts of baal, mostly having to do with fertility rites.

Dagan was the god of the coastal people called the Philistines.  He was the fish god, and also a fertility god.

There are other gods today, some of which go along with the gods of the past.  Our other gods today are more ideas, or false values.  Things like pleasure, the self, prestige, safety, the human body, and power.  Two of the biggest gods, that are invoked daily in our culture, are blame and denial.

Mainly, these false gods are things that have weaseled their way into your lives to such an extent that it would be really hard for you to separate them from who you are.  They are such a part of you, such a part of your everyday life, that if you had to stop giving it that place, you don't know what you'd do.

Here's the part I really want you to do some hard thinking about.  List and identify that in your life that is on the level of being another god.  Then, once you're done making your list, ask of each entry, compared to this entry, "Is the LORD the greatest God, king over this god?"  Are you thankful for the fact that the LORD is greater than all other gods—so much greater, in fact, that the LORD wants that other god out of your life?

Secondly, the psalmist is thankful that the LORD holds the deepest parts (meaning, the oceans) in his hands.  The reason that ancient people were thankful God holds the oceans is because the oceans—the deep—was the scariest part of the creation.  The ocean is where the most fearsome beasts dwelt.

One of those beasts was Tiamat, the symbol of chaos prior to creation.  Tiamat was a female god of great beauty, but who could transform into a monstrous sea serpent dragon, unleashing chaos upon the world from the bottom of the ocean.  Tiamat was believed to have created the first dragons who were filled with poison instead of blood.

The other ocean god was Marduk, the storm god.  All storms were believed to originate in the oceans, created by Marduk.

So, as the psalm states, if God holds the deepest oceans in his hands, God also, then, holds the scariest parts of those oceans in his hands as well.  Thus, our God is in control of the oceans and anything in them.

Think of the scariest parts of your life—the things that terrify you the most.  God has control of those, holding them in his hands.  For God to hold our scariest thoughts, and experiences means God can deal with them in mighty and powerful ways.

So make a list of what scares you most.  Keep the list pretty much in the center of the page of your journal.  Then when you are done with the list, draw a large pair of hands holding that list.  Aren't you so thankful for God's hands are holding and taking care of your fears?

And, lastly, the psalmist is thankful for how God tends to us like a shepherd does her sheep.  The psalmist states, "…we are his people, the sheep he takes care of in his own pasture.  Listen to God's voice today!"

Jesus said something similar in the gospel of John:
When (the shepherd) has led out all of his sheep, he walks in front of them, and they follow, because they know his voice.  The sheep will not follow strangers.  They don't recognize a stranger's voice, and they run away.  (John 10:4-5)

There are lots of qualities of the relationship between shepherd and sheep.  But the one—the only one—highlighted here, is, as God's sheep we hear and know his voice.  The psalm first identifies us as God's people.  Then, as God's people we are sheep he takes care of.  Then, that which links us most intimately with God is hearing his voice "today."

One of the themes I am running into in all the classes I'm teaching now is the temptation or trait we humans have of trying to do everything on our own—to face life as a lone wolf.  It may not be self-centeredness, as much as it is our assumption that we should be able to take life on, on our own.  That somehow we're a failure as a person if we have to ask for help.  Or that we have to have someone take care of us.  Our fierce independence is part of what keeps us from allowing God to take us to his pasture and take care of us as he sheep.

Aren't there times you just want to be taken care of, though?  To just give up taking life on alone?  Or trying to bandage yourself up from all the wounds life inflicts?  To just let God tend to you?  To hear God's tender and tending voice, calming you while God bandages your wounds?  To be taken, by God, out into a lush pasture—whatever that represents for you—and lets you roam, and eat, and rest, and sleep in the soft grass?  Don't you wish you could turn yourself over to God for that kind of treatment?  That's what the psalmist thanks God for.

Make a list of the ways you would love to have God tend to you.  In and around and through that list draw the grass of God's pasture, symbolizing your thankfulness for how God takes care of you.

So these are the three experiences with God the psalmist is thankful for.  In your journal this week, write three things you are thankful to God for that has to do with the three themes in this Psalm.  See what you come up with.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Ask A Question

"Ask A Question"
Psalm 121

Albert Einstein once said:  (up on screen)

If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes to determine the proper question to ask; for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.

I want you to apply Einstein's thinking in this quote and tell me how it applies, exactly to the opening two verses of Psalm 121.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

Ready.  Go.  (Discuss to see if anyone gets it.)

The psalmist is struggling with the proper question in the opening of his psalm.  The clue is in the first two verses.  The first question he asks is, "From where does my help come?"  He asks the question as he is eyeing the hills around Jerusalem.  Those huge, strong mountains.  The most famous mountain was the Mount of Olives which stood about 300 feet higher than the Temple Mount, upon which Jerusalem stood, and over 100 feet higher than any part of the city. On the north side of the city stood the awesome Mizpeh of Benjamin. There was also Gibeon and Ramah and the ridge near Bethlehem in the distant east.

These mountains symbolized strength and permanence.  But even that kind of durability and constancy can't provide the "help" that the psalmist needs.  You can't rely on something for salvation that needs salvation itself.  As the apostle Paul wrote, "All nature groans in its need for salvation, and to be put right with God"—to become again what God saw when God looked at creation and said, "It is good."  The psalmist realized this.  The psalmist realized he needed not some thing but some One.  The psalmist realized the right question was not where, but who.  Once he got the question right, the right answer fell into place instantly.

My help comes from the LORD
who made heaven and earth.

The psalmist is not looking to creation for help.  The psalmist realizes he must look to the Creator who stands behind the creation—who made the mountains.

OK; so we've asked the right question.  And we've got the right answer.  Our helper is not some place.  Our helper is some One.  "My help comes from the LORD."  Now we're ready for question number 2.  What is "help?"  We need to realize that our questions for help come out of our own anxiety and neediness.  Hope and assurance mean little where no anxiety exists.

The psalmist is looking for help.  He wouldn't be looking for help unless he was anxious about some situation in his life.  The question—the second question—then is personal and about the psalmist himself.  The psalmist is not asking just for some generalized sort of help that has to do with all mankind.  He's looking for a particular help for a particular situation in his life.  All of our helping questions probably start out this way—they are about us.  But even this question must lead us to the same answer as the first question did.

Again, hope and help mean little where no anxiety exists.  Basically what this is saying is that we, as human beings, are full of anxiety.  Our anxiety takes many forms.  The psalmist identifies 5 or 6 forms of human anxiety, for when we need help from God.

We've already answered the basic question:  from whom does our help come.  The next two questions are: 1) what do we need help for? (our anxieties); and, 2) what form will that help take?

The first form of anxiety revolves around the question (see, I'm full of questions this morning—but you have to ask them): What am I here for?  Do I have a purpose?  Is that purpose for we alone to decide, or is there something larger going on in this human life?

We spin off all kinds of anxiety—usually our whole lives—all around those questions.  To that anxiety, the Lord answers in this psalm, "My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth."  Pay attention to the word "made."  It can be translated a lot of different ways.  One way is to use the word "appoint."  " LORD appointed heaven and earth."

I like that, because the Hebrew word, in all its nuances, has intentionality behind it.  God intentionally made heaven and earth.  If that is so, God intentionally made each of us as well.  God had an idea, a purpose, an intention for our making.  That is a powerful remedy for the anxiety we have, wondering if we have a purpose, or a reason for why we are here.

The second form of anxiety has to do with wondering if our foundations are strong:  "He will not let your foot be moved."  The image behind this word has to do with a pole that is stuck in the ground.  Think of a fence post.  If you've had to dig holes for fence posts, you know how deep they have to be, to be sturdy enough to stay stable.  When an 800 pound steer comes to rub up against it, is the post deep enough to not move or waiver?

That's the image.  So, the anxiety demonstrated by this image has to do with the question, "Can I hold up?  Can I withstand the push and shove of life?  Can I keep upright when life is hardest?  Am I buried deep enough in the LORD, so that I have the confidence to say, 'Bring it on!  I am buried deep enough in the LORD that I know I can't be moved!  I will not be moved!!'"

The third anxiety comes from our wondering sometimes, if God is listening.  Is God attentive? we might ask.  Is God off asleep somewhere?

In the movie, The Reivers, based on William Faulkner's novel, the grandpa is going on a trip.  Just as he is boarding the train, he turned to his 12 year old grandson and says, "Your pa tells me you're afraid of the dark."
The boys says, "Yes, sir," back to grandpa.
"Well don't you worry, boy," grandpa says.  "The Lord's up all night."

That's what the psalmist tells us—"…he who keeps you will not slumber."  The Lord is watching over you, even when you are asleep.

The fourth anxiety has to do with our fear of the evil in the world—the kind of evil that only takes away from us.  It peels us  back, layer-by-layer, like an onion, until we feel there's nothing left of us.

Another way to translate this word, evil, is, "exceedingly great grief."  This kind of evil wants to keep us in such a state of grief, because of great loss, so that we never get out of that hole.

I've been in Kansas City the past couple of days with Ryan and Amanda.  Last Sunday, Ryan was going to the donut shop.  He opened the front door and their dog, Roux, ran out, and took off down the street.  She got out on Pflumm Road, and a driver was speeding and not paying attention.  He hit Roux with such force, it knocked the front bumper off.  And didn't stop, but just kept going.

Ryan, chasing after, heard Roux "screaming", picked her broken body up and started running back to the house.  Roux didn't last that long.  Roux was a great dog.  Everyone, every animal, she met was a friend.  Her loss from our family causes us "exceedingly great grief" at this kind of evil.  We have shed so many tears this week together.  But it has been so amazing to see the little things that have happened that the LORD has kept us from evil—from going down the deep hole of grief and evil.

Lastly, the anxiety the psalmist deals with, that most of us have questions about, is the future.  More particularly, eternity or eternal life.  The Jewish people really didn't have an idea or belief in eternal life.  This word, at the end of the psalm, the word "forevermore" literally means, "as long as it takes."  If that means forever, so be it.  The LORD has promised to be with us into our futures, as long as it takes.  Even if that means forever.

Now, there's one word throughout the psalm that encapsulates everything I've said.  (Put the psalm back up on the screen.)  this word occurs six times, a way the psalmist was saying, "Notice this word!"  Can you see which word it is?  (Keep)  This is a great word in the psalmist's Hebrew language.

The word, keep, literally means to build a hedge around.  But not just any hedge.  A hedge made of thorny bushes.  In all these anxieties we spin off, the LORD is "keeping" us.  That is, building a thorny hedge around us, to protect us, to keep us safe from intrusion, even from ourselves and our own anxieties.  Our anxiety isn't going to be able to get at us, nor our fears, and they're going to get all bloody trying.

As you go out into each day, imagine the thorny hedge God has grown around you to protect you and KEEP you safe.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Saying, "I'm Sorry"

"Saying, 'I'm Sorry'"
Psalm 32

There are a couple of people who have hurt me deeply—hurt my kids as well.  (I confess, my blood pressure just went up a couple of notches having made that statement.)  I just have one wish.  I wish they'd look me in the eye some day and say, "I'm sorry."  That's all.  A heartfelt, "I'm sorry."  They have never spoken those two words to me (or my kids that I know of.)  They've had plenty of years to do so.  But so far, nothing.

That's all it would take!  I've forgiven each of these individuals.  I think.  Am I wrong in wanting to hear them say, "I'm sorry"?  I think all my memories surrounding these people would become unweighted, and I would feel a long-desired lightness.  It's hard, because one of the people doesn't think they have anything to be sorry about.  So it will probably never happen.

(Pause)  Then I wonder if there are people I need to say "I'm sorry" too.  (There's a journaling list you could make:  All the people to which you need to say, "I'm sorry."  And then do it, as best and as wisely as you can.)

There is One who should be at the top of all our lists.  One whom we have wronged, ignored, betrayed.  One we've treated with indifference.  One we've said Yes to, but then lived out a No.  Of course, it is God.

That is what this Psalm is about—saying "I'm sorry" to God, not to each other.  There certainly is a lot of both that needs to happen.  But God first.  Because we have hurt God deeply.  There are times when our lives have gone badly, and we assume by no fault of our own.  Because things went so badly, or because we felt God was in charge of this mess we call the world, that God therefore owes US an apology.  That God needs to look us in the eye and offer a heartfelt apology for allowing some drunk driver to T-bone our car; or allow us to get bone cancer; or allow our parent to get Alzheimer's and forget who we are; or allow a tornado to blow through a town flattening it.  And so forth and so forth.

Maybe that's one of the things we need to say "I'm sorry" for to God—blaming God for every random bad thing that befalls humanity, especially when we are those individual humans stuff happens to.  Maybe we need to say, "I'm sorry" to God, because God is such an easy target to blame for all the bad stuff.

That's going to be your journaling assignment between now and next Sunday:  to make a list of all the reasons you should be sorry to God.  Like we do in our relationships, don't you think God is waiting, thinking to God's self, "I wish they'd just say, 'I'm sorry.'"

But it's not just a matter of saying, "I'm sorry."  It's also what you are sorry about, exactly.  You can say to God, "I just want to, generally, say I'm sorry for the stuff I do, the way I think, and all that.  OK, we good?"  God is left thinking, "This guy doesn't have a clue.  He just wants to get it done and over with, while at the same time have no personal detailed understanding of what he's doing."

You have to start here.  You have to know what, exactly, you are sorry about, and you have to tell God all about it.  If you don't start here, you're a goner.  That's what the Psalmist came to realize.

When I kept it all inside,
    my bones turned to powder,
    my words became daylong groans.
The pressure never let up;
    all the juices of my life dried up.  (MSG)

What's going on in the inside of each of us has an effect on the outside of us.  What we look like, how we carry ourselves, our tone of voice, can all be visible signs of our inability to get things right with God.  The first thing you have to do to get right with God is say, "I'm sorry."

Like I mentioned earlier, we do a lot of blaming God for our mishandled lives, for accidents of life, etc.  In other cases, we may blame others.  It's my spouses fault for me feeling like my bones have turned to powder.  It's my jobs fault for all the groaning I do.  It's the economy's fault for all the pressure I'm feeling.  It's this darn weather's fault for me feeling like all the juices of my life are drying up.

Blaming is just part of the problem.  The biggest part of the problem, according to the psalmist, is that we hold it all inside.  We don't do anything with all the hurt and pain we are feeling.  We just keep it all inside.  And the thing that we are keeping inside is our inability or unwillingness to take responsibility for our fractured lives, and tell others we are sorry.  We are sorry for how we let our own brokenness brake others, and then fail to say, "I'm sorry" for letting our brokenness get out of control.

There's only one way to deal with all this built up pressure from our inability to say to God, "I'm sorry."  Let it all out.  In a couple of places in the psalm, God praises the psalmist for telling his sins to God.

In verse one, God says to the psalmist:
“You told me your sins,
without trying to hide them,
    and now I forgive you.”

The phrase, "…without trying to hide them…" has to do with being clothed.  What God is saying to the psalmist is, "You didn't put on some kind of clothes to try and give a false impression about what you're really hiding underneath.  The word the psalmist uses literally means to dress different in order to deceive.  So God is praising the psalmist for not trying to hide behind anything, but instead told the truth about his sins, and said he was sorry to God.  Just put it out there and take your lumps.  Instead of lumps, God gave forgiveness.

In a similar way, at a different place in the psalm, the psalmist laid everything out on the table and said his, "I'm sorry's" to God:

So I confessed my sins
    and told them all to you.
    I said, “I’ll tell the Lord
    each one of my sins.”
Then you forgave me
    and took away my guilt.  (CEV)

What the psalmist discovered was that there was only one way to be able to stand before God and feel totally cleansed.  It's wasn't going to be by deceit, or rationalizations, or excuses, or subterfuge.  The only way to experience the freeing forgiveness of God is to be forgiven by God and have God totally wash your guilt away.  And the only way to get to that kind of cleansing is telling the Lord "each one of your sins" and at the same time telling God you are so sorry for it all.  That's where each of us has to start.

And this is a constant process—this saying, "I'm sorry" to God.  You have to be able to exercise control in your life somehow, so that you can always be under the forgiveness of God.  The psalmist expresses this in verse 9:
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    or it will not stay near you.

There are two kinds of control that we can choose in our relationship with God.  The first is to have understanding.  It's an internal kind of of control.  You are able to understand that the best way to be before God is confess everything to God, and tell God how sorry you are.  That's an internal way of control.  God then rewards that person with discernment, so that in all life situations you will know the way to go, and not choose the ways that make you come back, time after time, stand before God and offer up your, "I'm sorry."

How many of you have played the game pictured on the front of the bulletin.  Me, too.  I played it all the time with my kids.  Why is the game called, "Sorry"?  (So, is it called "Sorry" because you accidentally forced someone else's game piece back to start, or because you intentionally sent an opponent's game piece back to start?  It makes a difference, doesn't it.)

I tell you the truth, when I was looking for pictures of the game box for the bulletin cover, I never knew there was a subtitle to the game.  The box to our game got obliterated in a months time and I threw it away.  I never saw the subtitle which, as you can see, reads, "The game of sweet revenge!"  How can a game called "Sorry" have a subtitle like that!?  How can you say, "Sorry" while you are in the midst of getting "sweet revenge"?  Unless you are being highly sarcastic!

Or, unless you have no understanding and discernment.  Unless you play out your life really never being sorry because you are more concerned with getting back at people, or getting under their skin.  Unless you have no inner control and discernment about how to avoid those situations where you have to come groveling back and say, "I'm sorry."

The external control is, as the psalmist describes, like being a horse or mule that needs to have a bit and bridle.  I don't know about you, but having some kind of symbolic bit constantly in my mouth, tied to the bridle reins where God has to pull on this thing in your mouth to force you where you should go—that does not sound like the best way to be the person of God.  That God has to make you be the person God wants you to be by force because you can't be trusted to understand and act from within yourself.

"Look," the psalmist says at the end of the psalm.  "Many are the sorrows of the wicked…"  That is, based on the what the psalm is about, it's the people who can't say, "I'm sorry," who are the the most sour about about life, who are saddest about the way their lives are turning out, who begin to wake up and see that their sarcastic sorry-saying, is dragging them more and more into wickedness.

But, by contrast, God's "steadfast love" (that is, God's total forgiveness) surrounds those who have the wisdom to simply tell God, "I'm sorry."  Gladness and joy are what await the people who can humbly face God and list out all that they are sorry for, so God can lovingly forgive each of them.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Your Treasure Map

"Your Treasure Map"
Matthew 17:1-9

I've always been fascinated by maps.  Whenever we'd go on a family vacation, my father would stop at a Standard gas station to fill up the Ford Country Sedan station wagon that we'd soon be wedged into for a few hours of driving.  I went with him to gas up the wagon, so I could go in and get a free map.  Those were the good old days: 25 cents a gallon for gas, and free maps.

(I might say, putting in a plug for Nick Squires, you can go to his office at the DOT and still get free maps of Kansas.  That's one thing Governor Brownback hasn't taken away from us.  The newest maps just came in, if I heard right.)

The only thing I hated about those gas station maps was how to fold the darn things back up correctly.

And I liked to watch pirate movies as a kid because they always had maps.  They were either parchment or some kind of animal skin.  There were dotted trails.  There were upside down capital V's for the treacherous mountains.  There was the shoreline with waves out from shore; and maybe a sea dragon swimming amongst the waves.

There may have been a swamp, or a haunted forrest.  But mostly, on those pirate maps, there was always an X.  It signified where the treasure was buried.

I'd make maps like that.  I would get an old dog food can and steal one of the plastic reusable lids from my mom's kitchen drawer.  I'd put some of my treasure in the can and put the lid on.  I'd traipse off into the forest near our house, with the shovel, and bury it.  Then I'd make a map of where it was, just like the pirates had.  How many paces from this tree or that bush.

When I was through with that boyhood phase of my life, I have no idea how many dog food cans I had buried in those woods, and how many treasure maps were tucked around my room.  And how many times my mother would shout, "Has anybody seen any of those reusable lids for the dog food?"  Because my treasure burying was a solitary affair, neither of my three brothers or my sister could rat me out.

Those woods have long been turned into houses and condos, so all my buried treasures have been excavated away.  It didn't matter, because I lost or had thrown away all my treasure maps, where X marked the spot, anyway.

When I got older, I realized there are all kinds of treasure maps we can be holding on to.  X marks the spot where some memorable, or life-changing event took place.  (This might be a good journaling exercise for the up-coming journaling class:  draw a map or two or three where some marker experience happened in your life, some X marks the spot experience where one of the treasures of your life happened, and then write about your map.)

Certainly you would think that Peter, James, and John would have put this meeting of Jesus with Elijah and Moses on their treasure map of life experiences.  We know Peter did, because he mentions it in one of his letters.  "Lord, how good it is that we are here!" Peter exclaimed.  Here!  In this place.  This X-marks-the-spot spiritual highlight place.  They wanted to make a memorial stone in order to mark the spot of this amazing vision.  Some place, up on that mountain, lost now to anyone else but the collective memory of those three disciples, suddenly became unordinary.  On that particular place they witnessed an unbelievable sight, and that spot, that place, became a holy place.

I don't think Peter, or James, or John wanted to bury a tin can with some personal items at that place.  I don't know if they made a map of where on the mountain that place was.  I do know they wanted to make a pile of rocks, signifying a special place where their lives had been made different because of what they saw.

The same thing happened to Jacob in the Old Testament.  He laid down to sleep.  He drifted into the middle of an unbelievable dream-vision about a ladder with angels going up and  down on that ladder.  God appeared and spoke.  Jacob awoke, and with a tone of wonder said, "“What an awesome place this is! This is nothing else than the house of God! This is the ladder of heaven!”  (Genesis 28:17)

Jacob then took the stone that he had used as a pillow and set it up as a pillar, an X-marks-the-spot kind of stone.  A simple place in the wilderness became an awesome gateway to heaven.

Places are important because of the memories we have and of the people who have shared those places with us.  Places have historical significance where some things have happened that provide continuity and identity across our life spans.  It has been at particular places that important words have been spoken, identity has been formed and honed, vocation has been defined, or a destiny has been envisioned.  There are places where vows have been exchanged, promises have been made.  I would guess most of us gathered here have felt the tug of particular places where we have been touched by the presence of the Lord.  Places have a way of rooting us to real life, to God himself, reminding us that we have not grown up, or continued to mature, detached from particular special places.

What is wonderfully amazing about our God is that even though God is as expansive as the universe, even though God's mind is greater than anything we could conceive, God is still a God who chooses particular places in which to reveal himself to us.  God seems to delight in just happening upon us at particular places in order to make contact.

One woman, for example, had the "till death do us part" become a reality after a 40 year marriage.  She spent a couple of months of quiet and reflection with her sister in another community, after her husbands funeral.  One Sunday, after she had returned, she came into the sanctuary intentionally late and found that her pew was occupied by a young couple who had begun to attend in her absence.

The following Saturday she went to visit her pastor.  She asked for help with what she called her sin of "idolatry."  She went on to explain, "For thirty-eight years I shared that pew with my husband.  I know it's idolatrous, pastor, but I feel God is closer to me there than anywhere else.  There is no place like that pew on earth."  For this woman, she had a treasure map and one of the treasures was the inside of her sanctuary.  There was an X that marked a particular place in a particular pew.  That X represented a very special treasure she had buried, so-to-speak.

I would guess there are more than a few of you who have similar feelings about your pew in this sanctuary.  (Show of hands.)  It's not hard for me to imagine, any of you, coming into our sanctuary with a sense of peace and worshipfulness, feeling like there is no sanctuary on earth like this one.  And then echoing Peter's words in your mind and you sit in your X-marks-the-spot place in the sanctuary, saying, "Lord, it is good that we are here."  How many other places are that kind of place for you?

One of the reasons that is so, besides the place itself, is who we share the place with.  A place is important because of the others who are there.  When Jesus was caught up in that meeting with Elijah and Moses, there were three men there to share that amazing vision.  Peter said, "Lord, how good it is that WE are here!"  He didn't say, "How good it is that I am here."  Here is where WE have been touched, and here is where it is that WE, together, remember.  But the place will lose its importance if others are not permitted to share the experience.  Or become part of the place and the story.

In a book about ministry in small churches, Carl Dudley wrote:
Those congregations who care only for themselves are becoming smaller and smaller.  Eventually their place will have no meaning, for they have not shared it with anyone.

The giving of a place to those who have none seems to me to be one way of defining the role of what it is we are to be as Christians.  Faith can only develop when each person has a place.  When we help people find their places we may be helping them come into contact with holy experiences—a place where they can pull out their maps and place a nice X.

The widow I just mentioned shared her pew, her place, that next Sunday with the young couple.  She shared not only the pew, but part of her memories with the couple.  The three of them became very close, and represented what ministry was at its heart in that congregation.  This is what we are wanting to do in the meeting following worship this morning.  When someone has visited our congregation, how can we follow up with some kind of intentional visit and hopefully give them the opportunity to put an X on their treasure map where Pratt Presbyterian Church is?  That's who we want to be.

When Peter looked back to this mountain top, visionary event, he wrote in his second letter,
When we told you about the power and the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not telling clever stories that someone had made up. But with our own eyes we saw his true greatness.  God, our great and wonderful Father, truly honored him by saying, “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him.”  We were there with Jesus on the holy mountain and heard this voice speak from heaven.  (2 Peter 1:16-18, CEV)

Here, Peter recounts that memorable place and event for those who may not have known about it, have heard about it and doubted, but all of whom needed to know the story.  It was clearly a pivotal event for Peter and his own faith development.  Can't you just imagine Peter, though he never mentions it, pulling out his spiritual treasure map, returning to that place on the mountain time and time again, feeling the presence, reliving the simple power of what happened.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

What Are You Building With?

"What Are You Building With?"
1 Corinthians 3:10-15

I worked construction for a couple of summers while in college to earn money for school.  It sounds more impressive than it was.  The first summer I had one job.  I pulled nails out of boards.  I was a member of the Hod Carriers and Laborer's Union.  I didn't carry any hod that summer.  (Look it up if you aren't sure what hod is.)  But I did a lot of labor.  Boring, tedious labor.  What else can pulling nails out of boards be?

The carpenters would walk by and say things like, "How's it going college boy?"  "Are you getting yourself an education, college boy?"  That became my nickname.  I'm not sure what the crew was working on.  The job site was at the Northgate Mall in north Seattle.  I worked outside in a little fenced in area with my clawed hammer.  Someone would come out and dump another load of bent nail loaded studs and other assorted lumber for the college boy to work on.

I was making pretty good money:  $10.85 and hour.  Which was a lot of money back then.  Until I had to pay my union dues.  That truly was an education, working with the Labor Union.

When I went back to school in the Fall, my friends asked me the obligatory question:  what did you do over the summer?
I'd answer, "I worked construction."
"Far out," they replied.  (For those of you old enough to remember, "Far out" was what we said back then.  It was the "cool" of today.  I've been trying to bring back one of the other replies we used back then:  "Keen."  Or, "Super Keen."  But I haven't had much luck with that.

Anyway, when I told my friends I worked construction, they'd reply, "Far out."  Then they'd ask if I was building houses, or getting up on the girders, 20 stories straight up, welding rivets or some such thing.
I'd reply, "Uh, yeah; No.  I pulled nails out of old boards all summer.  I'd show them the callouses I worked up on my right, hammer-holding hand, and they'd just say, "Far out," and walk away.  I think they thought that "working construction" always involved building some nice structure like a home or a skyscraper.

But just as often as not, it also involves deconstruction, first.  You have to take out something that was there, before you can refill the space with something new.  That involved, in my case, pulling nails from old boards.  It was some OSHA rule about minimizing hazards and the probability of injury at the workplace.  So they paid the college boy $10 an hour to make sure that happened.

I quickly realized there was this disconnect between my college friends and the guys I was getting to know on the construction site.  My friends in college had no idea what it took to build something.  To make it right.  To make it sparkle.  Even to make it useful.  They'd walk into a store in the mall and have no idea what it took to rip out the old store that was there, and start over to make something entirely new.  It seemed to me that that would be an important thing for a Christian to know.  All my friends saw was the finished product—the new store.  They didn't see what had to happen, to make it so, including removing hazards like nails in boards.

Paul saw the truth in construction.  How that was an apt metaphor for the Christian life with some people.  With the Corinthians, especially.  Sometimes you have to start over.  Rip everything back down to the foundation of a person, and replace what was there with something new.  What Paul saw, with the Corinthians, it wasn't the construction that was the hard part.  It was the deconstruction.  It was the tearing down.  It was taking a life apart, stick by stick, but having to do so under great resistance.

You look down the road and you see the deconstruction crew coming.  They are big burly guys.  Shoulders like mountains; arms like oak trees.  Long sleeve shirts.  Hard hats.  Tool belts where menacing looking tools hang and clatter together.  And smiles on their faces.  You say to the Lord, "I thought you said we were going to build something new in my life.  What are they doing coming this way?  Tell them to back off."
And the Lord replies, "We gotta take some things out before we build again.  Sorry, but this is going to hurt a little.  But don't worry; these guys know what they're doing."

Would you let them?  Let them do their work?  Let them take you back down to your foundation?

The next summer I was moved to a hospital where we were tearing out the ceiling so the Duct Worker's Union could put in air conditioning.  I had a particular gift that was suited to this job.  I was 6'9".  I didn't need a ladder.  I could just walk down the hallways, reach up my pry bar, and pull the sheetrock down.  No taking extra time to get up and down off the ladder like the shorter guys.  I was fairly efficient at getting the job done…but I would pay the price of having 25 years of built up dust and who knows what kind of insulation come rain down upon me.  Then sweep and shovel it all up and wheel barrow it to a shoot at a window that would spill it all into the huge dumpster below.  It, like the summer before, was not a glorious job.  But I was "working construction."   And the carpenters I worked with found out the college boy was actually useful.

I got to know the carpenters and the electricians and the duct workers that summer.  I got to find out what make them tick.  What it was that motivated them.  What they were building their lives upon.

One of the guys I got to know was Mike.  He was the epitome of what you first think of as a construction worker.  He was probably 10 years older than I was.  He was a carpenter.  Skilled.  That guy could probably build anything he put his mind to.  Kind of like Rex.

Mike kept us all entertained.  His day was one of hard work.  He pushed himself.  He didn't want to end the day feeling like he had only given half of himself.  He'd work hard.  He'd go home and enjoy a good meal with his family that he knew he provided.  He'd drink a couple of beers.  Watch TV with his wife.  They'd have sex.  He'd get up in the morning, come to the construction site—usually one of the first—tell us all who were gathered around about what he did with his wife the night before, and start in on another day to do the same routine.  I don't know if half the stuff he told us was true, but his stories all held us in place.

Mike fell off a tall ladder that summer.  Broke his leg really bad.  It was a good thing we were working at a hospital.  We carried him right down to the Emergency Room.  When he was patched up with a big, plaster cast on his leg, it looked like it was going to be a 12 week heal.

I'd visit Mike during my lunch time, while he was still in the hospital.  His wife would show up with their kids.  It was awkward looking her in the face after hearing all the stories Mike told about their sex life.

Something I learned talking with Mike after that accident—he'd have his wife drive him out to the construction site at least every other day—what I learned through Mike was that healing and rebuilding can tear a man down even more than the breaking did.  Healing and rebuilding takes so long—it seems like it goes on forever.

Why, when you've got new construction, everything just buzzes along?  New buildings go up so fast.  But rebuilding and remodeling seems like it takes forever.  Especially when that rebuilding is going on in your life.  When God is doing something new in our lives.

And I believed God was doing something new in Mike's life.  I believed God was stripping Mike down to the foundation.  Mike was trying to rebuild with wood and straw, alcohol and bluster.  God was hoping Mike would build his life with something more substantial.  It took everything Mike had to have the patience to rebuild like God was trying to do.  Mike wanted to be fixed, but he wanted to be fixed now, and in his own way, so he could get back to his life.  God was trying to get Mike to clear some things out, first.  Like all of us need to do when we're being rebuilt.  Let the deconstruction crew do their work.  Then rebuild.

Mike and I had some good conversations.  When it was time for me to go back to school, Mike taunted the college boy.  "You go back to your la-la land, college boy.  This is the real world, not there.  This is where real work is done."
I said, "Yeah, but I gotta build my life on something more.  I don't want to fall from a ladder someday, and almost destroy what I had built my life on.  Or find out what I had built my life on was not enough to hold me up and keep me going.  I gotta have something more permanent than that."

We chatted some more about that.  And I drove away from the construction site, never to return.  I worked in churches the final two summers I was in college, running VBS's and Youth Groups.  I never knew what happened with Mike, and if God had gotten the rebuild project done in his life.  I hope the college boy had a small hand in making that happen.

DON'T USE  (story of contractor who had his supervisor build a house using the best materials.)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Grow Up

"Grow Up"
1 Corinthians 3:1-9

When I was looking for a picture for this weeks bulletin, they were along two different themes.  There were a lot of pictures and quotes that had to do with the idea that we should never grow up.  That is, we should always let the child in us run free and unfettered.  That we could become too stodgy and adultish, and should never give in to such a thing.  I somewhat agree with that.

But…but…there was another theme to the pictures and quotes I found when looking for a bulletin picture, that were more like the one I finally decided to use.  They told the truth that like it or not, oh those of you who want to remain child-like your whole lives (and I'm sorry to be the one who has to tell you this) there comes the time in the story of your life that you need to grow up.  You need to mature.  You have to be an adult and take care of adult decisions and life choices that come your way.

Jennifer uses the term, "adulting," when trying to describe circumstances she is facing that calls for her to have to be an adult, but doesn't want to be.     For example, Jennifer likes to shop.  But Jennifer has a limited amount of income.  So, at those moments when she is shopping but can't buy something because her new budget won't allow it, that is an adulting moment.  Or when she has to make some big girl purchases, like certain kinds of insurance, or making investments in setting up long term savings plans—those are somewhat "painful" adulting moments.  She put up on her Facebook page recently a picture with the caption, "You is tired.  You is broke.  You is adulting."

So "adulting" is facing those times when you realize you can't allow the child in you to have its way all the time, and you just have to grow up.  Paul, at this point in his letter to the Corinthians, is trying to have one of those adult, instructive moments.  He's frustrated because the Corinthian Christians are just not getting the adulting thing as it relates to their faith in Christ.

Becoming a Christian is a process of growing up—what Paul calls maturing from being people of the flesh, or people of the world, to spiritual people.  Paul recognizes this is a long growth process.  We don't get to go from birth to adult in a matter of hours, and neither will we be able to do the same in our Christian growth.  But nevertheless, that kind of growth and maturity has to happen.  We have to grow up in our relationship with the Lord.

I've been watching a lot of nature documentaries on Netflix lately.  You know, we live in an amazing world.  So much variety and creativity God has designed into this world.  Anyway, there are some animals who have to make that fast transition of growing up.  Wildebeests, once they are born, have only a matter of minutes to get up on their feet and start running.  If they don't, they get left behind, since wildebeests are constantly on the move.  Also, if the baby doesn't get up and get moving, they become some predators dinner that night.

Humans take so long to mature.  To grow up.  For example, the prefrontal cortex—this front part of our brains—control the abilities to differentiate among conflicting thoughts, determine the difference between good and bad, better and best, same and different; this part of our brain helps us figure out the future consequences of our current behaviors;  this part of our brain is what we use when setting goals and how to work towards accomplishing them; and finally, this prefrontal cortex helps us control and suppress behavioral urges, regulating impulse control so we don't do too many stupid, impulsive acts.  But this amazingly important part of our brain isn't fully developed until we are around 25 years old.

So when we yell at our kids, "What were you thinking!!? they can respond, "I guess I wasn't thinking, and I won't be able to until I'm 25.  Get used to that."

One of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes cartoons shows Calvin banging away with a hammer on the top of the living room coffee table.  Calvin's mom comes in screaming, "What are you doing!?"
To which Calvin replies, "Is this a trick question?"

Even though "growing up" is a long process for we humans, waiting for parts of us to catch up with the rest of us, we still have to do that.  Paul wrote that at some point, babies have to make the transition from mother's milk to solid food.  That's part of growing up.  Paul's figurative language is making the point that when we become Christians, we are sustaining ourselves on basic teachings of Christ and learning simple lessons about the Christian life.  But we don't get to stay there.  We don't get to ride the tricycle of basic Christian teachings.  At some point we have to get off the trike, and master the more intricate balance of riding a two-wheeled bicycle of the growing up life in the Christian way.

Paul wrote in this part of the letter to the Corinthians that there are a couple of human characteristics that get in the way of our growing up.

The first is jealousy.  The word in Greek that Paul used is the same word behind our English word, zealous.  Being zealous has to do with feeling the heat of adoration.  Zeal is the amount of energy and enthusiasm we put into pursuing some thing or some one.  Passion might be another good word to describe this kind of zeal.  It's a very positive word.

But, just as a person can burn with passion, that burning—that heat—can get out of control.  You can get to the point of wanting to be the only one who gets to claim the object of your passion.

Two shopkeepers were bitter rivals. Their stores were directly across the street from each other, and they would spend each day keeping track of each other's business. If one got a customer, he would smile in triumph at his rival. One night an angel appeared to one of the shopkeepers in a dream and said, "I will give you anything you ask, but whatever you receive, your competitor will receive twice as much. Would you be rich? You can be very rich, but he will be twice as wealthy. Do you wish to live a long and healthy life? You can, but his life will be longer and healthier. What is your desire?" The man frowned, thought for a moment, and then said, "Here is my request: Strike me blind in one eye!"

That's the heart of zealousness that gets out of control.  It only wants for itself, and doesn't want anyone else to have what you desire.  It's that jealousy of all others who get, even just a little more than you and it seems so unfair.

You lie to yourself that you are the only one who cares so much.  You are the only one who understands that your zeal and devotion are the best.  You are the only one who deserves the object of your desire.  The good side of zealousness has all gone rotten within you, which infects the whole.  Which is what was happening in Corinth.  An over zealous few was bringing immaturity and the inability to grow in the faith to the whole community.

But if you can keep that zeal in check, the whole community is infected with your good choices and the power of positive desire that would benefit all, helping all to grow up.

For many years Sir Walter Scott was the leading literary figure in the British Empire. No one could write as well as he. Then the works of Lord Byron began to appear, and their greatness was immediately evident. Soon an anonymous critic praised Lord Byron's poems in a London Paper. This critic declared that in the presence of these brilliant works of poetic genius, Scott could no longer be considered the leading poet of England. It was later discovered that the unnamed reviewer had been none other than Sir Walter Scott himself!  That's the attitude of a healthy zeal--not wanting everything for yourself, but sharing a zeal for the best in others.

The other characteristic that Paul mentioned, that is keeping the Christian community at Corinth from growing up was strife, or being argumentative.  Strife, like zeal, starts out as a good quality.  It starts out as a healthy debate.  It was the attempt to have a civil conversation about two opposing viewpoints.

Instead of remaining there, the debate turned into contentiousness, wrangling, and strife.  One side may use a trigger word.  Or one pushes the other's button, because they know where to push.  The strife heats up.  Then all civility is lost.  Community breaks down, as others are pulled into verbal battle, and sides are taken.

Two men who lived in a small village got into a terrible dispute that they could not resolve. So they decided to talk to the town sage. The first man went to the sage's home and told his version of what happened. When he finished, the sage said, "You're absolutely right." The next night, the second man called on the sage and told his side of the story. The sage responded, "You're absolutely right." Afterward, the sage's wife scolded her husband. "Those men told you two different stories and you told them they were absolutely right. That's impossible -- they can't both be absolutely right." The sage turned to his wife and said, "You're absolutely right."

When in the middle of some verbal jousting that is getting out of hand, one of the most important questions to ask yourself is, "Is it better than I'm right, or is it better that I sustain the relationship?"  You can't have both.  So you have to make a wise decision.

That's what Paul was trying to get the Corinthians to see.  They weren't growing up in their faith, they weren't building their relationship with Christ or each other, because each of them had to be blasted right.  Is Paul the most important apostle?  Is Peter?  Is Apollos?  That's what they were arguing about.  But it's a who cares argument.  Which ever answer you fall on won't help you grow up.  It will only keep you childish and immature.  And the whole Christian community in Corinth, or anywhere else, will suffer for it.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Beyond Your Wildest Dreams

"Beyond Your Wildest Dreams"
1 Corinthians 2:9-15

The American novelist and poet, Gertrude Stein, on her deathbed, asked, "What is the answer?"  Then, when there was only silence from those gathered around the bed, she asked, "In that case, what is the question?"  It's interesting to me that such a person would ask those kinds of questions.  She was an American who lived most of her life in Paris.  She hosted a Paris coffee shop type meeting place in her home, where the leading figures of modernism in literature and art, such as Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Ezra Pound, and Henri Matisse would meet.  Even rubbing shoulders with famous authors and artists like that, you'd think she'd pick up on some vital truths, by which she could live her life.  Instead, at the end of her life, she was still looking for the meaning of life.

Most people don't realize it isn't in the answers that the meaning of life is found, but in asking the right questions.  The chaplain at the college where my daughter attended, Azusa Pacific University, decided he'd try what Lucy from the comic strip Peanuts did.  Remember Lucy set up a booth with a placard across the top that read, "Psychiatric Help—5 cents."  The chaplain set up a booth for a week with the placard that read, "Spiritual Help—5 cents."  He said the most often asked question was, "What is the meaning of life?"

And that's the problem.  No one is asking that question any more.  Even if they ask the question, they are looking for the answers in the wrong places.  As Eugene Peterson wrote in his book, Run With The Horses,

The puzzle is why so many people live so badly.  Not so wickedly, but so inanely.  Not so cruelly, but so stupidly.  There is little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture … People, aimless and bored, amuse themselves with trivia and trash.  Neither the adventure of goodness nor the pursuit of righteousness gets headlines.  (page 11)

Peterson has pointed out one of the main problems of our culture:  we have no role models who have found powerful and profound answers to that question (What is the meaning of life?), and are living those answers out in their daily lives.  Instead, we put the pictures and stories of self-infatuated movie stars and athletes on the covers of magazines, and those are the people youth and adults yearn to be like.  Somewhere along the way, we have left behind something important.

There have been a lot of high schools that send groups of kids to New York City to experience a Broadway play or some such thing.  One such group of kids were in the Big Apple, experiencing big city life.  They stayed at a bank of rooms on the 25th floor of a hotel.

When they got back from a long day of sightseeing, they went to get their room keys.  But they were told by the desk clerk that the elevators weren't working.  They could either wait till the problem was repaired or take the stairs.

One group of students decided to hike up the stairs.  They decided to pass the time, each of them were to tell one of the funniest stories they knew.  So up they went, laughing and giggling at each other's stories.  When they got to the 24th floor, one of the kids sat down on a step and just started laughing and laughing.  "What's so funny?" one of the other kids asked.
"You want to hear the funniest story?" he replied.
"Yeah," they said.
"The funniest story is that we forgot to pick up our room keys at the front desk."

How awful to get so far along in life, like Gertrude Stein, when you get to a certain climactic point, you have not acquired the "key" that will open the doors, or give you the answers to the questions that stand before you.

So many people expend so much energy climbing the stairs of life, but when they get close to the top they find out they are ill-equipped to go the rest of the way.  Stuck on a step in the stairwell, faced with the prospect of not being able to go any further.  Or having to back down the way they had come, retracing all their previous steps, life becomes meaningless, worthless, and purposeless.

Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians, (and we need to pay attention here), don't let that happen to you.  Don't major on the minors.  Don't live a small life.  Don't live so that later on in your life you have to retrace your steps and start all over again.  Don't get yourself confined by all the wrong questions and all the wrong answers to the right questions.

Paul leads us to Scripture, which is where we find the right questions and the right answers to the right questions.  Paul wrote:

But, in the words of Scripture,
"Things beyond our seeing,
things beyond our hearing,
things beyond our imagining,
all prepared by God for those who love him",
these it is that God has revealed to us through the Spirit.
(1 Corinthians 2:9, NEB)

The world gives us answers to the questions of life that make us settle for so little.  We become anesthetized, we become so content with what is not life.  That's what the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning protested when she wrote prophetically so many years ago,

What frightens me
is that men are content
with what is not life at all.

But God, through the Holy Spirit, says Paul, has offered us life beyond your wildest dreams.  You cannot even conceive in your mind what God has for you, it is so awesome.  God's Holy Spirit is the key that allows you to open the door to all that God has for you.  Don't you want to find out?  The Holy Spirit stands at the door, just waiting for you to approach, so that all that God has for you, all the meaning life was intended to have can be opened to you.

In Charles Dickens' great book, A Tale of Two Cities, one of the characters is a Doctor—Doctor Manette—who has been thrown in the Bastille prison wrongfully.  He nearly forgets who he was, what he was, and becomes a cobbler.  While there for a number of years, he mended the shoes of the other prisoners and the guards in his little stone cell.  Good fortune comes his way.  His daughter, who has not known the whereabouts of her father, finds him with the help of some family friends.  Dr. Manette was released.  (That's the pictured scene on the front of the bulletin.)

Dr. Manette's daughter represents the Holy Spirit in this novel, at this point in the story.  She has effected the freedom of her father so he could become what he was meant to be as a gifted surgeon and more.  But when Dr. Manette got to his home, he built a little cell out of stone inside his home.  He moved into that little room to live out his days and do his work, as a cobbler.

The cobbler in Dickens' novel, like many real people, became conditioned to a life lived in small ways.  They lock themselves up in cells of their own making, whether they be of stone, or of their own Spirit-less giving up.

Similarly, there are people like Ninus, the legendary king of Assyria.  Ninus had an ocean of gold and loved to party.  So he stayed within his palace.  He never went out at night to gaze at the stars.  He never went out during the day to feel the warmth of the sun on his face.  He never went out on the rooftop of the palace to look out at the world rolling out to the horizon line.  He never did any of those things because he said they made him feel small.  As long as he could stay within the confines of the little world of the palace, he could feel large and important.  Life had meaning.  But what a small life and what a little bit of meaning.

What God has for us, through the Holy Spirit, is a world of meaning bigger than the wide world you can see.  But we lock ourselves up in dungeon cells, or palaces of puniness, closing ourselves off from the "more" that God prepared for us.  Paul tells us, through this letter to the Corinthians, that there is more to life than what we see, hear, and know—even beyond anything we can imagine.

A woman, at a previous church I served, stood at my study door and cried out, "I want to see life!"  She cried out these words in a tone of utter despair, and I have heard her words echoed in so many people's lives.  "I want to see life!"  She had seen life all right, but nothing like God wanted her to see, and had ready for her.

Do you want to see life?  God's Holy Spirit wants you to have the kind of life the deepest part of your heart yearns for.  Come to the Holy Spirit and answer the Spirit's one question:  Do you love God?  Do you utterly and unashamedly love God?  When you can answer, "Yes," life and meaning will be yours beyond your wildest dreams.