Sunday Prayer

Pymonenko, Mykola. Waiting for the Blessing, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Pymonenko, Mykola. Waiting for the Blessing, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

We praise your abiding guidance, O God,
for you sent us Jesus, our Teacher and Messiah,
to model for us the way of love for the whole universe.
We offer these prayers of love
on behalf of ourselves and our neighbors,
on behalf of your creation and our fellow creatures.

Loving God,
open our ears to hear your word
and draw us closer to you,
that the whole world may be one with you
as you are one with us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer is from the Revised Common Lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

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Taking our Post

belgian-first-destruction-medium

Circle of Juan de la Corte, 1580-1663. Burning of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar’s Army, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

With the impending election in our future, the bombast and proclamations coming from both sides has seemed to increase exponentially. Talks of election fraud to landslide victories scroll across our screens. But, often even louder and crasser are the supporters of the various candidates. Both sides claim to hold the moral and political high ground. Then, when you throw Christians supporters into the mix, the religious ferver that gets mixed in seems to amp the issues up even more. Things move from not only moral issues, but transform into religious, and even possibly salvation, issues for some.

From a Christian perspective, the noise at this point is deafening to me. I’m not exactly sure this is the witness we want to have in the world.

I have been spending a lot of time wondering lately what the Christian response should be in situations like this, and politics in general. I stumbled across the reading for this Sunday which features a selection from Habakkuk, one of my favorite books in the Old Testament. After Habakkuk’s initial complaint in first few verses, the reading movies into this description of the Chaldeans (aka the Babylonians).

For I am rousing the Chaldeans, that fierce and impetuous nation, who march through the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings not their own. Dread and fearsome are they; their justice and dignity proceed from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more menacing than wolves at dusk; their horses charge. Their horsemen come from far away; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, with faces pressing forward; they gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and of rulers they make sport. They laugh at every fortress, and heap up earth to take it. Then they sweep by like the wind; they transgress and become guilty; their own might is their god!
Habakkuk 1:6-11 (NRSV)

If I took this reading out of context (eliminated the mention of Chaldeans and didn’t mention it was from the Bible) and passed it around, I’m sure there would be a few people who would fully support and desire this description for America. Replace horses with tanks/helicopters and horsemen with drones and I think we’re not too far off. It’s tempting, power of this sort is exciting and can be very fulfilling. I get sense of excitement watching things blow up just as much as the next guy. But, as great as that all is, the last line of the reading should bring those thoughts back down a bit.

“Their own might is their god!”

What I hear a lot in the political discourse today is talk of this kind. We need to be bigger, faster, stronger and richer. If only we had the right leader, then things will be alright. Other nations are doing so well and we seem to be struggling. It feels a little bit to me like when the Israelites demanded a King in the book of Samuel (see 1 Samuel 8). The Israelites were not thrilled with the way things were going in Israel, and were tempted by what they saw with other nations and their kings. Even though the prophet Samuel encourages them otherwise and God realizes they’re ultimately rejecting God as king, they get what they want.

And things go south very, very quickly.

Except for a few outliers, (David, Josiah, Hezekiah to name a few) who were not totally blameless, the rest of the kings were pretty much horrible. The Israelites got what they wanted, but it was definitely not what they needed.

The temptation to be bigger, better, faster, stronger is very strong. But, I think returning to Habakkuk can give us some insight into where Christians should fit into all of this.

I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.

Then the Lord answered me and said: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.

Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.”
Habakkuk 2:1-4 (NRSV)

First and foremost, Habakkuk waits for words from God. He is not distracted by the blustering of the Chaldeans or the chatter of the king and politicians within Israel. Habakkuk takes up his post and stations himself to hear from God in a rampart. Habakkuk places himself above the fray. From the watchpost he can see everything, he has a better perspective.

I’m hearing echoes of Psalm 18:2 here, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Habakkuk seems to be realizing that the real place of safety and security is with God, waiting on God, waiting on his words. From this position he is safe and is also able to listen for words from God rather than be distracted and tempted by the words and yelling from others around us.

Finally, God’s word comes and it knocks the blustering and show of the Chaldeans right off their high horse. The spirit of the proud is “not right in them.” They are all show, all bluster and their faith in themselves and their power is misplaced. Instead, “the righteous live by their faith.” Those whose faith is in God, who take refuge in him, live and are sustained by their faith in God.

During this tumultuous and divisive political season, I think Christians should be placing themselves above the fray. Like Habakkuk, we should not be tempted by the words and displays of the proud, but should find solace in the quiet security of God. By being above the fray, we are in a unique position to evaluate and critique prophetically. When our support and security is in God alone, we can resist the temptations of temporal power and stand secure on the watchtower making the message of God plain so that our message might not get wrapped up with the shouting and the noise.

Sunday Prayer

 

Shishkin, Ivan Ivanovich, 1832-1898. Rain in an Oak Forest, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Shishkin, Ivan Ivanovich, 1832-1898. Rain in an Oak Forest, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

God of faithful surprises,
throughout the ages
you have made known your love and power
in unexpected ways and places.
May we daily perceive
the joy and wonder of your abiding presence
and offer our lives in gratitude
for our redemption. Amen.

Prayer is from the Revised Common Lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

The Fear

Fortt, Annette Gandy. Jacob and the Angel, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Fortt, Annette Gandy. Jacob and the Angel, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

This week begins my first steps into whatever it is next for me. Last Friday, for those of you following along, I turned in my two week notice at my current job. I had grown weary of working at something that was definitely not my passion and was mentally draining. I needed a bit of a kickstart to refocus my passion and hopefully end up back on the path that I feel like I should be on. A path towards ministry of some kind.

Now it’s Tuesday, and the fear has started to set in.

I feel like this whole process so far has been like going skydiving. I had some immense excitement about the initial thought of it and with sharing the details with some of my friends. I felt a bit of that anxious excitement with the buildup to Friday like ascending on the plane must feel like. My nerves on Friday were haywire as I rustled up the courage to step into my boss’s office and deliver my resignation letter, almost like stepping into the window to jump.

Now that I’ve “jumped” I’ve had a sudden rush of fear come over me.

Fear mixed with a twinge of regret. What have I gotten myself into? What sane person would ever do this? I hope my parachute is okay? Do I even have a parachute? There’s a safety parachute, right? That plane ride sure was nice…

But, as with any skydive, once you commit it’s impossible to jump back into the plane. There’s no turning back and you might as well enjoy the ride and the view.

On Sunday afternoon I attended a meeting for my church where we voted in new elders and deacons. A few of the outgoing elders were given time to share about their experience. One after another they talked about stepping up and answering the call of God, even though at first they were resistant. Once they stepped out, they did not regret their choice. One of the new elders, a sweet older woman, talked about her calling as an elder and about the few times she’s served before. While I can’t recall the exact words she used, she spoke about how surrendering to God is one of the best ways to grow and learn how to live into what God has called us to.

I went up to her after and gave her a big hug and thanked her for her words.

Surrendering is never easy. Jumping out of a plane is crazy. But it’s only in those moments as you push through the fear, the anxiety, the doubts and questions when you learn what you can really tackle.

The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV)

Sunday Prayer

 

Weyden, Rogier van der, 1399 or 1400-1464. Mary's Tears, detail from Descent from the Cross, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Weyden, Rogier van der, 1399 or 1400-1464. Mary’s Tears, detail from Descent from the Cross, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

God of power and justice,
like Jeremiah you weep over those
who wander from you,
turn aside to other gods,
and enter into chaos and destruction.
By your tears and through your mercy,
teach us your ways
and write them on our hearts
so that we may follow faithfully
the path you show us. Amen.

Prayer is from the Revised Common Lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Getting Real

feces-realThe other day as I was driving to work, I was making my way through the”Must Listen” podcast playlist on my beloved Downcast app. I get like 20 minutes or so, depending on traffic, to choose my own vehicular audio enjoyment after dropping the kids off in the morning. Podcasts have become a “palette cleanser” of sorts after listening to kids music and your select Disney princess ballads. It gets me thinking and actually lets me wrestle with things that I’m interested in which, sadly, my current job does not let me do much on company time. Theology, ecclesiology, and biblical studies sadly have little interaction with home infusion, medical benefits and medical coding. But, at least in this point in my life, the latter has been paying the bills much better than the former.

The podcast that I was wrapping up was a recent episode of Rob Bell’s Robcast. It was Part 2 of his Wisdom series. The first two thirds were pretty good, but then with 10 minutes left in the podcast, he started dropping these bombs…

“When you choose to live from your true self, there may be costs…”

“For some the question, ‘What do you want?’ is a terrifying question. You know that you at some level are living distant from your heart when that question is hard to answer.”

“Sometimes we settle, sometimes we numb, sometimes we give up. If you have some sense of, ‘Well I guess this is just as good as it gets.’ probably something has died in your heart. If you have no fight left in you, it’s probably because something has gone wrong in your heart…In the wisdom tradition, you guard you heart because everything flows from your heart.”

“What is it that keeps your heart alive, what is it that when you do it, you feel like I can’t believe I get to live this life? What is it that keeps your heart alive?”

“You are far from your heat, you are far from life, and you need to get that back.”

Those of you familiar with my story will know I’ve wrestled a lot with what I feel like I’m called to do and where I find my employment. These nuggets from Rob Bell hit me like a ton of bricks as I’ve found myself in a job I’ve not found much joy in after recently being laid off from a job that was about as close as I’ve come to a dream job. Honestly, I have found myself thinking lately that maybe this is where I’m supposed to be. Maybe the whole pastor/minister thing isn’t for me and I need to learn to be happy with where I am at. Maybe, this is as good as it gets.

Those moments were not the brightest moments in my mind…but they happened.

But, before I could really think too much about what Rob said, the next podcast started. It was an episode from Zen Parenting Radio which has become a fast favorite in our family. Right at the beginning of the episode I was listening to, they reference the same podcast from Rob Bell and talk about how great it was.

Ok, God…I get it. I should be paying attention.

I spent most of the next day thinking and working over our budget, noodling with the idea of quitting my job to free up space in my life. I would throw open all the doors and windows, if you will, and let some light in. If it was feasible for our family, I figured now was a good time to open myself up to the possibilities that were around me. And, spending more time at home never hurt anyone. As I worked it through, some things would have to change, but it was well within the realm of possibility for me to do this. And definitely possible if I could shake up some kind of part-time or freelance jobs to fill in some gaps.

I felt myself getting more excited about this possibility and what it could open up.

I spent that evening detailing the plans to my wife, and while she was hesitant at first and a little bummed about a change in our plans, she ultimately agreed that my joy and embracing my calling was more important right now. We batted back and forth with some ideas about what our options were. I had concluded that I would like to be out of my job by the end of the month. Of course, sticking around at a paying job a little bit longer would bring in more money…I just felt so strongly that the end of October would be my chance. Anything beyond that just felt…wrong.

The next morning when I woke up I had an email waiting for me from one of my seminary professors asking if I could help out with some social media and email marketing stuff for him on a very part-time, temporary, but paid basis.

I’m not a big believer in signs (I hated the movie) and I definitely didn’t ask for one. But, at that moment I believe I felt a confirmation from God, deep within my soul.

This was the right thing to do.

So, here we are, two weeks out from the end of the month. When you read this, I more than likely have turned in my two-week notice to my very surprised boss. I have only worked at this place for a little over three months so, this isn’t what they planned either. I’ve had a few plans fall through and most of my ideas are, exactly that at this point, ideas.

Write more.

Blog more.

Help out more around the house.

Network.

Pray more.

Find a part-time job.

Hang out with friends and mentors.

Read more.

Volunteer more.

Write a book.

This week has been really hard as I tried to think through if I was going to go through with this at all. And, if you’re reading this blog post…

I have.

I will walk away from my job at the end of the month and, hopefully, into whatever is next.

Pray for me, this just got real.

Sunday Prayer

Biard, Auguste Francois, 1799-1882. Abolition of Slavery in the French Colonies, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Biard, Auguste Francois, 1799-1882. Abolition of Slavery in the French Colonies, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

Friends in Christ,
God invites us to hold the needs of our sisters and brothers
as dear to us as our own needs.
Loving our neighbors as ourselves,
we offer our thanksgivings and our petitions
on behalf of the church and the world.

Hear our prayers, God of power,
and through the ministry of your Son
free us from the grip of the tomb,
that we may desire you as the fullness of life
and proclaim your saving deeds to all the world. Amen.

Prayer is from the Revised Common Lectionary provided by the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.