Tag Archives: fasting

Hearing God speak really difficult when life interferes with listening

Last week a sudden realization walked through my brain:  summer break was over.  Now for many that might really seem like an epiphany, but for me it answered the state of mind I found myself dwelling.

 

Having lived all my life on an academic calendar until I retired from teaching in 2015, my psyche functioned along the year beginning in August, ending in May, and then taking a three-month break.

 

The last three years of serving as a licensed local pastor on a part time basis should have erased that internal time clock, but last week I realized it had not.

 

Stepping out of the pulpit as of July 1, I was mentally thinking I would take the break to refresh myself and return to work.  But, that is not what my internal time clock understood.

 

Last week it occurred to me that my ‘summer break’ was over.  Three months have passed and my year is not resuming as my brain thinks it should.

 

This realization has caused me to stop and reflect on why I feel so scattered, so unorganized, so lost—so to speak.

 

I need to listen more carefully for God to speak to me.

 

Listening for God is not easy.  Our humanness wants to be in control, and all that is going on around us easily distracts us. It interferes.

 

This pushed me to consider all the different factors that seem to deafen my hearing and I propose that this is a common trait that is interfering with our ability to fulfill God’s greatest commandment as Jesus answered the Pharisees:

 

35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

 

Consider the setting in which the Pharisees were talking with Jesus.  They were the powerful and the ones who thought they knew everything. They were feeling threatened by this newcomer, so by trying to find a flaw in his teachings that would discredit him, they themselves were no longer listening to God.

 

We do the very same thing. We live being in charge of our world. We live without thinking about the Golden Rule.  We live without spending time studying the Bible.  We let . . .

 

There is the problem. We let the world around us step in between God and us.  How in the world can we possibly hear God to speak to us personally when we listen to so many other influences?

 

Just like my personal calendar has long operated on an academic calendar and taking a break from teaching for three-months, I had taken the last three months and refreshed.

 

Or so I thought.

 

Last week I realized that my need to refresh really is defined as a need to listen to God.

 

Listening for/to God is not something that can be done in a pre-packaged time frame, neither is it a singular event.  Listening for God is part of the Christian lifestyle.  My time to refresh must become a time to realign with the practices that refresh my Christian lifestyle and encourages me to listen for God’s direction in my life.

 

John Wesley has a method for improving one’s piety or living as a Christian who is listening for God to direct one’s life.  The United Methodist Church’s website provides a list of Wesley’s works of piety:

 

Individual Practices – reading, meditating and studying the scriptures, prayer, fasting, regularly attending worship, healthy living, and sharing our faith with others

Communal Practices – regularly share in the sacraments, Christian conferencing (accountability to one another), and Bible study

[Accessed on October 10 2018 at http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace]

 

I must confess that I know these Wesley’s works of piety, but I do not always center my life on them. I do fair, but I must do better. We must all do better.

 

With no need to prepare a sermon each week, reading scripture is easy to put aside—especially on a daily basis.  My personal discipline needs improving.

 

Admittedly I do read, and since July 1, I have already completed thirteen books—eleven novels and two church-related.  The choices have been fun, and they do lead me into reflecting on how God can be found even in our literature choices.

 

Participating in a small group who reads the Common Lectionary is part of my weekly routine, too. But, I keep thinking of how I could study even more with other small groups.

 

I do try to live healthy especially in terms of food choices and exercise, but I can do better with this too.

Probably the most difficult part of Wesley’s works of piety is fasting.  I am not good with this practice.

 

I have long struggled with dieting and finally realized that fasting can be done differently for instance, eliminating a specific food or an activity for a set time.

 

Time to rethink fasting as a way to step away from the thingsthat interfere with my focus on living as God asks me to live.  I need to think about this, so I can use more time to listen to God.

 

Prayer is certainly one area that I continue to improve.  I have studied prayer.  I have come to realize that prayers fill my thoughts when no one is talking to me. Prayer is thinking aloud with God as the listener.  Now I need to listen for him.

 

Maybe you, too, need to improve your prayers.  I offer this one that may be helpful, tool:

 

Lord, God,

The world around me is so loud that I cannot hear you speaking to me. Guide me in making better choices so that I can silence all the interference that separates me from you. Thank you for the encouragement of others who knew I needed time to refresh; but as the months slide by, help me to hear your next call.  May what I do reflect the work you ask of me now and on into the months and years ahead. –Amen

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

The Challenge: Kindness

given on Sunday, February 10, 2013

         Kindness.  Just one word, but one filled with so much promise.  After going through the calendar last week and looking ahead at this week, kindness just kept catching my attention.  Kindness is a character quality that seems to be missing in so many people in our global society and it is one that we long for in our own lives.

One short month, only 28 days, and yet it is the one month a year that repeatedly focuses on kindness.  In the calendar review from last Sunday, we know that today begins the “Random acts of kindness” week.  Valentines Day is the anchor for this week and this year is even smack dab in the middle—Wednesday, February 14.

For many, Valentines causes more heartache, angst, and sorrow than any other day of the year, and that is understandable when a culture emphasizes having a special relationship with just one individual.  The retailers marketing gift-giving options to prove how much one loves another one then multiplies that pain.  Doesn’t this destroy the very heart of the matter (pardon the pun)?

Let’s refocus our attention.  There is no need to consider the secular basis of gift giving when the primary foundation of Christianity is love.  Certainly the love principle is more encompassing than the gift-giving love retailers are highlighting.  Love is that one great commandment and it must be the very heart (oops, another pun) of our lives.

Random Acts of Kindness became a movement back in the early 1980s according to Wikipedia:

A random act of kindness is a selfless act performed by a person or people wishing to either assist or cheer up an individual person or people. The phrase may have been coined by Anne Herbert, who says that she wrote “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a place mat at a Sausalito restaurant in 1982 or 1983.[1][2] Either spontaneous or planned, random acts of kindness are encouraged by various communities.”  [Accessed on February 9, 2013 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_act_of_kindness]

At least that is the beginning of the movement according to the web’s largest encyclopedia, but is it?

As I was reading through the February 2, Solo entry (a devotional study written by Eugene H. Peterson), the verses from 2 Samuel 9 told a story of kindness.  The simple, small story demonstrated how King David modeled kindness.  His act of kindness was unexpected and out of the ordinary, especially after a military take over.  Taking in the remaining family member of the deposed leader was unimaginable.  Still David chose to offer kindness to someone else as a means of praising God.

Stop and think about that for a few moments.  David chose to go against the culture, the social norms, and demonstrate an act of kindness.  Why?  No one was going to tell him no.  No one was sitting around trying to calculate what value there would be in doing this.  There was only good that came from such an action.

In fact, reviewing the entire history of mankind as recorded in the Bible, random acts of kindness began with God giving Adam and Eve the opportunity to live in the Garden of Eden.  Stories throughout the Old Testament are filled with bad things, but consider how many bad things are canceled out by random acts of kindness.

One that stands out in my memory is Boaz’s treatment of Ruth and her mother Naomi.  Destitute, hungry, and stepping out of the culture’s norms, Boaz made sure that Ruth was able to glean what she needed, unbothered by his own workers.  That act of kindness ended happily for Ruth and her mother-in-law.

Happy endings are the immediate result of kindness, but the happiness is sometimes more valuable for the giver than the receiver.  The act of kindness may relieve the receiver’s pain or the crisis of the moment, but for the giver, the value creates a lasting euphoria.  A sense of goodness wells up inside one’s self that seems to perpetuate more giving.  The snowball effect is unleashed by just one act of kindness.  One act leads to another, to another, to another, and the snowball keeps growing.

Look back at 2 Samuel 9:3

The king asked, “Isn’t anyone left from the royal house of Saul? God has been very kind to me. I would like to be kind to someone in the same way.”

Just how many times do we receive kindness from God—or anyone else—and then offer another random act of kindness to someone else as a means of thanking God.

The contemporary movement, Random Acts of Kindness, may be accredited to Anne Herbert, but she certainly is not the first one who put that idea into action.  The social climate when she did write this down was self-centered.  But so was the climate when John Wesley was stepping away from the Church of England and promoting his “new” idea—do all the good that you can for all that you can whenever you can.

Kindness is ministry.  Kindness is action.  Kindness is radical hospitality, even risk-taking mission and extravagant generosity.  This is not just the latest entry into social living, random acts of kindness is the foundation for Christian living.  It is easy.  It is random.  It is serving as God’s arms and hands right here on earth right now!

This is the challenge—it is an old one, but put your own spin on it—make a conscious decision to demonstrate God’s love by practicing random acts of kindness.  During Lent, which also begins with Ash Wednesday, February 13, add in one daily act of kindness.  Just think what a difference those demonstrations of Christian love can make.

When the Sandy Hook Elementary School was devastated by the random act of violence, the outpouring of kindness has been miraculous.  Even Ann Curry was so devastated that she sent out a challenge, too—20 (later 26) acts of kindness.  She issued that challenge in a Tweet, a 21st century social connection that reaches millions.

The response to that challenge was immediate.  The range of acts came from a thank you note to cash gifts, to paying for coffee, meals, even grocery-filled baskets.  Curry created a national, dare we say international, difference by offering a challenge.

Traditionally Lent becomes a season of giving up something as a way of fasting.  We are to use these 40 days to reflect on our own lives, our own relationship with God, and on God’s teachings.  If acts of kindness can be done even once a day, just think what the return value will be for yourself, for your family, and for God.

Fasting can be giving up something in your diet, but it can be so much more.  You can fast by giving up a TV show, by changing a daily habit, or by adding in something such as a scripture reading, quiet prayer time, or a random act of kindness.

What better time than this week, this Valentine’s Day, this year’s Lenten season is there to accept the challenge and find the personal transformation that such random acts of kindness.  Take up the challenge and you will be taking up the cross, too.  Being a Christian is offering acts of kindness at all times in as many ways as you can.

Dear Kind God,

Let us overlook our own pain and heartaches this Valentines

     and look for others who need Your love.

As we read Your word,

     show us the acts of kindness Your faithful servants

Guide us in finding the means to share Your love

     one act at a time.

Thank you, too, for the kindness You offer to us

     through the acts of others, also.

Thank you, for providing us the means and the ideas

      that others may see as kindness done in Your name.  –Amen

1 Comment

Filed under Religion

Rule No. 3: Stay in love with God.

given on Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rule No. 3:  Stay in love with God.

based on Rueben P. Job’s Three Simple Rules:  A Wesleyan Way of Living

 

What is the first thought that runs through your mind when you hear the rooster’s crow?  Is it that it can’t be time to get up!  Or maybe you think something is wrong, the rooster’s crow could be a warning.  Does it ever cross your mind that the rooster’s crow is asking a question for God?  God asks, “Do you love me?”

Oddly, that question is the one test that God asks of us over and over.  We just do not hear it.  “Do you love me?”  Not only once does he ask it, but he asks it over and over and over.  Peter heard it three times.  Peter could answer it with words, but actions do not always match our words.

While reading these three simple rules, the order of them seemed backward.  Shouldn’t the last, the third rule, be the first:  Stay in love with God.  In fact, I think it seems more logical to completely reverse the three rules:  1. Stay in love with God.  2. Do good.  3. Do no harm.

This third rule even lead me to ask our district superintendent about its wording and inclusion in the three rules.  The answer was the typical Jesus-style answer:  How else do we hear God?  How do we do the other two rules?

To stay in love with God seems so simple, but by now I know that simple wording certainly does not mean simple practices.  Bishop Job even begins the explanation with the word “ordinance.”  With a background exposure to a military academy, the word ordinance triggers images of weapons.  Ordinance certainly was not a word I expected in a theological discussion.  But, the Bishop begins rule number three with that word:

Ordinance is a strange word to our ears.  But to John Wesley, it was a word that described the practices that kept the relationship between God and humans vital, alive, and growing.  (p.53)

Another words, there must be ‘weapons’ to use for keeping us following God.  The Bishop continues to clarify that:

. . . He names public worship of God, the Lord’s Supper, private and family prayer, searching the Scriptures, Bible study, and fasting as essential to a faithful life.  . . . these practices can become a life-giving source of strength and guidance for us.  . . . these disciplines [are] central to any life in faithfulness to God in Christ.  (ibid)

Let’s go back to the rooster’s crow.  Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times before the rooster crowed in the morning.  Peter refused to believe it.  Yet sitting with the crowd outside the palace, three times he was asked if he knew Jesus.  Three times he answered no.  Imagine what he felt when the rooster crowed!  He knew he had denied Jesus three times right there that night. (John 18:25-27)

Rule no. 3:  Stay in love with God.  Peter loved God, yet even he denied knowing Jesus.  If Peter can slip and deny Jesus at that very critical point in the story, why shouldn’t we be concerned with our ability to stay in love with God?

Maybe we are doing no harm and we are doing good, are we still in love with God?  How can we be sure that we stay in love with God?  Even after all these years as Christian, why should we be concerned about staying in love with God?

Maybe we are doing just fine, but we also know that the world around us continues to change and usually we are not too happy about it.  We complain, but we do not seem to have a solution.  We are comfortable in our daily routines and our typical weekly schedule.  Is not that enough to show that we are still in love with God?  The question possibly could be worded a bit differently, too:  Are my personal practices enough to maintain my love for God in the 21st century culture?

Here is Bishop Job’s checklist, which comes straight from John Wesley:

  • public worship of God,
  • the Lord’s Supper,
  • private and family prayer,
  • searching the Scriptures, Bible study,
  • and fasting.

Stop and review those practices—or ordinances—to keep us in a solid relationship with God.  Are we able to affirm that we are participating in those six practices?  Maybe we practice part of them, maybe three or four; but are our practices strong enough to convince God and others we are still in love with God.

The third rule needs to be the first as it leads to the other two rules as automatic results from this third rule.  Bishop Job provides the reasoning:

[1]  It is in these practices that we learn to hear and respond to God’s direction.

[2]  It is in these practices that we learn to trust God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

 [3]  It is in these practices that we learn of God’s love for us.

 [4]  It is where our love for God is nurtured and sustained.  (p.55)

The argument that rule no. 3 should be rule no. 1 is becoming more solid—at least in my mind.  If maintaining these practices keep us in a strong relationship with God, following his direction to do no harm and to do good will follow.

These ‘ordinances’ are not new.   These practices or methods or disciplines are designed to keep us in love with God, but they also result in doing no harm and in doing good even in the 21st century.  Jesus and his Apostles were using these practices.  Wesley used them.  And today we use them.  The methods to stay in love with God have not changed.  The cultures around us continue to change, but maintaining these practices is essential.

Granted the cultural changes lead us to modify or to adapt the practices in many cases, but the practices do arm us against the onslaught of a 21st century culture that seems to turn fire at us every moment of our earthly lives—even in those quiet sleeping moments at night.

The very constitutional amendments designed to preserve our religious freedoms here in the United States are challenged and adapted to social standards that are no longer the primary Christian ones that established the Constitution.   Yet there can be no excuse for not maintaining the practices of our faith.  For example, one individual tested prayer in our schools.  The Supreme Court ruled that we may not force someone to pray out loud at schools or other public functions.  But no one can legislate our silent prayers whether in school, in our homes, or on our jobs.

  • We continue to meet weekly for public worship.
  • We have no excuse to avoid reading the Bible in search of answers or simply for continual study.
  • We include communion in our worship.
  • We can choose to fast in a manner that works for us, too.

The truth is that we honestly need to review our practices.  Are we using these practices, often referred to as Wesley’s Works of Piety?  Again, Bishop Job points out that rule no. 3 leads to Wesley’s Works of Mercy that covers rules no. 1 & 2.

Holy living will not be discovered, achieved, continued, and sustained without staying in love with God.  And while staying in love with God involves, prayer, worship, study, and the Lord’s Supper [ i.e. works of piety], it also involves feeding the lambs, tending the sheep, and providing for the needs of others . . . [those] are the signs of love that we exchange with God.  And they are signs of the love that the world can understand.

Sadly, we live in a world that challenges us to maintain our works of piety.  Bishop Job quotes the theologian Henri J. M. Nouwen, “It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”      With that statement, when we fail to maintain our Christian principles or to follow our practices, we have to answer Jesus’ question, “Do you love me?”

And like Peter, when the rooster began crowing on that fateful morning, we have to turn to God and ask for forgiveness.  Remember, God forgives us “70 times 7” or forever.  Peter denied his love of God, and there are times we do, too.  We may not use words, but we use actions.  Fortunately, as Bishop Job adds,

“The failures of the past are to be forgotten and the new possibilities are to be embraced. . . . Each of us has our own litany of failures to recite, but the good news is that we can start again.  . . . [our answer to ‘Do you love me?’ is] When we respond in the affirmative, the response from God is always the same, “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep.” (p.59-60)

The three simple rules are all wrapped up in on:  “Stay in love with God.”  By following the disciplines laid out by Wesley as the works of piety–prayer, worship, study, and the Lord’s supper—then we answer with the works of mercy—actions that heal the pain, injustice, and inequality of our world.  We do no harm and we do good as means or ways to stay in love with God.  To end, Bishop Job writes:

“It’s a way of living that can guard your life from doing evil and enable you to do good.  A way of living that provides a way to stay in love with God in this world and the next.  A way of living that promises a way to claim and enjoy your full inheritance as children of God. (p.61-62)

I believe that staying in love with God leads to the quality of life that I dream of living.  The end result, too, is continued life even after death.  Peter heard that rooster crow, but even after denying his relationship with Jesus, he was forgiven and continued to spread the Word.  God loves us, we love him.  Let us share the news, too, so others may know that love and the world can be transformed.

And to close, using the words of Bishop Job, let us pray:

Dear God,

Teach us today

to do no harm,

to do good,

and assist us

so that we may

stay in a loving relationship

with you and our neighbor.

Help us today

to be an answer

to another’s prayer

so that we may be one

of your signs

of hope

in the world you love.  –Amen

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion