Show off, God

In reading Church history and current news, hearing stories, and experiencing things in my several years in ministry, I don’t know how the Church has lasted as long as it has.   That’s not true, I do.  I do because I personally, frequently pray to God that God work despite me.  And thanks be to God, God does.  The Holy Spirit is why the Church has lasted and will continue to live – despite us.

As we prepare to launch a new service at Trinity, this prayer comes to mind.  Not because I don’t think it’ll be awesome.  Not because we don’t have a talented, hard working team.  Not because we haven’t been diligent and worked hard for months to prepare for this launch.  I’m really excited about this new service and I’m really proud of the hard-working Modern Worship team.  Yet, my prayer is that God show off.  I’ve noticed in my own life that God’s dreams are often more audacious and grander than anything I can come up with.  I’ve seen in my own life that God speaks words of healing to people through some of my worst sermons.  I’ve experienced that on days that I feel particularly inadequate God somehow uses me to offer words of encouragement and love.   So, I pray that despite our best efforts, God shows off even more.  The truth is that the best that we can wish for this service (or any ministerial endeavor) is tiny compared to how much God wants us to accomplish transformational things with the help of the Holy Spirit.  The truth is that all of the stuff that’s worthwhile is accomplished by God and not by me.  So my prayer is and will continue to be that God be glorified, and that people come to know God’s transforming love, grace, redemption, and mercy.  God, show off – amen.

-Esther

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God, help me

I still believe that some of the most powerful and profound prayers are the shortest and simplest ones: “God, help me.”  I say this because I often find myself with no other words but ‘God, help me… Help me with ___.’  I also believe that pride is dangerous and easily acquired in our lives. That’s one of the things I often pray for help with.  Pride steals our joy; it steals our feeling of true purpose and worth.  It makes us overly sensitive and defensive, and it facilitates unforgiveness, resentment and unfair and grace-less judgment.  Pride is a thief of all good things.  I’m not claiming this as a new discovery or a brand new insight – simply a personal one.

The conviction of pride (and I almost think that true conviction requires ugly crying) is extremely painful and simultaneously liberating.  The same goes for the confession of pride.  Our ego is our sense of self-esteem and self-importance, and when that gets hurt it’s excruciating and disorienting.  For those who truly seek God and desire to become more and more like Christ, and yet themselves are on a journey  and may have an unhealthy level of ego, uncomfortable ego-checks are necessary.  I say this because I’ve had them (and continue to).  Do not pray for humility unless you’re ready for it.  Who said sanctification/the path of discipleship was easy, anyway?  At the same time, whenever I’m able to identify what my issue is – be it pride or something else – it’s indescribably freeing to let go of that burden .  That usually involves lament, perhaps some embarrassment, and confession – all eventually followed by priceless peace.

I’m continually drawn to Philippians 2:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:1-8)
Pray with me:
…But give me the strength that waits upon You in silence and peace. Give me humility in which alone is rest, and deliver me from pride which is the heaviest of burdens. And possess my whole heart and soul with the simplicity of love. Occupy my whole life with the one thought and the one desire of love, that I may love not for the sake of merit, not for the sake of perfection, not for the sake of virtue, not for the sake of sanctity, but for You alone.  Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Blessed Communion — an All Saints Sunday reflection

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
-Hebrews 12:1-2a

I remember growing up the first thing my parents did, individually, after they exited their room after waking up in the morning was sit in a chair in the living room to pray silently.  Eyes closed.  For about 10-15 minutes.  Then they would go on with the day – prepare breakfast, get dressed for work, etc.  We’ve never spoken about this ritual.  It has never been addressed.  I just noticed.  I didn’t think anything of it at the time.  But now that I’m grown and away from home, I’ve thought about it.  It’s stuck with me.

I grew up in a Puerto Rican, conservative, evangelical household, so the idea of saints to me was pretty foreign.  To me saints were those idols that some people worshiped.  The freakishly holy people that I would never be like – who have paintings made of them that are displayed in churches or on cards or necklaces in homes and around peoples’ necks throughout the world.  It wasn’t until grad school that I realized that those are saints, yes, but those are not the only saints.  It was then when the idea of a great cloud of witnesses became very real.  It was then that I reflected on those individuals who influenced my life and my walk with Christ.  It was then that I realized that I knew plenty of saints.  It was then when Holy Communion became so much more meaningful to me.  And I quickly identified my parents as the primary saints in my life.  Not because they’re perfect by any means – there is no such thing as a perfect person. I haven’t told them this and I think they’d be a little weirded-out by the title – saint.  Yet, they have in many ways taught me what it looks like to love God and to love my neighbor in their quotidian living.

This All Saints Sunday we remembered and gave thanks for those saints who passed on from this earth in the past year.  We remembered and gave thanks for those saints who passed some other time ago – individuals who have touched our lives, influenced our beings, who have been examples of God’s love, and who have contributed to bringing us to where we are right now – for we do not do life alone.  In our remembering and giving thanks for this cloud that surrounds us and promises us that we are never alone – God is with us and has gifted us to be part of a blessed communion.  We are inspired and charged to live holy, righteous lives – not perfect, but ones that journey on the path that follows Jesus.  A road that is often bumpy and that seems solitary at times.  One filled with sorrows and loss, but also filled with comfort and peace.  A road filled with suffering, but also filled with overcoming.  A road of freedom, redemption and reconciliation.  One that is always accompanied by a God who is present and caring, and a fellowship of folks past, present, and future.  All of us stumbling after Jesus in our respective moments in time.  Yet this fellowship goes beyond time and space.  

Today we remember and give thanks, but we are also filled and aware of the hope that accompanies our faith – that we will one day gather with those who we never met or who have gone before – all of us arriving at different times at a place where we will one day be gathered together again to worship our Lord, and to celebrate in a joyous feast.  May we honor those we remember by being aware that we too are saints – people set apart – who show to others, maybe not with words, what it looks like to follow hard after God.

-EstherImage