Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Eat off your own plate-the paradox of helping others with sin.

Matthew 7 1-2

I work with a population of addicts.  One of the things I tell them often is to “Eat off your own plate” as they tend to get focused on what is going on with other people.  It’s easier to look at what other people are doing, or getting, than it is to deal with the things going on in their own life.  All of this brings me back to our reading in Matthew. 

I think it’s pretty safe to say we see more clearly the problems and issues of other people than we do our own. This is what I think Jesus was trying to tell us very directly in Matthew 7.  Two-thousand years later and thousands of books and sermons later about this, and we still don’t get that we need to eat off our own plate first.  Why?  Just as I said at the beginning, it’s easier. 

I am sure there is a supernatural judgment that happens when we do this thing where we badger and judge other people while we have a plank in our eye, but there is also a very in the now thing too.  This is what I want to write about now since I am not even remotely qualified to talk about the first. 

What happens when we are running around focused on other people’s specks as we have the log in our own eye?  It’s pretty clear to me.  When we are “fixing” other people before we deal with our own, then we fall victim to our own issues and what we say loses its power.  We may, in fact, have the answers for other people’s issues.  We may be spot on!  Yet, as we fall victim to our own private sins, our advice goes limp.  People we are trying to help will think you can’t possibly know how to help them if you can’t help yourself.  That’s one side effect.

The other effect is also pretty obvious to me.  Sin has its’ own right now consequence, its’ own judgment in this world before the next.  We are taught that the wages of sin are slavery and death, yes in the next, but also right here and now too.  If we are focused on the problems of other people and not dealing with what is on our own plate then we fail to get free of that slavery and that becomes our downfall, spiritually, mentally, and physically-because sin robs us of the health of all three.

So how do we help others and ourselves without visiting judgment on ourselves?  I have an idea as I have read through the scriptures. Much of what Jesus said points to this, I think, and it is a matter of humility and obedience on how we approach ourselves and others.

There are many scriptures that allude to this but James 5:16 gives us a BIG hint. 
James 5:16:  16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Not just in the confessional, but when you are trying to help others, let them know you are dealing with things too.  Ask them to pray for you, and pray for them too.  We are all unworthy.  We are all sinners.  When we help from a place of humility we are truly helping two people, them and us.  We are seen more clearly as Christians not when we stand over someone looking down on them, but in the light of how we deal, humbly in Jesus our Christ, with our own problems.  It is in how we eat off our own plate helps others deal with theirs.  It’s a vulnerable power this humility, as it lays us Adam naked before people, but that is when it becomes less about us and more about Him who is in us.  That is when real healing takes place for all. 

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me.
Lisa Brandel

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Abwun D'bashmaja (Our Father in Heaven)

Matthew 6: 7-15

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus teaches us how and what to pray.  I have a giggle every time I read this passage because it starts off: Don’t babble.  Who among us hasn’t babbled before the Lord?  I know I have, in fact I’m guilty of this almost every day when I kneel to pray.  I am sure it is an expression of some kind of faithlessness on my part.  It’s as if I think I have to explain everything I’m thinking in detail to He who made me and has known me before I was born.  Jesus even says in this passage that God knows what you need before you need it.  When I read that I am reminded of a bible study I attended years ago.  The teacher said, “Has it ever occurred to you that nothing has ever occurred to God.”  It stuck with me in the context of this passage as a reminder of His omniscience.  Jesus was essentially saying the same thing.  God doesn’t need our reminder, nor does He require us to point things out.  He already knows.  Our prayers are OUR obedience. Our prayers are to keep us focused, in faith, on Him who supplies our every need. Our prayers are a surrender of our imperfect will to His absolutely perfect will for us.  And so, we are taught to pray properly because left to our own devices we would babble. 

While I could babble-on about this prayer, I wanted to share a peaceful moment about this so you might experience it as well.  I practice Ignatian Meditation, which is (to put it very simply) an immersion into scripture by “placing yourself in the scene”.  This is one of the scriptures I was attempting to immerse myself which inspired me to look up what the prayer sounded like in Aramaic.  For those who don’t know, Aramaic was the language of Jesus.  The language is beautiful, and if we close our eyes as we meditate on this passage, listen to it spoken in His tongue we might be able to better understand and immerse ourselves in the tranquil faith of the prayer He taught. 

To share this blessing with you all here is a version to enjoy.  Let us pray.

Here I am, Lord, Send me!

Lisa Brandel

Friday, June 9, 2017

Why should we live the Glory Be!

Tobit 12: 6-7
Raphael called the two men aside privately and said to them: “Thank God! Give him the praise and the glory. Before all the living, acknowledge the many good things he has done for you, by blessing and extolling his name in song. Before all men, honor and proclaim God’s deeds, and do not be slack in praising him.
A king’s secret it is prudent to keep, but the works of God are to be declared and made known. Praise them with due honor. Do good, and evil will not find its way to you.

I am struck always by the scriptures.  Today in reading ahead to tomorrow’s daily reading (overachiever that I am I couldn’t wait) this passage sticks out to my mind and heart.  Now, over 250 times in scripture we are told to praise the Lord in one fashion or another.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 we are told this:

“Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”

In my mind, repetition is therapy.  The Lord knows how thick headed we are so he has to repeat Himself to knock through the crust of our hardened minds and hearts.  This begs the question, why is this so important?  Does God need our praise and thanks?  Does our praise change Him?  I am no authority, but I have to think the answer to both those, and many other questions we could pose, is a resounding NO.  He is the Lord our God. He does not change, but over and over in the scripture we are told not to keep Him secret, and to offer up our praise and thanks giving.  Why? 

The first answer that came to mind here, at least for me, was obedience.  The why doesn’t really matter.  He asks us to do it, so in obedience, by Him, we should do just that.  That is the short stroke answer.  Me being me though, I wanted to attempt to look still at why.  He doesn’t ever seem to do things like a typical parent “Because I said so.”  There is always some perfectly loving reason, that in some way, benefits us. 

I’ve studied a lot of different things in my life, not enough that I would consider myself a master of anything, but enough to have an awareness.  One of the things that I’ve studied is Stoic philosophy. (Don’t judge! St. Paul had a working knowledge of it too!)  The stoics developed an understanding that where the mind goes so we go.  The foundational understanding of their philosophy was that if you could control your thoughts you could find peace and happiness.  The circumstances of our lives didn’t dictate whether we were happy as much as what we thought about them.  You may think this is an archaic thinking, but ultimately it is the foundation of a modern psychotherapy called cognitive behavior therapy or CBT. 
CBT basically states that our thoughts become our emotions which become our actions which becomes our way of life.  If we can change our thoughts on things then we can prevent negative emotion which causes negative behavior.  I generally find both the idea of the stoics and CBT to be true even when held up to the light of scripture. 

Philippians 4: 4-8 reads:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

(Especially verse 8)

Again, I am no authority, but as I read the scripture with the idea that where my mind goes, so goes my everything else, I begin to see and understand that God isn’t changed by our praise, thanksgiving, prayer, focus, or worship….but we are most definitely.  So, the whole of the scripture that asks us to do those things might be trying to tell us a little something about wholeness of mind and heart.  If we look beyond the scripture to the role models and saint of our faith we might also see the patterns of their holiness and success. 

That brings me back to the last line of Tobit’s quote at the start: Do good, and evil will never find it’s way to you. 
This doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen, but it does-I believe-mean that how you think about them won’t plant evil within you.  It’s really hard to do bad or feel bad when gratitude fills your soul and HE is worthy.

What are you thinking today?  Just some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me! 

Lisa Brandel

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's

Mark 12: 13-17

In Mark 12, we find a couple things I find very interesting.  These are a few points I’d like to share with you now. Today we see the Pharisees (keepers of the Law) testing Jesus.  Before I get started about the reading I’d like to take a moment to talk about the Pharisees.  They get a bad rap from we Christians.  In this reading, and many, we see them as keeping the letter of the law without understanding the spirit of the law.  In other words, the law becomes more important than the reason behind the law.  You might say the law of God, rather than God, is their god.  Which is why in the scripture Jesus is recorded as “knowing their hypocrisy”.   It is also important to realize that, like any group we can make a generalization about, not all of them were what we might consider to be bad.  St. Paul was a Pharisee before his conversion.  Some of them, like we are capable of doing, simply got wrapped up and fell in love with (worshiped) the rules rather than the rule giver.  This is something that isn’t an ‘in antiquity’ exclusive trait, nor is it something that could only happen to the Pharisees. 

With that said, how the Pharisees open their line of questioning amuses me.  It shows a certain cleverness, that were Jesus fully human, may have sucked him into their trap.  They start with:
“Teacher, we know that you are true, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men, but truly teach the way of God.”

Butter wouldn’t have melted in their mouth the flattery was so thick.  How they flatter him here interested me too.  They are saying to him albeit hypocritically since they don’t believe it…You are a speaker of truth and don’t really care about the opinions of people.  They were saying what they themselves would find flattering.  They believed themselves to be that very thing.  In their sweet lie, they were showing Jesus who exactly they were.  Another thing I found interesting is that not much has changed from that time to this in regards to the slavery of other people’s opinions.  Even then, people who had escaped the worry of what other people thought about them were regarded as strong. 

They proceed to ask him if it is lawful (Jewish law, not state law) to pay taxes to Ceasar.  So, they set the question up with flattery only to ask a question that really didn’t matter, because it’s not about discovering the truth, it’s to trap Him into saying something they could use against Him. 

Jesus replies : “Why put me to the test?”

With a beautiful economy of words, He crushed their flattery and revealed to anyone paying attention that He understood completely both that they were not seeking real answers, and they didn’t believe He was a true teacher.  Jesus then asked someone to bring him a coin.  Some translations record this as a denarius.  Which, if you are interested, would have been one day’s wage of the time, or about twenty dollars.  This was interesting to me because Jesus clearly doesn’t have a coin on him.  Let that sink in.  The Messiah, He who would change the world, doesn’t even have a copper coin on His person. 

Now, He lands one of the best in-jokes ever.  He asks whose image is on the coin, and then AMAZES everyone by saying:  “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Now, they were amazed.  More than likely because they thought they had constructed the perfect trap.  In fact, if you consider that the Pharisees are a very intellectual group (think doctorate level theology) and they probably spent a good amount of time coming up with that perfect question to trick him, considering every possible answer that might trip Him up…you aren’t shocked that they are shocked. 

The in-joke though, the one that proves again Jesus truly knows who and what they are, where their hearts really lay, is this: The image on the coin was Caesar as was the inscription.  Romans 2: 15, Hebrews 8: 10 speak to the Word and Covenant being written on our hearts.  Basically, give Caesar your money, and render unto the Lord our hearts.
And they were amazed at him. 
How could we not be amazed at Him?  Yes, we are called to obey the laws of our land, but we are also to understand that when we are His-we need to render unto Him what is His, and that is our heart.

Just some food for thought and prayer. Selah

Here I am, Lord, send me!

 Lisa Brandel

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Freedom is a state of being.

Acts 28: 16-20, 30-31

In today’s reading we see St. Paul in what I feel like was one of his natural habitats after his conversion: incarceration.  Today we see him in what we can still see today, under what might be called house arrest.  He was allowed to live by himself, but instead of an ankle monitor he has a guard.  Apparently, when he went out he had to wear chains so he couldn’t run.  Since I work in the field of incarceration this image is pretty vivid to me.  Seeing people chained, wrist and ankle, in person and not on TV is a bit surreal, at least to me, but it has allowed me as I read St. Paul’s account to bring to mind the images of him speaking in chains very vividly. 

By all rights, incarceration is one of the most powerless human conditions this world has to offer.  In fact, I can only think of perhaps two weaker conditions that being hospitalized (depending on why) and nursing home.  They are points in our life where our personal control and privacy tend to be given up to other people.  It would have been very similar back in St. Paul’s time as well, even though his Roman citizenship protected him from some of the cruelties a non-citizen would have endured.  The point is, incarceration is no place of worldly power. 

So, what strikes me in this passage is, in spite of his near constant state of incarceration, wearing chains and being bound by humans-St. Paul doesn’t lose his effectiveness as a witness or evangelizer.  This passage clearly states that even though he was under house arrest and under the threat of the death penalty he receives visitors.

30-31 reads:

He remained for two full years in his lodgings.
He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance
and without hindrance he proclaimed the Kingdom of God
and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

That is powerful.  He isn’t in a position of power.  He isn’t on TV making millions.  He isn’t a government leader with the ears of the populous. He has no social media.  He isn’t even free or even a saint at this point.  He is in a rented dwelling, wearing chains when he is in public, and under the threat of the death penalty, a saint in training.  I think there is so much we can take away from this situation and apply to our own lives.

First and foremost, I see in St. Paul’s example that freedom isn’t a physical condition but a state of mind.  His physical being was incarcerated, but since his goal was to spread the Gospel of Jesus his state of mind was totally free.  The world could capture his body, but his mind and soul were free in Christ so he was not truly bound. His physical location was incidental.    This strikes me the most because we tend to think of our physical state as being predictive to what we can or cannot do.  In other words, we make excuses.  “I can’t reach people for God because I am only ______”  “I can’t witness because I am______”  “I don’t have the power to_______ because I am______”  We tend to think in limitations due to who, what, and where we are.  In Pauls’ example here, and if we truly look at the rest of the apostles, everything about them should tell us we are wrong if we think that.  Especially as we look at this passage, and see a man (not yet a saint) locked down by the world. 

The second thing I see is that St. Paul didn’t wait until his condition was perfect to be obedient to God’s call/will.  This is another of our collective hindrances to success and holiness.  “Well, as soon as I retire, I’m going to ________”   “When I change jobs I will be able to work for the church.”  Fill in the blank with your own “as soon as” statement.  St. Paul could have very easily said that as soon as he was free he was going to continue to minister.  The conditions he was under were not humanly thought of as ideal.  In fact, look over most saint’s lives both the biblical saints and the saints we read about, and you will see that VERY rarely are the circumstances of their lives ideal to the condition of doing the task they are commanded to do.  They all have something in common though, which brings me to my closing point.

We do not get more holy then become obedient.  We become obedient then get more holy.  We become obedient by doing what we can, where we are, with what we have.  St. Paul is a really good example of doing His will wherever you are no matter what condition you find yourself.  He wore literal chains, and you may too, or you may only wear chains that you placed on yourself in your mind.  Whatever chains you wear, remember, in obedience you are still free.

Just some food for thought and prayer.

Here I am, Lord, send me!