Friday, June 17, 2016

Choosing The Better Way

 "But the land could not support both Abram and lot with all their flocks and herds living so close together. So disputes broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot."  Genesis 13:6-7

The families of Abraham and his nephew Lot were wealthy, not measured by cash or houses or stocks but by the size of their flocks and herds. Their servants constantly fought over the best pasture lands and something had to be done before blood was spilled. Magnanimously, Abraham gave Lot the first choice of a place to graze, and Lot jumped at the chance to move to the environs of Sodom and Gomorrah ( we know the consequences of that choice!).  For Abraham preserving family ties took precedence. 

What about you?

 Do you value the bonds of friendship more than getting your way, getting ahead, and getting more stuff?

 Jesus shows us the " Better Way" of love, and promises to be present wherever two or three are engaged in the work of reconciliation (Matthew 18:20).

 Prayer: Dear Jesus thank you for my earthly family and my church family. Thank you for my co-workers and my neighbors. As far as it depends on me, help me to live in peace with others. And whenever I have had a falling out, move me by the Spirit to pray for and seek out my missing brother or sister. Amen.

Stairway to Heaven

In the fall of 1852, the Roman Catholic Sisters of Loretto made a dangerous cross-country journey by wagon from Kentucky to the Royal City of Faith (Santa Fe), New Mexico. On the way, their mother superior died of cholera, and another nun became so dangerously ill that she had to return to their convent in Kentucky.

After two decades of diligent work and gathering sacrificial offerings amounting to $30,000 (a princely sum at the time) the nuns were in a position to engage an architect and building tradesmen to erect a chapel, which would not be like the typical adobe structures in Santa Fe but patterned after the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, a Gothic Revival church with choir loft at the rear of the nave.

By 1873, the magnificent chapel was completed but builders had neglected to provide the space for a stairway linking the nave and the loft. The rickety ladder that laborers had used to enter the loft was too dangerous a means of ascent for the sisters or for the choir.  Though a succession of visiting carpenters had no solution, the sisters began 9 straight days of praying, until on the last day of prayer, a grey-haired carpenter, packing a chest of crude hand tools atop his donkey, arrived at the chapel, announced that he had heard of the sisters’ dilemma, and offered his services.

The delighted mother superior gave him full reign, and the carpenter painstakingly began the 8 month long project.  The sisters could hardly believe what they saw one morning as they rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and entered the chapel. The carpenter had vanished, without receiving a single penny in return for labor or materials. Instead, he left behind a spiral staircase of 33 steps, fashioned out of exotic wood, held together only by nearly invisible wooden pegs. With no banister or center support, the staircase nevertheless makes two 360 degree turns. Engineers declare that the staircase should have collapsed under its own weight, but it is still being used to this day.

More miraculous than the Loretto Chapel’s staircase is the staircase that Jacob saw the first morning after he had run away from home to escape being killed by his older twin brother, Esau, whom he had outmaneuvered both for the family birthright and the divine blessing.  Talk about primitive camping: on the way to Haran, at a place with no name, Jacob pitched camp one evening. He had nothing but a rock on which to pillow his head. In a dream that night, he saw the angels of God ascending and descending a stairway to heaven. At a time when he was estranged from his family, suffering terrible homesickness, and facing an uncertain future, Jacob sorely needed the appearance and declaration of God from the top of the stairway that He (God) would bless Jacob, give him many descendant and a land in which to live, and be with Jacob wherever he went, ultimately bringing Jacob back home. To top it all off, God said: “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen. 28:15).

At first light, Jacob awakens and declares: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” Ever after Jacob and his descendants would call this place “the gate of heaven,” or as it was better known, Bethel, meaning “house of God.” As a lasting memorial, Jacob used the rock on which he’d slept as the center piece of a pillar that he would consecrate with holy oil.

Many rabbis through the ages thought that if they could find this very rock, it would be the means to a close encounter with God. But early on His ministry Jesus uses language reminiscent of Jacob’s experience at Bethel to tell Nathanael and his fellow disciples that they would “see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).

Are you between a rock and a hard place? Most of your dreams have faded into nightmares? Feel alone and wonder how you are going to go on from this time and place? Jesus is our Rock, the Connecting Point between heaven and earth; the Dispatcher of angels to minister to us; the Revealer of a wise, kind heavenly Father who is the Source of every blessing for us; and with the Father and the Spirit a Faithful God who will not abandon us before His plan and purpose for our lives is completed. Ultimately, Jesus will be the Stairway to take us home.

A Safe Place

"Even the Sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young--a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my king and my God" Psalm 84:3

I came home from work on Thursday, and my wife Linda told me to take a look out our bedroom window and see our new neighbors. I peeked through the blinds and expected to see a U-Haul van pulled up to an adjacent apartment. "I don't see anything honey!?" "Look up above our porch," Linda answered. Sure enough: there was a nest built in the corner, where the rafters of the balcony above us intersect the wall. And sitting on the carefully constructed nest was, what seemed to my untrained eye, a beautiful oriole. 

Seeing her and anticipating the brood of babies that will soon hatch, God-willing, I thought of the Psalmist's description of what he saw one day on coming to the Temple. A mother bird must somehow have found access to the sanctuary and built a nest near the altar in which to raise her young.
Sparrow and swallows know where they've got it good, and that is in being close to God.
We need to seek God even more than the birds of the air, because we have sinned against God and our neighbor. The altar reminds us that Jesus, God's only Son, born of the Virgin Mary, offered up the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice to take away our sins.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the Pulse Nightclub yesterday in Orlando, Florida, many are asking: "Is there any place that we can be truly safe?" I know that there is a home security company that goes by the name "Absolute Security." Not to burst their marketing bubble or contradict any political candidate, but alarm systems, arsenals of guns and bullets, and Big Brother government cannot provide the security we crave. Only God can. Jesus warns that others may take away our physical lives, yet those who perpetrate such violence have won nothing if the Spirit keeps us in the Christian faith. "If the Son sets your free, you are free indeed." The same God who feeds the birds of the air and marks every time a sparrow lights upon the ground will not allow anyone or anything to "snatch you out of His hand."