Full of God, Full of Love

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20, 21

Paul writes these soaring words at the close of chapter three of his letter to the church of Ephesus. They clearly point us to a state of knowing beyond the everyday and to a God that so often eludes us. Though to be honest it not God who eludes us, but we who live so that we do not readily notice God much less offer our lives to God’s glory.

. . . And to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:19

What is this knowledge? How do we get filled with it? What would it be like to live a life filled with all the fullness of God? Paul’s wondrously descriptive language easily exceeds our ability to comprehend not because what he is describing is incomprehensible but because such an experience is so foreign to our way of living. Our lives are already filled with our own anxieties, needs and wants. So when we read Paul’s words we immediately start trying to figure out how we can have such an experience of God. How can we experience the fullness of God? Such questions turn us toward striving and yearning for an experience of God that most of our lives do not have the time, space or priorities to experience. We cannot help but be frustrated. So finding ourselves frustrated we leave off our consideration of these words before we ever get to the point of considering what the implications of living a life filled with God’s fullness might mean for us.

Filled with such love, how would we live? Filled with the fullness of God, how would we consider the needs of those who are hungry, homeless or lacking adequate health care? Knowing a love that surpasses knowledge, what we would do for those on the margins of society?

Striving humans that we are our experience of God is always incomplete. There is always more of God for us to know and to experience. So then the question becomes what difference does what we have experienced of God make in the way we live our lives, look at the world around us and treat the people who share this planet with us? Is our experience of God such that it resembles the other selfish indulgences in our lives? That is to say is our experience of God just about us, our salvation, our blessings and ourselves? Has our experience with God left us full of God or full of ourselves?

When Paul writes about being filled to the measure with all the fullness of God he is describing an intensely intimate and personal relationship with God, but it is not a self-centered relationship nor consumed only by personal considerations. No, to be filled with God’s fullness is see more as God sees and love more as God loves. Understanding and tenderness flow from such fullness. Mercy and Compassion are its fruit.

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Let us Pray

There was a man sitting in the fellowship hall one day last week. He was sitting on the front row of chairs in the Road worship space. Sitting there, he was silently yet intensely praying.

He lives nearby, but to my knowledge has never worshiped with us on Sunday morning. He came to pray. After praying for the better part of an hour, told me that he liked praying here. “This is a house of God,” He said. “I want to pray here everyday.”

“Wonderful,” I said, “but we are closed on Fridays and Saturdays.” I felt the need to tell him this because I really believed he intended to pray here everyday. I did not want him showing up to find the door locked on the weekend.

“You are closed on Friday and Saturday? I need a place to pray everyday. I can pray at home, but it is not the same.”

I invited him to come and pray anytime. He said that he would. When he had left, I could not escape the sense that somehow God was speaking to me and maybe even to us through this man’s need to pray and his resolve to do so. If I am honest with myself this seems a little odd. Odd in that I am not accustomed to hearing God’s promptings from those who are so different from me. He was an Indian from India. He was Muslim. His English was not always easily understood. What could God possibly be trying to say through this man?

As I recalled my conversation with him, I could not get beyond the enthusiastic way that he announced that this was a place where he could pray, a house of God. This man was relieved to have a place to pray. Prayer seemed very important to him.

For me, prayer is not an obligation. It is a privilege, a gift. I don’t have to pray, I get to pray. As Christians, we don’t have to pray, we get to pray. We get to be in relationship with God. Prayer is that relationship. Without prayer, whatever experiences we may have had with God are just memories. Prayer is the way our relationship with God continues to have impact and meaning in our lives.

As individuals, we can meet God in prayer wherever we find ourselves. As a church, we have the same flexibility yet we need for two or more of us to be together. We can do it in the sanctuary, at a park or in a hospital room.

My fear is that collectively and individually we too often neglect our relationship with God because we can. God’s grace has saved us. There is nothing that can undo that. We can pray if we want to, but we are not going to get anymore saved than we already are. Since we don’t have to pray, we don’t. That is, until a crisis occurs. Then we storm the gates of heaven beseeching God’s intervention.

What we miss in such an erratic and delinquent prayer life is intimacy. The God we often cry out to in times of distress has always wanted to be the God who listens to our lives each day. The God we turn to in times of trouble has always wanted to be the God who speaks to us in hard times as well as in good times.

Let us pray. . .

Where’s the Remote?

After Easter Sunday dinner with my sister, her husband and my niece, my brother-in-law and I were outside on the deck talking. The conversation eventually moved in the direction of the economy or maybe it started there. Before we finished we were trying to think of something that we could make and sell. Or maybe we don’t even have to make it. Like water, what could we put in a bottle or package and sell?  We did not think of anything that day, silently concluding that all the good ideas had already been used.

I kept our conversation in the back of my mind for the next few weeks. In the meantime, something happened at home that has happened that has happened more times than I can remember, we lost the remote. Normally, when the remote is lost we find it after five or ten minutes of searching. This time was different. The remote stayed lost for a night and a day.

This was not a total disaster as we operate on a two remote system. We have one remote to control the volume and the power for the television and another one to change the channel and control the power on the satellite box.  The one that controls the sound was the one that was lost. We used to have one remote that took care of all the functions, but we lost it.

After being lost for a day and a night, we found the wayward remote control. We celebrate and then I immediately felt a strong resolve that this sort of thing should never be allowed to happen again. What to do?  I headed to the garage. On the dryer, I found a string that came from a hooded sweatshirt. Those strings can be put back in the sweatshirt once they come out. We collect them on the dryer until someone throws them away. On the workbench, I found a roll of black electrical tape. I had all that I would need to insure the security and availability of our remote controls.

I tied one end of the string around one of the remotes and the other end around the other remote.  A piece of tape across the back of each remote kept the string from sliding up or down that remote.  The two remotes were now securely fastened to each other. With about ten inches of string between them, they rested neatly over the arm of the recliner.

Something had to be done. Something was done. Would it work? Yes, it has worked. The remote controls have not been lost since that day that I tied them together.

As the weeks passed since the last time that we could not find one of the remotes, I realized that I had the answer to the question my brother-in-law and I were trying to answer on that Easter afternoon. We could make and sell remote control-cuffs. People would pay $9.99 to never lose the remote again. If we offered them at low introductory rate of $4.99, I doubt that we could make them fast enough.

I know that some of you do all your remote controlling with one remote. You are probably wondering how the remote control-cuffs will work for you? Don’t worry, I have figured that out already. If you only use one remote, tie one end of the string to your remote and tie the other end to a six inch long piece of wood.  The remote control just needs to be connected to something.

What is true for remote control is true for us. We need someone to find us. We need someone to look for us when we get lost. We need someone to be with us when we find ourselves feeling lost and alone all over again. Jesus offers that to us. He wants to be that for us.

When we tie our lives to Christ and his church we experience the wonder of having been found not to be lost again. We experience the security of knowing that our lives are connected to something that will not let go of us. The connection is so strong that even when we experience defeat, discouragement and despair it holds us still. Even when life tosses us about and we feel lost and alone, the one we have tied ourselves too comes with us through every trial and every valley. Christ has so tied himself to us that even when we cannot find ourselves he is there with us so they we are not alone.

We have a Leak!

“We have a leak!” Those are frightening words to hear if you live near or work in a facility that produces or stores hazardous material. Dreadful words, if it is your job to make sure that those materials do not leak. Troublesome words indeed, if it is your job to stop the leak and clean up the mess that has been made. Those words can be just as frightening, dreadful and troublesome when the leak is not hazardous and not in a nearby plant, but in your home.

“We have a leak! I can hear it.” The first response in any crisis situation comes from a well-prepared public relations department. I can do this in my sleep, which is good because I still am half asleep. “No, you must be mistaken.”

“No, we have a leak.”

“No, we don’t. Are you sure? Maybe, it just sounds like a leak.”

“It is a leak!”

“How can you be sure? Can you see it? If you can’t see it, you can’t be sure that it is a leak.”

“Get out of bed and see for yourself!”

“Well, if it is a leak and we don’t yet know that it is, maybe it is not a very bad leak.”

“Get in here!”

The time for public relations is done, which is just as well because I had very little expectation of being able to talk my way out of a leak, since she is almost always right about these things. Well, ok, she is always right about these things. At any rate, it is time to get some boots on the ground and do a little reconnaissance.

So there I am standing in the bathroom that I have spent the better part of my life remodeling, or so it seems, and I hear it in all of its frightening, dreadful, troublesome fury. It is not a leak, it is a deafening cascade. It is a torrent of water rushing from the confines of a copper pipe to the sweet liberty of the wall behind my new shower and ultimately to the ground beneath my house.

I need a chaplain. I am spiritually distressed. I hear water dripping, but how do I get to it? Not through any of the freshly painted walls in this room, I can promise you that! Through the bedroom, up the hall and into the other bathroom, I am looking at the wall that is shared with the bathroom that I just left. Looking down, I see wet wall board. We have found our entry point.

After removing a sink, a bathroom countertop and a two-foot by eight-foot section of wall board, I am looking at the water pipes that supply my shower. There is the leak. The good news is the leak is in the pipe and not in one of the joints where I put the pipe together while remodeling the bathroom. It is a small consolation, but at this point I need whatever I can get.

Finally it is time to go to the home improvement store. Getting the few items I need to fix the leak should be no problem. Talking to the man with the gentle voice in the plumbing aisle, I wonder out loud if I should buy a pipe cutter fearing that I might not be able to locate the one that I already have. He discourages me saying that a pipe cutter will add six or seven dollars to my bill. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I let his frugal urgings keep me from purchasing the pipe cutter. Even as I leave the store without it, I know that I am making a big mistake. I know that I will not be able to find it, but I drive all the way home to prove my point. Then I go back to the store to buy a pipe cutter. After that, the repair is easily accomplished.

I did not like having to buy a tool that I knew I already possessed. Having a tool and not knowing its location is frustrating. Having a tool and not knowing how to use it is also frustrating. That happened to me the first time that I used a pipe cutter and it made the job more difficult than it should have been.

As we journey toward Jerusalem during this Lenten season, we face a similar problem, though in a spiritual way. Calvary is not a tool, not something that we can hold in our hand and manipulate. It is a gift—a life changing gift. What God did in Christ makes it possible for us to be in the most profound of relationships. In Christ, God brings us into God’s family. We become sons and daughters of God, children of God, in a way that we were not before Christ, before Calvary, before Easter.

A lifetime is not enough time to experience the mystery and wonder of this gift. Yet, too often we go in the other direction. We are content to store this amazing gift in the garages and utility rooms of our lives. When emergencies arise we go looking for it. If we are fortunate, we find it in the last place we left it. An experience we had long ago at youth camp, a memorable moment in Vacation Bible School, a warm sensation when our first child was born, we remember that God has spoken to us through the years and has been near our lives. Looking back, we remember something exciting and fresh, an encounter with God. But having left it in the corners of our lives gathering dust, it does not seem to fit where we are now.

We know we have it, but we do not know quite what to make of it or do with it. We have often heard about God, God’s love, grace and mercy. Yet, in the midst of our failures and difficulties, we find ourselves unaware of how that love, grace and mercy might repair our lives and point us toward hope.

The relationship that God wants with each of us is not a one time event. It is an ongoing, everyday experience. Often times we hear people talking about what they are giving up for Lent. I wonder if we might not be better served if we took a different approach. What if we added something for Lent? What if each day for just a few minutes we took the time to ponder the wonders of this thing that God has done for us?

The Reality of Hope

Coming to terms with reality is not always an easy thing to do. Sometimes the reality that is before us is such that we would rather avoid it than come to terms with it. Confronting it is uncomfortable and distressing. When we think about it, we are frightened and sad.

Coming to terms with reality sounds like a good thing to do. The very notion of doing so seems to imply maturity. When we come to terms with the situations that arise in our lives we demonstrate our maturity and our ability to cope. I suppose coming to terms with reality is a good thing.

However, I do have some reservations. The reality that I am confronting is my mother’s cancer. The doctor did call it that this week. Before, he had hinted at it, saying it without really saying. This week, he said it. He said that he is as sure as he can be that mom has cancer. I am sure that he is as sure as he can be.

Nonetheless, I still have reservations about confronting this reality. Confronting may not be the best word. I have some reservations about accepting this reality. Hope keeps me from too quickly giving in to this reality. In a way, hope is something of an occupational hazard for me. I am hopeful because I have seen people with cancer receive treatment and respond to it positively. I have seen people who were in bad shape rebound and recover. One day a man lying in the hospital bed barely appeared to be alive. The next day he is sitting up, getting up and talking. No one expected that to happen, but it did. Having seen that sort thing happen through the years on more than one occasion causes hope to take hold. Maybe there are medical reasons for such things happening, but I have seen doctors and nurses marvel at the mystery of an unexpected recovery.

Hope is the nobler reason for my unwillingness to accept this reality. My other reason is less rational. I am thinking this is too soon. There are other things, events and moments that she needs to experience. The image of my grandmother holding our boys in her arms is one that I treasure. That is an image I want for them to have with their grandmother. It is too soon for that to happen. There are still other images that I want for them to create with their grandmother and times that I want for them to have with her, more times that I want to have with my mom. It is too soon.

It is too soon, as if there is somewhere out there a point in time that would not be too soon. The time comes when it comes and we are never ready for it. No matter how prepared we may think we are we are not ready for it. We are not ready because we just cannot get ready to lose, to be without that which we have not lost nor been without in such a permanent way. We do not get ready for such a parting as much as we learn after the fact how the one we have lost remains with us still. Gone to be sure, but present with us as a result having spent a lifetime of giving herself to us, and pouring out her energy, effort and love on our behalf. Still, it is too soon.

It is too soon, because at least for today, the time has not yet come. Today, hope prevails. Reality, any reality, without hope is bleak indeed. We are blessed if we know the one who gives to us a hope that can penetrate any reality no matter how desperate that reality may be. Hoping with that kind of hope is not denying reality. This is true because that hope was brought into the world on the darkest of days under the bleakest of circumstances. That hope was brought to us on a cross and offered to us with the rolling away of a stone that revealed to us an empty tomb.

We are invited to embrace this hope, by denying ourselves, taking up our own instrument of death and following Christ, the one who is our hope. Being hopeful is not denying reality. Hope does not cause us to deny or even avoid the pain and suffering of this life. Hope does see us through such suffering and greets us on the other side.