Tag Archives: Serenity Prayer

The Recurring Theme of “Old and New”

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On this last weekday of 2016 it seems to me a bit of divine synchronicity that I should read these words from the ancient prophet, Isaiah:

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!”
Isaiah 43:18-19a (NIV)

Old gives way to new. Growth. Metamorphosis. Transformation. As I have journeyed through God’s Message these many years I find this to be one of the basic, recurring themes in all of God’s Message to us. In fact, it’s a recurring theme in all that God has created. God is all about transformation:

“Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
– Jesus (Matthew 9:17)

 “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
– Jesus (Matthew 13:52)

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.”
– Jesus (Mark 2:21)

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Romans 7:6

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17

“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:1,4

Another year draws to a close. Once again I am prompted to reflect on where I’ve been, recognize where I am, and set course for where I’m going. I can’t do anything about yesterday. I am not guaranteed tomorrow. But I can choose what I think, say, and do today. I will set my trajectory. I can make a course correction. I can let go of that which has brought death. I can reach out and choose Life.

This morning, I find my spirit whispering (once again):

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

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Things I Don’t Control and Things I Do

Now Jephthah the Gileadite, the son of a prostitute, was a mighty warrior.
Judges 11:1a (NRSV)

Jephthah, son of prostitute. How long had that moniker followed him? His glories in battle, his deliverance of his people, and his leadership could not wipe the reference away. Dale Carnegie taught us, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” and for thousands of years, the first impression we have of Jephthah is that he was born to a prostitute.

The fact that he was progeny of an anonymous woman of the evening was not under Jephthah’s control. He had no say in the matter. Still, this heritage marked him for life. It led to being driven away by his half brothers. I can only speculate (having known those of similar fate) that he had a chip on his shoulder throughout his life.

When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the first consequences of their sin was shame. They realized they were naked. They felt their exposed bodies were bad and something they had to cover despite the fact that God said that the way He created their bodies was good and the Garden had been a nudist paradise to that  point. Once sin entered the picture, humanity has forever been locked in a struggle with our shame, and we see that struggle in the story of Jephthah.

What I find interesting about Jephthah is that his story is bookended by contrasting examples of sin and shame. At the beginning of the chapter it was the sin of the father (sleeping with a prostitute) that led to shame being visited upon his son for the rest of his days. At the end of the chapter, it was Jephthah’s own foolish actions that led to the despicable human sacrifice of his daughter and solidified his story as a tragedy for the ages.

This morning I’m thinking about the fact that I have things that I don’t control (the family into which I’m born) and things that I do control (my own thoughts, words, actions, and relationships). Shame, that core pain in the depths of my heart that perpetually whispers to my soul that there is something terribly wrong with me, originates from both sources. It runs in the blood of my forebears and it is confirmed in my own foolish choices.

As I write this, less than two weeks from Christmas, I’m reminded that it was Jesus’ mission to address my shame. The progeny of God, born in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger, came that He might take on all of my sin and shame when He died in my place on the cross, so that I might be unshackled from my shame and find redemption.

God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I can.
And, the wisdom to know the difference.

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featured image by Gwen Meharg

Dramatic, Peaceful Reason

Gamaliel“So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” Acts 5:38-39 (NRSV)

Being a playwright, I love a good dramatic moment, and I have always loved the moment described in today’s chapter. Going back to Jesus’ triumphant entry, there there had been so much emotional reaction to everything:

  • The crowds are stirred up in passionate support of Jesus, proclaiming Him their next king
  • Religious leaders reacted to Jesus’ teaching and popularity by plotting to kill Him
  • The crowds are stirred up in violent opposition to Jesus, calling for His death
  • Jesus’ followers first react in fear and run for their lives
  • Jesus’ followers then react in wonder as they encounter the risen Christ
  • Jesus’ followers return to Jerusalem in confidence, proclaim the resurrection, and lead a massive revival in which thousands choose to follow
  • The public reacts by thronging from all over the region to Jesus’ followers seeking healing
  • The high priest and religious leaders react by throwing the disciples in prison

I can only imagine what complete chaos it must have felt like to have been swept up in the events of that time and place. I have experienced a few moments when events stirred massive reactions in the public socially and politically. 9/11 is perhaps the most intense, but I even think about the extreme reactions on all sides of the events in Ferguson and Baltimore in recent months. There are times when everything and everyone seem out of control.

Into the maelstrom of events in Jerusalem the the wise, aged Gamaliel stepped. Drama is created with conflict and/or extreme contrasts, and in this case we find Gamaliel providing a sudden and stark contrast to all of the chaos. Amidst the screaming he speaks softly. Amidst the unbridled emotions he is peaceful. Amidst the extreme editorializing he provides reason. He talks the religious leaders off the ledge. Chill. Let it go. Let this play out.

Today, I’m realizing my age. I don’t have the emotional energy to get stirred up with a young man’s passion as I once did. Like the serenity prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous, I find increasing peace in accepting the things I am powerless to change including public reactions and socio-political emotions. At the same time, I accept my responsibility to act reasonably and fulfill my civic duties. In doing so, I hope that I can model Gamaliel when necessary to bring quiet peace and reason amidst unreasonable reactions.