Saturday, May 29, 2010

Getting Beyond Rash

Readings today included: Proverbs 10, 11, & 12 and Romans 10.

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Proverbs 12:18 Rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Observation: Another example of the common sense that is not so common.

Application: One of the things I appreciate about Facebook is that, at least from what I’ve observed, it’s generally civil and supportive. Now it’s not a perfect community. On Facebook if someone says something that upsets you, you can just remove them from your list of friends. Poof…they’re gone…which isn’t exactly the ideal example of how to work things out! Yet there is something to be said for having an almost zero tolerance policy for words that deliberately cause pain; it helps create an atmosphere of support and encouragement. Unfortunately, that’s a whole lot easier to do on Facebook than it is in the physical communities of home, school, work, government, and even church.

Prayer: Lord, whenever we encounter good advice as is found in the verse above, help us to live it out. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, May 28, 2010

What is seen through the Lattice

Readings today included: Proverbs 7, 8, & 9 and Romans 9. Reflections below are based on the S.O.A.P. method of reading and reflecting on the Scriptures.

Scripture Verses that caught my attention: Proverbs 7:6-9 For at the window of my house
I looked out through my lattice,
7 and I saw among the simple ones,
I observed among the youths,
a young man without sense,
8 passing along the street near her [the prostitute’s] corner,
taking the road to her house
9 in the twilight, in the evening,
at the time of night and darkness.

Observation: People see what we do, for good or for ill.

Application: Years ago I was at some kind of secular computer exposition. There were tons of vendors selling their various computer-related wares. I was interested in finding a CD-drive to install in my old pc (I think the PC might have had a whole 4 MB of ram back then!). While there I noticed, from behind, a married pastor I knew from another denomination. I was just about to say hello when I realized that he was looking at a piece of software with the word “Playboy” on it. Hmmm...

Now the 8th commandment says not to bear false witness against our neighbor and Martin Luther says that means to speak well of one’s neighbor and explain his or her actions in the kindest way. So I will suggest that perhaps he was either doing ‘research’ into the ways of the world that trip up so many, or he was simply looking for some new ideas to share with his lovely wife at home! Regardless of his intentions, the real point in all of this is the same as what the author of Proverbs was trying to say so very long ago—people see us in action. Sometimes we are aware of being seen and sometimes we are not. But whenever we are seen, people form opinions of us. And we don’t always have opportunity to either explain our actions or, if appropriate, to confess our sin.

To be clear, Paul reminds us in Romans that our salvation is based on faith, not works. And we all have our foibles--some of which are well known and others that we struggle with alone. God’s big enough to handle all of that. But not necessarily the people who see us ‘through the lattice’—a humbling reality worth keeping in mind.

Prayer: Lord, help us, whether clergy or lay, to demonstrate our dependence on you, whether or not we are in public view. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Of Mowing Hay and Considering Wisdom

Readings today included: Proverbs 4, 5, 6 and Romans 8. Reflections below are based on the S.O.A.P. method of reading and reflecting on the Scriptures.

Scripture Verse that caught my attention: Proverbs 4:7 The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever else you get, get insight.

Observation: wisdom may or may not be directly tied to salvation, but either way it can make for a fuller life here on earth. And Spiritual wisdom understands and embraces life on a whole new level.

Application: Even though I’m a pastor, I also live on a farm. Most of it is rented out, but I do have five acres of hay that I personally tend. Early this morning it was time to mow the hay. I always enjoy driving a tractor out in the field. When pulling the haybine (what cuts and conditions the hay) with a tractor, it is tempting to just keep right on going with the assumption that everything is working properly. But wisdom has taught me to look back on a regular basis. It’s a good lesson because twice today I noticed the hay was bunching up on the cutter bar (and thus not being cut). Without a sharp eye, it’s easy not to overlook this problem for a while until you have a big pile-up. But with the wisdom of experience, it was a problem that was easily solved before it became a big issue.

Earthly wisdom, like that described above, is nice. But Spiritual wisdom is far greater. It involves being able to distinguish between what is important and what is not so important. Spiritual wisdom looks way back to the work of God through Jesus on the cross, way forward to the kingdom to come, and also pays close attention to the workings of God through us and others in the here and now. Once in a while I feel like I might have this wisdom. Far more often it’s abundantly clear that I could use a whole lot more of it. Thankfully, I am known by the Crucified and Risen one who beckons me and all who are willing to simply look to him and behold all the wisdom we could ever need.

Prayer: Lord, please keep reminding us that you are the source of all wisdom and strength. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Does God have YOUR back or YOU back?

Readings today included Proverbs 1-3 and Romans 7. Reflections below are based on the S.O.A.P. method.

Scripture verses
that caught my attention today: Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

Observation: In light of Jesus, this passage takes on all new significance. In the Old Testament, trust in God pretty much meant assuming that if you were faithful, you could trust that God would provide for you, be it with good crops, spouse(s?) that could conceive, military victories, peace on every side, etc. If you were not faithful, you could trust that you would receive little or none of the above.

But the message and example of Jesus in the New Testament takes trust to a whole new level. Christians are not called to trust that if they are faithful, God will provide them with various forms of earthly perks. Instead Christians are called to trust that following the message and example of Jesus (and trusting in him alone) makes for a truly whole life. This ‘whole’ life is one that might indeed include various forms of suffering and pain, one that is indeed counter-cultural and sacrificial to its core. This kind of life seeks the wellbeing of friend and foe alike, and measures success only in terms of how much we recognize (to paraphrase Martin Luther) that “we are all beggars at the generous table of God.” This is the ‘straight’ path that comes from trusting in God from a New Testament point of view.

Application: Personally, I would prefer to have it both ways. I want to be given earthly reward for being faithful, though only when I really am faithful! Whenever I’m not faithful in honoring God, well, then I want God’s grace and mercy! And, of course, whenever life is a challenge, I want reassured that what is born out of the struggle, much like childbirth, will ultimately be worth the pain.

So what do those of us who are Christian mean when we say “trust in the Lord?” Many times I think we mean, “God’s got your back!” That’s true, I suppose. But it also goes much deeper than that. It’s not so much that God’s got YOUR back. Rather, trusting in God includes realizing that God’s got “YOU” (and I) back; back into the way, the truth, and the life that is most surely found through Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for continuing to remind me of your powerful claim on my life, and on the lives of all who trust in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Fat Pastor

Whether you're "morbidly obese" or fit as fiddle, do a facebook search for "Fat Pastor" for the developing story of a 400+pound ELCA pastor who, after 55 years, is proving that it's never too late to begin the quest toward better physical health.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How's that working for ya?

Readings today included: 1 Kings 10-11, 2 Chronicles 9, Romans 6. Reflections below follow the S.O.A.P. method explained here:

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Romans 6:21-22 So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.

Observation: Paul asked a good, basic question that helps keep everything in perspective.

Application: When I was reading in 1 Kings today about Solomon loving some 700 women plus another 300 concubines, my first thought (as a man) was, “wow, that must have been quite a life!” As I read on it became clear that his extravagant life came at the cost of his kingdom. He had gained no real advantage.

Centuries later Paul asks a community of faith in Rome what ‘advantage’ they’ve found in their life after living in a way in which they are now ashamed. His question reminds me of a more contemporary question; “How’s that working out for you?” It’s a good question, though I personally think it works better if we simply ask the question of ourselves.

We can ask the question of ourselves in terms of how we treat people in relationships, how we treat ourselves in terms of nutrition and exercise, how we understand ourselves in relation with the rest of the world, what we’re doing for a living, and, of course, how we understand and practice our faith or even non-faith. How well is whatever we’re doing or not doing, thinking or not thinking, working out? And are we recognizing God’s amazing claim on us that is meant to give our lives the deepest of meanings now as well as the eternal extension?

Prayer: Lord thanks, once again, for reminding me of the bigger picture. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why your head might be hurting.

"When your heart's not working right, your head can't work right either." --That's what a doctor told a parishioner when she had come into his office complaining about a bad headache and he began checking for other symptoms of heart issues. All the more reason to start or maintain a healthy lifestyle. After all, I think we all want to be fit 'above' the collar as well! :)

The Ways of God and People and Ants

May 24, 2010
Today’s readings included: 1 Kings 9, 2 Chronicles 8, Psalm 136, and Romans 5. My devotional thoughts following the S.O.A.P Method are as follows:

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: Romans 5:9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.

Observation: If there is a “wrath of God,” Paul says that Jesus will save us from it.

Application: On the one hand, God has every reason in the world to have “wrath.” Humanity, in spite of our occasional bright spots, is a sorry lot. And interestingly, so is much of the natural world. Last night my wife looked out our front door and at first wondered who threw all the dirt across the side-walk. Upon closer inspection she discovered that there were literally thousands of ants gathered together there. And a still closer inspection revealed that they were not there for a nice little summer ant family reunion; no, it was an all-out battle! By the time this morning rolled around, the sidewalk was littered with the carnage and the only sign of life was a small group of ants who were still feasting on the queen.

This is the world we live in. And humanity, in spite of our bigger and supposedly more capable brains, sometimes doesn’t fare much better than the ants. And although part of me can understand why God might be very wroth, the other part of me wonders why we were created with such a propensity for sin and other evil in the first place.

Enter Jesus. Now let’s be honest. Humanity did not become significantly brighter after Jesus entered the world. Although he did provide an example that sometimes inspires us to be less self-centered and more interested in loving and serving the neighbor, such acts of love and service are often still a stretch—they don’t tend to come naturally. But that’s part of the point. Jesus has never loved us because of what we have done but, in fact, loves us in spite of what we have done. Ironically, whenever we take this love to heart, it actually inspires us to be less self-centered and, instead, more gracious and generous. But such improvements in our actions don’t make us any more valuable in Jesus’ sight. He’s already loved us enough to save us from God’s wrath. But it does make it easier for us look at ourselves in the mirror at the end of the day.

Prayer: Lord, now that you’ve saved us from God’s wrath, please help save us from the wrath in this world, including our own. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Pentecost Church

Today is known as the birthday of the Christian Church. The bigger, religious word for it is 'Pentecost,' a reminder that the birth of the church began 50 days after Easter with God sending the Holy Spirit. Through the years the Church (which is the people of God, regardless of denomination) has served well often, poorly some, and occasionally, not at all. But the Church still lives, a sleeping giant perhaps.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Todays Scriptural Journal Entry

May 22, 2010
Today’s readings included: 1 Kings 8, 2 Chronicles 5, Psalm 99 and Romans 3. My devotional thoughts following the S.O.A.P. method are as follows:

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today:
1 Kings 8:14-15ff Then the king turned around and blessed all the assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Israel stood. He said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who with his hand has fulfilled what he promised with his mouth to my father David, saying… AND 1 Kings 8:22-23ff Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23 He said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart…

Observation: This is what church leaders do today during worship (at least in the Lutheran church); we address the gathered assembly in various ways and then, in front of that same assembly, we offer prayers of thanksgiving and concern directly to God.

Application: I just attended the baccalaureate worship service at Trinity Lutheran Seminary (my alma mater) where the graduates included a daughter of the congregation I serve as well as a gentleman that I supervised as an intern last year, among others. Not all seminary graduates end up being called to serve a congregation as a pastor, but those who do will no doubt regularly do what Solomon did on the occasion above: address the people and then address God.

It’s humbling, really, to do both. It’s naturally humbling to be invited to speak in front of the assembly to the Almighty. But it’s almost equally humbling to have the gathered assembly listen to what people like me might have to say to them! Since the time of Jesus, all people are welcome to pray to God. But not everyone is called and invited to serve as a pastor and, in turn, regularly be listened to by those who gather for worship. I’m not saying that serving as a pastor is better than any other role. It’s just different. And that’s humbling. I won’t recount all of the possible reasons for my disqualification here, but suffice it to say that it’s hard to see how in the world I could possibly measure up for such a task! But that’s just the point; I don’t measure up. And if I might be so bold as to say it, neither does anyone else who serves in this role. Rather, our call is a gift. It’s a gift to be heard and it’s a gift to be invited to speak—not just toward the heavenly realm, but also across the room.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the gift of the call. Be with all who have received or will receive such a gift. And be with all other earthly companions who graciously entrust your called leaders to speak a word from you to them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tour of My Workout Area

Here's my home workout area. Below's my explanations of the various equipment. The workout area in our basement.

1 Bench and #110 weight set that I bought back in 1976 and still use today. I don’t use the dumbbells with this set, but underneath the bench you can see a #5 weight that I put on the dumbbell bar and use as an ab-wheel. Works great.
2 Dumbbell set and rack that I bought five years ago. These hexagonal rubber weights were on sale for 50 cents/pound and the deal included a free rack. Weights range from 5 to 25 pounds. For resistance training, it's the best and most versatile investment I've made--and still for way under $100.
3 One of several stationary bikes that we’ve purchased for cheap (like maybe $30) at garage sales over the years. Always keep the best one and get rid of the others.
4 Bought this adjustable weight bench at garage sale for $30. Is designed for Olympic style barbell but, since I don’t have one of those, I don’t use it for bench pressing. I use it with dumbbells and I’ll put the support bar up high and use it for reverse rows too. Bench also works for prone stick-ups.
5 Mat. Was given to me for Christmas one year but not expensive. Call me wimpy, but I even like to use it for push-ups to give my arms a little more cush.
6 Stability Ball. I like stability balls and use them regularly, but this one seems to need more air once a week. Got it from local sports store chain. Will get a better one next time.
7 Mirror. Another garage sale find. Would be better mounted, but just haven’t decided where I want it permanently yet. Mirrors are great for two reasons in my opinion. A) they provide a way to check your form. B) just seeing oneself doing exercises becomes it’s own form of encouragement as in proof that “I can do this!”
8 Treadmill—you guessed it, from a garage sale! I did replace the tread on it once which was like $60 or so and a pain to do. But now that that's done it works just like new.
9 Not sure what you call this machine, and I seldom use it. Got it given to us for free. My wife likes it.
10 Flooring. Probably the most expensive part of my set-up. Was a gift from my wife for Christmas another year. You’ll notice a small strip of a different material just below and to the right of the #10. That’s just a sample from another type of durable athletic flooring. The sample was free and is big enough for me to use as added cush for jumps and squats.
11 You can’t find #11 can you? But if there was a #11, it would be to show you the I-beam on the ceiling that I use for chin-ups and pull-ups. Nothing fancy, but it works.

Hopefully this helps you see that it doesn’t take a lot of money to get started. It does take a little bit of space, but you wouldn’t need this much. Just work with what you have. And remember, the most important piece of exercise equipment is simply your own body. In many cases it's all you really need!

Devotional Readings and Reflections for May 21

May 21, 2010
Today’s readings included: 1 Kings 7, 2 Chronicles 4, Psalm 98, Romans 2

Scripture: Romans 2:19ff “and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness…”

The writer of this letter, Paul, realizes that sometimes people just think too much of themselves.

Application: These days, as much as ever before, we realize the people are human. (Gotta love my gift for stating the obvious! ☺. Anyhow...) The public downfall of so many of our leaders, the extent of dysfunction in so many of our homes, and the unmet needs of the masses are realities that we simply can’t ignore. Humanity has made so much progress and yet, no matter how many self-help courses we’ve taken and how many books on positive thinking we’ve read, we all still have our limits and, if we try to pretend these limits don’t exist, they’ll often come back to haunt us in some really painful ways. The difference between the wise and the foolish is often that the wise person knows his or her own limits and the foolish person does not. Paul is speaking to some foolish people in the passage above. They are people who have overestimated their own value and underestimated the value of others. My mom used to call people that seemed this way ‘high faluten(sp?).’ But truth be told, most (if not all) of us has these tendencies. The good news, as Paul will later point out, is that those who think they are ‘a guide to the blind…” and those who are a guide to the blind… are all equally dependent on the mercy of God through Christ Jesus. And nothing can separate us from this kind of love (cf. Rom. 8:38-39).

Prayer: Lord, whenever I get a little ‘high faluten(sp?),’ always remind me that I am just as much in need of your mercy as anyone else. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Friend's Comment That's Helped Me Stay Fit for Years

Thirteen years ago a family friend visited our house in the summer. I was 35 and in pretty decent shape. He was 45 and somewhat pudgy. One morning we both found our way to the living room shortly after getting up. He was sipping on a morning coffee and I was stretching out a bit in preparation for a short run. I should point out that this family friend is someone that I've always really admired and respected. Still do. He's got a quick wit, is a wonderful husband and father, and is very sincere in his faith.

Anyway, I happened to notice a quizzical look on his face as he was watching me finish stretching out. "What you thinking about, David (not his real name)?" I asked.

He paused a moment and then said, "I was just sitting here wondering whether I should start exercising so that I can look like you, or whether I should just wait ten years and see if you look like me."

Wow! Even though the comment was witty, was made in fun, and we laughed it off at the time, it was filled with wisdom. Right then and there I realized that one's physical health is not determined so much by what one has done, but by what one continues to do.

I'm thankful to still be in decent shape today largely because I've taken that one little comment to heart. I hope you will too.

From Conditional to Unconditional Promises

Journal Entry for May 20, 2010 using the S.O.A.P method. Today's readings included: 1 Kings 6, 2 Chronicals 3, Psalm 97, and Romans 1

Scripture—1 Kings 6:12 “Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes, obey my ordinances, and keep all my commandments by walking in them, then I will establish my promise with you, which I made to your father David.

Observation—In the Old Testament we find a lot of statements from God like the one above. Quite often God is quoted making a sentence with a big IF. It's a conditional promise. And people in Old Testament times seemed to understand God as a conditional God; the punisher of wrong and rewarder of right. If they lost a battle, it was assumed to be because they had done something wrong. If they won, it was because they were doing good and the Lord was rewarding them. In the New Testament, of course, there is a dramatic shift. There Jesus ushers in a whole new understanding. "Neither this man nor his parents sinned" said Jesus, "he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him." (John 9:3) In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul knew full well the OT understanding that many people were still living under. and he knew how to use it to his advantage to make a dramatic point. Today's reading from Romans 1, as I learned from one of my seminary professors, is a HUGE set-up. Paul’s going to get everybody all incensed about the ‘sinners’ in the world, and then he’s going to turn their pointing fingers right around upon themselves in the chapters to come. He’ll make the case that "since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift,“ (Romans 3:23-24a). God’s conditional promises have fallen by the wayside but the unconditional promise forever stands.

Application—In spite of the pains, literally, that God has taken through Christ to claim us as God’s very own, we still like conditional unconditional promises. In other words, we tend to only accept the unconditional concept up to a point. And yet that caveat completely robs the unconditional promise of its freedom! The whole point of no conditions is no ‘conditions,’ period. Perhaps we’re afraid that we might use that freedom for self-indulgence. True enough. But wouldn’t we find within that self-indulgence a void that would call us back to the freedom of sharing once again?

Case in point: once I had day off. I’d been looking forward to that day off for a while because there was just a ton of stuff to do outside around home and I was eager to get to it since it was such a beautiful day. But in the middle of the night I remembered that the funeral for a relative of one of our church members was that day at another church. That member had come to me earlier in the week and honored me with honest sharing of how much this particular family member meant to him. Now, I was in no way obligated to attend this funeral. It wasn't at the church I served and it would be difficult for me to make it to the funerals of all of our members’ relatives. Plus the funeral was in the middle of the day and so it would really limit how much I could get done around home. But the thing is, I WANTED to go! And so I did go, at least to the calling hours before the funeral. The unconditional nature of the situation freed me from self-endulgence to at least one expression of genuine care.

Prayer—Lord, thanks for your unconditional promise. Help me to live in light of its radical nature. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Focus of Prayer

Scripture Journal entry for May 19, 2010, using the SOAP method.

Scripture—2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you, 2 and that we may be rescued from wicked and evil people; for not all have faith.

Observation—This prayer request was first and foremost for the sake of the effectiveness of the ministry. Personal well-being was only a secondary concern.

Application—It’s natural to pray for protection and other personal needs. But here it’s clear that, as one matures in the faith, the prayers mature as well, focusing more on the ministry and less on the minister. This is one of the reasons that I so appreciate reading the Scriptures. Yes, sometimes there are differences of viewpoint within the Bible and, as I journalled a few days ago, there are sometimes modern questions as to who actually wrote what as well as some evidence that the Biblical writers were human too. Nevertheless, in the New Testament in particular, there is a prevailing witness to the mission of the church in grateful service to the One who is considered worthy of all our devotion and praise.

Prayer—Lord, help me to keep such things in mind as I go about my life and call. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Todays Scriptural Journal Entry

May 18, 2010
Scripture Verse—Psalm 78:7 so that they should set their hope in God,
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
Observation—The purpose and hope of the faithful. The reason for sharing the story.

Application—It’s human. I caught myself, yesterday and especially last night, very mentally consumed with the new Fit Under the Collar facebook page. Part of that was a healthy and good consumption—thinking of ways to make it better and more useful. But part of it was just stupid—checking often to see how many new ‘fans’ the site had and who they might be. When through the process I ended up in e-mail dialog with none other than—well, a very well-known Christian writer--I had pretty much lost ability to think of much else. I wasn’t completely oblivious though. I knew I was a little too consumed, and so I gave myself permission to be that way with limits—for one day! This morning I deliberately closed out of the site before looking at it. I knew my own devotions had to come first. I thought of my confirmation verse as I memorized it in the old King James Version, “For bodily exercise profiteth little, but Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (1 Tim. 4:8). To enlarge my perspective, I also clicked on CNN and discovered, to my horrer, that Fit Under the Collar was not the top story! Apparently other people were more interested in “Mount St. Helens: 30 years later” and “18 dead in Afghan Suicide Attack” and “Arab-Americans Cheer Miss USA Win” and the obscure headline that totally jolted me out of my self-absorption through its absurdity: “Viagra Keeps Dog Alive.” Yes, there are indeed other things going on in the world. And at the end of the day the goal for the faithful is the same as the Psalmist declared centuries ago: “that they should set their hope on God…”

Prayer—Lord, it’s always refreshing to be honest about myself because, in so doing, I empty myself; that always leads to a whole lot more room for you. Thanks for always being there to fill the void. May my hope always be found firmly and only in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.