Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Latest News on the Word of the Lord Famine

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Amos 8:11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the LORD.

Observation: The threat of famine was very real in those days (it’s very real in parts of the world these days too, though those of us in industrialized countries are largely immune to it and, unfortunately, often oblivious to it as well.). So it’s a severe word to use in reference to the words of the Lord. It is intended to make a very strong point.

Application: It’s one thing to intentionally spend some time alone. It is quite another to be forced into a lonely existence. And when we are in that state, and we cry out and no-one answers…what then?

Even though I’ve never truly been in this state, there have been at least a couple of occasions when I felt like I was in this state. And even though such times only lasted for perhaps a few troubling hours…well…they were troubling hours!

Pastors know that any number of people might be feeling this way at any particular worship service, but pastors do not necessarily know the identities of these people. And yet we are called to do all we can to assure that those who long for a word from the Lord hear a word from the Lord! No one should be famished by the end of worship!

But sometimes I’m unaware of the best words to say. Sometimes I am unaware of a particular person’s plight. In those times I must simply operate from the promise that I am a child of God and that God will somehow speak through and/or in spite of me. If God refuses to speak, then there’s nothing I can do. But in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God has spoken; the one who was forsaken will not forsake.

The ‘words of the Lord’ famine of which Amos spoke has long since ended. Yet not everyone has heard the news. Spread the word!

Prayer: Lord, an old hymn puts it well: “Lord speak to us that we may speak.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Is it possible to 'worship' a God who isn't there?

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Amos 5:21-24 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an everflowing stream.

Observation: According to the verses above, God wasn't even interested in their 'solemn assemblies' (i.e. worship).

Application: We’ve all heard, with negative tones, the phrase “going through the motions.” So we realize that life is meant to be lived authentically, without pretense. Interestingly, this concept is grasped by believers and unbelievers alike—perhaps even more so the latter. Many (but not all) people who don’t go to church, when asked why, will say that part of the reason they don’t go is because there are too many ‘hypocrites’ there. Like the Almighty, unbelievers can often intuitively sense the disconnect between what is professed and what is practiced.

At this point some would no doubt begin a diatribe about how we should all be more sincere in our worship. And that’s true enough. But a big part of worship is this simple recognition: God is God and we are not God. Period.

One of the benefits of worship is the tangible reminder that we are not to worship ourselves. That was the great error of the people in Amos’ time and is often still the case today. They pretended to worship God but were really just praising themselves.

How bad was it? So bad that even God didn’t attend—or at least refused to listen to their melodies or accept or look upon their offerings. Imagine that: God as a non-attender!

Still, while God might not have looked upon their offerings or listened to their melodies, God did continue to watch for what God was really waiting for: justice rolling down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

I’m not sure God sees such justice and/or righteousness any more today than God did way back when. Perhaps our worship could/should begin with thanksgiving to God for sending Amos and others like him who remind us yet again of what our Lord longs to see.

Although I personally think God is always at worship, in this case God might be more likely to actually WANT to show up!

Prayer: Lord, be present in our times of worship, however imperfect, in order that we might see you and be drawn over and over again into the ways of your kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Amos 4, 5, 6, Psalm 86, Titus 1)

Monday, June 28, 2010

In Search of Sound Doctrine

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: 2 Timothy 4:3-4 For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.

Observation: But how does one know the difference between “sound doctrine” and teachers that suit our own desires?

Application: Once I felt called to be trained for ministry, I had a decision to make; “where should I go to seminary?” My family had a long history of pastors who studied at the Lutheran seminary in Columbus. But at the time my wife-to-be was an undergraduate student at a school that was led by a Televangelist. Since that school too had a seminary, and since I was always eager for another excuse to travel out to see my fiancĂ© anyhow, I checked that school out first. Later I participated in the weekend visit at the Lutheran school. I didn’t know much of anything in terms of theology in those days, and both schools seemed very nice.

Two things helped swing the balance in favor of the Lutheran school.

First, while both schools involved three years of academic study, at the Lutheran school there was also a full-year internship in a congregation working under the supervision of an experienced pastor. In contrast, the other school wanted candidates to get a certain number of hours of “experience,” but there was no established system for such experience to take place. Having gone through student teaching in the past, I could definitely see the value in the internship experience.

The second tip that leaned me toward the Lutheran school was the result of a two-minute conversation. During a social hour at the Lutheran seminary, I casually asked a professor what the difference might be between the Lutheran seminary and the other seminary. When I mentioned the other seminary’s name, the professor quickly paused, thought a moment and then in terms of explaining the difference said, “that may take a little more time.”

I didn’t know exactly what he meant by that at the time, but I did surmise that things were a little more complicated than I thought. Years later, I can definitely see the difference and why he said it would take some time to explain it.

Even now it’s hard to put it concisely. But I guess instead of seeing God as just a bigger version of myself, or as One who will protect me from all earthly harm and unfairness, or as One who wants me to achieve my own dreams devoid of what adverse affects such dreams (however well-intentioned) might have on others, I now see a God who suffered on our behalf (and at the hands of humanity), who bids us to take up our own cross and follow, who continually works with and through the misfits in life, who has a completely different measure of success than most of the world, who is faithful even when we are faithless, and One who will not let us earn our salvation in any way, shape, or form but who nevertheless gives it to us freely whether or not we respond with gracious thanksgiving. It’s not a me and God thing but a we and God thing. It’s less about keeping the rules we’ve been given and more about sharing the tools we’ve been given. It’s more about seeing Christ in the other and less about trying to parade how much Christ is in ourselves. It’s more about encouraging people to reflect Jesus and less about the ridiculous implication that they might somehow best do so by acting like me.

In a time when it’s commonplace to look for what’s most convenient for our itching ears as individuals, we are summoned to consider what will provide the most wholeness and healing for the world and all the people who share it with us. At least that’s what I think the writer of this letter was trying to say.

Prayer: Lord, at the end of the day there is you and only you through whom we can find our life and salvation. Help us to keep that in mind. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Amos 1, 2, 3; Psalm 80; 2 Timothy 4)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

God's Concern...and how God often shows it.

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Jonah 4:11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”

Observation: God has concern.

Application: It’s easy in this world to wonder if God really is concerned. So many people face so many struggles. And while many of these struggles are admittedly a result of our own poor judgment, some of them are not. And at times to many it seems as if God does nothing more than just watch, if even that.

The story of Jonah in general and the verse above in particular strive to debunk theories of the God that just watches or the God that ignores. Here we see that God is concerned and that God often times expresses that concern by working through human beings who, ironically, don’t always seem to be that concerned—or who have concern but only for their bushes and the like.

Surely we ought to be able to do better than that. Thankfully our Lord gives us many a call and opportunity.

Prayer: Lord, help me to have at least a fraction of the concern that you have always had for your people near and far. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included Jonah 1-4, 2 Timothy 2)

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Promise Giver

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 2 Timothy 1:1b for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

Observation: This is one very encouraging promise.

Application: For me there are three aspects of Jesus that loom large in a good way.

The first is simply his life. Even with the somewhat divergent accounts of his life in the New Testament, there is the common recognition that he marched to the beat of his own heavenly-inspired drum. He was never afraid to both speak and life in totally authentic ways and never for the sake of appearances. And he was willing to do so even unto death.

Second is the impossible to prove, yet taken-by-faith belief that Jesus died not only as a result of upsetting the earthly powers that be, but also for the sake of the sin of the world. All that separates humanity from God was reconciled through Christ Jesus. At least that’s what I somehow am able to believe though faith.

And finally there is “the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.” This is kind of a two-fold life. First, I can live the earthly life differently than I otherwise might due to the earthly example of Jesus. He really does show us an other way and that is part of this ‘promise of life that is in Christ Jesus.’ But of course there is also the promise of eternal life in Christ Jesus as well. It’s what many people hope for, what some people long for, and what people like myself are simply thankful for. I’m not in a hurry for it because I trust that there are blessings to be had, trials to go through, and lessons to be learned on this side of the heavenly gates. But I also trust that, when the time comes, be it sooner or later, there’s something waiting on the other side as well. Some might call it wishful thinking, delusions of grandeur or worse, but somehow I trust that the grave will not have the final say when it someday claims Kent Wilson as its temporary resident. I know, most people have trouble keeping promises. But Jesus isn’t most people.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your promises and, just as importantly, the way you lived your earthly life that convinces me that your promises are real. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Embracing this Truth is an Acquired Taste

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 1 Timothy 6:7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it;

Observation: This is a truth we try very hard to ignore but yet cannot deny. To embrace this truth is an acquired taste; it doesn't come naturally.

Application: For whatever reason, much of humanity is in a futile quest to acquire what it cannot keep. From my travels it is my observation that this is less true in other countries than it is in the USA, but it is still true at least to some extent everywhere. I’m not exactly immune from it myself. It begs the question, “why?”

Why do we have such a perceived need to acquire?
For people who lived through the depression, one might be able to understand it; people who have lived with nothing naturally understand the benefits of having something in reserve for a rainy day. But on the other hand, they should know as well as anyone that they still ‘lived’ through the depression. By the grace of God they made it. Why should they need any more reassurance?

For the rest of us, our motives are less clear. Perhaps it’s the cumulative and compounding affect of a lifetime’s worth of exposure to advertising. But I suspect the craving goes much deeper than that. We see, we want—like the story of Adam and Eve in the garden long ago. We want to be our own little gods instead of trusting the one God who can bring us to life not just once, but twice.

Some time ago we bought a car for $400 dollars from an aging relative. The car was built in 1986 and has less than 80,000 miles on it. We bought it as a back-up car since each of our other vehicles has a lot of miles. Our kids don’t like to ride in it (it’s not ‘cool’ after all!), but I’m finding that I love to drive it. The old clunker gets close to 30 mpg, has air conditioning, drives nice, and serves as a tangible reminder that it doesn’t take a shiny new model to safely get from point A to point B. I usually don’t lock it, don’t bother to look for scratches on the paint, and don’t worry about it in general. I think the writer of 1 Timothy would like for us all to feel that way about all of the material things in our lives.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the subtle reminders that all that we really need can be found in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: 2 Kings 11-12, 2 Chronicles 24, 1 Timothy 6)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Today's Workout

It was another day of working out at the local park while our daughter was at swim team practice. There were a couple people in the nearby shelter house where I usually work out on such occasions, so I had to hoof it about 200 yards to the other shelter house. Ended up liking that arrangement better anyhow. Very hot and humid morning with a light breeze. Here's the workout.

First I did a thorough warm-up including:
--body-weight squats (15)
--side lunges (6/side)
--close-grip push-ups (10)
--plank (30 seconds)
--chest stretch
--high knees (10 yards, 2X)
--jogging backwards (10 yards, 2X)
--kick butts (10 yards, 2X)
--cross-overs (10 yards, 2X)

Now for the workout:

Set #1
--Picnic Table Jumps (jumped onto the edge of heavy picnic table and back down. 10X)
--Extended Push-ups (put hands further out in front than normal. 20 reps)
--Pull-ups (over-hand grip on rafters of shelter house. 8-10 reps)
rest 1 minute. Repeat set #1

Set #2
--Prisoner Lunges (10 rep/side)
--Inverted rows (underhand grip on rafter, rested feet on another rafter. 15 reps)
--Turkish Get-ups (usually I do this with a dumbbell. None available this time, so much easier than normal. 6 reps/side)
rest 1 minute. Repeat set #2

Set #3
--Hanging Leg Raises (underhand grip on rafter. 8 reps)
--1 1/2 rep Bulgarian Split Squats (10/side)
--Ab Wheel Rollouts (actually I use an old dumbbell bar with a 5# weight in the middle. 10 reps)
rest one minute. Repeat set #3

After a 3-5 minute rest, I did the following Interval circuit 2X
--4 8-second sprints separated by 12 seconds of rest.
rest 2 minutes and then repeat Interval circuit.

Originally I meant to do 10 sprints today, but after the first four I realized that, a) I needed a rest and, b), I'd be lucky to just crank out another 4, which I did, though probably at 7/10's speed instead of level 8 or 9 (I'm too old and/or inflexible to do true full-out sprints).

Great workout. Was first time I ever tried jumping on something that high (picnic table top) and I wasn't sure I could do it. But it worked well and really got my blood pumping fast.

Some Thoughts on Biblical Violence

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 2 Kings 10:11 So Jehu killed all who were left of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, all his leaders, close friends, and priests, until he left him no survivor.

Observation: This is a brutal account of violence in our Bible. The Bible not only details some of what happened in ancient days, it also, through its perspective, reveals how ancient people of faith interpreted these events. It’s not always pretty. Chapter 10 of 2 Kings is a particularly difficult read. The Seventy sons of Ahab get their heads cut off. Granted, Ahab was not a good king. But we really don’t know much about his sons. Were they all that bad? What can we learn from all of this?

Application: Over the years well-meaning people have tried many different ways to be faithful. I would like to think that most of the intentions were good, even though, at least to modern sensibilities, some of the methods were bad. The crusades are certainly one of history’s more dramatic examples. But such methods were already in practiced periodically long before that. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine living in the days when kings and their followers were routinely killed. It seems that there was always a power struggle going on and this struggle was often magnified in Biblical accounts due to issues of faith or the lack thereof.

It is often hard to know how best to be faithful. I have clergy colleagues who, based on their understanding of faith, have left the denomination of which I am a part due to their disagreement with various aspects of church policy. Are they being more faithful than those who either see things differently or those who agree but choose to remain in the denomination? I don’t know. I’m grateful that none of us is shedding blood over such matters. And somehow I wish they wouldn’t have shed so much blood in the olden days as well. No matter how much blood was shed, and no matter how it was often presented as justifiable, there was still never anyone, aside from Jesus himself, who ever proved to be completely faithful. And so it would seem that it was only the shedding of one person’s blood that really mattered.

Prayer: Lord, help me never to take myself so seriously as to think that I am the only faithful one and that mine is the only faithful response. Surely your ways are much bigger than that. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included 2 Kings 10, 2 Chronicles 22-23, 1 Timothy 5)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What 'perfectly designed' systems in your life need changed?

Over 100 years ago Fredrick W. Taylor said: “Your system is perfectly designed to produce the results you are getting.”

Granted, as a mechanical engineer by training, Taylor was focused on the cold hard world of industrialization at the time. Nevertheless, one century later, systems are at the heart of much of our world.

The implications of Taylor's insight are many--and I'm not just talking about what happens in the factory.

The way we do whatever we do often has incredible implications for the end results.

Two areas where this can be seen as plain as day are the areas of exercise and nutrition. With rare exception, people who eat healthy and exercise regularly will look the part.

But the system analogy is also true in other areas of life, such as relationships.

Relationships can be built in healthy ways or in unhealthy ways. This is not to say that relationships are simply the result of manipulation for good or ill. Clearly relationships are more dynamic than that. But important relationship characteristics, such as trust, tend to be built slowly over time. So people can either focus on behaviors that build that trust (and, if sincere, demonstrate genuine care) or they can focus on behaviors that will call such trust (and care) into question.

If you're a business person, there's a good chance that your 'systems' are producing exactly what an outside observer might expect, given the circumstances. Yet because of changing circumstances, what worked in the past may not work in the present and/or future. And so perhaps the perfectly designed program that once produced perfect results is no longer so perfect!

One area where I'm not so sure Taylor's system analogy applies is in regard to the Christian faith (or at least a Lutheran understanding of the Christian faith). The whole idea of 'grace' is that we do not get what we deserve but, rather, receive much more blessing than we could ever deserve!

Still, while Taylor's system analogy may not apply directly to one's relationship with the Divine, ironically it often does apply in terms of how religious organizations actually function, for good or for ill.

[The previous sentence is not necessarily meant to suggest that religious organizations that are perceived as 'successful'--for example, in terms of a growing number of participants--are necessarily better or more faithful than other religious organizations. All systems need to be open to critique for the sake of the common good and/or faithfulness. Which is why a system that produces a perceived dying religious organization--also in regard to the number of participants--is also worthy of critique.]

So this article's title question becomes the take-home question: What 'perfectly designed' systems in your life need changed?


"America [is] the nation of the overfed and undernourished. We are overfed on empty calories. Overfed on unhealthy saturated fat. Overfed on carbohydrates. Underfed on protein. Underfed on vitamins and minerals. Underfed on nutrients that help sustain life. And overfed on junk that takes life away." --Bill Phillips in his 10-year old book: "Body for Life."

This book was recommended to me by a fitness friend. A few things are a little out-dated (not enough variety in the exercise program for starters). But all in all it's a decent book that's clearly made a significant difference in many people's lives.

More about those things in upcoming blogs.

TRAINING in Godliness

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 1 Timothy 4:7b&8 Train yourself in godliness, 8 for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

Observation: ‘Training’ may be the key word.

Application: What are we in training for? Normally when we speak of training we are referring to either learning a new job/skill or doing some form of exercise. The training, of course, is in preparation for the real thing.

But sometimes the training IS the real thing. For example, when I exercise physically, I am not in training for some upcoming event. I’m not on an athletic team or preparing for some competition. I’m simply training my body to be/stay in shape. Some might suggest that I’m training to live longer and/or better or to place less drain on our collective health care system, etc. That might be partially true. But I’ve been a pastor long enough to know that there are no guarantees on longevity. So really, the training is the real thing; it helps me feel better now and might help me feel better later.

The same goes—and even more so—for training in godliness. I’m not talking about being super holy. Lord knows that’s not the case for any of us. But I would suggest that training for godliness is not a passive activity. Being saved by Jesus is not necessarily the same thing as being a disciple/follower of Jesus. The former is a gift to many. The latter, while certainly a summons to many, is accepted by only a relative few.

Godliness training, of course, is less about programming and more about being intentionally aware and inquisitive of God’s various calls and how we might best respond. The training and the opportunity to practice what we’ve learned go pretty much hand in hand and sometimes in reverse order, thus reminding us of our need for more and more training. The Bible tells us that the original disciples were trying to cast out a demon and it just wasn’t working. “This kind [of demon] only comes out with prayer” Jesus then told them. I’ll bet they prayed a lot more after that! That’s what people in godliness training do.

Prayer: Lord, whatever godliness training is, help me to do more of it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: 2 Kings 8-9, 2 Chronicles 21, 1 Timothy 4)

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Mystery of Faith

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 1 Timothy 3:16 Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great:
He was revealed in flesh,
vindicated in spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among Gentiles,
believed in throughout the world,
taken up in glory.

Observation: One of the certainties of faith is its mystery.

Application: One of the courses I took early on in seminary was “Systematic Theology.” I’m not sure I was really ready for it at the time, and sometimes I think it would be good if I could sit in on those classes again. I’m sure I would learn so much more now than I did then. Still, I do remember some discussions about the existence of God. The short version of those discussions is this: believers cannot prove that there is a God and unbelievers cannot prove that there isn’t a God.

I realize that there are many people who will use a variety of approaches to insist that there must be a God. Unfortunately, most if not all of those approaches can be refuted or at least called into serious question. But if you’re a believer, don’t despair; those who insist that there isn’t a God are on equally shaky footing. Science is a wonderful tool for probing the question of how things came to be. But it is ill-equipped for the question of who might be behind it all. Thus it makes little if any sense to join the effort to prove there is a God nor the effort to prove there isn’t a God. It seems to me that there are better uses of our time.

Right between these two approaches are the concepts of mystery and paradox. Christian faith in general and Lutheran theology in particular are full of them. Take communion for example. We believe that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ but that they are also still bread and wine. Go figure. There are many more examples.

Perhaps the most tangible aspect of the Christian faith is Jesus. But even he is a mystery of sorts. His teachings often leave us puzzled and inspired at the same time. But then again, he’s not so much a mystery to be solved, but rather a mystery to behold and embrace. There is a sense of beauty in mystery after all, a freedom that comes with not needing to know it all. Hence the ‘mystery’ of our religion is not just ‘great’ in the sense of there being much that we do not know, but it is also ‘great’ in the sense of being ‘wonderful.’ We don't have to know everything.

Prayer: Lord, allow me to be more and more content with all that I do not know even as you drive me to learn more and more with each passing day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included 2 Kings 6-7, 2 Chronicles 20, 1 Timothy 3)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day Health Advice

The following seven words could revolutionize your fitness program. "Move. Intensely at Times. Often with Resistance.

Here's what I mean.

I realize this sounds ridiculously simple, but people who want to get in shape or stay in shape need to move. Merely thinking about exercise will not, by itself, improve either your body's shape or its condition. So if you haven't done so already, GET MOVING! Even as little as 30 minutes/day (even fast walking in three 10-minute segments), has been shown to be of significant value to your health.

Intensely at Times:
Now that you're moving, the next thing we want to figure out is how to get as much benefit as possible from the movements we make. Interval training is a highly effective form of exercise that alternates intense movement and relaxed movement for specific durations. Recent studies point to a 2:3 ratio as one of the most effective forms of interval training.

Here's an example. Exercise at full or very close to full intensity for 24 seconds, followed by 36 seconds of rest or very leisurely effort. Then repeat that cycle for 9 to 14 more times. This method of working out burns up to 9 times as much fat as regular cardio methods (i.e. running on a treadmill at a steady pace for long periods of time).

Sprinting is perhaps the most convenient way to use interval training (doesn't require equipment, can be done about anywhere, etc.), but many people are not in good enough shape to sprint. If that's the case, you can do interval training on a bicycle (stationary or regular), an ellipticle machine or even by walking at two extremes of intensity. Unfortunately, short-burst interval training does not work as well on a treadmill simply because it takes most treadmills too much time to change speeds. You can do longer-burst interval training on treadmills with, for example, 2 minutes intense and 3 minutes recovery speed.

Often with Resistance:
Resistance training (using weights or bodyweight or resistance bands or the like) is considered by most experts to be the most effective means of burning fat. Resistance training also helps replace fat with lean muscle mass, making for a more toned you with stronger bones to boot!

Below are a ten tips for effective resistance training:
1) If you're new to training or haven't trained in a while, consult with your physician first and then start out slowly.

2) Consider beginning with professionally designed workouts (it's easy to find some free ones on the Internet).

3) If designing your own workouts, strive to target opposing muscle groups. For example, pair push-ups with dumbbell rows or inverted rows. Training opposing muscle groups offers at least 2 key benefits. First, it helps keep one's muscles in proportion with one another. Second, training opposing muscle groups allows one to move quickly to the next exercise (which keeps one's heart rate up!) without undue muscle fatigue. It's sort of like getting cardio and resistance training all in the same short workout.

4) Rest at least 48 hours between major resistance training on any particular muscle group. For example, do full-body workouts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday or do resistance training every day but focus, for example, on upper body on Monday, lower body on Tuesday, upper body again on Wednesday, etc.

5) If you can do more than 12 reps with the weight, increase the weight.

6) Do not resistance train to failure. For example, if you can do 10 push-ups but not 11, just do 9 or 10 push-ups. Contrary to popular belief, going to complete failure actually weakens muscles.

7) Some soreness is natural, but if pain persists, seek medical advice.

8) Always focus on proper form, both to minimize the chance of injury and to maximize the benefit of the exercise. Working directly with a personal trainer is the safest way to go until you learn the exercises, but some exercises can be learned through video and/or the Internet.

9) Change resistance training workouts at least once/month. It helps reduce the chance of boredom and, more importantly, prevents your body from adapting to a particular workout.

So there it is, seven words than might revolutionize (or at least improve!) your fitness program.

Move. Intensely at Times. Often with Resistance.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Big Questions.

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today—1 Timothy 1:15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.

Observation: This age old question comes to mind; if God made everybody, why did God make ‘sinners’ that needed to be ‘saved’?

Application? It may have all started as a divine experiment; will creation love its Creator? Answer? No. Now what?

That question may have prompted another; will the Creator continue to love his/her/its creation. Answer? Yes. Now what?

With Father’s Day around the corner, no doubt there will be considerable emphasis on the blessedness of fathers and the corresponding blessedness of children young and old. That’s well and good and it makes perfect sense to focus on the positive whenever possible. Still, just below the surface is the low-grade fever of a corresponding awareness; not every father has acted in a blessed way, nor has every child.

Watching this all play out, of course, is the Creator of the universe. Every human act of disobedience and self-centeredness stings as a painful reminder of good intentions gone awry. The creatures do not, in fact, love the Creator, sometimes even when they sing Kum Ba Ya!

Yet the Creator still loves the creation. The divine Son was in fact sent to save the fallen humanity. Some realize it. Some don’t. But the foremost expression of divine love still stands, or hung, as it were, through the cross. All ‘foremost’ sinners take note.

Prayer: Lord, we would all be lost without you. If we could treasure you even a fraction of the amount you treasure us, my what a different world it would be. And yet, through your own Son, it already is a different world. Sin may be close at hand, but because of you hope still springs eternal. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: 1 Kings 1, 2, 3; Psalm 82; 1 Timothy 1)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Living with a Prophet's Resolution

Scripture Verses: 1 Kings 22:26-28 The king of Israel then ordered, “Take Micaiah, and return him to Amon the governor of the city and to Joash the king’s son, 27 and say, ‘Thus says the king: Put this fellow in prison, and feed him on reduced rations of bread and water until I come in peace.’”Micaiah said, “If you return in peace, the LORD has not spoken by me.” And he said, “Hear, you peoples, all of you!”

Observation: A prophet’s life can be really difficult, but also realistic and humble.

I wouldn’t really call my Dad a prophet, but he did at times have a prophetic resolution. By that I mean that he could take stock of a situation and somehow be at peace with however the Lord would work it about. “Turn it over to the Lord” he would often say; “Let him handle it.” It wasn’t that he always wanted to turn it over to the Lord. But he often realized that such was the only way to really live. Some things really are out of our control, especially the weather which can really affect life on the farm.

This year in particular the weather has made it basically impossible to get much of anything planted yet on our particular farm. Nine or 10 straight weeks of periodic rains kept the farm’s soil too wet to plant this spring. Today the relative who now farms this land is trying to plant some of it, though some is still too wet in spots. I haven’t had a chance to talk with him yet, but he too comes from faithful stock. Hopefully he’s also been able to turn this all over to the Lord as well, even as part of his lively-hood hangs in the balance.

Prayer: Lord, it takes a firm resolution to trust in you when times are tough. But there’s really no other viable option. And even if there were, what would be the point in trusting in anyone but you? Be with those who farm the land and with all of us who are in need of your provision. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 18-19, Colossians 4)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Principles Transend Programs

Many of you have probably heard of Michael Pollan’s three simple principles for healthy eating: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

That got me to wondering what a few simple principles for physical exercise might be. I came up with this: “Move. Intensely at times. Often with resistance.”

And that got me to wondering what a few simple principles for faith might be. The following came to mind: “Be Devoted. Worship. Practice in life. Repeat.”

Simple, isn’t it?

Please remember this: Principles Transcend Programs.

Don’t get me wrong; some programs benefit some people. Testimonies abound about this program or that helping this person or that. Many people have found their lives transformed by following one program or another. Perhaps you’re one of them. If so, I’m happy for you.

Yes, sometimes programs truly are the catalyst that gets a person off-center and moving toward a more productive, healthier and perhaps even more faith-filled life. I’m not here to knock any program in particular.

But here’s the thing: programs don’t last. Principles do.

Sure, we can follow a particular diet ‘program’ for 8 or 12 weeks or whatever. And that might be a great start. If it works, use it. But healthy eating principles are there for the long-run. It is those principles (upon which a good diet should be based) that make for a lifestyle.

Same goes for exercise. The Internet, bookstores, and airwaves are full of various exercise ‘programs.’ Some of them have helped produce some outstanding results. But good basic exercise principles transcend them all.

Even faith practices often times get ‘programmed.’ One of the most successful faith programs was “40 Days of Purpose” by Rick Warren. Even though promotional materials went to great pains to say that it wasn’t just a ‘program,’ that’s how many people understood it. And it was actually a great program. I even helped lead it in a church I once served. I’m not knocking it. But for many of the people who participated, those 40 days are over! Now what?

Principles. That’s what. Find or develop good, healthy, wholesome and lasting principles related to the most important aspects of life. The simpler, the better.

If you happen to find a ‘program’ that follows these or similar principles and you wish to try it. Fine.

But just remember, principles transcend programs. Not the other way around.

In Christ,
Pastor Kent

In Defense of Renegades

Scripture Verses: 1 Kings 20:11 The king of Israel answered, “Tell him: One who puts on armor should not brag like one who takes it off.”

Wisdom sometimes comes from strange corners. King Ahab was not a good king. He was not favored by God. But he still makes a good point.

I’ve always been struck by how disarmingly astute some people are, especially those who are rather renegade in their nature. Some time ago there was a person I know who was “successful” in the earthly sense and was telling of his love of sailing catamarans. Another person, a classmate from years gone by and definitely a renegade type, was unimpressed. He put down his 3rd or 4th beer and quipped, “Catamaran, Catamaran…it’s just two canoes tied together for crying out loud!”

We had to admit, he had a point. Perhaps that’s why Jesus told a few stories that lifted up the shrewdness of the dishonest manager, the responsiveness of the unrighteous judge, the wisdom of serpents and even the children of ‘this age.’ It would seem that just about everyone has something to offer, even renegades like Ahab and, one can surely assume, other sinners like you and me.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the ways in which you can use all of us in your world, whether we are particularly faithful or not. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: 1 Kings 20-21, 2 Chronicles 17, Colossians 3)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Facing Discouragement: Lessons learned from an old, old prophet.

Scripture Verse: 1 Kings 19:3-4 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

Observation: Elijah is considered one of the greatest prophets ever. Chapters 17 & 18 recount some of the powerful ways in which God worked through him. And later in chapter 19 we read of still more accomplishments. Nevertheless, in verses 3 and 4 we get a glimpse of his humanity once again. Fear and resignation threaten to halt his efforts, as is true of almost anyone, great or small.

Application: Discouragement is easy to come by, especially for those in positions of leadership. Lots of expectations—some realistic, some unrealistic or overly idealistic—are placed on you. Sometimes we place such expectations on ourselves as well. All is well for a while. But eventually our limitations will be exposed, if not to others, at least to ourselves. At that point it’s easy to submit to a little personal pity party. Why? Because at that moment we mistakenly think that life is all about us—what we are able to do or what we are unable to do. We ditch the power of a Calling (and a higher ‘caller’) in favor of the power of frustration and self-pity. We may also wish, at that point, to point to past ‘successes’ and declare that we’ve ‘done’ enough. Such was Elijah’s predicament in the wilderness; discouraged, wrung out, ready to call it not just a day, but a life.

We can feel that way for a few moments if we must, but eventually we are called to hear the truth—our real strength does not come from us but comes to us and pulses through us. Just as the angel then prompted Elijah to get up and eat so that the journey might not be too much for him, so the Spirit of God beckons us to raise up our droopy heads, be fed physically and spiritually with the bread of life, and to move forward with renewed vision and purpose—be it as child, parent, spouse, friend, leader, servant or all of the above.

Prayer: Lord, although today is not a personally discouraging day, I’ve had them before and I will no doubt have them again. When I do, help me to keep the lesson of how you worked through Elijah firmly in mind. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Readings today included 1 Kings 17, 18, 19 & Colossians 2

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lessons Learned after Riding in an M1 Tank today.

Scripture Verses: Colossians 1:19-20 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Observation: Reconciliation only happens through the making of peace.

Application: When I got up this morning, it somehow never occurred to me to put “ride in a real M1 Army Tank” on my to-do list for the day. Nevertheless, that’s what I ended up doing this afternoon. What started out as a planned Invocation at a Change of Command ceremony quickly developed into subsequent tour of the tank production facility and, ultimately, a ride in one of the 70+ ton vehicles around curves at 40+ mph, up and back down a 60 degree hill, along the side of a 45 degree hill and back again where the driver literally squealed the rubber-padded tracks like a rowdy teenager in a supped-up Camaro. It was a nice little rush, to say the least.

Still, one can only wish that such marvels of military ingenuity weren’t necessary. The reconciliation and peace that the Lord accomplished through the blood of his cross somehow never made much of a dent in the human propensity for inflicting harm on one another. ‘Peacetime’ just means a time when the battles are more scattered and perhaps less militaristic. It seems there are always those who are ‘wounded’—emotionally if not also physically—in homes and neighborhoods in addition to the official battlefields. Surely there must be a better way.

We get glimpses of it (this better way) every now and then. Lightening strikes and completely burns a huge statue of Jesus along I-75 (popularly known as “touchdown Jesus”) and we are reminded, as a colleague put it on facebook: “JESUS is forever. [wood and] plastic resin, not so much!” The marvels of human engineering, whether in the military or even in front of a church, can never really bring about the kind of reconciliation that Jesus offers. They can only remind us that we’ve got a long, long way to go.

Prayer: Lord, real reconciliation is a daily process among individuals and communities. You’ve already endeavored to reconcile us all with you. Now please help us to be reconciled with each other. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The During Swim Pracice Workout.

Often times the hardest part of exercising is figuring out when to do it. Consider working WITH your schedule rather than against it. This morning I needed to take our daughter to swim practice. I used the nearby shelter house & grass area to workout including:

Set #1
-Vertical jumps onto picnic bench seats (10)
-Pull-ups on the shelter house rafters (8)
-Push-ups (20)

Rest 1 minute and repeat set.

Set #2 (after 1 min rest)
-Bulgarian Split Squats (10 reps/leg doing 1 1/2 squats per time)
-Underhand inverted rows (I stood on picnic table, grabbed rafter and then swung my feet up onto a cross-brace to be in an inverted row position) 10-15 reps

Rest 1 minute and repeat set.

Set #3
-Hip Lift ((hold for 30 seconds)
-Plank (hold for 45 seconds)
-Side Planks (hold for 30 seconds/side)

Rest momentarily and repeat set.

Set #4
-Hanging Leg Raises (8, though I should have included them in Set #3 instead. Only did them once since I didn't repeat set #4)
-Modest Hill Sprints (found small hill beside shelter house. Ran 10 15-yard Sprints up the hill, walking quickly back to the start after each sprint.

That's it. Great workout using only body-weight and the facilities at hand while our daughter was at her practice. Took her home, grabbed a quick shower and was ready for the rest of the day. I hope you're getting your workouts in WITH your schedule rather than struggling against it.

Who I can be thankful to God for Today.

Scripture Verses: Philippians 4:15-16 You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. 16 For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once.

Observation: Even the Apostle Paul had a special fondness in his heart for those who helped him when no one else would.

Application: Most, if not all, of us have been helped by someone. And it’s hard to imagine where we would be in the world if that help had not come. Recently I was reminded of a teacher who stopped by my house to see me and talk with my parents early in the summer of 1979. Now, to be honest, I’ve always been extremely blessed to have MANY people who have cared for and about me over the years. But the way this particular teacher cared was on a little different order: he talked to my parents and I about the possibility of me going to college.

My plan up until then was simply to take over the home farm. That was going to be my life. It might have been a good life in its own way. But it certainly would have been a completely different tract from the one I ended up taking. Just about every major development in my life since then, including spouse, children, people I’ve nurtured, people who’ve nurtured me, eventual enrollment in seminary, faith development and a slew of other opportunities has been as a result of one person convincing me to go to college. Frankly, I wouldn’t even be writing this note to myself and to any who read it had it not been for what happened on that 1979 summer afternoon.

Prayer: Lord, just as in the days of old, you continue to send people that offer the kind of support that makes a difference in people’s lives. In my case, thanks for Mr. Loudenslager and his life-changing little talk over 30 years ago. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Readings today included: 1 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 13-14, and Philippians 4

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Search for Wise Advice.

Scripture verse: 1 Kings 12:13 The king answered the people harshly. He disregarded the advice that the older men had given him…

Observation: It’s sometimes hard to know what advice to follow.

Application: In my file is an offer to sign up for a coaching service for pastors. Basically a pastor is matched up with another experienced pastor and/or church consultant who regularly checks in with the pastor to help establish and work toward goals for the church. What’s held me back thus far is concern that many consultants focus more on human initiative and achievement rather than on the admittedly much harder and nebulous art of following the callings of God. I don’t necessarily think it’s faithful to limit measures of ‘success’ to numbers and I don’t want some ‘coach’ suggesting that I should.

But on the other hand, who of us couldn’t use someone to help us trouble-shoot, plot, and plan a little bit? Who of us couldn’t use someone to help hold us accountable to our call and such? The trick, of course, is to find the wise advisers. Almost everyone is willing to offer advice, but not all advise is, well, advisable to use. The king in the passage above found that out the hard way.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be very discerning in terms of who I listen to in regard to my call and life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Scripture readings today included: 1 Kings 12, 2 Chronicles 10-11, and Philippians 2.

Todays "Creative" Workout

For a while now I've been wanting to do a fun, out-of-the-ordinary, just use-what's-around-the-farm kind of workout. Today was the day.

First I had to prepare the workout area (the barnyard) by taking the lawn mower and mowing a path about 4 swaths wide and roughly 25 yards long.

Then I organized the workout area. Equipment needed: one rototiller, one bale of hay, one long and heavy flagstone rock, one tractor with loader, one pair of work gloves.

After a 10 minute warm-up I was ready for three rounds of the following circuit.

Rototiller pushes (with the rototiller in neutral and not running, I pushed it once down the course and back again as fast as I could. My thighs were screaming by the end.)

Tractor Loader Pull-ups (8 pull-ups with overhand grip on the edge of the loader using gloves)

Bale jumps (Stand with bale of hay in front. Jump up on bale and back down, 10 times.)

Decline Bale Push-ups (put feet on bale of hay and do 15 push-ups)

Bale Planks (similar to Stability Ball Planks but a little easier since the bale is an immovable object. Hold pose for 45 seconds)

Flagstone Kettle-bell swings (A traditional Kettle-bell swing, but with a flagstone. 15 reps)

Hanging leg raises (underhand grip on loader with gloves, keep legs mostly straight and bring them up in front and back down with a controlled motion. 8 reps)

Rest one minute and repeat circuit 2 more times. Prepare for exhaustion!

This workout probably could have used a little more upper-body work. And next time I'll work a little harder on my form, since that's where the real gains are to be had. But it was a really fun challenge and also a great change of pace. It's also an example of how one can simply use whatever's available at the time for a really good workout wherever you are.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Inspiring Change for the Better

June 11, 2010
Scripture Verses: Philippians 1:9-10 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless…

Observation: being a leader includes authentically wanting the best for those who follow.

Application: I was reading (online) the introduction to a book by a fitness guru the other day. He mentioned that, after several years in the field, he attended a conference where he got to meet roughly 500 of his customers. Lots and lots of them came up to thank him for all of his insights and advice and products and services. He enjoyed meeting them all, of course. But what haunted him on the way home was the reality that at least 80% of all of those people appeared to be in very poor physical shape! The book (which I ordered but have not yet received to read) purportedly is his attempt to remedy the situation so that more of his ‘followers,’ as it were, would actually make improvements in their physical health rather than just read about it.

I think a variation of that theme is every pastor’s hope as well. We hope that each member of the flock entrusted to our care will be Spiritually healthy rather than just a person who likes to read and/or hear about Spiritual things.

The Apostle Paul wanted the best for those entrusted to his care as well. He was already proud of them and yet prayed that they would grow more and more in the love found in Christ. Later in the chapter Paul points out that it was his own personal trials that ended up being motivating factors for some of them. And so once again we learn it is often through our own authentic struggles that those we endeavor to lead are most inspired to make changes in their own lives.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be the type of servant leader that does inspire people to follow and trust you wholeheartedly. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Breasts and Fawns: Some Observations

Scripture Verse: Song of Solomon 4:5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that feed among the lilies.

Observation: I’ve often wondered why the writer of Song of Songs compared the breasts of a woman to fawns. But perhaps now I’m beginning to understand.

Application: Just the other evening we were on our way home and, as circumstances would have it, we hit a deer with our car. We were fine; the only damage was to the car and, of course, to the deer. The car will need a little repair. The deer, however, was beyond repair—she died, pretty much immediately.

We felt bad for the deer but also didn’t want everything to be for naught. So since the deer, though dead, was not otherwise damaged badly, and since the Sheriff’s deputy was willing to help load her into the back of the car, we actually took her home.

Mind you, I’ve never actually processed a deer before. But with memories of a youtube video on how to field dress a deer in my head from last fall (the kids wanted to try their hand at hunting, albeit unsuccessfully, on our farm), I did my best and things went pretty well. But there was a sad surprise—inside the deer were two fully-developed and beautiful fawns that were only days away from having been born.

Fawns and breasts, it seems to me, have at least two dimensions of beauty. They are beautiful to see, to be sure. But another dimension of their beauty is the fact that they are not intended for everyone. In the case of the fawns, only the mother is intended to be close. In the case of the more intimate parts of the human body, only one’s “beloved” is intended to be close. And so the ultimate beauty of one’s intimate parts is not primarily defined by sight or measurements, but by the fact that only one other person is meant to behold them. That’s what makes them extra special, and makes each of us extra-special too.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the many gifts that we are given, including our more intimate ones. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Bible Readings today included: Song of Songs 1-4 and Ephesians 6

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The benefits of a rice cooker

My family got me a rice cooker for Christmas last year. (Prior to that the only place I'd ever seen one before was at a Chinese restaurant.)

To be honest, when I first opened the present I wondered if I'd use it very much since I really don't eat rice that often. Boy was I wrong--a rice cooker works for way more than just rice! I probably use it 2-3 times a week.

Basically a rice cooker cooks rice, beans, barley, or most any other grain just until the liquid is about gone. Then the cooker automatically switches to 'warm' mode which means, unlike cooking in a regular pot, that you don't have to stand guard to prevent boiling over or be there at the exact time that it's done. That's the beauty of the device--put your stuff in, turn it on, and go about your life without being tied to the clock.

Here's how I usually use mine:
At night I try to decide what I'm going to make to eat the next day. If my concoction is going to include dry beans, I'll put some in a regular pot and let them soak overnight. I'll also figure out how much water I'll need to cook with the next day and put that in the cooker so it's ready. If I'm going to mix the beans with rice or barley or quinoa or some other grain, I'll measure that stuff out and have it in a bowl ready to pour into the cooker the next morning. Same goes for any spices that I want to add. If I'm going to add any veggies, I'll have them measured out as well and perhaps stored in the frige. If you do this stuff the night before, the next morning is a breeze

Whem morning comes I'll rinse and drain the beans, pour them and the other ingredients in the cooker, and turn the cooker on. Then I'll go about my morning routine which, after drinking a large glass of water first thing, usually includes breakfast, exercise, devotions, shower, and dress for work.

By that time the cooker will no doubt be done. So I just unplug it, pour the meal into plastic containers to take to work, give the cooker a quick wash, rinse, and dry (< than 5 minutes, tops) and put it away. Healthy meal, simple process.

Tip--My rice-cooker has a steaming tray as well. I seldom use it to actually steam vegetables because that tends to require watching it or else they tend to over-cook. Nevertheless I do keep the steam tray on when cooking anything because the holes in the tray act as a buffer for the steaming bubbles from the cooking process. Without the steaming tray I've noticed that the cooker can boil over a bit, not like a pot on the stove, but just enough to make a little mess.

The Struggle to become a "Lord-Pleaser"

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Ephesians 5:10 “Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.”

Observation: How does one know what “pleases” the Lord?

Application: There are probably many possible answers to this question.

Some would say that it pleases the Lord to follow the 10 commandments. Perhaps. But one of the things that I appreciate about what Lutherans bring to the table of faith is the reminder that none of us is able to completely follow, for example, the 10 commandments. Try as we might, our self-centeredness will always get in the way at some point. That’s probably why the Apostle Paul wrote, “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift…” (Romans 3:23-24a).

Others might point out verses like Micah 6:8 which says that the Lord requires us to “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God.” Great concept, of course, but good luck with that! It’s not as easy as it sounds.

The Bible tells us that it pleased the Lord when Solomon asked for wisdom. But I wonder if it pleased the Lord when Solomon later built the temple on the backs of thousands of people in forced slave labor.

Most would probably agree that the best way to please the Lord might be to simply do what Jesus told us to do. You know, WWJD. Fair enough. Let’s get right to it: “sell all your possessions”, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you”, “love your enemies”, “do not worry about your life”, “do not judge”, “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off”, etc. Not so ‘simple’, is it?

I could go on and on, but there’s no need; the point has already been made and it’s a frustrating one to consider—we are not able to ‘please’ the Lord by what we do, at least not consistently over time.

Instead perhaps we please the Lord by simply being who we are—occasionally well-intentioned but usually struggling forms of humanity utterly dependent on a loving God because otherwise we are usually way too obsessed with ourselves and our ‘needs’ to be of any real help to even our closest friends, let alone the enemies that God tells us to “love.”

I must confess that I’m still not completely sure what ‘pleases’ God. (Maybe that’s why the writer of Ephesians wrote “TRY to find out what is pleasing to Lord.”) But I do know that, whether pleased or not, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

Prayer: Lord, help me to rely on your unconditional love even as I continue to “try” to find out what pleases you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Scripture Readings today included Ecclesiastes 10, 11, & 12, Psalms 94, and Ephesians 5

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Taking What People Say With A Grain of Salt

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Ecclesiastes 7:21-22 Do not give heed to everything that people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you; 22 your heart knows that many times you have yourself cursed others.

Observation: Sometimes it’s good to take what people say with a grain of salt…that includes what we say too!

Application: Years ago I was invited to a little clergy cookout at the home of the pastor of a non-denominational church. I was impressed with the beautiful backyard and, in the process of trying to compliment the owners, I mentioned that if they ever wanted to sell the place, I would be interested.

As soon as the words left my lips I thought to myself, that’s only half-true. I was impressed with the property to be sure. But it really wasn’t the type of home and property that we would ever be likely to seriously consider, even if we did have the means (which we didn’t!). A more accurate (albeit horribly tacky!) statement would have been, “Your property is lovely, but I wouldn’t want to live here even if I could afford it.”

Wouldn’t it have been much better if I had simply said, “Your property is lovely” and left it at that? But the point is that, as human beings, we often say things that we really don’t mean. Or we say things that we do mean at the time, but might not mean later. Sometimes we say things we don’t mean at a time of anger. Other times we say things we really don’t mean at a time of great joy (like the drunken guy at a bar that shouts “And I’ll buy another round for the house!”).

I’ve learned that the same is sometimes true in the church. Sometimes it’s good to take what people say with a grain of salt. It’s also good to give thanks for those who are kind enough to do the same for us. Otherwise I might be the owner of a house I never really wanted!

Prayer: Lord, I could ask you to guard the words of my lips more carefully, and sometimes I wish you would. But for now I’m simply thankful that you’re able to use the words that I utter that are useful and ignore those that would have been better left unsaid. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Tornadoes, Flat Tires, Deer, and living in Thanksgiving to God

Readings today included Ecclesiastes 4, 5, & 6, Psalm 18, and Ephesians 3

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Ecclesiastes 5:18 This is what I have seen to be good: it is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of the life God gives us; for this is our lot.

Observation: It’s good to find a measure of contentment in whatever life throws our way.

Application: Yesterday was quite a day. Just before I left for church we learned that tornadoes had directly hit the properties where two of my wife’s siblings and parents live. We knew the houses were still intact, but also that there was much devastation. Then as I went to leave for church I noticed that a tire on my wife’s van was low on air. I told the rest of the family and they were able to stop and fill it with air on their way to church. Unfortunately, by early afternoon it had gone completely flat while she was dropping off one of the kids at Boy Scout camp. (I guess if you’re going to have a flat tire, a Boy Scout camp is probably a good place to do it, Scouts honor and all!) They got the tire off and the spare tire on. After church we drove in separate vehicles to see how the family members were doing with all the tornado damage. (We knew that a couple of the cars had been struck by trees, so we took an extra vehicle to leave for them to use.) Our family members were okay and, remarkably, their homes had not been directly hit, even though the damage in the area was severe, including in the immediate areas surrounding one of the homes. During the storm my father-in-law was literally blown over into a bush as he and my mother-in-law were on their way to the outside entrance to the cellar; they frantically crawled the rest of the way as the trees were splitting and coming down all around them. We spent the evening helping get a generator hooked up, surveying the damage, learning the details of the stories, waiting for insurance adjusters, greeting neighbors, and the like. Finally we went out for what was supposed to be a birthday supper. And in a way it was…our family was safe.

On the way home at like 10:30 or so, my wife and I hit a deer with our car! We weren’t hurt, and though the car had some damage, it was still driveable. The Sheriff deputy eventually came to fill out his report and then we drove the rest of the way home.

Long story, I know. A long day too. But I have no complaints. Yes, there were and are several inconveniences that we’ll still need to work through. And granted, things were much worse for some than for others. But it was still a day in the life that God has given. One of the precious “few days of life,” as writer of Ecclesiastes says, “God gives us.”

Prayer: Lord, thanks for each day and the opportunities, even when difficult, that unfold. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Getting to Know Jesus--It Takes Some Time

Readings today included: Proverbs 30 & 31, Psalm 33, Ephesians 1

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Ephesians 1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

Observation: It takes a while to get to know God.

Application: It takes a while, really, to get to know anyone, let alone the Amighty! My wife and I have been happily married for almost 23 years and sometimes I still feel like I’m just getting to know her. Of course, part of the reason it takes so much time to get to know each other is because we do not necessarily stay the same throughout our lives. We develop different interests over time, are shaped by various experiences of joy and pain, and otherwise interact with the world and the people within it.

In some ways, the same is true with God. Sure, there are Scripture verses that point out the changeless nature of God. But there are other verses within the same Bible that indicate that God’s mind has changed periodically. God is influenced by humankind. So it naturally takes a while (more than a life-time in reality) to get a better sense of who God is. The witness of Jesus, of course, is our best insight into the God we worship. In him, we are told, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

Sweet and Viola’s new book: “Jesus Manifesto: It’s time to restore the Supremacy of Jesus Christ” purportedly aims to help us get a better handle on who the God of Jesus Christ really is. It’s not that Jesus Christ’s ‘supremacy’ has ever waned. It’s just that humans, including some of us who call ourselves Christians, tend to look right past it. I’ve been a Christian for almost 48 years; sometimes I still feel like I’m just getting to know Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, help me more and more to get to know you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Giving Fair Notice!

Readings today included Proverbs 25, 26, & 27 and Romans 15

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Proverbs 27:23 Know well the condition of your flocks,
and give attention to your herds;

Observation: It's a wonderful opportunity when we notice the "condition" of our "flock(s)" gives us a sense of purpose, a direction for living.

Application: In this day and age it is so very easy to be so consumed with just keeping up with all that we think needs to be done, that it’s also easy to wane in terms of our attention to those entrusted to our care. For pastors it’s easy to be so busy with the zillion details that come our way, that we lose sight of the over-all vision which has do with making sure our flock(s) has/have ready access to adequate spiritual nourishment so that they can grow and reproduce. But all of us, including pastors, also have others entrusted to our care. They may be those who live under the same roof and/or those who live elsewhere but to whom we are related by blood or circumstance or even a calling in our heart. It’s important to pay attention to them as well. They are gifts to be treasured, loved and yes, noticed. Sometimes we don’t even notice those most dear to us…what they are going through…what worries them…how they are really feeling. Of course, it’s important to take care of oneself, but only for the purpose of being capable (emotionally, physically, and spiritually) of noticing and caring for others—which, as the writer of Proverbs reminds us, begins by knowing their condition.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be more and more mindful of those entrusted to my care—at church and at home. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Confronting my Independent Streak

Readings today included Proverbs 22, 23 & 24 and Romans 14

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today. Romans 14:7-8 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.

Observation: We are not meant to be independent, or live like we are independent.

Application: Many of us aspire to is to be self-sufficient, to not be ‘dependent’ on anyone else. But is that really such a good idea?

One of the things I would like to have is all of the equipment necessary to make hay. This year I borrowed equipment from four different neighbors! Part of me would like to have all of my own equipment so that I wouldn’t have to bother them with my requests. But on the other hand, they’ve been very gracious in the lending and there’s something to be said for recognizing our need for each other. In one case, in at least a small way, I was able to return the favor.

This is not to say that there would be something wrong with having all of my own equipment. But it would be wrong to then assume that I was independent. In fact, we will always need each other in one way or another.

The same may be true with God. Try as we might to go it on our own, we will still always be dependent on the One who holds us both in life and in death. There is no escape from that reality…nor is there any good reason to attempt to do so.

Prayer: Lord, help me to always recognize my dependence on you in all aspects of my life and even, ultimately, in death. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What I appreciate but do not always enjoy!

Readings today included Proverbs 19, 20, & 21 and Romans 13

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: Proverbs 19:21 The human mind may devise many plans,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established.

Observation: There is much that is beyond our control

Application: One of the things that I don’t always enjoy but do appreciate about living on the farm is the utter dependence I have on the weather. For those who make their living off the land, this dependence is magnified many times over. But even for me, with a mere five acres of hay, weather makes me or breaks me in in terms of making hay. As I look out the window I can see one lone windrow of hay that did not get made this past weekend because the combination of a mechanical breakdown and an untimely (in my view) rain that prevented me from finishing. Now I’m not going to go so far as to say that God didn’t want me to finish and therefore intentionally frustrated my plans by causing the breakdown and then sending the rain. Like most people, I can be self-centered at times, but not so much so that I assume that everything that happens in the world is God’s direct cause and affect attention to me. But I do believe that God’s hand is in the weather, even if only to design the original weather systems that then replicate themselves in varied ways over and over again. And so plan as I might, the weather reminds me that I do not have enough ‘might’ to accomplish all that I might devise. Perhaps that’s just as well…

Prayer: Lord, thanks for your continual reminders that all hope is ultimately found in you and you alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.