Saturday, July 31, 2010

Does God Love the Way we Lie?

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: John 2:23-25 When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

Observation: Humanity is a fickle lot. God is not.

There is a current song sung by Rihanna and Eminem called “I love the way you lie.” It’s not everybody’s style of music but I personally find the song to be rather mesmerizing. In spite of his foibles, I’ve always found Eminem’s music to be a relentless expression of what many people experience in life. From a Lutheran standpoint, much of his message is almost a preaching of the ‘law’ in the form of conviction. I mean he just throws a lot of people’s life realities right out there in the middle where they can no longer be hidden, where they have to be faced, for good or for ill. Occasionally he’ll throw in a hint of what might be called grace as well, not in the form of Jesus Christ unfortunately, but in the more generic sense of there is still some goodness in life that we receive even though we don’t deserve it.

In the song mentioned above he takes on what appears to be the role of a serial abuser in a co-dependent relationship. He knows what is right, but somehow can’t do it. And he knows what to say, and says it with conviction, but somehow deep down knows it’s not the truth. And she knows it too, but the promises sound so good that she keeps repeating the title line of the song, “I Love the way you lie.”

Although Eminem is way more graphic than most Lutherans I know (by the way, I have no idea what, if any, faith Eminem professes), what I appreciate is that, at least through his music, he seems to point out in irrefutable terms what Lutherans confess many Sundays; “we are in bondage to sin and unable to free ourselves.” It is because of this reality that Jesus, as it says in John’s gospel, “would not entrust himself” even to those who believed in him because “he himself knew what was in everyone.”

In this same story of Jesus, in tomorrow’s reading, in fact, we will read that this “God” who knew what was in everyone “so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Jesus may not have entrusted himself to us, but he did offer himself to and for us. And so even though sometimes our confessions are less than sincere (or to use Eminem’s more pointed terms: “I apologize even though I know it’s lies”), faith is not rooted in God believing us (after all, God knows what is in everyone), but rather in us believing the promises of God that are for everyone.

I would never say that God loves the way we lie. But through Jesus dying on the cross God did prove to love all the liars in the world. And if but for a moment I can be honest; sometimes that’s me…if you’ll allow me to be bold enough to say it…sometimes that’s you.

Lord, you alone know us and love us completely. What more could we ever ask for? In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Isaiah 63-64, Psalm 107, John 2)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Finding Meaning in Obscure Phrases

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Isaiah 60:16 You shall suck the milk of nations,
you shall suck the breasts of kings;
and you shall know that I, the LORD, am your Savior
and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

Observation: Some odd imagery here, even though I know what the prophet is trying to say.

Application: Growing up on the farm with a Dad who was 48 y/o when I was born often meant hearing various old-time sayings. I think I always knew the gist of what was meant by the sayings in terms of how they applied then and there. But I wasn’t always aware of the origin or original context. For example, as a pre-pubescent boy I knew that the phrase “he’s shot his wad” meant that someone was more or less done. It was only later that the more graphic origin of that saying came to mind!

Thankfully, I seldom actually repeated these phrases. But sometimes I did, at least once in a particularly embarrassing situation. I was on the phone with a female customer service rep. I was apparently haggling for a better deal or reimbursement for something but also didn’t want to be completely unfair. To relay that last sentiment, at one point I said, “I’m not really trying to milk you for all you’re worth.” Say what???

As soon as the words left my lips I suddenly realized how crass and vulgar this old farm saying sounded when spoken to a woman! I’m not sure what I said after that, but it’s a wonder she didn’t respond with, “well, I guess you’ve shot your wad!” Thankfully she was kind enough to overlook my actual wording and concentrate instead on my actual point.

I was reminded of this exchange when I read in today’s lesson “you shall suck the breasts of kings.” I know what the prophet is trying to say, but the visual just doesn’t quite match-up with modern-day sensibilities. By the same token, this time it’s my turn to overlook the actual wording and concentrate instead on the actual point. Through the prophet God was promising a time when God’s struggling people would be restored. That’s a point worth taking to heart, regardless of the somewhat obscure wording.

Prayer: Lord, sometimes we lose a lot of things in translation. But let us never lose a sense of your claim on our lives and your promise for a future that can only be found in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Salvation Found in Patience

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 2 Peter 3:15a and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

Observation: This is an interesting view of patience. Patience, it has often been said, is a virtue. But to see patience (of the Lord) as salvation certainly raises the bar several notches.

Application: I’d like to think that I’m a lot more patient than I used to be, but I’ve still got a long, long ways to go. Earlier in the day I was somewhat upset and rather short with a couple of our children who were playing a video game together when at least one of them probably should have been working on a project that was due. Later it occurred to me that it won’t be too terribly long before the oldest is off at college and they won’t be able to do things like that together much anymore. And today, for but one example, is yet another time when I wish I would have been more patient, not just for the virtue of it, but even for the salvation of it. Not salvation in the eternal sense. Only Lord can do that. But salvation in the saving (and even savoring) the moment sense. Instead I, as they say, kinda “lost” it. Thankfully, I trust that the Lord is saving everything that I might one day need/want back again, including my very life.

Lord, thanks for your incredible patience with me and us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 57-59, Psalm 103, and 2 Peter 3)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Where's a Good Donkey when you need one?

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: 2 Peter 2:15-16 They have left the straight road and have gone astray, following the road of Balaam son of Bosor, who loved the wages of doing wrong, 16 but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.

In the Old Testament a fella named Balaam was determined to head down a road toward certain destruction but his donkey refused to go and eventually even spoke aloud (Numbers 22: 23ff). It’s a great little story. But I especially like the way that 2 Peter summarizes it in the verse above.

Sometimes I think I would do well to have a talking donkey to restrain my madness at various times. Last Tuesday, for example, would have been a great time for a donkey to say, “hey Kent, are you sure you should get on that horse for the first time that close to the electric fence and without someone leading you? You’re 48 years old after all, and you won’t heal as fast as you used to. I’m just sayin’….”

But alas, no donkey was speaking and who knows whether I would have listened anyhow. And so since my madness couldn’t be constrained, my neck found itself stuck in a C-Collar at the local emergency room. One week later I still end up awake for a couple hours each night in a seemingly futile attempt to get comfortable. Hee Haw, Hee Haw.

Prayer: Dear Lord, hindsight is almost always instructive, but foresight is more desirable still. Donkey or no donkey, I pray that you will lead me through is life and to learn all I can along the way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 53-56, 2 Peter 2)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Challenge of Recognizing God

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Isaiah 52:14-15 Just as there were many who were astonished at him
—so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of mortals—
15 so he shall startle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which had not been told them they shall see,
and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.

Observation: We often assume the prophet is speaking of Jesus in verses like this, and, to some degree, rightfully so. But the prophet also speaks of the ancient people of Israel as God’s unrecognizable son.

This morning’s news included the story of two young women who were involved in a tragic automobile accident due to a tire blowing out on an SUV, causing it to roll several times. The women were best friends and the injuries to both were severe, so much so that their identities could not easily be determined. One of them died. Long story short? The family who was told that their daughter was dead, turned out to be the family of the daughter who was alive and visa-versa.

Tragic as this case may be, the truth is that appearances can be deceiving. Ancient Israel, in exile with its emotional tails between its legs, bore little resemblance to its former self. And Jesus on the cross hardly looked like anything more than the common criminals who hung next to him, much less the Savior of the world. Hence the startling news of his resurrection and the reminder that whatever we offer to the “least of these” (Matthew 25), we offer unto Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, help me to see you even when you look much different than I might expect. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 50-52, Psalm 92, 2 Peter 1)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lessons in the wee hours of the morning

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: 1 Peter 5:6-11 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

Observation: It’s good to be reminded and in some way identify with the sufferings of others and to cling to the hope found in the one who will ultimately lift us up.

Application: I’m up at this time in the morning because I have once again woken up with an ache in my right shoulder/arm/hand—a nagging consequence of my horse accident earlier last week that has rendered me distracted from the things that I would like to do and should do in favor of trying to cope with my own physical discomfort. I noticed yesterday afternoon/evening that, although it was an absolutely beautiful day, I had no gumption to do much of anything because I simply didn’t feel up to it. Even working with my laptop computer—a normal staple(?) in my routine—wasn’t appealing because it’s just downright uncomfortable right now.

But last evening I did make this resolve: I was willing to concede the night away, but not the next day. I determined that I could only have my own little pity party for so long. Pain or no pain, it would soon be time to move on, seeking some form of treatment if I must, but finding a way to function regardless. Hence now that I’ve had a few hours of sleep and the new day has at least officially begun, if I’m going to be awake, I’m going to do something, beginning with devotions right now before, hopefully, heading back to bed for a little more shut-eye before daylight.

This relatively minor inconvenience, of course, pales miserably in comparison with those who endure real suffering in our world. I am reminded of those who live with chronic pain in the form of intense head-aches or arthritis or carpel tunnel and any other medical condition that involves persistent discomfort and/or pain. I’m also reminded of those who suffer at the hands of others. One of today’s news headlines concerns a man who once ran a “notorious torture prison” in Cambodia where precious few came out alive. I shudder to think of the atrocities experienced there. Could I in good conscience walk up to one of those survivors and say, “gee, I know how you feel cause my right arm hurts?” I think not!

In 1 Peter we are reminded that in the early days of Christianity our brothers and sisters in Christ knew a thing or two about suffering and the like. Those were times when the faithful were called to make the best of the situation by remaining humble, casting their anxiety on the Lord, remembering others who suffered, disciplining themselves to the extent that they were able, and trusting in the powerful love of Christ to ultimately restore, support, strengthen, and establish them. In today’s readings from Isaiah too we read that the Lord did not forget those who were suffering, even though some of them actually deserved it! (I suppose it could be argued that I deserve it too, getting on a horse for the first time in 25 years right beside an electric fence and all!) But whether the suffering, however great or small, is deserved or not, our Lord identifies with us through the suffering of Jesus himself on the cross. This is why I/we truly can cast whatever anxiety I/we feel on him, because he cares for me/us.

Prayer: Thanks Lord, once again, for the reminders of your presence in time of need. And thanks for the reminder to keep in mind all of your children who suffer in any way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 46-49 and 1 Peter 5)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Picking and Choosing in the Bible

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: 1 Peter 3:1 Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct,


1 Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.

Observation: It’s admittedly murky territory, but when dealing with Biblical advice, one does have to discern between advice that is appropriate forever and that which was appropriate for a time. Verse 1 was clearly rooted in the social mores of the day and was offered with good intention. Verse 9 appears to be worthy of broad application today as much as ever. But how do we make such determinations? And doesn’t that put us all at risk of simply accepting what we like in the Bible and rejecting what we don’t?

These are the kinds of questions that peppered my first year of seminary. I’d grown up in a home that was filled with authentic faith and trust in God, but not so much actual Bible study. I knew many of the stories from the Bible quite well and could recite a good number of verses by heart. But I had never really taken a step back from the Bible to see it on its own terms. I hadn’t noticed that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John did not always agree on all the details. I hadn’t noticed that there are two accounts of creation in Genesis. It somehow never occurred to me that not only was the Bible written a long time ago, but also that parts of the Bible were written to specific communities of people in specific circumstances, some of which apply similarly today and some of which do not.

At first I sort of recoiled at the idea of bringing up questions about the Bible. I wondered if we were taking it seriously. I later began to realize that just the opposite was the case. We were learning to take the Bible even more seriously—examining it on its own terms, allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, taking to heart Martin Luther’s insight that everything in the Bible is to be interpreted around God’s ultimate work of reconciliation with humanity through Jesus Christ.

One of the things I appreciate about the Bible is that, even when dealing with situations that may no longer apply today (women submitting to men, for example), there is often a wholistic point still to be made. In verse 1 above, even though it was socially acceptable and even expected for women to be submissive, the Biblical writer saw in that social custom an opportunity for a greater purpose—to win over the husband to the Word of God. And so, ironically, the writer of 1 Peter saw the woman’s perceived weakness as a strength. Makes me wonder what perceived weaknesses in today’s society might actually be strengths in disquise.

Prayer: Lord, whenever we read the Bible, help us to enter into your world, not only the one of long ago, but also the world of today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Isaiah 40-42, 1 Peter 3)

Friday, July 23, 2010

this and is your land and my land?

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention today: 1 Peter 2:11-12 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.

The author of 1 Peter sees us as only visitors in this world.

Application: I remember being told one time that there is precious little in this world that we can actually own. At first I didn’t think it was true. After all, if your land or other assets are paid for, how could anyone lay claim them? Ahh, but if you don’t pay your property tax…or if you are found negligent in a law-suit, or if you experience divorce or bankruptcy or both, etc….

I’m not quite as eager as the writer of 1st Peter to chuck the whole world. It still seems to me that God loves this world! After all, God created this world! But the writer of 1st Peter nevertheless has a point. The old song “this land is your land, this land is my land” is only partially true. It might be our land for a stretch or two of time, but ultimately we are still visitors (or aliens and exiles, as Peter puts it). The sooner we get a handle on that the better.

Prayer: Lord, help me to keep in perspective the gory of your kingdom in comparison to my mortal flesh. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included Isaiah 36-37, Psalm 76, and 1 Peter 2)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

In Response to Pain

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: 1 Peter 1:5-6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Observation: One can find ways to value various forms of suffering.

Application: In the Gospel of John Jesus once says: “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”

It has also been said, though not in Scripture, that when someone asks “Why me?” they should also consider the question, “Why not me?”

And when the going gets tough in the fourth quarter of a football game and there’s precious little time left for a final drive, some people live for such situations (regardless of how they come out) because they recognize that it is that very type of opportunity for which they’ve been training all along.

I feel better today than I felt yesterday, though it’s clearly gonna take a little while for me to feel really good again. This morning when I had all kinds of pain in my arm, I thought I had taken a step back in terms of recovery and I was a bit discouraged. I don’t think God caused me to have that pain or anything. But it nevertheless was a good test of the ‘genuineness’ of my faith. Surely such times offer opportunity for seeing the world differently, for finding ways to embrace the struggle of the moment in light of the promised joy to come when our Lord returns.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the ways you shape me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Isaiah 36-37, Psalm 76, 1 Peter 1)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Looking the Gift Horse in the Mouth

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: James 5:10-11 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

Observation: Sometimes we think of those who are blessed (and sometimes Scripture does too) as those who have either an abundance of possessions or good health or really good relationships or work or the like. But James points out that those who have shown endurance (primarily in the form of enduring struggles) are also blessed.

Application: Long story short, last evening I was bucked off of a horse. We had just picked her up the night before for the kids. We put the saddle on and I led her around in the lot with our son riding. That went fine and, since the horse had been a 4-H horse, I mistakenly had a little too much confidence in her. But we stayed in the lot so that, if something happened, she couldn’t get away. Well, he then tried to get her to move on her own but she didn’t do so right away and he was a little sheepish. So he asked if I could ride her, to which I readily agreed. It would have been wiser to have him lead me with her first. Just as importantly, since we were in a relatively narrow space in the lot, we would have been better served to go out in the field. Anyway, when I got on she inadvertently backed up a few steps and into the electric fence. Not good! I remember one or two rear-ups and bucks and then I went flying. I got back up pretty quickly but knew I was hurting and the problem was that the main source of the problem was my neck. I could care less about bruises or even a broken bone or two, but I know that neck/back/head injuries are nothing to mess around with. While my son got the saddle off and put necessary things away I walked the 1/3 mile lane back to the house where my wife was and we decided we’d better go to the ER and check things out. Got back around 2:00 a.m. but the very, very, good news is that the cat scan came out ok. Bad news, which isn’t all that bad, is that my neck is naturally very sore and stiff. I’ve also still got a tingling sensation (sort of like when your arm’s asleep) in my right arm that culminates in my fingers. The doc thinks that my go away when the swelling in the neck subsides, though there’s no guarantee. Thankfully I do seem to have good dexterity in those fingers. And though not a source of concern, I do have a few other minor lacerations on my head/face, and arm, and leg plus a bit of a headache.

Through all of this I had three big concerns. First and foremost I was concerned for our son. Should there have been some permanent damage or something (which at least at this point we don’t anticipate), I was really concerned that he might feel guilty or responsible. So I wanted to reassure him that if it was anyone’s fault it was my fault for not taking more precautions. Second, if things did turn out badly, I wanted to gear up to try to be a good witness for our children. To take whatever came my way in stride. I had my own fears of course. I’ve seen enough stories of people who get right back up from an accident and a day later find themselves paralyzed. If that were somehow to be the case, I didn’t want our children to somehow think that was the end of my rope. I wasn’t exactly sure how I would do that, but I was determined that the Lord would provide a way. Third, and of least importance but still ever before me, I was REALLY ticked off at myself for not using better judgment because I think I should have known better. And, of course, I wish I could have gotten right back on the horse because now she knows she can buck someone off and maybe not have them get back on again. But prudence dictates that I probably won’t be back on her any time soon.

Today’s verses from James serve as a reminder that being blessed sometimes includes going through some form of suffering. We give thanks for people who have shown us how to go through difficult times. None of us wants such difficult times, and it’s only natural to try to avoid them if we can. But if they cannot be avoided, if we are forced to confront them head-on, well then let’s do it! Let’s face the reality of the given situation and trust our Lord to help us somehow make the best of it.

Of course that’s much easier said than done. But if I’m ever faced with such circumstances, I’m eternally grateful for those “blessed” ones of the past who may well have shown me the way.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thanks, of course, for the hopefully happy ending to this story. But thanks even more so for giving me a trust in you that is not dependent on a happy ending. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chronicles 32, and James 5)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Coming of Age

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: 2 Chronicles 29:1 Hezekiah began to reign when he was twenty-five years old; he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Abijah daughter of Zechariah.

Observation: That’s not very old to be king, though there are others who were kings when they were still of early elementary age.

Application: This really doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with Hezekiah, but I wonder why we tend to praise people who end up with great responsibility at a relatively young age. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Does it matter?

According to the Scriptural witness, God clearly used some people at very young ages. David, Samuel, Jeremiah and even the story of Jesus in the temple at age 12 come to mind. Paul at one point offered cautious bragging of being quite advanced among Judaism when compared to many of his peers. But God also used the very old. People like Abraham and Sarah, Simeon and Anna. And God used middle aged folks like Moses too.

More important than age, I think, are openness and devotion. Openness to the call of God and devotion both to the God who calls and to serving the people God loves. Hezekiah was one of the few Kings in the Old Testament who was inclined in such a way. His age had nothing to do with it.

Prayer: Lord, as I gradually get older, help me to be as open and devoted as you wish. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: 2 Chronicles 29, 30, & 30 and James 4)

Monday, July 19, 2010

I'm not sure what to title this.

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 2 Kings 17:15 They despised his statutes, and his covenant that he made with their ancestors, and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false; they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do as they did.

Observation: For a time, the people of Israel lost their identity.

Application: Now that I’m a little older, I’ve had occasion to reflect on my life a little bit. And one of the things I’m most thankful for is the fact that I did not always get what I wanted.

Seriously. There were times when, for whatever reason I was enamored with this or that person or this or that thing or this or that way of life. And I think that many of them, had they come to fruition, would have left me with a sense of emptiness in the end. It’s like recognizing the difference between lust and love. Both include a powerful sense of attraction, but one is only that and the other is so much more than that.

I think that’s part of what the author of 2 Kings was getting at when he said that the ancient people of Israel “went after false idols and became false.” They got what they thought they wanted, lost just about everything else and, in the end, even what they had secured wasn’t worth keeping.

Prayer: Lord, help me to always remember that what you want for me is far more lasting and true than what I will often want for me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: 2 Kings 17, 2 Chronicles 28, Psalm 46 & James 3)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Masada Pic

Here's a pic of the siege ramp the Romans built to attack the city of Masada that was referenced in today's journal entry.

What I Learned from Masada, inspired by Isaiah

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Isaiah 22:10 You counted the houses of Jerusalem, and you broke down the houses to fortify the wall.

Observation: Looks like it was a desperate time.

Application: A few years ago I had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land and, as a part of that trip, visited Masada. Masada (sp?) is an elevated plain in the middle of a desert wilderness. It was where King Herod had built a marvelous palace that he may have only visited a few times. It was basically a desert oasis—albeit only because of the work of slaves and servants, with water collected in huge man-made cisterns and carried to where needed. It was a seemingly insurmountable fortress; you could see the enemy coming for miles and miles…and it would be an incredible challenge to attack such a fortified city on a hill.

Eventually the city was abandoned, however, and later a group of early Christians—the Essenes—lived there. They were rather extreme in their piety and saw the rugged and elevated desert plain as safe haven from the ways of the world. The Romans, however, saw them as foes and determined to bring them down. And so the Romans set up base camps around Masada and literally built a huge ramp out of rocks with which to besiege the city. They also shrewdly used Jewish slave labor for much of the process, since the Essenes were hesitant to shoot quivers into their next of kin.

It must have been an ominous time for the Essenes—to know that their ability to protect themselves could only last so long. With each rock thrown on the ramp pile, the Roman’s ability to enter the city grew ever more clear. I’m sure that they held out as long as they could. They probably dismantled many a house in order to try to fortify their walls. But to no avail.

If I recall the story correctly, there were roughly 100 people living there. Rather than be personally defiled by the Romans, I believe a group of 8 or so Essenes were chosen to literally kill the other Essenes so that the Romans would not have the satisfaction of finding them alive or torturing them horrendously. And then the last 8 or so Essenes, according to lot, killed each other. One mother and child somehow hid from the whole affair and they were able to tell the story of what happened.

I must admit that I’m not completely sure what the point of this whole story is in terms of its tie-in with the passage from Isaiah above. But it immediately came to mind when I read that verse. I can’t imagine the desperation of knowing that someone else is about to take everything that you think you own. I’d like to think that things are a whole lot more civilized these days. But in reality, even now the world is sometimes a habitat for human prey. Corporations leverage the power to take over land or influence politics or drive the competition to bankruptcy. Closer to home, everybody loves an estate sale and many a family unit is only one missed paycheck away from possible foreclosure.

None of this was Isaiah’s point to begin with except for his constant reminder that our true hope will never be found in our possessions. Rather, our hope is found in our relationships and particularly our relationship as a people (more so than as individuals) with our God.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t take reasonable measures to protect ourselves. But our primary mission is still to be gracious to the stranger and faithful to our God. Anything else is nothing more than futile attempt to build up some kind of wall that will in fact eventually be broken down.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the reminder that our hope is not in our ability to protect ourselves but only in your ability to raise us back up. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included Isaiah 22-24 and Hebrews 12)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why What Other People Think Doesn't Ultimately Matter

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Hebrews 11:24-26 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward.

Observation: I think the author of Hebrews, though inspirational, has a little bit of selective memory. Granted, Moses did identify with his people, and did leave Pharoah’s house to do so. But it wasn’t totally voluntary. When he saw an Egyptian mistreating an Israelite, he killed the Egyptian. When word got out, he had to run for his life away from Pharoah’s house. And to the best of our knowledge, Moses didn’t even know about Christ. He just knew about God. And although he knew God, at first he came up with every excuse in the book not to do what God asked him to do, namely, lead Israelites out of Egypt and into the promised land. Nevertheless, Moses is still an incredible witness to the faith and so I can certainly understand why the author of Hebrews includes him in the distinguished list.

Application: When we read history, what we’re really reading is often one person’s perception of history that is often based on other people’s perceptions of history. For example even when I was writing the observation paragraph above, at first I caught myself writing that Moses didn’t know about “Jesus” when the passage from Hebrews upon which this reflection is based actually spoke only of “Christ”—a subtle but perhaps important distinction since Jesus is a name that has meaning but Christ is a title that has meaning.

At any rate, as even Hebrews makes clear, we have little control over what is said about us, whether during our life or even years after. The people who perceive us positively will tend to over-do it. And those who perceive us negatively will tend to do the same.

But in the end it doesn’t really matter. In spite of his many shortcomings, God used Moses in a powerful way, even though many of the very people he led turned on him time and time again. For good or for ill, what people perceive is usually not completely true. But God’s ability to use us regardless of how we are perceived has proven true time and time again.

Prayer: Lord, years ago someone told me that I care too much about what people think. That’s probably true. But it’s also true that you can and do still use me in spite of that limitation. For that I can only give you thanks and praise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included Isaiah 19-21 and Hebrews 11)

Monday, July 12, 2010

What's Done is Done

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Hebrews 9:27-28 And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Observation: The phrase “What’s done is done” comes to mind.

Application: For some reason I remember Barbara Bush once commenting, perhaps in a written interview, that her husband never touched the same piece of paper twice. It was part of his organizational time management routine.

It takes a lot of discipline to function like that in life, but it also makes a lot of sense. How often do many of us keep going over and over the same things without taking any meaningful action, thus forcing us to keep going over those same things repeatedly?

From what I can tell from what I’ve read about Jesus, generally speaking he was not one to do the same thing twice. He dealt with things fully right then and there and didn’t look back.

So when he comes back, he’s not going to need to deal with sin. That’s already been done, once and for all.

Instead he’s coming back for some divine life-saving. Part of me wants to be first in line.

But on the other hand, there’s no fear in waiting either. Surely he’ll come fully prepared to save me from everything from which I need to be saved. And from that time forth forevermore I’ll be able to say, what’s done is done.”

Prayer: Lord, thanks for your forgiving work and your saving work. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Morning Eating

For me, even as a pastor, Sundays start out just like any other day: big glass of water first thing and then a breakfast bowl of raw quick-oats and milk topped with raisens and flax seeds, all of which were set out the night before (with the exception of the milk, of course) so I can just sit down and begin.

Before I leave home I might throw a few teaspoons of plain yogurt into a plastic container along with a 1/2 cup of almonds or walnuts plus a cup of berries--often frozen. I place the mixture on my desk so it's ready to eat right after the first service and before Sunday School. The berries have usually thawed by then and so it can all be mixed together and eaten easily with a spoon. Sometimes I even do so while taking off my vestments--bite of snack, remove stole, bit of snack, remove pectoral cross, etc.

It might sound a little crazy, but to me so does the idea of preaching about the Bread of Life before and while eating the Junk of Food.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Small Towns and God

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.

Observation: Little is not bad.

Application: Every once in a while, as I begin to drive through some non-descript small town on my way to somewhere else, there will be a sign just outside the town that will say something like: “Welcome to [insert name of town], home of [insert name of famous person].

It’s the local people’s way of letting it be known that, though their community may be small, they still have something of value to offer to the rest of the world.

Welcome to Bethlehem, home (or at least birthplace) of Jesus.

I guess it’s pretty hard to top that!

Still, though Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he didn’t stay there; he moved on—first with Joseph and Mary and later on his own.

Small and big towns alike can always be thankful for the people from their midst that emerge as influential people in the world. But they can also be thankful for the people that are there now, either nurturing or being nurtured for potential service.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the reminder that you can bring value to and through anywhere. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Do You See What God Sees?

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Micah 4:6-7 In that day, says the LORD,
I will assemble the lame
and gather those who have been driven away,
and those whom I have afflicted.
7 The lame I will make the remnant,
and those who were cast off, a strong nation;
and the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion
now and forevermore.

the Lord notices those precious ones who have been not just overlooked, but marginalized.

Application: I’m sitting here at an all-day championship swim meet where there are lots of people. The Lord loves us all, of course. Yet we tend to see each other differently. Although swim meets in particular (at least in my experience) have a pretty congenial crowd, we all make subtle judgments of one another—not necessarily intentionally—but subtly. For those with eyes that can see, the judgments probably begin with a conscious or subconscious note on general appearance and go on from there.

From Micah we learn that each time that the Lord cherishes those that others dismiss. Yes, the ones that humanity casts aside have great value in the Lord’s sight. In fact those are the very ones that the Lord has already gathered together through Christ. In him, as we learn elsewhere in Scripture, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male or female, slave or free.

It will be a quite a day when we can truly see each other that way too.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the constant and necessary reminders of how much differently you see the people that we see. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included Micah 1, 2, 3, & 4 and Hebrews 6)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hope for When There's Too Much To Do

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Psalm 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Observation: It’s best to never be overly focused on oneself, but rather to acknowledge from whom real strength comes.

Application: Just about everyone gets pushed to and beyond their limit at some point. That’s life. And it’s actually a good part about life. For those with faith, often times it’s only when we get pushed to and/or beyond our limits that we realize how dependent we are on the One who created us. And for those without faith, it’s still a time when they must acknowledge the short-comings of being human. Although we humans can certainly do much, humans still do not have the infinite potential that the self-help gurus try to promote.

That’s okay. We weren’t designed with infinite potential. Instead we were designed for finite potential with infinite dependence on the One who is the strength of our heart and is our portion forever. Those are pleasant and reassuring words to keep in mind, both as I do my best to juggle the various irons on the fire right now and also as I make peace with myself over those things that there is simply not enough time to do at the moment.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for being my all in all and for reminding me that whatever I’m not able to do is still secure in your hands or not necessary to begin with. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included Hosea 10, 11, & 12, Psalm 73 and Hebrews 4)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Confronting our Misplaced Priorities

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today—Hosea 4:12-13 and 5:15 My people consult a piece of wood,
and their divining rod gives them oracles.
For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray,
and they have played the whore, forsaking their God.
13 They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains,
and make offerings upon the hills,
under oak, poplar, and terebinth,
because their shade is good.

I will return again to my place
until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face.
In their distress they will beg my favor:

Observation: It’s easy to allow ourselves to be deluded into thinking we can find hope where it cannot be found.

Application: I think most of us have allowed ourselves at one time or another to get overly focused on something that, while interesting or fun, couldn’t really provide long-term satisfaction. It might have been a tech gadget that we no-longer use or a vehicle that is now rusted out or even a relationship that has long since gone by the wayside.

Silly, isn’t it? But it’s human nature too. And as the verses above make clear, it’s not something new to our generation. That at least makes me feel a little better about myself! ☺

The good news is that God remains faithful in spite of our delusions, misplaced priorities, obsessive hoarding, compulsive desires and all the rest. We forsake our God on a regular basis, but our God does not forsake us. And, if we’re willing to hear the voice, sometimes it’s as if the Almighty is right there watching us in the midst of our delusions and gently asking, “so, how’s that working out for you?” And far from being sarcastic, they are actually gracious words of caring concern. Words that remind us (or at least me!) that there is in fact a better way—a way that is actually the truth and the life that we ultimately both seek and need.

God may occasionally return to God’s place, but only for a short time. Only until the people acknowledge their guilt, seek Gods face and beg God’s favor. Then it’s as if the Lord can’t wait to get back to us. Can’t wait to be among us. Can’t wait to show us a far better way.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for your steadfast love for your people, down through all the ages. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Hosea 2, 3, 4, 5 and Hebrews 2)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lessons from an old "Eagles" Song and Scripture

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Isaiah 4:1 Seven women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying,
“We will eat our own bread and wear our own clothes;
just let us be called by your name;
take away our disgrace.”

Observation: Guys…this is not as good as it sounds!

Application: When reading the above verse, the lyrics from that old song by the Eagles (“Take it Easy”) came to mind.

Well, I'm running down the road
tryin' to loosen my load
I've got seven women on my mind,
Four that wanna own me,
Two that wanna stone me,
One says she's a friend of mine…

The song goes on to reveal an irony: although there is a “load” to having seven women on a man’s mind, the man in the song still had a insatiable craving for more!

I don’t think he’s alone in that dilemma. Like many of us of the male gender, it’s easy to forget the wise old saying that “less is more.”

It may help to remember that in the Scripture passage above, the reason for the supposedly great male to female odds was actually desperation. Times were (or were going to be) exceptionally tough. Seven to one was not the ideal, but rather an attempt to cope with dire straights. The man, rather than sharing all of himself, was only able, or even expected, to share the bare minimum. And the women were, regrettably, forced into a situation of accepting far less than they deserved.

Tomorrow I’ll be officiating at a wedding. Another special couple will pledge their vows to each other.. There is no desperation in sight. Rather, the plan is that from this point on they will be able to share everything with each other. When there is any kind of ‘load,’ they will carry it together. When there is joy, they will share that too. All of him for her. All of her for him.

He won’t have to worry about others wanting to “own” him or “stone” him or want to be in some kind of complicated and probably dysfunctional ‘friendship’ with him. He can simply love and be loved. And she can do the same. It’s a far better plan.

Less is more.

Prayer: Lord, when thinking of other marriages I can’t help but be exceedingly thankful for my very own. Help all couples to cherish the gift that you have given them through each other. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included Isaiah 4 & 5; Psalms 115 & 116, and the book of Jude)