Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Danger of Thinking Too Much of Ourselves

Scripture Verses that Caught My attention today: Ezekiel 12:1-3 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 Mortal, you are living in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, who have ears to hear but do not hear; 3 for they are a rebellious house. Therefore, mortal, prepare for yourself an exile’s baggage, and go into exile by day in their sight; you shall go like an exile from your place to another place in their sight. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house.

Observation: Sometimes we are not wise enough to take note of our situation.

Application: This morning on the radio it was noted that a long-time Texas prison warden had retired and that he had presided over the executions of a great number of inmates. Somehow that story led to a discussion among the show’s hosts about what they might like, if they were on death row, for their own last meal.

Today’s lesson from Ezekiel has a similar theme. If you had to leave where you live now, with only what you could carry on your back, what would you take with you? This is what Ezekiel means by an “exile’s baggage.”

Interestingly, just yesterday I started reading a book by Jim Collins entiled, “How the Mighty Fall.” It’s basically an analysis of why some purportedly great companies eventually die. He notes that often times the pride and hubris (I’ll admit that I had to look this word up in the dictionary cause I didn’t know for sure what it meant.) of the leaders ultimately leads to the fall.

It appears to me that these kinds of leaders are very similar to the type of people that God, through Ezekiel, is referring too when he says that they have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious house.

Rebellion, of course, takes many forms. And sometimes it’s even necessary. But the rebellion described in Ezekiel has at its root a whole bunch of hubris: an extreme arrogance that includes being out of touch with reality and an overestimating of one's own competence. Thankfully it’s a condition that God, sooner or later, can work through a number of channels to readily fix, sometimes with an exile's baggage.

Prayer: Dear Lord, keep us from having so much pride in ourselves or our organizations or what we sometimes mistakenly think of as our churches or even our political parties that we somehow lose our grounding in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Ezekiel 12-14 and Revelation 5)

Monday, August 30, 2010

What Kind of Praise Does God Want?

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Revelation 4:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”

Observation: Our Lord and God is worthy, we are not.

Application: I’ll admit that, at one level, the vision in Revelation 4:8-11 seems a bit much. It’s hard to imagine an absolutely eternal refrain of praise to God and bowing to God, etc. One would think that even God would get weary of such praise. It reminds me of popular speakers who, while thankful for the various standing ovations, nevertheless eventually invite the assembly to be seated so that the speakers can say whatever they came there to say. Even praise gets a little old after a while. We can only process so much of it. After a while it can get to be too much.

Or there’s this fitness book called “body for life.” It’s a decent book to be sure. Definitely worth a look. But at one point the author suggests that, while doing resistance training the person should repeat “I’m building my body for life” with each rep. My son, who also liked the book, thought that was rather cheesy. I’d have to agree. The mantra might be a good motivator once in a while. But to do it rep after rep, day after day would, for me at least, get old fast.

I don’t know if God ever really gets weary of praise or not. But I do know that when Jesus was praised he had a tendency to either deflect it or challenge the depth/sincerity of the praise to begin with. He was able to realize that some praise was deceitful (like when the Pharisees would try to test Jesus or when Jesus betrayed him). Other praise was self-serving (like when the disciples were asking for the seats on the right and left of Jesus or when they wanted to rain down fire on some folks). When people praised Jesus by saying that they would follow him wherever he would go, he reminded them that "foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head." One of the few times he accepted praise was when he was on the cross. To the best of our knowledge Jesus did not object to the sign placed above his head indicating that he was the King of the Jews.

Verse 4:11 of Revelation says that God is worthy because God created all things. Most of us who are Christian would agree with that insight. But later in Revelation the reason for God’s worthiness will be because of the “Lamb who was slain.” For me that is the more powerful, tangible, and lasting witness. And if the “Lamb who was slain” someday desires my continuous praise in the heavenly court…well…it will be time well spent! While on earth, however, I suspect that the Lord might prefer our praise to be mostly in the form of loving service, though perhaps coupled with a weekly standing ovation in worship!

Prayer: Dear Lord, help our praise to be sincere and our service as well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Ezekiel 8-11, Revelation 4)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Walk on The Wild Side

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention Today: Ezekiel 1:11-12 such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each creature had two wings, each of which touched the wing of another, while two covered their bodies. 12 Each moved straight ahead; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.

Observation: interesting imagery

Application: Nothing real deep comes to mind this morning, but I am reminded of a sight I saw last week on the way to church, something most of us have probably seen at one time or another. It was a huge group/flock of birds that flew in these incredible patterns as a group, almost as if they were one. The pattern would stretch and condense and twist and turn but it was just beautifully flowing in all of its movements.

I know this will sound strange, but I so much wanted to be able to interview one of those birds, to ask, “how do you all do that? How do you all know when to lean this way and that? Do you all get together and practice? Is there a leader? Is it purely for art form, which in and of itself would be enough, or is there some other purpose for the movement as well? Etc.”

Part of me wishes the people of God would be more like that. Part of me wonders if that might be what it will be like in heaven. And it certainly bears at least a passing resemblance to the vision that Ezekiel sees in the passage above in regard to the heavenly beings.

But then again, birds don’t fly in such alignments all the time. It’s a relatively rare occurrence. Most of the time they are busy with the day to day tasks of getting food, building nests, mating, flying and, if they have a moment, sitting alone on electric lines just gazing at the world in front of them. When they do the latter, they no doubt see car upon car traveling in relatively straight lines in one direction and then, later, back in the other. I wonder if they’d like to interview one of the drivers, asking, “why do you all do that? Do you practice? Is there a leader? Is it purely an art form, which in and of itself would be enough, or is there some other purpose for the movement as well? Etc?”

Interesting creatures, aren’t we all? From the sounds of Ezekiel, there are yet more creatures of God that most of us have yet to meet.

Prayer: Lord, thanks simply for the variety of creatures that, in one way or another, point us to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Ezekiel 1-3, Revelation 2)

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Importance of Identifying with People

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention Today: Revelation 1:9 I, John, your brother who share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.

Observation: The writer of Revelation starts from a point of what he has in common with those to whom he writes (I…your brother who share with you in Jesus…”). And what they share are difficulties (persecution), being part of something much bigger (the kingdom), and a mindset that by God’s grace will sustain them through (patient endurance).

Being able to identify with people is huge in ministry. It’s not that we necessarily need be just like the people we serve. If that were the case, pastors would need to personally have every vice (and every talent!) known to humankind. But we do need to recognize in each other a common humanity—all of us have struggles at one level or another; all of us have either a reason for hope or a longing for hope.

John didn’t paint an overly rosy picture for his readers. He acknowledged that things were difficult, reminded them that they were all part of something much bigger, and encouraged them to remain faithful and trusting in light of the one who was and is and is to come.

Nothing fancy, really. Just the sharing of an authentic message from an authentic person touched by an authentic God.

Prayer: Lord, help me always to recognize in another what we have in common through you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Jeremiah 52, Psalm 143 & 144, Revelation 1)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Reflecting on an Age-old Question About the People of God

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: 2 John 10-11 Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching; 11 for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person.

Observation: these verses seem to be inconsistent with Jesus and the early apostolic witness.

Application: It’s an age-old question, really; to what extent are the people of God called to stand apart from the rest of the world and to what extent are they to engage with the rest of the world?

In the Old Testament there were many admonitions for the people of God to stand apart. They weren’t supposed to intermarry with people of other nations, they were, at times, called to completely wipe out other nations to the extent that no-one was to be left, presumably with which to intermingle. And occasionally in the New Testament we’ll find a more exclusive claim as well, such as in the verses above.

But Jesus himself certainly didn’t seem to operate that way. He not only met with the social outcasts that the religious leaders regularly shunned (tax collectors and sinners), he also met with the very people whose heritage was a result of mixed marriages (Samaritans, the religious leaders hated Samaritans. They were considered the traitors, the sell-outs. Hence the Parable of the Good Samaritan would be, to them, an oxymoron—there was no such thing as a GOOD Samaritan!). Later, in the book of Acts, the mission to the Gentiles became of profound importance.

So I read the verses above and I’m struck by he dichotomy. In 1 John we are told that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). But in the verses above there seems to be a fear of sorts in welcoming those who do not believe that Christ came in the flesh. Don’t we have to engage with such folks? In the book of John it says of its testimony, “but these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (John 20:21). How would folks ever hear of such testimony unless they were welcomed into the community where such lessons are taught?

This week there is a movement of protest within the Lutheran Church. Presumably by the end of the week there will be another Lutheran Church body, a split-off from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) of which I am a part. The new Lutheran Church Body will likely be called the NALC (North American Lutheran Church). At that point the main streams of Lutheranism in the USA will be the ELCA, the LC-MS (Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod), the WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Church) the LCMC (Lutheran Churches in Mission for Christ), and the NALC. The NALC leaders and followers presumably believe that this new church will somehow be more faithful to Scripture and traditional Lutheranism. I wish them well, but I’m not convinced. Like every other denomination and non-denomination on earth, they will have a tendency to be more faithful to some parts of Scripture than to other parts of Scripture. Like the ELCA, and the Baptists, and the Methodists, etc., they will do some picking and choosing. They will no doubt do their best to do it faithfully. But then again, so do we. We do not agree on the results because, well, it really is a complicated question. To what extent are the people of God called to stand apart from the world and to what extent are the people of God called to engage with the world? The answer is actually both. We are called to stand apart from the world but also with the world. How best to do that has always been a subject of lively debate.

Prayer: Lord, I pray that some good work is done in your name through every church body on earth, in spite of our many shortcomings. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Jeremiah 37-39, Psalm 79, 2 John)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

It's not a question of if, but of when.

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Psalm 74:10 How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile your name forever?

Observation: this verse is more than a lament. Beneath it there is little if any real question of ‘if’ but only of ‘when.’

Application: On a side note, every day when I open up my word processing file in which my journal entries are typed, the date of the first entry pops up. I’ve journalled for years, but I began a new file upon beginning the call to the church I now serve. That date was August 25, 2005. So today will complete five years of service in this context. It also amounts to 319 pages of scriptural journal entries with ½ inch margins all around. Tomorrow I will start a new file.

Now, back to today’s reflection. It seems to me that the one difference between despair and optimism is whether or not one feels like there will ever be resolution. By ‘ever’ I mean ‘ever,’ meaning that even beyond one’s own lifetime counts if need-be. People of despair see no hope, ever. Optimistic people believe that there will eventually be some form of resolution, though they are hopefully realistic to know that the resolution desired may or may not come during their life-time and may or may not come at great cost and quite possibly after suffering and even death.

It occurs to me that some of the deceased folks that we consider great today never lived to see the ultimate affect of their work. A conservative talk-radio host is currently peddling the idea that we need another George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. Well, in the first place I strongly suspect that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln each had some undesirable traits that have conveniently been forgotten over time. They were human, after all; no more or less a sinners than any one of us. But in the second place, there are no doubt George Washington/Abraham Lincoln-type people all around today. We just don’t recognize them because great people are often not recognized as such at the time. In fact, sometimes they are vilified at the time and not recognized as great until years later. So many people were upset at Lincoln that the country literally went to war over it. That’s why they say it takes at least 50 years to know for sure how the affects of any president and administration actually pan out.

Far greater, however, than any one president in any one nation of the world is the one the Scriptures refer to as God. This is the One who makes covenants with the sun and moon and delivered a whole people out of bondage in Egypt even before sending Jesus into the world to, as Paul says, set the world free from it’s bondage to sin and decay and obtain the freedom of the Glory of God. It’s not a question of if. It’s merely a question of when.

Prayer: Lord, there are times when I wish that your plans would unfold a little faster and a little more clearly. But that’s not my call to make. Help me to simply rest secure in the present and let you handle the future. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Jeremiah 33-34, Psalm 74 and 1 John 5)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Human love, compared to God's love, is like a Fifth Cousin Twice Removed

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: 1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Observation: It’s crucial to remember who loved who first.

Application: One key part of my understanding of God is that God always makes the first move in terms of love and reconciliation and healing. And so the fact that I am loved by God is not because I’m so loveable by my own efforts, but because God simply loves me, period. My own efforts have nothing to do with it. They are simply a form of response, preferably out of a profound sense of thankgiving, but, realistically, often simply because such efforts either make me feel good or provide some other self-serving purpose.

That’s why it’s so crucial to understand God as the original source love. Human love is fleeting. It’s here one day and gone the next. It’s dependability is a nothing but a gamble. It’s built on the chance of a chance, the odds of the odds, a bet on a bet. It’s like a fifth cousin of God twice removed, whatever that means.

Better by far is to simply rely on the one who was and is and is to come. The one who loved us first and loves us still.

Prayer: Lord, let us always simply be thankful for your willingness to consistently love the unloveable, and to respond in kind. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings Today included Jeremiah 31-32 and 1 John 4)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Another Day For Which To Give Thanks

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Psalm 118:1 (and also verse 29 which is identical) O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.

Observation: This verse, which has a long heritage in our family as one of our meal prayers, both begins and ends this Psalm. And it is how we would do well to consider beginning and ending our days.

Application: Yesterday had a fair amount of challenge associated with it. Little things, really. But they sort of added up. (Warning: possibly boring farm story ahead…but not to me!)

Yesterday the plan was to bale my third cutting of hay. And I began the day with thanksgiving, grateful that the rain had held off all week and wasn't scheduled to arrive till today.

There was lots of dew on the ground in the morning, so that afforded plenty of time to make sure all the equipment was ready.

Well, everything was not ready! I thought the wagon was ready, but just on a whim I decided to check the pressure on the tires. I pulled the wagon forward a few feet and realized that one the tires was completely falling apart—the tread was coming right off. It was a good thing I found it when I did, but it still needed to be fixed. I first tried exchanging it with another wagon tire, but the rims were not quite the same. No big deal really. I sent our son off to the repair shop so that I could start raking the hay.

I raked for one round and decided it still needed a little more time to dry. I stopped the tractor and then, just a few minutes later, again on a whim, decided to take the tractor and another tool to fluff out the windrow I just made. Turned the key; nothing! So the next hour was a bunch of trial and error and several phone calls to the dealership’s tractor mechanic. Finally got it running. By that time the rest of the hay was dry, so I raked it up, put the new used tire on the wagon and we were off and things were going well.

With about 20% of the field left to go my wife (who was driving tractor while I loaded the wagon) alerted me that there was steam coming out of the front of the tractor. Yikes! Fan belt was off. No time to fix it; gotta finish hay before son’s football scrimmage and before the dampness of the evening sets in. Called neighbor and thankfully was able to borrow his tractor to finish. Got it all done. Whew. Was 30 minutes late to scrimmage but all was basically fine.

After scrimmage (which was good but lasted about an hour longer than I expected) I’m starving and parched from the long day of baling. Can’t wait to stop and grab a bite to eat. Then we saw the typed sign at the drive-in window indicating that the finance systems were down and they could only take cash (which we didn’t happen to have!). Same deal at the convenience store—and we needed milk too. Okay, we’ll use the bank atm. It didn’t work either! Finally was able to score at the grocery store, whose system was actually working, 5 minutes before closing, getting cash back from our debit card.

And yet, all things considered, it was a great day. We accomplished what we had hoped to accomplish. It took a fair amount of extra work and even some extra energy in the form of creativity, but ultimately all was well. God provided what was needed, even in terms of the wherewithal to figure some things out on the fly. Still have a tractor to fix, but the hay’s in, it’s good, and I’ll just have to get to the tractor later. All that’s left to do, which I already did last night but can certainly be reiterated today, is to give thanks.

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Prayer: Lord, thanks. Period!

(Scripture readings today included three interspersed chapters of Jeremiah (chapters 21, 24, and 27), Psalm 118 and 1 John 2)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Opening up to the Light

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: 1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.

Observation: There is nothing to hide because nothing can be hidden.

Application: There is a book title that goes something like this: “When No-one Is Looking.” I haven’t read the book, but the thought that comes to mind is that there are probably a lot of things that most if not all people might like to do if they thought that no-one would ever find out. It’s human nature. In Exodus even Moses was like that. When he saw an Egyptian mistreating an Israelite, it looked around to see if anyone was looking and, when he thought the coast was clear, he took out his vengeance on the Egyptian to the point of his death. Same with Old Testament King David who thought no-one would ever know of his intimate afternoon with Bathsheba. In the New Testament (John 3) Nicodemous came to Jesus by night. Little did he know that his supposedly secret conversation with Jesus would become one of the most popular stories in the world’s best selling book of all time!

Who are we kidding when we think that what we do and think is not known? God is light. At this point some might argue that we therefore should think better thoughts and do better things. Perhaps. But I’m more inclined to suggest that we just be honest. Confession regarding the truth of our existence is good. I find that, when I have the courage/trust to lay everything that I am thinking or have done or not done before the Lord, there is a cleansing that takes place. A burden is lifted. The depth of God’s love for me is once again revealed. I realize once again that I am loved not because of what I may have occasionally accomplished in this world, but because God just loves me period. And although God’s ultimate love for me never wanes, the two-way nature of the relationship is nevertheless strengthened when I’m willing to just come clean about who I am, what I’ve thought, what I’ve done, and what I wish could somehow be different. Somehow at that point the future always looks a little brighter. That should come as no surprise; as John wrote centuries ago, “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.”

Prayer: Lord thanks for the always-available opportunity to be honest with you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Jeremiah 48-49, Psalm 67, and 1 John 1)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Enough with the Comparisons!

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: John 21:20-23 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” 23 So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

Observation: Peter wanted to focus or be overly concerned about how Jesus was going to treat someone else. Jesus shut that option down and told Peter to pay attention to himself and his own call to follow Jesus.

Comparisons. We all like comparisons. Especially if those comparisons help us to prop ourselves up in one way or another. We often subliminally observe “well, I’m not as good as so and so but at least I’m better than ____________.” As a parent of three it is not uncommon to see them comparing one another or making special note of who has the most ‘chores.’ One of the little things that often riles me up a touch is when I might ask one of our children to do something and the first response is a gasp quickly followed by something like, ‘well you didn’t make so and so do that…I’ve done such and such for the last three days in a row…etc.” Ahhhh!

And that’s pretty much what Peter said too. Jesus had given Peter a very special call and right away Peter wanted to compare his own call to someone else’s call. Jesus would have none of it! Instead he points out that this is none of Peter’s business and, besides, Peter should focus on his own call. The importance of focusing on his own call is highlighted with the use of an exclamation point. The directive for Peter to follow is emphatic.

Even as adults it’s easy to spend wasted moments comparing ourselves to others rather than simply focusing on the opportunities before us. In fact, sometimes about the only difference between children and adults is that as adults we sometimes have an increased ability to mask the fact that we are still drawing comparisons and crying foul. Jesus does not seem to find honor in such things and, instead, beckons even emphatically that we might simply embrace the opportunities, even if difficult, before us.

Prayer: Thanks Lord, once again, for the reminder to be content and thankful for my own life and the various opportunities before me to follow you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings for today included: Jeremiah 45-47, Psalm 105 and John 21)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Granola/Energy Bar Recipies

On a recent post on the Facebook page "Fit Under the Collar" I recommended home-made granola/energy bars. A couple people asked for the recipe. I'll include two recipes below. The first is the one that our daughter made for a 4-H project for the state fair. The second recipe is one that I have not yet tried but which was recommended on a forum and looked good. Okay...here goes:

Recipe #1
1 cup honey
1 cup peanut butter (I'd recommend all natural if possible)
3 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup shredded coconut

Add honey and peanut butter to large saucepan; cook on low until melted.
Add oats, raisins, carrots, and coconut to saucepan; stir well and let cool until mix can be safely touched.
Add mix to 9" X 13" pan; press firmly into bottom of pan.

Chill and serve or, if a more crunchy bars are desired, bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes. Either way, cut into desired size bars.

Recipe #2 (Note: I have not yet tried this recipe and when I do I'll probably skip the hemp protein simply because I'm don't really use protein powders, not because there's anything wrong with them)

From Brendan Brazier's site.

Chocolate blueberry energy bars

1 cup dates. 360cal...
1/4 cup blueberries. 15cal
1/4 cup hemp protein
1/4 cup flax meal. 160cal
1/4 cup cocoa powder. 60cal
1tspn lemon juice
1tspn lemon zest
1/4 cup walnuts 200
1/4 cup unhulled sesame seeds. 150cal
1/4 cup almonds. 100ca

Throw everything in food processor and grind up for about 10-15 sec.

Add additional 1/4 cup whole blueberries to a cookie sheet and dump the mixture on top of the blueberries.

Form the mixture into biscotti like bars and let stand for 1-2 hours. Wrap individually and freeze.

Confidence comes with Trusting the One who Holds us Securely

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Jeremiah 26:12-15 Then Jeremiah spoke to all the officials and all the people, saying, “It is the LORD who sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the words you have heard. 13 Now therefore amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the LORD your God, and the LORD will change his mind about the disaster that he has pronounced against you. 14 But as for me, here I am in your hands. Do with me as seems good and right to you. 15 Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants, for in truth the LORD sent me to you to speak all these words in your ears.”

Observation: Jeremiah’s life wasn’t particularly easy, but he had good courage.

Application: I was just thinking yesterday that in many ways I’ve never been particularly confident. That may sound strange coming from someone who spends a good deal of his time speaking in front of people and leading in other ways. In those areas I am reasonably confident. But in some other areas not so much so. For example, as a youngster I often dreamed of being a great running back in football. You know, breaking lots of tackles and such. But when I actually played football I never really ran with great confidence. Instead I tended to run with caution, maybe because the first time I carried the ball as a freshman I gained 11 yards and then fumbled. Thankfully the ball was recovered, but part of my confidence is probably still bouncing around on that field somewhere; it was never fully recovered. I went on to play relatively well, but never totally thrived.

I appreciate how Jeremiah was able to confidently declare what he felt led to proclaim without fear, really, of dropping the ball. And afterwards he had enough courage to not be overly concerned with what they might do to him because of what he said. I think he was able to do so because he felt fully embraced by our God. He knew that God would not ‘fumble’ him. That’s a good example for me to follow.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for examples in faith and life of how we can more confidently follow you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included Jeremiah 26 and, oddly, chapters 35 & 36 and John 20)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Do we really deserve it?

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: John 19:11 Jesus answered [Pilate], “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

Observation: It’s easy to forget that our position(s) are not completely of our own doing.

Application: In this country perhaps more so than any other, it’s easy to be deluded into thinking that we deserve what we’ve got, whether good or bad but especially if things are good. But is that really true?

I’m not trying to diminish in any way the appropriate place of personal responsibility, but I am saying that personal responsibility can only take us so far.

A little lesson I once learned in a logic class in college may be of help here. The sentence: “It is raining, therefore the sidewalks are wet” is true. However, the sentence: “The sidewalks are wet, therefore it is raining” may or may not be true.

Put another way, ‘you are a famous athlete, therefore you must be talented’ is most-likely true, whereas the sentence: ‘you are talented, therefore you are a famous athlete’ may or may not be true.

So if, like Pilate, we happen to be in a position of influence, we need to recognize such positions as gift and opportunity for service rather than as right rewards for our for our efforts. Otherwise we might delude ourselves into thinking we deserve it and forget that, like Jesus said, “we would have no power…unless it had been given…from above.”

Prayer: Lord, thanks again for the reminder that ultimately all opportunities for service come from you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Jeremiah 23-25 and John 19)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tips for Eating Healthy in Difficult Circumstances

Sometimes it can be hard to eat healthy because of circumstances that seem beyond our control. A friend asks us over for dinner, another friend takes us out for dinner, a family reunion crops up, all in the course of a couple days. If one isn't careful the pounds will quickly add on and we'll once again be planning to start or re-start a diet on another day. We can't control everything, but here's a few tips to consider.

1) If at a pot-luck reunion-type meal, choose among the healthiest options for the bulk of your meal. For example, load up on fresh fruits, raw vegetables (without the dip!) and other reasonable options for the as the base of your meal. Then garnish your plate with one or two-bite samples of the other delicacies that you might like to try. And if you're actually trying to lose weight, pretend it's like a one-trip salad bar--don't go back for seconds.

2) If you're at a friend's house you may have very little choice on the actual meal. But you can control the portion size. Let them know that the food looks delicious (if it does!) and that you can hardly wait to taste it (if that's true!), and then politely ask for the portion size that won't blow your diet out of the water. And if they still give you way too much, cut it down to size and then ask if they have a little take-home container so that you can eat the rest later. Hopefully they'll be impressed with your discipline and your appreciation for their meal.

3) If you're at a sit-down restaurant there will usually be a few reasonably healthy options to choose from. Try to avoid entrees with special sauces, toppings, spices or other dressings. That's often code language for "let's take a perfectly healthy food and turn it into dietary disaster!" Instead order your vegetables steamed without butter (relax...if you really must, you can ask for a little butter on the side for you to add to the vegetables sparingly on your own), your steak or fish grilled without butter (same scenario as the veggies) and your pasta with marinara rather than cream sauce. Salad dressings always on the side, preferably just oil and vinegar. And with restaurant portion sizes getting bigger, consider taking half of the meal home for lunch the next day.

We can't always eat perfectly (whatever that is!), and food and relationships are meant to be enjoyed, but not at the expense of our own health.

Lesson from the School of Hark Knocks

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Jeremiah 18:4 The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.

Observation: God is able to keep reworking/refashioning us.

Application: I really appreciated catching up with classmates, spouses, and teachers at our 30th high school class reunion last night. Although I didn’t get to have in-depth conversations with everybody, it didn’t take long to realize that most if not all of us have had a number of twists and turns in our lives. Some of those turns have been pleasant and some of them have been painful. But for those of us who are still breathing, the journey through life continues.

I’m not really of the mindset that God plans everything. But I am of the mindset that God keeps working with and through us. Like softened clay, sometimes we have times when we do not appear to be quite what the Lord had in mind or had hoped for. But then the Lord keeps working with and through us, re-shaping us into someone who is perhaps more reflective or more centered or more down-to-earth.

Yes, in addition to high school most if not all of us from the class of 1980 have also taken a course or two at The School of Hard Knocks. But The School of Hard Knocks is, after all, still a school—a place where opportunities for learning and growth continue to be offered. Come to think of it, it might even be comprised mainly of the art room, the one place where varied forms of expression are always encouraged, where ‘odd’ might be ‘original,’ where ‘opposite’ might be ‘complimentary,’ and where ‘incomplete’ is just a sign that God’s work with and through us will most surely continue.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the ways that you continue to shape us as your people. It's a honor to hear some of your people's stories and to share some common threads. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Jeremiah 18-20, Psalm 93, John 17)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Today our oldest son will be in a HS football scrimmage. He's a Junior, but I am reminded that at this point in my senior year I weighed in at 158 pounds. I will brag just a little, especially since tonight happens to be my 30th HS reunion. Pound for pound I was quite likely the strongest person on our little team. At the time I could bench-press 285 (on a York Universal Machine with extra weights stacked on top).

In college and for almost all of the years thereafter I weighed between 165 and 178 pounds. I felt good about myself if I was 165, bad if I was over 170.

I remember one point when I was around 28-29 y/o when I weighed 163. Thought at the time that anything less than that wouldn't even be healthy. Figured my body had "matured" and shouldn't be what I weighed in HS anymore.

Well, for the past four or five months I've been right at, you guessed it, 158 pounds when I wake up most mornings. I have no idea what my max bench press is these days, but I do know that I can put up 110# 25 times. Clothes fit better and I'm just grateful to be able to physically do most of the things that I want to do.

Sure, there will always be people (my age or older) who are 'fitter' than I and better suited for high marks in the looks department. But I'm thankful to be able to simply take care of the body that God has been kind enough to offer for my use during my earthly life.

Now...off to the scrimmage! :)

Etched in Stone and In My Mind

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: John 16:33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

At the end of the day there is Jesus.

Application: There was a time when I sold cemetery property. Seriously. I worked for a small group that handled the pre-need sales for the largest cemetery in Oklahoma. In that cemetery there were several “estates.” A cemetery estate is a large block of plots purchased together. A purchase of that nature allows the owner the ability to erect a very large family gravestone or grouping of stones. Sometimes they are quite elaborate.

One of these estates with elaborate stonework was put up by the Daniel family. I never met any of the members of that family, but I loved the stonework on their estate. Prominently inscribed in the stone was John 16:33. In the King James Version I think it read: “I have said this to you so that ye may have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation. Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

Something about seeing that verse etched in stone also left that verse etched in my mind. I can’t read that verse from a Bible anywhere in the world without immediately recalling the image of the Daniel family stone at Memorial Park Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And when life does occasionally seem rather tough, I am reminded of the One who has overcome the world, including death.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the reminders of your awesome power. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Jeremiah 16-17, Psalm 96, John 16)

Friday, August 13, 2010

When We're Misunderstood

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: John 15:20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.

Observation: this is a section that is often overlooked.

Application: I have often read and shared the earlier part of this chapter. Verses 9-17 in particular are often shared at weddings. But the section starting at verse 18 is seldom shared. I’m can’t remember if this section is in the lectionary (a 3-year cycle of Scripture selections read during worship in mainline denominations), but I don’t have an easy way to check at the moment.

At any rate, these verses fly in the face of the common sentiment that things will naturally go well for those who claim the Christian faith. In some ways just the opposite is the case. Of course, in the United States very few people are persecuted for what I might call authentic expressions of the Christian faith. More often the people who are persecuted for such things seem to, at least in my estimation, be misrepresenting the Christian faith. But partially because of those who might be misrepresenting the Christian faith, many of us are greeted with a different form of persecution: indifference. For some, Christianity has become the ‘whatever!’ of this world. We are more and more becoming seen/understood as one among many, and of equal, albeit little, value with all the rest.

Sometimes, the way we act, I think we deserve it. But there are other times where we are simply completely misunderstood. But is not the same true of Jesus? He was largely misunderstood. But like Jesus said, we must understand this: “servants are no greater than their master.”

Prayer: Lord, when I am misunderstood, help me to be okay with that. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Jeremiah 13-15 and John 15)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Challenge of Hearing a Word from the Lord

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Jeremiah 10:1 Hear the word that the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel.

Observation: Simple and complicated all at once.

Application: On the one hand I’d like to be able to say that if we would just regularly take time to listen to God speaking to our hearts, we would be much more in tune with God’s way of working through our lives. I’d like to emphasize the importance of daily devotional time and of just setting aside our agendas of the moment in favor of a divine alternative.

But of course it’s not quite that easy. The way we interpret the Bible and even the types of things that we might claim to have ‘heard’ from God are heavily influenced by a number of factors. The messages we hear at whatever church we attend, the books we read, the other media we consume and the sociological understandings that we claim all combine to shape what we might ‘hear’ the Lord say. Probably one of the greatest fallacies is the belief that if everyone in the world were simply Christian it would be a better place. History has proven that those of us who claim the Christian faith have the propensity to be just as greedy and self-serving as anyone else—hence my current efforts to quietly hoard the little bit of ice-cream left in the family freezer!

But perhaps it’s not all bad that even as Christians we seem to hear competing words of the Lord. Maybe the Lord says one thing to one person and another thing to someone else. Sometimes, of course, we simply misinterpret what the Lord says. But either way I think it can help to keep us humble. We can always be wondering if we’ve heard it correctly or whether it’s the other person who has heard the word of the Lord correctly.

And so we can move forward by faith, but also with caution by faith—faith that if we happen to be wrong, God will see to it that someone else is right. Either way, it all starts with more and more of us authentically listening for a word from the Lord…sometimes through and from each other.

Prayer: Lord help me to more authentically be listening from words from you, from whatever source(s) you choose to use. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Jeremiah 10-12 and John 14)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What makes God 'delighted.'

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Jeremiah 9:23-24 Thus says the LORD: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; 24 but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the LORD; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the LORD.

Observation: surprisingly hopeful conclusion to otherwise condemning chapters.

Application: I sometimes wonder why God puts up with humanity in general and myself in particular. And from the looks of most of chapters 7, 8, & 9 of Jeremiah, it would appear that God does not and will not put up with humanity in general or me in particular. But then, just when it would seem that all hope is lost, God offers a way out; shift boasting from oneself to that of knowing the Lord.

That, ironically, will actually keep us from boasting because understanding and knowing the Lord is a life-long process. But it starts with realizing what really pleases God or, as Scripture puts it, ‘delights’ the Lord. The Lord is ‘delighted’ to act with steadfast love, justice and righteousness.

Clearly God is unhappy with our wayward and self-serving nature. Still, God actually delights in steadfastly loving us!

I’m still not sure why God delights in such things, but if it makes God happy…☺.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for loving us always, even and especially when we’re not that lovable. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today in included: Jeremiah 7-9, John 13)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Journal Entry from this date in 2004

I'm on vacation this week and therefore doing some of my Scriptural reading and reflection privately. But here's an entry I wrote from this date in 2004.

August 10, 2004
Scripture verses that caught my attention today—John 12:44-50 44 Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. 45 And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. 46 I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. 47 I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, 49 for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.”

Observation: The Gospel according to Jesus in the Gospel of John is very enlightening. One of the things I learned about the Gospel of John some time ago is that it tends to be more of a present gospel than the others. Jesus is concerned that people have an abundant life now, perhaps almost as much so as later. In chapter 3 we read that God so “loved” the world. His perspective hasn’t changed. Those who believe in Jesus do not live in darkness, even now. Jesus, in this passage, isn’t presented as a judge but rather, his words will serve as judge. Yet God’s commandment is “eternal life.” And earlier (chapter 10) we read that no one will be able to snatch Jesus’ “sheep” out of his hand.

Application: There are definitely Scripture passages that speak of the last judgment and specifically warn of the perils of not being in the kingdom of God. Some of these passages allude to an eternal time of torture (gnashing of teeth, unquenchable fires, etc.) and others, for example in some of the Matthew passages, present a vision of either being in the kingdom of God or being pretty much annihilated after being thrown into either a fiery furnace or outer darkness. But the over-all point of John’s gospel is that God loved the world and sent his Son to save the world, and that some of that saving activity is a current event in the form of recognizing Jesus for who he really is and, in turn, experiencing a present form of abundant life that transcends the need or desire for earthly riches, physical health, or other popular notions of life being like a bowl of cherries. Perhaps the Bible speaks so little and yet with such variety about hell because hell was never meant to be the main point. God’s commandment is for abundant and eternal life…presumably in God’s presence—both here and now and then and there.

Prayer—Dear Lord, help me to recognize the abundant and eternal life that you already provide. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Scripture readings today included Jeremiah 5-6 and John 12

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Blessing of No Other Options

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: John 6:66-69 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Observation: Not having other options is not always a bad thing.

Application: There was admittedly a time when I was dating two women simultaneously. I was not being deceitful. Both were well aware of the situation. Both were of strong Christian faith. Each was quite different and I liked them both. Of course, for those few months, that was the problem; I couldn’t decide. I prayed about this often. “Lord, help me figure this out!”

One day one of them suggested that she and I have a “trial separation” for a month. Okay…and so we did. At the end of that month we met and I said, “so, what do you think?” And she said, though with a kind and gentle smile on her face, “I don’t want to see you anymore.”

Far from being dejected, this was exactly what I had been praying for—a sign. One of the two doors toward the future had been closed. Thankfully the other door to the future, though perhaps starting to close, was still open. And that door led to the most precious relationship on earth I can imagine. Nearly 23 years of marriage and three children later, I can’t imagine to whom else I could ever go.

I think this was the kind of conclusion that Peter had come to as well. He had invested his energies in following Jesus and had come to the point where he believed there was really no other way to live. No other option could compare. And he was right. Not having other options is not always a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s the best thing, even an answer to prayer.

Prayer: Lord, I can only say “Thanks!” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: 2 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 34, John 6)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Little Helpful Feedback

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: John 5:44-45 How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? 45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope.

Observation: How do we measure success or even faithfulness?

Application: Feedback; many of us like feedback, especially those of us prone to wanting to please others. We want to know how others think we are doing…and we will often adjust our methods, practices, or actions in light of such feedback in hopes of, well, getting better feedback! It’s quite the cycle, isn’t it?

It’s not all bad. Often times such feedback does truly enable us to improve our various forms of service. And it can help us keep our own perceptions in check. After all, sometimes what we think people are thinking or feeling and what they actually think or feel are two different things. Attention to thoughtful feedback can help close the perception gap.

Along those lines, Jesus offers a little feedback of his own: paying attention to Jesus and following and trusting his ways will ultimately bring more satisfaction and meaning than all other feedback combined. In fact, relying primarily or solely on other feedback will lead only to judgment and despair.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. Honestly, sometimes it is the feedback we receive from other human beings that helps us evaluate how well we are serving our neighbors in Jesus’ name. But perhaps that’s the ultimate value of all feedback—divine or otherwise—whose glory are we really seeking?

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the subtle reminder once again that the praise we must surely value comes from you, the only one, ironically, worthy of our praise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Nahum 1-3, John 5)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Embracing the Good, Bad, and Ugly

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: 2 Chronicles 33:12-13 While he was in distress he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. 13 He prayed to him, and God received his entreaty, heard his plea, and restored him again to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD indeed was God.

Observation: Interesting that the parallel story of Manasseh in 2 Kings 21 completely omits this part about Manasseh having a change of heart.

Application: Once in a while I’ll meet someone who has absolutely nothing good to say about some other particular individual. Often times it’s in regard to an ex-spouse, though other times it might be about a coach or politician or neighbor or whoever. I’m often left with the question, “really?” Was the person really that bad? Were there absolutely no redeeming factors whatsoever in that person?

It’s interesting to see that sometimes even the Bible speaks in such absolutes. The 2 Kings version of this story paints Manasseh as a total louse. Nothing good is done by him in 55 years of reigning. But in Chronicles we find another version of the story—one in which Manasseh has a change of heart and a fresh recognition of the ways of God.

Over the years of serving as a pastor I’ve had the opportunity to see many sides of the same people. I’ve seen folks at their best and sometimes at their worst, not just in terms of when things were going well for them in comparison to when things were difficult, but also when they themselves were kind and gracious and then at other times when, for whatever reason, they did not seem to be the least bit kind or gracious.

I have nothing against the author of 1 Kings, but if there ever comes a day when someone has to outline his or her impressions of my life, I hope he or she can do so more along the lines of what the author of 2 Chronicles did for Manasseh. Lutherans, after all, understand every child of God to be both saint and sinner simultaneously—fully redeemed by the Lord Jesus even in spite of our human shortcomings.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for accepting and redeeming me as I am, full of the good, bad, and maybe even a little ugly. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included 2 Kings 21, 2 Chronicles 33, and John 4)