Thursday, September 30, 2010

My interpretation of 'narrow door' passages

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Luke 13:23-30 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. 29 Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Observation: Narrow door? People from all over in kingdom of God? People that think they know God not known by God? People who aren’t in the kingdom are still able to see the kingdom and recognize Abraham and others?

Application: I probably have more questions than answers today. This is the second time that I’ve recently seen the Jesus of Luke’s gospel presenting a vision of someone outside the kingdom able to see Abraham inside the kingdom. The other instance is in Luke 16 in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus which we read in church last week.

It’s interesting that we will purportedly be able to recognize some people in the kingdom of God, whether we’re in the kingdom of God or not. But it’s also interesting that, in the previous sentence, I used the word ‘we’ (within which I naturally include myself) when in the passage above Jesus specifically says ‘you’ when referring to people who think they will be in the kingdom when, in fact, they won’t! Yikes!

This is one of those times when I’m thankful for other passages of Scripture which seem to balance passages like this out. Passages in which Jesus speaks of the divine desire and promise to seek and find those who are lost. Passages that assure that God is always with us.

Still, passages like those above cannot be ignored. But they really don’t scare me anymore. Instead they simply remind me of how deeply we need our God…of how little we can really do apart from our God…and of how little value there is of ever deluding ourselves into thinking otherwise.

Prayer: Lord, at the end of the day there is you and only you upon whom we can depend. Of course, that’s true at the beginning of the day too…and at every moment in between. Help me never to forget such things. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Zechariah 7-9 and Luke 13)

Workout Tips for When you're Busy, Busy, Busy

Due mostly to a unique schedule this past week and partially to personal preferences (I really only like to workout in the mornings), my regular workout routines were put on hold. In fact, the last full workout I had was last Friday.

Now, if a workout schedule is being temporarily disrupted (I'd say for no more than a week), then one can either take a complete break from working out or, as I did, include some modified workouts (I'll include examples below).

However, if a schedule is changed for a longer period of time, then some big adjustments need to be made. For example, I knew that my schedule was only changing for about a week. So since I only like to workout in the mornings, I just more or less took the week off. But if the schedule would have been more permanently changed, then I would have, as the Scriptures say, "Girded up my loins" and moved my workout to another time of day whether I liked it or not.

Okay, now for some easy examples of modified, just-do-it-and-get-on-with-your-life style workouts.

Option #! Resistance Training using what I call MMG (Major Muscle Group Exercise)

Here the goal is simply to give every major muscle group one round of exertion. It will probably take less than 5 minutes and although one's heart rate might go up, it's doubtful that you'll break a sweat (which makes it easy to jump right into the shower when finished and get on with your day)

Examples of exercises that might be used (choose ONE exercise from each of the following groups and go to 2 reps short of failure).

Push-up, Dumbbell Press, Bench Press

Body-weight squat, Barbell Squat, Bulgarian Split Squat

Pull-up (overhand grip), Reverse Row, Dumbbell row

Plank, Stability Ball Plank, Ab-wheel roll-out

Chin-up (underhand grip), Dumbbell curl

For me the one day (I think it was Monday) workout was: 20 push-ups, 12 Bulgarian Split squats/leg, 10 pull-ups, 10 ab-wheel roll-outs, and 7 chin-ups (with knee-ups) with no rest between exercises.

Done! Five minutes tops. Breathing heavy but no sweat.

Option #2 for quick cardio

Actually, you'll get a touch of a cardio workout from option #1 above too. But on non-resistance training days, here are some cardio options. Simply use one or more of the following, depending on time available. Again, these are obviously not full-blown workouts, but they at least give your body some movement when precious little time is available. Also, most of these I'd suggest to do on a 24 second work/36 second rest schedule. Simply do as many rounds as time permits, though probably no more than 10 rounds (which would still only be 10 minutes!).

Standard Jumping Jacks. Yep, they've been around forever, but they are a classic way to involve almost all the muscles in the body from head to toe. Use them as a warm-up for the exercises to follow or use them in interval fashion as described above. Just be prepared for some sore calve muscles if you're not used to it.

Jumping rope. Get a good jump-rope (preferably heavy nylon with roller bearings in the handles) and have at it. For a harder workout, either increase the speed or raise your knees higher. You'll be panting when you're done!

Shadow Boxing. I know basically nothing about real boxing. But I do know that enthusiastically throwing punches into thin air can soon leave you gasping for it. Just don't extend your arms completely when you let the punches fly.

Running in Place. Raise the knees high and pump the arms hard IF you want (and are physically qualified for) a harder workout.

Hopefully these tips will come in handy when time and/or space is tight but you still want to stay on track with your workout routine.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Some thoughts after a Prison Visit

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Luke 12:57-59 “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison. 59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

Observation: There are different degrees of freedom.

Application: Periodically in my ministry I’ve had the opportunity to visit members who are/were in prison. I did so again recently. I always find it to be a very interesting experience—humbling at times, bewildering at others. I sit in the visiting room intrigued by the interactions that other inmates have with those who visit them. In some cases it just looks like normal conversation. Sometimes children are present and I wonder what that must be like. There are the love-birds as well, which is equally intriguing. Some have been there for years and will perhaps never get out.

For those who do not get to go home when visiting hours—or the work shifts—are over, there is another life-culture in which they engage. Humans always find ways to make-do with their situations, with the limitations placed upon them whether fairly or otherwise. And so some make peace with it and learn to be content. Others take the renegade route. In that sense it’s really no different outside the prison other than having much larger parameters within which to work and live.

Jesus had some interesting views of prison. In the passage above he makes it pretty clear that it is the kind of place that one would be well-advised to avoid. On the other hand, Jesus himself would later spend a night in prison before being taken to the outdoor execution chamber. In contrast to his own advice, he was not able to “settle the case” with his accusers. Elsewhere in Scripture (esp. Matthew 25) Jesus advocates visiting those who are in prison.

I sometimes wonder if the chief reason for visiting those in prison is not what meets the eye. Not to underestimate the value of companionship and displays of mercy and the like, but I wonder if one of the key reasons for visiting people in prison is to offer experiences of normalcy. Prison can be such a different world. I wonder if maybe that’s why it’s crucial for regular contact with people from the outside world. Maybe those ‘normal-looking’ conversations I sometimes see in the visitation room are exactly what help make for a healtier life. The prison bars are a constant reminder that one has presumably done something wrong. But the visits are at least an occasional reminder that one is still human and, by the Grace of God, potentially able to do at least something right—even if only from behind the bars.

Lord, I’ve rambled a bit today and haven’t really addressed the verses above head on, but it still feels good to finally be back in devotion mode after the crazy schedule of the past few days. Be with those who are in prison and with those of us whose parameters are much larger but still well within your realm. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Zechariah 4-6 and Luke 12)

Friday, September 24, 2010

The quiet alternative to 'going and telling'

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: Luke 7:47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

Observation: And when we love little, we tend to impose a lot.

Application: I haven’t read the book yet—haven’t even bought it—but I’ve read a couple of reviews and watched an interview Len Sweet did on his new book on evangelism called “Nudge.” By that he means that Christians would be well-advised to spend less time “going and telling” and spend more time “shutting up and listening.” He believes that evangelism is not so much about us bringing Jesus to people (which is rather arrogant, by the way, to assume that WE take Jesus rather than the other way around) but rather, us going to where Jesus already is, taking note of what Jesus may already be doing, and then helping nudge people to perhaps make those connections. At the same time, we too are nudged to see the workings of God.

I’m not sure if that’s the whole story of evangelism; some have indeed benefited from others “going and telling.” But Len’s point is still very much worth taking to heart. When we feel like we’ve got all the answers, our gratitude for being forgiven, if we even feel it at all, tends to get hidden as we self-righteously try to impose our own will on others—often under the pretense of it being ‘God’s will.’

On the other hand, when we recognize how much we ourselves have yet to learn, we tend to be a whole lot more gracious, a whole lot more inquisitive, and a whole lot more able to show, like the woman Jesus praised in the story above, “great love.”

Prayer: Lord, these days there are many within both religion and politics that try to powerfully impose their own will upon others. Help us to love them and care for them and want the best for them, but not be too quick to follow suit. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Ezra 1, Psalm 84-85, and Luke 7)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What Jesus Said to Do.

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Luke 6:46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?

Observation: Very interesting question.

Application: It would be interesting to detail what, exactly, Jesus said to do. In this chapter alone we are told by Jesus to:

love our enemies
bless those who curse us
pray for those who abuse us
offer our clothes (not just the extras, but the ones we are wearing!) to those in need
give to those who beg
do unto others as we would have others do unto us
do good
lend without expecting it back
be merciful
do not judge
do not condemn
take the log out of our own eye in order to see clearly to take the speck out of our neighbor’s eye

I think that’s enough of a to-do list for one day other than to rinse (in God’s baptismal promises) and repeat.

Prayer: Lord, why do we call you Lord and not do what you tell us to do? In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Daniel 11-12, Luke 6)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Reason for Our Hope

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Daniel 9:18 Incline your ear, O my God, and hear. Open your eyes and look at our desolation and the city that bears your name. We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.

Observation: Daniel understands humanity’s position in relation to God.

Application: What do we really deserve? The other day we were chatting about Jesus’ comments about ‘dishonest wealth’ in Luke chapter 16. It seems to me that, in that particular passage, Jesus may well be talking about all earthly possessions period. What I mean by that is that we have a tendency to believe that certain things are deserved. For example, we might think that since we agreed to work x amount of hours for x amount of dollars, that we therefore deserve to get paid for that time.

On at least one level we are correct about that assumption; even the Scriptures affirm that the worker deserves his or her wages. But on another level, so much of it has to do with happening to be at the right place at the right time and happening to have the particular skill set that is needed and/or desired. Furthermore, who gave us such ‘abilities’ anyhow? Don’t they ultimately come from our maker?

It seems Daniel had the right idea—make the case for sparing humanity not because of what we’ve done (since in many cases what we’ve done has been awful and even when it’s good it is often with conflicting motives) but in light of God’s promises and God’s merciful nature.

At least then we’ll have a chance.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for your merciful nature. It is not only the only reason that we have any hope at all, but it is also the reason we can hope with such confidence. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Daniel 9-10, Psalm 123, and Luke 5)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Importance of Community

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Daniel 8:27 So I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days; then I arose and went about the king’s business. But I was dismayed by the vision and did not understand it.

Observation: Daniel, the great interpreter of dreams and visions, had difficulty figuring out his own vision.

Application: One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that I tend to be reasonably good at helping other people find some clarity in their respective situations but it’s not always particularly easy to find clarity my own situations. In reading today’s passages I’m struck by the thought that perhaps even Daniel had similar issues.

The next logical question is whether or not this condition (the ability to assist others in diagnosing their own situations while struggling to diagnose our own) is wide-spread. I suspect that it wide-spread…and that lends credence to the Biblical concept of community.

Although individuals in the Bible are sometimes set ‘apart’ for particular kinds of ministry, they are not usually separated from the community.

This, it seems to me, is as it should be.

Prayer: thanks for the various ‘communities’ of which we are a part. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Daniel 7-8, Psalm 137, and Luke 4)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Power of the Cry

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: Psalm 130:1-2 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

Observation: There are times when we simply cry out.

Application: “Oh my, Oh my” cries out the aged woman in intensive care—she’s not necessarily in pain, but clearly for her, life is getting harder and harder to bear.

Is she crying out from the depths? It would seem so. Does her Lord hear? We trust that the answer is ‘yes.’

Prayer: Lord, be with all who cry out to you, whatever their age, whatever their condition, wherever they are. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Daniel 5-6, Psalm 130, and Luke 3)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

What we need to know and don't need to know.

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Luke 1:56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Observation: Looks as if Mary left right before Elizabeth was ready to give birth.

Application: Just a short reflection today. It seems odd to me that Mary would leave without waiting to see the new baby. To be fair, the passage doesn’t make it absolutely clear that Mary left before John was born, but it does imply as much. One would think that curiosity would have prevailed. Perhaps not. Perhaps Mary was content to simply know that Elizabeth was going to have a child, as was she.

Once in a while (though surely not always) I’m a little that way—a trait from the Wilson side. Sometimes it’s enough for me to know the generalities and I’m not compelled to know all the specifics. That’s not always a good thing, but it’s nice to have Mary’s example as a reminder that it’s not always a bad thing either.

Prayer: Lord help me to know what I need to know and to be content not knowing what I don’t need to know. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Ezekiel 45-46 and Luke 1)

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Two Most Important Words in Revelation.

Scripture Verses that Caught my Attention Today: Revelation 22:8-9 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; 9 but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!”

Observation: “Worship God” is the message of Revelation in a nutshell.

This morning on his Twitter account Len Sweet posted the following: “The most political statement the church can make is: "Jesus is Lord."”

There’s a lot of truth to that statement and I think Len understands as fully as anyone the depth of what that statement really means. Unfortunately, some who endeavor to make that statement do so in a way that seems foreign to the way of Jesus himself. It’s not a statement that should be used as a club, and opportunity to try to impose our idea of God's will on the world.

Instead what Len calls "the most political statement the church can make" could be like the little signs that employees in certain businesses see but customers do not see--signs that remind the employees to be gracious or courteous or whatnot. Perhaps "Jesus is Lord" should be more of a self-pointer toward the way of humble service, the truth that enlightens the darkness, and the life that as promised, will come again. In short: the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

“Worship God” said the angel in the last chapter of Revelation. For good reason: there is no one else in heaven or on earth worthy of such praise. Let the rulers of this world jockey for position of they must, but let the people of God bow down to the Lord of all.

Prayer: Lord even John, for a moment, was inclined to worship someone other than you; but the angel set him straight. Help us also to heed those two most important words in all of Revelation. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings Today included: Ezekiel 42-44 and Revelation 22)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Your Place or 'Mine?'

Scripture Verses that Caught My attention today: Revelation 21:1-4 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

Observation: According to these verses, God is at home with us rather than the other way around.

Application: It seems that just about every person of faith periodically refers to heaven as the place where we will go to be with God. I can understand why. After all, Jesus himself speaks of going to prepare a place for us and coming back again to take us there (see John 14) so that, as he says, “where I am, there you may be also.”

But here in Revelation the vision is somewhat reversed. A new holy city comes down from the new heaven and lands on the new earth. And that, we are told, will be the home of God among the people of God.

It’s all a little confusing of course, and, given that Revelation paints a picture of a past/future with rather broad strokes, it would be unwise to interpret such things too literally. Thankfully the point that remains constant between the two views is that God very much plans to be in the thick of us, wherever in the world (or beyond) that might be. And that, we are told, will be a great day—one without mourning, crying, or pain.

Prayer: Lord, it doesn’t really matter to me whether we meet at your place or ‘mine,’ just as long as we, one way or another, are with you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Ezekiel 40-41, Psalm 128, and Revelation 21)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A case for 'Both'

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Psalm 145:18-19 The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;
he also hears their cry, and saves them.

Observation: This is our hope and often our belief. It is also our prayer.

Application: I deeply care about some people in other contexts who are going through some particularly difficult times right now—situations with no easy answers, loads of difficult questions, and tons of anxiety—particularly in light of the unknown. I can’t help but wonder how they would read/interpret the verses above. Would they find in them great hope and assurance or would they be inclined to cry out “then where are you, O Lord?”

As with many things in life, perhaps it’s not an either/or question. Perhaps the answer is “both.”

I must admit that I sometimes wonder where the Almighty is in regard to the mind-boggling experiences that some people go through. At the same time I find myself crying out to our Lord. It’s ironic. I wonder…but still I pray. I pray…but still I wonder.

Some might surmise that I’m simply hedging my bets—as if I’m not sure if God is there yet praying just in case God is there. Perhaps. But somehow I still think it goes much deeper than that.

My faith is not restricted to the assumption that I know best or even deserve the best. Nor is it limited to an understanding of God perched above the struggle. Through pain, death, and life again our Lord proved divine love for us. In pain, death, and the promise of life again I trust in our Lord’s presence.

But it still hurts.

Sure, I find great hope and assurance in the verses above. But I also wonder, “where are you, O Lord?” Both. Almost always, both.

Prayer: Lord, be with those who are especially struggling now. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Ezekiel 38-39, Psalm 145, and Revelation 20)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

And Now Let Us Welcome "Faithful and True"

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention Today: Revelation 19:11 Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.

Observation: There is something very endearing about the name “Faithful and True.”

Application: If I had to write a book about myself, (and I had to be honest about what I was writing!) there might be a portion of the book that would describe times when I’ve been faithful and true. But the bulk of it would probably include the times in my life when I have not been so faithful and true.

I’m not trying to suggest that there is anything in particular that is just off-the-charts horrible. But I am saying that all of us fall short in the day-to-day adventures of life. We tend to think of ourselves first, objectify and otherwise categorize others, and strive to position ourselves—if possible—into a position of relative privilege. Sometimes we do such things subconsciously—which is why an honest account might need to include a few chapters written by others who know us well. Other times it’s flat out flagrant.

In the vivid and perplexing imagery of Revelation, the name “Faithful and True” really stands out. The beauty of that name is that here, finally, we have someone who can be trusted. Here there are no ulterior motives, self-serving gestures, and jockeying for position. Instead there is simply the vision of the One who was and is and is to come—Faithful and True!

Prayer: Lord, you are the One who is here and the One for whom we await. There is nothing more precious, now or ever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Ezekiel 36-37, Psalm 110, and Revelation 19)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Supporting Roles Abound

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention Today: Ezekiel 34:15-16 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

Observation: God will ultimately do what we cannot do. At that time no shepherds had been faithful as shepherding the Lord’s people. Finally we learn that the Lord will take over the shepherding role, though not too many verses later we will read of the Lord’s plans to make David the shepherd. Hmmm…and so once again God works through humans.

Application: Lot’s of mixed messages in today’s OT reading. On the one hand sentinels are told that they must warn or else they will be held responsible. From that standpoint I can understand why some people feel compelled to point out what they believe to be sin in others. But later we read, as in the passage above, that humans were not being faithful and/or competent in terms of sharing God’s word. So God decides to take up the shepherding task personally. Yet as I already mentioned, the Lord soon decides to try with humans again, this time in the form of David. Go figure!

It’s a tedious partnership between God and the likes of us. Clearly God is the main actor in the real-life drama. Nevertheless, humans have their place. Supporting roles abound. The trick, of course, is being open to the call to whatever supporting role(s) suit us best.

Lord, help me to be open to how I might best serve, even within the realm of how and where I currently serve. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Ezekiel 33-35 and Revelation 18)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Amazingly Round-A-Bout Way That God Sometimes Teaches

Scripture Passage that Caught My attention today: Daniel 1:12-15. “Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 You can then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal rations, and deal with your servants according to what you observe.” 14 So he agreed to this proposal and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations.

Observation: Several passages caught my attention today, with this simply being the first. Was also struck (no pun intended!) by the vision in Revelation of 100# hailstones, the vision of people cursing God for various plagues, and Nebuchadnezzar’s verdict that if they wise people couldn’t interpret his dream they would be torn limb by limb.

Application: It’s an interesting day for Bible reading for me because all of the things mentioned above are just things that make me curious rather than necessarily offering some sort of profound insight. And complicating matters is the fact that it’s September 11th. For years that day just meant that one of my best friends was another year older. Then there was the September 11th event of our nation. And then today, at just after the day officially changed to the 11th of September, our son went into surgery for an appendectomy (which went well, btw). Plus we had tickets today to go to the OSU/Miami game, which we just sold this morning and I’m missing our other son’s JV game just due to circumstances. So how does one read the Bible when so many things are spinning around in one’s head and there’s nothing in the readings for a particular day that just totally jump out and grab you? Answer: You just notice what you notice and give thanks for another opportunity to be in conversation with God.

What I noticed today was the whole vegetable thing for Daniel and his comrades. Apparently for millennia there have been some people who, for whatever reason, desire and/or wish to eat only vegetables. The Apostle Paul makes reference to such folks as well in the New Testament. And these days there are actually a number of different designations for the various types/degrees of vegetarian eating. I’ve recently read of a few high-caliber fitness people who, for sake of experiment or by way of life, embraced a vegetarian or even vegan life-style for a time to prove that they could gain muscle or compete in figure competitions, etc., much like Daniel did years ago.

I don’t think this means that, because Daniel was a vegetarian, all the rest of us should be too. But it may mean that, if someone does have something that is a matter of personal conscious, and they are willing to put it to the test, they should be able to do so. Daniel realized that how well he fared physically on the diet he personally felt led to follow could well determine whether the person put in charge of him would live or die. And so he was willing to submit to the test.

And HERE’S how suddenly this all may make sense today! I just realized that his is the very issue at stake in regard to the Florida pastor who has been in the news for his initial plan to burn Qurans. His personal right and even sense of divine calling should be able to stand up against its affect on others. The preponderance of evidence suggests that his plan would not pass such a test and so, thankfully, it appears that he will set this plan aside. Based on the Biblical passage above, I believe Daniel would agree that setting that plan aside was a very wise move.

Prayer: Lord, you have such a round-a-bout way of offering insight sometimes. And I love it! Thank you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings Today included: Daniel 1-2 and Revelation 16)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why I find Lamentations to be so strangely comforting

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Lamentations 5:21-22 Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored;
renew our days as of old—
22 unless you have utterly rejected us,
and are angry with us beyond measure.

Observation: Throughout this whole book the author completely trusts in the Lord in spite of many, many hardships and even a periodic pondering of whether God is even listening.

I noticed in the chapters of Lamentations assigned for today that although the author struggles to understand what the Lord is really like, the author still figures that the Lord is there. For example, in chapter 3:32-33 we read that the Lord both causes grief and, also, does not willingly grieve anyone. Does that mean that some grief that the Lord causes is done against the Lord’s will? The author doesn’t say, nor, do I think, does it matter to the author. The author is somehow content, though sometimes restlessly so, with the Lord being the Lord, period…come what may.

Application: One of the reasons that faith is called faith is because having faith involves a degree of trust that often cannot be readily verified. And yet this trust somehow enables one to move forward through the uncertain and uncharted territory called life.

My parents had that kind of trust, that kind of faith. It was not just a “the Lord will provide” kind of belief, though they did reflect that belief in many ways. It was also an, “even if the Lord does not provide what we think that we need, God must know better than us what our real needs are or how we might better be of service in the Lord’s grand scheme of things.”

I sometimes wonder what my own life would be like without having had that kind of witness at home from a couple of people who still had their own share of problems, as we all do, but nevertheless had this deep and abiding trust in the Lord that carried them through.

Compared to many people, I must admit that I’ve had a relatively charmed life. But there have been some pretty unpleasant times too. And it’s interesting to look back and realize that, during those times I too tended to trust as my parents trusted that, whether things turned out for good or for ill, I was still in the Lord’s hands. Like all true gifts, it’s not one that I can really take credit for, but it is one that continues to have a profound impact on my life…which may be one reason why I found the book of Lamentations to be so strangely comforting.

Prayer: Lord, come what may, help us always to trust in you no matter what. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Lamentations 3-5 and Revelation 15)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Success" vs Endurance

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Revelation 13:10c Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

Observation: Why do we humans so often equate things going well with success?

Application: Even though I picked a portion of a verse from Revelation today, I was actually struck by the three chapters of Jeremiah that I also read today. There we read the account of people supposedly sincerely asking the prophet Jeremiah for a word of advice from the Lord in terms of what they should do now that they were facing dire straights. But when Jeremiah delivers the Word, they don’t believe it and accuse him of lying. Instead they reflected on when things were going well in their life and began to defiantly pick up the practices they did in those times again.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m working my way through a book called “How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In” by Jim Collins. In a narrow sense, he advocates the same philosophy—build on what works or has worked. Consider that to be your main ‘flywheel.’ Experiment in other areas, but always keep enough energy on your main flywheel so that it continues to function well.

There is much truth to his philosophy, especially in terms of practicality. But there also comes a point when one has to consider whether even the main flywheel, that which has brought us much “success,” is a wholesome endeavor. And was it ‘successful’ because it was so good, or was it simply a case of being in the right place at the right time, etc.?

Revelation 13:10c is just a phrase, only a portion of a verse. But it speaks volumes. In fact, it’s a recurring theme throughout the book of Revelation. Things may not be easy. We might not experience a worldly measure of ‘success.’ But we are still called to have endurance and faith in the One who is trustworthy and true.

This is not to say that we should automatically see our plight at any particular time as divine confirmation of our rightness. But it is to say that, with a Godly measure of endurance and faith, we can fully engage in the struggle—both within and without—till we someday hear the final trumpet blast.

Prayer: Lord, I’m becoming more and more convinced that we are not called to be right or to see ourselves as such. But rather to simply trust in your ability to someday make all things right. But does that mean that, ironically, I’m still starting to see myself as right? Oh my…the power of sin is ever so close! Save us from it all…in Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Jeremiah 42-44, Psalm 48, Revelation 13)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On Earth as it is in Heaven

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Revelation: 12:12 Rejoice then, you heavens
and those who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
for the devil has come down to you
with great wrath,
because he knows that his time is short!”

Observation: Interesting contrast between the joy in heaven and the pain on earth

I'm testing out an online version of my daily devotions at So this is my first entry along these lines. Probably won't be my normal mode of operation since doing them in a Word document like I normally do gives me full access and control over anything I've written. Plus I like the concordance feature in my own Bible software. And then cutting and pasting what I wish to share into a blog offers pretty similar options to what offers.'s my entry:

The writer of Revelation commends the heavens in regard to their situation and pronounces woe on the inhabitants of the earth. For some reason what first comes to mind when I read this verse is the line in the Lord's prayer about God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven. In other words, we pray that what is on earth will one day be like it already is in heaven.

However, elsewhere in Scripture things seem to be somewhat the other way around. Jesus says, twice in Matthew, that whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

We are also told numerous times that the kingdom of heaven has come near and that both heaven and earth will pass away. Scripture tells us that bread can come down from heaven, but also fire and sulfur. Heaven can open and close and there are voices that come from heaven too. And that's just a sampling of the Biblical understandings of heaven. I didn't want to take the time to look up all 601 verses in Scripture where, according to my concordance, "heaven" appears.

So if there is joy in heaven, and I believe that there is, there is also probably heartache too. Such heartache may not last forever, but it's still real, just as real as this life on earth.

Prayer: Lord, help me to appreciate all of your splendor, whether on earth or heaven. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Scripture readings today included: 2 Kings 25, 2 Chronicles 36, Jeremiah 40-41, and Revelation 12)

Monday, September 6, 2010

58 Reasons to Take Note

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Ezekiel 29:6 Then all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know
that I am the LORD
because you were a staff of reed
to the house of Israel;

Observation: It seemed like the phrase “shall know the Lord” comes kept coming up in today’s readings. So I got out my concordance and found that that phrase occurs 58 times in Ezekiel! It only occurs 10 other times in the entire Bible (7 times in Exodus, 2 times in 1 Kings, and one time in Isaiah). Usually it’s preceded by the word “they” or by the word “you.”

Application: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see a theme here! The God of the Old Testament was facing an identity crisis of sorts; this God, apparently, was not readily recognized by the people. Furthermore, people were taking pride in themselves and their circumstances as if they deserved it. And so there was both the threat and plan for lots of destruction. After all of this, God thought, surely “all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the Lord.”

Please understand that I mean no disrespect when I comment that, it appears, either God thought wrong or the prophet misrepresented God. From history we know that some people later learned to know God as the Lord, but many did not. Destruction in and of itself is not always convincing as a proof of God’s existence or a compelling introduction to God.

It’s little wonder, then, that God later chose the opposite tactic—Love. The most famous New Testament passage of all tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…”

Admittedly, even this tactic hasn’t totally won the world over—at least not quite yet. There are still many who do not know who is the Lord. But I must say that I find the love approach—especially as it is embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—to be a much more compelling witness.

Prayer: Lord, you so dearly desire that we might know you as Lord. Please help us along in that regard, not just in recognizing you as such, but in knowing and following you as such. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Ezekiel 29-32 and Revelation 11)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Look Who Cares What the Neighbor's Think!

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention Today: Ezekiel 20:13c-14 Then I thought I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make an end of them. 14 But I acted for the sake of my name, so that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out.

Several times in these chapters it is proclaimed that God withheld the wrath for the sake of God’s name.

Application: Reputations can be important. One doesn’t want a good reputation destroyed and it’s natural and appropriate to endeavor to live up to a good reputation if it indeed fits. On the human side of things one has to remember that we are nevertheless all sinful at one level or another. So it’s never about being perfect but, rather, being real and striving, in response to God’s unconditional love, for the greater good.

On the Godly side of things, however, the stakes are higher. On the one hand, God can do whatever God wants. God is God. But on the other hand the Scriptures, curiously, paint a portrait of a God who does care, shall we say, about what the neighbors think. Early on it was Moses and a few other leaders who actually used this rationale with God in a successful attempt to curtail God’s wrath. Here in Ezekiel we see God claim this rationale personally. As has been said, “where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.”

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the grace that you extend to each of us and to your people as a whole. Help us to respond in kind. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Ezekiel 20-21, Psalm 111, Revelation 8)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

When the Earth is No Longer Flat

Scripture Verse that Caught My attention Today: Revelation 7:1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on earth or sea or against any tree.

Observation: the writer of Revelation assumed a flat earth. And who controls the wind, anyhow?

Application: This morning I read an editorial on wind farms. According to the article, wind farms are not a good idea largely because the wind is unpredictable.

It’s not my purpose to argue for or against wind farms. But I do agree that the wind, at least where I live, is not consistent. It blows hard one day and hardly at all the next. It seems like it blows a lot in the wintertime and not so much in the summer. But that’s just my perception.

The writer of Revelation perceived that the earth was flat and he probably also assumed that it was either square or rectangular in shape, hence the ‘four corners.’

These days we know that the earth doesn’t have corners because it’s a three-dimensional globe rather than a large piece of flatness. But that doesn’t mean that we know everything. There is still some mystery that we have not yet been able to uncover, even if, by now, meteorologists are able to explain the whole wind phenomenon too.

Interestingly, even with our limited knowledge, God can still speak through us a message of truth. John saw in his vision a multitude that no-one could count standing before the throne of God. I think he was onto something!

Lord, help us to be part of that innumerable crowd. I’ll bet it will circle the globe. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Ezekiel 17-19 and Revelation 7)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

What were we thinking?

Scripture Verses that Caught my Attention today: Ezekiel 16:30 How sick is your heart, says the Lord GOD, that you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen whore;

AND Ezekiel 16:60 yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant.

: Ezekiel 15 and 16 and even 17 (which I accidentally read today as well) are full of very powerful and intimately disturbing imagery. Also, the coarseness of the language is almost startling, with the use of the words “whore” and “whoring” repeatedly spewing forth as if from the mouth of a stereotypical drunken and cussing sailor. And yet there is a redeeming thread that is still woven through it all.

Application: God’s question “How sick is your heart?” brings to mind the exclamatory question we often rhetorically ask of ourselves, “What was I thinking!” We look back at a moment (or even a long period!) of questionable judgment and wonder how in the world we could have ever gotten to that point. We wonder how we could have been so deluded, so short-sighted, so depressed, so full of ourselves, so whatever!

Some of these things that now embarrass us are just because we, like most everyone else, were simply caught up in the time. We may cringe at the sight of some of the clothes we wore, for example, but they were just a reflection the time periods and culture in which we lived.
Other things, however, may go much deeper. We may wonder how we could have ‘fallen’ for someone who later turned out to be quite different than we had hoped. Or we may have lavished our energies upon some ideal or pursuit that ultimately led only to disappointment and regret.

At such times of realization, where can we turn? More specifically, to whom can we turn?

Answer? To the Almighty One who rescued us from the beginning and for some reason still loves us even now.

Prayer: Dear Lord, sometimes you must be wondering what in the world I was thinking. Then again, you already know…and love me regardless. Help be to take such incredible grace to heart. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Ezekiel 15-16, Psalm 70, Revelation 6)