Thursday, October 28, 2010

When Love Gets Ya

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention today: Job 19:25-26 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,

Observation: Job has faith during especially interesting circumstances; his life is in shambles, but still he hopes on.

Application: I’m struck by Job’s understanding of God being alive and well and potentially responsive even though Job also often muses, even earlier in this same chapter, about this same God more or less deserting him. And even though Job uses the word ‘redeemer,’ the Jesus we have heard of would not yet have been known in the ancient BC era; so Job sees the Almighty as the redeeming one.

Job’s deeply hopeful perspective is one from which many of us can take note. It’s easy to want and expect some form of justice in this world (particularly when we might be the beneficiaries!). When it is not quickly forthcoming we are often tempted to respond with any number of emotions including the predictable and reasonable questions of “Why?” and “Is God really there?”.

Job is convinced that the Almighty exists, has divine prerogative, and will certainly act sooner or later. And although he is not particularly happy about it, Job nevertheless seems remarkably comfortable with the ‘later’ part of that equation. Many of us, it seems, would do well to follow suit.

Prayer: Lord, there’s an old song with the line, “sooner or later, love is gonna get ya.” I think that’s true…and I think it’s through you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings included Job 19 and Mark 1-2)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Helpful Confinement

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: Acts 26:31-32 and as they were leaving, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to the emperor.”

Observation: Sometimes there are forms of confinement that actually keep us safe.

Application: When I was in elementary school I had an assigned seat on the bus—right behind the driver! Part of the reason I was there was because I was often getting in trouble on the bus. But the other reason I was there was more or less for my own protection. There was a fair amount of fighting and bullying on our bus and sometimes I bore the brunt of it. So although I complained regularly about having to sit up there, inside I realized that it was actually a good thing.

Though Paul in the passage above had done no wrong, had he been released he more than likely would have been killed by those who were after him. His time in prison actually protected him. It also gave him opportunity to write several of the New Testament Books that we still hold dear today.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see each situation in our life as an opportunity to be of service to you and to serve as an example of the kind of people that trust in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 17 and Acts 24-26)

Monday, October 25, 2010

How Much Do We Really Know?

Scripture Verse that Caught my Attention today: Job 16:2 “I have heard many such things;
miserable comforters are you all.

Observation: Sometimes our presence is more important and helpful than anything we can say.

Application: First, although I write these entries primarily as part of my own spiritual discipline, those who are reading it are really encouraged to read chapters 21-23 of Acts. I’m not reflecting on that particular reading today, but it really is a great story and I hope you check it out.

Okay, back to the verse above from Job that caught my attention today. There is a saying that goes something like this: “After being in Africa for a week, I felt like I could write a book about the culture. After being in Africa for a month, I felt like I could perhaps write a chapter about the culture. After being in Africa for a year, I struggled to even come up with a paragraph about the culture.”

I find that adage to be true, not only about Africa, but also about many other things in life. At the beginning things are oversimplified and we sometimes think we know much more than we actually do. With more and more experience we see the deeper layers of meaning and begin to realize that things are not always simple as they seem.

Job was further along in the experience than his ‘friends.’ They thought they had all the ‘answers,’ but Job was concentrating more on figuring out what might be the right questions. Rather than acknowledging the reality of his situation, they wanted to quickly assign and compartmentalize a little blame, offer a simple prescription for success, and get on with their lives with a confident pat on their own backs for solving yet another problem on another day.

Had they really entered into his experience and spent some time dwelling in his reality, they probably would have come up with less to say, but it would have counted far more. In fact, they might have found that they had nothing to say, yet their presence (in body and/or in spirit) might have meant the world.

Prayer: Lord, in a world where we are often expected (or want!) to offer the quick fix, help us be patient enough to simply enter into the world in which we are placed and the dwell there in light of the hope that can only be found in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 16 and Acts 21-23)

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Look at Stupid

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Job 11:12 But a stupid person will get understanding, when a wild ass is born human.

Observation: Hmmm…

Application: Recently I’ve seen some online posts concerning ‘stupid’ people. I think one of them was the old adage “you can’t fix ‘stupid.’” I must admit, based on the above verse alone, such might appear to be the case.

But not so fast… This verse, though scriptural, was spoken by “Zophar the Naamathite.” He was one of Job’s three ‘friends’ who was basically trying to criticize him. In a turn of events, by the time chapter 42 rolls around, Zophar and the other two friends will be dependent on Job’s prayer to save them from the wrath of God. Why? Because “[they] have not spoken of me [the Lord] what is right.” Now who looks stupid?

Truth be told, at least according to Jeremiah 10:14 and its identical twin verse in Jeremiah 51:17, “Everyone is stupid and without knowledge;
goldsmiths are all put to shame by their idols;
for their images are false,
and there is no breath in them.”

Psalm 94:6 puts it this way: “The dullard cannot know,
the stupid cannot understand this:”

Then there’s Proverbs 30:2 Surely I am too stupid to be human;
I do not have human understanding.

Now we’re getting somewhere. All of us are full of folly at one or more levels. And whether or not ‘stupid’ can be fixed, it most certainly can be redeemed. And while from a human point of view this doesn’t appear to be the brightest thing our Lord has ever done (redeeming the likes of us), it is certainly the most loving. Hence, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13, love far surpasses knowledge in the gift department.

Prayer: Lord, there are certainly days (some might say ‘everyday!’) when I’m not the brightest of your children. But I thank you for using me nevertheless. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Job 11-12, Acts 12-13)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Truth is sometimes hard to recognize

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Acts 14:18-19 Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them. But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead.

Observation: The people were really fickle and easily swayed.

Application: Sometimes a person can’t help but wonder if there’s really a right way to do things. I’m thinking politics as the moment. Some say raise taxes and provide more needed services. Others say lower taxes and prosperity and generosity will prevail. The yearly battle of persuasion is really that—a battle of persuasion.

This story from Acts, of course, isn’t about taxes or the best ways to go about public service, but it does serve as an example of how there is almost always an opposing side. The span of the pendulum swing is huge—the crowds go from wanting to worship Paul to actually stoning him. How could this happen?

This is why I am very confident in God, but not so confident in me. I trust God to know the truth. I do not trust myself to always know the truth. As in the days of old, the truth sometimes comes from surprising corners. And unfortunately, the crowds are not always swayed by it. And ironically, some who claim to have it are only fooling themselves. The real truth always wins out and eventually is recognized, but perhaps not for a long, long time.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be open to the truth--from whatever quarter it may come—and not be tossed about by this and that. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings included: Job 9-10 and Acts 13-14)

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Is there Any Sense to be made of 'collateral damage?'

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: Acts 12:18-19 When morning came, there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 When Herod had searched for him and could not find him, he examined the guards and ordered them to be put to death. Then Peter went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.

I love the line “no small commotion.”

Application: There are times when we are totally bewildered. All the more so when something happens that is beyond our control. One can almost imagine the panic among the soldiers. Their lives were at stake and they had no rational explanation. It does seem a little unfair though. Although soldiers in those days weren’t considered to be the most savory of people, they nevertheless did their job…or in this case, at least tried. They must have been going nuts that morning and understandingly so; they didn’t live to see another day.

This whole scene brings to mind (at least from a human point of view) the presumably unfortunate results of God’s involvement in the world. Much has been written about the people killed in God’s name, but there are also those who perished as a result of humans trying to get at God or God’s people. There were the babies that were killed in an effort to kill Moses as a child. There were the babies that were killed in an effort to kill Jesus as a child. And here we have some soldiers that ended up dead because an angel more powerful than they rescued Peter out of their hands.

I’m not quite sure what to make of all of this. In the military they call it collateral damage, as if it’s just the cost of doing business. But for God, one would think there might be a kinder, gentler way. Guess that’s just another topic for possible discussion when my own time comes.

Prayer: Dear Lord, as always, there is much that I do not yet understand. Maybe I will someday. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 6-8, Acts 12)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Surprising Generosity

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Acts 11:27-30 At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. 29 The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; 30 this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Observation: Famine over all the world? Over the ‘world’ they knew? What was the timing? Did they send relief ahead of the famine? Interesting that, though presumably they would have their own share in the famine, they still sent relief elsewhere.

Application: As noted above, some questions do come to mind in regard to this passage. These days it seems that famines tend be confined to certain areas of the world which, of course, vary over time. When it’s dry in one place, it’s usually wet somewhere else. In those days, of course, the world of which they were aware was considerably smaller. This was centuries before America was ‘discovered,’ and much of the rest of the world we know as well. So maybe it was a relatively local famine.

Whatever. Of more interest and potential importance is the implication that perhaps they sent the relief ahead of time. That’s faith! If Agabus showed up today and said such things, we’d probably think he had some emotional and mental ‘issues’ that should be dealt with long before we’d consider taking up a collection to help people endure a weather pattern that had yet to occur.

No matter. The real point is not so much what they did, but their willingness to do it at the expense of themselves. Surely they would experience famine too. Wouldn’t they need some of their supplies? Apparently not as much as the folks in Judea.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the examples of generous witnesses. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Job 5, Psalm 108, Acts 10-11)

Monday, October 18, 2010


Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: Acts 8:4 Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.

Observation: The reality of current circumstances opens up many possibilities.

Application: I’ve been mentally messing with something today. It’s not necessarily a new question, but I’m pondering how (or even if!) one can help nurture people’s spirituality in a more intentional way. Is there any possible way to measure it (while still being faithful to a Lutheran understanding of the Gospel)? Should a person’s spirituality ‘grow’ over time, or is it something that would ideally be rather constant?

There are a bunch of related questions that come to mind as well. But suffice it to say that the early Christian movement began largely because people who had been touched by the word shared that word generously. It doesn’t appear that they went around measuring people’s spirituality, but they certainly shared the message whenever they had opportunity and had a plan for helping those who wanted to grow. I’d like to take some more time to consider how I might better do such things.

Prayer: Lord, allow the questions to be a source of inspiration. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Job 3-4 and Acts 8-9)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Not Falling Prey to Fear

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Acts 5:33-39 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. 35 Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

Observation: A wise person comes forth.

We could certainly use some more Gamaliels in the world. He appears to be one who is willing to entertain new ideas, but does so by testing them over time and in comparison with other ideas. He realized that, if the apostles were not from God, there was really nothing to worry about and that if they were from God, he didn’t want to be against them.

These days what we see over and over again, particularly in politics, is the use of fear as a weapon and motivator. In some ways its an extension of a fundamental shift that almost all forms of media undertook probably 20 or so years ago (maybe more). Media used to report the news (as in what had happened). These days, more often than not, the Media’s definition of ‘news’ is what might happen. And since, in almost any given situation, there’s always a chance that what might happen might be bad, guess where the headlines and articles usually place their focus? It’s little wonder that many politicians follow suit.

In the days of the Apostles, that’s what some of the religious leaders were doing as well. They bought into a climate of fear instead of rationality. Thankfully Gamaliel rose up with a more balanced point of view.

Prayer: Lord, it actually takes a lot of confidence and a life deeply rooted in you in order to not be easily sucked into a fear mentality. Keep nurturing us along in those directions. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Malachi 3 and 4, Psalm 148, and Acts 5)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Lessons in Leadership: Honoring God Before Others

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Acts 4:19-20 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; 20 for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

Observation: Quite a bit of confidence. But then again, they realized that they were speaking of one with great power.

Whenever you are in a position of leadership/authority, there will always be some who are disappointed in your work. Whether their disappointment is rational or irrational makes no difference: it is disappointment all the same. As a result, sometimes these disappointed people get angry.

Almost every pastor, rightly or wrongly, has probably experienced brunt of such angst at one time or another, if not multiple times. So have other people in leadership. What then?

Well, if the people who are angry do not appear to have much power and/or influence, we might just go on (which could be bad, because it’s possible that these people had a point that should have been considered.) But if they do appear to have power and/or influence, we might be tempted to flinch (which might be bad, because we might compromise our values rather than sticking true to principles).

At that point we might want to take a cue from the disciples who recognized two very basic principles. First, they were speaking of Jesus who they realized clearly had more power than the authorities before them. The disciples realized that, even if the authorities brought them to the point of death, Jesus had the power to bring them back to life. So while the disciples respected earthly authority, they would not ultimately bow to it.

Second, the disciples spoke about what they had seen first-hand. It was a testimony that could not be denied. They did not launch out into the realm of speculation. No, they stuck with what they had heard and seen. Others might try to deny it, but they cannot prove it otherwise.

This is another reason why it’s helpful to be in some sort of daily devotional discipline. A regular diet of exposure to the workings of God as recorded in Scripture (including an honest look at the variety of ways that the Biblical writers understood such things) and seeing applications in our daily lives gives us a basis for our witness that is authentic and personal. Then we, like the disciples, cannot stop from ‘speaking about what we have seen and heard.’

Prayer: Lord, I’m not currently in any big struggle (at least to my knowledge!), but I know that such things do naturally occur periodically in leadership. In such times help me to endeavor to always honor the people, but never at the expense of honoring you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Nehemiah 13, Malach 1-2, Acts 4)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Help for Minor Difficulties

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: Acts 3:6 But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”

Observation: Sometimes what we ask for or expect is too small.

Application: One of the affects of marketing--these days as well as long, long ago—is that it messes with our understanding of what really has value and what will really bring us wholeness. The lame man in the passage above was willing to eke out his existence through a regular supply of handouts. Peter, of course, showed him a better way.

On a hopefully related note, my prayer right now is for the Chilean minors who, last night, were rescued after nearly 70 days underground. This prayer also extends to those who rescued them. Rescuers and Rescuees will face many pressures related to their newfound celebrity. Our natural and almost insatiable curiosity about them and their ordeal will help create such pressures. Will they be able to keep in mind what really brings wholeness and from whom it is ultimately found? I’m hoping they will. But it won’t be easy, and I’m not sure I’d fare any better. It occurs to me that, had they perished below, they would have been forever memorialized. But now that they’ve emerged it will be interesting to see to what extent they are able to embrace their own humanity in light of certain pressures to be something more. And it will be interesting to see to what extent we can embrace their humanity as well, loving them for all the good, bad, and sometimes ugly expressions that come from mere mortals. And should minors and rescuers ever short-change themselves in terms of what they want, hopefully there will be a form of Peter somewhere who will offer them something more.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for real-life stories that inspire us, both from Biblical times and from now. Now I pray that those from whom such inspiration comes might receive a special measure of perspective from you, keeping them grounded in you alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Nehemiah 11-12, Psalm 1 and Acts 3)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Who is Prayer For?

Scripture Verse that Caught my Attention Today: Nehemiah 9:9 “And you saw the distress of our ancestors in Egypt and heard their cry at the Red Sea.

Observation: Almost all of chapter 9 in Nehemiah is a recounting of the relationship between the Israelites and God. But it’s offered in the form of a prayer. Which brings to mind a simple question: To whom in prayer for?

Application. It’s nice to occasionally find a chapter in the Bible that sort of sums up what has been happening thus far. Certainly chapter nine of Ezekiel is one such example. Another is Acts chapter 7. In Acts 7 (which was not part of today’s readings but will obviously be coming up in about five days) it is Stephen recounting the history as part of his defense. But in Nehemiah the recounting is offered as part of a prayer.

Surely God knows all of this. So why did Ezra include it in his prayer? Was it to make sure that God knew that he knew? Hardly. More likely it was a way of making sure that the people knew full well about the movement of which they were a part…that they knew that they had been at fault—throughout history. And that they also knew that the Lord had been gracious and merciful throughout history.

That’s what my most authentic, most personal prayers are like too. They are times when I simply repeat what God already well knows. The prayers are more of a reminder to myself of what God had done, how God’s hand has provided, what current ponderings come to mind, and the like. It’s more or less a time of thinking aloud with the One being that I have the audacity to believe actually hears and enjoys my personal musings, however redundant and mundane.

Yes, in many ways the prayer is for me and, often, about me. But then again, it is also something more…much, much more. For as we tap into ourselves, we also tap in to our common humanity…the points of our common existence…and even calling. And that, of course, often reminds us of our common need for the One who, for a time was human, but has always been divine. It’s in his name that we pray.

Lord, what can be said that you do not already know? Answer: nothing? But what are you willing, nevertheless, to hear? Answer: everything. Thank you! In Jesus’ name. Amen..

(Scripture Readings Today included: Nehemiah 9-10, Acts 2)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Being at Peace with what 'God Only Knows.'

Scripture Verses that Caught My attention Today: Acts 1:7-8 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Observation: Sometimes we spend too much time trying to figure out what we don’t really need to know…and maybe aren’t even supposed to know. Worse, spending so much time doing such things often prevents us from doing what we really are supposed to do. In the passage above, the disciples wanted to know some info for their OWN benefit. But Jesus tells them to focus on the power they will soon receive to be Jesus’ witness (and therefore a blessing) for the benefit of OTHERS.

Application: Recently I read or heard of a famous actress who, now in her 50’s, said that at this point in her life she just plans to focus on herself and what she wants and needs. I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.

Now, I will admit that sometimes it’s possible to focus only on pleasing others to the unhealthy extent of almost completely neglecting oneself. But these are each polar extremes that should be avoided.

Only caring for oneself is, by definition, to not care for anyone else. Only caring for others is, by definition, to not care for oneself.

There must be another way, and Jesus says as much. The Holy Spirit provides a gift of power, both for oneself and in order that that self can be of service to God for the benefit of others.

It seems to me that this principle applies to many aspects of one’s life. The most important dimension is certainly Spiritual; if we are Spiritually healthy, we will be in a better position to help others Spiritually. But I think it’s also true in those lesser dimensions in life including physical, mental, and even financial health. The ways in which we steward those resources can be demonstrations of the thanksgiving we feel toward God for such opportunities. It’s also a far better use of our time than trying figure out the kinds of things that, as they say, “God only knows.”

Prayer: Lord, help me to be thankful for the opportunities you provide. Help me also to take advantage of those opportunities to be of better service to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Nehemiah 7-8 and Acts 1)

Monday, October 11, 2010

Courage instead of Paranoia

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: Nehemiah 6:11-13 But I said, “Should a man like me run away? Would a man like me go into the temple to save his life? I will not go in!” 12 Then I perceived and saw that God had not sent him at all, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. 13 He was hired for this purpose, to intimidate me and make me sin by acting in this way, and so they could give me a bad name, in order to taunt me.

Observation: Nehemiah could easily have gotten paranoid, but chose not to do so.

Application: It’s one thing to be wise, to be prepared, to be realistic, to understand that all is not perfect in the world. It is quite another to look for a monster behind every bush. In times of stress or concern, I sometimes find it helpful to address those concerns head-on with a couple of honest questions. 1) what’s the worst thing that could happen? 2) What if the worst did happen, then what? Sometimes I’ll also ask a third question of myself; how likely is it that the worst would happen?

Nehemiah realized that the worst thing that could happen in his case would be that perhaps there were people conspiring to kill him. If so, he figured, he did not want to be found and killed in the temple, hovering like a coward. Of course, as it turned out, the effort to persuade him to hide in the temple was a ploy for harm and not for good. Thankfully he did not succumb to the guise. It’s a good example for all of us to keep in mind.

Prayer: Lord, help me to have the courage, when needed, to remain rooted in you and in trust of your provision an insight. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings Today included: Nehemiah 5-6, Psalm 146, Luke 24)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Wisdom from Jonathan and Jahzeiah

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Ezra 10:15 Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah opposed this, and Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levites supported them.

Observation: For some reason I think that Jonathan and Tikvah and Meshullam and Shabbethai make good sense.

This is another one of those somewhat perplexing and even troubling sections of Scripture. The Israelites had intermarried with the people of the land and that was believed to be both against God’s will and a potential cause for God’s punishment. The solution, according to Ezra and the leaders, was to send the wives from these marriages away, along with the accompanying children. And, in fact, that it what was done.

Four people, however, opposed this matter: Jonathan and Jahzeiah with the support of Meshullam and Shabbethai. We never really hear from them again, and clearly their opinion did not hold sway. But I think they were on to something.

Here’s the deal (in my opinion!). The Israelites and the leaders (and I’m not really blaming them, cause they weren’t doing it intentionally…it’s just how their thought process worked) believed the blame should be placed on foreign women and, therefore, the solution was to simply get rid of them. But in reality, all of humanity has a sinful nature. And so it’s not quite as simple as proclaiming that some people (others) are bad and other people (ourselves) are, if not good, at least better!

I think that Jonathan and Jahzeiah realized the folly of such views—or at least had enough compassion to see that just sending women and children off on their own was not the ultimate solution. I can’t help but wonder if this is a case where the prevailing view was to find the quickest and easiest way to ease their guilty consciences, rather than to roll up their sleeves and really deal with the complexities of the situation in which they had placed themselves. And I think they could have taken a cue from the Lord on this. Remember the story of Adam and Eve in the garden. They were told that if they ate of one particular tree that they would die. That’s pretty clear cut. But in reality, once their sinful deed had become known, the Lord dealt with the complexity of the situation and let them live (albeit not in the garden). It’s like when parents have a daughter that gets pregnant out of wedlock. Sure, it’s not the ideal situation; it’s not what most people hope for and it may present a challenging predicament. But it’s a situation that can be worked through and from which much good can come.

I wish Jonathan and Jahzeiah’s views would have somehow prevailed.

Prayer: Lord, you know the ancient situations better than I. Same goes for life in the present. If my muttering makes any sense, well and good. If not, so be it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Ezra 9-10, Psalm 131, and Luke 21)

Exercise: Did the 1000 Challenge today

Did Ballantyne's TT1000 workout today for a change of pace.

100 Jumping Jacks
25 close-grip pushups
25 jumps
25 pullups
100 squats
50 mountain climbers
25 stickups
100 pushups
50 walking lunges
50 underhand inverted rows
Plank (100 seconds)
50 Stability Ball Leg Curls
50 Decline Pushups
25 overhand inverted rows
50 mountain climbers
50 squats
25 chinups
100 Jumping Jacks

Took 35 minutes. Note that each exercise does not need to be done all at once. For example, with pushups I did 25, 20, 15, 15, 12, 8, and 5 to get to the total of 100.

This is obviously a relatively advanced workout, but the number of reps per exercise could be cut in half or even fourths for those who would like a little challenge on more of a beginner scale. I should also note that my form, unfortunately, was not as good as it should have been on some of the pull-ups, chin-ups, and inverted rows. I'll do better next time. This was my very first time with this routine. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

All Aboard?

Scripture Verse that Caught my Attention Today: Ezra 8:15 I gathered them by the river that runs to Ahava, and there we camped three days. As I reviewed the people and the priests, I found there none of the descendants of Levi.

Observation: Ezra wanted to assure that all were represented.

Application: Reading through lists of names and tribes and such in the Old Testament can be a little monotonous, at least for me. The various regions and lineages are not the kind of stuff with which I am intimately familiar. The big names stand out, of course. But most of the others tend to blur together. Yet in those days each name was important. And Ezra took it upon himself to pull a Santa and, after making a list, checked it twice. In so doing he realized that the Levites were missing and went about the process of rectifying the situation.

This is so contrary to how so many people operate today. In politics in particular, efforts to get what is desired (by whoever is in charge) often trump efforts to include everyone at the table. And sometimes even when everyone is at the table there is such obstinacy at the table that it’s almost understandable why some don’t work very hard to include everyone in the first place.

Still Ezra’s example is a worthy consideration. It delayed their venture for a little while. But when they finally set out, it was a unified effort.

Prayer: Lord, help us, in our fragmented society, to seek a more inclusive way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Ezra 7-8 and Luke 20)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Encouraging Signs that help Carry us Through

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: Luke 19:8-10 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Observation: Luke 19 is a relatively heavy and ominous chapter…or at least it becomes so after this opening segment. Jesus is on the verge of entering Jerusalem where, I guess we could say, all hell will break out against him. So when Jesus says, as he does above, “Today salvation has come to this house…” I can sense joy in his voice. And later, a confirmation of purpose: “For the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost.”

It has often been said that “it’s gonna get worse before it gets better.” Sometimes that’s the case. I suppose in the over-all scheme of things, that’s also true in regard to Jesus; crucifixion came before resurrection.

But it’s also true that sometimes we need (or at least appreciate) a positive or hopeful experience that can sort of help carry us through an impending trial. I think that’s what happened to Jesus in the passage above. The conversion of Zacchaeus was a really encouraging sign…and timely, especially in light of what Jesus would soon undergo.

Whenever I periodically go through a trial of one sort or another, whether great or small, I often find it helpful to consider the blessings I have already received and/or the signs that I am on the right path, even if it happens to be difficult at the time. Such things remind me of what I am to be about, or why I should consider myself fortunate. It provides a way of embracing the future, however uncertain it might seem at the time.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the past, present, and future which are all in your hands. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Esther 9-10 and Luke 19)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

As Persistent as Possible, As Content as Necessary

Scripture Verse that Caught My attention today: Luke 18:7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?

Observation: Jesus has different things to say in terms of prayer and/or requests made of him.

Application: First, the story of Esther from today’s reading of Esther chapters 3-8 is really good reading. It’s quite a story that flows quickly, is filled with irony and, to top it off, has a happy ending too (at least for Esther and her people). If you have to choose between reading the entry that follows or reading Esther, I’d suggest Esther (especially since I never know what I’m going to write until I do so).

At any rate, last weekend I preached on Luke 17:5-6 where the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith did not do so. Instead, depending on your interpretation of the passage, he either suggested that they should have more faith than they do or that they should simply use the faith that they already have. He does not, however, grant their request or, as some would say, answer their prayer.

In contrast, the passage above presents a God who responds to persistent cries…and in quick fashion. Which way is it?

I’m not sure we can ever know…at least in this life. At times it would seem that persistence pays off—wearing God down to the point of compliance. Other times it just seems to wear us out. And we seldom, if ever, know ahead of time which way it will be in our case.

Perhaps that’s just as well. Let us simply be as persistent as possible and as content as necessary. Nothing less and nothing more.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thanks for inviting us to pray change and inviting us, at times, to stay content. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Esther 3-8 and Luke 18)

Monday, October 4, 2010

An Ancient Look at a Woman's Place

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: Esther 1:17-18 For this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt on their husbands, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ 18 This very day the noble ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will rebel against the king’s officials, and there will be no end of contempt and wrath!

Observation: Fear of what things will lead to has been the cause of many a foolish rule.

Application: I get a kick out of this passage. Earlier King Ahasuerus wanted to more or less exploit his wife and her beauty by having her parade before the other nobles. She had the audacity to refuse; and so suddenly the King was in an embarrassing situation. Unable to face the possibility that his request might have been unloving and self-serving in the first place, he instead opted to find a way to punish her for what he considered wrong. In fact, the king’s men encouraged such thinking, jointly fearful that if something wasn’t done soon, their own wives might follow suit. It’s a case study in male insecurity.

For her part, once these two chapters in Esther are completed, Queen Vashti is never heard from again. Esther eventually rises to replace her and ends up being a heroine (sp?) for God’s chosen people. Nevertheless, Queen Vashti was far ahead of her time, leaving a lasting example of courage in the face of the unreasonable.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the example of Queen Vashti. Although she doesn’t overtly speak in term so faith, she nevertheless demonstrated the kind of courage and common sense that is only possible when one recognizes the intense value that all people ultimately have in your sight. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Esther 1-2, Psalm 150, and Luke 17)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jesus the populist leader?

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: Luke 15:1-2 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus was a magnet for the outcasts. Not so much so, for most Pharisees and scribes.

Application: I wonder what it was about Jesus that was such a natural draw to the common folk and brought such distain from the religious leaders.

These days in politics we periodically have someone who rises up from the crowd as a populist leader. Personally, I am often turned off by the rhetoric. They tend to oversimplify things, draw inaccurate comparisons, and shrewdly endeavor to harness for their own benefit our nation’s let’s-help-the-underdog-win mentality. When it’s all said and done what’s left are lots of promising sound-bites, a newly-elected official, and excuses for why things aren’t getting done. What are the excuses? The ‘other people’ in office won’t cooperate. Well Duh…how did you (insert almost any elected official’s name here) ever think that the people you’ve just spent the last several months lambasting are suddenly gonna treat you like a best friend and bow to your every wish?

But I digress. Yet because of my observation of politics thus far in my life, it somewhat pains me to consider that it’s possible that Jesus came across as a populist leader too. After all, he criticized the established practice of religion, did not bow to earthly rulers, violated established customs and in other ways more or less bucked the system. There is, however, a truly significant difference (besides ‘Saviorship,’ of course) between Jesus and modern-day political hopefuls—Jesus was never in it for himself. He never claimed to be the champion of the underdog, disenfranchised, etc. It’s just simply what he did. As the Scriptures bear witness, the Son of Man came to serve (not to be served), and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Upon noticing that the religious leaders were watching him with great suspicion, in Luke 15 Jesus told three of the most popular stories in the Bible to make his point—the finding of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost sons (each son was ‘lost’ in a different way)—poignant reminders of why Jesus came in the first place.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be part of your finding movement in the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Zechariah 13-14, Psalm 147, Luke 15)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Faith Reflections in Light of Tyler Clementi

October 1, 2010
Scripture Verse that Caught My attention today: Zechariah 10:8 I will signal for them and gather them in,
for I have redeemed them,
and they shall be as numerous as they were before.

the Lord is the great gatherer of people, and that’s a good thing.

Application: I’ve seen a fair amount of news in my lifetime, so it’s not very often that there is a story or headline that stays in my mind overnight. But the news of the Rutgers’ student who took his own life—quite likely because a room-mate streamed live, unauthorized, and intimate video of him over the Internet—just seems like such a travesty.

Part of me is appalled that a room-mate could take such grievous advantage of both technology and his roommate who, presumably in good faith, asked for privacy. The thought of the hidden camera and, much worse, the intentional broadcast to the public, truly sickens me. Yet the other part of me realizes that there are some things that, due to immaturity, may seem funny at the time and only later are understood for the true depth of their cruelty. Surely no-one involved envisioned things turning out as they did, including the legal process that has yet to unfold.

We live in a day of ‘reality’ TV where the view from hidden cameras is the norm. The people in those videos, however, signed up for as much. Closer to this situation was the old ‘Candid Camera’ show where people didn’t know they were being videoed and yet the segments appeared on national TV. Still, there were two important caveats. First, the subjects still had opportunity to give permission. Second, there were broadcast standards; some things were not deemed appropriate for national TV.

What does all of this have to do with the passage above? God was speaking through the prophet to the exiles. They had been scattered, partially as a consequence of their own actions and partially due to grievous injustice. God’s plan? To bring them back, to gather them in, to offer them signs of promise and hope, to personally care for them as a community.

It comes to mind that years ago there was another humiliation. It wasn’t a secret, though there was some secret plotting involved. There was no video stream, but there was a live showing of a naked and dying man. Most artist portrayals of Jesus on the cross have him tastefully covered up. But in all likelihood, he hung completely naked on the cross. Humiliation was an intentional partner to the pain. Jesus did not take his own life, but he did intentionally lay it down. And ironically, the one who ‘outed’ him (in terms of identifying him to the authorities) eventually felt such great remorse that he took his own life.

The Bible’s Gospel of John recalls the words of Zechariah after a sword was thrust into Jesus’ side to assure that he was really dead; “they will look upon the one they have pierced.”

Indeed. And when we do, we see the One who we are told will one day gather us all together, whether our name is Tyler or Dharun or Molly, or Judas…or you or I. I just wish it didn’t seem like such a long way down the road.

Prayer: Lord, be with all who are suffering in body or soul and await in life or in death the great gathering you promise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Zechariah 10-12, Psalm 126 and Luke 14)