Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Big Points and Small Points

Scripture Verses that Caught my Attention Today: Romans 1:24-2:1 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Rom. 1:26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

Rom. 1:28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. 29 They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.

Rom. 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.

AND Romans 3:23-24 “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; 24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…”

It’s a set-up. Paul sucks people into condemning others, then he condemns the finger-pointers and finally points out how everyone is dependent on the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. The smaller points in these passages might be debatable. The larger point of these passages is not.

Upon reading the observation above, the questions that most likely come to mind include: “what are the ‘smaller’ points?’ and, what is the ‘larger’ point?” Fair enough.

The smaller points are the specifics in terms of the different kinds of things that Paul either believes are wrong or believes that those to whom he is writing believe are wrong. It’s a laundry list of sorts—a listing of all kinds of things that either Paul thinks are wrong or that his followers think are wrong or both. These days a lot of people focus on his comments in regard to same-gender sexual activity--and that’s certainly worth discussing—but it is certainly NOT the main point of his passage. Although he describes same-gender sexual activity as ‘degrading,’ he describes a host of other things—including those who ‘envy,’ have ‘strife,’ are ‘gossips,’ or are ‘foolish’—as ‘wickedness.’ And so while it is easy to be drawn into a debate about any one of these smaller illustrations of what Paul considered degrading or wicked, the larger points still stand:

Large point 1: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Large point 2: “they are now justified by his grace as a gift…”

Paul is not trying to argue that some people are good and other people are bad. He is persuasively arguing that all people (himself included) are bad and that the only hope for one and all is through the crucified and risen one.

The moment that we forget either of these larger points, the moment that we consider ourselves to be ‘less bad’ than anyone else, that is the moment when we become another form of ‘wickedness’ which Paul describes as “boastful” or, possibly, “haughty.”

This is not to say that we can’t or shouldn’t have some honest discussion around any of Paul’s ‘examples.’ But everything must still be kept in its proper place. Small points go in the small basket; big points go in the big basket. Repeat, over and over and over again.

Prayer: Lord, there’s more that perhaps could or should be said, but for now I think it’s enough for you to reminds us to keep Paul’s big points and small point in their respective places.

(Readings today included: Romans 1-4)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Judas and Pilate Revisited

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today:

Matthew 27:4 [Judas] said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But [the chief priests and elders] said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” AND

Matthew 27:24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”

Observation: Scripture says that Judas ‘repented’ and tried to do the right thing by confessing and bringing the money back. Tragically, the leaders provided no means for his penitence and refused to take any responsibility, saying; “see to it yourself.”

In similar fashion, Pilate, though he may have had good intentions, didn’t take any responsibility either, symbolically washing his hands and also saying: “see to it yourselves.”

Application: I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Judas, even more so since I attended a conference a few years ago where the Bible study leader (a college professor of New Testament) touched upon Matthew’s account of Judas. He pointed out what I mentioned above—that Judas had come to recognize the depth of his error and at that point tried to do what the law required (i.e. going to the chief priests and the elders). But they would have nothing to do with him. They basically refused to give him access to the common and accepted mode of restoration at that time. They asked him to ‘see to’ something when, in fact, that was exactly what he was already trying to do, but they would have none of it. Literally distraught beyond belief, he most likely saw his life as over except for the breathing. And, of course, we all cringe in response to what, presumably moments later, he did about that.

Today was the first time that I noticed a similar transaction of words between the crowds and Pilate. He too didn’t take responsibility for another person’s life. Like the Chief Priests and Elders, he claimed no responsibility though he actually had considerable responsibility. And by the end of the day, there was another innocent death.

There’s a fine line, it seems to me, between taking on too much responsibility and not enough responsibility. Some people error on one side, fostering an unhealthy co-dependence, and others error on the other side, taking little if any responsibility at all. Truth be told, because of sin, none of us is able to walk the fine line perfectly. Hence our confession often has a line about how we sin by what we have done (taking on too much responsibility) and by what we have left undone (taking on too little responsibility). Stealing, for example, is taking too much responsibility upon ourselves—claiming something that is not rightfully ours. Watching someone else steal and not reporting it or trying to stop it is an example of not taking on enough responsibility.

The chief priests, elders, and Pilate blew it and two lives literally hung in the balance. And while the affects are not always so dramatic for us, we miss taking appropriate responsibility on a regular basis too. Thankfully when we exclaim, “Lord help us,” it’s more than a futile cry…it’s a declaration of faith.

Prayer: Lord, you have done what we could never do—taken the sin of the world upon yourself. Help us to live in thanksgiving for your mercy and to always know that in you we can always try, try again. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Psalm 125 and Matthew 26-27)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Avoiding 'chilly' Love

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Matthew 24:12 And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.

Observation: It’s easy to be faithful in times of plenty. It’s a bit more difficult when things aren’t going one’s way.

Application: We’re not big hunters in our family—growing up, the only things I regularly shot were groundhogs. But we do have several acres of woods and, now that our boys are teenagers, we’ve been attempting to hunt deer. I say ‘attempted’ because we have yet to get one. When the gun season opens next week we’ll give it another try.

At any rate, just the other day we learned from a neighbor about an injustice. The other side of our woods runs along a road. Turns out that, when gun season begins (at least last year), some unsavory hunters have been dropping people off at our woods early in the morning and they have been walking through our woods to flush the deer out of our woods to where they can shoot at them! To add a little insult to injury, a couple years ago someone dropped the carcasses of two deer right beside one of the trees that had the “no hunting” sign posted. Real classy.

When I think about people doing such things I must admit, it’s easy for my love to “grow cold.” I’m not hurting anybody. I just want others to stay out of our woods so that our own boys can have a little better chance at success. Plus, I don’t exactly consider it “sport” for one group to flush deer out for others to shoot—though that is a common practice in the area, so much so that the proper/safe way to do so is even taught in hunter safety courses.

Be that as it may, the greater point here is that, as people who claim to follow the crucified and risen one, we are not to let our love grow cold. This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive for justice in the world. Quite the contrary. But even in so doing, it is recognition that it is in no-one’s best interest for wrongs to be done. It cheapens the wrong-doers as much as those who are being wronged. We need not let our love grow cold. Better to just let it grow.

Of course, that’s easier said than done…until, of course, we consider how much God’s love has continued to grow for us.

Prayer: Lord, let us not grow cold in our loving. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Matthew 23-25)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving in Heaven Verses Thanksgiving on Earth.

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Matthew 22:30-33 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.

Observation: In eternity we live, but differently.

It’s Thanksgiving Day in this part of the world. Many will gather, our family included, and give thanks for various things in life. Often times, most notably, we give thanks for our family. (In some cases that’s only a half-truth—for many, if not most, families have at least one contingent among them that doesn’t get along with the rest and visa-versa.) That’s fair enough. Some of the relationships we have here on this earth truly do complete us, so to speak. We would feel lost without them. They give us stability, purpose, companionship, and, of course, love in its appropriate form(s).

But what about in the thereafter? Often times, when referring to the recently departed, someone will mention that so and so is up in heaven with his or her spouse now, and that they’re finally together again.

But is that true? More importantly, is that necessary? More pointedly still, is it even desirable in the heavenly realm?

I’d have to begin by saying that I don’t know for sure. But the passage above seems to indicate that, while we may someday be in the same place with those we loved on planet earth, our relationships with each other will be different. Rather than joining in marriage, we will be like the angels in heaven. Elsewhere Scripture does present a glorious vision of marriage in the kingdom of heaven, but it is of Jesus being the bride-groom and the entire church being his bride!

I’m not completely sure what to make of all of this except to say that perhaps the relationships we treasure on this earth are gifts for us to enjoy while on this good earth. None of these relationships is exactly perfect because none of us is, well, exactly perfect! Nevertheless, in many cases there is enough good in some of the relationship to treasure them greatly, sometimes so much so that we assume and/or wish that they will/would continue in the heavenly realm too.

But not so fast. Another thought comes to mind. What about the fact that many of our comrades in heaven will be people who were our enemies of one sort or another on earth: ex-spouses, soldiers from enemy fronts, competitors in the world of business, grade-school bullies and the like. As much as we might appreciate the thought of being with those we loved, how will it feel to also be immersed with those we perhaps hated or despised?

Answer? I can only surmise that, because our relationships with one another will apparently be different (like angels in heaven), all will be well.

This is not to in any way take away from the importance of our relationships on this good earth. I for one am exceedingly grateful for those whom the Lord has been kind enough provide to walk with me (and hopefully vice-versa!) in this earthly life. It’s hard to imagine life otherwise, nor do I want to. But whatever heaven is, things are going to be different there. And while it’s hard to imagine exactly what that difference will be like, here’s the kicker that makes it all worthwhile—just like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we will be alive!

That’s something for which we can truly be grateful!

Prayer: Lord, thanks for all the blessings of this life and the hope of the life to come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included Matthew 20-22)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What is the Authority of the Church?

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Matthew 18:18-19 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

Observation: The church has been given some authority from above.

Application: What role does the church play in the greater scheme of things?

Some time ago I heard a professor speak in terms of how the author of the Gospel of Matthew understood the church. Jesus, Matthew 16:19, offers to Peter and, by extension, the church throughout the ages, what is commonly known as the “office of the keys” that comes with the reality that ‘whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ In the passage above from chapter 18, Jesus repeats this instruction about binding and loosing and adds that “if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you” by our Father in heaven.

According to the professor, based on these verses and some other general themes in Matthew’s gospel, the church has God’s permission to bind and loose. In other words, in light of circumstances it is possible for the Church to come to new understandings and/or conclusions of what is and is not appropriate for the people of God in a new time and place.

Admittedly, this is a rather humbling thought, that the church—made up of sinners such that it is—might nevertheless be able to proclaim that something that was once taboo, could now be okay…and vice-versa. (I should also point out, as did the professor, that this understanding of the church’s authority is limited to Matthew. We do not necessarily find such understandings of the church’s role in other parts of the Bible.)

I also once heard a pastor, in this case a hospital chaplain, offer a presentation entitled: “Loosing is not Losing.” Her basic gist was that, if the church sincerely undertakes a time of study and prayerful deliberation on a significant matter, and comes to a different conclusion than a previously-held view, it is not necessarily a loss for the church to ‘loose’ the previously held restrictions.

Of course, some might understandably be fearful that, if such floodgates are opened, where will the church stop? Would it suddenly say that all kinds of malarkey are now permitted?

Personally, I don’t think so. Certainly people of faith even within the same church often come to different conclusions on any number of issues. But even so, I think all faithful Christians recognize the basic tenants of love God and love neighbor, even if we sometimes (alright, OFTEN!:)) differ in how best to do so.

Interestingly, according to Jesus, even if we are wrong on something, apparently in the kingdom of heaven it will nevertheless be loosed or bound, such as the case may be.

Prayer: Lord, throughout the Scriptures we find you engaging with the human species and even, at times, changing your mind in response to our requests for mercy. Give us wisdom in such things and plenty of grace as well. We surely need it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included Matthew 17-19)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Tall Order

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention today: Matthew 16:24-26 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

Observation: Interesting challenge/summons. What would it look like?

Application: I’m trying to imagine what it would look like if suddenly everyone in the world became a follower of Jesus. More precisely, I’m wondering what it would look like if everyone in the world became my idea of a follower of Jesus.

What is my idea of a follower of Jesus? It’s hard to say. Whatever it is, it’s someone who does a whole lot better job of it than I do!

It has something to do with being incredibly centered in one’s understanding of what it means to be a child of God. Such a one sees service as a way of life and is not particularly concerned with oneself. Such a one trusts that there will always be enough resources in the world for what is truly needed. Such a one will be wise but not fearful, prudent but not stingy, generous but also humble. Such a one will be glad to share his or her resources but will also encourage others to recognize and utilize the resources they already have. Such people will see this world as temporary, but will nevertheless take real good care of it. They will not fear death but will still embrace this life. They will worship God and give thanks for one another. Jealousy, resentment, excessive pride and the like will be no more. They will embody a constant spirit of thanksgiving. They will really know Jesus rather than just knowing some things about him. They will lose and still win. They will suffer and still rejoice. They will follow because they are led.


Prayer: Lord, it’s hard to picture exactly what you have in mind. Perhaps it’s better to not worry about anyone else and just remember to start once again with myself. That in itself is a tall enough order. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included Matthew 14-16)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Did They Really Understand?

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Matthew 13:51-52 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Observation: Really? Did they understand?

Application: Periodically I’ve caught myself over the years nodding in agreement with someone as if I understood what they were talking about. They may have been describing a place of which they thought I was familiar or a relative that they thought I knew or maybe they were even describing what they do at work (perhaps because I asked) but the topic soon went over my head. Still, sometimes I nodded on as if I actually understood what they were saying even if I scarcely had a clue.

I think that’s what the disciples have done in regard to Jesus; they have pretended to understand what, in reality, has gone way over their heads. It’s no wonder that, often times in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus addresses them by saying, “O ye of little faith.”

Thankfully, a little faith is enough. Jesus says it’s enough to move mountains or, in regard to humanity, reason enough to keep otherwise faltering disciples—then as well as now.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for putting up with us even when we don’t necessarily understand what you are all about. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Matthew 11-13)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Faith and Fear and the round-a-bout leading of God

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Matthew 2:1-2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

Observation: The star led the wise men on the round-a-bout path—first to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem.

Application: Usually when I think of this story I tend to mentally skip this part. Instead I envision the wise men being led directly to Jesus in Bethlehem. But the Bible says that’s not so. First they were led to Jerusalem.

I suppose we often envision that the Spirit should lead us directly on our appointed life path as well, preferably in direct fashion. But it often doesn’t work out that way. Usually we assume that we must have just misread the signs. And indeed that probably is often the case. But there may also be times when the indirect route is exactly the one through which we grow in faith, maturity, and even passion for the ways of God.

It occurs to me that those early years for Joseph were a big mixture of fear and faith, knowing and not knowing. Like the wise men, he was led in one way, and then another. Matthew says the reason was so that Scripture would be fulfilled. That’s fair enough. But I suspect there may be another reason as well; faith and fear often go together. Fear without faith is despair. Faith without fear? Well, I’m not sure that’s really faith. Even though the Bible often says “do not fear,” ironically it is that very fear which makes faith necessary to begin with—it provides a context within which faith can be exercised. Joseph was busy in that regard. Sometimes I am too.

Prayer: Lord, along whatever path you lead us and/or beckon us, help us too allow our faith to calm our fears and our fears to drive us to faith. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Matthew 1-4)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Test of Faith

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: 2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test!

Observation: How does one examine/test oneself in regard to whether one is living in the faith?

A colleague of mine once said that, within reason, self-criticism is often the most helpful and effective form of criticism. I think what he meant by that is that when we apply self-criticism, we are emotionally ready to take an honest look at ourselves and motivated to make changes if necessary. By contrast, if another person offers criticism, even if valid, we may not be ready, emotionally or physically, to make the necessary changes. So it’s interesting that Paul says to examine/test oneself.

But how does one do such a thing? What standard(s) could we or should we use? How do we know if we are “living in the faith” as opposed to living in our own delusion of faith? There are, after all, so many different answers that are offered (and sometimes demanded) from various ‘Christian’ leaders.

One criterion the Lutheran church offers is this question: “Is Christ Necessary?” This is not a flippant question. Am I living in grateful thanksgiving for Christ doing what I could never do or am I living under the delusion that I can adequately demonstrate what a person who wants to be saved should act like? The latter is merely a set-up for an eventual moral failing whereas the former offers possibilities for living through—and even embracing—all the good and bad that is part and parcel of our human existence.

Put another way, do I see myself as a key and deserving player on a team that Jesus ‘coaches’ where I need to continually deliver, or do I see myself as blessed with the opportunity to play for the One who has already delivered?

It seems to me that one way that we can ‘fail’ the test of whether Jesus Christ is in us is if we are so full of ourselves that we do not take the crucified and risen one into account. In other words, do we recognize Jesus as fully present and accounted? Do we recognize him as completely necessary? That’s perhaps the real test.

Prayer: Lord, there’s an old hymn the includes a line pleading that we would not “bring to naught all he [Jesus] has done.” I pray that we don’t. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Psalm 124 and 2 Corinthians 11-13)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Who Belongs to Christ?

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 10:7 Look at what is before your eyes. If you are confident that you belong to Christ, remind yourself of this, that just as you belong to Christ, so also do we.

Observation: These are important words to take to heart.

Application: Who really does belong to Christ? Three answers come to mind. First, I trust that I belong to Christ. Second, I trust that others belong Christ. Third, I trust that whoever is before me, at any given point in time, may well be one of them!

It’s a humbling thought. What if we are disparaging someone who belongs to Christ? What if we somehow forget that the person with whom we most vehemently disagree on any given issue belongs to Christ? What if the person ‘before’ us is actually distant—i.e. we only know them through the TV or Internet or other forms of media? Can they not still, at least potentially, belong to Christ? And if so, what does that say about us?

It’s worth noting in the verse above that Paul does not dispute or minimize the reality of the Corinthians belonging to Christ. Far be it from him to do such a thing. He simply reminds them that they are not the exclusive holders of such status…of such belonging. That’s a good thing. Because we all have a need to belong.

Prayer: Dear Lord, he wasn’t perfect, and he’d be the first to admit it, but the Apostle Paul really was ahead of his time on so many fronts. Thanks for providing us with his witness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Corinthians 7-10)

Monday, November 15, 2010

At Wit's End with Satan

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 2:10-11 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. What I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ. 11 And we do this so that we may not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

Observation: It would appear that lack of forgiveness, in Paul’s view, is a ploy of Satan.

Application: Periodically in life I’ll run into someone who refuses to forgive someone. Some of these folks are extremely thoughtful and are dealing with complex circumstances. They don’t want to offer what might be considered cheap or trite forgiveness and they have enough integrity to know that they are just not yet in a place to be able to offer the type of forgiveness that is authentic from the core. These folks may want to forgive, but are honest enough about themselves to realize that, short of God’s help, they can’t forgive…at least not yet.

But there are other folks that simply refuse to forgive. They could forgive, but they simply will not forgive. They are still too angry, or too wounded, or too stubborn. They simply do not want to forgive and, often times, they don’t really want God to forgive either. The irony in such cases is that almost anyone can see that the people who are being most torn up by this lack of forgiveness are the very people who refuse to forgive in the first place. And I such cases I can’t help but see, perhaps, the proof of what Paul might call “Satan’s designs.”

Sure, sometimes the people who have wronged us show no remorse…or not as much remorse as we think would be appropriate. In such cases, forgiveness is still not so much about them as it is about us. If we can’t quite forgive, we might at least want to consider letting go. Otherwise it would appear that we are being woefully outwitted by Satan’s grand design.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be wise and gracious in dealing with those who are not so wise or gracious. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 41-42 and 2 Corinthians 1-2)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The gift of prophecy and me...or not!

Scripture Verse that Caught My attention Today: 1 Corinthians 14:1 Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy.

Observation: Very interesting perspective of Paul here…after a chapter celebrating the variety of gifts (chapter 12) and another chapter emphasizing the importance of love above all things (chapter 13), Paul begins chapter 14 with one Spiritual gift that he actually thinks is worth striving for.

Application: In my denomination we understand prophecy somewhat differently than many Christians. Lutherans understand prophecy to be the speaking the Word of God in a particular time and to a particular people. This is not to say that future generations can’t find meaning in ancient words, but it is to say that prophecy has always been less about predicting the future and more about communicating a Godly and, indeed, transforming word in the here and now.

Taken in account with the two preceding chapters, prophecy is shown its place. Yes, one can strive for it, but it is still just one among many authentic gifts (see chapter 12) and, if one does have it, it should be exercised in the same way as all of the Spiritual gifts—with much love (see chapter 13).

As a pastor I seldom if ever think of myself as a prophet. That role seems too big and, well, too long ago. It seems like prophets are only those who have Biblical books named after them and the like. But perhaps I’m selling too many preachers short—myself, perhaps, even included.

Each week though, I’m never completely sure if I’m sharing God’s authentic word until after the message has been proclaimed. And even then it’s not always completely clear whether or not something Godly has transpired. Often times my most fervent prayer is simply this: “Lord, don’t let Kent Wilson get in the way of what you are trying to say through him.”

The good news is that while I do not always have a lot of confidence in me, I do have tremendous confidence in God. I trust that God can and does make up for my lack. In fact, God often speaks in ways that I do not fully realize.

It’s a lot like this….we have this Springer Spaniel dog—a stray that we adopted last spring. She’s not the brightest dog in the world, but she has tons of enthusiasm and, for some reason, we like her. She lives to hunt and she sniffs her sniffer all around on the ground as if there were no tomorrow. Does she ever catch anything? Not to my knowledge.

Last night was a humorous case-in-point; twice. On two separate occasions she was eagerly sniffing around when, without her knowledge, a rabbit bounded out of the thicket where she was searching and she was so busy sniffing that she never even saw it! But all of us did! In each case the rabbit was in full view.

Sometimes I’m like our dog and God is like that rabbit. I don’t always know exactly where God is or what God is doing, but I’m at least on the trail, albeit several steps behind.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for doing your great work—through me at times but, in one way or another, always. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Job 39-40 and 1 Corinthians 13-14)

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's About Community

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention Today: 1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

Observation: Paul speaks in terms of community first and individuality second.

Application: I’m not sure what more to say. It’s almost as if the observation today stands on its own. According to Paul, we, in all our variety, are God’s people first and foremost as a community. Our individual roles within this community are mere points of interest. A detached arm has no life in it—and is of little, if any, use. But when connected this arm is able to do some things on its own, some things in concert with the other arm, and all things in concert with the rest of the body, even if only to provide balance.

Prayer: Lord, help us see our need for one another in this world where individuality and independence are often prized above the type of community that you long for us to be in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Job 37-38 and 1 Corinthians 12)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Simple Reminder of the Treasure of the Church

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Psalm 122:1 I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD!”

Observation: It can be a very good thing to worship.

Application: Without a doubt, the Christian church in all its forms and denominations has many faults and I am one of them! If I may be so bold as to say so, if you are a member of a church, you’re one of her faults too! I am not the first to observe that churches are imperfect because they are made up of imperfect people.

But the church also has many treasures, chief among them being Jesus and the opportunity or, more accurately, ‘calling’ to worship him. In so doing we acknowledge before others and subtly remind ourselves that Christ Jesus is Lord and we are, well, NOT Lord.

I was reading a paper this morning from a trusted theologian, pastor, and friend. The paper shared of his faith journey and in particular his growing understanding that when we proclaim any message that somehow skips the depth of our need for Christ and/or what Christ has done, we are not proclaiming the Christian message at all. We may have provide a helpful tip or two about living, but that is little more than a band-aid carelessly placed above a penetrating wound deep within.

One benefit of the Lutheran church is that usually (but, unfortunately, not always!) the over-all message in worship is one that exposes the radical nature of our disease and the radical nature of the one Lord who indeed provides the cure. In short, we cannot save ourselves, but we can be saved. In fact, this saving is a once and for all daily process. But the weekly gathering in worship is where it all comes to a head. More precisely, it’s where we gather around the head of the church. No wonder he Psalmist declared long ago: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’”

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the church and for those within it who remind each other of why we gather and who we ultimately gather around. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Psalm 122 and 1 Corinthians 9, 10, & 11)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Do We Really Know What We're Talking About?

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention Today: Job 35:1-2 Elihu continued and said:
2 “Do you think this to be just?
You say, ‘I am in the right before God.’

Observation: Elihu, at times, seems to make good sense. But later in this book he ends up chastised by God. His efforts to make sense of the world are revealed to be futile.

Application: To me the above observation begs the question: “Do any of us really know what we’re talking about?

Seriously, we as human beings are so prone to pomp and posturing. We have opinions on just about everything. We can argue/discuss till we’re blue in the face about any number of issues. But do we really have a clue about what we’re talking about? (By the way, this question is as appropriate to ask myself as it is to ask anyone else.)

I’ve always been struck by the line out of the 1 Corinthian passage for today: “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” Why is it so easy to devote our attention to the former when what is so often lacking is the latter?

True, sometimes it takes a certain amount of knowledge to know how best to love. But too often that’s nothing but a cop-out for the real act of loving…the look-me-in-the-eye and be-moved-by-me kind of experience that inspires one to learn more and more about how to love rather than using our pursuit of ‘knowledge’ as an excuse to insulate ourselves from those who may in fact need love the most.

Prayer: Dear God, the opening question still remains: “Do we really know what we’re talking about?” I pray that you might indeed help us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Job 35-36 and 1 Corinthians 7-8)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: 1 Corinthians 6:12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.

Observation: We are called to be self-discerning. Just because we can do something does not always mean that we should do it.

Application: Some time ago I read or heard a quote that sort of stuck with me: “Discipline yourself…or else someone else will do it for you.”

For some reason I was thinking about that quote on my way into work this morning. I think this ‘discipline’ can apply to many different areas of life: time management, financial management, exercise, nutrition, spiritual disciplines, intimate relationships, relationships with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, clients, superiors, and more. In any of these areas, if we don’t discipline ourselves, someone else will likely do it for us sooner or later. And it might be painful as well as, perhaps, embarrassing.

Paul seemed to understand this concept well. He understood that the freedom we have in Christ also comes with the understanding that we are not to allow ourselves to be enslaved by our desires, whatever they might be.

This doesn’t mean that we ignore such things. Quite the opposite really; we become so aware of our desires that we can analyze them for what they are, be it for better or for worse. That way we endeavor to master them, rather than the other way around.

It’s not easy. As our confession states, “we are in bondage to sin and unable to free ourselves.” But as we regularly consider anew all that Christ has done for us, as we consider anew that all we have in this world is a gift, we are given new opportunities to think again, to act differently, to make more choices for the better and less choices for the worse, to steward our life as people who see such a life as a gift. And ironically, while it is usually more pleasant to discipline oneself, there is still grace to be found in all discipline, regardless of from where it comes.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be wise enough to discipline ourselves where possible, and to be humble enough to give thanks for other forms of discipline as well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 34, 1 Corinthians 4,5,6)

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's not Easy to Be Spiritual

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?

Observation: Paul says that the Corinthians were not ready to be spoken to as spiritual people. When does one become a spiritual person?

Application: There are times when I wonder if we ever, while we are on this earth, can really be spoken to as spiritual people. There is so much that gets in the way of our spiritual side. Desires, distractions, ambitions, personal insecurities and the like all clamor for our attention. Complicating matters is the fact that, well, we are placed in this world that “God so loved” (John 3:16). So the world is not all bad; hence there is no need or even benefit in trying to completely separate ourselves from it.

Still, the ways of the world are not all good either. And sometimes we buy into messages and/or assumptions that can only lead to, shall we say, a world of hurt. Paul does his level best to point people toward a better way, even if they are not quite ready for it.

Prayer: Lord, I can only pray that you would help us to be ready for the ways in which you long for us to live as your people in this world that you have so graciously made. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Job 33 and 1 Corinthians 1-3)

Friday, November 5, 2010

How Our Own Experience Affects What We Notice in the Bible

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Job 28:3-4 Miners put an end to darkness,
and search out to the farthest bound
the ore in gloom and deep darkness.
4 They open shafts in a valley away from human habitation;
they are forgotten by travelers,
they sway suspended, remote from people.

Observation: Experience does affect what we notice in the Bible.
Application: I’ve been following my current Bible reading plan for between seven and eight years. So although there have certainly been a few missed days here and there, I’ve still read the entire Old Testament at least seven times and the New Testament at least 14 times, not counting the few times that I read through the whole Bible in earlier years following other reading programs.

Never, however, did I notice this passage on Miners. This year, however, the passage caught my eye and attention immediately. Why? Because the international story of the rescued Chilean Minors from a month or so ago is now a part of my collective memory. I’m now connecting the dots between the miners of today and the somewhat surprising account of mining operations in Old Testament times, even though the Job story is not primarily about miners.

Yes, our personal experience isn’t dropped off at the door when we enter a room to read the Bible. We bring it with us and it does have an affect on what we notice in the book that we say is inspired by God. And this is why it is helpful encounter the same Scriptures with others, especially those from different backgrounds and experience than our own. We can learn what captures their attention and why. This is not to suggest that one interpretation is necessarily better than or more authentic than another. But it is to say that the interpretations of others can help us better reflect on our own interpretations and, perhaps, notice something that we might have originally missed.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the reminder that our own personal experience does affect how we encounter and your Word. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 28-29 and Galatians 1-2)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Signs that help us move into a new reality

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: Mark 16:5-7 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

The Lord provided a messenger to the women and to us. Had the tomb simply been empty, they would have naturally assumed that someone simply stole the body. More importantly, we as the readers are able to see the bigger picture as well.

Application: I remember reading the news of a pastor who received a new pair of ice-skates and a new pair of gloves for Christmas. He lived in one of the northern states (perhaps Wisconsin, but I don’t remember for sure) and the next day he and a friend headed out to skate across a nearby lake. When they didn’t return in a timely manner, the family went looking for them. They found a set of tracks on the lake and followed them to the hole in the ice. Lest there be any doubt of who had fallen in, there on the edge of the ice was the new pair of gloves.

I’ve always been touched by that true story, both by its tragic elements and also because of the gloves. Even though the news was grim, the gloves were nevertheless a final gesture from the deceased so that there would be no need to worry or wonder anymore. Yes, he and his friend were the ones who had fallen through the ice.

Better news, of course, is in today’s gospel message. I compared today’s lesson from Mark with the other three gospels and was reminded that three of the gospels have some sort of angel or messenger (two in one of the other gospels) break the news of the resurrection to the women. They wouldn’t have to worry about recovering a stolen body or anything of the like. Rather, they could concentrate of figuring out their next steps in a world that suddenly is different than what they had known, suddenly new life is possible even after death.

I guess we’re all still trying to figure out what that means in or own daily life.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help us to make sense of this new reality in our daily lives as well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included Job 26-27 and Mark 15-16)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Thought or Two About Judas

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Mark 14:10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them.

Observation: What precedes the “then’ in this verse is key. A woman had just anointed Jesus with some very costly ointment which some considered to be a waste of a valuable resource. Jesus scolded them and said that she had “performed a good service for [him].” The verse I picked above is what happens next.

Application: It has been said that every person has his or her own breaking point. Each of us can only bend to a certain extent from our principles, beliefs, and assumptions before we either jump ship or go on some sort of a rampage. We reach that point where we say, “enough is enough.”

Judas had reached that point. He’d been with Jesus a few years; he was one of the original twelve. No doubt he had seen some of his traditions questioned and some of his assumptions challenged. And so perhaps things had been building in his mind for some time. And here it appears that Jesus’ praise of this woman who had just anointed (some would say “wasted”) this expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet seems to be the last straw. Judas has had enough. He’s ready to switch sides. He’s ready to turn Jesus in.

Which brings up a very thorny question. How can we distinguish the difference between something going awry and Jesus simply leading us to see things differently?

Honestly, I’m not sure we can always see the difference. I mean think about it; Judas had the advantage of being a hand-chosen disciple of the best teacher of all time and he still didn’t get it. How are we to fare any better?

It occurs to me that we do have one significant advantage over Judas; we know that Jesus was/is the real deal. His ways might, at times, seem unorthodox, but we can see that he is still the way, the truth, and the life. He offers a way that we might not otherwise consider, a truth that we are encouraged to see, and a life that we will most surely need at some point I the future and, on another level, even now.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the witness of Judas. It is not, of course, a perfect witness. But it is indeed an important reminder that we are not always perfect witnesses either. Still, your will is done. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings for today included Job 25 and Mark 13-14)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day Thoughts

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Mark 12:17 Jesus said to them, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were utterly amazed at him.

Observation: Very subtle reminder of an incredible truth.

Application: It’s election day in at least one of the earth’s almost 200 different countries (according to internet sources, the actual number of countries currently on earth is a source of debate). Some have been longing for this day because they are anticipating/hoping for some sweeping changes in leadership. Some have been dreading this day because they are anticipating/dreading some sweeping changes in leadership. And some have been longing for this day to be over simply so that they don’t have to suffer though any more campaign phone calls and letters and other campaign-related advertising.

Yes, both the people (including regular folks but also pundits and talk-show hosts and the like) and those purportedly elected to serve/represent the people, are often in a rage about this or that. Leadership and/or governance philosophies collide like cars at a county fair demolition derby—a helter-skelter extravaganza that, when it’s all said and done, leaves everyone so beat up that it’s hard to see how anyone can be declared a ‘winner.’ And yet, those who are still able to move about still have the nerve to boldly proclaim that they’ve won.

Won what, exactly? In the words of Jesus, “the things that are the emperor’s.”

Politics has always been a tricky business. At its best it is a form of genuine public service, a partnership between faithful intentions and accountability, indeed a noble calling and opportunity to serve our neighbor. At its worst it is a never-ending struggle primarily to establish and maintain power and influence (both as individuals and as parties), regardless of the cost.

Sometimes I get weary of it all. Campaign promises are really nothing more than foolishness. I mean, do we really want to elect people who think it advisable to say how they will vote on something before they even know the particulars and context of what that ‘something’ is? I would prefer to simply have people who, more often than not, demonstrate their wise judgment by expressing their thoughts after hearing the entire proposal (and in light of the overall context), not before.

In a fallen world decisions are seldom as clear-cut as we might like them to be. Often we are forced to determine the best of two or more less-than-ideal options. We have to do it in our private lives almost every day. Why should we expect it to be any different in public service?

But I digress. Let us allow the wisdom of Jesus, the most effective public servant of all time, to bring us full circle. In those days there were some who wanted him to answer the survey questions that they would soon publish in their metaphorical religious leader voting guides (‘voter guides,’ by the way, are almost always a euphemism for “if you want to vote the way we think you should!”). “Jesus, how would you vote in regard to paying taxes?”

“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” he said.

I wonder if there’s still something we can learn as we consider his response.

Prayer: Lord, it’s all yours--the way we serve, the way we live, and what we temporarily have. Whether we hoard it or share it, use it or abuse it, it’s still all yours. Help us to remember that, for we are all have some opportunity to be in public service, whether elected or not. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Job 23-24 and Mark 11-12)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Suck it up cupcake!

November 1, 2010
Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Mark 10:32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.

Observation: Interesting perspectives on Jesus—amazement and fear. Had I been living in those days, would I have been amazed or afraid or both?

Application: “You might as well force a smile and suck it up Cupcake, cause its Monday whether you like it or not.” I saw the previous quote on someone’s facebook wall this morning. I chuckled cause it came from a good-natured person who obviously wasn’t thrilled to be back at work on Monday but also realized that sometimes that’s just life. I’m wondering if it would be an appropriate message for those of us who claim to follow Jesus as well.

From what we learn about Jesus from the gospels, it’s clear from early on that Jesus marches to the beat of a different drummer. Some of the things that Jesus does and says are very liberating. Perhaps that’s why some of the people following him were ‘amazed.” Other things that Jesus does and says are more ominous. Perhaps that’s why still others were afraid.

In Jerusalem there is little doubt that Jesus will overthrow a kingdom and usher in a new one. But this new kingdom will come about through his death at the hands of those in charge of the current kingdom, and not many if any of his Jesus’ followers are ready for that. They better ‘suck it up.” They are going to be in the middle of it all whether they like it or not. And centuries later, in our own way, we’re in the middle of it too.

Prayer: Lord, help us to embrace whatever challenges come our way. As always, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Psalm 121 and Mark 9-10)