Thursday, December 30, 2010

Keeping Everything in perspective

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Revelation 17:8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the inhabitants of the earth, whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will be amazed when they see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.

Observation: This ‘beast’ is a significant contrast to Jesus. Jesus is described in Revelation as the one who was, and is, and is to come. The beast, by contrast, was, and is not, and is to come (though finally for the purpose of going to destruction). Also, Jesus is described as a “who” whereas the beast is described as an “it.”

Application: For all the fear-mongering in regard to Revelation, the basic message is really quite simple: worship God—for in this God is true hope. Worshiping anyone or anything else brings nothing but a false sense of security. Or, as Len Sweet profoundly tweeted this morning: “When Jesus is in first place, all of life falls into place, and no one ever need feel misplaced.”

Prayer: Lord, help us all to keep you and serving you as the focus of our attention and devotion. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included Revelation 15-18)

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Regular ole' Tatoos and the Real Mark of Distinction

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: Revelation 14:1 Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.

Observation: The mark of God is a powerful and lasting impression.

Application: These days, for some, tattoos are the thing to have. Most recently there were five players from my alma mater who sold significant memorabilia (much to the NCAA’s dismay) in part so that they could purchase expensive tattoos. They wanted the mark of their own choosing.

By faith we have a different kind of mark, and it is not necessarily of our own choosing, though it is certainly for our own benefit. In the sacrament of baptism the pastor, after washing us in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, traces the sign of the cross in our forehead, telling us that we are sealed by the promise of the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. It’s like an invisible tattoo—or like one of those stamps that one gets at amusement parks that shows up under black light, except that the mark of God last forever.

Forget the mark of the beast from the preceding chapter. It can’t compete with the new mark we receive through Christ in the new chapter just begun.

Prayer: Lord, help us always to recognize that we are called and claimed by you and you alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Revelation 10-14)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Horse Tails and the Saving Work of God

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Revelation 9:19 For the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails; their tails are like serpents, having heads; and with them they inflict harm.

Observation: the tails of horses

Application: Today’s reflection is admittedly not very profound, but here it is: I grew up with horses. Late in the summer the big horse flies come out. Horses do not like horse flies. For that reason, when saddling the horses up or perhaps when grooming them after a good ride, I always tried to squash the horse flies when they landed on the horse. But sometimes I wouldn’t see them right away. The horses, however, always felt them almost immediately. And since the good Lord saw fit to give horses a tail, well, it would go into full swing. And I’ll tell you what, if that tail hits you just right on its way toward a horse fly, it can hurt!

Why the writer of Revelation spent so much time using horses in his imagery I do not know. But I suspect the readers knew full well that a horse’s tail can sweep quickly and with remarkable force. Arm it with some kind of weapon and you’ve got an indiscriminant force to be reckoned with. Thankfully, in Revelation, despite all the pictures of gloom and doom, there is plenty of good news. Horses, earthquakes, stars falling and all the rest will not be enough to deter the saving work of Christ. In the end, as it mentions in chapter 7, there will still be a multitude so large that it cannot be counted standing before the Lord. And thanks be to God and God alone, we can be there among them.

Prayer: Lord, there is much that goes over my head when reading Revelation, but not your ultimate saving work. For that I give you thanks. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Readings today included: Revelation 5-9

Monday, December 27, 2010

Full Circle

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: Revelation 2:7 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.

Observation: We’ve come full circle. In Genesis the man and woman were cast out of the garden specifically so that they would not eat from the tree of life. But now that tree is apparently available to humankind again.

Application: For some reason the “Hail Mary” pass from the game of football comes to mind. There are usually just few ticks left on the clock, a team is down by a touchdown or less, and so on the last play of the game the quarterback just throws the ball down to the endzone where several players from each team await. It’s a long-shot to say the least. But once in a great while the trailing team gets lucky and one of it’s players snags the pass for the go-ahead touchdown that wins the game. One can’t really say that they ‘deserve’ it. They just get lucky.

We can’t really say that we ‘deserve’ to eat from the famous tree of life either. But the Lord has opened that possibility up to us again. I’m not exactly sure what he means by ‘conquers,” but I suspect it has something to do with simply trusting in the faith that we have been given and in the one who gives it. And in so doing, all of a sudden, there is this marvelous tree waiting for us—something that we never thought we’d ever get to see again.

In many ways this gift is possible because of the gift of Christmas itself. This Lord who comes to us in human flesh has once again showed us the way, but not to see what we cannot have (as was the case with the tree of life in Genesis), but, rather, to have what we cannot yet see. We have indeed come full circle, and only because of Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for opening up the undeserved possibilities yet again. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Revelation 1-4)

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Couple Things to Think About When You're Alone

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: John 21:3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Observation: They had seen the resurrected Jesus twice. But it was unclear where he was then, so Peter and his companions went back to their trade. Part of me wonders if they even cared if they caught any fish. Perhaps they just wanted some time alone out on the water.

Application: I suspect that most of us occasionally want/need some time alone—maybe after a rough day or maybe just because we’re in a reflective mood. Such times can be a healing experience and a healthy practice. They can also be dangerous; in relative isolation we don’t always see or appreciate the larger picture. Therefore it’s easy to underestimate our significance or, sometimes, overestimate our significance.

Tonight will be Christmas Eve. Among other things, the story of Christmas is the recounting of God’s refusal to let us ever be completely alone. Although many thoroughly enjoy the holidays, for some the holidays can be an especially lonely or even painful time. But even if you or I ever feel like we are the only ship on the sea, we have Jesus—or rather, Jesus has us! In Jesus we can never over-estimate our significance, for we owe everything to him. By the same token, in Jesus we can never under-estimate our significance either, for he demonstrated that, to him, we are worth the sacrifice of his life. So if we ever want or need some time alone to think…well, those are a couple of things worth thinking about.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of yourself to us in this world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: John 19-21)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Even When We're Scattered

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: John 16:31-32 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me.

Observation: Do we ever believe deeply enough in Jesus? Here again the disciples naively proclaim the depth of their faith. And here again Jesus reminds them that they are over-selling themselves. Though in the next couple verses he will nevertheless offer them significant cause for hope.

It has been said that one never knows for sure how he or she will handle a situation until he or she is actually placed in that situation. We may, in advance, have ideas for how we might handle a given situation, but once we are in it, well, then we find out what our true response will be. Sometimes we follow through. Sometimes we change our mind. There are often good reasons for our response. There are often bad reasons for our response. Either way, because of Jesus, all hope is not lost.

Tomorrow night many people will gather in various locations all over the world purportedly to celebrate the birth of Christ. To what extent do we really believe? How easily will we be subsequently scattered?

Ironically, it probably doesn’t matter. Jesus promises to draw all people to himself. He did so long ago when he was lifted up on the cross. And he continues to do so today for all who have the courage to see him in such estate.

Lord, our belief is never as deep as it could or should be and we are so very easily scattered. Draw us together again in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: John 15-18)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Are you in Ephraim?

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: John 11:54 Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness; and he remained there with the disciples.

Observation: I hadn’t noticed Jesus going to “Ephraim” before. I looked it up on the concordance. Ephraim was first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 41:52 as one of Joseph’s sons. From there the name shows up another 161 more times in the Bible though, interestingly, only once in the New Testament. In addition to refering Joseph’s son, it also refers to Joseph’s lineage, to the region where they lived and, as expressed in the New Testament example, a town.

Application: There are far more interesting story lines in these three chapters of John, but devotions are meant primarily to be personal and so, from a personal standpoint, I’d have to say that I simply don’t remember reading about Jesus visiting the town Ephraim before. I was also shocked by the sheer number of times that this name comes up in the Old Testament. Apparently I’ve largely glossed over it in the past.

Is this visit to Ephraim significant? I don’t know. But if nothing else, Jesus’ time in Ephraim served as a bridge between some very important times in his life. Perhaps he used his time there to reflect on what he had done and on what he had yet to do.

If so, perhaps many of us are in a form of Ephraim too. After all, we are nearing the end of yet another calendar year with, Lord willing, another around the corner. It’s a good and natural time to reflect.

Along those line, the other day there was a guy who submitted online a list of some 40 things he’s learned in the past year. Creating such a list might be a good idea for any of us. For who knows what the future might hold and how what we’ve learned from the past might crucial in helping us, by God’s grace, weave our way through.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the experience of life and how you teach through it. And thanks for your little visit to Ephraim that, in itself, got me to thinking in ways that I had not thought so much before. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: John 9-11)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Say What?

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: (SEVERAL VERSES TODAY)

John 7:1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him.

John 7:8-10 Go to the festival yourselves. I am not going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee. 10 But after his brothers had gone to the festival, then he also went, not publicly but as it were in secret.

John 8:13-18 Then the Pharisees said to him, “You are testifying on your own behalf; your testimony is not valid.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid because I know where I have come from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. 18 I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf.”

John 8:58-59 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

I chuckled at verse 7:1—it’s a very human portrait of Jesus—naturally he wouldn’t want to go where people wanted to kill him! I can relate with that kind of Jesus!

But then in 7:8-10 I’m struck by a Jesus who says one thing (I’m not going to the festival) but does another (then he also went [to the festival]). Hmmm.

John 8:13-18 is an example of the bizarre—it’s a circular reasoning that, frankly, we would never accept in the court of law today. If Jesus really talked like this, it would be little wonder that he found himself in a heap of earthly trouble.

In John 8:58-59 it’s striking that this one who has been around since ‘before Abraham’ and who knows when his time has ‘not yet come’ nevertheless, apparently, has to resort to ‘hiding.’ Hmmm.

Application: I’m not really sure how to ‘apply’ all of this in daily life. In some ways the one we proclaim as Savior and Lord is so simple—he came, he died, he rose again. In other ways he is complicated beyond measure. If it’s true that John was the last of the Gospels written and that it was written maybe 70 or so years after Jesus rose from the dead, then this would make some sense—at least the parts where Jesus seems to know everything all the time. Seventy years of hindsight when considering the Savior of the World would naturally lead to a portrayal of an all-knowing/always-right Jesus. Yet sprinkled therein are those little human bits and pieces. Things like Jesus not ‘wishing’ to go where people want to kill him or Jesus going into ‘hiding,’ etc. it’s surprising, in a way, that John would include such human details.

But then again, maybe John is a bit like me (or vice-versa), intent on making sense of this crucified and risen one even though, personally, both John and I are years removed from the earthly Jesus and the actual events of his life, death, and resurrection.

Prayer: Lord, you both puzzle and inspire, confuse and make clear. I pray that my confusion on some aspects of your sayings and actions will keep my humble while your more clearly profound involvement in our world will always lift me up. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included John 7-8)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Discipline Yourself

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: 1 Peter 1:13 Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.

Observation: The phrase “discipline yourselves” shows up three times in the book of First Peter. I just did a quick concordance search and found that, although the word ‘discipline’ shows up multiple times in Scripture, the phrase ‘discipline yourselves’ is only found in First Peter and, as noted above, it is found three times therein.

Application: Self-discipline is perhaps the hardest form of discipline even though it is usually the least painful. Furthermore, it lends itself toward a host of positive outcomes. By contrast, a lack of self-discipline can easily lead one to be confronted by discipline from outside oneself. This discipline can be very painful and even embarrassing, though ideally it too can help point one toward more positive outcomes eventually.

Self-discipline requires intentionality. It’s a proactive movement and a form of personal responsibility. I’ve heard it said, “discipline yourself or someone else will do it for you.”

A question that comes to mind is: “to what extent is such self-discipline necessary or even possible?” I’ve noticed that most people are self-disciplined in some areas and not in others. Some are self-disciplined, for example, in their fitness but not in their relationship fidelity. Or maybe they are self-disciplined in their faith practices but not in their finances. Some are self-disciplined in their professional environment but not in how they manage their personal life. So it goes. Truth be told, most if not all of us have areas in our lives where we are very self-disciplined and other areas where it looks like we let the cows get out. Is it really possible to be self-disciplined in every area of life?

Probably not. We are finite human beings, after all, and while self-discipline tends to offer more pleasant possibilities, one thing it cannot offer is a guarantee. Even the writer of First Peter acknowledged that sometimes people suffer even when doing right (1 Peter 2:20). It also occurs to me that some folks have personalities that are more likely to adhere to a self-disciplined way of life than others.

Still, there’s something to be said for taking stock of one’s gift of life and for endeavoring to live it intentionally with thanksgiving, awareness, and, as Rick Warren reminded the world, with purpose. That requires some self-discipline, not just in the sense of avoiding unhealthy vices, but also in the sense of pursuing worthwhile possibilities, not the least of which is what the author of First Peter put in print: “set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.”

Prayer: Lord, help us all to maintain the balance between self-discipline and thanksgiving for all that you so richly provide. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: 1 Peter 1-5)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I wanna be a billionaire so freakin' bad...well, maybe not.

Scripture Verses that Caught my Attention today: James 1:9-11 Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, 10 and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same way with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.

Observation: Not much hope for those who are rich according to this passage. But that doesn’t stop most from trying to attain the ability to live ‘the good life.’

Application: At church we’re in the middle of a course led by Dave Ramsey (via DVD) entitled “Financial Peace University” (FPU). Thus far it’s been excellent. Tons of really down-to-earth practical advice. Things I wish like crazy that I could have or would have learned years ago. He pretty much believes that most people, if they can be diligent with their savings and disciplined in their spending, accumulate a surprising amount of wealth over time. Of course, first one has to get out of debt! Thankfully he offers some solid plans for how to begin and finish the process of doing so.

To his credit, Dave believes that such wealth can and should be used to help others. He says that the purpose of money is for emergencies, purchases, and to be given away. He also makes clear that money in and of itself will not buy happiness and that, on its own, money is amoral—neither inherently good or bad. Still, that doesn’t stop him from peppering his books and speeches with a host of Biblical quotes about the good and wise things about being rich. Interestingly, passages like James 1:9-11, generally speaking, are notably absent!

I won’t really fault Dave and/or FPU. He actually offers a very helpful corrective to a whole culture that has become enslaved to debt. It’s also refreshing that he nurtures a philanthropic spirit. Good thing—according to passages like James 1:9-11, all rich people will eventually end up philanthropic whether we want to be or not! And ironically, if we’re Godly, we’ll actually be glad about it.

Prayer: Lord, although the author of James seems to have some serious and perhaps even over-the-top hang-ups with rich people, his driving point is still valid—all real hope is ultimately found only in you. Thanks again for that reminder. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: James 1-5)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Propped up for the Kingdom

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: Jude verses 24-25 Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Observation: Our hope really is only in God.

Application: While playing checkers with our daughter the other day I took the opportunity to move in such a way as to provide her with a little gift—the opportunity for her to get a triple-jump. Of course, I lost the game after that and couldn’t have been more pleased. It was way more fun helping her win than to win personally.

It would seem that our Lord has a similar perspective in regard to us. The author of Jude proclaims that our God is able to keep us from falling and, in fact, can make us stand—and without blemish to boot!

As perpetually wayward people, this is incredibly good news. A quick audit of any one of our lives will reveal huge discrepancies between what is and what ought to be. And although we are sometimes able to make improvements here and there, at the end of the day we still all fall short.

It continues to baffle me why our Lord would have any remaining interest in us. Surely humanity should have been given up as a lost cause millennia ago.

Not so, according to Jude and, in fact, the overall witness of all of the Scriptures. It’s as if, without us, the Lord would have no purpose at all.

Well then, at least we’re good for something! ☺

Prayer: Dear Lord, what can I say but thanks again for propping up your people in order that we might be able to stand in your sight with both glory and rejoicing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Hebrews 12-13 and Jude)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The REST of the Story

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Hebrews 4:9-10 So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; 10 for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his.

Observation: Rest is good, but it is also usually temporary. I’m struck by how the author of Hebrews sees this rest as a goal of sorts. I’m not sure what to make of that.

Application: I have mixed feelings about rest. It seems to me that rest is essential, but it is also primarily for recovery and rejuvenation so that one can begin again. In resistance training, for example, it is recommended that muscles have roughly 48 hours to recover before another intense workout. The ratio of rest to work is huge—at least 48 to 1 or, in my case, more like 96 to 1 (my workouts are almost always less than 30 minutes).

I could probably offer all kinds of analogies based on the preceding paragraph, perhaps even suggesting 6 days of rest and one day of work rather than the other way around. But I’m not sure that’s really the plan for us either.

Frankly, I’m confused. The popular first story of creation found in Genesis 1 and the first part of chapter 2 (there’s another story of creation starting at the 4th verse of Genesis 2) lays out the six days of work and one day of rest theme. What’s less clear is what God does after that. From what I can tell, God has hardly been resting! Much like parenting children on our own, once they enter the world there is precious little resting! And the Scriptural witness asserts that God was very involved in the lives of the people (or wanted to be involved in the lives of the people even though they obviously didn’t always seem to want God as a part of their lives). In fact, I’m not sure God has rested since, though perhaps for the two days that followed Jesus saying “it is finished.”

Does that mean that in heaven we will be in eternal rest? Is this why we often say “rest in peace” or the more formal “rest eternal grant him/her O Lord” at funerals?

Honestly, I don’t know. I can only surmise that, at least in this life, a healthy balance between rest and work is good. Many of us don’t rest enough—and our performance sometimes suffers because of it. But it’s possible to rest too much as well, leaving one more lethargic than if one had worked all day. Finding the balance seems to be key. As Paul Harvey would say, “now you know the ‘rest’ of the story.”

Prayer: Lord, help us to find the balance between work and rest. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Hebrews 1-4)

Friday, December 10, 2010

What Scriptural Inspiration Really least to me.

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention today: 2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

Observation: This often-quoted verse is, in my opinion, sometimes taken too seriously and, other times, not seriously enough.

Application: Personally, I believe these two verses wholeheartedly—but in a different way than some might assume. Yes, I believe that all Scripture is inspired by God—that those who wrote it were ultimately driven by divine influence to pen their thoughts and understandings of God’s role in the universe and humanity’s role in relation to this God. I also believe that those who chose which ancient writings to include in the Holy Scriptures we have today were in some way divinely led.
And yes, I believe that all Scripture is “useful” for the reasons described. But my definition of “useful” is rather broad—much more so than those who read the Bible more literally would probably be willing to appreciate.

Here’s a short case-in-point. I’m not sure what caused the author of 2 Timothy to refer to some “women” as “silly” and “overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires” (2 Timothy 3:6). Surely those are characteristics of ALL humankind at one point or another! But the passage is still useful many ways, one of which might be that it helps us to see how even the ancient people of faith (including the Biblical writers) were not immune from their own culturally conditioned biases that at times influenced how they understood and practiced their faith. And I think part of Scripture’s “inspired” status includes the hope that we would see such things and realize that the same is often true for us. When we do make these kinds of connections we can see that the Scriptures really to come to ‘life’ and do teach, reproof, correct and train us for righteousness.

Yes, sometimes even the most obscure verses are the most useful. And that’s yet another reason why it’s not hard for me to believe that the Scriptures are inspired in the first place.

Prayer: Thanks, Lord, for the way that you continue to speak even today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Timothy 1-4)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Importance of Training

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: 1 Timothy 4:7b-8 Train yourself in godliness, 8 for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

Observation: I’m struck by the “train yourself in godliness” phrase. I’ve written about and considered verse 8 in this passage many times; it was my Confirmation verse after all. But the way the verses are separated in the Bible, I hadn’t really noticed that, grammatically and theologically speaking, the last part of verse 7 goes along with verse 8. It has to do with training.

Application: All three of our kids, if given the opportunity, enjoy watching “The Biggest Loser” on television. Last night I watched the last half of the show with them.

If you haven’t heard, The Biggest Loser is a reality show where severely overweight people are involved in an intense weight-loss competition. The one who “wins” is the one who “loses” the most—in weight and/or percentage of body fat. Helping them along the way are “trainers” who teach them how to exercise, how to eat better and who also get after them when a little extra motivation is needed. It’s all part of the training.

While exercising myself this morning it occurred to me that sometimes we need to get after ourselves in life. At the time I was thinking of exercise and how we can’t always (or perhaps ever) have a personal trainer right there to spur us on, but that we can learn to ‘get after’ ourselves. We can say to ourselves “Let’s DO THIS!” and get after it.

After reading the Bible passage above it occurs to me that this is also true in other areas of life and, according to First Timothy, particularly in faith or, as the author puts it, “godliness.” It’s not necessarily that we can make ourselves more godly. From a Lutheran perspective it is the Holy Spirit that works in us to lead us in such a way. But we can intentionally put ourselves in positions of openness to the Spirit’s work/influence. And we can do so in some very simple ways, one of which I just heard for the first time last night.

“Good evening Lord. How’s it going?” That’s how a member in our congregation began her prayer last night. I thought it was a brilliant insight to actually ask God how it’s going. We always give lip service to prayer being a two-way conversation, but usually from the standpoint of us asking for help and God giving it. It had never occurred to me to attempt to think of things from God’s point of view. To consider whether God might like to say, “well, actually, it’s been a rough day…” Somehow that simple question sheds a whole new light on that most basic of godliness-training staples—prayer. At so, let the ‘training’ begin.

Prayer: Lord, how is it going? How can we be of better help? In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: 1 Timothy 1-4)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Prayer Alerts!

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Colossians 4:2 Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.

Observation: Prayers should be ‘alert’ and ‘thankful.’

Application: In our family one of our traditions and faith practices is prayer before bed. It’s what we do with the kids, more so on an individual basis than together these days since they tend to go to bed at different times and such.

To be honest, these are probably not the most ‘alert’ prayers. By that time of the day we tend to be tired and winding down for the night. In a nutshell the prayers that I often offer at such times go something like this: “Dear God, thank you for this day and for helping us through [whatever anyone in the family went though that day]. Help us have a good night’s sleep and help us tomorrow with [whatever’s on our family’s agenda for the next day]. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Then we share the Lord’s Prayer together.

Is this prayer thankful? Basically yes, but not necessarily ‘alertly’ so. And is the prayer very ‘alert’ to begin with? Probably not so much.

Of course, it’s not the only time I pray during the day and during the other prayer times I do tend to be more alert in nature—but not always. Why?

Perhaps because sometimes we forget that we are actually in conversation with the living God. Prayer isn’t really meant to be a one-way offering. There should be time and energy for the response. A good friend will periodically say to another good friend, “don’t ask me for my opinion unless you really want to hear it!” Could that be the case in our conversations with God as well? I’m not necessarily referring to an audible response, since I’ve never had one of those myself. But I am talking about being aware or, perhaps, in tune with the ways of the Almighty and how we might best participate as people from the kingdom of heaven on earth. That will probably be easier if we wake up during our prayers.

Prayer: Dear God, help me to be more alert to your promptings—in times of prayer and always. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Colossians 1-4)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Parenting and Pastoring--How do we know how we're doing?

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention Today: Philippians 2:14-16 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. 16 It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Observation: Is this the litmus test of leadership?

Application: Parenting and Pastoring have always puzzled me. How does one know if he or she has been effective at either? When kids do really well, it often seems to be a reflection of good parenting. Yet I’ve been around long enough to know some very good parents who have had one or more children who really struggled in terms of their decision-making—some with life-long or even life-ending consequences. I’m not quite ready or willing to say that all of these children had bad parents. The same questions come to mind in regard to pastoral leadership. I’ve seen some congregations that have thrived largely as a result of really good pastoral leadership. And I’ve seen some congregations struggle under presumably poor pastoral leadership. But sometimes congregations struggle even under what appears to be great pastoral leadership. So how does a parent or a pastor know if he or she is doing a good job?

For Paul the litmus test seems to be whether or not the people in his charge are holding fast to the word of life that God offers. Personally, I think that is definitely a goal, if not the goal, to strive for as a pastor. But I’m not sure that it is the only measure of whether or not we are faithful. I’m shifting to another scripture here, but consider Jesus’ parable of the sower. There he speaks of one who generously spreads the word, though it does not always fall on fertile soil.

To be sure, there are times when we who are parents and/or pastors can and should do better. Sometimes we do not take enough responsibility for our work. Sometimes we do not wisely or effectively use our abilities to influence—indeed lead—for the good. But there are other times when we are too hard on ourselves. There are times when we forget that we are just one part of a complicated life equation and need not take personal responsibility for everything that goes awry. Jesus has already done the saving work. Our role is to just help more and more people recognize and live in thanksgiving for that good news. And sometimes the first person we need to help recognize and live in thanksgiving for that good news is the one we see in the mirror. That alone is proof enough that our life has not been in vain.

Lord, help us to give thanks for what you have done and simply live and lead accordingly. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Philippians 1-4)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Deer-Stand Exercises

Earlier this week I tried my hand at deer hunting. I tweeted that "thus far in the game of hunting game, the game are winning." But that didn't stop me from getting in some exercise. It was far from a full workout, but here's what I did.

But first let me give you the context. Our "deer-stand" is actually an old hay-wagon with about 30 bales of old and basically unusable hay placed in a semicircle. I can sit in the middle and the rest of the bales block the wind. Unconventional, but nice...and roomy too!

Okay, so on with the workout.

First I did what I call ultra-slow, staged squats. That means arising from a seated position just a few inches what I call 'stage 1'), holding for the count of ten and then rising another few inches ('stage 2') and counting to 10, etc. I was able to get about five different stages on the way up and other five on the way down. My legs could definitely feel the burn. Did that a few times.

Next I slowly stretched out to a push-up position with my hands and feet on bales of hay. Did that exercise in stages too.

From there I slowly climbed off the side of the wagon and then went underneath the wagon where I could hold onto the wagon frame and do inverted rows. I just did those the regular way.

Then I got back on the wagon and slowly got into a plank position. Actually did a 2-minute plank (which is a mighty long time) and then slowly moved into a side-plank position and held those positions for 30 seconds with 15 slow leg raises.

That was it. Like I said, it wasn't a full workout, but it was a relatively creative way to get in a workout even while out in the woods. Plus it helped to warm me up from the cold.

I hope this inspires you to be creative and have fun with your own workouts.


Scripture Verses that Caught My attention Today: Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Observation: Paul uses the word “convinced.” His use of this word, in combination with the whole thought expressed in these chapters, implies that he has thought about this subject a great deal and has now arrived at a conclusion which offers lasting satisfaction. He’s convinced.

Application: At some point it seems to me that either God’s promises are to be trusted or they are a sham, plain and simple. Last night I was having an interesting discussion with someone who had just read one of Dan Brown’s books. We were kind of looking through Dan’s literary arguments, many of which had to do with acquiring some sort of special knowledge (like ancient Gnosticism) or taking total control and focus of our minds to more or less become God-like. I could suddenly see why the books are so popular—he capitalizes on a host of modern sensibilities—wanting to be independent, not focusing on community, distrusting institutions, wanting to control our own destiny, etc. There is no mention of the truly Christian themes of repentance, sacrifice, suffering, and service. There is no concept of God’s desire to be with us being every bit as prominent as our desire to be with God, maybe even more so.

Paul had seen the great lengths God, through Christ had done to demonstrate his love for us. “While we were sinners Christ died for us.” Even though we cannot do the good that we want, the one that rescues us from this body of decay is Christ Jesus our Lord. The “sufferings” of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory to be revealed in us. Paul’s examples of why he is so “convinced” that nothing can separate us from the Love of Christ are all over the place in these chapters. He says we have “peace” with God through all of these things. Yes, there is pain, like being in labor, but there will be fruit to be seen.

So often we try to limit the love of God. Why? For what purpose? What will be gained? Sometimes I think that, unlike Paul, we’re just not quite convinced.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be as convinced of your love as your Apostle Paul. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included Romans 5-8)