Friday, December 30, 2011

Today's Short Workout

Warm-up followed by:

Chin-ups with knee-ups
Barbell Squats
Bench press
Ab-wheel roll-outs

Rest 30 seconds and repeat set. Done.

things can change quickly

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Revelation 18:15-17 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,
16 “Alas, alas, the great city,
clothed in fine linen,
in purple and scarlet,
adorned with gold,
with jewels, and with pearls!
17 For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste!”

Observation;
Things can change quickly. Why are we so surprised?

Application:
Written long ago to people long ago, these words from Revelation were no doubt comforting to those who had been mistreated and marginalized. They saw in Christ a great reversal about to take place…at whenever it would happen, it was envisioned to take place quickly…within an hour.

Pretty much all of us of age remember when the twin towers fell—it all happened in less than an hour.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that the collapse of the towers was either a fulfillment of prophecy or an act of God’s judgment. I’m merely pointing out that there is a certain facade of security in life that is just that, fa├žade—and it can quickly be taken away. What then?

Only the assurance that we are known by Jesus—the one who was and is and is to come. When the temporal things we have placed our hope in have been sifted out, all that is left is the crucified and risen Jesus. Need we anyone or anything more? And why not, until that day comes, practice seeing life differently—as if are in but not of the world?

Prayer: Lord, thanks for allowing us to be part of your kingdom…and for teaching us (sometimes the hard way) not to rely on anyone or anything else other than you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings included: Revelation 15-18)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Match Made in Heaven?

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Revelation 9:20 The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk.

Observation: It’s amazing what we as humans are sometimes wont to ‘worship.’

Application: Scripture is critical of people who worship ‘objects’ objects rather than the living God. In fact, just to make sure we get the point, in the Gospel of John we are told that the Word of God became flesh (in Jesus) and lived among us. Scripture, therefore, draws/points to a God who is alive, rather than some kind of human creation. Come to think of it, in Genesis Scripture speaks of God fashioning humans from the dust of the ground, rather than the other way around.

Most puzzling in all of this is humanity’s persistence at worshipping creations of our own making. In the verse above, even with destruction all around, humanity still doggedly clung to their own ‘objects’ of worship rather than to the living God.

Honestly, I’m not sure we’re any more insightful all these years later. Our ‘objects’ of worship may have become a bit more sophisticated over the years, but our base inclination to worship that which is not worthy of worship has hardly abated.

Thankfully, there are those moments when we are drawn back to the living water. There are those times when we look at ourselves and all around and realize that seemingly neither ourselves or the creations we have conjured up are ‘worthy’ to open the scroll. And then, perhaps, we are struck by the presence of God through Jesus. Perhaps then we see in the crucified One a worth that far surpasses anything or anyone else we have ever known. Even more striking, the crucifixion itself stands as proof positive that, in Christ’s eyes, we are of more value than anything or anyone he has ever known. It’s sort of like a match made in heaven come to earth.

Prayer: Lord, we can only ponder in amazement at the love you have for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Revelation 5-9)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

God's Gift and Assurance from Revelation

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Revelation 1:4-6 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Observation: the beginning of Revelation is as important, as the end. These early verses in chapter one set the tone for the whole book. They tell us:

1. who the book is written to (the seven churches that are in Asia—in the time of John which would have been the 1st century AD)
2. what is offered (Grace and peace)
3. who the book is ultimately from (God, the seven spirits, and Jesus himself)
4. what this God does and has done (loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood)
5. what we are called to be (part of a kingdom, priests serving God)

Points 3 & 4, like points 1 & 2, were originally addressed to the people of John’s day 20 centuries ago.

Application: When I looked up the readings for today I thought to myself, “ah…time for Revelation again.” It’s a mixed bag. It’s not really one of my favorite books by any means. I can certainly understand why Martin Luther wasn’t too fond of it being in the Bible to begin with. On the other hand, since much of the evangelical world is fascinated (and at times seemingly fixated) on this last book of the Bible, it’s interesting to explore it periodically myself.

I was struck today by point #2 above: grace and peace are offered to the readers of this book. And this grace and peace come from God who, through Christ, has already set us free and has given us a mission.

Somehow I suspect that, if one were to take a poll of what thoughts first come to mind when the book of Revelation is mentioned, hardly anyone would blurt out “grace and peace.” Yet right after we see who the book is written to we find out what they are being offered—grace and peace! Or, to put it in other terms, they are offered both gift (grace) and assurance (peace).

Often I begin my sermons with the words “Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Yet until now I don’t think even I had fully considered the implication of these words.

Grace (gift) and peace (assurance) is like getting a gift with a lifetime warranty. It’s a gift that comes without worry.

Truth be told, Revelation will reveal some little worries. There will be persecutions to varying degrees. Yet such struggles cannot compare with the opportunity to eat from the tree of life. The people of John’s day were given both gift and assurance. So have we.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift and assurance you offer. It’s far more than we deserve and more than we could ever dream of. Yet you have swept up in each of them. We are most certainly blessed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: revelation 1-4)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

O Holy Night along Life's Path

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: John 21:18-19 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Observation: this is countercultural

Application:
An illusion that many of us follow these days is the idea that we are or should be independent. We shouldn’t have to worry, we think, about anyone else telling us what to do. We should be able to be our own boss, follow our own path, do our own thing. Sometimes, for a while, we do.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus tells Peter that times are changing, that Peter will not be so independent any more? Following Jesus will not be a particularly rosy path, though it will be one that glorifies God.

Today is Christmas Eve. Hosts of people will gather in churches around the world to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Many will laud the good news of God taking on human flesh in the form of the Christ child—as well they should. Precious few, however, see that this holy child invites us to share in his journey. ‘Thanks but no thanks’ many reply in word and/or deed.

It’s understandable that we might want to avoid such a path. Ironically, eventually we all end up being led in directions that we might not necessarily choose on our own. And no matter how challenging our particular paths might prove to be, within them is the lingering promise that the one who came will come again and that even in this time in-between, his presence persists, giving every night the potential of being an oh so holy night.

Prayer:
Lord, thank you for your persistent presence. Grant us the grace to perceive it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: John 19-21)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Finding New Meaning in the question "Why Me?"

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: John 12:27 Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

Observation: So true.

Application: Whenever unwelcome challenges come our way it is tempting to ask, “why me?” Jesus, however, takes a different tack—“why not me?”

Indeed!

If the Son of God did not escape unjust suffering, who are we to think that we deserve any better?

Sure, we often times like to think that we deserve to be above the fray. Some of us are also relatively adept at distancing ourselves from some of the harshest of life’s realities. But truth be told, we’re never as far away as we might think. Sometimes we even back ourselves right into a situation without realizing it.

Be that as it may, I find it interesting and, more importantly, inspiring that Jesus finds his lot in life to be something to embrace rather than something to avoid.

Prayer: Lord, so often we want perceived trouble to go away. Help us, instead, to find its redemptive value. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: John 12-14)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lesson from the Trenches

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: John 8:56-58 Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57 Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Observation: This is another ‘big picture’ passage.

Application: This past Friday there was a water leak at the front barn—a water hydrant that had been there for years had worn out. I learned that it would cost about a hundred bucks (plus the price of a new hydrant) to have some good and trusted local contractors do the job. But I like to save where I can, so I got out a shovel and dug down to the water line to see if it might be something that I could fix. To make a long story short, with the help of another local contractor who graciously opened up his shop after hours so that I could get the necessary parts, I personally fixed the whole thing. I was so thankful that it worked out and, to be honest, also proud of myself for figuring out how to fix it myself. It wasn’t till the light of the next morning that I noticed that, while everything functions just fine, I installed the hydrant somewhat crooked—a lasting reminder that there is still a difference between an amateur and a professional! Still, I derived a lot of personal satisfaction from that job—little things I had learned over the years about plumbing paid off.

Over the weekend and yesterday, while I was immersed in personal satisfaction for a job somewhat well done (I was still bragging about it to my father-in-law as recently as last night), our oldest son has been receiving college admission notices. They are excellent opportunities and, it suddenly occurred to me this morning, make my little fix-it-myself project totally and unequivocally pale in comparison.

And that’s exactly the big-picture point. There may be many things in life about which we are proud and/or where we place our focus, but there are only certain things we do that really make a profound difference in the world. After all, later this very week I’ll get to share again the good news of the birth of God’s son to a whole host of people on Christmas Eve. How cool is that!

Yet even that is still just a response to the big picture of what God has already done.

Long before people needed plumbing or even higher education, there was a need for the love of God through Jesus. And according to John, Jesus has been there to fulfill that need. “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am” said Jesus.

That’s a big picture worth keeping in mind, whether we’re studying at a premier institution or digging three feet down in the muck.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for just being you, and always being you…and always being there. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: John 7-8)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thoughts on Tebow in light of today's readings

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: 1 Peter 4:14-16 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. 16 Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name.

Observation: Encouragement for Tim Tebow and the like

Application: One of the big stories in sports these days is Tim Tebow. Tim is well-known for being an evangelical Christian and now that the team he leads is, by some accounts, otherwise inexplicably winning, he’s become the focus of Tebow lovers and haters alike.

I’ve written before that it makes little or no theological sense (at least in light of the New Testament) to tie the winning of games to God’s provision. Jesus himself was a “loser” in terms of earthly success. So those who imply (or outright proclaim) that Tebow’s team is winning because God is on his side seem to be a bit presumptuous in my view.

On the other hand, those who deride Tebow’s faith, scoff at the recent wins, and can’t wait to pounce when the inevitable losses begin to accumulate seem to be missing the point as well. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about trying to live out one’s faith, win, lose, or draw.

I suspect that my understanding of the faith differs from Tebow’s in a fair number of ways. And I am concerned that, with all the attention coming his way, he will likely have what some would call a fall from grace even though I would simply consider it his humanity coming through. But until then and even then, these words from 1 Peter offer significant encouragement for Tebow and, in fact, any of us who occasionally find our faith life to be a focus of scrutiny.

Prayer: Lord, help all of us to simply place our trust in you and not feel overly responsible for anything more than you place along our life’s path. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included 1 Peter 1-5)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Asking the Lord how it's Going.

“Good evening Lord. How’s it going?”

That’s how a couple of our congregation often begin their prayers at the start of meetings. I think it was a brilliant insight to actually ask God how things are going.

So often when we pray we want to tell God how things are going for us. We tend to be so self-absorbed.

That’s not completely bad. Certainly God has interest in our situations. The birth of Christ is probably the ultimate expression of God’s interest in us.

Nevertheless, turning the question around toward God opens up a whole new dimension of thought.

How IS it going, Lord?

It’s not hard to imagine the possible responses. I can almost hear God saying,

“Well, to tell you the truth, it’s been a rough day. Some of my people wouldn’t share and so a multitude of my people died of hunger, just like they did yesterday…and the day before that. On top of that, a bunch of the marriages that I put together, and told humans not to put asunder, are really struggling these days and I worry about them. And then there’s the fighting—sometimes between nations and people with weapons but even more often with words. I can hardly stand it. Yes, it’s been a tough day. Thanks for asking.”

How would we respond if we heard God say something like that? I don’t know about you, but I’d be inclined to want to jump in and try to do something! While thinking about what I might do, I might also hear God say something like this:

“I must admit there have been some bright spots. I saw a community of faith act like they really cared today too. They welcomed the stranger, visited the prisoner, and otherwise showed that they really do worship me. They don’t presume to always know what I think (it bugs me when people act like they always know what I think!), but they do presume to always believe that I care. And, of course, I DO really care!”

“By the way,” God might continue, “I care about you too. What’s going on in your life? How can I help you to be more grateful and/or more hopeful, and to see the plans I have for you? How are things going for you?”

At that point we’ve got a real conversation going. Put anther way, at that point the answer to prayer becomes the prayer.

Perhaps that’s a good way to begin the new year.

Variety in the Scriptures

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: James 2:17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Observation: Lots of variety in the Scripture.

Application: Scripture is a library of 66 books (possibly even more for those who included the books of the Apocrypha). And although each of these books was included in the Bible to build and/or nurture faith, they do so in different ways. I appreciate that that fact and today’s reading/book is a case in point.

The book of James focuses a great deal on ‘works’ or doing good—so much so that back in the 1500’s Martin Luther felt that James shouldn’t even be in the Bible. Luther did not feel that the book of James offered real grace.

In a way Luther was right; James doesn’t offer much if any grace, save for perhaps a line or two about mercy trumping judgment. The message of James stands in stark contrast to the writings of the Apostle Paul who held firm in the belief that we are justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

Still, I’m glad James is in the Bible. I appreciate the variety of ways in which faith was both understood and practiced in those days. I’ll readily admit that I’m more convinced by the Apostle Paul’s point of view than that of James, yet the book of James nevertheless offers a counter balance worthy of consideration. It is, after all, Scripture.

For Christians, all of Scripture is inspired by God and is useful in some way—even if only to help us think more deeply in terms of what a life of faith might really be like.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thanks for the variety of faith perspectives that we find in your word. Help us to be inspired to add our own in response to your prodding. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: James 1-5)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In Rough Times

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Hebrews 12:3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

Observation: In Christ we find hope in difficult times.

Application: Recently I learned of a person going through a bit of a rough time who was expressing discouragement. It’s understandable. Most, if not all of us, go through such times.

When such times are the result of our own actions, we somewhat understand, even if it isn’t pleasant. But when such times appear to come without cause, well, that can be especially tough.

Scripture, however, doesn’t bat an eye at such things. One of my favorite verses for perspective comes from 1 Peter 4:12:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Jesus says as much in his sermon on the mount as recorded in Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

And here in Hebrews we are reminded to consider again what Jesus himself went through unjustly.

Rough times are part of life. Not necessarily pleasant, mind you, but still part and parcel of an earthly existence. I liken it to football receivers who are going up to catch a ball and are also going to get hit by the defender almost simultaneously. They are going to get hit anyhow, so they might as well catch the ball so that there is some blessing in the experience.

In life we will go through some rough times. We don’t have to like it, but we can embrace such times as opportunities to be gripped by the hope that can only be found through the one who suffered and died unjustly for us. With such hope, may we not grow weary or lose heart.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the example you provide. Help us to focus on you more than on ourselves and whatever plight we might be going through at any given moment. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Hebrews 12-13, Jude)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Seeing beyond the dishes.

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Observation: Sometimes we need a little provoking.

Application: Dishes. We’ve got a few of them in the kitchen…dirty ones that merely need to be put in the dishwasher (once the dishwasher is emptied). Six days a week this task is a responsibility shared among our three kids. They even receive a small commission for said work—a way for them to earn a small amount of cash for spending.

At least that's the theory. In reality it doesn’t always go so well. Sometimes I spend so much effort prodding them to get the job done that it would have been easier to just do it myself. I’m still trying to figure out how best to “provoke” them to one of the relatively simple “good deeds” I appreciate most—a relatively clean kitchen counter!

In their defense, they do have some very full days--not getting home till late at night and still having homework to do as well. So part of the issue is simply scheduling.

But the other part of the equation is motivation. How does one motivate people to do that which they are otherwise not so inclined to want to do?

The author of Hebrews suggests time together and encouragement. The author also suggests keeping things in perspective as we see the day is approaching.

One of the days I see approaching is the day when our kids are grown up and gone. I realize that that day is not nearly as important as the day of which the author of Hebrews writes, but it nevertheless is coming soon. Our senior will head off to college this summer. The other two aren’t far behind. What then? Doing our own dishes will be the least of my worries. By then I’d probably gladly accept a dirty dish on the counter if it signified a son or daughter’s presence.

Prayer: Lord, as your day approaches help us to treasure our days. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Hebrews 9-11)

Monday, December 12, 2011

What if we've "Fallen Away?"

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Hebrews 6:4-6 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.

Observation: Hmmm.

Application: This would be one of those troubling passages. What if we’ve “tasted the heavenly gift…and then have fallen away?” The author of this book says we can’t be restored.

That’s a tough pill to swallow. Is that what this really means?

Two responses come to mind.

First, all of us sin every day. Each of us has a daily need for repentance. As the Apostle Paul explains in Romans 7, we do not do the good we want and the very things that we do not want to do we do. Our human condition is corrupt, we have a virus of sorts deep in our soul. The good news of the Gospel is that, through the cross, Jesus is at work on that virus of corruption. It will not win the day. The power of life will triumph over the power of death. And so, it would seem, that it is possible to restore again such people to repentance.

Second, and conversely, there’s also a part of me that wonders if it’s possible to really fall away once we have really tasted the heavenly gift. In other words, if we “fall away,” is it because we never really tasted the heavenly gift in the first place?

It’s possible to be a great pretender, to convince others and even ourselves that we “have been enlightened” when, in fact, it isn’t necessarily so. Sometimes such people “fall,” sometimes in a very public way, and yet, perhaps, they were never totally enlightened in the first place. Maybe parts of their life reflected the good news of the kingdom, but other parts did not reflect the good news of the kingdom. It’s as if God had a hold of part of them, but they wouldn’t let God have all of them. In that case, sometimes, their “fall” can be a good (albeit painful) thing, an event that leads to the kind of repentance through which God can really work.

In some ways I think this may in fact describe most if not all of us. I’m curious what you think.

Prayer:
Lord, whatever it is that you are doing in our lives, keep doing it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Hebrews 5-8)

Today's Easing-back-into-it workout

For a variety of logistical reasons, I haven't had a real workout in 2-weeks--that's the longest workout dry spell I've had in a long time!

Anyhow, if you've been off for a while (or forever!), it's important to ease back into things.

On Saturday I began the process by simply doing one round of my standard warm-up. Good thing, because on Sunday I was actually a bit sore, most likely from the walking lunges.

Today (Monday) I did two rounds of the warm-up plus 10 push-up/jack-knife combos (with feet on skateboard), 5 pull-ups, and 2 rounds of 12 5-yard shuttle sprints (at about 2/3 speed). I could have easily done significantly more, but I don't want to be overly sore tomorrow. Wednesday I'll increase the intensity a little more and then, by Friday, will hopefully to a pretty full workout.

Most of you have seen the warm-up list before, but for first-timers, here it is:

12 bodyweight squats
15 leg swings (per leg)
24 walking lunges (12 at a time, rest 10 seconds and lunge-walk back)
12 close-grip push-ups
10 stick-ups
10 waiter's bows (oops, forgot those today...knew I was forgetting something, but couldn't remember at the time.)
30-second plank
10 dumbbell dead-lift/overhead shoulder-press combos (with light 15# dumbbells)

Repeated set, used 20# dumbbells for final exercise.

After the 2nd set of the warm-up I did the pull-ups, push-up/jack-knife combos, and shuttle sprints, all in our basement.

There may be some soreness from the shuttle sprints tomorrow, but that's why I tried not to over-do it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Consistency in an inconsistent world

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: 2 Timothy 4:2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.

Observation: Consistency is key.

Application: It is easy these days to kind of get caught up in a moment of excitement and proclaim some things without really thinking them through. At the moment an example that comes to mind are a couple of Hollywood couples who, not so terribly long ago, proclaimed their undying love for one another but, now, sadly, are splitting up. As an outsider it’s hard to know what really happened that led to the split, but it is safe to say that there are many venues in life where we are not able to back up our bold pronouncements.

One of the things I appreciated about the verse above is the understanding that there will be times when things are not so easy. There will be unfavorable times. It’s true in farming, in relationships, at work, at school, in the financial markets, in physical and/or emotional health, at church, and even in faith. This should come as no surprise. But persistence and consistency is key. With God’s help we can weather such things and times. Indeed, we are called to do so. What kind of a witness would it be if everything was always peachy?

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the reminder of how you provide what is needed to be able to be a witness to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Timothy 1-4)

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Wisdom of Slaving Away

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: 1 Timothy 6:10a For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,

Observation: Context, context, context.

Application: One of the most well-known non-verses in the Bible is this: “Money is the root of all evil.”

Those with more first-hand knowledge of the Bible (especially those of us with middle or greater incomes) are quick to point out that what the Bible really says is that it is “The LOVE of money” that “is the root of all kinds of evil.”

There, that feels better now, doesn’t it?

Today, however, I noticed the context within which this popular verse is placed; the entire section is written in regard to slaves!

Here’s the whole section:

Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. 2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.
Teach and urge these duties. 3 Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, 4 is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, 5 and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.


Does this context change what the verse means? Maybe, maybe not.

Many scholars believe that 1 Timothy, even though it says it was written by Paul, was probably actually written by one of his followers at a considerably later time, a time when the early church was transitioning from a start-up movement into more of an enduring institution. As such, the early leaders were dealing with behavioral issues within congregations and were endeavoring to find ways to establish more order.

Their intentions were surely good in the sense that they wanted all things to be done in such a way as to present a faithful witness to Christ. Clearly they didn’t seem to want too many apple-carts upset at the same time. Yet their actual recommendations/directions were often very rooted in the social customs of the time. For example, women’s roles were limited and slavery was an accepted practice.

Still, pearls of inspired wisdom come through. Indeed, the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. We see it everyday, not just in the financial centers of the world, but in our own family economies. And indeed, as it says a couple verses earlier: “we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it…”

Surely these wise sayings are of benefit to everyone. Which means that those of us who consider ourselves free would do well to take to heart what was spoken to slaves long, long ago. We may have more in common than we realize.

Prayer: Lord, help us to all be of service to you, for you have already been of eternal service to us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today include: 1 Timothy 5-6, and Titus 1-3)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Who is the Main Actor in the Story?

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Colossians 2:13-14 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.

Observation: God is the main actor in this story.

Application: It’s human nature to want to take credit for things, to feel like we are fulfilling an important role. Indeed, people who claim to be disciples of Jesus do have important roles to fill. But those roles nothing more (or less!) than natural responses to what God has already done for us.

Notice the grammar in the passage above. God is the subject of the sentences and God the subject acts.

God made you alive.
[God] forgave us.
[God] erased the record that stood against us.
[God] set [the record against us] aside.
[God] nailed [the record against us] to the cross.

Yes, both grammatically and practically speaking, God is the main subject of the Scriptures and the Scriptures present this God as one who takes action for the sake of all humanity.

At least three of God’s actions are definitive for all time. 1) the fullness of God became human in the form of Jesus. 2) this Jesus died for the sake of all humanity. 3) this Jesus rose again, proving that death no longer has the final say for him or for us.
In a few weeks Christians around the world will celebrate the first of these definitive actions—the fullness of God coming to earth in the form of a vulnerable child. Even so, there will be tendencies among us to miss the point. We will at times want to take credit for our generosity, for our thoughtfulness. We will receive gifts from others and be tempted to think that we are deserving of such things.

Hardly. What we deserve is to be nailed to a cross. Through Christ, however, that has already been done. What’s left is simply the opportunity to express our profound thanksgiving through lives of generous and humble service.

Prayer: People who live with a profound sense of thanksgiving are the salt of the earth. Help us to sprinkle your world with joy and delight for all that you have done. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Colossians 1-4)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I can do all things through Christ?

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Observation:
This context of this verse is often overlooked.

Application: This verse is very popular, especially among athletes. It is often used as a motivator of sorts with lots of emphasis on the “I” and an implicit assumption that Christ will undoubtedly help us do what we want to do. It’s a particularly American understanding of the Bible, with a focus on individual will, independence, and achievement. But is this what the verse is really all about?

Not really. Here’s the full paragraph within which the verse is found:

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.


When Paul wrote “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” he was referring more to survival than to individual accomplishment, more to submission to God rather than presenting expectations to God, more to dependence rather than independence, more to being open to God’s will rather than to impose our will on God.

This is hardly the stuff of “Lord, I know that you can help me score another touchdown.” It’s more to tune of the Lord helping us hold our head up high even after missing what would have been the game-winning field goal.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that God wants us to lose. But neither am I suggesting that God wants us to win. Rather, God gives us what we need to carry on in plenty and in want and to find contentment in any and all circumstances. Hence Paul could write such encouraging words from the confines of a prison cell.

Prayer: Lord, help us to find the contentment that is offered through you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included Philippians 1-4)

Monday, December 5, 2011

When the show is over, real life begins.

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Ephesians 5:2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Observation:
Living in love is a profound concept that is sometimes overshadowed by other parts in this chapter that seem more legally demanding.

Application:
These days I’ve been wrestling a bit with what the Grace of God really means. I’m struck by the fact that so many churches and/or pastors have, at the heart of their/our message, what we should be doing if we really claim to be followers of Christ. I believe that my synodical bishop rightly describes such sentiments as “the Tyranny of the ‘Shoulds.’” Indeed, there’s nothing good about them.

Still, the ‘shoulds’ of living are hard to avoid. Even today’s readings seem to include their share of them. Does grace really exist? And if so, what does it mean?

‘Living in love’ may be the start of it.

Living as a person who is loved by Christ simultaneously makes it more natural to love like Christ. When we fully understand that we have been unconditionally accepted for who we are, it follows that we unconditionally accept others for who they are.

If this doesn’t always seem to happen it is likely because we have in some way minimized and/or forgotten what God has done for us. A profession of faith most authentically begins with a confession of faith—I can’t but God can, I didn’t but God did, I avoided but God confronted, I ran away but God stood in my stead, I sometimes pretended (very well, thank you very much!) to be God but oh…Good Point…God really is God. To paraphrase the popular singer Rianna—“We’ve put on quite a show, very entertaining, but it’s over now.”

When the ‘show’ is over, real life begins. How? With the awareness that real love has already begun. This love was willingly (though mercilessly) affixed on a non-descript cross section of wood centuries ago between a couple common criminals at the hands of an over-zealous and hopelessly misguided crowd whose power of persuasion had it’s way with the government leader at the time. If that love means anything, it means everything…even as we go about the rest of our day.

Prayer: Lord, help us to simply take to heart what you have done and what you continue to do in order that we might truly live in love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Ephesians 5-6 and Psalm 119:1-80)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Come, Lord Jesus

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Matthew 23:1-4 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

Observation: It’s easy to lay burdens on others that we ourselves are not willing/able to bear. It’s also easy to allow others to do the same to us.

Application:
There’s a story in Leviticus chapter 10 that comes to mind. A couple of Aaron’s sons have done something they should not have done and they die. Moses keeps driving the point home that they deserved their death and that the rest better do everything perfect or they too shall die. At first Aaron remains silent and listens to what Moses says. But then it was revealed that a couple more of Aarons sons had done something, presumably with good intent, that also was not quite the way it was supposed to be done and Moses got angry all over again. He started chastising them until Aaron could maintain his silence no longer:

And Aaron spoke to Moses, “See, today they offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD; and yet such things as these have befallen me! If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been agreeable to the LORD?” 20 And when Moses heard that, he agreed.”

We’re coming up to a time of year when a lot of people will want everything to be just right—decorations…food…presents…relationships…you name it. But not everything will be perfect. Matching right up with the joy of the season will be corresponding amounts of loneliness, disappointment, regret, and frustration. Not every gesture will be appreciated. The beautiful scripted words on many a card will not necessarily be enough to make up for a years of neglect. And when we try to force our holiday cheer on the very ones whom we have intentionally or unintentionally wronged in one way or another, well…we may find ourselves confronted in Aaron-like fashion. If so, it may be for good reason.

The Advent season which begins this weekend is very much a season of longing for burdens to be lifted rather than imposed, lightened rather than increased. When we say, “come, Lord Jesus” it is spiritual request for the One who is whole to bring a sense of wholeness to those of us (which is all of us) who are not yet complete.

Until then, it may help to realize that we will not become more complete by imposing onto others our own ideas of what is right verses trite. Neither will it help to allow others to do the same to us. Much better to just say or think, “Come Lord Jesus.”

Prayer:
Lord, help us to find our deepest longings to be met in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Matthew 23-25)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Surprising Compassion instead of Anger

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Matthew 14:13-14 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

Observation: Jesus had just learned of the death of John the Baptist and wanted to be alone. The only alone time he had, however, was his time in the boat. The crowd was clearly determined to meet him as soon as he arrived on shore. Apparently he was deeply moved by them.

Application: I suppose most of us just want to be alone at one time or another. We long for a break—a time-out from the regular and routine or what some people call the ‘rat race.’ Grief can do that to a person and Jesus was no exception. He wanted to be alone, to draw back. Nothin’ doing; the crowd wouldn’t let it happen. One can almost imagine the situation—lone boat on a relatively small body of water (Sea of Galilee) with crowd following on foot.

In a way I’m surprised he didn’t get angry when he came ashore. He could have said, “Look, can’t you see I want to be alone?” Instead he was somehow touched by them and responded with compassion instead of anger.

That’s a good lesson for all of us, yet another reason for which we can be thankful.

Prayer:
Lord, thanks for your compassion. Help us to be of similar nature. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Matthew 14-16)

My Pre-Thanksgiving Workout

Given the fact that any number of different circumstances can cause us to have physical limitations, I'm always thankful just for the opportunity to be physically able to move. And so, with the official day of Thanksgiving (in the USA, at least) coming up tomorrow, it only made sense to be extra thankful to be able to workout today. Here was the routine.

My standard warm-up (12 body-weight squats, 15 leg swings per side, 24 walking lunges, 10 close-grip push-ups, 10 stick-ups, 10 waiter's bows, 30-second plank, and 10 light dumbbell dead-lifts).

Now on to the workout:

Set 1
10 Front Squats with 100# barbell
20 Bench presses with 100# barbell
15 Bent-over rows with 2-25# dumbells
Rest one minute, repeat set but with only 12 bench-presses.

Set 2
15 1-leg Stability-ball curls (per leg)
10 ab-wheel roll-outs
Rest 30 seconds, repeat set.

Set 3
6 chin-ups with knee-ups
10 Turkish get-ups with 20# dumbbell (5 per side)

Set 4 (opposite of set 3)
10 Turkish get-ups with 20# dumbbell
6 chin-ups with knee-ups

Done.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Careless Words and the Like

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Matthew 12:36 I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Observation: these chapters in Matthew are full of verses that, at first glance, offer very little hope. The judgment, taken at face value, is excruciating. But is there more to the story?

Application: According to a personality indicator (Myers-Briggs) that is used in many professional circles, I am an extrovert. One characteristic of extroverts is that we have a tendency to think aloud. What that means is that sometimes what we say aloud is a thought in process rather than a thought that has been processed. It can drive other people crazy. Sometimes it drives us crazy. “Careless” words, at times, abound.

So as you can imagine, when Jesus says that “by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned,” well, that doesn’t exactly come across to people like me as comforting!

There are a number of other discomforting expressions in these chapters as well:

Jesus says, “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Does that mean that some people are just out of luck?

He also says, “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’” Isn’t the whole idea to help people understand?

And the there’s this: “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” There’s a lot of finality in that passage…and it isn’t pretty. And these are but a few of the disconcerting passages in this section.

What is one to make of all of this…especially in light of the fact that Jesus also quotes the Old Testament in saying, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”?

There’s a part of me that wonders if Jesus was an extrovert! So much of what Matthew quotes Jesus as saying in these chapters seems particularly harsh. Is that how he meant it?

Maybe…especially in context. According to Matthew, one of the reasons that Jesus came to earth was to fulfill the law (cf. 5:17). In other words, Jesus came to accomplish what humanity was never able to accomplish on its own. Many of these passages make our own limitations abundantly clear. And so we have the classic law/gospel paradigm in full view. The law convicts, the gospel frees. The law keeps us humble, the gospel keeps us hopeful.

Interestingly, now that I think about it, even the verse that caught my attention today contains both the law and gospel; we will be condemned by our words but also justified by them. Extroverts just give God a few more words to work with!

Prayer: Lord, in light of our many words, let us hold steadfast to your word made flesh in Jesus. Amen.

(Readings today included: Matthew 11-13)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Today's Workout

Happy Monday everyone. Here's a summary of the physical start to my day today.

First thing: drink big glass of water followed by a bowl of raw rolled oats topped with raisins and 2 tsp. of flax seed that was soaked over night. I eat it like cereal with lots of milk.

Warm-up followed by:

Set 1:
Chin-ups (10)
100# barbell squats (25)
Suspended bar push-ups (12)
rest 1 minute, repeat.

Set 2:
Single leg stability ball curls (15/leg)
Ab wheel roll-outs (10)
rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Set 3:
Dumbbell deadlift to overhead press combos (10 reps with 2-25# dumbbells)
rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Set 4:
Cross-body mountain-climbers (50)
rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Set 5:
Bent-over side deltoid raises with 10# dumbbells (10)
rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Done.

Here and Now

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Matthew 8:24-26 A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.

Observation: Jesus was able to sleep through quite a bit of racket. Didn’t seem to let the worries of the moment keep him from sleep.

Application:
I woke up around 3:45 this morning to the sound of rain. I eventually got back to sleep, but not soundly. There was a wrestling match going on in my mind. In the one corner was my desire to get some much-needed sleep. In the other corner was my awareness of what needs to get done in a short week, my concern about some situations some people I know are going through, and my own unsettled ponderings as to how I might best be helpful through all these things.

Ironically, what would probably be more helpful all the way around would simply be a good night’s sleep! If only I were better at setting everything else aside to catch a little shut-eye so that I might rise refreshed to meet whatever challenges are presented on following day.

I know a counselor who often speaks about the importance of being present in the moment—as opposed to being preoccupied with what is not yet or stuck in a time that has already passed by.

Jesus seemed to know the art of such things. There he was, asleep in the midst of a storm. His disciples might wake him, but the storm would not. I’m not sure if he went right back to sleep after calming the storm or not. But somehow I think he probably did.

Prayer: Lord, help us be engaged in our present moments and not let the concerns of the future or events of the past prevent us from participating fully in your gift of the here and now. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Matthew 8-10)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Today's Workout

Didn't go full-bore this morning...just gave each major muscle area its own little challenge. The workout went like this:

Full-body warm-up followed by each of the following while focusing on perfect form.
12 Suspended-bar incline push-ups
25 Barbell Squats with 100#
15 Bent-over rows with 25# dumbbells
10 Ab-wheel roll-outs
12 Push-up/burpee combos.

That was it. Short and sweet. On to the rest of the day.

Choosing Sides

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Psalm 124:1-5 If it had not been the LORD who was on our side—let Israel now say—
2 if it had not been the LORD who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us,
3 then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
4 then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
5 then over us would have gone
the raging waters.

Observation: the Psalmist believed that they were saved from opposing armies because the Lord was on their side. Otherwise, the Psalmist believed, they would have been destroyed.

Application: there’s a part of me that loves this Psalm and another part of me that finds it troubling.

I love the sense of thanksgiving it expresses…and the belief that they were saved, not by their own will or effort, but because of the mercy of God.

More troubling, however, is the belief that God has chosen a side—namely, their side. I wonder how many unnecessary battles have been fought over the years (whether militarily between nations or just verbally within families or churches) because people assumed the Lord was on their side. Does God choose sides?

I think the answer to that question may be yes. But if so, it would appear that God most often sides with the disadvantaged, the downtrodden, the persecuted, the suffering, those most easily cast aside. Basically, God tends to work with the remnants of people. And as the balance of power shifts, so does, at times, the focus of the Almighty. For this reason, in today’s readings from 2 Corinthians, Paul is not ashamed to discuss his weaknesses. In fact, he finds a certain solace in it.

Prayer: Lord, I’m not sure what all the side-choosing is about, but I do pray that we might never be far from your side. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Not Losing Heart

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 3:2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; AND 2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.

Observation: Paul understood that the greatest test of Christian leadership is the extent to which the body of Christ actually reflects the one in whose name it gathers. Based on the ills addressed in his first letter to the Corinthians and also his letter to the Galatians, it’s clear that, at times, Paul wasn’t doing so well in that regard. Still, as expressed in the second verse listed above, Paul nevertheless understood that it was by God’s mercy that he was engaged in the ministry and that, therefore, he did not “lose heart.” He felt so strongly about that, in fact, that he repeated the phrase “we do not lose heart” in 4:16. Maybe he was just trying to convince himself, but somehow I think he actually meant it.

Application:
It’s pretty easy to lose heart. I’ve noticed that—even with physical ailments. Small pains fester and it’s easy to let them take over our view of the world. The ‘woe is me’ syndrome is akin to junk mail—it’s there just about every time we open our box or inbox.

The most profound opportunities to lose heart are when the very basics of what we’re trying to accomplish seem to be a failure. That’s when we’re tempted through up our hands and ask, “why am I even doing this?”

Sometimes this is actually a good question. Sometimes, as people of faith, our priorities and/or attitudes are askew and need to be re-evaluated. And sometimes, if we’re willing, the rest of the Christian community can lovingly help us with this re-evaluation.

But there are other times when there is every good reason to hang in there.

As I reflect back on my ministry thus far, I’m wondering to what extent the congregations I have served/serve reflect the one in whose name we gather. To what extent are their lives an example of a letter to God?

It’s a humbling thought. I’d like to think that they often reflect the essence of Christ quite well…and often that’s true. But every pastor knows that that certainly isn’t always the case. And sometimes even we pastors don’t reflect the essence of Christ very well! What then?

That’s when it’s important to remember that it is “by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry.” In other words, it’s possible that God loves us enough to put us in the position we’re in. Maybe we can really make a difference through it or maybe we can really learn something through it or, more likely, both. Either way it’s by God’s mercy.

Now, it might not always seem like the most merciful thing God has ever done. But if it really is by God’s mercy, we need not lose heart. We’re in the process of becoming and inspiring a letter of God “to be known and read by all.”

Prayer: Lord, I’m not sure why this devotion took such an incredibly long time to write. Still, I give you thanks once again for helping me see yet another glimpse of what our role in this world is all about. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(2 Corinthians 3-6)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Real Sincere

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.

Observation: Sincerity is huge for anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ.

Application: Those of us with some basic training in interpersonal relationships/counseling are taught to try to do what is not always easy—maintain a non-anxious presence, own our own feelings, and to respond in proportion to the situation rather than to over or under-react, to name a few. These are not ‘techniques’ to manipulate but, quite to the contrary, healthy ways of interaction and, in fact, a demonstration of respect for all concerned—including ourselves.

Such healthy ways of interaction are always easier when the rub concerns others and are significantly more difficult whenever we find ourselves personally and/or professionally involved. But then again, when we do feel find ourselves in the thick of something, it’s a marvelous opportunity to, as they say, ‘practice what we preach.’ It goes without saying that that’s easier said than done.

In such times I am reminded of how absolutely crucial it is to regularly and personally be a student (as opposed to a teacher) of the Scriptures, not as searcher for all things that help ‘justify’ our position, but rather as someone who seeks to be reminded of what living our faith is all about.

In Corinthians today we are reminded that God leads the way through Christ--a “triumphal procession” according to Paul whereby what God has done for us pervades the atmosphere as a sort of “aroma” that can be of benefit to those who are being saved and those who are perishing alike. This fragrance spreads best when we speak/act as “persons of sincerity.” And sincerity starts at home by acknowledging our own fears and ills and prejudices and presumptions and propensity to want to respond in kind or point out wrong or whatever else might indeed make a point but in the process harm a relationship.

It’s easy to boldly proclaim that we are “sent from God.” But sincerity comes to the fore when we realize that we are also, according to Paul, “standing in his presence.” Yikes…we’d better be real!

Prayer: Lord, thanks for allowing us to stand in your presence. Help us take on and share the fragrance of you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

Acting in relation to Faith

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 15:17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

Observation: For the Apostle Paul, Christ’s death and resurrection were more important than anything else. For him that’s how everything related to faith comes together.

Application: People who claim and/or are grasped by the Christian faith differ on many things—style of worship, interpretation of Scriptures, acceptable behavior, doctrinal matters, etc. Occasionally the Apostle Paul entered into the debate on such matters too. But at the heart of it all is the gripping story of the God/man Christ who both died and was raised again.

For Paul, this story of the death and resurrection of Jesus is so central to faith that, in his view, without it there is really no reason for faith at all. “Futile” is the word he uses.

This is an interesting perspective for Paul in particular because he was once a practicing Jew on the fast-track to positions of influence. Now he essentially says that the faith he once had was really no faith at all; everything of lasting importance hinges on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Without that story humanity is still (I might use the word “stuck”) in sin.

With the story, however, each day is a new day.

There will likely be challenges to face of course, ranging from global issues to finding a way to get along with a co-worker or even a family member. But hope can no longer be lost. Indeed, never again.

Prayer: Lord, let us not forget that you accomplished something of lasting value through your death on the cross and subsequent resurrection from the dead. And let us face the life we now live in such a way as to demonstrate that we believe it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Psalm 149, 1 Corinthians 15-16)

Today's Workout

Warm-up (bodyweight squats, leg swings, walking lunges, close-grip push-ups, stick-ups, waiter's bows, Dumbell dead-lifts (should have done planks too, but forgot)

Set 1
Barbell Complex consisting of 6 reps of each of the following: Romanian Dead-lifts, Hanging Cleans, Front Squats, Overhead Presses, Back Squats, and Split-leg Squats with barbell on back. Rest 1 minute, repeat set.

Set 2
Pull-ups (8)
Bulgarian Split Squats (1 1/2 rep counts as 1 rep) (10/leg)
Rest 1 minute, repeat set.

Set 3
Push-up/arm-extension combo on suspended bar (10 reps)
Bent-over dumbbell rows (15)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set.

Set 4
Cross-body mountain-climbers (50)
Planks (30 second)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set

Set 5
1-leg push-ups (20)
Lateral Dumbbell Deltoid Raises (10)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set.

Done!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

When We Take Too Much Upon Ourselves

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 12:14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.

Observation: So true.

Application: It’s tempting, at times, to feel that we are responsible for everything. To somehow delude ourselves into thinking that the world, or portions thereof, will not go on without us…or at least not as well.

It’s a tenuous position. On the one hand, we are vitally important. God works through us. We are part of the body. But when we cease seeing ourselves as channels and begin seeing ourselves as in charge…well, then it’s easy to overstep our bounds and not so easy to know when to take a step back. Often we both take on more stress than necessary and, at times, cause more stress than necessary…to the point that the whole body of Christ hurts.

When the rest of the body of Christ hurts, it sometimes responds in the name of Christ but not like Christ. Responding in kind is, well, not necessarily kind. Lifting up Bible verses to justify our position/opinion is far easier—and far less effective—than owning and naming our own anxiety as we struggle to figure out how to love when we’re not sure we either want to or can.

Still, the body of Christ does not consist of one member but of many. I find great comfort in such things. It means that none of us has feel like we to have all the right answers—or even any of them! Instead we can trust that the one around whom the body of Christ gathers is none other than the crucified and risen Christ himself. His assurance is sufficient. In him we who are many are one.

Prayer: Lord, whenever we feel more responsible than necessary, help us to take a step back in order that we might demonstrate our trust in you and in the other members of the body you have so graciously provided. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

Friday, November 11, 2011

Some thoughts on Penn State's situation and our situation in light of today's readings.

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 10:24 Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.

Observation: This is a basic Christian principle that is often overlooked.

Application: The current Penn State scandal began with an indictment alleging that a prominent person in power took advantage of a number of other people (in this case young boys) with less power.

Ironically, we actually applaud such behavior on the athletic field and in business, expecting teams, companies and/or individuals to exploit the opponent’s weaknesses. But, of course, in interpersonal relations, and most especially intimate relationships, society understands that taking advantage of another is wrong. It’s an unfair and sometimes dastardly abuse of power. We rightly have laws against such things.

The Apostle Paul, it appears, would agree. He instructs followers of Jesus not to seek their own advantage. He himself endeavors to demonstrate as much and he applies the principle to nearly all aspects of life. Nearly.

Sports, according to Paul, is the one area where competition is the norm. He tells people to “run in such a way that you may win.”

Unfortunately, we often have difficulty distinguishing the arena of sports from the rest of life. For example, we don’t want the companies we invest in to seek the advantage of the other because, if they do, our stock options might go down in value. And that’s just one example.

Consider, if you dare, the number of areas in your own life where you often seek your own advantage rather than that of another. It might take some thought because sometimes, in the process of seeking our own advantage, we delude ourselves into thinking that we’re actually helping someone else when we’re really not. Sick as it sounds, it would not surprise me if Jerry Sandusky convinced himself that he was ‘helping’ some of his alleged victims. Our efforts to seek our own advantage are hopefully far less horrific, but not necessarily any less misguided.

Authentically seeking the advantage of another is not easy. But it is Christian. And the one who offers the ultimate model of seeking the advantage of others rather than of himself is none other than the Christ from whom Christians get their name.

Prayer: Lord, help us to follow your example and, instead of focusing our outrage and disappointment on people that we will likely never meet, let us consider our own areas of influence where we daily have opportunity to personally follow Christ’s example and Paul’s admonition. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Psalm 122 and 1 Corinthians 9-11)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Making Sure our Boasting is not Misplaced

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 3:21a “So let no one boast about human leaders.”

Observation: Very true.

Application: Another scandal has hit the news, this time in the form of a prominent former assistant coach accused of sex abuse with under-age boys. There are also calls for his superior, the coach with more wins than any other major college football coach, to step down. It’s a total mess. Criminal proceedings have begun.

As I write there are disturbing accusations regarding a presidential candidate. That too is a mess, though perhaps not quite as heinous as the first.

Paul had the right idea long ago. “So let no one boast about human leaders.” Paul also reminds us that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”

I am not personally acquainted with the pressures that come with being a person with a high-profile vocation and/or life. I can only imagine. But I do know what it’s like to be human. And to be human is a complicated mixture of moral victories and failures, of triumph and despair, of being saint and sinner all rolled into one. To be human is good AND bad, not good OR bad. Sometimes we emphasize the former and sometimes we emphasize the latter but it’s only when both sides are considered that we get the most reflective portrait of a real human life.

When we allow ourselves to categorize humans as either good or bad we miss the point of being human at all. When we boast about human leaders we almost assuredly set them (and us) up for a fall. And if we do nothing but criticize human leaders, well, that’s hardly wise either.

The Bible tells us that one time a fella came up to Jesus and said, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

I think Jesus was onto something.

Prayer: Lord, as humans we are a complicated lot. Let us make sure our boasting is not misplaced. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

Monday, November 7, 2011

Freedom for and not just freedom from

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.

Observation: Paul looks beyond freedom to something of more value.

Application: Sometimes we don’t think far enough ahead. We think of what might be good for us (to make the team, land the job, date a particular person, have the child, make X amount of money, etc.) but then don’t go on to think about how we might use such situations to actually be of service to others. Freedom is like that. For many, freedom is not having someone else tell us what to do. We think of being free from rather than being free for.

For Paul, freedom is both free from and free for. We are free from sin, death, and the power of the devil and free for loving service to our neighbor. We are free from the works of the flesh and free for the fruits of the spirit against which there is no law.

For those who have made the team, how will you serve? For those who have gotten the position, how will you make the world a better place? For those who are now dating (or married to) the person of your dreams, how will you nurture that relationship? For those who now have a child or children, how will you teach/show the child/children how to freely serve? For those who now have significant financial resources, how will you use them in a fruits of the spirit kind of way?

One of the things I appreciate about Paul is his ability to focus beyond the superficial, beyond present pleasantries to things of more lasting value. Freedom is freedom from. But feedom is also, and maybe even mostly, freedom for.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the freedom we have in Christ. Help us to use that freedom in ways that bring joy to your heart and satisfaction to our own. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 31-32 and Galatians 5-6)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Remembering What God has done.

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Galatians 1:3-4 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Observation: In the verses that follow it becomes clear that Paul was very upset. Still, he begins by reminding the Galatians, and probably most especially himself, of what God has already done.

Application: Today is a church council retreat. One of the things we will do in our time together will be to review our core values and bedrock beliefs as a congregation. It’s easy to perhaps roll one’s eyes about such things, but it’s important stuff…important work. It can help us to stay on course should a situation arise (and for leaders, situations will always arise) that might otherwise lead us to respond or even lash out in ways that are harmful to ourselves, others, and even the body of Christ as a whole. It’s always good to be reminded of what God has already done. There’s a reason it’s referred to as the Gospel—it’s good news!

Prayer: Lord, thanks for providing trusted leaders with whom to share the privileges and responsibilities of ministry. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

Friday, November 4, 2011

Letting God do the Heavy Lifting

Scripture passages that caught my attention today: Mark 15:1 As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.
AND
Mark 16:1-2 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.
AND
Mark 16:3-4 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.

Observation:
Mark 15 begins with people starting their day intending to harm. Mark 16 begins with people starting their day intending to do good. And in the process, doors (in this case a tomb) open for them.

Application: How shall we begin our days? Shall we do so endeavoring to build people up or endeavoring to tear them down? Shall our efforts be in the direction of offering comfort and encouragement, or in the direction of rebuke and scorn? Please note: it takes effort to do either. So it’s not necessarily a case of less work or more, but of what kind of work would we really like to do. What kind of work will make for a feeling of thanksgiving and satisfaction at the close of the day?

A couple of things come to mind. It occurs to me that people intending to do good will still encounter concerns. The women in 16:3 were wondering who might be able to open up the tomb for them. They knew they were going to start out their day trying to do something good, but they also knew that it might not be easy. There could well be obstacles. In fact, they were expecting them. Such concerns did not stop them from pressing forward.

To their surprise, of course, the stone was already rolled away from the tomb and the particular good that they intended to do was no longer needed. Now what?

Well, in Mark’s version of the story it’s a little unclear because most scholars believe that the original manuscript of the Gospel of Mark ended at Mark 16:8 which records that the women said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. But from the other gospels we learn that the women did, in fact, tell others the good news. So instead of merely attempting to do good they began to tell of what was truly good—Jesus is alive!

We can’t always (if ever!) know how our day is going to turn out. Mine, for instance, began on a slightly (but not overly) sour note. But if the news that Jesus is alive holds any relevance at all, then there is certainly plenty of reason to carry on with the day with intent of doing or sharing something good. And who knows, perhaps whatever obstacles that seem to be in the way of our efforts might somehow be given the heave-ho before we even arrive!

Prayer: Lord, help us to begin our days offering the best of ourselves for the betterment of the world and yet to also trust that you will always be the one to do the heavy lifting. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Wondering if there's such a thing as Wise Generosity

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: Mark 14:5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.

Observation: A woman poured very expensive perfume on Jesus. Some saw the gesture as a waste. Jesus praised the act as beautiful.

Application: There is such a fine line between being generous and being wasteful; there is also a fine line between being a good wise steward and being stingy. Before we hop on the bandwagon of condemnation toward those who didn’t see the beauty in this woman’s gesture, we must also remember that, at times, Jesus suggested an alternative approach. He explained that wise people “count the cost” before building grand buildings and that wise bridesmaids keep enough oil with them to be able to light their lamps when needed. And so, as it says in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, there is apparently a “time for everything.”

More often than not I think humanity errors on the side of being too cautious, too self-serving. Jesus may give some Scriptural nods to being wise, but he also advocates offering everything we have. A poor widow in one of his stories is often lauded in comtemporary culture today for being a prime example of how it really doesn’t matter how much we give. Her two mites (worth about a penny) were enough. Baloney! That’s a horrible misinterpretation of Scripture. To focus on the amount of money she gave is to totally miss the real point of the passage found in the phrase that follows… “out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” That certainly doesn’t seem very wise by modern-day standards. Wouldn’t surprise me if her family thought she had lost her gourds. Same goes for the woman who poured out the ointment in the verse above. Yet Jesus offers praise for each of them.

I guess that means that we all have to figure out for ourselves and with each other how we might best express our thanksgiving to God. Different people will no doubt come up with different answers.

Prayer:
Dear Lord, help us to be wise, be generous, and be rooted in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Voice Worthy of our Attention

Scripture Verses that Caught my Attention Today: Psalm 121:1 My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
AND
Mark 9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Observation: Both the Old and New Testaments expect us to focus our attention on the one through whom true help can be found.

Application:
There are, of course, many distractions in life—lots of people and ideas clamoring for our attention. In the process there are often efforts to convince us that we really must focus on these other voices or else we will in some way be missing out or messing up. But are such claims really true?

Today’s lessons present an alternative view. Our help, we are reminded, comes from the one who made everything we see and even that which we cannot see. And the voice/witness/example we are to focus on, we are told from above, is God’s Beloved Son.

I’m struck by how often people clamored to get Jesus to go about his life in a way that was much different from the life to which he had been called and sent. Nevertheless, he stayed true to himself and to the One from whom he was sent.

To help us to go and do likewise, we are gifted with the opportunity to immerse ourselves into God’s story as witnessed in the Holy Scriptures and lived out among God’s people in this world; one can’t really have one without the other. It’s still not always easy, human inclinations being what they are. But at least we are regularly reminded from whom our help ultimately comes and whose voice is ultimately worthy of our attention.

Prayer:
Lord, thank you for this beautiful day and for the opportunity to serve and live in your name. Help us to do so ever more faithfully, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Faith/Marriage Preparation Tip

Today the "Entertainment" headlines informed us that television reality personality Kim Kardashian has filed for divorce from her professional athlete husband of 72 days, Kris Humphries.

I'm not privy to the details that led to the proposed ending of this marriage and, as is the case upon learning of any marital relationship in trouble, I'm am saddened by the news.

I also have no interest in judging this particular relationship. But the news in this particular case does highlight one important point: the amount of planning and/or money expended in one's marriage ceremony does not increase the likelihood of the marriage's success. In fact sometimes, but not always, the inverse is more likely true.

Seriously, if you're planning or hoping to get married, don't let the details related to the wedding day itself overshadow your preparation and personal investment (non-financial!)in the marriage itself.

It has been said that "a wedding is intended for a day but a marriage is intended for a lifetime." Shouldn't the primary focus be on preparing for and maintaining the latter rather than the former?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that the wedding day shouldn't be special. Nor am I suggesting that just because a wedding is done 'on the cheap' it will almost assuredly make for a lasting marriage.

I'm just saying that in every case the couple's focus (and perhaps that of the relatives and friends of the couple) should be on helping to nurture the relationship itself first and foremost. Wedding details themselves are best regulated to an exciting but secondary pleasure.

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts.

Today's Workout

Warm-up followed by a slightly different combination of 2 triple sets followed by 4 single sets.

Set 1
Pull-ups
Front Barbell Squats
Extended push-ups on suspended bar.
Rest 1 minute and repeat.

Set 2:
Single leg Stability ball curls
Single leg bench step-ups
Bent-over Dumbbell Rows.
Rest 1 minute and repeat

Set 3:
Push-up/Pike combo with feet on skateboard
Rest 30 seconds and repeat

Set 4:
Ab-wheel roll-outs
Rest 30 seconds and repeat

Set 5:
Turkish get-ups (note: these are a killer when I get tired!)
rest 30 seconds between sides and 1 minutes between the set and then repeat.

Set 6:
Bent over dumb-bell lateral raises
rest 30 seconds and repeat.

God's Wants and Our Needs

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Job 22:2 Can a mortal be of use to God?
Can even the wisest be of service to him?

Observation: Good question, even if it is asked by one of Job’s “friends” who turns out to be way off-base by the end of the story.

Application: Yesterday was Confirmation at the church where I serve as pastor. It’s also known as “Affirmation of Baptism.” Basically it’s a time when youth who have completed a three-year period of learning, serving, and fellowship experiences in the church go on to publicly declare their thanksgiving for all that God has done and continues to do in and through them. And so rather than declare how much more faithful they were going to be from this moment forward, the service essentially gives voice to the realization that we are now as dependent on God as ever.

With such an understanding it would be easy to develop a viewpoint similar to the one reflected in the rhetorical question posed by Job’s “friend” above. After all, the Christian faith understands God’s ways to be far superior to mortal ways and God’s foolishness to be wiser than human wisdom.

Yet in a consistently surprising move throughout history, God does find mortals to be of use and service. Although we get no special divine perks for making ourselves available in such a way, we are nevertheless of significant use to the Almighty. In fact, it is through humanity that the Lord seems to most consistently prefer to work!

God doesn’t really ‘need’ us but does ‘want’ us. By contrast, we don’t always ‘want’ God but we do ‘need’ God.

It’s a match made in heaven…on earth.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for wanting us and helping us to sense the need we have for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 22 and Mark 7-8)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Today's Short Workout

Time crunch this morning so the workout was short but sweet.

Standard Warm-up of:
Bodyweight squats (120
Leg Swings (12/side)
Walking lunges (24)
Close-grip push-ups (10)
Stick-ups (10)
Waiter's Bows (80
Plank (30 seconds)
Light dumbbell deadlifts (10) (actually, I forgot to do these this morning...oops!)

Workout was just one round of the following:
Pull-ups (9)
Front Barbell Squats (20)
Push-ups (20)
Ab-wheel roll-outs (10)
Regular Barbell Squats (25)
Chin-ups (7)
Cross-body Mountain-climbers (50)

Was probably only a 15 minute workout including the warm-up, though I didn't actually time it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Real Comforters

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Job 16:1-2 Then Job answered:
2 “I have heard many such things;
miserable comforters are you all.

Observation:
Job was not impressed with the way his “friends” were trying to “help.”

Application: Many of us want to be “fixers.” In other words, when we hear of a problem, we want to pretend that it’s really simple…that if the people involved would just do a few things all would be well—thank you very much! Ahh, but much of life does not work out that way. Many situations are far deeper than what can be seen at first glance.

There is a saying related to Africa the goes something like this… “after spending a week in Africa I thought I could write a book’s worth of suggestions for how they might live better. And after spending a few months in Africa I felt like I could maybe write a chapter of good advice for how they might live better. Now that I’ve been a missionary here for about a dozen years, I’m struggling to even come up with one paragraph of suggestions for how they might live better.”

Granted, with time and experience some of us might develop a skill for recognizing flaws in systems that can be overcome with some adjustments. But humanity is still a complicated lot. Our sinful nature makes us vulnerable to many an addiction (personal and communal) which then often serves as a cover for what really ails us. Many ‘fixers’ neglect to take this reality to heart and therefore never truly enter into another’s struggle for wholeness.

Job’s friends started out on a good note. They came to him in his distress and just sat with him for several days. But apparently they were judging in their hearts and, when they could keep silent no longer, they became what Job himself called “miserable comforters.”

Prayer: Lord, help us to be real comforters rather than miserable ones. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

Monday, October 24, 2011

Exercise Tip and Today's Workout

When there's an injury, it's often best to back off and give it a rest rather than try to work through it. Last week I managed to do something to my arm while sleeping. (Strange, I know.) For a few days I had very little mobility with that arm. Simple things like putting on a shirt or coat were an exercise in patience and learning to start with the other arm first.

So when working out I focused on leg, back, and ab moves and gave the arm a rest. One week later things are much better. I'll gradually move back into more arm exercises, but will also error on the side of caution rather than to go too hard too fast. This morning's workout is a case-in-point.

Today's Workout:
2 rounds of the following warm-up circuit:
Bodyweight squats (12), leg swings (15/leg), walking lunges (12/side), close-grip push-ups (10, done with caution), Stick-ups (10 gingerly done), waitor's bows (10), Plank (30 seconds), light dumbbell dead-lifts (10).

Workout:
Set 1:
Verticle jumbs with knee-ups (10)
Bent-over dumbbell-rows with lighter than normal dumbbell (15)
Rest 30 seconds, repeat set 2 more times.

Set 2:
Bench step-ups (10/leg)
1 leg stability ball curls (15/leg)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set 2 more times.

Set 3:
Pike with feet on skateboard (10)
Light dumbbell Romanian Dead-lifts (10)
Rest 30 seconds, repeat set 2 more times.

Set 4:
Front squats holding one dumbbell under chin (15)
Rest 30 seconds, repeat 2 more times.
Done.

The Surprise of Who Knows Jesus.

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Acts 19:13-16 Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded.

Observation: Even the evil spirits can tell who is authentic and who is not.

Application: You gotta love the line from the evil spirit: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” It’s ironic, but sometimes it’s the evil spirits who really know what’s going on. In the gospel of Mark it is the evil spirits/demons who are presented as the only characters in the story who know who Jesus really is.

The modern-day parallel is that, ironically, people without a church background (or without a deep connection to a particular church) often-times are among the first to sense when a church has failed at its mission and/or has lost its way. At that point it’s almost as if those who claim no direct affiliation with Christ are actually closer to him than those that do. Perhaps that’s what Jesus was getting at when he once said that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Still, the good news is that it's better to be last than not in line at all.

Prayer: Dear Lord, there are a number of congregations of which I am aware that are most certainly struggle these days to find a sense of mission. Help them to discover some clarity in this regard and to become an authentic sign of your kingdom on earth. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Today's Workout

Still a little sore from apparently sleeping on my shoulder wrong the other night, so this morning's workout at a retreat facility without equipment went as follows:

Warm-up including: Bodyweight squats, leg swings, walking lunges, 1-arm push-outs, waitor bows, planks, simulated dead-lifts.

Set 1:
Bulgarian Split squats using 1 1/2 rep per rep.
Lying Hip Extensions
1-arm push-outs (basically leaning against a stationary object at a 45 degree angle and doing a push-up action with one arm since I only had one good arm to work with this morning)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set.

Set 2:
24 walking lunges
Cross-body mountain-climbers
Rest 30 seconds, repeat set

Set 3:
Plank (60 second)
Side plank with leg raises (only one side today, unfortunately)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set.

Definitely not the ideal workout. But better to do something with the parts of our body that are able to be exercised while still resting the parts of the body that need rest.

How was worship today? Really?

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Acts 13:2-3 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Observation: A prompting from the Holy Spirit came to them while they were worshiping (and fasting).

Application: “How was worship today?” is a question that I am sometimes asked by a relative at family gatherings. For some reason it always catches me a touch off-guard and I usually mutter something to the affect of “oh, it was good” and then go on to indicate whether the attendance was up or down and then we move on to another topic. I’ve never said something to the affect of:

“well today while we were worshipping it came to mind that we should send—let’s say, Jim and Sally—off to another part of our city to begin leading neighborhood Bible studies. And so we gathered around them in prayer, led them by a procession of cars to that part of town and dropped them off with joy and blessing.”

How was worship today, really? How do we approach it as leaders? How do we approach it as participants? Is there space in our worship, indeed in our hearts, for a prompting from the Holy Spirit?

In some traditions there is a point at the conclusion of formal worship where the leader says, “Our worship has ended, let the service begin” and the people respond, “thanks be to God!”

Or our bishop, when complimented on a sermon by a parishioner sometimes replies, “we’ll see.”

Maybe that’s the response that I should give my relative the next time I am asked, “Who was worship today?” We’ll see…

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your promptings from wherever they come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Questioning the Sweetness of Revenge

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Acts 12:1-3 About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3 After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.)

Observation: What is it that drives crowds to be pleased when violence is directed at others?

Application:
According to this morning’s news Moammar Gadhafi may have been captured or maybe even killed. For many this is a cause for great celebration. Same goes for any number of other high profile ‘targets’ around the globe in recent years.

Clearly some of these folks have been or are brutal people with little respect for human life. Still, I wince at the thought of celebrating their execution. Can there ever be any real joy in taking another’s life? Should there ever be any real joy in taking another’s life?

In the scriptures, especially the Old Testament, there are numerous times when joy accompanies the overthrowing (usually by death) of an opposing force. Goliath, Pharoah’s army, and the Philistines killed by Samson are but a few examples of nasty people whose demise resulted in celebration.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that celebrating another’s demise does not take Jesus’ call to love one’s enemies into account. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be justice. Nor am I necessarily saying that execution is never an acceptable solution. I’m just saying that, should things come to that point, that’s still no reason to be happy about it. Otherwise we edge toward becoming the very kind of people we claim to hate.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see the world as you see the world, even if we’re not completely sure how you see it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cooking is Ridiculously Easy at Times

I had no idea what to make for a semi-quick lunch today. Twenty minutes later I was licking my chops out of satisfaction. The trick? Just using what was on hand.

Here's what was for lunch today...

--Coat a covered skillet with a light application of oil (I used coconut today).

While the electric stove heated up I prepared the following:
--Dice up a small yellow squash and half of a medium-sized zucchini.
--Dice up a red pepper
--Dice up a green pepper
--Dice up half of a cayenne pepper

Place above ingredients in skillet on medium heat along with 1/2 pound of browned hamburger (I had some in the freezer that just needed 30 seconds in the microwave to thaw out before adding to the skillet) for about 10 minutes.

While that was cooking I diced up two tomatoes and added them to the mixture. Five or so minutes later I added a light topping of shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese.

Let simmer until cheese melts.

Eat and enjoy!

Notice that I didn't even add a single spice to this recipee. The Cayenne pepper gave it a little kick and the other flavors merged together quite nicely.

I'm looking forward to having the rest for supper!