Friday, January 28, 2011

In Search of Justice

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Exodus 21:35-36 If someone’s ox hurts the ox of another, so that it dies, then they shall sell the live ox and divide the price of it; and the dead animal they shall also divide. 36 But if it was known that the ox was accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has not restrained it, the owner shall restore ox for ox, but keep the dead animal.

Observation: The Lord is concerned with justice.

Application: Granted, there’s some oddity in some of the justice prescribed in these two chapters. The verse I picked above probably makes as much sense as any. Other verses are a bit more peculiar. No matter, clearly people understood, even from early times, that the Lord cares about justice. Sometimes it’s a bit of a challenge for us to figure out what the most appropriate justice might be.

I know someone who’s spouse was killed and young daughter seriously injured in a car accident. The culprit was a known diabetic who had run a red light at roughly 65 mph because he was having a hypoglycemic episode. The widow, who is both a strong Christian and a physician, realizes that no amount of punishment will bring the spouse back to life or miraculously heal the daughter. Most likely the legal system will tender the offender with 9 months in prison. While some might consider that too short, the widow would simply prefer another form of justice—his driver’s license revoked for life since, in her words, “he has proven he cannot responsibly drive and manage his disease -- he should have pulled over when he became symptomatic -- and I want to know he can never do to another family what he has done to mine.”

Whether the widow’s idea of justice is more appropriate than the legal system’s I do not know, nor is that the point of my post. Rather, I’m simply observing that as fallible human beings it’s no surprise that we are also fallible when it comes to determining how best to address the fallibility of others! True, sometimes the Biblical witness helps in this regard, but other times not so much. Still, we do our best to fix what we can fix or, more often, somehow try to make peace with situations that are flat-out unfair and perhaps even maddening.

Prayer: Lord, we do long for the day when you will make all things right and new. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Exodus 21-22, Psalm 12, Acts 4)

Today's Workout

Standard Warm-up of body-weight squats, leg swings, side lunges, close-grip pushups, stick-ups, Waiter bows, 30-second plank, Dumbbell Rear Leg Deadlifts, and Hip Pointer stretches. Repeat once.

Workout Set One:
10 Vertical Jumps
8 Chin-ups with knee-ups
10 Reverse Incline presses (basically leaning into suspended loops and using bodyweight for resistance)
Rest 1 minute and repeat set.

Workout Set Two:
12 1 1/2-rep bulgarian Split Squats (per leg)
12 Inverted Rows
Rest 1 minute and repeat.

Workout Set Three:
10 Lying(sp?) Hip extensions (holding each for 10 seconds)
10 Ab-wheel rollouts.

Variation for second round of Set Three:
10 Hip Extensions as listed above
20 Cross-body mountain climbers with hands on Ab-Wheel (pretty tough!)

That's it.

Today's Smoothie

Today's Smoothie: 1/2 cup Milk, Generous Handful Frozen Spinach, 1/3 cup walnuts, 1/3 c Frzn. Strawberries, 1/3 c Frzn. Mango, 1/3 c Frzn. cranberries, 1/4 c. Frzn. blueberries, 1 Sunkist orange, 1 Frzn. Banana. Really good...went down fast.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Today's Omelet

About once a week or so I like a real good omelet. But not the kind you find in most restaurants. According to Men's health, an "IHOP Spinach and Mushroom Omelette (no pancakes on the side)" socks you with "910 calories, 71 g fat--26 g saturated, 1 g trans--and 1,580 mg sodium." Men's Health says you can make the same omelet at home for roughly 300 calories. I'm sure the omelet I made today had a few more calories in it than that, but it was still very healthy. Here's what I did.

Mixed 4 eggs, a 1/2 cup salsa, 1/2 cup milk, diced Roma Tomato, and several shakes of black and cayenne pepper in a bowl.

In a skillet I sauteed freshly chopped onion, carrots, broccoli, yellow pepper, mushrooms, jalapeno pepper, and a sliver of ginger in a tablespoon or so of olive oil.

Transferred sauteed veggies to a temporary plate, poured egg mixture into skillet, poured the sauteed veggies on top and then added frozen spinach leaves and a light sprinkling of shredded cheese as well.

Cooked till mostly done, then folded and flipped, cooked a minute or two more and then transferred to a container to take to work. Ate 3/4 of it for lunch and the other 1/4 for supper. Really good. The ginger gave it a surprisingly refreshing and unique kick.

father-in-laws and other helpful people

Scripture Passage That Caught my attention Today: Exodus 18:17-23 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. 19 Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; 20 teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. 21 You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. 22 Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.”

Observation: Sometimes people from the outside can provide valuable feedback. In this case it was Moses’ father-in-law who came through.

Application: It has been said that self-evaluation is the best evaluation, and in many ways I think that’s true. Taking an honest, unabashed look at ourselves often provides a great opportunity for improvement. But in so doing, we would be well-advised to include the view of others in our data. In other words, sometimes we need to see ourselves as others see us to be able to discern if we are really accomplishing what we feel led to accomplish—and if not, why not.

In the passage above it is clear that one of the things that Moses wanted to accomplish was justice for all the people. But it took an outsider to help him see that, if he really wanted long-term justice, he was going to have to change his tactics and develop a system—indeed a network—of people to carry out this important work.

In that regard it is somewhat disconcerting to ponder how many things in my own ministry should probably be done differently. But then again, within those ponderings lay opportunity to think differently and perhaps act more wisely in joyful response to the depth and breadth of the call of ministry.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the myriad of ways that you can teach us to better follow you and your call on our life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Exodus 17-20 and Acts 3)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Death's Impossibility

Scripture Verse That Caught My Attention Today: Acts 2:24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.

Observation: Very interesting use of the word “impossible.”

Application: Every once in a while I’ll find myself inspired by someone’s story of summoning up incredible gumption. It often arises from situations where people have nothing left to lose—or, ironically, when they suddenly realize that, if they don’t change, they could lose everything. It’s the football team that, down by three or four scores in the forth quarter, starts playing for pride rather than points. Or it’s captured in the spirit the mom described in that 1960’s or 70’s song with the line “the day my momma socked to the Harper Valley PTA.”

Many of us live for stories of the down and out getting back up and in the game of life. Their gumption is inspiring. But let’s face it, gumption can still only take a person so far. We all have our limits. Chief among them is death. Sheer gumption might enable us to delay it for a little while, but sheer gumption cannot overcome it. Overcoming death requires a power beyond ourselves.

So when Peter explained that it was impossible for Jesus to be held in death’s power, that was quite a pronouncement. Suddenly the ultimate foe was showing serious cracks in the armor. Granted, once death has a hold on you, there is certainly an initially tight grip. But we now trust that such a grip can only maintain its hold for so long. By faith we believe that the corresponding force, destined to bring one back to life, will prevail. Jesus couldn’t be held down by its power. Neither will we.

Prayer: Lord, I can be nothing less than grateful for your ability to do what I could never do on my own. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Exodus 14 and 16 (but not 15) and Acts 2)

Monday, January 24, 2011

News of Interest Even to the Stranger

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: Luke 24:18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”

Observation: this was apparently big news in society and not just among the faithful.

Application: Normally news in society dominates the headlines. There are times when religious news dominates the headlines as well but, if so, it’s usually because of either a scandal within the religious community or something controversial within the religious community. In other words, most religious news that makes its way into the secular media is negative.

I suppose it could be argued that the story of Jesus rising from the dead was controversial as well within the religious community. Hence it was the talk of the town. Believers and non-believers alike had heard the news and each was trying to make sense of it all. Save for Jesus who played dumb for a sentence or two and then went on to help them put it all in perspective before revealing his risen self to them.

These days I doubt that a bunch of Christians announcing that Jesus has risen from the dead would make for a particularly riveting story. Society has heard that pronouncement before. But if a bunch of Christians were able to persistently and convincingly demonstrate their care and concern and even love for the world God loves and the people in it…well, that just might begin to show up in a few headlines in a positive light. In other words, if a church is really making a difference in a community, the whole community (and not just the church’s members) would mourn if it somehow ceased to exist or was on the verge of ceasing to exist. After all, the church was never meant to exist primarily for itself, but rather in faithful worship of our Lord and service to everyone that God loves in Jesus’ name. If churches (regardless of denomination) really did that, there wouldn’t be a stranger in town that didn’t know the things that were taking place in those days.

Prayer: Lord, opportunities are before us. Help us to see them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Exodus 9-11 and Luke 24)

Another One of Those Confusing Passages

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Luke 22:35-36 He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” 36 He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.

Observation: First depend on God for everything, then suddenly they are told to use earthly things. Hmmm.

Application:
It’s hard to know what Jesus is getting at here. The idea of trusting in God for everything makes sense. Suddenly being told to more or less take up arms seems like such a contrast.

I suppose it could be argued that Jesus is telling them to trust in him but to also use everything at their disposal. But then Jesus ended up healing a soldier’s ear after one of the disciples actually used his sword. Hmmm…

In some ways that’s the dilemma we live in too. We’ve heard that trusting in Jesus is all that is needed. Yet then we try to do things our own way. And it’s hard to know if our way is what the Lord has in mind or whether we’re actually working against the Way and Truth and Life. Thankfully, either way the Lord’s got us covered.

Prayer:
Lord, sometimes it’s had to know what we really should be doing or how we should be doing it. Thankfully you are there for us regardless. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Worries be Gone

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: John 21:34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.

Observation: “dissipation and drunkenness” is easier to avoid than the “worries of this life.”

Application: It seems to me that the ‘worries of this life’ are many. They are personal and professional, they are present and they are future. Sometimes we even worry about how the past might affect the future.

Maybe the larger point is to not let our hearts be ‘weighed down” with these worries. In fact, we are told to ‘be on guard’ about such things. In other words, the worries are most surely there, but apparently we can control whether or not we will be ‘weighed down’ by them. It occurs to me that the way to avoided being weighed down is to let go.

This is not to say be irresponsible. Indeed, the delimma(s) may need to be dealt with. But we need not be ‘weighed down’ by it/them. It’s a perspective thing that can help us be alert and ready for the bigger lessons and hope that we find in our Lord.

Prayer: thanks again for the reminder to keep all things in their respective places when compared to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Exodus 1-2, Psalm 88, Luke 21)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Words of hope...sort of.

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: Genesis 49:16-19 (especially verse 18)
16 Dan shall judge his people
as one of the tribes of Israel.
17 Dan shall be a snake by the roadside,
a viper along the path,
that bites the horse’s heels
so that its rider falls backward.

Gen. 49:18 I wait for your salvation, O LORD.

Gen. 49:19 Gad shall be raided by raiders,
but he shall raid at their heels.

Observation:
Verse 18 is like a gasp in the middle of his speech…as if he’ll need all his energy to get through it before breathing his last.

Application: It is seldom that a parent offers last words of this sort to his or her children anymore. Modern medicine might be part of the reason—we tend to prolong life and/or manage pain by sedation which often means that the those who are nearing death’s door are no longer alert enough to make such a speech.

Be that as it may, Jacob’s speech is both inspiring and disconcerting. It is inspiring because he offers some really touching promises to some of his sons. It is also inspiring to see him, in the middle, to utter the words of verse 18 aloud—a prayer to the almighty that stands to this day as a witness to those who hear or read it knowing that he was in his final moments. But Jacob’s last words are also disconcerting. Rather than dealing with his contention with Ruben in a timely manner, Jacob waits till then end and never offers a word of hope to go along with it (see Genesis 49:3-4). I would think that would be hard to live with. Same for goes for Simeon and Levi.

Surprisingly, if Jacob’s last mutterings would otherwise be the norm, I’m beginning to think that sedation might be a good thing. I have mixed feelings about Jacob’s last words to his sons. When they’re good, they’re good. When they’re bad, they’re bad. It seems to me that we’re better off providing regular feedback to our children. That way they see the balance and are not beholden to some final words that may or may not be the best we have to offer, even if they are, in a sense, our final say.

Prayer: Lord, I pray that you would give us wisdom to speak in such a way that, even when it’s the truth and it stings a bit, that there is also the presence of promise and hope—which is why we all wait for your salvation, O Lord. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Genesis 49-50, Psalm 8, and Luke 20)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hmmm....

Scripture Passage That Caught My attention today: Genesis 47:1-6 So Joseph went and told Pharaoh, “My father and my brothers, with their flocks and herds and all that they possess, have come from the land of Canaan; they are now in the land of Goshen.” 2 From among his brothers he took five men and presented them to Pharaoh. 3 Pharaoh said to his brothers, “What is your occupation?” And they said to Pharaoh, “Your servants are shepherds, as our ancestors were.” 4 They said to Pharaoh, “We have come to reside as aliens in the land; for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks because the famine is severe in the land of Canaan. Now, we ask you, let your servants settle in the land of Goshen.” 5 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Your father and your brothers have come to you. 6 The land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land; let them live in the land of Goshen; and if you know that there are capable men among them, put them in charge of my livestock.”

Observation: Why did Joseph only present five of his brothers to Pharaoh? Were some of them a little rough around the edges? Did those who were not chosen feel left out?

Application: I don’t really have an “application” for this passage. Sometimes I do encounter families where one or more of the children/siblings are somewhat hesitantly acknowledged. But I still don’t have a parallel to this Joseph account. I’m left with a simply curiosity that will likely not be satisfied during this early life. That’s okay. It’s not that big of a deal. There are lots of things in life that I may never understand.

Prayer: Lord, sometimes I like the humility that comes with realizing our imitations. Thank you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Genesis 47-48, Psalm 10, and Luke 19)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Third Person Savior and implications for the local pastor

Scripture Passage that Caught My attention today: Luke 18:31-33 Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. 33 After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.”

Observation: Jesus speaks of himself in the third person. I’ve noticed this before, but never really thought about it. Why does Jesus refer to himself/Son of Man in the third person? One would think that he would speak in terms of “I” and “me.” Why not say, “After they have flogged me, they will kill me, and on the third day I will rise again.”?

Application:
It’s hard to know if Jesus is just being humble or whether he is drawing a distinction between himself as a person and the role he fills in the office (Son of Man). Or maybe it’s his way of reminding himself that, regardless of his personal feelings, he has a role to fulfill as the Son of Man.

We’ll probably never know the answer to these questions in our lifetime. And perhaps it’s not even that important. But it does perhaps serve as a reminder that, for those of us who are pastors, this is the primary way in which many people know us. We might at times think that people know us personally, and perhaps some people in our congregations do. But for the most part, if people are asked how they know us, most will respond that he or she ‘is my pastor.’ They know us first by our role and then, perhaps, as a person. Some of what we do or think will be evaluated, for better or for worse, in relation to preconceived notions of what’s appropriate for a pastor. Occasionally we might want to forget such realities. And in some ways society is perhaps less restrictive in this regard than in the past. But it would be na├»ve to think that the association is forgotten, even or perhaps especially among the pagan public.

Prayer:
Lord, thanks for the reminder once again that your call is a pervasive one. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Genesis 44-46 and Luke 18)

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Level 5 Leader?

January 17, 2011
Scripture Passage That Caught my attention today: Luke 17:1-10 After Jesus had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had a slave whom he valued highly, and who was ill and close to death. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they appealed to him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy of having you do this for him, 5 for he loves our people, and it is he who built our synagogue for us.” 6 And Jesus went with them, but when he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; 7 therefore I did not presume to come to you. But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed. 8 For I also am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, he said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

Observation:
The Centurion was a humble leader.

Application:
I’ve begun listening to the audio book by Jim Collins entitled: “Good to Great.” One facet of the book deals with leadership, particularly what he calls “level 5 leaders.” Most of the level 5 leaders he describes are people I’ve never heard of before and, somewhat intentionally so. Generally speaking, they do not focus the bulk of their energies trying to draw attention to themselves.. By contrast, I have heard of some of the lesser “level 4” leaders. As but one example, he mentions Lee Iacocca who is often perceived to be a great leader (and in many ways was), but who ultimately started focusing his attention on branding his own name while the company he was hired to run began to decline.

We may not know enough about the Centurion in the story above to know whether Jim Collins would categorize him as a level 5 leader or not. But we do know that he didn’t take himself too seriously, that he respected others, and that he wasn’t afraid to ask for help when he needed it. And that’s a good example for all of us to keep in mind.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the surprising corners from which good examples emerge. Help us to learn from them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Genesis 42-43, Psalm 5, and Luke 17)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Good and the Bad of Humanity

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Genesis 37:21-22 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.

Observation: Reuben had his good points and his bad. Earlier he had done wrong by sleeping with his father’s concubine. But here he tries to preserve Joseph.

Application: We humans are a complicated lot, filled with virtue and dysfunction. Out of the same mouth come blessings and curses, words of encouragement and words of disdain. We can do something incredibly worthwhile and even holy one moment, and in the next moment we can do or think something despicable.

For this reason it’s hard to totally write anyone off and also hard to get overly enthused about anyone either. And I feel that way about myself as well.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for your care and concern for us when we are good and even when we are not so good. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Genesis 37-38, Psalm 7, Luke 15)

Friday, January 14, 2011

In Light of Creatures Great and Small

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Luke 14:5-6 Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” 6 And they could not reply to this.

Observation: Interesting to more or less equate and child with an ox.

Application: Generally speaking, I’ve always placed animals below humans in the chain of importance. Growing up on the farm, I realized that some animals are used for meat, milk, or eggs and that even those that are more domesticated (like cats, dogs, horses and ponies) are still a far-cry from the human species, even if we do sometimes get more attached to them.

Still, as Lord of all creation, Jesus seems to suggest that humans aren’t the only creatures worthy of help when they are in distress. And so, since our own dog happens to be barking for attention right now…

Prayer: Lord, thanks for all of your creatures great and small. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings included: Genesis 34-36 and Luke 14)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What's it really mean to be blessed?

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: Genesis 29:31-35 hen the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. 32 Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, “Because the LORD has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” 33 She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the LORD has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also”; and she named him Simeon. 34 Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons”; therefore he was named Levi.She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the LORD”; therefore she named him Judah; then she ceased bearing.

Observation: This reminds me of a Bible study I attended that I thought was good but now I think might have left out an important point.

Application: Years ago I attended a Promise Keeper’s Gathering in the Detroit Superdome. I went with some skepticism and took a ton of notes. Although the messages were a little less grace-oriented than I might have hoped, they were nevertheless entertaining and, on the whole, made for a decent event.

One of the speakers focused on this passage from Genesis. The speaker noted that Leah, as an “unloved” woman, was blessed by the Lord with children. Nevertheless, what she really wanted was the love of her husband and she saw each of her first three children as means to that end, though to no avail. Finally, upon the birth of her fourth child, she quit her life of self-pity and simply gave thanks for the life she had by praising the Lord. The speaker’s main point was that once Leah stopped feeling sorry for herself and started praising the Lord, things got better.

I like that point, but the question is, “does this passage of scripture bear that view out?” Answer, I’m not sure. After the birth of the fourth child and praising the Lord, she ceased bearing children. In the Old Testament, generally speaking, the ability to bear children is considered a blessing of God. So if things got better for Leah, it’s because she was ahead of her Old Testament times and realized that she was valuable to God in her own right whether or not she could bear children. Yet if that’s true, she slipped back from a faith perspective some time later when she felt the need to offer her maid to Jacob to have children in her stead since she could no longer do so. Why, exactly, did she cease bearing children?

We may never know the answer…and maybe that’s okay. Maybe the whole point of a story like this is to invite us to reconsider what it means to be blessed in the first place.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for putting up with the silly games of personal value we play…and for reminding us ever so subtly that our entire value is ultimately found only in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Genesis 29-30 and Luke 12)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Reflections on the "Sodom and Gomorrah" passage from last Friday

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Genesis 19:8-9 Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” 9 But they replied, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down.

Observation: There may in fact be some merit to the view that this passage is primarily about hospitality rather than sexual mores.

Application: Whenever we hear the words Sodom and Gomorrah, two thoughts almost always come to mind for most Christians.

The first thought is completely Biblical: Those were two very wicked cities. The word Sodom shows up 51 times in the Scriptures and Gomorrah shows up 24 times. Aside from when the words are used simply as a reference, they are almost always portrayed in a negative light.

The second thought is often considered Biblical, but maybe not so accurately so. It is often assumed that what made Sodom and Gomorrah so wicked is that the people there (or at least the city’s men) wanted to have same-gender sexual relations with Lot’s guests.

For years I too pretty much thought that’s what this particular story in Scripture was about. But then a colleague offered an alternative view that is gaining merit in my mind. The colleague suggests that, if we really look at this passage closely and in context, we’ll see that one of the things that made the city so bad (along with neglecting the poor and needy according to Ezekiel 16:49) was the people’s lack of hospitality to guests.

I know…it sounds like a strange, even foreign concept at first. But ironically, it IS a ‘foreign’ concept. Notice that the men of the city consider Lot a foreigner (or alien in their terms) who came to their city from elsewhere. Lot, you may remember, was a nephew of the great Biblical patriarch Abraham. Abraham, in chapter 18 of Genesis, bent over backwards to offer hospitality to three men/angels who later told him that he and Sarah would have a child. Now, in good Abrahamic tradition, Lot, who now lives in Sodom, bends over backwards to offer hospitality to these two men/angels who visit the city, insisting that they stay in his home—rather than in the public square—and, like Abraham with his guests, seeing to it that they have a fine feast.

Now’s when things get tense. The men of the city surround the house and want to “know” the guests and, yes, it is ‘know’ in a sexual way. Clearly Lot is against this idea. But is he primarily against it because of the sexual act or is he against it because they are his guests? Surprisingly, this text in the Bible seems to put the emphasis on the latter. As horrible as it sounds, notice that Lot seems to be so concerned with hospitality to his guests that he emphatically tries to offer his own daughters for this gang rape (I cringe just thinking about it!) rather than let harm of any kind come to his “guests.” As a foreigner/alien/guest himself, apparently hospitality was that important to him. Unfortunately, the men of that admittedly wicked city didn’t see it the same way.

I’m pretty sure that I would not be able to be as hospitable as Lot and, honestly, I question his judgment on the matter—at least in regard to offering his daughters. But it’s also disconcerting to consider how easy it is for us to think of this passage as being about same-gender sex (which usually results in a large number of people condemning or reflecting upon a few) when it could in fact be about the importance of hospitality which offers a potential lesson for us all.

Prayer: Lord, whether or not this is what this passage is about, thank you for providing people who challenge us to look at bigger pictures and consider alternative possibilities. It helps us all to grow. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings for the day included: Genesis 18-19 and Luke 7)

The affects, for better or for worse, of choosing a spouse

Scripture Passage that Caught My Attention Today: Genesis 26:34-35 When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite; 35 and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.

Observation: The choice of one’s spouse is not just a personal matter. Esau’s choice had an adverse affect on his father and mother.

Application: In American culture, choosing a spouse is normally considered a personal thing. Whenever two consenting adults agree to get married, they can get married. Few, if any questions are asked—at least not to their face.

But the truth of the matter is that one’s spousal choice has a great affect on everyone around him or her. It affects friendships and it affects family; it affects inheritance and it affects legacy.

Sometimes families and/or friends expect too much of someone’s spouse. They don’t appreciate him or her for who they really are. They don’t celebrate the gifts they have to offer. This can make life bitter for the spouse.

But at other times people don’t take other important people in their lives into consideration when choosing a spouse. They seem to become temporarily if not permanently blinded by this new love—which may or may not actually work out long-term—and in so doing cause a fair amount of misery for other people in their life.

I have personally been so incredibly blessed in this regard. Sure, there are probably some times when my spouse’s family finds me significantly less than perfect, and there are probably some times when my family feels the same way about my spouse. But all in all we have each managed to fit in quite well (or deluded ourselves into thinking that we fit in quite well!) with the other spouse’s side and enjoy and love the company of one another’s families. In fact, it’s worked out so well that one of my always-in-the-back-of-my-mind fears is wondering what in the world I would do if anything ever happened to my spouse. After the time of grieving/healing, I doubt that I would want to live alone, but I would be deeply concerned about making a less-than-wise choice—one that could potentially create adverse relationships with our children and others. And, of course, it won’t be long now till our own children will be making such choices of their own. What will be the affects of their choices on the rest of us? I can only hope and pray and maybe even remind them to keep such things in mind.

Prayer: Lord, looking back I can’t really claim to have had great personal wisdom in this regard—I was just incredibly blessed to have things work out in way that currently brings to mind nothing but thanksgiving. But I do think that we at least considered each other’s families before we seriously considered the possibility of spending the rest of our life together as husband and wife. I’m grateful for that and, ultimately, for your role in bringing us together. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Genesis 25-26, Psalm 6, and Luke 10)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Story Lines

Scripture Verses that Caught My attention today: Genesis 12:11-13 When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, “I know well that you are a woman beautiful in appearance; 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; then they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Say you are my sister, so that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared on your account.”

Observation: Abraham is considered the primary patriarch. But this passage shows that he had his issues too.

Application: For the last couple of weeks in sports news there has been a story about five college football players who broke NCAA rules a couple of years ago and are just now getting caught. Penalties have been issued that, if upheld, will suspend them for the first five games of next year’s season. Controversy surrounds the fact that they were nevertheless declared eligible to play in last evening’s bowl game where they all contributed greatly to the team’s win. The sentiment among many is that the NCAA and the university itself set aside moral principles should not have let them play in such a high profile game.

If so, they are in good company. Abraham is one big-time player in Biblical history, yet just over one chapter into his Biblical career he compromises his principles in regard to commitment and marriage in favor of trying to save his own skin. The infraction is so great that even the pagan king knows something is wrong. Still, we’ll tune in to see how this drama unfolds and, ultimately, find ourselves in it as well.

Prayer: Lord, no one is pure except you alone. Thanks for finding a way to use the rest of us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Genesis 12-15 and Luke 5)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Babble, Babble.

Scripture Passage that Caught my Attention Today: Genesis 11:1-9 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” 5 The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6 And the LORD said, “Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.

Observation: Hmmm…some things seem to defy explanation. Centuries later Jesus will literally pray that we will all be one, but here they are one (in language and even in cooperation) and the Lord is not pleased. We are told that the Lord felt like nothing would be impossible for them, as if that’s a bad thing.

Much has been written about this passage. The conjecture is that the people were learning to depend upon and trust in themselves rather than in God. That’s certainly possible. But if so one would still think that God could have just sat them all down in a big meeting, set a hearty dose of smoke ascending from some tall mountain and, in a thundering voice of authority, explained the situation.

Application: Among other things, this passage is a humbling reminder that, even if we ever do figure everything out (or think we have everything figured out), we will still be left utterly dependent on God. The sooner we realize this, the better.

Prayer:
Lord, help us to simply be your people. Nothing less and nothing more. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Genesis 9-11 and Luke 4)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Starting Over

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Genesis 6:6 And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

Observation: Sounds like a very difficult day for the Almighty.

Application: I can only imagine what it would be like to look over a span of one’s work—indeed one’s creation—and regret it? To more or less wish one hadn’t even bothered in the first place. Interestingly, however, God doesn’t completely back out. Instead God redeems and saves, uses and reuses. God starts over, but not completely from scratch. And interestingly enough, God continues to start over. Over and over in the Bible God latches on to another person or group of persons and claims them. Most of them go on to disappoint God in one way or another, but God is not deterred. Eventually Jesus arrives on the scene, doing what mere mortals were/are unable to do. And through Jesus, day after day after day, God starts over with us as well. Each morning is but another opportunity to allow our hearts to be touched by the movement of God alive and well in the world—a movement in which we ourselves are even blessed with a role. God may have been sorry, and no doubt often still is, but God has not and will not ultimately give up.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the opportunity to be a part of your world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Genesis 6-8 and Luke 3)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A Great Perspective With Which to Start the New Year!

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: Luke 1:78-79 By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Observation: In retrospect, very ominous words even though, ultimately, they are true to the core. John the Baptist (the great prophet about whom these words were spoken by his father) sat in the darkness of a prison cell for quite some time and then, when he finally got out, it was to meet the shadow of death in his beheading.

Application: One of my many roles in life is being a parent. Almost all parents have hopes and dreams and expectations regarding their children. We may have lofty ideas (he/she will grow up to be a great leader) or more modest hopes (he/she will stay out of any major trouble and, in general, be a positive contributor to society), but we certainly do not wish for our children to experience any significant harm or to end up in jail. Yet that’s what Zechariah and Elizabeth, if they lived to see it, saw take place in their son John's life.

Here’s the irony though. John saw the light as he sat in darkness and the shadow of death. He was embraced by the one who guides our feet in the way of peace. The hopes and dreams his dad had for him were in fact fully realized, even though I’m pretty sure that the way it actually played out what not at all what his dad had in mind.

Today a new year begins. Many of us, in addition to having hopes and dreams for our children, also have hopes and dreams for the new year in general. As it begins, one lesson we can learn from the story of John the Baptist is that, just because things don’t necessarily turn out the way we like, it doesn’t mean that it won’t ultimately be good. Sometimes pain yields benefits that can’t immediately be seen, understood, or even fathomed. Indeed, if the words of Zechariah or even the 23rd Psalm have any truth to them, even the dreaded shadow of death is not necessarily such a bad place to be.

Prayer: Lord, you alone know what the future holds and what this particular new year will bring. Grant us the grace to trust in you through it all, come what may. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Genesis 1-2 and Luke 1)