Monday, February 28, 2011

beyond Worry and denial

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Numbers 24:10-14 Then Balak’s anger was kindled against Balaam, and he struck his hands together. Balak said to Balaam, “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but instead you have blessed them these three times. 11 Now be off with you! Go home! I said, ‘I will reward you richly,’ but the LORD has denied you any reward.” 12 And Balaam said to Balak, “Did I not tell your messengers whom you sent to me, 13 ‘If Balak should give me his house full of silver and gold, I would not be able to go beyond the word of the LORD, to do either good or bad of my own will; what the LORD says, that is what I will say’? 14 So now, I am going to my people; let me advise you what this people will do to your people in days to come.”

Balak worried so much that, it seems, some of his worries came to fruition.

Application: Two of yesterday’s lessons in church were largely about trusting in God and, therefore, not succumbing to worry. The lesson above pretty much exposes the worries of Balak. He’s heard the bad news and now somehow mistakenly thinks that he can get someone else (in this case Balaam) to suddenly give him good news.

It would be like a person who has been positively diagnosed with cancer desperately trying to find another doctor to simply declare that he or she does not have cancer. Precious time for possible treatment or even dealing with reality is lost while one blindly gropes around in denial. Worry and denial are two sides of the same worthless coin.

There must be a better way…

Prayer: Lord, there is much we could worry about in this world. But we—and you—would be better served if we simply reflected your authentic love for this world and the people in it. Help us to focus more and more of our attention in that regard. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Numbers 24-27 and 1 Corinthians 13)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Motivating Factors

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Mark 5:22-23 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

Observation: The leader was emphatic, and understandably so.

A few moments ago, when I was in the middle of these devotions, our 11 y/o daughter begged me, with a smile on her face, to come and look at something on the computer. She said it was “a matter of life and death.”

Of course I knew she was kidding, but I obliged to get up out of my chair and take a peak at a cute little cartoonish thing she had found on the Internet. She laughed, I smiled, and then I went back to my chair to continue my devotional time.

But I was also secretly glad I got up. As I often tell her quite truthfully (though embellished with a little over-the-top dramatic affect) “you bring joy to my life.” Indeed she does. The inconvenience she requested of me was really not much of an inconvenience at all. And if she were “at the point of death,” you can believe that, much like the synagogue leader in the passage above, I’d be begging for some assistance from anyone who might hold the key to more life.

It’s interesting that Jesus offers such hope to people from all walks of life. Just a couple verses earlier in this chapter Jesus brings a whole new life to a severely disturbed and presumably mentally ill man who was a total outcast in society. On his way to heal Jairus’ daughter, an unclean woman touches him and also finds healing in his presence. It’s little wonder that the disciples remarked, in the previous chapter, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Prayer: Lord, we might not all receive dramatic healings through our prayers to you. But I still trust that there is at least some form of healing through all encounters with you, even if only to more fully appreciate what we already have. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Numbers 19-20, Psalm 28, Mark 5)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Snow Day Exercises

Today it's a level 2 snow emergency where I live. That means most people in my area will not be venturing out to work or school. And that means it's a perfect day to exercise!

Seriously...if you've been wanting to start exercising again but haven't had the time, today just might be your perfect opportunity!

That said, be careful and don't overdue it, especially if you haven't exercised in a while or have some health issues to consider.

Here's a little warm-up routine I do that, for some of you, might be a nice little workout in and of itself. If you're not sure how to do any of these particular exercises, most of them can be googled online.

Prisoner Squats (I usually do 10-12)
Leg Swings (10-12 per leg)
Lunges or, for a safer option, split-lunges (6-8 per leg)
Close-grip push-ups or, for beginners, same exercise with knees on floor (10)
Standing stick-ups (10)
Waiter's bow (8)
Plank, beginners might want knees on floor (30 seconds)
One leg Romanian Deadlifts with light dumbbells (10 per leg)
Hip pointer stretch
(repeat this set at least one more time, maybe two or three more times if using as your workout)

If you're more advanced, below was today's workout for me after the warm-up:

Set 1
Pull-ups (8)
Barbell Squats (90# for 15 reps)
1-leg push-ups (10 each side)
rest and repeat set

Set 2
Vertical Jumps (10)
Bent over Dumbbell Rows (12-15)
Cross-body Mountain Climbers
rest and repeat set

Set 3
Lying 1-leg curls with stability ball (10 per leg)
Lying hip extensions with feet on stability ball (5-6 for 10 seconds each)
Ab wheel roll-outs (10)
rest and repeat set

The squats in set 1 and the vertical jumps in set 2 can really get your heart pumping. Enjoy!

Jarred to Life

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Mark 4:10-12 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; 12 in order that
‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”

Observation: The Bible has its fair share of bewildering passages, but for me this one is near the top of the list.

Application: Every so often I think it’s healthy to consider whether what we’re doing really makes any sense.

I’m really not trying to get into the current political debate on House Bill 5 partly because, while it’s interesting on some levels, I’m not sure I really know enough about either side of the argument to make particularly helpful comments. Still, I had to laugh last night when I was told that the governor said that he would only negotiate with unions that “make a product” and that therefore teacher unions would not be included in such discussions. I laughed because I thought to myself, “what better ‘product’ is there than educated children?”

Okay, I’m sure there’s another side to the story but, oddly enough, the passage above attributed to Jesus is even more bewildering. I mean, isn’t forgiveness of sins one of the very reasons that Jesus came to this earth? So why does he speak in ‘parables’ so that some people “may not turn again and be forgiven?” Even the most fundamental Christian has to admit that that’s very odd.

I sometimes wonder if Jesus said such things simply to jar people into thinking for themselves instead of just passively accepting everything that they’ve ever heard. Scripture doesn’t record it, but one can almost imagine the disciples nodding in agreement and then, all of a sudden, upon realizing what he really said, looking at Jesus and gingerly saying, “but didn’t you come to forgive people of their sins?” And then I can picture Jesus looking back at them with a little grin and eyebrow raise that says, “gotcha!” After all, the first thing Jesus did for the paralytic in chapter 2 was forgive him of his sins.

Prayer: Lord, help us to take a step back every now and then and consider how we might really best fit into your plan. Jar us to life…and to thought…and to service in Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included Numbers 17-18, Psalm 29, and Mark 4)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Questioning God

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Numbers 14:15-20 Now if you kill this people all at one time, then the nations who have heard about you will say, 16 ‘It is because the LORD was not able to bring this people into the land he swore to give them that he has slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ 17 And now, therefore, let the power of the LORD be great in the way that you promised when you spoke, saying,
18 ‘The LORD is slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love,
forgiving iniquity and transgression,
but by no means clearing the guilty,
visiting the iniquity of the parents
upon the children
to the third and the fourth generation.’
19 Forgive the iniquity of this people according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have pardoned this people, from Egypt even until now.” 20 Then the LORD said, “I do forgive, just as you have asked;

Observation: Once again Moses successfully negotiates with the Lord. In the Old Testament the Lord is presented as a juggling act between divine and human characteristics. Yes God is sometimes presented as almighty and powerful. God is also portrayed, as is the case in the passage above, as one whose mind changes, who cares what others think, who gets upset and then settles back down, as one with whom a mere mortal can sometimes reason. In the God of the Old Testament we catch a glimpse of the character of Jesus whom the Christian church understands to both fully human and fully divine.

Application: At a good number of times in my life I’ve been around people who are incredibly good at what they do and are revered by many. In each case the ones I’ve appreciated the most were the ones who were somehow still approachable. These are folks who, with all their talents, still reveal and understand their humanity.

I hope I’m not just trying to make God into my own image here, but I am often drawn to the stories in the Bible where the human characteristics of God are most revealed. So when Moses or Abraham or others are in a discussion or debate with God, I’m paying close attention to how God responds. And it leads me to wonder how God responds when I am personally in discussion/debate with the Almighty One. It’s not a case of lack of respect. I’ve got tons of respect…plus another ton of questions that, people like Moses, give me the courage to at least ask.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for allowing us to at least ask our questions and be in dialog with you. You did create us in your own image after all. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Numbers 14-16 and Mark 3)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Questions of Fairness

Scripture Passage that Caught My Attention Today: Numbers 12:9-15 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them, and he departed. 10 When the cloud went away from over the tent, Miriam had become leprous, as white as snow. And Aaron turned towards Miriam and saw that she was leprous. 11 Then Aaron said to Moses, “Oh, my lord, do not punish us for a sin that we have so foolishly committed. 12 Do not let her be like one stillborn, whose flesh is half consumed when it comes out of its mother’s womb.” 13 And Moses cried to the LORD, “O God, please heal her.” 14 But the LORD said to Moses, “If her father had but spit in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of the camp for seven days, and after that she may be brought in again.” 15 So Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days; and the people did not set out on the march until Miriam had been brought in again.

Observation: To begin, I should point out that this passage is connected to the first 8 verses of the chapter as well. Aaron, Miriam and another person were criticizing Moses for marrying the Cushite woman. God got wind of it and was upset with them. God called Aaron and Miriam to a meeting, chastised them both, but then punished Miriam only. Frankly, this seems really unfair. Aaron did the same thing that Miriam did, and she’s the only one that got punished? And besides, Moses had done something that was against the law (he married a Cushite woman). But on the bright side, apparently the law is not always binding when people in good faith (like Moses) try to do a loving thing (in this case marrying a foreigner) and also we see that the community did not move on until Miriam was able to join them again.

Application: Life is really unfair sometimes, even within the community of faith. I do not understand why Miriam had consequences but Aaron did not. It would be easier to understand if some earthly ruler had made the discipline decisions. But this the Lord, God Almighty! Surely the Lord could render a more fair judgment.

I know…I’m but dust and ashes and am not in a position to judge anyone, let alone the Lord of all. Still, even Moses and Aaron seemed appalled that the Lord would do such a thing. So I’m not alone in these feelings. In fact, I’m in good company…though apparently even good company can be wrong!

(Scripture readings included Numbers 12-13, Psalm 90, and Mark 2)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hearing the authentic Jesus

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention today: Mark 1:14-15 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Observation: I wonder if it seemed odd in those days for Jesus to say such things.

Application: Earlier this morning I logged onto the internet to check on the weather conditions, school cancellations, etc. While doing so an advertising window popped up proclaiming that something big was going to happen in 2011 that would change my life forever, thus the advertisement beckoned me to “click here” to watch the “shocking video.” Rather than accept the invitation I chose to simply close the window and go on with my life. I had no time or interest in following what to me appeared to be nothing more than another internet scheme.

Yet the message of Jesus may well have seemed similar to the Internet advertisement. Jesus more or less indicated that this is the time, this is the year, God is here…NOW. Instead of “clicking,” Jesus asked the people of his day to take another kind of action (repent) and still more action (believe).

I wonder how many of them wrote him off as just another schemer. And I wonder if I would have done the same thing.

Still, my impression of Jesus is that he said such things in a way that was different from other claims. I don’t sense that he said things with a sense of panic, but rather with a sense almost calm authenticity. But I have no proof of that other than a Scripture passage or two indicating that he “taught with authority and not like the Scribes.”

Prayer: Lord, it’s not easy in our “gotta grab your attention” world to separate the authentic from the hype. Help us to hear and respond to the authentic you and not be distracted by others who might endeavor to make such claims for themselves. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Numbers 10-11, Psalm 27 and Mark 1)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Finding the Truth Between Swings in Opinion

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Acts 28:1-6. After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2 The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it. 3 Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.

Nothing against the natives, since they were obviously quite kind, but their opinion of Paul clearly swung from one extreme to the other, simply based on whether or not he died from the bite of the viper.

A current debate in the United States today revolves around pending legislation in some states (including the state in which I live) related to public employee benefits and the right to collectively bargain. The most focal figures in these states are naturally the governors who are proponents of the controversial legislation. I can’t comment from an informed standpoint in regard to the other states but, in the case of my own, we are experiencing a new governor. And so the governor (whom I do not know at all personally or very well in terms of his political views) has gone from being at least popular enough to win an election to, in some cases, a viral enemy.

Please don’t misunderstand; I am neither defending the governor nor chastising him. I am simply observing that, much like in Paul’s day, public opinion can get fired up and swing from one side to the other remarkably quickly. And of course the truth is seldom found in either extreme. After all, Paul was neither a murderer nor a ‘god.’

Prayer: Lord, I personally do not know the answers, but please grant wisdom to all who engage in this worthy debate. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Numbers 8-9 and Acts 28)

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Surprising Non-Anxious Example

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Acts 25:4-5 Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea, and that he himself intended to go there shortly. 5 “So,” he said, “let those of you who have the authority come down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them accuse him.”

Observation: Festus seemed to be a non-anxious ruler.

Application: In seminary (through class, readings, and clinical experience) we are taught to do something that is not easy—maintain a non-anxious presence. It’s sort of like being cool under pressure, but it goes considerably deeper than that. Instead of attempting to ignore that which bothers, worries, or distracts us (like a basketball free-throw shooter might try to do when the opposing crowd is trying to psychologically mess up his/her shot), we are taught to name it and face it so that we can put it in it’s proper place (as in “that crowd is really loud and obnoxious, but the ball’s in my hands on my court and whether or not this shot goes in the basket is completely up to me.”).

From a faith perspective, such non-anxious naming and facing doesn’t ignore threats from without and within, as if they didn’t exist. But it somehow trusts that, come what may, we will be enabled to either prevail or in some other way serve as a witness to a power greater than our own. Still, as I can most surely attest, it’s easier said than done.

Fortunately, even Festus, a presumably a secular leader, gives a solid example of a non-anxious presence; he did not let personal anxiety affect sound judgment. He knew the various rules and procedures and was not wont to frantically give in to the people’s demands. Instead, he reasoned and directed, if they have something to say, they can say it at the appropriate time in the appropriate context. His ability to be non-anxious in the face of a potential political storm probably saved Paul’s life and further enabled his witness. And even for those of us with responsibility for admittedly smaller but no-less-important kingdoms of family and/or church, Festus offers a non-anxious model worth taking to heart.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the various people you have provided, both within the faith and even without, that still offer models of life worth considering. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Numbers 3-4 and Acts 25)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hope in the Midst of Political Whim

Scripture Verse that Caught My attention Today: Acts 24:27 After two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and since he wanted to grant the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison.

Observation: Paul was caught in political process.

Apparently right now there is debate in our state’s capital over a recent bill under consideration. Honestly, I don’t know much about it. I’ve simply seen references to it, pro and con, on Facebook.

Like I’ve already stated, I don’t know much about it and therefore I’ll refrain from offering either support or opposition to the bill. What I will note, however, is that this is but another example of how often times people are either the beneficiaries or victims of powers beyond their control, sometimes through the form of political whim.

We can bemoan such circumstances all we want, and sometimes even develop helpful reforms. But most of the time we just have to find a way to move forward regardless of the circumstances.

Enter Paul’s example. Paul was caught in all kinds of political whim, emanating from religious and secular circles simultaneously. If it fazed (sp?) him, the Biblical witness did not record it. Instead he appears to almost relish in it. In Acts it says that he “cheerfully” made his defense. He trusted that eventually all things would be made right and that even secular leaders would be able to make sense of it all. He saw the circumstances, however grim, as fraught with opportunity. May the same be said of us.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for faith witnesses like Paul who remind us to keep all things in perspective and to be attentive to ways to utilize present circumstances in a way that proclaims a hope in the coming and present kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Numbers 1-2, Acts 24)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Slave Property

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Leviticus 25:44-46 As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. 45 You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. 46 You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness.

I’ll bet it was interesting to consider inheriting a slave.

Kids, especially those of grown ages, often joke about what they might like (and not like) to inherit. Various keepsakes naturally catch their attention, often for sentimental reasons. Property too comes into consideration, whether for sentimentality or for value or both. We talk about genes too. My brother once astutely pointed out that if we inherited the genes from our mother’s side our life expectancy will likely be 20-30 years less than if we inherited the genes from our paternal grandmother’s side. (Our dad and his two brothers each lived to the age of 92 and their mother lived to the age of 97.) So yes, if I could choose my inheritance in that regard, I’d opt for the longevity genes.

I wonder if ancient peoples discussed slaves the same way. Did they fight over the good ones and also over who would get “stuck” with the not-so-good ones? Naturally I cringe to consider the fact that our faith ancestors actually had slaves and believed that the Lord approved of such a thing. That said, they probably still discussed which slaves were easy-keepers and which ones were rather high-maintenance…as if they were horses.

These days we don’t usually use the S-word. It seems beneath us. But most companies have ‘human’ resource departments and just about any manager or small business owner will quickly list personnel issues as one of the greatest joys and frustrations of his or her work.

I’m not sure what more, if anything, should be said on this topic other than the realization that, as dehumanizing as it sounds, in society all of us are a form of property at one level or another. But it’s not all bad…God through Jesus most surely endeavors to claim us as his own.

Lord, thanks for seeing the value in each of us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Leviticus 25, Psalm 25-56, Acts 22)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Conjecture and Assumption

Scripture Passage that Caught My attention today: Acts 21:37-39 Just as Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, “May I say something to you?” The tribune replied, “Do you know Greek? 38 Then you are not the Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 Paul replied, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city; I beg you, let me speak to the people.”

Observation: They didn’t even know who they were arresting.

Application: Conjecture and Assumption are often similar to folly—they can lead us in unfruitful directions and have the potential for more harm than good. In the lesson above, much of the uproar surrounding Paul wasn’t even true. But the crowds had allowed themselves to get whipped into a frenzy unnecessarily. For a while even a life hung in the balance. I would like to think that today’s civilized world would be more rational. But often times such is still not the case. One need look no further than much of our political discourse to see that we both fuel and feed off of conjecture and assumption. When news shifted primarily from past tense (what did happen) to future tense (what might happen), conjecture and assumption rose to a whole new level. So it is both comforting and disturbing to know that Paul was personally well aware of what could be at stake. It’s comforting to know that he could relate out our situation. It’s disturbing to realize that times really haven’t gotten much better.

Prayer: Lord, help us to spend more time listening and searching and less time predicting and assuming. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Leviticus 23-24, Psalm 24, Acts 21)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Forsaken Goats

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Leviticus 16:20-22 When he has finished atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. 21 Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task. 22 The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.

Observation: This is one rather odd experience with a goat.

Application: It is sometimes natural to talk to animals, particularly pets—be they cats, dogs, horses, or whatever. It’s a safe place to occasionally pour out one’s heart. But in a humane-society world, we don’t usually then take said animal out and either slaughter it as a sacrifice or, as is the case above, take it out to some deserted wilderness and set it free, quite possibly only to die. Old Testament peoples apparently tried quite a few different methods to atone for their sin and/or uncleanliness. It would appear that none of these methods ultimately worked, however. Hence, in our Christian tradition, the Son of God takes on human flesh, identifies with the people and saves the day. Interestingly, he too spent significant time in the wilderness. And in a very real way, when the crown of thorns was placed on his head it was as if all of humanity was bestowing their sin upon him and then having him ushered away to place so lonely that even he cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the reminder of what you have done for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Leviticus 15-17 and Acts 18)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bald But Not Forgotten!

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Leviticus 13:40 If anyone loses the hair from his head, he is bald but he is clean.

Observation: Not perfect, but still useful…and still God’s.

Application: I had to laugh when I first read this verse. But then I got to thinking about it more. Apparently, even back in those ancient Biblical days, there was the desire for men to keep their hair rather than lose it. Yet since no-one has control over such things, I find it interesting that the formational Scriptures include the assurance that baldness in and of itself does not make someone the scourge of society or, in Old Testament terms, “unclean.”

Sometimes I wish the books of the Bible were just as clear in regard to any number of other human conditions over which we may not have control. Name your disease, your race, your socio-economic status, your gender, your orientation, your family circumstances, your marital status, your parenting status, or most anything else you’d like to list. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a verse that said point blank, “You may be ________, but you are still clean.”

In reality, there are some verses like that. Galatians 3:28-29 comes to mind as but one example: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.” Jesus himself said as much; “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32).

I realize that the Bible says other things as well, some of which seems to be almost the exact opposite of what I quoted above. But if one looks at the over-all direction of Scripture, it seems to me that God’s ultimate desire is to bless rather than curse, to reclaim rather than condemn. The Levitical clarification about the bald folks was only the beginning…

Prayer: Lord, help us to see people as you see them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings Today included Leviticus 13-14 and Acts 17)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

When Big Decisions Loom...

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Acts 15:2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.

Observation: they sought trusted counsel.

Application: Big decisions are worthy of deep thought, significant discussion, more time to think, and wise counsel from trusted partners. Paul and Barnabas, without a doubt leaders in their own right, nevertheless backed up a step in their arguments to consult with other trusted leaders as a double-check on their perspective. That’s a good model to follow.

Prayer: Lord, whenever large decisions loom, help us to use all the resources that you have placed at our disposal. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Leviticus 7-9 and Acts 15)

Monday, February 7, 2011

What's God Been Doing Lately?

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: Acts 14:27 When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles.

Observation: Early on it was normal practice to review what God had been doing in the church’s life.

Application: Sometimes it seems that this can be taken to the extreme. Certainly I’ve tired at times of hearing, for example, a televangelist waxing on and on about what God has been doing in his or her life or through their ministry. In spite of their words to the contrary, it sometimes it seems like they are passively aggressively heaping praise upon themselves under the guise of offering glory to God.

Lutherans, it seems, are often of the opposite extreme—hesitant to conduct an honest review of what God might in fact be doing among us and through us and yes, often times in spite of us. This is an area where more attention may be desirable, but not just in the sense of numerical data, but also in the sense of listening for signs and signals of where we might best direct our efforts in light of the doors that seem to be opening before us.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the ways you worked long ago and for the ways you continue to work today. Help us to see them and jump in to help in any way we can. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included Leviticus 4-6 and Acts 14)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The "Pig Wills" of Exodus

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Exodus 35:21 And they came, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and brought the LORD’S offering to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the sacred vestments.

Observation: A willing, generous, or stirred heart can do wonders and, in fact, can provide more than what is even needed. These words (willing, generous or stirred hearts) come up many times in this chapter.

Application: I love the little children’s story of “Pig Will” and “Pig Won’t.” Pig Will sees all of life as opportunity. Pig Won’t sees all of life as burden and imposition which he or she (I don’t think the gender of the pigs was ever revealed) will resist at every turn.

In Bible times there were human versions of Pig Will and Pig Won’t. In Exodus 35 it doesn’t say that everyone’s heart was stirred or that everyone’s heart was generous or willing. Instead it just focuses on those whose hearts were stirred or willing or generous. The naysayers no doubt existed, but the people of a more willing persuasion prevailed and provided what was needed. In fact, they provided more than what was needed and actually had to be told to stop giving for a while.

In life it is such a pleasure to be around the Pig Wills of the world. Life is just so much more fun, even in the midst of difficulty or significant challenge, when one is around such people.

But why are some people predominantly one way and other’s the other? I think in large part it has to do with whether we understand ourselves to be graciously blessed or deserving. If we think we are deserving, we tend to think we are entitled to things, which tends to bring smugness when we receive what we think we are entitled to receive and tends to bring resentment when we do not receive what we think we are entitled to receive. On the other hand, if we think we are simply graciously blessed, we tend to just be thankful when things work out well for us and, even if things don’t work out well for us, we tend to find ways to focus on what little good can be found.

Lord, it almost sounds trite to pray like this, but I pray that, in thanksgiving for all that you’ve done, I act more like Pig Will than Pig Won’t. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included Exodus 35-36 and Acts 10)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Beyond Violence to a value of Community

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Acts 9:23-25 After some time had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night so that they might kill him; 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.

Observation: Violence again found even among the religious.

Application: I find it interesting that, so often when we find ourselves in disagreement with someone, our natural inclination is toward separation—perhaps even permanently so. The verses above give but one of many Scriptural examples of such plans for deadly violence. And although we like to think of ourselves as beyond such things and part of the ‘civilized’ world, I’m not sure we’re all that much better at dealing with conflict. Today’s headline mentions “1 killed, 600 wounded” in a clash of perspectives in Cairo, Egypt where recent days of mass demonstrations have called for the removal of the country’s current leader. Some churches have conflicts that are almost as bad.

In our congregation we have a core value of “Community” which for us includes: Acceptance, Flexibility, Trust, Respect, Communication, Diversity, and Forgiveness. To value a community means to value all that the community includes, even if it’s not always one’s particular cup of tea. Our synod (the association of churches in our denomination in Northwestern Ohio) has a similar value which states: “We best embody Christ when we work together.” I suppose that’s what happened when the disciples worked together to protect Paul. I just wish the concept had wider appeal.

Prayer: Lord, amongst our many differences in this world, please help us, in faithfulness toward you, to demonstrate the extent to which you value the communities of which we are a part. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Exodus 33-34, Psalm 16, and Acts 9)