Thursday, March 31, 2011

Being Careful About What We Visualize

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: Judges 9:8-9 The trees once went out
to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree,
‘Reign over us.’
9 The olive tree answered them,
‘Shall I stop producing my rich oil
by which gods and mortals are honored,
and go to sway over the trees?’
Observation: This example of wise and foolish trees can apply today as well.

Application: If you’ve been following this blog as of late, you’ve noticed that I have some questions in terms of goals (i.e. how does one know which—if any—goals are ultimately worthwhile?). In the verses above we see a similar questioning going on. The foolish trees feel like they need a tree to ‘reign’ over them. The wise trees are not so easily swayed (no pun intended!) and respond that they already have a noble purpose.

Earlier today I was directed to an internet product which is somewhat based on ideas found in a 1996 book called “The Secret” and subsequent movie. From what I could tell, the internet marketer sells a product that helps people make their own mini movies which are often times more or less a visualization for everything grand that they might want in their life. This “if you believe it you can achieve it” is form of positive thinking is not particularly new and, as has always been the case, has some serious pitfalls. In the first place, it tends to be very self-centered, perhaps even narcissistic--what you want matters, everything else is secondary. In the second place, it tends to appeal to people with abilities/circumstances beyond the norm of the masses. Would the plight of impoverished people in portions of Africa, for example, likely become considerably more prosperous if they simply started visualizing a better life?

In the story of chapters 9 and 10 of Judges, Abimelech is one of the 70 sons of Gideon/Jerubbaal and he has a vision for his life that he should be in charge. So he takes action and brutally kills all but one of his brothers. The escaped brother is Jotham and he is the one who tells the story of the wise and foolish trees—an allegory of his wicked brother and the elders of Israel who agreed to Abimelech’s horribly self-centered plot. From the trees we learn that even if one can both believe and achieve something, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a vision/goal worth pursuing. Unfortunately, Abimelech never realized the futility of his own dream until “a certain woman threw an upper millstone on Abimelech’s head and crushed his skull” (Judges 9:53).

Prayer: Lord, if we have any hopes and aspirations, let them be rooted in Jesus’ model of humble service rather than humanity’s tendency toward self grandiosity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Judges 9-10, Psalm 49 and 1 Corinthians 16)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What are worthy goals?

March 30, 2011
Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Observation: If there are things that are not vain (like laboring in the work of the Lord), there are also things that are vain. How does one know the difference?

Application: I’m aware of a couple of individuals in different walks of life who are each very determined, motivated, and focused on what they perceive to be their respective missions. One wants to develop a network of 1000 personal trainers who will train 1000 people each, thus adding up to 1,000,000 people ‘helped’ by the year 2020. The other wants to transform education.

I’m not really questioning either of these particular goals other than to ponder to myself, what makes a worthy goal? For example, is the goal of helping 1,000,000 people inherently better than training 950,000 people? Some might say yes, it’s 50,000 people better! Okay…so why not have a goal of 1,050,000 people?

And then what of those people who never seem to have any real goals? They go about their work/callings from day to day without any lofty man-made visions? It seems these people fall into at least two camps: those who just trudge on through life and those who endeavor to work with diligence and creativity in almost all aspects of their life.

I think the Apostle Paul fell in the latter of these camps. He didn’t seem to have any particular numerical goals to my knowledge, but he had a passion for serving the Lord with all of his energy that, ironically, continues to convict and inspire legions of people today, even some 2000 years after he died!

Prayer: Lord, whether we are goal-setters or not, help us to make the best use of the one resource that you offer equally to all—time. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included Judges 8, Psalm 42, and 1 Corinthians 15)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rethinking our Aspirations for self and children

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Judges 5:28-30 “Out of the window she peered,
the mother of Sisera gazed through the lattice:
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’
29 Her wisest ladies make answer,
indeed, she answers the question herself:
30 ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoil?—
A girl or two for every man;
spoil of dyed stuffs for Sisera,
spoil of dyed stuffs embroidered,
two pieces of dyed work embroidered for my neck as spoil?’

Observation: Background: Sisera was an opposing king. His army was routed and he himself was killed by a woman when he sought refuge in her tent. The woman (Jael) was hailed as a hero because Sisera himself had been cruel to toward the Israelites. Also of note, another woman was a hero in this story as well. The judge Deborah had led the Israelites against Sisera. The passage above is actually part of a celebration song sung by Deborah and a fellow warrior name Barak after Sisera had been killed. My question of observation today, however, is from Sisera’s mother’s perspective and, indeed, the mothers of almost all powerful people of ancient times. Did mothers really want their children to be kings?

Application: With precious few exceptions, most kings of ancient times died from something other than natural causes. The quickest way to become king was to be the commander of an army that defeated (which usually meant ‘killed’) another king…and on and on the cycle continued. To be a king is to be a target, an object of focus. Did mothers really want their children to be kings, knowing full well that with such power comes almost sure and certain danger? It’s somewhat strange that Deborah, who quite possibly was a mother herself, sang a song that celebrates the purported grief of another woman. Odd. But it does perhaps serve as a reminder that every calling, be it considered high or low, brings with it a variety of blessings and curses. Hence we might want to consider carefully our aspirations for ourselves and, if we’re so blessed, for our children.

Prayer: Lord, we are often encouraged to have aspirations in life and yet, sometimes, those aspirations are either misguided or come with drawbacks of which we may not be aware. Help us to focus more on your call(s) on our life than our own. It’s not likely to spare us from grief or other hardship, but it will at least offer the comfort of knowing (or at least hoping!) that we are working with you rather than against you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Judges 4-5, Psalm 39 & 41, and 1 Corinthians 13)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Call and Response

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Joshua 24:19-24 But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” 21 And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the LORD!” 22 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23 He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” 24 The people said to Joshua, “The LORD our God we will serve, and him we will obey.”

Kind of a back and forth liturgy. This is a good example of how one cannot take one verse (for example, verse 19) out of context. What we basically have going on here is a call and response kind of exchange. It’s like a back and forth chant, almost like what one might find at a spirited pep-rally—though with admittedly much higher stakes.

Application: The other day I read of a short exchange between a frustrated sweet 16 college basketball coach and one of his star (but in this game underachieving) players on their way to the locker-room at half time. Coach: “all I want to know is, are you gonna play?” Player: “Yes coach, I’m gonna play.” Coach: “then show me!”

It was a call and response, a rhetorical exchange designed for action. I’ve already forgotten the name of the team or player in question. But in the second half the player rose to the occasion and the team won the game.

Joshua issues this same kind of challenge to the ancient Israelites. And sometimes it wouldn’t hurt for a challenge to be issued to those of us who live in these 21st century times as well, not as a requirement for salvation and the like. But simply to inspire us to put our faith into action, one encounter at a time.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for leaders who do rise to the occasion and help inspire your people to serve you well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Joshua 23-24, Psalm 44 and 1 Corinthians 11)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Something more noble than individual rights

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.

Observation: this perspective comes from authentic strength and confidence.

Application: I have a bit of a love/hate perspective on our capitalistic culture. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating for any other system. Every system has its problems and it would be foolish to trade one flawed system with any other flawed system. But the wisdom that Paul lays out in the above verses sure does make a lot of sense and tends to fly in the face of, if you’ll pardon the pun, “business” as usual.

Whether in commerce or sport, seeking one’s own advantage is pretty much the name of the game these days. It’s been that way for quite some time. Yet the irony is that having all the advantages does not necessarily make one a happier person. In fact, sometimes quite the opposite is the case.

Paul envisions a world where building one another up is valued more highly than taking advantage of individual rights. That’s a tough sell in today’s world, yet it remains a distinctive feature among followers of Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, you have given the example. Now please help us to follow it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Joshua 21-22, Psalm 47 and 1 Corinthians 10)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The danger of a little bit of knowledge!

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 8:1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

Observation: The last sentence in this verse is so true.

Application: The other day I had a discussion with someone about the 10 commandments. While almost everyone has heard of the ten commandments and understand them to be excepted Christian principles, few realize that there are at least a couple of different ways in which they are numbered. For example, Catholics and Lutherans number them one way, and churches from the evangelical or orthodox tradition number them another. Neither position is necessarily ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ since the Bible itself does not actually assign numbers to any of the commandments.

At any rate, the person I was in discussion with about this topic was from the evangelical tradition and didn’t know about this difference. At the time he seemed to more or less dismiss the difference with the comment “I just do it the way it’s in the Bible.”

Now,he’s a very great and very likeable guy, but honestly, that sort of got my dander up. His comment came across condescending in the first place and, ironically, clearly uninformed as well. His ‘knowledge’ (which in this case was even inaccurate) puffed up but, at least with me, didn’t build up.

But here’s the other irony—suddenly my own ‘knowledge’ was ‘puffing up’ but not building up! I found myself wanting to make a point. I secretly celebrated when another person, completely unaware of our previous conversation, tried to tell him the same thing! How ‘loving’ is that?

Thankfully, there are two commandments that actually are numbered in the Bible. Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind. And then he pointed out that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. My new friend and I were trying our level best to do the first, and we both struggled in our own ways trying to do the second. Hence we both demonstrated, and also hopefully discovered, how deeply we continue to need the love of Christ which, as the Bible says “urges us on.”

Prayer: Lord, you have so very much to teach. Thanks for all of the teachable moments in life that are found in our failures and our successes and everywhere in between. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Joshua 15-18 and 1 Corinthians 8)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Two types of Girls...or so I thought.

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 7:1-4 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” 2 But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

Observation: Paul sees a bigger picture than most did in his day. The early church clearly struggled with what it meant to be human and still follow Jesus. And apparently some of them had decided that sex was bad, hence the statement in their letter to Paul which apparently implied that “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” Paul’s response is twofold. First, while it might be good for some to follow that advice, many human beings have especially strong sexual desires and, rather than pretend that such desires don’t exist, it is better to share them in an appropriate committed relationship which Paul understood to be marriage. Second, Paul took special pains to mention the equality of the relationship in marriage. Not only does the husband have authority over his wife’s body (which most everybody, in those days, would have taken for granted), but also the wife has authority over her husband’s body (which most everybody, in those days, would have found shocking).

Application: When I was young (grade-school age) I distinctly remember walking out to the car after church one Sunday thinking that there were two types of girls in the world—those that you might like to have sex with and those that you would want to marry!

I’m not exactly sure where I got that idea—and thankfully I later got rid of that idea!—but there was apparently a time when I, like those to whom Paul was writing, thought sex in and of itself was bad.

Paul offers a healthier way to look at the issue—one that acknowledges the varying levels of human desire and also offers a plan for how such desires might best be quite mutually expressed.

Prayer: Lord, there’s certainly much more that could be said, and what I did say could surely be said better. But thank you again for your own great lessons. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Joshua 12-14 and 1 Corinthians 7)

Glorifying God in Intimate Ways

March 21, 2011
Scripture Passage that Caught my Attention today: 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

Observation: Paul did notice/understand a distinction between most forms of sin and the type of sin that is tied to the selfish ways we express (or think about expressing) ourselves sexually.

Application: Where to begin? I think it’s safe to say that sex can be really, really good. Sex can also be really, really bad. What people mean by “good” or “bad” often varies. They could be talking about the experience itself or the larger context within which it occurs.

Paul, it seems to me, was concerned with both and, in each case, felt glorifying God was part of it.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for your reminder that even the most intimate aspects of our lives are gifts from you meant to be treasured and treated well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Courageous Leadership

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Joshua 1:16-18 They answered Joshua: “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. 17 Just as we obeyed Moses in all things, so we will obey you. Only may the LORD your God be with you, as he was with Moses! 18 Whoever rebels against your orders and disobeys your words, whatever you command, shall be put to death. Only be strong and courageous.”

Observation: Earlier in this chapter, no less than a couple of times, the Lord told Joshua to be “strong and courageous.” Interestingly, now we have the people saying the same thing to Joshua.

Application: Among the many desirable traits of leaders, courage ranks right up there. Yes, it’s important to be able to organize and to have vision and to know yourself well and to be disciplined and demonstrate a host of other traits as well. Yet it’s in the midst of difficult times that leadership skill (or the lack thereof) is most clearly seen. And it’s in those times that courage rises to the surface as one of the greatest needs.

A number of popular slogans come to mind:
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself”
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going”
“Tough times never last, but tough people do”

or my own personal favorite spoken by Jesus himself when he realized his crucifixion was near,

“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.” (John 12:27)

What I like most about this quote from Jesus is its total authenticity. First, there is acknowledgment that this is not easy (‘my soul is troubled’). Then there is the realization that, tough as it’s going to be, this is what he’s been preparing for all along! Everything in his earthly life has been in preparation for this moment.

But it’s not rocket science. Back in the days of Joshua even the common people, the vast majority of whom couldn’t even read or write, knew what they needed in a leader. “Be strong and courageous” they said. It’s an imperative for leaders that still rings true today.

Prayer: Lord, grant courage wherever and whenever it is most needed, both in others and in myself. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Joshua 1-2, Psalm 37, and 1 Corinthians 3)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Considering Your Own Call

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 1:26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.

Observation: Wise advice.

Application: Some people like to say that God has a plan. I have mixed feelings about that assumption because it seems to presume that everything is already divinely mapped out. Tsunami in Japan? Part of the plan. Current Libyan crisis? Ditto. Granted, it does seem that an all-knowing God could plan in such a way, but would an all-loving God intentionally do such things? It seems to me that there must be a better explanation out there somewhere.

The word “call” makes more sense to me in this regard. A ‘call’ is like a summons from beyond oneself that speaks deeply within oneself. A call PROMPTS a response and, ironically, is often issued IN response to a genuine need.

I believe that God is in the call business. Whether the events at hand are global or intimately local in nature, it seems that our Lord offers ‘calls’ to a wide variety of people. Some of these calls or summons are quick, intense, and short-term in nature. One might sense a call to donate money or time or materials or a listening ear or all of the above for a given situation. Other times calls are issued for a longer-term cause or even to a particular vocation.

What’s especially interesting (and humbling!) about calls is that they are not always extended to the most naturally gifted or the most logically suited for a particular task or mission. But wherever there is a mission, one can be sure that a call to someone is not far away. And sometimes, just like when we’re busy trying to figure out who’s cell phone is going off, we might find ourselves surprised to discover that the call is actually for us. Hence the Paul’s Scriptural admonition to “consider your own call…”

Prayer: Lord, help us all to consider the various calls you extend and how we might most faithfully respond. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Deuteronomy 30-31, Psalm 40, and 1 Corinthians 1)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Is Christ Necessary?

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Galatians 6:13-14 Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14 May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Observation: Even in Biblical times there were many who wanted to tell others what they should do.

Application: I learned some time ago of an important question to keep in mind whenever someone suggests a certain action, behavior, or even viewpoint, especially in religious circles: “If I do what you say I should do, or think in the way you say I should think, will Christ still be necessary?”

In other words, at what point do we delude ourselves into thinking that our actions or our supposedly more pristine and holy thoughts are enough to take away the need for Christ’s saving work in the first place?

The answer, of course, is that there is nothing we can do or think that can take away our need for the saving work of Christ. But that doesn’t mean that we always keep this reality at the forefront of our minds. Instead it’s tempting to think that this devotional or that, this church or that, this way of getting baptized or that, this Bible translation or that, this form of relationship or that, this way of making a living or that, this amount of giving or that are somehow the ways to determine who is best practicing his or her faith.

Paul would say “Balony!” Or as Martin Luther said, “we are all beggars at the throne of God’s mercy.” We are all in equal need of Christ. And our response to that good news will often be as varied as our lives vary one from another. For some reason I think God likes that.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the ways in which you speak and touch the hearts of your faithful people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Deuteronomy 28-29 and Galatians 6)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Full Circle Service

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 encourages Christians to come full circle. True freedom actually leads one to more commitment, not less.

Application: Most formal policies are written with the slacker in mind. Since it is assumed that people will gravitate toward the bare minimum, the bar is raised—via a policy—so that the bare minimum will at least be acceptable.

Unfortunately, such policies often become the bane of existence. Overachievers find little incentive to engage (and tend to resent those who do only the bare minimum) and underachievers tend to feel like everyone is focused on them and their shortcomings. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Paul sees things differently. Once the minimum requirement is removed, the freedom to do more kicks in. We are called to resist compulsive slavery of every sort, and yet, ironically, go on to become slaves to each other. We are more or less called to run from one kind of slavery in order that we might be freed to enter into another kind of slavery. It’s crazy—crazy good! Paul’s like a mad scientist who has somehow stumbled upon the prized formula.

Well, maybe not as prized as hoped: we tend to still resist it big time, opting instead to go our own way, do our own thing. But that’s not what Paul had in mind. He had higher hopes for us. And it really was a better all-around plan.

Prayer: Lord, in this Lenten season let us think more in terms of service than being served. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Deuteronomy 25-27 and Galatians 5)

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Galatians 3:1-3 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! 2 The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3 Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?

Observation: Paul was pretty animated in this section and not happy at all with how the Galatian church was behaving. Instead of living in a joyful response to the saving work of Christ, they were lording all kinds of rules and things over the believers, creating a works/righteousness situation which Paul considered an atrocity.

Application: Radical grace is something humans have trouble accepting. We want to feel like we deserve things. Actually, sometimes we’re fine with getting something for free, but tend to hedge when we see someone else—whom we deem less deserving—getting the same thing. Suddenly we don’t feel as “special” or “privileged” anymore. First thing ya know we start attaching strings in regard to gifts that aren’t even ours to grant or restrict. How crazy is that? Paul calls it foolishness. And, unfortunately, it didn’t end with the Galatians.

Prayer: Lord, help us to simply be grateful for all that you provide and to do our best to share your gracious spirit with great enthusiasm. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included Deuteronomy 19-21 and Galatians 3)

Friday, March 11, 2011

When 'null and void' do not apply

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: Galatians 2:21 I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

Observation: The grace of God cannot be nullified.

Application: Most of us have probably had an inappropriate thought sometime within the last 24 hours…or 24 minutes…or 24 seconds! ☺ What’s up with that? Why such thoughts? Shouldn’t those of us who claim to be Christians be above such things?

In an ideal world, yes. But we live in what theologians call a broken or fallen world. And regardless of what we may or may not be able to project on the outside, inside we are broken and fallen people.

Is this brokenness a disappointing a disappointing reality? Yes. But it’s not the whole story either…

The other part of the story—in fact our story—is that those of us who are broken have in Christ someone who can mend us; those of us who have fallen have in Christ someone who can help us back up. After all, Christ himself was broken for us; Christ himself fell for us. Yet the horror of his crucifixion was no match for the power of his resurrected life.

Inappropriate thoughts and actions may be our daily reality in this broken and fallen world, but they do not ultimately define us. Instead we are claimed lock, stock, and barrel by the crucified and risen one.

We may not deserve such gracious favor. But according to the Apostle Paul, we can’t nullify it either.

Prayer: Lord, help us to find in your gracious favor a level of acceptance deep enough to encourage us on in spite of our many foibles. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Deuteronomy 16-18, Psalm 38 and Galatians 2)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On Ash Wednesday

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Deuteronomy 10:1-2 At that time the LORD said to me, “Carve out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood. 2 I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you smashed, and you shall put them in the ark.”

Observation: Moses was told to start over.

Application: Today is Ash Wednesday. As I read the passage above, the first words from a standard Ash Wednesday passage came to mind: “Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.” (Joel 2:12a). Those words “yet even now” have always captured my attention. No matter how bleak the situation, no matter how little rope seems to be left, ‘even now’ there is opportunity to return, to try again, to be welcomed all over.

As if to put an exclamation point on that statement, today’s gospel reading was the last chapter of Mark. The last chapter in each of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) has the same basic message, proclaims the same basic hope—Resurrection! New Life! Empty Tomb!

Granted, the date of Ash Wednesday varies from year to year. And so it will only be once in a while that the combination of readings encountered today will occur on Ash Wednesday again. Still, it was and is a timely reminder that, even if we find ourselves in a period of loss or disillusionment, we can by the grace of God begin again…even now…even now.

Prayer: Lord, please grant your blessings on all who find this time an appropriate time in whatever way to start over again. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Deuteronomy 10-12 and Mark 16)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Making Sense of a Random Act of God

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Deuteronomy 7:1-6 When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you—the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you— 2 and when the LORD your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. 3 Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, 4 for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the LORD would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. 5 But this is how you must deal with them: break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire. 6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

Observation: One really needs to read all of chapters 7, 8, & 9 of Deuteronomy to get a fuller picture. To briefly recount, God chooses this people out of love, not because they are more numerous than others or because they are righteous. But rather because others are wicked…and because the Lord had promised their ancestors that they would be saved. Moses also pointed out that the Israelites themselves had provoked the Lord to great anger and that it was only Moses’ pleadings on their behalf that spared them, partly because the Lord didn’t want the neighbors to think ill of the Almighty.

Application: The other day in a Bible Study a person expressed an interest in studying/exploring why God chose the Israelites out of all the peoples on the earth. These three chapters would make for an interesting start to that discussion. In some ways we have no answer, really, to the question. Or, more accurately, we have a potential answer, but it doesn’t necessarily seem very fair. It’s almost as if our ancestors were chosen by a divine random act of kindness. There is little rhyme or reason to it. And so while I’m grateful for these three chapters, I’m more grateful for Jesus, the one who truly opens salvation up to a much wider audience.

Prayer: Lord, this history of which many of us are a part is most interesting and befuddling. I don’t really need to understand it all, and probably never will. But I do pray that you help us to stand in your grace and to express our thanksgiving for your graciousness by embracing the world that you have entrusted into our care. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included Deuteronomy 7-9 and Mark 15)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lesson from Jesus and The Apprentice

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Mark 14:3-9 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4 But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

Observation: Whenever people judged around Jesus, they usually found him disagreeing with their judgment.

Last night I watched, for the first time ever I think, Celebrity Apprentice. Richard Hatch was chosen as the leader for the men’s team that lost the initial challenge. In the board room Richard was accused of disregarding David Cassidy who was another member of the team. It was a near fatal mistake on Richard’s part since, within the confines of the board room, the rest of the team pretty much turned on him.
Leaders, understandably, need to make judgment calls. Followers of Jesus will note, however, that those on the margins may have more to offer than initially meets the eye.

Prayer: Lord, with the Lenten season nearly upon us, let us see all people as you see them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

General Bibical Reflection

A General Biblical Reflection:

Today I read Deuteronomy 1-2 and Mark 12. I appreciated each of these readings but couldn’t seem to focus in on any one verse or passage. Hence I’m taking a one-day break from separating my devotion into different segments.

The Deuteronomy piece is part of a large speech by Moses to all of the Israelites, recounting some history of what God had said and what the people had done. I was left wondering how Moses was physically able to speak in a way that all of the Israelites could hear. I also noticed the amount of his time that was spent as a judge.

In Mark we have Jesus presented as one who sends the first volley of judgment toward the religious leaders. They in turn try to trap him in various ways that he, of course, skillfully avoids. In this chapter Mark presents a picture of a sparring Jesus at odds with the establishment and thus fueling a growing populist movement.

Earlier this morning I read of a relatively new religious movement/denomination that, in my opinion, revels in slandering their main opponent who was formerly their partner in the gospel. Upon reflection, it strikes me that the way in which the leaders of this movement speak and write of their main opponent is quite similar to how ex-spouses sometimes refer to one another, especially when feelings of hurt and betrayal are still raw.

The above-mentioned thoughts are not necessarily intended to be related to each other or a provision of answers on their own. They are merely thoughts that are periodically passing each other in my mind on this cloudy day when I wish all could be right in the world.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Liberty and Justice for all

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Numbers 36:1-4 The heads of the ancestral houses of the clans of the descendants of Gilead son of Machir son of Manasseh, of the Josephite clans, came forward and spoke in the presence of Moses and the leaders, the heads of the ancestral houses of the Israelites; 2 they said, “The LORD commanded my lord to give the land for inheritance by lot to the Israelites; and my lord was commanded by the LORD to give the inheritance of our brother Zelophehad to his daughters. 3 But if they are married into another Israelite tribe, then their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our ancestors and added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they marry; so it will be taken away from the alloted portion of our inheritance. 4 And when the jubilee of the Israelites comes, then their inheritance will be added to the inheritance of the tribe into which they have married; and their inheritance will be taken from the inheritance of our ancestral tribe.”

Folks were thinking ahead in those days.

Application: I love the story of Zelophehad’s daughters. First, they had the gumption earlier in Scripture to lobby successfully for their father’s inheritance, since he had no sons. But with changing policies sometimes comes additional wrinkles to be dealt with, in this case the possibility of them marrying into other tribes and then their father’s inheritance getting swallowed up by the other tribes. So a new and complimentary statute needed to be set up, this case the requirement that they marry within their ancestral tribe.

These days, as in earlier times, it’s not always easy to maintain fairness. But the situation with Zelophehad’s daughters serves as a reminder that it can be done.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for giving us, at least at times, both the gumption and the wherewithal to work toward an ancient principle that is well captured in the more recent phrase “with liberty and justice for all.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings included: Numbers 34-36 and Mark 11)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Faith = Amazement and Fear

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Mark 10:32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him,

Observation: There were mixed emotions among those who followed Jesus, ranging from amazement to fear.

Application: I think those of us who claim to follow Jesus would do well to have a variety of emotions as well. More often, it seems, we more or less think of Jesus as the God in our pocket—someone who always wants the best for us and yet never really challenges us to take some risks in regard to demonstrating extravagant love or to even think on various matters in a way completely different from what we may have been taught. It seems to me that an authentic follower of Jesus would be both amazed and afraid—that combination of the “awe” factor and also the “oh my…what will this mean for me.” I’ve never parachuted before, but I’m imagining the awe of the initial jump and then also confronting the reality that whether one lives or dies is almost completely dependent on whether or not the parachute actually opens and functions properly. Fear and amazement are not-so-distant cousins.

Prayer: Lord, help me to hold both the amazement and fear of following you is tension. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings included: Numbers 31-32 and Mark 10)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Thoughless Utterances and the Forgiveness of God

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Numbers 30:6-8 If she marries, while obligated by her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, 7 and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her at the time that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. 8 But if, at the time that her husband hears of it, he expresses disapproval to her, then he shall nullify the vow by which she was obligated, or the thoughtless utterance of her lips, by which she bound herself; and the LORD will forgive her.

Observation: This passage certainly seems to be reflective of a time when women were not considered equal in importance or intellect to men. But were they ever the only ones to offer “thoughtless” utterances from their lips?

Application: I think it’s safe to say that I have offered a “thoughtless” utterance from my lips more than once. Maybe even more than 10,000 times! Just about everyone has, though those of us who happen to be extroverts (and thus people who tend to think aloud) even more so. Thankfully, just as women aren’t the only ones to generate thoughtless utterances, neither is the Lord’s forgiveness limited to one particular gender alone.

Prayer: Lord, almost anything we ever utter is pretty much proof positive of how deeply we are in need of you and the forgiveness you most graciously offer. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings included: Numbers 30-31 and Mark 9)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Mark 8:22-25 They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” 24 And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Observation: I wonder what people did before corrective lenses.

Application: In sixth grade I noticed that I was having a little trouble seeing the chalk-board in school. Turns out that I needed glasses. To this day my sight up close is excellent, even better than 20/20. My vision at a distance is another story. Otherwise, although I can see people, I can’t necessarily recognize who they are. I need corrective lenses for clarity.

It has little if anything to do with the passage above, but I am curious what the general populace did prior to the advent of corrective lenses. And in the passage above, I wonder what it was about this particular blind man that led the people to not only bring him to Jesus, but to actually beg that Jesus touch him. Was the man endeared to them in some a special way, or were they simply tired of having to process his various requests themselves? Either way, Jesus wasn’t just what the doctor ordered, he was the doctor that ordered!

Prayer: Lord, help me to see more and more clearly the role(s) you have for me in this world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings included: Numbers 28-29 and Mark 8)