Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ancient Communication Marvel

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: 2 Samuel 6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.

Observation: It’s hard for me to visualize how someone gathers 30,000 people together…especially in those days. Communication alone, it seems, would be a huge challenge.

Application: Last I heard the city of Lima had a population of a little over 40,000. I can’t imagine how one would gather them all together. I’m sure the word of mouth method would be key; as king, David probably had a fairly sophisticated communication network. But still it’s hard to visualize how that all transpired. I have a hard enough time just trying to be sure that a couple hundred worshippers and I are all on the same page—and that’s with the help of a bulletin, projection screens, and a modern sound system. So I’ve got to give David a lot of credit for what he was able to accomplish.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for examples of people who found a way to do the incredible with far less resources that we have at our disposal, with the notable exception of your presence which sustains us all. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: 2 Samuel 6, 1 Chronicles 13, Psalm 68, and Matthew 17)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Well-Meaning People

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: 2 Samuel 4:9-11 David answered Rechab and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As the LORD lives, who has redeemed my life out of every adversity, 10 when the one who told me, ‘See, Saul is dead,’ thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him at Ziklag—this was the reward I gave him for his news. 11 How much more then, when wicked men have killed a righteous man on his bed in his own house! And now shall I not require his blood at your hand, and destroy you from the earth?”

Observation: The servants of David thought they were doing something he would like (killing relatives of his deceased enemy Saul). Instead, David was upset and had them killed as well.

Application: Somewhere I’ve heard it said, “Lord, save me from well-meaning people!” Personally, though I never really use it, I love the line “Oh, you really shouldn’t have!” It’s perfect for those occasions when a well-meaning person gives you something that they think you will like but you really have no intention of ever actually using and yet you don’t want to hurt their feelings. Still another line is; “He (or she) meant well.”

What does one do with well-intentioned people who tend to actually make things worse rather than better?

In Scripture such people are often not treated particularly kind. David, in the passage above, has his well-meaning servants killed. Jesus, in today’s reading from Matthew 16, calls the well-meaning Peter “Satan.” A few days ago I read the story of the weeds and the wheat in Matthew 13. There the well-meaning servants wanted to go in and pull out the weeds. Jesus said, “No” because in so doing they would uproot the wheat as well. Then again, when a well-meaning woman poured expensive perfume on him (which some considered a waste), Jesus praised her. Sometimes people get the benefit of the doubt and sometimes not.

From the health profession most of us have learned not to be in a rush to move someone who appears to be injured. Otherwise there’s a chance of making things worse even though we obviously wanted to make things better. Still, we have Good Samaritan laws in some places to help prevent well-meaning people from getting sued for helping in a non-helpful way.

I tend to find few points in all of this. First, if one really cares enough to help, one should care enough to learn how to help in a helpful way. Sometimes this as simple as asking what he/she can/should do. Second, whether one is actually helpful or not, God does not give up on us. Peter, for all of his failures, was still a major part of God’s work in the world. Third, God’s kingdom tends to be different that worldly kingdoms; it isn’t based on revenge and conquest, but on sacrificial service and devotion starting with Jesus himself. That’s a good thing because, well, I’m pretty sure Jesus has watched us thought to himself more than once, “Oh, you really shouldn’t have!”

Prayer: Lord, help us to be more of a help you your kingdom rather than a hindrance. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: 2 Samuel 4-5, Psalm 139, and Matthew 16)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Cost of Ministry

Scripture Verse that Caught My attention today: Matthew 14:13 “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself….”

Observation: the news of the martyrdom of John the Baptist (verses 8-12) prompted Jesus to want to spend some time alone.

Application: There are times in life when we feel a need to step back and consider what life is all about. This appears to have been one of those times for Jesus. For all practical purposes, John died because of Jesus. John was Jesus’ cousin. And although it’s unclear how well they knew each other, John understood Jesus to be the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and Jesus knew John well enough to have some dialog with him before being baptized by John (Matthew 3:15). So I suspect that the news of John’s death drove home for Jesus the point that Jesus’ mission was already costly. Who wouldn’t want some time to think things through at that point.

As a pastor I have often been humbled by the weight of the crosses that some of my present and past parishioners daily bear. Once in a while the thought of is enough to prompt me to take some time to let it all soak in. It’s important time. But one can’t stay there forever either. There is still work to be done, good news to be proclaimed, and understandings that will not be gained by holing up forever with oneself. Hence not long after that Jesus went on from there to take a rather risky hike across the open water to meet up with the disciples who were facing a storm of their own (Matthew 14:22-27).

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the occasional reminders of the price of being human. And thanks for the opportunities to continue on, regardless of how high those prices sometimes soar. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: 2 Samuel 2, 1 Chronicles 11, Psalm 142, and Matthew 14)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Still Learning...

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention today: Matthew 13:51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.”

Observation: Ha! LOL. You’ve got to be kidding!

Application: One of today’s readings was Matthew chapter 13. I spent about 5 minutes reading it and now now I’m somewhat startled to see that nearly an hour has gone by as I have puzzled over it! The hour included consulting some writings from one of my favorite Gospel experts, Brian Stoffregen. I was trying to see if his reflections could help me ‘figure out’ the parable of the weeds and the wheat.

This hasn’t been wasted time; in the service of my ordination I was asked by the Bishop point blank, “will you be diligent in your study of the Holy Scriptures…?” I replied, “I will, and I ask God to help and guide me.” Still, after nearly 20 years in ministry I continue to be amazed at the number of things I don’t yet know!

As for the parable of the weeds and the wheat, I’ll hopefully have more to say about that on the weekend of July 17th when that passage is one of the lectionary readings in church. For now I just have to roll my eyes at the na├»ve enthusiasm of the original disciples who actually answered ‘yes’ when Jesus asked if they ‘understood all this.’ Jesus probably rolled his eyes too, but hung in there with them. I’m trusting that he’ll do the same with me.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for your patience as we struggle to figure out what it means to be part of your kingdom here on this earth. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: 2 Samuel 1, Psalm 140, and Matthew 13)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Why I like creating my own simple workouts.

It's great to pick up ideas from other people's workouts. But these days I'm really enjoying putting together my own simple workouts by following a few simple principles.

1) Body-weight warm-up to get the blood flowing and to prepare the various muscle groups for action.

2) Include 3-4 sets/circuits to be repeated 1 or 2 times (I usually just repeat circuits once)

3) Use opposing or completely different muscle groups within a circuit. This allows the energy to focus on intensity rather than dealing with muscle fatigue.

4) Do not use the exact same workout twice in one week.

Here's what I did today:

Warm-up: Body-weight squats, leg swings, walking lunges, light 10 yard jogs with high knees, then with kick-butts, side shuffles, cross-over shuffles, close-grip push-ups, leg stretches, standing stick-ups, waiter bows, planks, Romanian dead lifts with 2 25# dumbbells. (Took about 10 minutes)

Workout:

Set 1: Pull-ups (12), 100# barbbell squat (25), 1-leg push-ups (10/side). Rest 1 minute, repeat (only got 10 pull-ups on second set).

Set 2: Stability-Ball 1-leg curls (10/leg), Inverted Rows (12). Rest 1 minute, repeat (10 inverted rows on second set)

Set 3: 1-leg step-ups with two 25# dumbbells (10/leg), Cross-body mountain climbers (25/leg). Rest 1 minutes, repeat.

Set 4: Chin-ups with knee-ups (6), Ab wheel roll-outs (10). Rest 1 minute, repeat (only got 4 chin-ups on second set).

Finished with 3 sets of 10 8-yard shuttle sprints with 1 minute of rest between sets. Total workout time was about 25 minutes plus the warm-up.

A Little Lesson from David

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: 1 Samuel 30:3-6 When David and his men came to the city, they found it burned down, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive. 4 Then David and the people who were with him raised their voices and wept, until they had no more strength to weep. 5 David’s two wives also had been taken captive, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 6 David was in great danger; for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in spirit for their sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.

Observation: David was known as a great leader. But when tragedy struck, even his own people turned on him quickly.

Application: Sometimes it’s hard to know how well we are doing in life. Why? Because often times the barometers we use to measure ‘success’ are rather shallow. Hindsight tells us that David was, according to most accounts, a great leader. Yet we read in the passage above that, due to an unforeseen attack on one of his towns while he was away, the people were ready to stone him. They has suffered great losses and needed someone to blame. David, as the leader, was very handy target.

At that point it would have been easy for David, who had suffered the loss of his own wives as well, to fold up into a ball or endeavor to escape to the hills. Instead he returned to the source of his strength which was not tied to outward signs of ‘success.’

I was thinking last night that, all things considered, yesterday was a really good day. Easter worship and an especially good rest of the day with family made for a really nice combination. As I was going to bed I mentioned to the Lord in my prayer time that no matter what the next day might bring, I could always be thankful for that day—not in the sense of something I had ‘achieved,’ but rather, in the sense of something I was fortunate enough to receive—the day was a gift.

There will almost certainly be days in the future that do not feel so much like a gift. Hopefully on those days I won’t take it overly personally and will be able to both give thanks for the wonderful days I’ve already had and also trust that it’s just somebody else’s turn for a gift day instead of me. Hopefully also, like David, whatever strength I’m able to muster I’ll find in the Lord.

Prayer: Lord, let us not get overly tied up in what other people think our lives should be like, but rather find our strength and our rest in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 30-31, 1 Chronicles 10, Matthew 12)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Full Circle Bridges

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 1 Samuel 27:1 David said in his heart, “I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul; there is nothing better for me than to escape to the land of the Philistines; then Saul will despair of seeking me any longer within the borders of Israel, and I shall escape out of his hand.”

Observation: David achieved fame as a young boy when he killed Goliath who was fighting for the Philistines. Now we’ve come full circle and David wants to seek refuge from them.

Application: It has been said that one shouldn’t burn bridges. I think that is very true. One never knows how things will turn out in the long run in terms of who will need us and who we will need. The marvel of Easter, however, is that even though humanity tried its level best to burn every trace of a bridge with Jesus (“his blood be on us and on our children” chanted the crowd to Pilate on Good Friday as they demanded his crucifixion; and the disciples all either denied him or fled), nevertheless Jesus used his body and blood to rebuild the bridge. By Easter morn divine reconciliation was in the air.

Prayer: Lord, in Jesus’ case we were lucky…he personally rebuilt the bridge humanity tried to burn. For that we can only give you thanks and praise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 27, Psalm 141, 1 Chronicles 9, Matthew 10)

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Good Friday Advantage

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: 1 Samuel 26:12 So David took the spear that was at Saul’s head and the water jar, and they went away. No one saw it, or knew it, nor did anyone awake; for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the LORD had fallen upon them.

Observation:
David had every opportunity to kill Saul, but chose to refrain, even though Saul had been seeking his life.

Application:
There are times when it is noble and right to refrain from using the power/opportunity presented to us. Put another way, just because we can do something doesn’t necessarily mean we should do something. The Apostle Paul said as much in the New Testament; “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. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).

Today is Good Friday. It is a day when Jesus could very well have used his power to avoid being crucified. He could have, but he didn’t. Was it a missed opportunity? For him, maybe. But then again, he was focused on seeking our advantage and not his own.

Prayer: Lord, the words ‘thank you’ seem totally inadequate. But it’s what I have to offer in response to what you have so graciously done. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: 1 Samuel 25-26, Psalm 63, Matthew 9)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The People We'll Meet in the Kingdom

Scripture verse that caught my attention today. Matthew 8:11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,

Observation: I’ve never thought that much about potentially meeting Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Application: When I think of the kingdom of heaven I usually think of maybe seeing loved ones and, certainly, Jesus. I’ve thought about maybe meeting the apostles, especially Paul. Moses would be fun to meet too, plus Miriam and Aaron; it would be interesting to see how those three siblings get along. I’d like to meet some of the famous women in the Bible; Sarah, Ruth, Esther, Rahab, Deborah, Lydia, the woman at the well, and the women that followed Jesus to name a few. Not only would I like to learn what their personalities were like but, honestly, I’m also curious as to what they looked like. I’d like to meet that thief on the cross, the demoniacs, and Nicodemous. So there’s lots of people referenced in the Bible that I’d love to meet in the kingdom of heaven. But for some reason Abraham and Isaac and Jacob haven’t been at the top of my list even though they are mentioned often in the Bible and, in this case, by Jesus himself. Guess I’ll have to make some adjustments since, according to Jesus, we might well be sharing meals together!

Prayer: Lord, thanks for all the faithful witnesses throughout the ages. And help me, in my own way, to be one of them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: 1 Samuel 24, Psalm 57-58, 1 Chronicles 8, and Matthew 8)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Eyes Have It

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Matthew 6:22-23 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

Observation: Makes sense, but seems almost impossible.

Application: I’m curious as to what it would be like to have truly ‘healthy’ eyes. Does anyone really have them?

The concept of beauty comes to mind. Most eyes are drawn to beauty, however that might be defined. It seems to me that a ‘healthy’ eye would see everyone as beautiful in his or her own way. Sadly, that’s seldom, if ever, the case. As an example, I have a remarkably honest colleague who told me some 20 years ago that, whether he wants to or not, the first thing he does when he sees any woman is to take a nanosecond and analyze her from the standpoint of sexual attractiveness. That doesn’t sound like a very ‘healthy’ eye. But I suspect it’s often how many, if not most, eyes work.

This is but another reminder of why recalling the events of this Holy Week is so important. In Jesus we find one whose appearance was despised and rejected. Instead of wanting to be NEAR him, the crowds shouted “AWAY with him…let him be crucified.” Their eyes, much like ours, were full of darkness. They couldn’t recognize the beauty of the one before them. One of the ancient church Fathers called it the “sweet exchange” and put it this way: “O the sweet exchange, O the incomprehensible work of God, O the unexpected blessings, that the sinfulness of many should be hidden in one righteous person, while the righteousness of One should justify many sinners!”

Prayer: Lord, thanks for your ways of literally bringing light to all darkened lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: 1 Samuel 22, Psalm 17 and 35, Matthew 6)

Monday, April 18, 2011

For the Persecuted

Scripture passages that caught my attention today: Matthew 5:11-12 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
AND
1 Samuel 19:11-17 Saul sent messengers to David’s house to keep watch over him, planning to kill him in the morning. David’s wife Michal told him, “If you do not save your life tonight, tomorrow you will be killed.” 12 So Michal let David down through the window; he fled away and escaped. 13 Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed; she put a net of goats’ hair on its head, and covered it with the clothes. 14 When Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, “He is sick.” 15 Then Saul sent the messengers to see David for themselves. He said, “Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may kill him.” 16 When the messengers came in, the idol was in the bed, with the covering of goats’ hair on its head. 17 Saul said to Michal, “Why have you deceived me like this, and let my enemy go, so that he has escaped?” Michal answered Saul, “He said to me, ‘Let me go; why should I kill you?’”

Observation: David had all sorts of issues to deal with.

Application: I couldn’t help but reflect on the story of 1 Samuel 19-20 (part of today’s reading) after reading Jesus’ reflections on persecution as found in Matthew 5 (also part of today’s reading). We normally think of David as a great king and leader in the Old Testament. That’s true. But he also had an almost daily weight hanging over his head in the form of his father-in-law Saul who wanted to kill him.

It’s a reminder that almost all people have issues with which they need to deal. We tend to admire people in supposedly ‘high’ positions. But I’ve been in close-enough proximity with a lot of those kinds of people over the years to know that, regardless of their position/responsibilities, they also have daily challenges not all that different from anyone else…and sometimes even more so. Imagine being the anointed king and needing to spend much of your life in hiding and working out ‘signals’ for secret communication. Lots of things in this world are not easy and lots of people in this life (both of high and low estate) do not have an easy life.

Thankfully, this week offers opportunity to be especially mindful of another servant of God who experienced persecution—Jesus. It’s Holy Week…the week that includes the big three days for people of the Christian faith: Maundy Thursday [when Jesus: 1) demonstrated service by washing feet, 2) instituted the Lord’s Supper/Communion, and 3) was himself betrayed], Good Friday [when Jesus was crucified unto death], and, of course, Easter [when God raised Jesus from the dead]. In Christ we have someone who can easily relate to our various situations and still provide hope. Like they said long ago, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Prayer: Lord, in all that we face in this life, let us draw strength and encouragement from you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: 1 Samuel 19-20, Psalm 34, and Matthew 5)

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Lesson From David and Goliath

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: 1 Samuel 17:48-49 When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. 49 David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

Observation:
The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Application: This, of course, is the story of David and Goliath. During a trip to Israel a few years ago our tour guide pointed out the place where, tradition says, the battle of David and Goliath may have taken place. Nearby there is also a heap of stones beneath which, again according to ‘tradition,’ the bones of Goliath lay. Whether or not these are the actual places of the battle and/or subsequent burial makes no difference to me. More ‘striking’ (pun intended!:)) is the fact that size and might alone do not necessarily determine who will experience victory and who will experience defeat. The same is true today. While it is true that size in many contexts has its advantages, it also tends to produce, as in the days of old, excessive pride and a corresponding larger target.

Prayer:
Lord, these days it’s easy to identify with David when in fact we often times are more like Goliath. Help us to see the difference and take it to heart. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 17, Psalm 9, and Matthew 2)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ways of God then vs now

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: 1 Samuel 15:22 And Samuel said,
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed than the fat of rams.

Observation: This verse is popular, but its context is somewhat cringe-worthy. Saul was told “go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” He did kill the people and most of the animals, but spared the best animals (to use for a sacrifice to the Lord) and the king (who was later killed), thus prompting Samuel to offer the words cited above. Saul’s exceptions to the Lord’s command were considered an act of disobedience and became the beginning of the end of Saul’s kingship.

Application: There are many reasons why I’m glad I live in this day and age and not back then, and the seeming lack of these kind of commands from the Lord these days is one of them. What would I do if I received a command from the Lord to go attack all the people of my local town and not spare any person or animal? Honestly, I couldn’t do it.

To be fair, the command to attack the Amalekites was to be an act of revenge for how they had previously wronged the Israelites. And the command was also in a completely different social context than we have today, one is which such attacks would not seem so obscure. Nevertheless, in those days God was understood to be extremely particular about complete obedience and allegiance. God also wanted them to rely on ‘him’ and not to rely on themselves (Saul probably considered the animals he kept to be a form of provision which God considered a personal assault).

These days the ways of following God/Jesus are, thankfully, much less brutal though no less difficult. Complete allegiance is, frankly, impossible as a mere mortal. Fortunately, the crucified and risen one was sent to make up for our lack.

Prayer: Lord, your ways are so often not our ways. But help us to at least consider your ways in the world in which we live. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: 1 Samuel 15-16, 1 Chronicles 5, Matthew 1)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Two kinds of Prayers

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: 1 Chronicles 4:9-10 Jabez was honored more than his brothers; and his mother named him Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” 10 Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from hurt and harm!” And God granted what he asked.

Observation:
Though popular, this is not the only prayer in the Bible and so it may not be wise to pattern our prayers completely after it.

Application: Several years ago there was a popular book called “The Prayer of Jabez.” Few had even heard of Jabez before that and it’s little wonder—this is these are the only verses where Jabez (the person) is mentioned in the Bible (Jabez, the town, is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 2). At any rate, the gist of the book was that we shouldn’t be afraid to pray for ourselves first. Okay…perhaps. Jesus did say at one point “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). But those are a couple of great big IF’s! More telling, I think, is the Lord’s prayer. It’s been said that the Lord’s prayer includes seven petitions or requests. Here they are:

1 Hallowed (Holy) be your name
2 Your kingdom come
3 Your will be done on earth as in heaven
4 Give us today our daily bread
5 Forgive us our sins and we forgive those who sin against us
6 Save us from the time of trial (or “lead us not into temptation)
7 Deliver us from evil

It’s interesting to note that the first three petitions deal with requests for Spiritual things and the last three requests deal with requests for protection from evil things. Only one petition, the one right in the middle, asks for anything in this life and it’s not about enlarging borders and the like but simply for the daily necessities.

I have nothing against Jabez and his prayer or anything against the author of the book that bears his name. We are told that God answered Jabez’s prayer. So be it; that’s God’s prerogative. But I do think the prayer is over-rated. And I think that when we do abide in Jesus and his words abide in us, the nature of our prayers change. So do our ambitions.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be more like you, less like those who are not like you, and provide us with what we really need to carry on in this world in your name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 14, 1 Chronicles 4, 2 Corinthians 13)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Courage and the dangers of personal pride

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: 1 Samuel 11:6-7 And the spirit of God came upon Saul in power when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. 7 He took a yoke of oxen, and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the LORD fell upon the people, and they came out as one.

Observation:
Saul got riled up and rallied the people. It was a bad day for a couple of oxen, however.

Application: I have mixed feelings about this passage. On the one hand it is inspiring. Saul demonstrated courage and strength—qualities around which the people were able to rally. And in this case it was clear that the opposing forces were planning a despicable deed. But I also wonder how many times throughout history (even in Biblical times) the common people have been placed at risk due to the whim of a prideful leader.

Prayer: Lord, help all leaders to discern the difference between an authentic cause and a personal pride gone awry. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: 1 Samuel 11-12, 1 Chronicles 1, 1 Corinthians 11)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Toward Completion

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 8:10-11 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.

Observation:
It’s appropriate for well-placed eagerness to be matched with completion.

Application: The number of unfinished projects in my world is, to put it in a Biblical term, legion; there are probably too many to count. On my desk at church are folders upon folders of projects that are in various states of progress. At home I merely need to look in almost any room in the house--or in any direction around the farm—to see myriads of things that could or should be done or finished.

It’s not that I necessarily like it this way—I don’t. But also, once the list gets about so long, a person sort of learns to do what one can in the time available and let the rest go until either more discretionary time is available (not likely) or something moves it higher up the priority list. Yet it’s also true that, sometimes, things that are important to me just slip through the cracks. They blend in with all the other things yet undone and disappear into form of abyss, never to be seen again until perhaps it’s too late. And in those cases there is more than just the feeling of being overwhelmed—there is the feeling of genuine regret the comes with the knowledge that it didn’t have to be that way.

Sometimes avoiding such unfortunate circumstances involves a little planning. That’s what Paul offers to the Corinthians. Their interest in helping those less fortunate was noble and appropriate, but to accomplish that goal they would need to save bits and pieces of it starting now and not stopping until the day of the collection. Otherwise they would be caught empty-handed—and in an embarrassing way.

Prayer: Lord, help us to faithfully and regularly do the little things on a daily or weekly basis that enable us to complete those things that are important to your world and to our own physical, emotional, and spiritual health. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 3-5, Psalm 77, and 2 Corinthians 8)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The message is "Entrusted," not "Encrypted"

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.

Observation: This is one of those especially hopeful passages in Scripture.

Application: Christians are called to share God’s message of reconciliation. In fact, that message has been “entrusted” to us for that very purpose. For some reason, however, we often treat it more like an "encrypted" message, the likes of which only the most seasoned insider would ever understand.

I strikes me that this is pretty much opposite the experience of Jesus. He actually was the message of reconciliation in and of himself, yet it was the outsiders who most readily grasped what he had to share while the insiders struggled to get a clue.

I think it's time to endeavor to break all encryptions related to the reconciling work that God has done and is doing through Christ. It won't be easy, but that's what we've been entrusted to do.

Prayer: Lord, help us to take to heart what you’ve already done and to respond with genuine thanksgivng. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Ruth 1-2, Psalms 53 & 61, and 2 Corinthians 5)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Taking to Heart the Value We have Today

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 4:5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.

Observation: This whole chapter is one of my favorites in the Bible. And this verse sheds light on how Paul understood himself in relation to God.

Application: My mind continues to be occupied today with ponderings related to the following quote that I read yesterday: “I guess I believe in the church of personal responsibility. So here’s this week’s Sunday morning gospel.” From there the author went on to list two or three motivational quotes.

I have deep respect for the person who wrote the quote above, which may explain why I’m so especially disturbed by it. Although I agree that many of us do not take enough personal responsibility for our life and circumstances, to actually place one’s ultimate hope in personal responsibility concerns me because it is not, well, healthy. Accomplishment may bring a sense of satisfaction, but it cannot bring true peace.

That’s why I love this chapter of 2 Corinthians. Read the whole thing if you can. There’s plenty of motivation within it, plenty of encouragement to not be discouraged by various obstacles. Yet the heart of the matter is about understanding ourselves in relation to someone far greater than ourselves.

The crucified and risen Christ has had mercy upon us. We will never have any more or less value in the eyes of Christ than we do at this very moment. To recognize that fact by faith is to have peace…and freedom…and to even be inspired to want to do more, not because we have to but (if such is the case) because we can.

Whatever hope and peace I’ve found (and continue to find by the grace of God, sometimes in spite of myself!) is not constrained by my own limited abilities for accomplishment and reason. If there's a reason to 'never, ever, ever give up,' it's because Christ Jesus has never, ever, ever, given up on us. And it is why I think it makes a lot of sense to find our own ways to, like Paul, proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord and to understand ourselves as servants/slaves for Jesus’ sake.

It doesn't have to be done with great bravado or even a ton of overly religious language. In fact, I find such a tact largely counter productive. Simple, faithful, consistent, and humble service to others (whether they have faith or no faith) is more in keeping with the One we claim to proclaim.

Prayer: Lord, be with any of us who sincerely want to be more efficient and/or productive and yet help us place our true hope in you--where such hope can ultimately be found. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included Judges 19-21 and 2 Corinthians 4)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Kinds of People God Uses

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Judges 13:24 The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the LORD blessed him.

Observation: God uses all kinds of people. Judges 13-16 reads quickly because, once one gets through the introductory part of chapter 13, the story of Samson really takes off. But it’s sort of crazy too. Samson is proclaimed to be a servant of God even before his birth, but he is a bit of a mischief maker and has horrible taste in women to boot. He left his first wife (who was actually from the opposing side and had betrayed him by telling his riddle secret), slept with a prostitute, and then married the infamous Delilah who also betrayed his secret. After he lost the bet related to his first riddle, rather than make the pay-off out of his own wares, he killed thirty people and took it from them. He would lie to his wife about what made him strong, but then again, what kind of spouse is always trying to ruin the other? Samson Judged Israel for 20 years and died in one final act of revenge against the Philistines whom we are told in 13:1 the Lord had put over Israel because Israel had done evil in the sight of the Lord.

Application: Exactly what kind of person does the Lord use? Answer, almost any kind of person.

For all the talk of Samson not drinking and being destined by God as a servant and the like, he still wouldn’t pass many modern morality tests. Yet the Bible understands him to be a notable Old Testament servant.

There’s no reason to praise his improprieties. Each of them brought about consequences. But none of them stopped him from ultimately being one of God’s servants.

One of the potential contenders for president in the upcoming election is Newt Gingrinch. The name doesn’t matter and I’m not for one moment suggesting that Newt in particular is or is not a good candidate. I have no idea. Nor am I suggesting that he is God’s servant. Again, I have no idea. But one often-touted drawback of his candidacy is his checkered relationship past. The story of Samson should give him some encouragement. The same goes for anyone else who has made some poor choices in life.

Prayer: Lord, sometimes it’s easy to separate people into separate people into good groups and bad groups. In reality, we are all one big group in total need of your grace and mercy and your ability to use us as we are. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Judges 13-16 and 2 Corinthians 2)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Our Common Humanity

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Judges 11:1-10 Now Jephthah the Gileadite, the son of a prostitute, was a mighty warrior. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. 2 Gilead’s wife also bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah away, saying to him, “You shall not inherit anything in our father’s house; for you are the son of another woman.” 3 Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Outlaws collected around Jephthah and went raiding with him.

Judg. 11:4 After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. 5 And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 They said to Jephthah, “Come and be our commander, so that we may fight with the Ammonites.” 7 But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Are you not the very ones who rejected me and drove me out of my father’s house? So why do you come to me now when you are in trouble?” 8 The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “Nevertheless, we have now turned back to you, so that you may go with us and fight with the Ammonites, and become head over us, over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” 9 Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight with the Ammonites, and the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head.” 10 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The LORD will be witness between us; we will surely do as you say.”

Observation:
Jephthah grew up ostracized, yet also developed remarkable street sense that his more privileged relatives could not match.

Application: I don’t have any one person in mind when I write this but over the years I’ve noticed that some people just have a knack for looking at things differently; they can quickly size up a situation and make you wonder why you didn’t think of that. They may or may not have ever been to college, but they’ve completed some serious life experience coursework at what is popularly known as the ‘school of hard knocks.’ As a college graduate myself, I sometimes feel stupid in their presence. Yet I’m also grateful for their presence. Clearly I share their humanity, and they mine. The great levelers in life like disease and accidents and broken relationships show no partiality. First thing ya know, we need each other or at least grow to appreciate our common gifts and fraility. That’s what Jephthah’s brothers eventually discovered about him—they needed him. And in a convoluted way, I think he needed them too.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see our common need for one another and, ultimately, our need for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture readings today included: Judges 11-12, Psalm 50, and 2 Corinthians 1)