Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Not thinking too high or too low

Scripture—Romans 12:4 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Observation—simple, good advice.

Application: One challenge in this regard is to find the happy medium. Some people think too lowly of themselves. They do not have an appreciation for the incredible value they have in God’s eyes. Others are either too full of themselves to understand their proper role in the universe, or they are struggling to feel like they’ve “made it” and then forget to address the task at hand—like an athlete with a dream to make it to the big leagues and then forgets, once there, that the purpose is to play baseball. I’m not exactly sure where I fit on this scale, but I think I tend to waver between the just right/happy-medium and the latter of feeling like I’ve sort of made it (whatever “it” is) but am not sure what to do next. Thankfully, most of the time, I can sense the measure of faith that I have been given and simply try to live it out.

Prayer—Lord, you know our value and our purpose and our gifts and the world’s needs. Help me to use what you have given in a way that brings you joy and satisfaction. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(readings included: Proverbs 16-18 and Romans 12)

Monday, May 30, 2011

A very Big God

Scripture Verse that caught my attention: Romans 11:33 O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

Observation: I’ll second that.

Application: Sometimes (okay…always!) it’s just nice to remember who we are in relation to God. We don’t have to have all the answers. Life doesn’t always need to make sense. It’s enough to just give thanks that God knows more than we do.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for another day to admire your work as we drive west as a family. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Proverbs 13-15 and Romans 11)

Some lack of wisdom from a person known for speaking wisdom

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Proverbs 10:3 The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.

Observation: Solomon had a relatively easy life, and sometimes it shows through in his ‘wisdom.’ He basically believes that all will go well for the righteous and ruin comes to the wicked. Although he offers a lot of solid wisdom, his privileged life experience makes it hard for him to identify with some of the downtrodden.

Application: Put plainly, one of the best things to ever happen to me theologically was to lose a job roughly a quarter of a century ago. That experience taught me that just working hard is no guarantee that all will go well. It also helped me to pay more attention to the signs in Scripture that the Lord identifies with those who suffer. For all the good that Solomon offers, his perspective in this regard seems to be limited and, of course, out of step with the work of God through Christ. Indeed, sometimes the righteous do go hungry.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the whole witness of the Scripture to keep in mind. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Proverbs 10-12 and Romans 10)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Through the Eyes of a General

(Note: I'm on vacation this week and journaling privately. I wrote the following entry several years ago.)
Date: Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Scripture: Proverbs 7-9; Romans 9
Key Scripture: Proverbs 8:2-3 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; 3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
Topic: Public witness
Title: Through the eyes of a General
Observation: Look at where wisdom can be found; heights (people can see you there), beside the way (people can see you there as they go about their travels), crossroads (like people collecting money for the March of Dimes or some such thing—they can’t be avoided or not noticed while we wait at the light), town gates (where people come and go), portal entrances (I’m not sure what a “portal” is, but I’m envisioning the doors to businesses, restaurants, and the like).

Application: I’m not a lover of military missions by any means. I hate the bloodshed, etc. But I do see an applicable strategy here. Military generals spend their time pinpointing where to “attack.” They pay attention to main thoroughfares, centers of military technology, business, etc. In other words, they find the pressure/leverage/connecting points and there they place their focus. Proverbs speaks of wisdom actively “taking a stand” in these very places. Endeavoring to find the places/points of connection and then offering a cry to “all who live.” I wonder when/if I as a church leader will be equally diligent in discovering and focusing energy on such connective points. Of course, this assumes that those who speak such wisdom actually have such wisdom. Daily time with the King/Shepherd is a good start.

Prayer: Lord, the place I live and work is too safe. I like my office where I can do much church work but little ministry. The walls protect me. Church people and I have a good relationship. I’m generally well thought of and respected by community leaders, but I’m not known to many common folks. I don’t necessarily need to be known, but surely the mission of this congregation should be known. Surely the members of this congregation should be seen at the community connecting points and actively engaged in their mission. But before I can ask them to do such things, I need to learn how to do it myself. I have much to learn—much wisdom to seek. Allow me to heed her/your voice.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Christian Community is Meaningful Work

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Observation: Big statement there!

Application: Over the years I’ve noticed that being part of a faith community is hard work; it’s really not for the faint of heart. In authentic Christian community we are forced to see and make peace with each other’s faults, even as we aspire ourselves and try to inspire others to do better. Inauthentic Christian community pretends that there are no faults. The authentic Christian community knows better but will not dwell on such things.

Why? Largely because of what Paul says in the verse above. He’s not saying that everything is all hunky-dorey. But he is saying that what Christ has done is of ultimate significance. In him we have value beyond measure. But then again, so does everyone else who is in Christ Jesus. We are not in this alone! We are in community.

It’s hard to keep such things in mind in this part of the world because our culture prizes individuality and a consumer mindset. If we don’t like something personally, we can just remove it from consideration and do a quick internet search for another option. If we don’t like what a ‘friend’ posted on our Facebook wall, we can just ‘unfriend’ them. If they are people in our normal circle of physical acquaintances, we can change our patterns and endeavor to avoid them. It is the direct opposite of authentic Christian community because it allows us to just write people off.

These are not the ways of God, however. Jesus could have written us off but did not. The whole New Testament is filled with written words meant to remind us of how precious we are in his sight…and how precious we are meant to be in each other’s sight. When we remember such things we are one step closer to modeling what authentic Christian community is all about.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the church. It’s not always perfect. In fact, it’s never perfect. But it is still the context where we are reminded that our only hope is always in you and that we can find joy in sharing that hope with one another. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Proverbs 4-6, Romans 8)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wisdom involves listening as well as speaking

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Observation: This verse is essentially the first of Solomon’s proverbs and a fitting perspective with which to begin.

Application: I was thinking about ministry as a pastor the other day and the following thought came to mind: “A minister should probably spend most of the week listening and then spend the weekend (during worship) speaking about what he or she has learned.” Seriously. Effective preaching begins with observation (What is going on? With what are people concerned? How are they responding? How might the Lord be at work? Etc.) which is, really, a form of listening.

Fools don’t want to listen. They don’t want to learn. They foolishly assume that they already know enough and therefore don’t need to learn more. But when we understand ourselves to be under someone far greater (i.e. the Lord), we realize that we have plenty to learn. We don’t have to learn it all at once. In fact, we couldn’t do so even if we tried. But we can steadily learn more. Life is indeed one great big lesson, not just about facts but also about feelings and human nature and relationships and facing disappointments and receiving divine grace. How could we ever feel like we’ve learned it all? As a pastor I can only hope that each week I can share just a little more about what I’ve learned (or am learning) in terms of what our Lord has done and is doing.

Prayer: Lord, help me to be more and more open to the lessons you share. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Proverbs 1-3 and Romans 7)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sin and Bondage

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Romans 6:1-2 What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?

Observation: In this case I’m thankful that I am personally aware of Romans 7:15 (tomorrow’s reading) where Paul says: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” This leads me to believe that the words “in order that grace may abound” are particularly important. In other words, we should not ‘sin’ in order for grace to abound. But being captive to sin may be another matter. Romans 7 is comforting from the standpoint that even Paul realized that there were some desired improvements in his life that even he could not accomplish. Hence he is not testing the grace of God, but, rather, trusting the grace of God.

Application: Romans is an excellent book and it presents some of the Apostle Paul’s most mature understandings of the Christian faith. It is therefore not a book to be taken lightly be any means. Chapter 6 includes a predominant Lutheran understanding of being united with Christ through baptism. The chapter also includes the ever-popular verse “for the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Still, chapter six can weigh down on a person because Paul appears to imply that we can quit sinning. It could be argued that Paul is saying that we can quit doing sinful things (individual sins) but just not escape our sinful nature. But in chapter 7 the Apostle speaks of actions which, presumably, are sinful things. Whether it’s a destructive habit, an unhealthy addiction, or some other regrettable routine, the process of initiating and carrying out change can be very complex with spiritual, emotional, physiological and psychological factors all weighing in. In short, positive change can be hard. I suspect that when Paul asked “How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” he knew the answer to his own question. Because we’re human, therefore our only help and hope is in Christ.

Prayer: Lord, it would be nice if everything were easier once we realize that we are claimed by you. But such is not the case. Nevertheless, you do claim us and we are left only to give you thanks and praise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 10-11, 2 Chronicles 9, Romans 6)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

No Need to Escape

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Romans 5:1-5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

This is not the popular strain of Christianity that is often trumpeted today.

Application: Escape. That’s what so many people seem to want these days. Escape from work. Escape from responsibility. Escape from suffering. Escape from a relationship or situation. Escape from this world (i.e. those who promote ‘rapture’ theology). Some folks, regrettably desire to escape even from life itself by taking their own.

Granted, there are, at times, situations that are not healthy and from which a person may indeed need to endeavor to leave. But the whole idea of always wanting out does not square well with the overwhelming witness to the faith found in the New Testatment. There we find people rejoicing for the opportunity to suffer for and/or like Christ. And when you think about it, that makes more sense anyway. The Bible doesn’t say that God so loved Jesus that he spared him from the world. Rather, it says that God so loved the world that he sent his only son so that whoever believes in him might have eternal life. Rather than escaping, Jesus was sent straight into our worldly fray! According to Paul (see passage above), God has done the heavy lifting (justifying us by faith) and through that faith we have the kind of peace that can see benefits in suffering that build on one another, leading up to a kind of hope that does not disappoint. Hence even as we pray “Come, Lord Jesus!” in terms of his promised return, we also say “thank you, Lord Jesus” for giving us the kind of peace that does not lead us to be obsessed with a desire to escape.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for this day. And be with all who suffer in body or spirit, that they might somehow find in you the peace to carry on. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 9, 2 Chronicles 8, Psalm 136, and Romans 5)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Confining God. Not!

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 2 Chronicles 6:18 “But will God indeed reside with mortals on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built!

Observation: We really can’t confine God.

Application: For some reason humans love to try to confine God. Although Christians and non-Christians alike denounced the May 21 doomsday predictors as exercising futility, truth be told, many of us fall into that same kind of trap, albeit in less dramatic fashion. We latch hold of a particular verse or view in Scripture and triumphantly use that as the basis for confidently declaring that we know what God thinks. Yet the very moment that we claim to know such things, we are in essence trying to define or confine God. Such is neither within our job description or ability. Solomon had the right idea. We can build a temple for God, but we cannot force God to stay there. On the farm we used to say, ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him/her drink.’ If we can’t do such a small a thing as that…

Lord, let us spend more time giving thanks for you and less time trying to confine you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Chronicles 6-7, Psalm 135, Romans 4)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bearing With One Another

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Romans 2:19 and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, 21 you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal?

Observation: Teaching ourselves is perhaps the hardest teaching to do.

Application: These days I’m a big proponent that, if they can do so respectfully and peaceably, it’s healthy for people of differing opinions to continue in fellowship with one another--whether in person or online. To do so often requires degrees of humility, patience, understanding, and acceptance that are not always easy to garner. So often there is a natural urge to ‘correct’ the other, to ‘prove’ a point, and to rationalize that, if the other person doesn’t ‘get’ it, they are just clearly misguided and we’ll just have to entrust him or her to God to straighten him or her out.


Then again, maybe the divine assistance is needed just a little closer to home!

Currently I am at a synod assembly (basically an annual meeting of ordained and lay church leaders in the denomination through which I serve). Yesterday I ran into someone who not only disagrees with me (no problem there), but who does so in such a way that my dander tends to go up a notch. What’s up with that? Does anybody ever tend to rile you up like that?

On the one hand it might be tempting for me/us to mentally place such a person in a box of people like the Apostle Paul describes in the verse above. But upon further reflection, such an attitude on my part reveals that I too would fit well in just such a box! I might feel as ‘sure’ of their wrong attitude as they are ‘sure’ of my wrong opinion!

And that’s why it’s important to continue being in some form of fellowship with those with whom we disagree! In the presence of those with differing opinions/views is the opportunity not so much to sharpen our respective arguments, but to sharpen our ability to see the mirror faults in ourselves. We all have something to offer, but none of us has ‘everything’ to offer. Each time we ‘bear with’ another we experience anew a tangible reminder of how our Lord ‘bears with” us. It’s a good lesson to keep teaching ourselves.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the plethora of people in my life who help who, knowingly and unknowingly, intentionally and unintentionally, help me see my own areas for growth and your ways of instruction. It’s one reason we need each other to serve as visible reminders of how much we all need you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 7, 1 Chronicles 4, Psalm 98, Romans 2)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Early Morning Reflections on May 21st Predictions and the Like

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.

Observation: The writer encourages the Thessalonians to avoid getting caught up in speculations related to the “day of the Lord.”

Application: I feel bad for the group of well-intentioned folks who are touting May 21st as the end of the world. I don’t doubt that Christ is coming again. But I think Jesus’ description of it coming “like a thief in the night” makes more sense than human calculations.

End of the world predictions, of course, are nothing new. History, particularly in the last 200 years, is replete with famous and not-so-famous examples. Hal Lindsay, who wrote “The Late Great Planet Earth,” was prone early on for such predictions. A seminary professor of mine once had the opportunity to meet him. Hal asked the professor what Lutherans thought of him. The professor said he couldn’t speak for all Lutherans but he candidly said that personally as a theologian he thought Hal was a heretic! When Hal inquired as to why, the professor said sometime to the affect of, “because in my understanding of the gospel, not only is it futile to try to predict when such things might take place, but I also believe that Jesus could come back SOONER than you predict!

Based on that analogy, it might be more likely that Jesus would come back on May 20th rather than May 21st—or even today!

No matter. There is always work to be done, blessings to be counted, hopes to be realized, disappointments to be attended to, promises to be kept, wounds to be healed, relationships to be nurtured, spirits to be uplifted, enemies to pray for, love to be shared, seeds to be sown and, yes, laundry to be washed, folded, and put away. It’s not always peachy, but there is nevertheless a certain sense of joy and satisfaction to be found in these and the many other endeavors that are part and parcel of this earthly life.

It’s not that I want the doomsayers to be wrong. In some ways it might be nice if they are right. But should their calculations turn out to be nothing more than calculations, I hope that they and others realize that they are nothing more (or less!) than the rest of us--flawed but still loved individuals for whom Christ, sooner or later, will come.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the start of another day. There is much to do and for that I give you thanks. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

PS Scripturally the “Day of the Lord” is sometimes described as a future event and other times as something that is already at hand. Ironically, the prophet Joel told those who longed for the day of the Lord that, for them, it would be a day of darkness and not light! In Jesus, however, the kingdom is always near and in him there is no darkness at all.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 4-5, 2 Chronicles 2, Psalm 101, & 2 Thessalonians 2 [though it was supposed to be 2 Thessalonians 3! Oops!])

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How will we be remembered?

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: 1 Kings 3:3 Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places.

Observation: Solomon, for all of his wonders and wisdom and the like, had his faults too. In this case the offering of sacrifices and incense to other gods. Strangely, this passage seems to ignore that fact and goes on to lift up his prayer for wisdom rather than for riches and his wise judgment in the case of the two prostitutes who were fighting over the one remaining baby.

It’s interesting to see how people are remembered. Solomon is largely remembered as a great and wise king. His faults are seldom trumpeted. David was known as a great king but with one large sin (his relationship with Bathsheba and the subsequent murder of Uriah). In the news recently was the story of Arnold Swarzenager (sp?) separating from his wife and the story of him fathering a child through an extramarital affair. Will he be remembered primarily as an actor, a body builder, a governor, or as a cheater? It’s too early to tell.

Closer to home, how will I be remembered…or you? I’d like to think that is the bulk of our life’s work and ways of interacting in the world that would be remembered. Usually that’s the case. But exceptions are possible. A moment of exceptional greatness or exceptionally poor judgment can often color the rest of our life’s work for good or for ill.

In some ways, however, it doesn’t really matter. God knows the totality of our life and loves us for the totality of our life. When Paul wrote in Romans that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” he wasn’t kidding. And when Jesus let it be known that he [Jesus] was the Good Shepherd that lays down his life for the sheep, he wasn’t kidding either. For that we can all be thankful.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for loving us no matter how we’re remembered in this world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 3, 2 Chronicles 1, Psalm 78, & 2 Thessalonians 2)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Patience and Peace

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 1 Thessalonians 5:13b “Be at peace among yourselves.”

Observation: What does this mean? Within the context of the above passage there is the direction to respect those labor among us and have charge of us. There is also direction to admonish those who are idle, encourage those who are faint-hearted, help the weak and be patient with them all.

Application: I have the sense that patience and peace go together. Perhaps there can be no peace without patience and perhaps there can be no patience without peace.

The above is just a theory of mine at this point. Something I’ll be thinking about off and on throughout the day. Feel free to comment with your own thoughts.

Prayer: Lord, as I reflect on such things today, help me to glean your thoughts. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 1, 1 Chronicles 28, Psalm 91, and 1 Thessalonians 5)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

When We can Bear it No Longer

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-3 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens; 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith, 3 so that no one would be shaken by these persecutions. Indeed, you yourselves know that this is what we are destined for.

the phrase “bear it no longer” comes up twice in this chapter. Paul was incredibly anxious about the Thessalonians and just had to know how they were doing.

Application: Sometimes we can’t help but wonder how people are doing, especially those near and dear to us. This coming year our eldest will be a high school senior. Our time with him is limited. The college search is intensifying and, at least in the case of a couple of the potential options, could result in precious little time with him for the next several years. I suspect there will be many times when my wife and I will feel like we can “bear it no longer” and will really want to know how things are going. We might not have a ‘Timothy’ that we can send to check things out for us, but you can bet that we’ll cherish every piece of good news that we hear and that our prayers will be offered in a steady stream. Still, should forms of ‘persecution’ come, for him or for us, our hope as always will be in the crucified and risen one in whom we all belong.

Prayer: Lord, you are the great gatherer of all, keep us always gathered together in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Chronicles 22-24 and 1 Thessalonians 3)

Friday, May 13, 2011


Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: 2 Samuel 24:2-4 So the king said to Joab and the commanders of the army, who were with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheba, and take a census of the people, so that I may know how many there are.” 3 But Joab said to the king, “May the LORD your God increase the number of the people a hundredfold, while the eyes of my lord the king can still see it! But why does my lord the king want to do this?” 4 But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to take a census of the people of Israel.

Observation: In some ways this passage is quite confusing. In context the Lord incites King David to count the people. But Joab sees it as a bad thing and later the Lord is angry at David for doing so and brings about a pestilence as punishment. But I guess the heart of the matter is that Kings and other persons in authority sometimes do foolish things, often from pride. David wanted to know how many people were in the kingdom.

Application: Measurements are a tricky thing. In some ways it is helpful to measure things to have some idea for how well we are doing. Measurements sometimes help us determine whether we are improving. For example, a scale provides one measure of health and can help us see if we are making progress toward losing (or gaining) weight, assuming either would be appropriate for us. But measurements can also provide a false sense of security and/or superiority. Measurements can also provide a false sense of insecurity and/or inferiority. Regardless of the various measurements in life, it’s important to be comfortable and content with who we are and who God has called us to be.

Prayer: Lord, there’s nothing wrong with striving for improvement. But help us never to lose sight of the fact that we are first and foremost loved by you for who we are, rather than what we can or can’t do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: 2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21, Psalm 30, 1 Thessalonians 2)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Distinction between Leadership and Personal Needs

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: 2 Samuel 19:2-7 So the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the troops; for the troops heard that day, “The king is grieving for his son.” 3 The troops stole into the city that day as soldiers steal in who are ashamed when they flee in battle. 4 The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 5 Then Joab came into the house to the king, and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your officers who have saved your life today, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, 6 for love of those who hate you and for hatred of those who love you. You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. 7 So go out at once and speak kindly to your servants; for I swear by the LORD, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night; and this will be worse for you than any disaster that has come upon you from your youth until now.”

King David was personally mourning the loss of his son (who was leading enemy forces that David’s people defeated), but by displaying such personal emotion, he was deflating the feelings of his entire army who had done what they were told to do (with the exception of the death of Absalom who was killed by Joab himself in direct conflict with what the king had commanded).

Application: There is much to regret in this story (the betrayal of Absalom in the first place, Joab’s disobedience to the king’s command to deal kindly with Absalom, the fact that Joab himself was never reprimanded, etc.), but today’s lesson reveals that those in authority cannot always wear their heart on their sleeve. There is a time and a place for personal mourning and the like, but it can’t always be a public display. Leaders are not to confuse personal needs with leadership. Both need to be attended to—and to neglect one will almost always adversely affect the other, but they are not necessarily one and the same. Effective leaders either recognize the difference themselves or secure trusted people and/or other resources that can help them see the difference. For David, that person was Joab, even though Joab had a few faults of his own.

Lord, help all of us who lead to recognize the distinction between our leadership and personal roles in order that both are properly nurtured. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Samuel 19-20, Psalm 55, Matthew 28)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thoughts about Judas and Suicide.

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Matthew 27:3-5 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.

Observation: Judas tried to do the right thing. But the people who could have prescribed a form of penance refused to do their job, which left Judas in an emotionally and spiritually precarious position.

Application: This Judas’ whole situation is, admittedly, complicated territory. In Scripture he’s known as “a” disciple of Jesus and “the” betrayer of Jesus. In tradition he has often been more or less assigned to hell, either because he betrayed Jesus or because he took his own life or both. Jesus himself said of Judas prior to the fact, “It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” (Matthew 26:24) Those are strong words; I suspect they lingered in Judas’ emotionally and spiritually precarious mind.

For me the saddest part of this story is in today’s reading when Judas clearly endeavored to confess his sin and yet it fell on deaf ears. He was given no reasonable way out. And so he took the unreasonable way out he took his own life.

Lot’s of ironies here. Peter said he would never deny Jesus, but he did. Peter said he would die with Jesus, but he didn’t (at least not until he was martyred many years later). All of the official ‘disciples’ deserted Jesus. The unofficial disciples (the women) hung around. When Peter recognized his own sin, he went out and left. When Judas recognized his own sin, he came back and tried to make amends.

Today I’m left wondering what Judas’ suicide was all about. Was it his ultimate act of confession (as in, I have sinned and am completely in the wrong) or was it his ultimate act of penance (as in, I will give absolutely everything I have left to give)? Or was taking his own life an even greater sin than betraying Jesus in the first place? And when Jesus said “it would have been better for that one not to have been born,” did he mean because of the betrayal or because of the suicide or because he came back to confess his sin and no one would receive his confession?

Answer? I don’t know. But I most certainly wonder…

Prayer: Dear Lord, be with all people who consider taking their own life and with those who have loved those who took their own lives. It is tender ground where the questions are many and the answers are few. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Samuel 18, Psalm 56, and Matthew 27)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Matthew 26:36-41 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Verse 39 includes the very famous prayer of Jesus. Yet the disciples pretty much slept right through it.

Many church buildings have a stained-glass window depicting Jesus praying in the garden on the night in which he was betrayed. This glimpse into the humanity of Jesus has inspired millions of people. But at the time the disciples apparently saw it as just another night in the garden and it wasn’t enough to lift their droopy eyes.

Sometimes we just don’t realize how important something is at the time and it’s only after the fact that we realize the true significance. A college professor of mine was fond of the expression: “Life is a tough teacher; it gives you the test first and the lesson afterwards.” The disciples had just failed a test and, in the process, learned a lesson they would never forget.

I’ve had a few of those kinds of tests and subsequent lessons myself.

Prayer: Lord, I guess it doesn’t really matter whether we learn things the hard way or the easy way, as long as we eventually learn what you’re trying to teach. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Lesson From Tamar

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: 2 Samuel 13:13 As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the scoundrels in Israel. Now therefore, I beg you, speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.”

Observation: Amnon, a son of David, is in the beginning stage of raping his half-sister Tamar.

Application: I’m struck by the wisdom of Tamar who spoke the words offered in the verse above. Her resistance does not focus just on the act itself, but also on the negative long-term affects—and not just for her, but also for him.

Human desire, particularly sexual desire, often defies rationality—it’s easy to be physically attracted to people in all kinds of circumstances. But then what? Thinking things through with some reasonable questions might be a first step. Tamar took a moment to consider how this might look in the long run. She realized that the way Amnon was going about things would bring personal shame on her and dramatically lower his social status in the world as well. It was a lose-lose situation. Authentic relationships are win-win.

Lord, help people to take the time to pursue authentic relationships rather than the kind that are self-serving and harmful. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Samuel 13-14 and Matthew 24)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Trying to Practice what Jesus Preaches

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.

Observation: It’s interesting that Jesus puts justice and mercy together in this statement; they seem so different.

Application: I was of the mistaken impression that justice and mercy are found together often in the Bible. A quick look in the concordance proved that to be untrue. In the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) the word justice comes up 160 or so times and the word mercy comes up around 240 times, yet only once do they appear together (one notable exception might be Hosea 2:19 where they are included within the same phrase).

Be that as it may, how do justice and mercy work together? They seem to be opposites. Many of us would say that the killing of Osama Bin Laden was probably a form of justice. I doubt that many, if any, of us would describe it as merciful other than the fact that it was a quick death.

Yet Jesus says that justice, mercy, and faith are the “weightier matters of the law” and, apparently, they go together! Does justice involve offering mercy or does mercy involve seeking justice? Where does faith fit in?

Perhaps the most notable and overlooked thing about the passage is the word “practiced.” This side of heaven we will never discover the perfect combination of justice, mercy, and faith. But we can endeavor to practice putting them together. This could take a lot of practice.

Prayer: Lord, help us to practice what you preach. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included 2 Samuel 11 & 12, Psalm 51, and Matthew 23)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

God's Kindom vs Nationalisitic Pride

Scripture Passage that Caught My Attention Today: Matthew 22:15-22 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Observation: Just amazing perspective on Jesus’ part.

Application: Lest there be any doubt, let me just say upfront that I’m personally deeply grateful to be an American. But I also think that John 3:16 is correct when it says that “God so loved the WORLD…”

Yesterday I read an article that included a statement that went like this: “our political identity and our identity as followers of Jesus are rarely reconcilable.”

I believe that statement is largely true. Politically we are usually striving for either what’s best for us or for what most aligns with our personal views. This also usually includes striving for what’s best for our respective country. But followers of Jesus strive for what’s best for others, period. The country of citizenship is of little if any importance in that regard.

Jesus understood that citizens of every country have responsibilities that come along with such citizenship; there are prices of one sort or another to be paid that come along with living anywhere. But he was never so nationalistically sensitive or religiously shallow as to let the kingdom of one’s country overshadow God’s kingdom of the world. Hence Jesus’ statement that amazed them all: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Prayer: Lord, I’m glad to be an American, but I know that you love people regardless of where they were born or where they live. Help me to think more and more like you rather than expecting you to think more and more like me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included 2 Samuel 10, 1 Chronicles 20, Psalm 22, Matthew 22)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

There's No Need to Grumble About Work in the Kingdom of Heaven

Scripture Passage that Caught My Attention Today: Matthew 20:1-16 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Observation: I think it’s easy to miss the main point of this parable.

Application: It’s easy to look at this parable and either side with those who worked through the heat of the day (they should get paid more because they worked longer) or to side with the land-owner (because those who worked though the heat of the day agreed to be paid such and such a price and therefore he had done them no wrong). But the people who were really treated unfairly in this parable are those who only worked for an hour. Why? Because they only got to work for one hour! They would have been quite willing to work through the whole day, but no one had hired them. They had the ability to work, but were deprived of work. They had offered themselves, but no one had accepted their offer until there was only one hour of the day left.

The ability to work/serve itself (whether for pay or as a volunteer) is a gift. The appropriate response is thanksgiving. It would appear, according to Jesus, that the ‘kingdom of heaven’ will be full of such opportunities.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the opportunities that you provide to work/serve in your name. Thy will be done on earth as in heaven. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: 2 Samuel 7, 1 Chronicles 17, Psalm 2, and Matthew 20)

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thoughts on Today's News in Light of Today's Scriptures

Scripture passages that caught my attention today: Psalm 106:6 Both we and our ancestors have sinned; we have committed iniquity, have done wickedly. AND Matthew 19:17a-b And [Jesus] said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.

Observation: In the Scriptures there is an understanding that all of humanity has a sinful nature. No one is good except God alone.

Application: The news at the close of the day yesterday was that Osama Bin Laden is dead; he was targeted and killed by US forces.

I can’t say that I regret his death, but neither do I find it to be a cause for great celebration. His death brings about a certain degree of closure and a greater degree of questions; what does this all mean? Did the ‘good guys’ finally ‘win?’

According to the over-arching story of the Bible, there are really no ‘good’ guys or gals. Sure, occasionally the Scriptures will point to someone as righteous and to someone else as wicked. But in the grand scheme of the Scriptural story Jesus said it best; “There is only one who is good.” For this reason the psalmist is honest enough to point out that “both we and our ancestors have sinned.” The Apostle Paul, in Romans, brushes all of humanity with one broad stroke when he declares that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Today I’m grateful for the people who endeavor to defend and protect the vulnerable in any nation—and for those who bear the responsibility for commanding and/or directing them. But I not so keen on joining the big celebration bandwagon. And I most certainly will not triumphantly declare that Mr. Bin Laden is headed straight to hell. It’s one thing to endeavor to carry out and/or give thanks for earthly justice. It’s quite another to presume to know God’s eternal plan for all who don’t measure up to our standards.

Yes, Mr. Bin Laden did and/or directed some really bad things. But let’s be honest…so have we. If we think differently we’re only kidding ourselves and not taking seriously the depth of our own sinful nature. Consider, just for example, what Jesus said in Matthew 5:22 (part of his famous Sermon on the Mount) “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” Clearly it’s only by the grace of God that I’m not headed in the direction of hell myself. That, finally, is something worth celebrating!

Prayer: Lord, it’s a complicated world. But your reminder and command in today’s readings to love our neighbors as ourselves is a good place to start. I thank you for that. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Chronicles 16, Psalm 106, and Matthew 19)