Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Bee was Angry!

Some of you already know two things about me.

First, although I'm a pastor by calling, I am still a farm-boy at heart. I love living on the farm and one my favorite things to do, if I have just a few minutes to spare, is to cruise through farm implement lots looking at all the tractors, combines, and implements I wish that I could buy and/or drive.

Second, when I was like 5 or 6 years old, I had a pretty traumatic encounter with a bumble bee...and my Dad was right there when it happened. Somehow we had inadvertently disturbed a nest and a big bumble bee flew straight into my right ear and started buzzing and stinging incessantly. Dad eventually got the bee out and I ran hysterically to the house. But to this day, about once or twice a year I have a night-mare about the incident and my wife has to wake me up and calm me down. The sound of that buzzing, even more so than the actual sting, is firmly implanted in my brain.

Yesterday my life-long interest and my childhood horror met. On my way home from church I not only stopped by a farm implement lot (Anderson Tractor Supply), but I actually took the time to get out of the car and walk the lot. It was wonderful! I sat on all kinds of old and new tractors and found one that was similar to the one I drove for my Uncle for hours during my high school years.

When I got off of the tractor I heard a little strangely familiar noise and then, all of a sudden, on my right shoulder I saw a bumble bee securely attached and trying to burrow in. Others were flying around. Apparently there was a nest under the cab of the tractor!

Adrenaline kicked in and, in an instant, I frantically tried to hit the bee with my left hand while almost hysterically (okay...hysterically!) moving my right shoulder, hoping it wouldn't get through the shirt.

You can almost picture it, can't you? Unlike Mohammed Ali, I was not "floating like a butterfly."

Thankfully the bumble bee was on probably the thickest part of the shirt possible and so I was able to knock him off before actually getting stung. But for a moment all those old memories flooded back.

To boot, I almost pulled a muscle in my frantic response! So much for being "fit under the collar!"

If there's a take-home point in any of this it might be that, even though we might be self-sufficient in many different ways, we are all vulnerable in one way or another. To think that we are otherwise is only an illusion.

Part of faith is just trusting that we have someone to run to, to turn to in our times of distress. Someone who has felt first-hand the stings of this life and, according to Scripture, has taken away the sting of death.

When it's time to start taking notes!

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: John 1:50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”

Observation: Nathaniel didn’t know the half of it! Jesus has much more in mind than a little trite fortunetelling. But this passage gives a hint into one of the challenges that Jesus would face—people would be so engrossed in the small stuff that they would often times miss the far greater point.

Application: What impresses you? What captures your rapt attention and makes you sit up and take notice?

The other day I was watching a short little fitness video that started off rather normal and then started getting really impressive. After watching the video I started reading the comments. One fella wrote that he thought the video wasn’t gonna show anything he hadn’t seen before but “when I saw that full body core move that you did at the 6:24 mark, I started taking notes!”

That was the same move that really caught my attention; I knew it was a move far beyond anything I’ve ever done. Like the fella above, my interest was piqued.

Jesus had caught Nathaniel’s attention, but this was only the start. Far greater things were on the horizon. Miracles and other earthly signs would be the small stuff. Far greater would be the Lord of all creation’s demonstration of servant-hood, faithfulness, and love. In Jesus Nathaniel would see what the Kingdom of Heaven is really like. And he would be a part of it. It was time to start taking notes!

Prayer: Lord, help us to see the signs of your kingdom in our midst. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 60-62, John 1)

today's Workout

Slept in a little today after going to bed late. Also, this week I had to postpone Friday's workout till today (Saturday). Here's the workout:

Warm-up followed by:

Set 1: Pull-ups, Barbell Squats, Incline push-ups on suspended bar. Rest 1 minute, repeat.

Set 2: 1-leg Stability Ball curls, Push-up/Jacknife combo with feet on skateboard (I originally attempted to make this a T-push-up/Jacknife combo, but that didn't really work!). Anyhow, rest 1 minute and repeat set.

Set 3: 1-leg dips (stand with one leg on bench, did down till other foot almost touches the ground and then go back up), Inverted rows on suspended bar. Rest 1 minute, repeat.

Set 4: Cross-body mountain-climbers, Ab-wheel roll-outs. Rest, repeat, done.

Great way to start the day! Now it's time for devotions and maybe some reflections on yesterday's encounter with a bee!

Until Later,

Friday, July 29, 2011

What I wanted to Be when I grew up and how I got my wish.

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Isaiah 57:14 It shall be said,
“Build up, build up, prepare the way,
remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”

Observation: Preparing the way takes time and effort.

Application: I commute a little over 30 minutes to church and at least four different routes are available to me of similar distance. Usually I take the new US 30 for the bulk of the drive.

It took a while for the new US 30 to be completed. A staggering amount of stone, concrete, and asphalt was used. Engineers made certain that the road was built up high, helping water to more easily run off and snow to more easily blow off (or be plowed off). It’s a very nice road and makes for a very pleasant commute.

Some people know that when I was a little child I wanted to be a road construction worker. I even got into a heated argument with my grandmother over the idea. She said I should be a pastor. I said I should be a road construction worker. Back and forth we went.

Years later, when I was ordained, another passage from Isaiah was chosen for my ordination service that included Isaiah 40:3-4 (“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain…”)

The preacher for the occasion, Dr. Walter (Wally) F. Taylor, Jr., reminded me that as a new pastor I was like a road construction worker, called to prepare the way, but the Lord would be the one to lead the people.

Preparing the way as a pastor takes time and patience and planning and sometimes even a little engineering on the fly. It’s basically a lot of work—even a life’s endeavor. But in a way, Grandma and I each got our wish.

Of course, I’m not alone in this endeavor. There are a multitude of other people who have been, are, or will be helping to prepare the way as well. And someday, since our Lord has already gone the way of the cross, I trust that the Lord will have a much more pleasant journey to see us and then, ultimately, take his people home.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for allowing so many to join together in preparing the way for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 57-59, Psalm 103, and 2 Peter 3)

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Isaiah 56:6-8 And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.
8 Thus says the Lord GOD,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.

First some background. This part of Isaiah is sometimes referred to by scholars as 3rd Isaiah. The book of Isaiah appears to have been written over three different time periods in Israel’s history and each offers a message appropriate to those respective time periods. Chapters 1-39 seem to have been written prior to the exile. Chapters 40-55 appear to have been written during the exile. Chapters 56-66 appear to have been written after the exile, but during a time when the return home included both hope and disappointment—it was good to return home, but things had changed, and foreigners had, in the meantime, made themselves at home.

In this latter time period the prophet offers some perspective—the kingdom is no longer just for the genetic people of Israel but, actually, for Israelite and foreigner alike; the kingdoms is for everyone who is drawn to God.

Application: One of the very unique and beautiful things about the church I serve is its diversity. There are lots of churches that sort of rally around the idea of being conservative in various ways and there are also a growing number of churches that sort of rally around the idea of being liberal in various ways. The church I serve doesn’t rally to either extreme but, rather, simply finds itself to be a community where people from a significant variety of perspectives gather under one roof to worship one God.

To be sure, nurturing such a community of faith requires a lot of give and take and listening combined with intentional efforts to assure that everyone, regardless of perspective, is valued. For some reason that seems to come relatively easy for me most days, though I’m still not exactly sure why. But it does seem to be along the lines of what Isaiah may have had in mind.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the community of faith I serve. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 53-56, 2 Peter 2)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fear and Mere Mortals

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Isaiah 51:12 I, I am he who comforts you;
why then are you afraid of a mere mortal who must die,
a human being who fades like grass?

Observation: The prophet, speaking a comforting word to exiled peoples, questions why they are so afraid of another human being.

Application: I once had a parishioner who was very upset with me for something that really had nothing to do with me. The person wouldn’t listen to any reason and simply seemed to have a desire to stay mad. I was sorry that the person was upset, of course, but I didn’t have any lasting worries. Why? Because I knew that the person had no real influence in the congregation. I was not afraid of this ‘mere mortal.’

However, what if it had been someone else? A noted congregational leader or a matriarch or patriarch of the congregation perhaps? Then, I suppose, it’s possible that I might have been worried. What then?

Then it’s time to take a deep breath and consider passages like the one above. Even purportedly powerful people are, in the greater scheme of things, mere mortals. The same is true of me. We’re ultimately on equal ground. At that point I would need to recheck my actions, motives and more to see what portion of the situation is my responsibility and focus on that. The rest I would then need to, as they say, “let go and let God.”

Such measures do not in any way, shape, or form guarantee a happy earthly ending. Being right, if such is the case, does not mean one will automatically be treated fairly. We call ourselves Christians because we believe we are claimed by God through Jesus Christ and endeavor to follow him. He was right, but still got nailed to a cross. Mere mortals are not always kind, whether they have earthly power or not.

No matter, says God through Isaiah. They’ll eventually have a taste of death themselves. And the New Testament proclaims that God will raise us all back up again.

Prayer: Lord, help us never to allow our fear of other mortals to rule the day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 50-52, Psalm 92 and 2 Peter 1)

Today's Workout

Warm-up of bodyweight squats, leg swings, walking lunges, close-grip push-ups, Standing stick-ups, waiter's bows, planks, weightless deadlifts.

Set 1: 25 100-pound barbell squats, 12 Suspended push-ups (on free-hanging bar). Rest 1 min. Repeat.

Set 2: 12 1-leg Stability ball curls, 12 Inverted Rows. Rest 45 seconds. Repeat.

Set 3: 12 1-1/2 rep Bulgarian Split Squats. 15 overhead dumbbell presses. Rest 1 min. Repeat.

Set 4: 50 cross-body mountain climbers, 10 bent-over side deltoid raises. Rest 1 min. Repeat.

Done. Ready for the day!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

As the World Turns

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Isaiah 49:14-16 But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.

In days of old God’s people felt like they had been abandoned. They had been carried off into exile and more or less felt like they would be left there for good. Even though their ‘punishment’ of exile was deserved—for they had indeed been very unfaithful to God—they felt more than punishment; they felt abandoned. But just as their spirits are broken comes a most reassuring word. To paraphrase, “surely those with intimate connections (like mothers to children) will not be able to forget the child of their womb. Oh wait, sometimes they do! But I (the Lord) will not forget you!”

Who are we, really? We are people who largely forget the bigger picture and our place within it. Sometimes we are overly secure in ourselves, mistakenly thinking the world revolves around us. Sometimes we are overly insecure in ourselves and, again, mistakenly think the world revolves around us…as if our particular problems are the largest in history!

Here’s the irony; the world does revolve around us! Why? Because God is so invested in us that God can’t bear the thought of leaving us alone forever…or at all!

Yes, the ancient people of God were in exile. Yes, in Old Testament theology (the way one thinks about God), they understood themselves to be there as a form of punishment for their unfaithfulness to God. But God is not limited to human ways of thinking. A tit for a tat is not God’s ultimate way of being God. God’s investment if far deeper.

How deep is this investment? Hmmm…Isaiah says that God says, “I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands.”

Although this part of the message may have been lost on the people of Isaiah’s day, Christians can’t help but see this palm inscription concept come to full fruition in Jesus. The One who offered that sweet exchange of his death for our life and his life for our death took upon his own hands the wounds/inscription by which we are healed.

One would think that our life would therefore revolve around him. One would think that we would be so grateful, so thankful, so blessed, and so touched by God’s cosmic act of love through Jesus that our world would revolve around him. Ah, but mothers (and fathers) sometimes forget those most dear to them.

Thankfully, God is of a higher order. God will not forget. And so, in God’s loving eyes, whether we are in a form of exile or a form of the promised land, God’s world really does revolve around us. Wow!

Prayer: Lord, I really don’t see how we can be all that interesting to you. But for some reason you can’t get us out of your mind. And that’s a part of faith that I especially hold dear. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Isaiah 46-49 and 1 Peter 5)

Monday, July 25, 2011

God can use anyone to accomplish Divine purposes.

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Isaiah 45:1-4 Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped
to subdue nations before him
and strip kings of their robes,
to open doors before him—
and the gates shall not be closed:
2 I will go before you
and level the mountains,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
3 I will give you the treasures of darkness
and riches hidden in secret places,
so that you may know that it is I, the LORD,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
4 For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I surname you, though you do not know me.

Observation: God used Cyrus of Persia to allow the Israelites to return to their homeland. Cyrus was a pagan ruler, someone who, as indicated in verse 4, did not know the Lord. No matter. God can use anyone to accomplish divine purposes.

Application: Politically speaking, some Christians like to support ‘Christian’ candidates to the exclusion of candidates of other religions or no religion. For me the verses above cause me to think twice about focusing primarily on the faith (or lack thereof) of a candidate. Instead it becomes one factor among many. As we learn through King Cyrus, God can use anyone to accomplish divine purposes.

Lord, thanks for the simple reminder that, whether religious or not, we might still be working for your kingdom. In fact, come to think of it, in Matthew 25:31-46, you make it clear that sometimes we don’t even realize that we have served you and that, sometimes when we think we’re serving you we’re not. So help us to entrust all things into your hands and pray that you would in fact use us in some way for the sake of your kingdom. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 43-45 and 1 Peter 4)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Today's Workout and a Personal Admission.

I'll admit it, I don't always feel like workout out. I might be tired or whatever.

Yet I don't think I've ever regretted working out. I always feel better physically and mentally too. It just feels good to take reasonably good care of oneself. It's a form of stewardship...of giving thanks for whatever body we've been given.

Years ago my form of exercise was running. Not long distances, mind you. Just 2-3 miles usually. For me the first part of the run was the hardest. I didn't like it. But I did like the fact that I could run. In those moments I would think of all of the people that, for whatever reason, couldn't run. And I would say to myself, "you know, even though this part of the run isn't particularly fun, it feels good to be able to move!" And that little phrase, "it feels good to be able to move" was always a good motivator.

For reasons that I'll explain in another post next week, I seldom do any distance running anymore. But the principles are the same. Today was one of those somewhat tired days. But I started with a good ole' warm-up and then, since I wasn't too keen on doing what I did earlier this week and didn't even feel like grabbing from a list of other workouts I've done or borrowed from others, I just made one up on the spot. First think you know I was really into it...and thanking God that I was able to move! The workout went like this:

Set 1: 15 Kettlebell Swings using a 25# dumbbell, 12 push-ups paired with simultaneous jackknives since me feet were on a skateboard. Rest one minute and repeat.

Set 2: 10 Chin-ups with Knee-ups followed by 12 1-leg stability ball curls. Rest 1 minute. Repeat.

Set 3: 12 Dumbbell Deadlifts and overhead-presses (with 2 25# dumbbells) followed by 10 bent-over Dumbbell rows. Rest 1 minute, repeat.

Set 4: Two rounds of Turkish get-ups (5 per arm/side per set) with 15 second rest between sides and 1 minute rest between sets.

It may not look like much on paper, and it only took 18 minutes for the actual workout, but it really got my heart pumping and gave a great challenge to all my major muscle groups. And as you can see, I'm still alive to write about it and feeling good!

Have a great day...and be sure to take good care of the body God gave you!

from Fit Under the Collar

Selfishness is no match for the grace of God

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Isaiah 39-7-8 Some of your own sons who are born to you shall be taken away; they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” 8 Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.”

Observation: Hezekiah was considered a faithful king, but in this passage he sure seems to be thinking a lot more about himself than of his sons.

Application: In some ways Hezekiah is not that different from many of us—he does many good things, but at the end of the day he thinks mostly about himself. Today’s refrains are different yet still the same.

--As long as I have enough money to retire.
--As long as there is enough social security, medicare and all the rest for me.
--As long as you don’t expect me to pay more taxes.
--As long as the church is still around for my funeral.
--As long as I don’t have to deal with ‘it.’ (whatever “it” might happen to be)

It’s hard to imagine Hezekiah not caring about the circumstances for his own kids, yet a fair number of people today feel as if, once they’ve raised them, the rest is up to them. Sometimes they don’t even talk.

Although the passage above doesn’t appear to be one of Hezekiah’s finer moments, the fact of the matter is that he was still valued by God—even in his moments of selfishness. Because of what God has done through Jesus, the same is true for us. And I’m mighty grateful for that because, well, I have my share of selfish moments too.

Prayer: Lord, we’d all be a sorry lot if not for you. Thanks for taking us in. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Kings 20, Isaiah 38-39, Psalm 75, and 1 Peter 2)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Nutrition Tip: Easy Lunch/Dinner

Here's what I threw together for my lunch and dinner today:
--Lightly coat casserole pan with butter or oil (I used light smearing of coconut oil)
Layer the following ingredients:
--Yellow Squash
--Zucchini Squash
--Diced tomato
--diced red pepper
--diced yellow pepper
--diced jalapeno pepper
--1 can black beans (rinsed & drained)

Add Black pepper, salt, and a little seasoning (I used a light sprinkling of Tone's Citrus Grill seasoning)
--Top with 3/4 cup shredded cheddar.
Bake covered for 35 minutes or until squash are desired texture.

Making Plans for the Day

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: 1 Peter 1:13 Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.

Observation: This verse is a great combination of personal responsibility in relation to grace.

Application: I woke up early today. I wanted to sleep considerably longer since I went to bed late, but my mind was buzzing—not with worry, but with an earnestness to tie-up some administrational loose ends (personal and professional) and make a plan for a productive day. I was, before I even got to my devotional time, preparing my “mind for action” and attempting to ‘discipline’ myself.

Preparing for action and practicing self-discipline are well and good; I need more and more of both! Nevertheless, they have their own limits. For the author of First Peter, grace is never far away and, in fact, is the condition under which self discipline and plans for action have any lasting value. Verses 3-9, the very introduction to the book after the greeting, takes great pains to remind the reader that God is the one who is blessed and God is the one who provides and God is the one in whom we are to trust. Yes, we are to prepare our minds for action and discipline ourselves, but only in relation to the incredible gift of grace that has been given to us and continues to be given to us.

It is true that I can plan to squander the day (by not planning and not having any discipline) or plan to make efficient use of the day (by planning and practicing discipline). But it is also true that, no matter how meticulous my plans and no matter how diligent my implementation, circumstances beyond my control can change the course of the day, for better or for worse, in a heartbeat.

I have influence over my day (as if I owned it!), but not total control. Why? Because this day is ultimately God’s day and not my own. God has provided it and I get to experience it. I have some idea what that experience might be like, and some plans for how to perhaps make the most of it, but surprises are quite likely to come as well. And that may well be as it should be…it might even be the grace of Jesus Christ being revealed.

Prayer: Lord, although a little more sleep would have been nice, thanks for the good start to the gift of this day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 36-37, Psalm 76, and 1 Peter 1)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

This morning's workout

Warm-up followed by:
Set 1: Pull-ups (12), Light-weight (#70) barbell circuit of: Squats (10), Hanging Cleans (8), Front Squats (8), Overhead Presses (8). Rest 1 minute, repeat set, but with 10 pull-ups instead of 12.

Set 2: Bulgarian Split Squats (10), Incline Dumbbell Presses (15). Rest 1 minute, repeat.

Set 3: 1-leg Stability Ball Curls (12), Ab Pike with hands on floor and feet on skateboard (10). Rest 1 minute, repeat.

Set 4: 1 round of picking off dried Marigold flowers (approx. 50 each) with my lovely wife in the hot morning. sun. :)


Being Blessed

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: James 5:11a Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance.

Observation: So true.

Application: The people we laud as great people over time are almost always are known to have faced great adversity—professionally and/or personally. Martin Luther faced persecution without and depression within. Martin Luther King, Jr. had crowds who loved him and crowds who hated him simultaneously. US Presidents are always facing political mountains. Jesus faced a cross.

It’s becoming clear that enduring success and/or faithfulness is not defined by the absence of struggle, but by the willingness to, when necessary, take the more challenging path. To be sure, it’s not seeking pain for pain’s sake—that would simply be foolish. But once one is convicted of purpose, completely honest in prayer, and in intentionally open dialog/observation with other trusted and discerning individuals…well, then the path may well be worth taking whether it includes challenges or not.

But there is still this one little caveat…we could still be wrong.

Prayer: Lord, it really isn’t until we are gone that others can form a final impression of us. And in the end it’s only your impression that ultimately matters. Still, I pray that you will help us live our lives in such a way as to demonstrate faithfulness and trust in you, not for our own sake, but in order that others might be inspired to do the same in their own unique way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chronicles 32, and James 5)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

When Thoughts Really Do Count

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: 2 Chronicles 30:18-20 For a multitude of the people, many of them from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the passover otherwise than as prescribed. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “The good LORD pardon all 19 who set their hearts to seek God, the LORD the God of their ancestors, even though not in accordance with the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness.” 20 The LORD heard Hezekiah, and healed the people.

Observation: Hezekiah (and God) determined that the spirit in which the people participated in the Passover triumphed over the law in terms of what was normally required.

Application: It’s been said, “it’s the thought that counts.” True enough. Our actions (or lack thereof), however, often reveal our thoughts and the extent of our care.

We can say, for example, that we care about world hunger. Okay. Does that mean that we have developed and initiated a personal plan of action to help end this crisis? If our answer is, “Ugh…well…not yet,” we have a bit of a problem…we’ve essentially been caught in our own lie.

On the other hand, there’s only so much we can do. Regardless of our feelings it’s impossible for any of us to actually develop and initiate plans to help alleviate every unfortunate issue under the sun. The world’s problems are simply too great and too vast and, in many cases, even unknown to us.

What shall we do?

We might start by giving thanks for the people who see our predicament and pray for us. We also might want to again thank God for being, as the Scriptures reveal more than once, “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

And, if something inspires us to demonstrate our care for one issue or another or one person or another, well, we might want to give thanks for that opportunity as well. Our thoughts do count, for they often lead to loving actions that might otherwise never have seen the light of day.

Prayer: Lord, Hezekiah prayed for people who were doing some things right but other things in ways that were not prescribed. Nevertheless, they were trying to demonstrate their devotion to you and you were gracious enough to accept what they offered. May the same be true of us. And may you also inspire us to demonstrate our care in ways that, as of yet, may have escaped us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Chronicles 29-31 and James 4)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Oh God..and god...and god...and god

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: 2 Kings 17:29-33 But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the people of Samaria had made, every nation in the cities in which they lived; 30 the people of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the people of Cuth made Nergal, the people of Hamath made Ashima; 31 the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak; the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim. 32 They also worshiped the LORD and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places. 33 So they worshiped the LORD but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away.

Observation: They worshipped many different gods according to their traditions or whims.

Application: From a religious standpoint it must have been interesting and confusing to live in those days. They would worship almost anything and everything with the hope that such devotion would make things better. Worshipping the Lord was in their rotation of worship too, but just as one ‘god’ among many. And I can almost see how it might have been difficult for them to know for sure which of these ‘gods’ might actually be real.

In the Old Testament there are distinguishing features attributed to our God. They are personal characteristics, if you will. First and foremost, our God is known as the one who acted, rescuing the Israelites from the hand of their Egyptian oppressors by leading them through the sea and, eventually, into the promised land. Our God is also known as being gracious and merciful…and jealous of people’s devotion to any other gods.

Still, these personal characteristics are not always enough to keep people from trying to secure some other form of good luck charm through carved images or various rituals—some of which were quite heinous. They would worship “God,” but also would worship their back-up gods as well.

I’m not sure if it’s that much different today in some respects. We find promises of various forms of ‘salvation’ in our culture. There are all kinds of programs/gods to ‘save’ us from financial ruin, physical malady, relationship struggles, vocational confusion, and last year’s oh-so-2010 style! We are told that we need only devote to these guru gods and all will be well. And so it’s easy to worship one God on the weekend and shuttle our devotion between a host of other gods during the week.

Somehow I think God through Jesus has something much better in mind. Something based far less on our actions and far more, once again, on what God has done and continues to do.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be less devoted to our own pursuits and more devoted to simply being more in tune with you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Kings 17, 2 Chronicles 28, Psalm 46 and James 3)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: James 2:13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

Observation: Mercy is a key characteristic of God. Jesus says, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” in Luke 6:36. Several times in the Bible we are told that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8 and elsewhere). And though I hand never thought of it like this before, God instructed the ancient Israelites to construct a ‘mercy seat’ where upon God promised to meet the people and offer the gift of God’s commandments.

Application: I remember well the day that Father Jon Sobrino came to the seminary as a guest lecturer. Fr. Sobrio was a Jesuit priest who had been left out of an atrocity. He was part of a close-knit group of seven priests in El Salvador (a South American country). One day, while he was away, gunmen stormed the compound and massacred his six friends/fellow priests.

Some years later, Fr. Sobrion was at our seminary recounting the experience and helping us all to come to terms not only with what happened, but also how to move forward.

A quiet and unassuming man with little interest in being dramatic, he still broke down a couple of times throughout the day. But he also remained resolute on his main point—mercy triumphs over judgment. He recounted the story of the Good Samaritan. After telling the story Jesus asked, the lawyer who was testing him, Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37).

It would seem, at least according to James, that the only people that God is not merciful toward are those who show no mercy. But then again, that’s not necessarily the whole story either. No mercy was shown to Jesus on the cross, except perhaps for the sponge he was offered of sour wine. Yet “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” came forth from his lips.

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Prayer: Lord be merciful to those of us who have trouble being merciful. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 32-35 and James 2)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

At the Funeral

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Hebrews 13:20-21 Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Observation: These verses are shared at the end of graveside committal services in the Lutheran church.

Application: It’s been a time of grieving for those who stand or sit graveside. They may be numb from exhaustion and loss. The words of the pastor/leader may just slide by into oblivion. How could they be here? How could it all have come to this, whether too soon or after many a wrinkle had settled in, whether expected or completely by surprise? Either way, it’s almost over—the service. Will need to muster up the gumption to stand, collect a rose or two off of the flower spray (sp?), exchange a few more hugs, head back for a luncheon and whatever.

But first a few final words from the pastor, from the Bible, ultimately, from the Lord…

“Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

The God of peace is at work…through this…in this…now…and it is ongoing work. It’s been done before, life after death…even through death. The God of peace is indeed at work. God’s not done…yet.

Prayer: Lord, sometimes people, myself included, don’t realize the power and hope found in the words we say and hear that are regularly included in various worship rites and services. In like fashion, sometimes we don’t realize the power and hope found in you yourself. Help us see and know that you are indeed at work and not even close to finished yet. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 25-28, Hebrews 13)

Friday, July 15, 2011

It's a Big Job

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Hebrews 12:15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.

Observation: It’s a tall order—see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God.

Application: Now that I’m closing in on the half-century mark (though I won’t actually hit it till, Lord willing, next year) it’s interesting to see how some ideas strike me. Some ideas inspire me to greater action, as in “you can do this…you’re as young as you feel.” Other ideas strike me as misguided and/or overly self-focused and probably unwise.

The admonition to “see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God” falls somewhere in the middle. On the one hand there is great opportunity and, as a pastor, it’s natural to want people to experience the breadth and depth of God’s love for them. On the other hand, who am I to believe that I alone am responsible for the legions of people in this world? I’m but one of a long line of bumbling servants, each of whom have had their share of successes and failures in the process of spreading God’s Word. It is doubtful that I will be any better than them in the process; I can only hope to be no worse!

The author of Hebrews speaks of the great cloud of witnesses. Several of them are described in chapter 11. If you’ve read that chapter you know full well that they outdid themselves. They really did. They were more inspired than most of us, braver than most of us, able to deal with pain much better than most of us, and more willing to die for the faith than most of us—not out of some inflated sense of bravado, but simply because they believed that God’s sacrifice offered a deal far better than any other option including trying to save one’s earthly hide.

I guess that’s what I hope to convey over the last half of my life—God offers a far better deal than anything else we can muster on this earth.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for offering a far deeper sense of satisfaction and reality for all your people on earth. Help us to work together so that all might know it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Isaiah 22-24, Hebrews 12)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What does it mean to fall into the hands of the Living God?

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Hebrews 10:31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Observation: Yes and No. Yes, as the resident Almighty, God can do whatever God wants. But this God also has a merciful streak, and so perhaps it is not such a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. I am reminded of a little story in 2 Samuel 24:10-14. King David has upset God and God speaks through a prophet to give David a choice of three punishments: three years of famine in the land, three months of fleeing from his enemies, or three days of pestilence. David said, “I am in great distress; let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into human hands.”

Application: I personally have no doubt that God could (and sometimes I wish God would) annihilate every form of unrighteousness in this world. But there are a couple of things that give me great pause when I consider such things.

First, as a pastor with quite a few years of experience observing all kinds of people, I’m keenly aware that there is unrighteousness in virtually everyone. Sure, some “seem” less unrighteous than others. But from the ‘sweetest’ grandma to the most ‘innocent’ looking child to the most ‘dedicated’ pastor, I’m telling you, EVERYONE has a self-centered or otherwise unbecoming streak in them somewhere. It’s our human condition. We are ALL sinners!

Second, I’m one of those sinners! So if I really wanted God to annihilate every form of unrighteousness in the world, I’d have to ask God to get rid of me too. As our kids like to say when one of their siblings (or parents!) gets caught in his or her own trap, “BURN!”

God could do that. God, even by human reasoning, would have every right to do that. But I don’t think God will do that. What would be the point? Should God banish all whom God created in God’s very image? If we believe that Jesus is the Savior, should we not somehow trust that he actually lives up to his title and ‘saves?’ Doesn’t one of the most famous Scripture verses of all time proclaim “God so loved the world?”

I’ll readily admit that I might be on shaky ground to utter such things. But it’s not without Scriptural precedence. Both Abraham and Moses challenged the Lord’s proposed actions on occasion, arguing that such actions could leave a bad impression and go against the very principles the Lord was said to have held dear. And elsewhere in Scripture we are encouraged to “approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

For whatever it’s worth, here’s what I’m thinking. I’m thinking God will annihilate every form of unrighteousness in this world. But I think God will do so in surgical fashion rather than burning up the whole ball of wax. In other words, I think God will annihilate the unrighteous part(s) of each of us so that whatever purity remains might be clearly seen and enjoyed. I agree with Martin Luther who argued, based on the Scriptures and plain reason, that we are simultaneously saint and sinner.

Based on that understanding, how will God, as the Scriptures proclaim, separate the weeds from the wheat and the sheep from the goats?

I’m increasingly inclined to believe that a lot of this separating (but perhaps not all) might be done within each of us rather than between each of us. Jesus, in John’s gospel, speaks in terms of pruning. Perhaps the saving work has already been done and it is just the pruning that remains.

Prayer: Lord, you are indeed the Almighty and we, as Abraham said of himself long ago, are but dust and ashes. Nevertheless, you are not only the source of the mercy we seek, you are the mercy we seek. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 15-18 and Hebrews 10)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Today's Workout

One beauty of only working out three days a week is the ability to shift the workout a day if necessary.

Normally I work out on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. But Sunday night we got back from Cedar Point Amusement Park late on Sunday night. So I shifted Monday's workout to today (Tuesday) and will move the rest of the week's workouts to Thursday and Saturday respectively.

Here's what I did early this morning after a good warm-up.

Set 1
Pull-ups (10), Vertical Jumps (10), Close-grip Bench Presses (15 w/100#)
Rest one minute, repeat set but with only 8 vertical jumps.

Set 2
1-leg Stability Ball Curls (10), Dumbbell Pulls (10)
Rest one minute, repeat set.

Set 3
Dumbbell Read Deltoid Raises (10), Cross-Body Mountain Climbers (50)
Rest one minute, repeat set.

Set 4
Bulgarian Split Squats 1-1/2 reps count as one rep (10), Ab-wheel roll-outs (10)
Rest one minute, repeat set but with 12 Bulgarian split squats.

It's Good That God's in Charge

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: Hebrews 9:27-28 And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Observation: Verse 27 indicates that humans face a judgment, but verse 28 indicates that such a judgment is apparently not based on our sin(s), but, rather, to save those who are eagerly waiting on Christ.

Application: Lutherans, over and over again, insist that we are only saved by grace through faith in Christ. We insist that our “works” (the things we do out of devotion to God) will not save us. If so, it stands to reason that perhaps our lack of “works” might not condemn us either. As the saying goes, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

According to this passage, what really seems to make the difference is if people are eagerly waiting on Christ. It’s almost as if everyone who sends God the heavenly equivalent of a Facebook friend request gets in. Everyone who wants to get in can.

Still, there are other passages that offer a different tune. Jesus tells at least a couple of stories indicating that some who might want in will be denied. So one has to be careful when quoting Scripture to make a point; often times one can find an opposing view within the same holy book.

Interestingly, in today’s reading from Isaiah, the prophet points to a time when judgment will not be based on what the judge can see or hear, but rather, on righteousness. In other words, the judge will determine what is truly right, even though humans might well disagree.

Prayer: Lord, you give us much to think about and a careful reading of Scripture gives us plenty of reason to not be overly confident in our pronouncements. Let us rather simply be confident that you will do what is right from your perspective which is so much greater than our own. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Isaiah 11-14, Hebrews 9)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Remembering the bigger picture

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention: Isaiah 10:12 & 15 When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the arrogant boasting of the king of Assyria and his haughty pride.
Is. 10:15 Shall the ax vaunt itself over the one who wields it,
or the saw magnify itself against the one who handles it?
As if a rod should raise the one who lifts it up,
or as if a staff should lift the one who is not wood!

Observation: The king of Assyria was understood by Isaiah to be an instrument of God’s wrath, but the king thought that he was powerful in and of himself.

Application: The other night my family and I were in a hotel late at night and the kids turned on the TV. There was teen-focused sitcom on one channel where there was a wizard who did some magic through a normal person and the normal person mistakenly thought that he suddenly possessed wizard-like powers. It took a number of near failures before the actual wizard was able to convince the wanna-be-wizard, that the powers he had displayed were not his own. It was a light-hearted sit-com, but, aside from the wrath in the Isaiah passage, there were some similarities to what the King of Assyria would eventually experience.

In many ways this is a lesson for many of us. It is so tempting, when confronted with a taste of relative ‘success’ to believe that we are the main reason for the accomplishment. It’s so easy to forget all of the other people and circumstances that have enabled us to be the in the position we are in or to paved the way for us to respond the way we do. It’s more than the standard line “and I’d like to thank all the little people that made this possible.” It’s realizing that we ourselves are ‘little people’ in the grand scheme of things. God can use any and all of us for divine purposes. And while we have every reason to employ every skill and resource at our disposal in the course of our every day, we also have every reason to not think too highly of ourselves along the way. As Isaiah makes clear in regard to the King of Assyria, just because we do the Lord’s work for a time does not necessarily mean that we are any better than all the rest.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the continual reminders that everyone’s only hope is in you and that none of us is self-sufficient in our own right. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 8-10 and Hebrews 8)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Who's Side is God on?

Scripture Passage that Caught My attention today: Micah 3:11 Its rulers give judgment for a bribe,
its priests teach for a price,
its prophets give oracles for money;
yet they lean upon the LORD and say,
“Surely the LORD is with us!
No harm shall come upon us.”

No matter what, they wanted to assume that the Lord was with them.

Application: I don’t think any of us who believe in the Lord want the Lord to be against us. We just have so many different ideas of what the Lord likes and/or approves. And often times we base such things on what we like or what we believe. We see God in our image rather than the other way around.

Problem is, in the process of assuming that God is on our side, we tend to demonize those who see things differently. And although we all know that WE are not perfect, we figure we’re ‘good enough’ to merit God’s favor. As for those other people? Well, maybe or maybe not!

The truth, of course, is that none of us actually merits God’s favor. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” is how Paul put it in his book to the Romans. It’s time once again, as it is always, to quit puffing ourselves up with self-righteousness and rather to more humbly consider the fact that we all are merely recipients of grace.

In noticed in the passage above, as one reads on, that much of what the people felt good about was eventually destroyed. Interestingly, however, God did not actually abandon the people themselves. Rather, God promised a day when these same people would beat their swords and other instruments of conquest into something more useful.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the reminder that you have hopes and dreams for us all, not just those of us who sometimes assume that you are on our side and no other. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Micah 1-4 and Hebrews 6)

Today's Hotel Workout and Special Breakfast Tip

I'm officiating at a wedding in Sandusky, OH today and the parents of the bride kindly put me up in a nice hotel last evening. Although small, the workout room has a generous set up dumbbells (5 to 50#) and a bench (it also has a very nice treadmill and elliptical machine, but I had no need for either of those today). Here's today's complete workout, including the warm-up and a "finisher."

Warm-up (this warm-up routine I picked up and modified from Craig Ballantyne and I use it before almost every workout). Today I did it beside the adjacent pool rather than in the actual workout rooom.
-Bodyweight Squats 10
-Leg-swings (12/leg)
-Walking lunges (12/side)
-close-grip push-ups (10)
-Standing Stick-ups (10)
-Waiter's Bows (10)
-Planks (30 seconds)
-Pretend dumbbell deadlifts (10 reps but with no weight)
repeat warm-up 1X

Set 1
-Dumbbell Deadlifts (10 reps with two 50# dumbbells
-Dumbbell Incline presses (also with 50# dumbbells. 10 reps)
-Single Dumbbell Rows (10 reps with 50# dumbbell with one hand and knee on bench)
Rest 1 minute and repeat. (Only got 6 reps of the incline presses on 2nd round.)

Set 2
-Dumbbell Swings (10 reps using 50# Dumbbell like a Kettlebell)
-Dumbbell Renegade Rows (6 reps/arm using 25# dumbbells)
Rest 1 minute and repeat.

Set 3
-Lying Hip Extensions (10 reps of extended for 10 seconds and relaxed for 5 seconds)
-Side planks with leg raises (15 leg raises followed by 15 seconds in standard side-plank mode. (1 round each side)
-Mountain climbers (50 reps of standard--not cross-body--mountain climbers with hands on floor.
Rest 1 minute, repeat.

Just outside was a parking lot. There I did two rounds of Ladder Sprints (sprint to 1st parking stripe and back, then to 2nd stripe and back, etc. up to the fifth stripe.) Originally I thought I would do 5 rounds of this with a minute rest between each one. Ha, I was wiped out after the 2nd one!

Okay, now for the breakfast tip. You almost always have three breakfast options. Choose Wisely from the options below.

Option 1: Eat no Breakfast. This option is fine if you like the fact that it gives you a 450% (yes, fourhundredfifty percent!) chance of being overweight!

Option 2: Load up on sugary cereal, butter and syrup-drooped pancakes and/or waffles, cake donuts and/or muffins, bagels with or without cream cheese, and some fancy-dancy breakfast beverage mocha and the like. This option is fine as long as you realize that this option is not at all fine! Seriously, if option 1 is like watching a perfectly fine pitch fly right on by in baseball for strike three, option 2 is like either a swing and a miss or hitting a nice fly ball straight to the center-fielder--it may seem better, but either way you're OUT!

Option 3: Choose a nice variety of slow-release carbs (oatmeal is great for this), natural fruit, lean protein, and, if you can, healthy fats. This option truly is more than fine, it's a great start to your day and, ultimately, your life!

For reference purposes, here were my options to choose from at the continental breakfast today at the hotel. See if you can guess what I chose!
-glaze-covered pastries
-brown sugar
-boiled eggs
-3 sugary cereal choices
-flavored yogurt
-refrigerated pre-packaged breakfast sandwiches
-kiwi-strawberry juice
-apple juice
-orange juice
-raisin boxes

Here's what I went with:
First, since they had cooked oatmeal, I asked if they happened to have any of the raw oats since that's the way I like to eat it at home with milk like cereal. Yep, no problem. They were glad to oblige, thought they also pointed out that there were regular oatmeal packets on the counter which I had overlooked. Oops! Anyway I ended up with:

-Raw oats in a bowl covered with one box of raisins and several walnuts that I just broke into pieces
-1 carton of skim milk to pour over the oatmeal-raisin-walnut mixture.
-2 boiled eggs.
-1 large cup of ice-water
-a smidgeon of orange juice in another cup.

-I also grabbed an orange and apple to save for a mid-morning or afternoon snack.

That's been my morning thus far...and, of course, writing this all down for you!

Have a great day! Devotions will be next!

Kent Wilson
Founder, Fit Under the Collar

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Potential Problem with our Plans

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: Hosea 8:4 They made kings, but not through me;
they set up princes, but without my knowledge.
With their silver and gold they made idols
for their own destruction.

Observation: They made plans of their own devising without sincere inquiry of God.

Application: Plans. We all like to make plans. We have our wish-lists, our druthers. We know what we would buy if we could, where we would vacation if we could, and anything else that we might like to do if we could.

But there is something deeper that is easily missed.

Whether one describes this something deeper as a calling or a vocation makes little difference. The words are related and they have to do with a purpose or pull that is beyond ourselves and, ultimately, from God.

This purpose or pull may or may not be directly related to our means of making a living, but it is most certainly directly related to our means of making a life.

The people in Amos’ day were busy making lots and lots of plans, but the plans were not, shall we say, of the Lord. Their own pride and ambition became their downfall.

Admittedly, it’s not always easy to distinguish between plans of the Lord and one’s own plans. But here’s a hint: if our plans focus more on what we want and/or what we want to do and less on what people in the world really need and/or what we are uniquely gifted to offer, well…that might be a red flag. Then it might be time to question whether we have forsaken our real calling(s) in favor of using our own modern-day versions of silver and gold toward our own destruction.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the reminder that all plans are foolish if they are not in some way rooted in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Hosea 6-9 and Hebrews 3)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Another's Shoes

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Hebrews 2:14-15 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.

Observation: This passage illustrates the depth of the connection God has formed through Jesus with God’s people.

Relating authentically with other people often involves putting ourselves in their shoes. This is not easy because there are many shoes that we have no desire to fill or share. To endeavor to walk in some shoes might bring back to mind a pain from the past that we’d rather forget. Walking in another’s shoes might call into question the reason for our own position of relative influence. Walking in another’s shoes might remind us that we might not be the only ones who have been wronged in life or received the shorter end of the stick.

Jesus, however, did indeed walk in humanity’s shoes. The Christian faith proclaims that he set aside his privileged status out of love for the people that God created. Some theologians call it the “sweet exchange” whereby God through Christ takes on humanity’s sin and humanity through Christ takes on God’s gracious favor. It’s all through Christ. And it also serves as an example to us of how we might better enable others to realize the beauty of this exchange as we demonstrate our willingness to exchange our own shoes for those of another.

Prayer: Lord, this is all easier said that done. But help us to at least consider such things more and more until we’re finally able to take such steps toward true understanding and love for one another. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Hosea: 2-5, Hebrews 2)

Monday, July 4, 2011

Today's Workout

Today's workout was a little less intense than normal. Set 1: Chin-ups with knee-ups, Dumbbell squats and Presses (one smooth motion). Rest 1 min. Repeat. Set 2: Push-up/jack-knife combo (using skateboard), 1-leg stability-ball curls. Rest. Repeat. Set 3: Stability Ball Lying Hip Extensions (hold for 15 seconds each), Inverted Rows. Rest, Repeat. Set 4: two sets of 50 cross-body mountain climbers. Finished with a leisurely 2/3 mile walk.

God's newer way of speaking.

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Hebrews 1:1-2 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.

Observation: I prefer God’s newer way of speaking.

Application: One of the readings today was the first chapter of Hosea in the Old Testament. I actually kind of like the book of Hosea. Still, it has some admittedly weird features. The prophet is told to marry a prostitute (which has a merciful tone to it) but then name the subsequent children based on words that are meant to apply to the people of Israel rather than the child him or herself. In other words the children get sort of used as pawns in this cosmic argument. Granted, it’s prophecy and so, hopefully, there were no actual children involved. Still, I like the way God has spoken though Jesus a whole lot better. There’s some confusion there sometimes too, but it still seems like a more down to earth witness the whole way around.

Lord, thanks for the saving witness of your son. Help us to learn from his example and trust in his word. Let this day when we celebrate our national independence also be a day for Christians to celebrate our dependence on you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Kings 15-16, Hosea 1, Hebrews 1)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

PK's Crazy Delicious Nachos

I had a hankering for some nachos tonight, but with a little different flair and healthy-enough to make a meal out of them. Here's what I ended up with.

Here's the Impromptu Recipe:
Layer chips on plate
Saute Baby Portabella Mushrooms, 1 slice onion, 1 Serena Pepper (the store was out of jalapenos the other day but this worked fine), 1 diced roma tomato, and 1 stalk Bok Choy (the white of the stalk) in a little coconut oil. When about done, add the green leaf of the Bok Choy and simmer a minute or so more.

Layer fresh spinach on chips and add: pre-cooked (in my case left-over) pork tenderloin (1 lean slice cubed), the sauteed mixture from above, a few tablespoons of plain Greek Yogurt, and 1/3 cup shredded cheese.

Place in microwave for 1 minute until cheese melts nicely.

This baby was a meal! It was also kinda messy to eat, but really delicious, satisfying, and healthy!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hey Jude!

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Jude 3 Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.

Observation: This entire book has only one chapter and 25 verses. Jude indicates that he was eager to write about salvation, yet only 6 of these 25 verses (the last 6) address the salvation of which he was eager to write. Almost all of the rest of the verses deal with those who are causing divisions. I’m not surprised about Jude addressing the whole division thing, but I am surprised that he didn’t go on to share more about “the salvation we share.”

Application: As humans we often say one thing and do another. We’ll indicate that something, for example, is important to us, but then act in such a way as to call that declaration into question.

In some ways it seems as if Jude had done this and so do a great many preachers, myself sometimes included. We are acutely able to describe what is wrong in life, but have some measure of difficulty articulating the good news of the Gospel. Part of the reason for this may be that some of the good news is not yet clear to us. For example, we have precious little insight into what our future lives with God will be like, other than that it will be good. We have generalities but precious few specifics to offer. And so it’s hard to promise exactly what the future will be. Instead we endeavor to simply remind people to seek and trust in God—more often to give them comfort in the midst of their current human failures than to lead them to the kind of better life that we are almost always at a loss for words as to how to adequately describe. Still, pointing people to Jesus is a mighty fine start, just as Jude himself said at the end: “Now to him who is able to keep you from falling, and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of his glory with rejoicing, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

Lord, help me and others who are called to proclaim your word do so in such a way as to lead people to be found in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 4-5, Psalm 115, 116, & Jude)

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Morning in My Life

At 8:00 this morning our daughter had swim team practice. From where we live it's a ten-mile drive to the pool, so it makes sense to just hang out there until the hour practice is done rather than make two trips. But it also makes sense to take advantage of that hour as well. Here's how the morning went.

7:00 wake-up, throw on a t-shirt and shorts, drink a big glass of cold water, and eat breakfast that I prepared the night before. Today for breakfast I deviated from my norm and tried rolled spelt flakes for the first time (eaten raw and with milk like cereal) instead of rolled oats. They were okay, but I like the rolled oats better. I always top the oats (or in this case spelt) with raisins and 2 teaspoons of flax seed that I've soaked overnight. The oats are a hearty slow-release carbohydrate, the raisins offer a serving of fruit and natural sweetness, the flax seed offers healthy omega-3 fat, and the milk offers a decent dose of protein among other things. I've been eating this mixture almost every day for the past several years and never seem to tire of it.

On our way out the door at 7:35 I grabbed a 25# dumbbell and an old skateboard that our kids no longer use.

At 7:55 I dropped off our daughter and took the skateboard and dumbbell to a shelter house that sits just 50 yards from the pool in a semi-shaded area. From there it was time for a warm-up that went like this:

--bodyweight squats (did 12 prisoner-style squats this morning with hands behind head)
--leg swings (12/leg)
--walking lunges (20)
--close-grip push-ups (10)
--Standing stick-ups (10)
--Waiter bows (10)
--Plank (30 seconds)
--Deadlift motions without any weight (10)

I repeated this set and by 8:07 was all warmed up for the main workout as follows:

Set 1:
10 pull-ups from the rafters of the shelter-house
15 box-jumps onto the seat portion of the picnic tables in shelter house
10 push-ups, but with feet on skateboard. (While holding the top position of each push-up I would pull my knees to my chest and then back to the straight position and do another push-up.)

Rest one minute and repeat set 1 but with 8 pull-ups instead of 10. (This set really gets your heart pumping! I always try to have the most intense exercises in the first set, which is why a solid warm-up is very important.)

Set 2:
15 dumbbell rows per arm (standing parallel to the picnic bench, put right hand and right knee on bench, pull dumbbell up with left arm 15 times. Then switch to opposite side.)
15 Kettle-bell swings using the dumbbell instead of a kettle bell (since I don't own a kettle-bell)

Rest one minute and repeat set 2.

Set 3:
5 chin-ups with knee-ups (again using the rafters)
10 ab-wheel roll-outs using the skateboard instead of an ab-wheel.

Rest and repeat set 3

10 short hill sprints (The hill is literally only about 8 yards long, but that was perfect. Sprint up the hill, walk back down and repeat 10 times.

By 8:27 I was done and sweating profusely. But I also had another half hour of precious time which I used to catch a few rays of sun and then cooled off in the shade of the shelter house while opening up my laptop and doing my daily devotions. It was an hour very well spent.

Note: While doing this routine I saw numerous people out jogging around the park like I used to do. I doubt that I'll ever be joining them again. The kind of routine described above is way more convenient (I can work out almost anywhere!), in most cases is way more intense, offers way less repetitive wear and tear on joints that we need for a lifetime, is way more of a full-body workout, combines resistance and cardio components, and offers way more variety to boot. For those who really enjoy running, and many do, I say "way to go!" I'm glad you're out there doing something. But for those who don't enjoy running or want something more effective for fat-loss, there really are other ways to get in and stay in great shape.

Things haven't Really Changed

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Isaiah 1:2-3 Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth;
for the LORD has spoken:
I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.
3 The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib;
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.

Observation: Although originally written to a people from long, long ago, it could most certainly still apply today.

Application: I’m not really willing to say that the whole world is discrepant. But I would say that many in the world, perhaps especially those of us from—all things considered, more privileged backgrounds—have a tendency to want to satisfy our own needs prior to meeting the needs of others. In short, we often think of ourselves first.

In this way we are quite similar to the people to whom Isaiah originally spoke/wrote. We have forgotten that we have a divine parent. In short, we have forgotten where we came from and whose we ultimately are. Hence the near obsession (or at least interest) for getting what WE want out of life.

The problem with such thinking is that, not only does it prevent us from honoring our maker, but it also leaves many of our fellow human beings in the dust. Isaiah cried out on behalf of the poor and the widow and the orphan, but his was a rather lonely voice—easily drowned out by a chorus of people picketing for “me first.”

Prayer: Lord, I doubt that many if any of us are immune from a desire to protect our own interests. But please help more and more of us to take at least a step in the direction of thinking of others as well as ourselves. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 1-3, Titus 3)