Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sometimes it's Good to Know Someone's Watching Over Us

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Ezekiel 8:12 Then he said to me, “Mortal, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of images? For they say, ‘The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land.’”

Observation: Some of the elders were of the impression that they could keep some of their actions secret.

Application: These days there is a fa├žade (sp?) of privacy. Don’t be fooled. There are a zillion cameras watching many of our moves—from drive-up windows to our most recent super-center shopping experience. And then there’s the Internet where everything we do has a time and date stamp and can be tied to an IP address. Make a credit or debit-card purchase and the authorities, if they have reason to track it, can quickly find that information and use it to narrow down their search in regard to our whereabouts. Should we wish to do something anonymously (whether for good or ill), well, it’s little more than a wish. Somebody else probably already knows.

But this is really nothing new. Christians believe that God has always been well aware of our whearabouts and what we’ve been up to. The question is, do we see this as a good thing or as something to fear?

We probably see it, most often, as the latter. But perhaps it would be better if we saw it as a good thing instead. Not only might it help keep us from doing some things we shouldn’t do (and help us do more that we should do), but it might also help us to simply lay our lives before Jesus exactly as they are and receive the grace that only God can give. Otherwise, when we think we’ve hidden ourselves from others, we may find that we’ve really only hidden from ourselves.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for watching us. Help us to see ourselves as you see us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included Ezekiel 8-11 and Revelation 4)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Someone's Knockin that door

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Revelation 3:20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

Observation:
The context of this verse is somewhat surprising. It is within a message to the ancient church of Laodicea. That church was being criticized by the Almighty for being neither cold nor hot but, rather, lukewarm in regard to their faith. Yet God was knocking at their door.

Application: One of the stained glass windows in our church, highlighted yesterday during the Children’s message by our intern, is a depiction of Jesus standing at the door knocking. It hadn’t really occurred to me until today’s readings that this story was originally proclaimed to a luke-warm people.

Centuries later, it occurs to me that many of us who are part of the church have a luke-warmness to us. It’s not that faith isn’t important to us. It is. But many of us also have a bunch of other dimensions to our lives as well and we often see faith as but one piece of it.

Enter Jesus. In reality, faith is not intended to be a separate component in life but, rather, a constant companion through all parts of our lives. Faith sheds light on some aspects of life and experiences the rest of it with us.

Sometimes spouses grow apart. After this many years of ministry I’ve seen it happen more than once. They gradually begin to have one or more aspects of their lives that they encounter separate from their respective spouse. Over time the form a separate identity and/or split personality of sorts. They have their lives with their spouse and they have their lives away from their spouse. It’s not necessarily an affair. It could just be a new all-consuming hobby. First thing you know the spouse says something to the affect of “I don’t think I even know you anymore.”

This is how it can be when we treat faith as but one dimension of our lives. When we attempt to sequester Jesus to but one area or time in our lives and try to live a separate identity without our faith, there comes a point where it’s as if the Lord is saying, “I don’t think I even know you any more.” It’s as if we’ve shut Jesus out…

With one big difference. Jesus keeps knocking.

Prayer: Lord, help us to recognize how you can experience and help inform much of our lives, not just the overtly religious part. And since you do indeed keep knocking, be sure to give us an increased sense of hearing, that we might know of your knock and open the door. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Ezekiel 4-7 and Revelation 3)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Great Joy.

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: 3 John 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

Observation: This is natural.

Application: Today one son is celebrating a birthday by getting his first cell phone. An older son is busily working on one of many college application processes. A daughter is off to volleyball practice. At this stage we are most fortunate parents, though it’s still way too early to know what specific challenges might still be ahead. Nevertheless, the writer of 3rd John says that they’re no greater joy than to hear that one’s children are walking in the truth.

Of course, he wasn’t limiting his view to biological children but, rather, to children of the faith. He was thinking, in a way, like a pastor. He wanted the best for those under his spiritual care. He didn’t want them to get caught up in clever schemes and fads and the like. Instead he wanted them to faithfully follow, as best they could, in the truth of Christ. And whenever he heard that they were doing so, that brought him great joy.

I’ve been blessed over the years to see many fine examples (within both my biological and church families) of people following in the liberating truth of Christ. And I must agree with the writer of 3rd John; it brings great joy.

Prayer:
Thanks, Lord, for the many fine examples of faith that I have been blessed to know. In Jesus’ name.

(readings today included Jeremiah 50 and 51 and 3rd John 4)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It's a Mean World

Scripture Passage that Caught my Attention Today: Jeremiah 39:6-7 The king of Babylon slaughtered the sons of Zedekiah at Riblah before his eyes; also the king of Babylon slaughtered all the nobles of Judah. 7 He put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him in fetters to take him to Babylon.

Observation: This was really brutal, both physically and emotionally. The last thing that Zedekiah saw before they took out his eyes (excruciatingly painful in it’s own right) was the slaughter of his own sons.

Application: All things considered, I live a pretty sheltered life. I suspect the same is true for many (but not necessarily all) who read this blog. Many of us go about our lives with little real concern of physical danger.

One incident, of course, could drastically change all of that. All of us are vulnerable, just not necessarily targeted.

Zedekiah was a king (albeit a puppet king) and for quite some time could come and go as he pleased without worry. But eventually he became a target. And once a target was placed upon him, there was no escape.

My point is not that we should all suddenly become paranoid and look for monsters behind every bush. Life is too short to live like that. Nor am I necessarily defending Zedekiah. The story is what it is.

I just wish there wasn’t so much suffering in the world. I wish people weren’t, at times, so mean.

But that’s easy for me to say. The computer I’m typing on was assembled in China and I have no idea whether the factory in which it was produced has good working conditions or bad. Nor do I really want to know. Same goes for any number of other things in my life ranging from clothing to stocks and other investments.

Whether I realize it or not, I am most likely part and parcel of a large driving engine that, sometimes, actually contributes to human suffering because of my own quest for lower prices or bigger returns on my investments.

None of us is entirely clean and, hence, in our own way we each support at least a portion of the world’s mean streak. I may not have slaughtered either of Zedekiah’s sons or plucked out his eyes, but chances are that more than one father in the universe has watched his sons and/or daughters go off to work in a sweat shop so that my children can dress in style.

Yep, Jesus hit the nail right on the head when he looked down from the cross and prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Prayer: Lord, forgive us for the myriad of ways that we make your world a meaner place, and help us to take steps, as we are able, to make the world a kinder place. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Jeremiah 37-39, Psalm 72, 2 John)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How to Prepare to Eat Healthy At a Restaurant

Today I had a lunch meeting at a restaurant. Since experience is a tough teacher, giving one the test first and the lesson afterwards, I'd like to share what I learned.

1) The first place I like to go to check out a restaurant is the online resource (also found in book form) from Men's Health called "Eat This, Not That." There's a section there that lists various chain restaurants. Regardless of the restaurant's "grade," you can click on the link to that restaurant and get some tips for how to eat healthy there. You can often see the menu of the restaurant. Unfortunately, today's restaurant was not listed and so I moved on to option #2.

2) Use the resource above to find a similar type restaurant (in this case, Chinese) and pick up some tips that might be transferable. I learned to avoid (or severely limit) the amount of rice I consume. In fact, I didn't even eat my rice today.

3) Get to the restaurant early to look over the menu before your business associates arrive. This is the lesson that I learned today AFTER the fact!

Yes, I ordered a decent meal (Vegetarian Delight, even though I'm not actually a vegetarian) by following the lead of a colleague who clearly knows his Chinese options better than I. But on my way out I picked up a carry-out menu and soon realized that they had a whole "Healthy Options" section on the back that I could have easily chosen from! Had I just gotten to the restaurant a little earlier, I probably would have seen the section before I ordered.

4) Another option might have been to ask our server, when she asked for our drink orders, if they had a healthier section on the menu. Didn't think of that either!

The irony in all of this is that the meeting was specifically for the purpose of discussing how to encourage fellow pastors to live more physically healthy lives! Yet here we were meeting in a type of restaurant that, while tasty, is notoriously short on healthy options and tends to serve overly large portions.

It just goes to show that real life isn't always ideal and sometimes (okay, most times!) we just have to make the best of it.

Oh...but there's almost always a lesson or two to be learned, even if it's after the test has already been taken!

Hoping you've learned something here you'll use next time you eat out.
Kent

Intended for God's Use

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: 1 John 5:3 For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome,

Observation: This verse could perhaps be paraphrased, “Loving God is Easy.”

Application:
I’m not sure that loving God is really easy. Yet there is something to be said for the idea that God’s commandments are not burdensome. Perhaps the only time that God’s commandments are burdensome is when we mistakenly think they are depriving us of fun.
In the greater scheme of things, God’s commandments free us to more easily love God and neighbor. But that, of course, requires us to not be so fixated on ourselves. It’s hard to truly love God or neighbor when, in the back of our minds, we’re always thinking “so what’s in it for me?”

Ironically, there is a lot in it for us. In fact, through the cross we see clearly that God is in it for us! In Christ we are given infinite value, infinite hope, even infinite life.

This morning I saw a quote, the most striking portion of which said simply, “I want to be used up when I die.”

I love that quote, even though I don’t yet know its original source. When we consider the depth of God’s love for us, it seems the only reasonable and natural response is to offer ourselves for God’s use. In other words, let God use us up until there’s nothing left for us to offer. At that point we can die in peace. We can also die trusting that, by the grace of God, we will rise again.

Of course, we don’t always get to be all used up before we die. Some, due to accident, illness, war, violence, and the like, die seemingly before they are anywhere near used up. But even then those who appeared to have been in the process of being used up tend to stand out.

Jesus was all used up when he died. In the modern sports vernacular, he “left it all on the field.” There was nothing left to give. As it says in the Gospel of John, “he loved them to the end.”

I wonder what it would take for the same to be said of those of us who endeavor to follow him.

Prayer: Lord, use me as you wish…and help me to be okay with that. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Jeremiah 33-34, Psalm 74, 1 John 5)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Because God First Loved us

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: 1 John 4:19-20 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

Observation: This is an often overlooked pair of verses.

Application: Elsewhere in Scripture we are told of the “fruits of the spirit.” In other words, there are certain characteristics of Christians that are supposed to stand out. Unfortunately, this does not always appear to be the case. Many who understand themselves to be Christians and might even proclaim it to their dying day, nevertheless harbor grudges, resentments, and even hate in regard to other human beings. And so their self-confessed “love” of God is found wanting. To put it in John’s harsher terms, they are “liars” and not truly lovers of God at all.

At some level, such could probably be said for most if not all of us. There are holes in the comparison between what we profess to believe and how we function in the world. Rather than face the frustration we find in ourselves, it’s easier to project that frustration onto others.

Thankfully, the fact that God loved us first still holds sway. Even before we are able to truly love our neighbor as ourselves, God’s love for us is still the trump card. We may often find ourselves caught in our own lie, but are not caught without God’s love. And every time we take such love to heart we are, at the same time, able to recognize and face the hypocrisy in our own person. That’s precisely the time that another opportunity for personal transformation can take place—to love another because God first loved us.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the love that you have first offered to us. Help us to, in turn, share that love with one another. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Readings today included: Jeremiah 31-32 and 1 John 4

Monday, August 22, 2011

In All Times and In All Places

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Jeremiah 29:7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Observation: Through the prophet Jeremiah God told the exiles to make a home where they had been sent and to care for the place where they had been sent, rather than to despise the place and always be making plans for their return home.

Application: The old adage “grow where you’re planted” comes to mind. Or, in the case of the above, “grow where you have been transplanted.”

It’s easy in life to be in a perpetual state of wishing we were somewhere else doing something else with someone else. But that is hardly the life to which we were called and it is even a mockery of sorts toward the gifts we have been given.

True, few things in life are forever. Yet even in temporary and less-than-ideal circumstances there is good work to be done. The exiles were to be in exile for seventy years. That’s too much time to be lollygagging around in a self-pity party. Better to suck it up and start making a positive difference in the place where they had been taken. It’s what Joseph did so many years before when he was in prison (Genesis 37ff). And, ironically, it’s what Jesus himself did during his time or earth!

Whether or not we are currently where we wish to be, there is still good work to be done. In fact, the prophet told the exiles that they would found their well-being though the city’s well-being. Maybe that's why, in the Lutheran Communion liturgy, the pastor says that we should "in all times and in all places we give thanks" to God.

May we joyfully go about the work before us from now until we reach our final resting place…on earth and in heaven.

Prayer: Lord, in all circumstances and in all places you offer opportunities to be of service to you. Help us to always realize such things and to joyfully embrace them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.






Friday, August 19, 2011

To Follow or Lead?

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Psalm 105:43 So he brought his people out with joy,
his chosen ones with singing.
AND
John 21:18-19 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Observation: The psalm points out that, at the time of the Exodus, God had high hopes and the people had high hopes. God’s people had experienced oppression and now it was time for a new day. But history shows that the people had trouble figuring out how to live in this new freedom. In the gospel, Jesus describes to Peter a different future, one where he will be less free. And Jesus invites him to embrace it!

Application: I’m hard-pressed to know what to wish for some days.

It would be easier to know what to wish for if I were not aware of the various messages found in the Scriptures. If I could naively wish for whatever I wanted, without the knowledge that God might have something else in mind, I could simply follow my own devices.

But the witness of Jesus indicates that things are not always as they seem. Might is not always right. First is sometimes last. ‘Blessings’ are often curses. Truly living involves dying—which is the gift I am about to give this annoying fly that is pestering me as I type! Go figure.

One of the wishes/pursuits I’ve often nurtured over the years are attempts to become a better leader. Author Len Sweet, however, has caught my attention with the contrasting premise in one of his new books “I Am a Follower.” I haven’t read it yet, but the promotional material indicates that within its pages Len will argue that we don’t need more leaders for Christ but, rather, more followers of Christ. Maybe that’s what Jesus, after giving Peter rather eerie notice, still said, “Follow Me.”

Prayer: Lord, help us all to improve our followership skills. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Jeremiah 45-47, Psalm 105, and John 21)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Truth is worth Sharing

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Jeremiah 35:27-28 Now, after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: 28 Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which King Jehoiakim of Judah has burned.

Observation: This was a lot of work to do over. Writing in those days was no easy feat.

Application:
Most of us have been there, we’ve been working on something on the computer and all of a sudden the power goes out or the program freezes up and all the data that we created is lost. We’ve got to start over. We sigh. We pound something. We curse the computer. We gasp. We maybe take a break and then, with disgust, start over, this time hitting the save icon about every 30 seconds!

But that pales in comparison to what Jeremiah—and especially Baruch who had to write everything down—went through. Scrolls weren’t exactly a dime a dozen in those days and they weren’t using ball-point pins either.

No matter. Truth is worth sharing, over and over again.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for your word whenever and from whoever it comes. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
(readings today included: Jeremiah 26, 35, 36 and John 20)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Goals.

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Jeremiah 23:28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the LORD.

Observation: Many ‘prophets’ in Old Testament times were merely saying what they wanted to say or what they thought people wanted to hear. They were not proclaiming an authentic message from the Lord.

Application: It seems to me that one of the hardest things to do as a pastoral leader is to set goals for and/or with a congregation. Why? Because the human element of pride is so close at hand.

For example, what if a pastor and/or congregation were to say, “we feel God wants our average attendance to grow by 50 people next year.” Really? Where did the number come from? Are you sure God didn’t say 53 people? Or 47? Is God pretty much limited to even numbers?

I’ve yet to hear a pastor say something to the affect of, “I believe the Lord is calling our congregation to shrink by 30 or so people by next year!” It kinda goes against the grain of conventional wisdom, doesn’t it?

Yet many congregations are shrinking…and it’s not always a bad thing. The congregation through which I serve as pastor is going through some modest shrinkage because some of own people are going about the work of helping other congregations. We have members who plan to move to another state to help start a new mission church. Hard to argue with that, isn’t it? One of our members was Ordained this summer. She takes with her a family of four to South Dakota where she now serves as a pastor. Am I supposed to be sad about that? Of course not! We have a few members who, for reasons of health and/or preference, are planning to move to warmer climates within the next year or two. I have no doubt that they will quickly find new congregations to call home and will be a blessing to those yet-to-be-indentified communities of faith. And occasionally all congregations have a family or two decide that another church in the area might be a better fit for them. Can’t really argue with that either since a good share of our current members and participants were once members or participants in other congregations and came here because we seemed to be a better fit.

The verse above and this time of reflecting brings to mind a few principles that might be worth considering in regard to setting goals for/with a congregation:

1 Goals that are more likely to be from God will be goals that are discerned primarily through prayerful listening and observation of the opportunities the Lord seems to be putting before you, rather than from a leader’s bravado and charisma. To put it in athletic terms, be very observant and be in position for the play come to you.
2 Focus on real ministry and service, not particular numbers. When the Bible speaks of numbers, it is usually after the fact for reporting purposes, not as a goal. Jesus didn’t say, “today let’s make it our goal to feed 5000 people.” Rather, he was going about his life as an authentic follower of God, and 5000+ people showed up for him to feed. In similar fashion, in the book of Acts they did not set a goal to have 3000 people saved. Rather, God sent the Holy Spirit and people spoke of that Spirit and the saving work was done and the number 3000 recorded.
3 Be ready to act when action is needed. Ministry is more about wise readiness and willingness than it is about knowingness. In other words, we don’t know much about when things are going to happen or even what in particular is going to happen. But we do know that something will happen sometime and that when it does, we want to be there to be able to offer service and hope in the name of Christ.
4 Most importantly, let all goals be rooted in thanksgiving for what God has already done through Christ on the cross rather than in the purported virtues of what we might endeavor to do after the fact.

That’s all I’ve got for today.

Prayer: Lord, even trying to write about goals has its own measure of futility. If I’m just dreaming rather than speaking your word, please let me know. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Jeremiah 23-25 and John 19)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Trading Spaces

Scripture Verses that Caught my Attention Today: John 18:1-2 After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples.

Observation: Jesus had a place where he apparently enjoyed hanging out.

Application: This passage reminds me of that old Beach Boys song “In My Room.” It describes a place, in this case a bedroom, where the person can just be who he or she is without pretense. It’s a place where he or she loves to go and spend time.

Jesus apparently loved to spend time in the garden described above. It was apparently away from the hustle and bustle of the marketplace and even the temple. I’ve saw the general area where it may have been when I took a trip to Israel several years ago. Quite peaceful.

It seems that everyone would benefit from having such a place, whether in nature or in one’s home or some routine get-away. For me the home farm where I live is such a place. It’s not fancy and, in fact, quite a few of the buildings are very run down and in need of repair or demolition. But it’s still a place where perspective is gained and life is lived and faith is bolstered. The crops, be they good or bad, serve as reminders that there is something bigger at work in this world than me. The wildlife serve as reminders that not everything in this world is meant to be tamed. And in troubled times the land itself serves as a reminder that God’s provision is never restricted to just a single generation.

I’m not sure if Jesus saw all these kinds of things in the garden he liked to visit or not. Maybe it was just a nice place to hang out. If so, that too was reason enough to meet there, often.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the places and/or spaces that you provide for your people to be your people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Kings 24, Jeremiah 22, Psalm 112, John 18)

Monday, August 15, 2011

In Light of Jesus' Prayer

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: John 17:20-21a “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one.

Observation: This prayer of Jesus has not yet come to fruition.

Application: The hope of probably every parent with more than one child is that the children will get along…that there will be no ill will or hard feelings or days, weeks, months, or years without speaking to one another due to some pent-up conflict.

But, of course, it’s hard to assure that such wishes will come true. Human nature, being what it is, doesn’t have a particularly good track record in this regard.

The same can be said of brothers and sisters in Christ. There is a popular song that says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” It offers a very nice sentiment, but sometimes I think a more accurate title would be, “They’ll know we are Christians by our divisions…by our denominations and our non-denominations, by our scandals and our infighting, etc.

Let’s face it, the Christian community as a whole hasn’t fared too well in the ‘unity of purpose’ category. And in the interest of full disclosure I must admit that I personally find some expressions of Christianity to be remarkably far from my own understanding of what being a Christian is all about. I’m sure some feel the same way about me.

Yet Jesus’ prayer still stands. And by the grace of God, so do we. The prayer may not yet have been answered, but it is still in affect. And someday I trust that we’ll see it fully expressed in the kingdom of God.

Prayer: Lord, help us all, in our own ways, work more toward the fulfillment of your prayer rather than against it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Jeremiah 18-20, Psalm 93, John 17)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Christian Privilege?

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: John 15:20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.

Observation: Jesus tried to make sure the disciples realized that they shouldn’t expect any kind of privileged status as followers of Jesus.

Application: Privileges. Almost all of us appreciate, if we can secure them, privileges. It’s true of humanity in general and Christians, by and large, are no different. If we can catch a break, we usually take it.

The bitter irony, however, is that Jesus did not seek privileges. Rather, he embodied service.

In Philippians it says that Jesus humbled himself, taking the form of a slave. Ancient prophesies applied to Jesus indicate that his appearance was so marred that there was nothing desirable about him. In the gospel of Mark Jesus said that he came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Earlier in chapter 15 of John, Jesus indicates that he is the vine and that the vinegrower prune him so that he can bear more fruit.

I’ve often gotten a kick out of a request from two of the disciples (or from their mother of those two disciples, depending on which gospel account I was reading) to sit on Jesus’ right and left in his glory. Little did they know that, had that wish been granted, they would have been sitting in place of the two thieves hanging on either side of Jesus. Jesus was glorified when he was hanging on the cross.

With this kind of history as part of our heritage, why do Christians seem to want to fight for various privileges? We want to fight for religious freedom and simultaneously fight to have things like the 10 commandments or “under God” occupy places of privilege.

I wonder, with which of the following is God most likely to be impressed?
• counting up how many thousands relatively privileged people will be so bold as to copy and paste another one of those spam-like “I’m a Christian and not ashamed to show it” posts on Facebook?
• one person giving up a fair amount of privileges to diligently offer a life of sacrificial loving service.

It’s revealing that those of us who claim to be followers of Christ are often prone to striving for the very kinds of privileges that our Lord sought to avoid.

Prayer: Lord, I must admit, like privileges too. Help me to be more willing to part with them when I remember your words, “Servants are not greater than their master.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings included Jeremiah 13-15 and John 15)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Trusting the Process that Lead to Later

Scripture Verse that Caught my Attention Today: John 13:7 Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

Observation: Simon Peter, the one whom Jesus is addressing, will indeed eventually understand. The key word is “later.”

Application:
Later. How anxious we all are, at times, for ‘later.’ We want to know now what the future holds, whether we should do this or that. Is this the job I should take? Is this the person I should marry? Is this the time to retire? Is this the career path for which I should prepare? Is this just a phase our child is going through? Tell me, please, NOW, not LATER!

I once had a wise college professor who often said, “Life is a tough teacher, it gives you the test first and the lesson afterwards!” I’ve recalled his words often over the course of my own short life.

But if there’s something to be learned from Jesus through all of this—and there’s ALWAYS something to be learned from Jesus!—it’s that we can trust the process that leads us to later, whenever and wherever later comes to the fore.

We may not be able to understand now, but there is always hope for later. The process or journey or whatever you want to call it that leads to later—which could involve: sleepless nights, deep soul-searching, significant physical or emotional pain, public humiliation, pathways never anticipated, or even times of Spiritual barrenness to the tune of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”—is often what makes later make any sense at all.

“Later you will understand” says Jesus. “Later.”

It’s a reminder to trust the process, and ultimately the One, that leads us from now to then.

Prayer: Lord, when we are between times of understanding, help us to nevertheless trust that you will indeed lead us to the later yet to come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Jeremiah 7-8, John 13)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

One's Wealth (or Lack) Does Not Determine One's Sense

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: Jeremiah 5:4-5 Then I said, “These are only the poor,
they have no sense;
for they do not know the way of the LORD,
the law of their God.
5 Let me go to the rich
and speak to them;
surely they know the way of the LORD,
the law of their God.”
But they all alike had broken the yoke,
they had burst the bonds.

Observation:
There was belief in ancient times that poor people had no sense.

Application: Part of me recoils at the thought of judging whether or not people have sense by whether they are rich or poor. By the same token, I can see their point; scams and ‘businesses’ that exploit the poor are largely ‘successful.’ Recently I learned of an auction house that ‘helps’ people sell their belongings if need be. What commission does the ‘service’ charge? Thirty-Five percent! I doubt that many ‘rich’ people would use such a service.

Still, that’s not the whole story. Some time ago there was a sister (not one of my own) who was making arrangements for her brother (a doctor) to be guardian of her children should something ever happen to her and her husband. The lawyer involved mentioned that doctors, as a general rule, are not always good at managing their finances. Certainly that’s not true of all doctors, of course. But it was an interesting observation. Wealth does not always translate into having ‘sense,’ at least financially.

Of course, these days we know that one can have tremendous ‘sense’ in one aspect of life and hardly any ‘sense’ in another aspect of life. It’s the human condition and it’s not based on being rich or poor. Jeremiah observed the same thing way back when, though for some reason he seems surprised.

Prayer: Lord, help all of us to find more sense through you, regardless of our relative wealth or lack thereof. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Jeremiah 5-6 and John 12)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

God is still Faithful Even when we are Not

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Jeremiah 3:14-15 Return, O faithless children, says the LORD,
for I am your master;
I will take you, one from a city and two from a family,
and I will bring you to Zion.

Jer. 3:15 I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.

Observation:
These chapters speak in rather graphic terms by comparing the people of Israel and Judah to a “whore” and to “whoring.” The language of adultery is used, indicating that Israel and Judah have done so with “stone and tree.” Still, God is merciful.

Application: God had such great intentions and expectations when humanity was created. God anticipated that people would be so thankful for life and for God’s relationship with them that they would spare no effort to demonstrate their sincere thanksgiving and faithfulness.

Well, unfortunately, things didn’t work out quite like God planned. Instead of being thankful, the people simply wanted more. And instead of being faithful, the people went their own way. It’s been that way since nearly the beginning of time. And things haven’t changed much, if at all, even in this day and age. Some might even say it’s worse today than it was way back then, though I think that would be a hard point to prove; it seems to me that was bad back then and it is bad now, period.

And God was faithful and merciful back then, just as God is faithful and merciful now—though in latter times perhaps even more so because of what God has done for humanity through Jesus.

Still, even in days of old there were those prophetic reminders that God was still there for them. Like when Jeremiah summons the faithless ones to return to the Lord and promises that they will be given shepherds after God’s own heart.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for your faithfulness to us even when we are not faithful to you. Continue to send us shepherds who are after your own heart and help those of us who purport to be your shepherds to go about our work according to your ways and not our own. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Jeremiah 3-4 and John 11)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Recognizing and Celebrating Authentic Value

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention Today: Jeremiah 2:13 for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.

Observation: They not only turned away God’s gift, but they tried to secure the same kind of thing for themselves elsewhere…from another source.

Application: Once in a while our kids will be watching the “Antique Road Show” on television where people bring in various ‘treasures’ from their collection and appraisers help them determine what the item might be worth. Some of the ‘finds’ are really quite valuable, especially if they have extremely unique features.

The passage above from Jeremiah makes clear that an important skill in life is to distinguish authentic value from that which is relatively worthless.

Jesus said as much years later when he said that the kingdom of heaven is like a person who discovers a fine pearl and then goes and sells all he has in order to buy that pearl. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that the kingdom of heaven is like selling a pearl of great price in order to go out and buy a bunch of junk!

Personally, today my wife and I are celebrating our anniversary. It’s a relationship of authentic value at all kinds of levels; it’s a gift from the “fountain of living water.” As human beings we each have our foibles to be sure. But in some ways that’s what makes the gift of each other even more valuable with each passing year.

Prayer: Lord, thanks first of all for the value that you offer to all through your Son. And thanks for the value of precious earthly relationships as well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Jeremiah 1-2 and John 10)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

the Righteous Live by their Faith

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Habakkuk 3:17-18 Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.

Observation:
Worship/praise of God is not to be determined by whether or not one has earthly “success.”

Application:
Some people worship God out of thanksgiving for what they have. Other people worship God out of a fear of going to hell. But the most authentic worship is the kind that worships God no matter what, even and perhaps especially when things are not going well. When signs of God’s earthly provision are lacking and one still worships, well, that’s about as authentic as worship gets. It’s little wonder then that the prophet also wrote “but the righteous live by their faith.” (Hab: 2:4b)

Prayer: Lord, help us all to worship you no matter what the outside circumstances might be like. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Habakkuk 1-3 and John 8)

Friday, August 5, 2011

Nutritionally Surviving a County or State Fair

Our family went to our state fair yesterday; our kids each had demonstration projects through an organization called 4-H.

(Was initially shocked at the long ling waiting to get in until we found out that most of them were "extras" for a movie coming out in 2012 called "Parker." Jennifer Lopez will be in it, but she wasn't there that day. Instead they were filming guy scenes, one of which included the male star (whose name I don't know) dressed as a priest with a brief-case. So when the movie comes out, remember, you heard it from me first!)

"Fair Food," as it is popularly called, is not normally very fair to one's body at all. Much of it tends to be greasy and fat-laden, a cornucopia of empty calories masked as something you've just got to have, even at its exorbitant Fair price, which, of course, also isn't fair.

Now, granted, many nutrition programs and/or diets allow for one "cheat" or "free" day per week. But that doesn't mean you should totally pig out with super-sized servings from one fair booth after another. Preparation and moderation are key. Here's what I did.

First, I ate my normal healthy breakfast.

Second, I made my normal healthy-style frozen smoothie to take along and drink an hour or so later. The goal is to start the day right with some good healthy basics.

Third,I packed a small bag of raisins and almonds for an afternoon snack.

Fourth, we were set to arrive at the fair around 1:30, so we grabbed fast food nearby which was cheaper and, if one chooses well, at least a little healthier. Ideally I would have gotten a baked potato and small chilli. But since I was driving, I had to move to the next best thing: Two plain junior hamburgers with bacon. I also, had a couple chicken nuggets since I hadn't had any of those in forever. (Honestly, I only ate 2-3 and didn't even enjoy them that much. Grease just doesn't taste good anymore.)

Fifth, for supper the kids and I started with delicious appetizers at the Vitamix Demonstration booth! (We bought a Vitamix from the same guy at last year's fair. No regrets...love it and use it almost every day.) Enjoyed samples of Tortilla soup, 2-3 smoothies, and freshly-made all-natural peanut butter.

Sixth, for supper I had one ear of corn (no butter, it was plenty juicy and delicious on it's own with a touch of salt) and a grilled-chicken sandwich topped with peppers and onions. Earlier I also had a few bites of our son's turkey leg and a few sips of our daughter's peach milkshake.

Seventh, I always had a bottle of water with me and refilled it often.

Eighth, I had two home-made cookies when I got home because, well, they were there.

But all in all it was a great day. I never got tired or sluggish from sugar highs and lows and easily made the 2-hour drive home late in the night. Woke up this morning ready to start another day.

Focused or Delusional?

Scripture Passage that Caught My Attention Today: John 7:45-52 Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” 46 The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” 47 Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? 48 Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, 51 “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” 52 They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”

Observation: Many of the authorities had made up their mind about Jesus (in a negative way) and had lost all sense of objectivity. They now had one-track minds.

Application: It’s one thing to be focused. It’s another thing to be delusional. Unfortunately it’s not always easy to tell the difference.

I recently read a very brief autobiographical account by the founder of a vacuum cleaner company. He mentioned how none of the major brands at the time were interested in his idea for a different kind of vacuum. So he ended up making his own. He looks back at all the pitches he made to the various companies which responded with: no, no, no, maybe…I mean no, etc. Now that he’s a billionaire we look back and say that he was focused. But at the time, I wonder how many people thought he was delusional.

There are times, in these accounts of Jesus, when I can understand why some people at the time thought he was delusional and needed to be controlled. But some of the Pharisees and other leaders appear to have been no less delusional themselves. Their one-track minds were closed off to due process and their hardened hearts were not about to soften up. Such an attitude is almost always a recipe for disaster and in such cases someone almost always gets hurt, whether physically, emotionally, or both.

Prayer: Lord, help me have enough focus to be effective, but not so much so that I lose sight of whatever bigger picture you might have in mind. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Kings 23, 2 Chronicles 35, and John 7)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

No Other Way

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: John 6:66-69 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Observation: Some discerning individuals simply found Jesus’ teaching too hard to accept. Peter and the twelve were won over, however, and stayed with him. Still even one of them was only their half-heartedly.

Application: In some ways John is my least favorite of the four gospels. Most scholars date it as the last of the gospels written and part of what bothers me about John is that Jesus is almost always portrayed as knowing everything. So the first of the gospels written (Mark, we think) presents a Jesus who gets tired and angry and sometimes even has limits to his power. But the last of the gospels written (again, we think) presents a Jesus who almost always seems to know everything. Had I been there at the time, I might well have been one of those people who followed Jesus for a while and then turned way.

Then again, maybe I would have somehow been won over by the story. We’ll never know for sure.

What I do know is that somehow or another I am currently won over by the story and have been since early in my life. Yes, there are some elements here and there that give me pause. But at the end of the day the heart of the story of God’s engagement in the world through Jesus is too compelling to either ignore or dismiss. Peter’s rhetorical question “Lord, to whom can we go?” is one to which I can most surely relate. Shall I go the way of trusting in myself? Hardly. Shall I go the way of trusting the high and mighty in this world? No way. Shall I go the way of just thinking positive and relying on self-sufficiency? In my view, there’s not nearly as much depth to that plan as meets the eye.

At the end of the day there is the saving work of Christ. In life and in death Jesus demonstrated a love that is greater than any other. I see no other viable option than to trust in him.

Prayer: Lord, I’d like to simply give thanks for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included 2 Kings 22, 2 Chronicles 34, John 6)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Need for a Little Humility

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: John 5:9-11 At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who had been cured, “It is the sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” 11 But he answered them, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Take up your mat and walk.’”

Observation: It’s somewhat understandable why the religious leaders were upset with Jesus; Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath and told him to take up his mat and walk on the sabbath. Hence not only did Jesus do something that the religious leaders thought was inappropriate to do on the sabbath, but Jesus also told the man to do something that was considered inappropriate to do on the sabbath.

Application: I know we like to give the Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jesus’ day a hard time. They appear closed minded, deceitful, self-serving, and the like. And in many ways they were all of those things. But they were also trying to follow what they understood to be the ways of God according to Moses. Jesus offered an alternative mode of operation and their mindsets weren’t ready for the shift. For them it simply didn’t compute.

These same kinds of challenges are before us in this age and, indeed, in every age. Trying to weigh out what is helpful/healthy verse that which is ultimately hurtful/unhealthy is a day-by-day and maybe even minute-by-minute undertaking.

It seems one of the biggest mistakes of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day was their insistence that they were right. I can’t fault them for trying to be faithful to the law, but there wasn’t much humility in their approach, nor openness to the possibility that there just might be another way.

That other way, of course, has been ushered in by Jesus. His way is still a bit baffling at times; it isn’t always completely clear whether we are actually following him or just claiming to follow him and, instead, following ourselves. That’s where a little humility is worth keeping close at hand.

Prayer: Lord, you are certainly the most amazing of ones. Help us to entrust ourselves to you and follow along as best we can. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today include: Nahum 1-3, John 5)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When Stories Vary

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: 2 Chronicles 33:10-13 The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they gave no heed. 11 Therefore the LORD brought against them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh captive in manacles, bound him with fetters, and brought him to Babylon. 12 While he was in distress he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors. 13 He prayed to him, and God received his entreaty, heard his plea, and restored him again to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD indeed was God.

Observation: An almost identical story is found in the other Old Testament reading today found in 2 Kings 21. However, the 2 Kings version omits the information about Manasseh’s exile, plea for mercy, and God’s restoration of Manasseh to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. In the 2 King’s account, nothing good is said about Manasseh and yet, there is also nothing said about him receiving any kind of punishment for being so bad. Hmmm…

Application:
Stories vary. They always do. Some things strike one person as important and anther person as hardly relevant.

Character references are a case in point—the result almost always depends who you ask. Just about everyone is seen in an unfavorable light by somebody, especially if he or she has ever been in a position of leadership.

The books of Kings and Chronicles are considered historical books in the Old Testament. Often times their accounts overlap, almost word for word. But the passages above serve as a reminder that no account of history is devoid of human interpretation, even when it’s found in the Bible. In fact, Biblical accounts of history are always laced with the perspective that God is at work through this history in some way. In the Bible, or at least the Old Testament, things happen because people are faithful, or unfaithful, or swinging between the two.

Interestingly enough, in the Old Testament God is often seen as one who causes a fair amount of human suffering, often as a form of punishment toward unfaithful people or as a reward (plague or military defeat on enemies) for faithful people. In the New Testament God identifies with human suffering and personally takes on human suffering all the way to the cross. But even then, as almost any comparison of the four gospels makes clear, the stories vary.

I’m okay with that. God clearly speaks to and through different people in different ways. Always has. Probably always will.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the variety of ways in which people of old, and even today, share their understanding of you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Kings 21, 2 Chronicles 33, and John 4)

Monday, August 1, 2011

This morning's workout and why the day started off well.

Yesterday while the kids were at a swim-team party I sat outside with my laptop and looked at the next couple of weeks in the calendar. I also compared that to my growing 'to-do' list. One of the things on my 'to-do' list is a host of things under the heading of "summer planning." These are things that I wanted to give some serious though too during the summer. Most of them are related to church.

Anyhow, in looking at the calendar last night I realized that today would be the first day of August and that there wasn't much 'summer' left!

Yikes! Time to kick it into a higher gear!

So I mapped out today as a planning day. I went to bed early at 10:40 so that I could get a good night's sleep (which was going great until the dream about losing my glasses, which got rather tense), get up at 6:40, and jump right into the following morning routine:

Drink big glass of cold water, pour flax seed and milk on my rolled oats and raisins, exercise, and morning devotions.

Speaking of exercise, mine was good but probably a piece of cake compared to our boys who started football 2-a-days today. Anyhow, here's the workout.

Warm-up

Set 1: Neutral-grip pull-ups. Vertical jumps with knee-ups, Bench presses. Rest 1 min. Repeat.

Set 2: Kettle-bell swings (with dumbbell), Lying hip extensions. Rest 1 min. Repeat.

Set 3: Bulgarian Split Squats (really focused on form today), Pikes with feet on skateboard. Rest, repeat.

Set 4: Bent-over Dumbbell rows. Rest, repeat.

Set 5: Dumbbell overhead presses. Rest, repeat.

That was it. Went straight from there to devotions and now this note. Next up is a good shower, smoothie, fix lunch/dinner to take with me, and then I'll be off to run an errand or two and then into the big planning day till 7:00 tonight when I need to attend a function with one of our kids.

Have a blessed day!

Which Era are we Living in and does it matter?

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Isaiah 65:21-22 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

Observation:
This is the exact opposite of what the prophet Zephaniah said in Zephaniah 1:13 Their wealth shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine from them.

Application: The prophet Isaiah is proclaiming a new era. Some of the people to whom he speaks have lived through another era, the kind that Zephaniah prophesied earlier. But through Isaiah God proclaimed a new thing, a new way of life, a new period of time.

Well over 20 centuries later, a new question comes to mind: which of these two types of eras are we living in now? Will we enjoy the fruits of our labors or will we simply leave them to another?

In a time of rapidly changing retirement programs, some are left to wonder.

But in some ways to focus on either is to miss the still greater point—our lives are to be entrusted to God’s hands.

Today I was also struck by Psalm 62:9 “Those of low estate are but a breath,
those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.”

Regardless of our earthly ‘status,’ regardless of whether or not we get to enjoy the fruit of our labors, we are called to be fruit for our Lord. Our faithfulness simply cannot be measured in earthly terms. The Scripture doesn’t say that those of high estate are worse than those of low estate. Both are but a breath, even lighter than a breath.

That means that our lives and all the baggage we carry along that way is still not too heavy a burden for our Lord to bear. People of every era ultimately belong to God.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the reminder that we need not worry about keeping track of the eras but, rather, simply give thanks that in every era you keep track of us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Isaiah 65-66, Psalm 62 and John 3)