Monday, October 31, 2011

Faith/Marriage Preparation Tip

Today the "Entertainment" headlines informed us that television reality personality Kim Kardashian has filed for divorce from her professional athlete husband of 72 days, Kris Humphries.

I'm not privy to the details that led to the proposed ending of this marriage and, as is the case upon learning of any marital relationship in trouble, I'm am saddened by the news.

I also have no interest in judging this particular relationship. But the news in this particular case does highlight one important point: the amount of planning and/or money expended in one's marriage ceremony does not increase the likelihood of the marriage's success. In fact sometimes, but not always, the inverse is more likely true.

Seriously, if you're planning or hoping to get married, don't let the details related to the wedding day itself overshadow your preparation and personal investment (non-financial!)in the marriage itself.

It has been said that "a wedding is intended for a day but a marriage is intended for a lifetime." Shouldn't the primary focus be on preparing for and maintaining the latter rather than the former?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that the wedding day shouldn't be special. Nor am I suggesting that just because a wedding is done 'on the cheap' it will almost assuredly make for a lasting marriage.

I'm just saying that in every case the couple's focus (and perhaps that of the relatives and friends of the couple) should be on helping to nurture the relationship itself first and foremost. Wedding details themselves are best regulated to an exciting but secondary pleasure.

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts.

Today's Workout

Warm-up followed by a slightly different combination of 2 triple sets followed by 4 single sets.

Set 1
Front Barbell Squats
Extended push-ups on suspended bar.
Rest 1 minute and repeat.

Set 2:
Single leg Stability ball curls
Single leg bench step-ups
Bent-over Dumbbell Rows.
Rest 1 minute and repeat

Set 3:
Push-up/Pike combo with feet on skateboard
Rest 30 seconds and repeat

Set 4:
Ab-wheel roll-outs
Rest 30 seconds and repeat

Set 5:
Turkish get-ups (note: these are a killer when I get tired!)
rest 30 seconds between sides and 1 minutes between the set and then repeat.

Set 6:
Bent over dumb-bell lateral raises
rest 30 seconds and repeat.

God's Wants and Our Needs

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Job 22:2 Can a mortal be of use to God?
Can even the wisest be of service to him?

Observation: Good question, even if it is asked by one of Job’s “friends” who turns out to be way off-base by the end of the story.

Application: Yesterday was Confirmation at the church where I serve as pastor. It’s also known as “Affirmation of Baptism.” Basically it’s a time when youth who have completed a three-year period of learning, serving, and fellowship experiences in the church go on to publicly declare their thanksgiving for all that God has done and continues to do in and through them. And so rather than declare how much more faithful they were going to be from this moment forward, the service essentially gives voice to the realization that we are now as dependent on God as ever.

With such an understanding it would be easy to develop a viewpoint similar to the one reflected in the rhetorical question posed by Job’s “friend” above. After all, the Christian faith understands God’s ways to be far superior to mortal ways and God’s foolishness to be wiser than human wisdom.

Yet in a consistently surprising move throughout history, God does find mortals to be of use and service. Although we get no special divine perks for making ourselves available in such a way, we are nevertheless of significant use to the Almighty. In fact, it is through humanity that the Lord seems to most consistently prefer to work!

God doesn’t really ‘need’ us but does ‘want’ us. By contrast, we don’t always ‘want’ God but we do ‘need’ God.

It’s a match made in heaven…on earth.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for wanting us and helping us to sense the need we have for you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 22 and Mark 7-8)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Today's Short Workout

Time crunch this morning so the workout was short but sweet.

Standard Warm-up of:
Bodyweight squats (120
Leg Swings (12/side)
Walking lunges (24)
Close-grip push-ups (10)
Stick-ups (10)
Waiter's Bows (80
Plank (30 seconds)
Light dumbbell deadlifts (10) (actually, I forgot to do these this morning...oops!)

Workout was just one round of the following:
Pull-ups (9)
Front Barbell Squats (20)
Push-ups (20)
Ab-wheel roll-outs (10)
Regular Barbell Squats (25)
Chin-ups (7)
Cross-body Mountain-climbers (50)

Was probably only a 15 minute workout including the warm-up, though I didn't actually time it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Real Comforters

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Job 16:1-2 Then Job answered:
2 “I have heard many such things;
miserable comforters are you all.

Job was not impressed with the way his “friends” were trying to “help.”

Application: Many of us want to be “fixers.” In other words, when we hear of a problem, we want to pretend that it’s really simple…that if the people involved would just do a few things all would be well—thank you very much! Ahh, but much of life does not work out that way. Many situations are far deeper than what can be seen at first glance.

There is a saying related to Africa the goes something like this… “after spending a week in Africa I thought I could write a book’s worth of suggestions for how they might live better. And after spending a few months in Africa I felt like I could maybe write a chapter of good advice for how they might live better. Now that I’ve been a missionary here for about a dozen years, I’m struggling to even come up with one paragraph of suggestions for how they might live better.”

Granted, with time and experience some of us might develop a skill for recognizing flaws in systems that can be overcome with some adjustments. But humanity is still a complicated lot. Our sinful nature makes us vulnerable to many an addiction (personal and communal) which then often serves as a cover for what really ails us. Many ‘fixers’ neglect to take this reality to heart and therefore never truly enter into another’s struggle for wholeness.

Job’s friends started out on a good note. They came to him in his distress and just sat with him for several days. But apparently they were judging in their hearts and, when they could keep silent no longer, they became what Job himself called “miserable comforters.”

Prayer: Lord, help us to be real comforters rather than miserable ones. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 16 and Acts 21-23)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Exercise Tip and Today's Workout

When there's an injury, it's often best to back off and give it a rest rather than try to work through it. Last week I managed to do something to my arm while sleeping. (Strange, I know.) For a few days I had very little mobility with that arm. Simple things like putting on a shirt or coat were an exercise in patience and learning to start with the other arm first.

So when working out I focused on leg, back, and ab moves and gave the arm a rest. One week later things are much better. I'll gradually move back into more arm exercises, but will also error on the side of caution rather than to go too hard too fast. This morning's workout is a case-in-point.

Today's Workout:
2 rounds of the following warm-up circuit:
Bodyweight squats (12), leg swings (15/leg), walking lunges (12/side), close-grip push-ups (10, done with caution), Stick-ups (10 gingerly done), waitor's bows (10), Plank (30 seconds), light dumbbell dead-lifts (10).

Set 1:
Verticle jumbs with knee-ups (10)
Bent-over dumbbell-rows with lighter than normal dumbbell (15)
Rest 30 seconds, repeat set 2 more times.

Set 2:
Bench step-ups (10/leg)
1 leg stability ball curls (15/leg)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set 2 more times.

Set 3:
Pike with feet on skateboard (10)
Light dumbbell Romanian Dead-lifts (10)
Rest 30 seconds, repeat set 2 more times.

Set 4:
Front squats holding one dumbbell under chin (15)
Rest 30 seconds, repeat 2 more times.

The Surprise of Who Knows Jesus.

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Acts 19:13-16 Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded.

Observation: Even the evil spirits can tell who is authentic and who is not.

Application: You gotta love the line from the evil spirit: “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” It’s ironic, but sometimes it’s the evil spirits who really know what’s going on. In the gospel of Mark it is the evil spirits/demons who are presented as the only characters in the story who know who Jesus really is.

The modern-day parallel is that, ironically, people without a church background (or without a deep connection to a particular church) often-times are among the first to sense when a church has failed at its mission and/or has lost its way. At that point it’s almost as if those who claim no direct affiliation with Christ are actually closer to him than those that do. Perhaps that’s what Jesus was getting at when he once said that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Still, the good news is that it's better to be last than not in line at all.

Prayer: Dear Lord, there are a number of congregations of which I am aware that are most certainly struggle these days to find a sense of mission. Help them to discover some clarity in this regard and to become an authentic sign of your kingdom on earth. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Today's Workout

Still a little sore from apparently sleeping on my shoulder wrong the other night, so this morning's workout at a retreat facility without equipment went as follows:

Warm-up including: Bodyweight squats, leg swings, walking lunges, 1-arm push-outs, waitor bows, planks, simulated dead-lifts.

Set 1:
Bulgarian Split squats using 1 1/2 rep per rep.
Lying Hip Extensions
1-arm push-outs (basically leaning against a stationary object at a 45 degree angle and doing a push-up action with one arm since I only had one good arm to work with this morning)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set.

Set 2:
24 walking lunges
Cross-body mountain-climbers
Rest 30 seconds, repeat set

Set 3:
Plank (60 second)
Side plank with leg raises (only one side today, unfortunately)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set.

Definitely not the ideal workout. But better to do something with the parts of our body that are able to be exercised while still resting the parts of the body that need rest.

How was worship today? Really?

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Acts 13:2-3 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

Observation: A prompting from the Holy Spirit came to them while they were worshiping (and fasting).

Application: “How was worship today?” is a question that I am sometimes asked by a relative at family gatherings. For some reason it always catches me a touch off-guard and I usually mutter something to the affect of “oh, it was good” and then go on to indicate whether the attendance was up or down and then we move on to another topic. I’ve never said something to the affect of:

“well today while we were worshipping it came to mind that we should send—let’s say, Jim and Sally—off to another part of our city to begin leading neighborhood Bible studies. And so we gathered around them in prayer, led them by a procession of cars to that part of town and dropped them off with joy and blessing.”

How was worship today, really? How do we approach it as leaders? How do we approach it as participants? Is there space in our worship, indeed in our hearts, for a prompting from the Holy Spirit?

In some traditions there is a point at the conclusion of formal worship where the leader says, “Our worship has ended, let the service begin” and the people respond, “thanks be to God!”

Or our bishop, when complimented on a sermon by a parishioner sometimes replies, “we’ll see.”

Maybe that’s the response that I should give my relative the next time I am asked, “Who was worship today?” We’ll see…

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your promptings from wherever they come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 9-10 and Acts 13-14)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Questioning the Sweetness of Revenge

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Acts 12:1-3 About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3 After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.)

Observation: What is it that drives crowds to be pleased when violence is directed at others?

According to this morning’s news Moammar Gadhafi may have been captured or maybe even killed. For many this is a cause for great celebration. Same goes for any number of other high profile ‘targets’ around the globe in recent years.

Clearly some of these folks have been or are brutal people with little respect for human life. Still, I wince at the thought of celebrating their execution. Can there ever be any real joy in taking another’s life? Should there ever be any real joy in taking another’s life?

In the scriptures, especially the Old Testament, there are numerous times when joy accompanies the overthrowing (usually by death) of an opposing force. Goliath, Pharoah’s army, and the Philistines killed by Samson are but a few examples of nasty people whose demise resulted in celebration.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that celebrating another’s demise does not take Jesus’ call to love one’s enemies into account. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be justice. Nor am I necessarily saying that execution is never an acceptable solution. I’m just saying that, should things come to that point, that’s still no reason to be happy about it. Otherwise we edge toward becoming the very kind of people we claim to hate.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see the world as you see the world, even if we’re not completely sure how you see it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 6-8 and Acts 12)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cooking is Ridiculously Easy at Times

I had no idea what to make for a semi-quick lunch today. Twenty minutes later I was licking my chops out of satisfaction. The trick? Just using what was on hand.

Here's what was for lunch today...

--Coat a covered skillet with a light application of oil (I used coconut today).

While the electric stove heated up I prepared the following:
--Dice up a small yellow squash and half of a medium-sized zucchini.
--Dice up a red pepper
--Dice up a green pepper
--Dice up half of a cayenne pepper

Place above ingredients in skillet on medium heat along with 1/2 pound of browned hamburger (I had some in the freezer that just needed 30 seconds in the microwave to thaw out before adding to the skillet) for about 10 minutes.

While that was cooking I diced up two tomatoes and added them to the mixture. Five or so minutes later I added a light topping of shredded cheddar and mozzarella cheese.

Let simmer until cheese melts.

Eat and enjoy!

Notice that I didn't even add a single spice to this recipee. The Cayenne pepper gave it a little kick and the other flavors merged together quite nicely.

I'm looking forward to having the rest for supper!

Today's Workout

Somehow I must have slept completely wrong on one my one arm last night to the point that I thought it best to remove almost all upperbody moves out of today's workout. Here's what I ended up with:

Warm-up w/out push-ups.

Set 1: Bodyweight squats, 1 leg stability ball curls. Short rest and repeat.

Set 2: Bulgarian Split Squats, lying hip extensions with feet on stability ball, front squats while holding 1 dumbbell under chin. Short rest and repeat.

Set 3: Planks, two-hand dumbbell swings (like Kettlebell swings). Short rest and repeat.

Set 4: Two rounds of chin-ups with knee-ups.

It wasn't a fantastic workout by any means, but it did get my heart pumping a bit and gave most of my body at least some activity.

Good Company

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Acts 11:25-26 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”

Barnabas didn’t try to teach all by himself, but instead sought the help of Saul (otherwise known as the Apostle Paul) and then together they taught people over an extended period of time to the point that the people became known for their faith as Christians.

Application: The early church really valued the opportunity to work in teams. Jesus himself formed a team when he called his first disciples and even when he sent them out he did so two by two. Saul/Paul, considered by many to be the greatest missionary that ever lived, was often part of a team approach as well.

Yesterday I met briefly with someone to talk about our ministry as a synod. It too was a team approach of some sort and will hopefully help a board/team I serve on to function more effectively in the future. On another front, at least couple local pastors and I are going to begin meeting together periodically for prayer. I suspect that these meetings will broaden each of our respective horizons and hopefully ultimately be of benefit to our respective congregations as well as to us personally. Time will tell. But it’s good to see that, in so doing we are, Scripturally speaking, in good company.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the various opportunities you provide for partnership in your name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 5, Psalm 108, and Acts 10-11)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Today's Workout

Warm-up followed by:

Set 1:
Barbell Squats
Suspended bar push-ups
Rest, repeat set.

Set 2:
Bench step-ups
Bent-over dumbbell rows
rest, repeat set.

Set 3:
ab-wheel roll-outs
Skateboard Pikes
rest, repeat set.

Set 4:
2 sets of 15 dumbbell overhead presses.

The Place for Brutal Honesty

Note: Today's devotion seemed like it took forever to write. Not sure if that makes it any better or worse than other devotions. It is what it is.

Scripture Passage that Caught My Attention Today: Job 1:20-21 Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

Observation: Some believe Job was a real human being and that his story was a real human story. Others see the story of Job as an extended parable that goes on to make an important point. Either way, Job’s willingness to faithfully deal with the challenges of life is admirable.

Application: Yesterday in the adult Sunday School discussion we were asked to describe times/situations when we feel like God is really close. My response had to do with my trust in God’s ability to handle my brutal honesty. Whenever I find myself at a loss as to how to proceed in life, my go-to method of recovery is to open up a blank word-processing document and just let the words flow as a direct reflection of how I am feeling what I am thinking, etc. The expressions are phrased as if they are prayers to God because, well, they are. But they are not so much requests for things but, rather, just an open sharing of who I am at that moment. It’s a time/place where I can simply share whatever, not because it’s necessarily right or wrong but just because it is what it is at that point in time. It’s amazing how much better I usually feel afterwards. Often times I don’t even keep the documents. The feelings, whatever they may be, don’t tend to linger once they have been adequately expressed in the trusted relationship between the one Triune God and myself.

Job, upon hearing of his plight, pours out some brutal honesty of his own—“Naked I came…naked I shall return…the Lord gave…the Lord has taken away…blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job’s utterance is remarkable. Although close readers of the story will note that it was Satan who took away Job’s belongings and family and such, it’s also true that God allowed it to happen. Some might call that divine negligence; God knew something bad was about to happen and didn’t endeavor to stop it. But Job doesn’t see it that way. Job believes God can do whatever God wants to do and Job will just need to suffer through it.

Of course, this raises all kinds of theological questions about God’s role in human suffering. Who really causes what, and why? For now, however, it’s enough to know that God can handle the honest outpourings of our heart. Ironically, that may be more important than the answers we sometimes seek.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for being there and for being willing to listen to the sometimes earnest ponderings of our heart. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Job 1-2, Acts 6-7)

Saturday, October 15, 2011


1 can Progresso chicken noodle soup
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 steamed small yellow squash
1/2 steamed zuchini squash
1/2 steamed multicolored pepper
1 small fresh (uncooked) chilli pepper
2 fresh romo tomatoes (diced)

Pour soup in container. Add cooked quinoa, steamed veggies and other ingredients. Stir together and it's ready for now or later. Tastes great hot or cold.

This is one way to take advantage of the flavor of a somewhat questionable item (canned soup) and make it go much further (and spread the sodium and other not so nutritious ingredients over a much larger spectrum of healthy ingredients).

Yesterday's workout

Warm-up followed by:

Set 1
Romanian Dead Lifts
Front squats
Overhead presses
Back squats
Split squats.
Rest, repeat Set.

Set 2
1 leg stability ball curls
Fisted Aligator Push-ups with boxing mits on hands and feet on skateboard.
rest, repeat.

Set 3
Dumbbell Dead-lift to overhead press combo
Cross-body mountain-climbers
Rest, repeat.

Set 4
2 rounds of Turkish Get-ups with 25# dumbbell (5 reps per side per set)

Mussings on Hair-Raising Persuasion

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Nehemiah 13:25-26 And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not King Solomon of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin.

Observation: Yikes…Nehemiah was really upset and one can’t help but wonder if he went over the line a little bit.

Application: There was a fight on our school bus. It was years ago, but I remember it clearly. I was probably in 5th or 6th grade. A slightly older boy had drawn the ire of a high school girl and she came up to his seat and put him in his place. As she got up to leave he kicked her. Big mistake. She came right back and started yelling at him and pulling his hair like crazy until he cried uncontrollably and said he was sorry.

I’m not saying he was innocent. He wasn’t. But I’ll never forget his screams while she was pulling his hair.

Nehemiah was sorely disappointed in how the people of his day had been carrying on in his absence. Upon his return he endeavored to whip them back into shape based on his understandings of what was acceptable behavior in the sight of the Lord. But did he go too far? Is an oath that is made as a result of force any kind of oath at all?

I don’t really know the answers to those questions. Nehemiah lived in a vastly different time than I and his understanding of God was somewhat different from mine as well. He also didn’t have the benefit of knowing the good news emanating from the death and resurrection of Jesus.

But I do believe that forced confessions and oaths have limited value. That’s essentially what’s going on in Iran right now. A Christian pastor is being asked/forced to recant his Christian beliefs. It appears that, thus are, he has resisted. But if even he ever were to succumb to the pressure, would his faith really be changed? Wouldn’t that be more of a sign of cowardly faith than rather than no faith?

Only God knows.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be faithful to you and inspire others to be faithful as well. Also, help us to be faithful in how we help a/d or encouraging others to be faithful too. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Nehemiah 13, Malach 1 & 2, and Acts 4)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Scoff Not, Yet You Might Still Be Scoffed

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Psalm 1:1 Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;

I’ve read this Psalm many a time but never really focused on the word “scoffers” before. Today it caught my eye. “Scoffers” are not well-thought of in Scripture.

Application: Do you ever ‘scoff?’ In some ways I suppose we all do…at least on occasion. We might think—or maybe even say—things like: “you do something like that and call yourself a Christian!” That’s scoffing.

Ironically, such things are often thought or said by fellow Christians! I’ve done it myself.

Complicating the matter is the fact that if people scoff at us, we have a tendency to scoff back. “Well mr/miss smarty-pants, I don’t see you exactly rising to the occasion now, do I?” That’s scoffing too.

Scoffers aren’t really mentioned very often in the Bible--only about 19 times in the NRSV translation, for example. Most of those occurrences are in the books of Proverbs and Psalms. It should come as no surprise that these books are categorized by scholars as “wisdom” books in the Bible. And so clearly the wise would say that there is no wisdom in scoffing!

But how does one treat a scoffer? What should we do when someone seems to scoff at us? Well, this is where it gets interesting. In Proverbs 9:8 it says, “A scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you.”

And so, even though scoffers might seem like a pain at the time, the wise person will take it in stride, learning what he or she can from the experience, loving rather than scoffing in return, and quietly letting the rest go. If one is truly dealing with a scoffer, efforts to correct are simply wasted time, energy, and breath.

Unfortunately, this is harder than it sounds. In the first place it’s hard to distinguish authentic critique from scoffing. And in the second place it’s hard to love the scoffer when the scoffing itself may hurt.

Thankfully the Bible, in the very first verse of the very first Psalm, gives us significant incentive to try: those who do not sit in the seat of scoffers will be, well “Happy.” ☺

Prayer: Lord, help us to focus on the non-scoffing paths that lead to happiness and joy (even in the midst of various forms of stress and/or suffering). It’s quite simply, a better way to live. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Nehemiah 11-12, Psalm 1, and Acts 3)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

God's Graciousness Revealed yet Again

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Nehemiah 9:30-31 Many years you were patient with them, and warned them by your spirit through your prophets; yet they would not listen. Therefore you handed them over to the peoples of the lands. 31 Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.

Observation: Nehemiah understood the people’s earlier plights to be a result of their disobedience to God, yet he also saw God as incredibly merciful and gracious.

Application: Today is the anniversary of the baptism of our middle child, a son. The day holds a little extra special significance for me because on the day he was born six weeks earlier X number of years ago, I learned that I had somehow or another severely injured one of my vocal chords. As a result, I had been using an artificial larynx ever since then in an effort to help the vocal chord rest and recover. The total healing process took a couple more months, but on October 13th I offered my first public non-artificial larynx-assisted words; “[name of son], I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

To this day the actual cause of the vocal chord injury is a mystery.

I don’t think the injury was a punishment from God of some sort—even though, as a human being, I’m sure there were plenty of reasons for which God most certainly could have punished me. After all, Nehemiah’s recounting of the faults of people long ago bears remarkable similarity to our own. But I do think that God was incredibly gracious and merciful through the whole ordeal. I was blessed with a congregation that was gracious, a family that was gracious (especially my wife who had been counting on me to provide lots of help when the new baby arrived and suddenly had a husband who couldn’t talk!), an intern who was gracious, and colleagues and neighbors who were gracious too. Oddly enough, one person—who for some reason or another seemed to be rather irked with me at the time—ended up being the one who most insisted that I get my voice checked out in the first place and, in so doing, probably saved me from permanent injury. Indeed, lest we forget, God’s graciousness often comes from surprising corners. Nehemiah would likely concur.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the various experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant, that drive us to see ourselves as rooted in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Nehemiah 9-10, Acts 2)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Today's workout

Warm-up followed by:

Set 1:
10 pull-ups (overhand grip)
10 vertical jumps
10 Spiderman push-ups
Rest 1 minute, repeat set but with 8 pull-ups and 12 vertical jumps.

Set 2:
10 Dumbbell dead-lift and over-head press combos
12 1-leg stability ball curls
rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Set 3:
15 Bent-over dumbbell rows
12 Suspended bar push-ups
Rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Set 4:
30-second side planks with 15 leg raises each side
10 ab-wheel roll-outs.
Rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Set 5
2 rounds of 50 cross-body mountain climbers with 20 seconds rest between rounds.


When Bad News is Good News

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Nehemiah 8:9-12 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our LORD; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” 11 So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.

Observation: At first the people understood the message of God to be law, a form of rightful conviction. But then, at the leader’s promptings, they began to see the message of God as good news—a cause for “great rejoicing.”

Application: Lutherans, theologically, are bad news good news people. We see the bad news of our human condition/situation as good news in the sense that it drives us to rediscover our need for God and to rediscover the hope that is found in the crucified and risen Christ. I’m not sure if it’s a case of the bad news driving us to the good news or whether the good news enables us to face the bad news. But either way, we are neither idealistic (we can see that the world is a broken place and that we are broken people) nor pessimistic (through Christ God’s love has been poured out for us and life, not death, will have the final say). Instead we are realistic—Christ’s love and resurrected life trumps humanity’s self-centeredness and earthly death. Therefore we’re not afraid to face the law because we do so in light of the Gospel.

Nehemiah was written long before the earthly time of Jesus, but it’s interesting that some leaders, even back then, saw the law of God as good news—a cause for rejoicing.

Lord, help us to see the beauty in all that you provide. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Nehemiah 7-8 and Acts 1)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The News

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Luke 24:18-21 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.

Observation: News isn’t always well-known.

Last night I was invited to be a pastoral presence early this morning at a local elementary school. A staff member had died suddenly and it was thought that perhaps a pastoral presence might be appreciated for staff and, possibly, students.

There was some question among a couple staff members as to how best to help the students process their grief. One thought having the students make a nice card might be helpful. Another staff member thought it might be better, after acknowledging what happened, to just go on about the day and help everyone function more normally, particularly since a good number of the students deal with relatively traumatic events on a somewhat daily basis anyhow (moving from house to house, parents in and out of jail, etc.)

I found both views interesting. I was later asked for my opinion by someone who had seen the discussion between the two staff members. I said that at first I thought the card was a good idea, but could then see the other person’s point as well. Given the circumstances many of the kids live with, at what point does one lift up one traumatic event above the rest?

I suppose the answer is when the event directly affects a significant number or percentage of the people.

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead qualifies as just such an event. The early followers of Jesus felt that everyone should know about his story. And so, ironically, they even endeavored to tell Jesus himself!

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the various experiences in life through which we learn. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Nehemiah 5-6, Psalm 146, Luke 24)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Today's Workout

Warm-up followed by:
Set 1
8 Chin-ups with knee-ups, 25 Barbell Squats, 10 Spiderman Push-ups. Rest 1 minute, repeat.

Set 2:
15 1-leg stability ball curls, 10 Bench step-ups. Rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Set 3:
15 Side planks with leg-raises followed by 15 second side planks, 15 Bent-over dumb-bell Rows. Rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Set 4:
7 Hanging leg raises, 50 Cross-body mountain climbers. Rest 30 seconds, repeat. Done.

Multitasking for the kingdom

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Nehemiah 4:16-18a From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and body-armor; and the leaders posted themselves behind the whole house of Judah, 17 who were building the wall. The burden bearers carried their loads in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and with the other held a weapon. 18 And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built.

Observation: The rebuilders of the wall had to multitask.

Application: Personally I wish I didn’t have to multitask so often. It seems I could be much more efficient if I could devote my time and energy to one thing at a time. But that’s not the way life is for me at this stage. There are a zillion irons on the fire at once at church and there are a zillion irons on the fire at home. And so I’m often multitasking on church projects and home projects and combinations of the two.

I’m sure the people in Nehemiah’s day would have preferred to devote their energies to either working on the wall or defending the city rather than both at the same time. No such luck. Build with one hand and defend with the other was their only option. Consequently progress took longer than hoped but was still better than nothing. Over time they were actually able to see their progress and experience a certain satisfaction of accomplishment.

The race/experience of life is long, not short—more like a marathon than a sprint. Steady progress is the prize worth eying.

Prayer: Lord, we often think our world is the busiest. Not necessarily so. Challenges have existed for every generation. Help us progress as best we can in the generation in which you have placed us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings included: Nehemiah 3-4 and Luke 23)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Opportunity in Crisis

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Esther 4:15 Then Mordecai went out from the presence of the king, wearing royal robes of blue and white, with a great golden crown and a mantle of fine linen and purple, while the city of Susa shouted and rejoiced.

Observation: It must have been quite a day when Mordecai left the king’s palace in royal robes. And to think that, had the king not had distressing dreams that led to the revelation of Mordecai’s saving work, Mordecai would have been hung on the gallows long before dinner.

Application: My mind has been led in a lot of different directions in response to this passage. But now it’s time to focus.

It has been said: “crisis” is “opportunity riding the wind.” Put another way, some of the best ministry in life happens on the edges—on the edge of our energy, on the edge of our connections, on the edge of our ability, on the edge of our reach, on the edge of our training or influence or whatever. When we somehow think we can’t do one more cotton-pickin’ thing, right then and there we often encounter a sense of the holy—even if it is in our admission that we can’t take another step without some form of divine help and/or perspective.

And there is no hiding. Esther’s position in the palace could not insulate her from the impending disaster that forced her to take a life-or-death personal risk. Centuries later, we are all the better for it.

So it is with us. There is no place or position of real safety, but there is always opportunity. Opportunity to grow, to deepen, to further consider, to expand, to be courageous, to be graceful, to be humbled, to inspire, to really live, and, in faith—when the time comes—to die.

It’s not all pleasant, but it’s all good.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the perspective, faith, and example of Esther and Mordecai. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Esther 3-8, Luke 18)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Today's Workout

Set 1: pullups, barbell romanian dead lifts, Barbell cleans, front squats, military press, back squats, Split squats. Rest 1 minute. repeat.

Set 2: Stability Ball 1-leg curls, bent-over dumbbell rows. Rest 30 seconds. Repeat.

Set 3: Push-up/Pike combo with feet on skateboard, cross-body mountain-climbers. Rest 30 seconds. Repeat. Done.


Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Luke 17:1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!

Jesus was realistic, but he also consistently expressed concern for those who are vulnerable and called for those in positions of influence and/or power to be servant-minded.

Application: On the one hand, we’re all human. There are parts of us that we don’t understand, don’t like, and may wish were different. On that level we’re all alike. To put in in Paul’s terms, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

On the other hand, for whatever reason, we occupy and exercise different positions of responsibility in society professionally and personally. For example, although it’s true that a teacher is no less a sinner than a student, teachers are not to intentionally lead students into unhealthy situations. Those with more influence/power in a relationship are to shepherd it wisely. If not, there is a price to be paid.

It seems that people most often fall into trouble when they fail to embrace their respective position(s) as part and parcel of who they are. We may be a parent and/or married or a representative of the people or a teacher or a spiritual leader or whatever. Some people say that we are more than what we do or what we are known for. That’s true. But what we do or what we are known for is part of who we are as well and neither can nor should be denied. In fact, the very remembrance and embracing of such realities can not only help keep us from stumbling, but more importantly, may well help prevent us from tripping up anyone else as well.

Prayer: Lord, yes, occasions for stumbling are sure to come. Help us avoid tripping up anyone else through our own clumsiness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Esther 1-2, Psalm 150, and Luke 17)