Saturday, November 26, 2011

Come, Lord Jesus

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Matthew 23:1-4 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; 3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.

Observation: It’s easy to lay burdens on others that we ourselves are not willing/able to bear. It’s also easy to allow others to do the same to us.

There’s a story in Leviticus chapter 10 that comes to mind. A couple of Aaron’s sons have done something they should not have done and they die. Moses keeps driving the point home that they deserved their death and that the rest better do everything perfect or they too shall die. At first Aaron remains silent and listens to what Moses says. But then it was revealed that a couple more of Aarons sons had done something, presumably with good intent, that also was not quite the way it was supposed to be done and Moses got angry all over again. He started chastising them until Aaron could maintain his silence no longer:

And Aaron spoke to Moses, “See, today they offered their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD; and yet such things as these have befallen me! If I had eaten the sin offering today, would it have been agreeable to the LORD?” 20 And when Moses heard that, he agreed.”

We’re coming up to a time of year when a lot of people will want everything to be just right—decorations…food…presents…relationships…you name it. But not everything will be perfect. Matching right up with the joy of the season will be corresponding amounts of loneliness, disappointment, regret, and frustration. Not every gesture will be appreciated. The beautiful scripted words on many a card will not necessarily be enough to make up for a years of neglect. And when we try to force our holiday cheer on the very ones whom we have intentionally or unintentionally wronged in one way or another, well…we may find ourselves confronted in Aaron-like fashion. If so, it may be for good reason.

The Advent season which begins this weekend is very much a season of longing for burdens to be lifted rather than imposed, lightened rather than increased. When we say, “come, Lord Jesus” it is spiritual request for the One who is whole to bring a sense of wholeness to those of us (which is all of us) who are not yet complete.

Until then, it may help to realize that we will not become more complete by imposing onto others our own ideas of what is right verses trite. Neither will it help to allow others to do the same to us. Much better to just say or think, “Come Lord Jesus.”

Lord, help us to find our deepest longings to be met in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Matthew 23-25)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Surprising Compassion instead of Anger

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Matthew 14:13-14 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

Observation: Jesus had just learned of the death of John the Baptist and wanted to be alone. The only alone time he had, however, was his time in the boat. The crowd was clearly determined to meet him as soon as he arrived on shore. Apparently he was deeply moved by them.

Application: I suppose most of us just want to be alone at one time or another. We long for a break—a time-out from the regular and routine or what some people call the ‘rat race.’ Grief can do that to a person and Jesus was no exception. He wanted to be alone, to draw back. Nothin’ doing; the crowd wouldn’t let it happen. One can almost imagine the situation—lone boat on a relatively small body of water (Sea of Galilee) with crowd following on foot.

In a way I’m surprised he didn’t get angry when he came ashore. He could have said, “Look, can’t you see I want to be alone?” Instead he was somehow touched by them and responded with compassion instead of anger.

That’s a good lesson for all of us, yet another reason for which we can be thankful.

Lord, thanks for your compassion. Help us to be of similar nature. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Matthew 14-16)

My Pre-Thanksgiving Workout

Given the fact that any number of different circumstances can cause us to have physical limitations, I'm always thankful just for the opportunity to be physically able to move. And so, with the official day of Thanksgiving (in the USA, at least) coming up tomorrow, it only made sense to be extra thankful to be able to workout today. Here was the routine.

My standard warm-up (12 body-weight squats, 15 leg swings per side, 24 walking lunges, 10 close-grip push-ups, 10 stick-ups, 10 waiter's bows, 30-second plank, and 10 light dumbbell dead-lifts).

Now on to the workout:

Set 1
10 Front Squats with 100# barbell
20 Bench presses with 100# barbell
15 Bent-over rows with 2-25# dumbells
Rest one minute, repeat set but with only 12 bench-presses.

Set 2
15 1-leg Stability-ball curls (per leg)
10 ab-wheel roll-outs
Rest 30 seconds, repeat set.

Set 3
6 chin-ups with knee-ups
10 Turkish get-ups with 20# dumbbell (5 per side)

Set 4 (opposite of set 3)
10 Turkish get-ups with 20# dumbbell
6 chin-ups with knee-ups


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Careless Words and the Like

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Matthew 12:36 I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Observation: these chapters in Matthew are full of verses that, at first glance, offer very little hope. The judgment, taken at face value, is excruciating. But is there more to the story?

Application: According to a personality indicator (Myers-Briggs) that is used in many professional circles, I am an extrovert. One characteristic of extroverts is that we have a tendency to think aloud. What that means is that sometimes what we say aloud is a thought in process rather than a thought that has been processed. It can drive other people crazy. Sometimes it drives us crazy. “Careless” words, at times, abound.

So as you can imagine, when Jesus says that “by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned,” well, that doesn’t exactly come across to people like me as comforting!

There are a number of other discomforting expressions in these chapters as well:

Jesus says, “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Does that mean that some people are just out of luck?

He also says, “The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’” Isn’t the whole idea to help people understand?

And the there’s this: “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” There’s a lot of finality in that passage…and it isn’t pretty. And these are but a few of the disconcerting passages in this section.

What is one to make of all of this…especially in light of the fact that Jesus also quotes the Old Testament in saying, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”?

There’s a part of me that wonders if Jesus was an extrovert! So much of what Matthew quotes Jesus as saying in these chapters seems particularly harsh. Is that how he meant it?

Maybe…especially in context. According to Matthew, one of the reasons that Jesus came to earth was to fulfill the law (cf. 5:17). In other words, Jesus came to accomplish what humanity was never able to accomplish on its own. Many of these passages make our own limitations abundantly clear. And so we have the classic law/gospel paradigm in full view. The law convicts, the gospel frees. The law keeps us humble, the gospel keeps us hopeful.

Interestingly, now that I think about it, even the verse that caught my attention today contains both the law and gospel; we will be condemned by our words but also justified by them. Extroverts just give God a few more words to work with!

Prayer: Lord, in light of our many words, let us hold steadfast to your word made flesh in Jesus. Amen.

(Readings today included: Matthew 11-13)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Today's Workout

Happy Monday everyone. Here's a summary of the physical start to my day today.

First thing: drink big glass of water followed by a bowl of raw rolled oats topped with raisins and 2 tsp. of flax seed that was soaked over night. I eat it like cereal with lots of milk.

Warm-up followed by:

Set 1:
Chin-ups (10)
100# barbell squats (25)
Suspended bar push-ups (12)
rest 1 minute, repeat.

Set 2:
Single leg stability ball curls (15/leg)
Ab wheel roll-outs (10)
rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Set 3:
Dumbbell deadlift to overhead press combos (10 reps with 2-25# dumbbells)
rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Set 4:
Cross-body mountain-climbers (50)
rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Set 5:
Bent-over side deltoid raises with 10# dumbbells (10)
rest 30 seconds, repeat.


Here and Now

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Matthew 8:24-26 A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.

Observation: Jesus was able to sleep through quite a bit of racket. Didn’t seem to let the worries of the moment keep him from sleep.

I woke up around 3:45 this morning to the sound of rain. I eventually got back to sleep, but not soundly. There was a wrestling match going on in my mind. In the one corner was my desire to get some much-needed sleep. In the other corner was my awareness of what needs to get done in a short week, my concern about some situations some people I know are going through, and my own unsettled ponderings as to how I might best be helpful through all these things.

Ironically, what would probably be more helpful all the way around would simply be a good night’s sleep! If only I were better at setting everything else aside to catch a little shut-eye so that I might rise refreshed to meet whatever challenges are presented on following day.

I know a counselor who often speaks about the importance of being present in the moment—as opposed to being preoccupied with what is not yet or stuck in a time that has already passed by.

Jesus seemed to know the art of such things. There he was, asleep in the midst of a storm. His disciples might wake him, but the storm would not. I’m not sure if he went right back to sleep after calming the storm or not. But somehow I think he probably did.

Prayer: Lord, help us be engaged in our present moments and not let the concerns of the future or events of the past prevent us from participating fully in your gift of the here and now. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Matthew 8-10)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Today's Workout

Didn't go full-bore this morning...just gave each major muscle area its own little challenge. The workout went like this:

Full-body warm-up followed by each of the following while focusing on perfect form.
12 Suspended-bar incline push-ups
25 Barbell Squats with 100#
15 Bent-over rows with 25# dumbbells
10 Ab-wheel roll-outs
12 Push-up/burpee combos.

That was it. Short and sweet. On to the rest of the day.

Choosing Sides

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Psalm 124:1-5 If it had not been the LORD who was on our side—let Israel now say—
2 if it had not been the LORD who was on our side,
when our enemies attacked us,
3 then they would have swallowed us up alive,
when their anger was kindled against us;
4 then the flood would have swept us away,
the torrent would have gone over us;
5 then over us would have gone
the raging waters.

Observation: the Psalmist believed that they were saved from opposing armies because the Lord was on their side. Otherwise, the Psalmist believed, they would have been destroyed.

Application: there’s a part of me that loves this Psalm and another part of me that finds it troubling.

I love the sense of thanksgiving it expresses…and the belief that they were saved, not by their own will or effort, but because of the mercy of God.

More troubling, however, is the belief that God has chosen a side—namely, their side. I wonder how many unnecessary battles have been fought over the years (whether militarily between nations or just verbally within families or churches) because people assumed the Lord was on their side. Does God choose sides?

I think the answer to that question may be yes. But if so, it would appear that God most often sides with the disadvantaged, the downtrodden, the persecuted, the suffering, those most easily cast aside. Basically, God tends to work with the remnants of people. And as the balance of power shifts, so does, at times, the focus of the Almighty. For this reason, in today’s readings from 2 Corinthians, Paul is not ashamed to discuss his weaknesses. In fact, he finds a certain solace in it.

Prayer: Lord, I’m not sure what all the side-choosing is about, but I do pray that we might never be far from your side. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Psalm 124 and 2 Corinthians 11-13.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Not Losing Heart

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 3:2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; AND 2 Corinthians 4:1 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.

Observation: Paul understood that the greatest test of Christian leadership is the extent to which the body of Christ actually reflects the one in whose name it gathers. Based on the ills addressed in his first letter to the Corinthians and also his letter to the Galatians, it’s clear that, at times, Paul wasn’t doing so well in that regard. Still, as expressed in the second verse listed above, Paul nevertheless understood that it was by God’s mercy that he was engaged in the ministry and that, therefore, he did not “lose heart.” He felt so strongly about that, in fact, that he repeated the phrase “we do not lose heart” in 4:16. Maybe he was just trying to convince himself, but somehow I think he actually meant it.

It’s pretty easy to lose heart. I’ve noticed that—even with physical ailments. Small pains fester and it’s easy to let them take over our view of the world. The ‘woe is me’ syndrome is akin to junk mail—it’s there just about every time we open our box or inbox.

The most profound opportunities to lose heart are when the very basics of what we’re trying to accomplish seem to be a failure. That’s when we’re tempted through up our hands and ask, “why am I even doing this?”

Sometimes this is actually a good question. Sometimes, as people of faith, our priorities and/or attitudes are askew and need to be re-evaluated. And sometimes, if we’re willing, the rest of the Christian community can lovingly help us with this re-evaluation.

But there are other times when there is every good reason to hang in there.

As I reflect back on my ministry thus far, I’m wondering to what extent the congregations I have served/serve reflect the one in whose name we gather. To what extent are their lives an example of a letter to God?

It’s a humbling thought. I’d like to think that they often reflect the essence of Christ quite well…and often that’s true. But every pastor knows that that certainly isn’t always the case. And sometimes even we pastors don’t reflect the essence of Christ very well! What then?

That’s when it’s important to remember that it is “by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry.” In other words, it’s possible that God loves us enough to put us in the position we’re in. Maybe we can really make a difference through it or maybe we can really learn something through it or, more likely, both. Either way it’s by God’s mercy.

Now, it might not always seem like the most merciful thing God has ever done. But if it really is by God’s mercy, we need not lose heart. We’re in the process of becoming and inspiring a letter of God “to be known and read by all.”

Prayer: Lord, I’m not sure why this devotion took such an incredibly long time to write. Still, I give you thanks once again for helping me see yet another glimpse of what our role in this world is all about. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(2 Corinthians 3-6)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Real Sincere

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not peddlers of God’s word like so many; but in Christ we speak as persons of sincerity, as persons sent from God and standing in his presence.

Observation: Sincerity is huge for anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ.

Application: Those of us with some basic training in interpersonal relationships/counseling are taught to try to do what is not always easy—maintain a non-anxious presence, own our own feelings, and to respond in proportion to the situation rather than to over or under-react, to name a few. These are not ‘techniques’ to manipulate but, quite to the contrary, healthy ways of interaction and, in fact, a demonstration of respect for all concerned—including ourselves.

Such healthy ways of interaction are always easier when the rub concerns others and are significantly more difficult whenever we find ourselves personally and/or professionally involved. But then again, when we do feel find ourselves in the thick of something, it’s a marvelous opportunity to, as they say, ‘practice what we preach.’ It goes without saying that that’s easier said than done.

In such times I am reminded of how absolutely crucial it is to regularly and personally be a student (as opposed to a teacher) of the Scriptures, not as searcher for all things that help ‘justify’ our position, but rather as someone who seeks to be reminded of what living our faith is all about.

In Corinthians today we are reminded that God leads the way through Christ--a “triumphal procession” according to Paul whereby what God has done for us pervades the atmosphere as a sort of “aroma” that can be of benefit to those who are being saved and those who are perishing alike. This fragrance spreads best when we speak/act as “persons of sincerity.” And sincerity starts at home by acknowledging our own fears and ills and prejudices and presumptions and propensity to want to respond in kind or point out wrong or whatever else might indeed make a point but in the process harm a relationship.

It’s easy to boldly proclaim that we are “sent from God.” But sincerity comes to the fore when we realize that we are also, according to Paul, “standing in his presence.” Yikes…we’d better be real!

Prayer: Lord, thanks for allowing us to stand in your presence. Help us take on and share the fragrance of you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 41-42 and 2 Corinthians 1-2)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Acting in relation to Faith

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 15:17 If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

Observation: For the Apostle Paul, Christ’s death and resurrection were more important than anything else. For him that’s how everything related to faith comes together.

Application: People who claim and/or are grasped by the Christian faith differ on many things—style of worship, interpretation of Scriptures, acceptable behavior, doctrinal matters, etc. Occasionally the Apostle Paul entered into the debate on such matters too. But at the heart of it all is the gripping story of the God/man Christ who both died and was raised again.

For Paul, this story of the death and resurrection of Jesus is so central to faith that, in his view, without it there is really no reason for faith at all. “Futile” is the word he uses.

This is an interesting perspective for Paul in particular because he was once a practicing Jew on the fast-track to positions of influence. Now he essentially says that the faith he once had was really no faith at all; everything of lasting importance hinges on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Without that story humanity is still (I might use the word “stuck”) in sin.

With the story, however, each day is a new day.

There will likely be challenges to face of course, ranging from global issues to finding a way to get along with a co-worker or even a family member. But hope can no longer be lost. Indeed, never again.

Prayer: Lord, let us not forget that you accomplished something of lasting value through your death on the cross and subsequent resurrection from the dead. And let us face the life we now live in such a way as to demonstrate that we believe it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Psalm 149, 1 Corinthians 15-16)

Today's Workout

Warm-up (bodyweight squats, leg swings, walking lunges, close-grip push-ups, stick-ups, waiter's bows, Dumbell dead-lifts (should have done planks too, but forgot)

Set 1
Barbell Complex consisting of 6 reps of each of the following: Romanian Dead-lifts, Hanging Cleans, Front Squats, Overhead Presses, Back Squats, and Split-leg Squats with barbell on back. Rest 1 minute, repeat set.

Set 2
Pull-ups (8)
Bulgarian Split Squats (1 1/2 rep counts as 1 rep) (10/leg)
Rest 1 minute, repeat set.

Set 3
Push-up/arm-extension combo on suspended bar (10 reps)
Bent-over dumbbell rows (15)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set.

Set 4
Cross-body mountain-climbers (50)
Planks (30 second)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set

Set 5
1-leg push-ups (20)
Lateral Dumbbell Deltoid Raises (10)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

When We Take Too Much Upon Ourselves

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 12:14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.

Observation: So true.

Application: It’s tempting, at times, to feel that we are responsible for everything. To somehow delude ourselves into thinking that the world, or portions thereof, will not go on without us…or at least not as well.

It’s a tenuous position. On the one hand, we are vitally important. God works through us. We are part of the body. But when we cease seeing ourselves as channels and begin seeing ourselves as in charge…well, then it’s easy to overstep our bounds and not so easy to know when to take a step back. Often we both take on more stress than necessary and, at times, cause more stress than necessary…to the point that the whole body of Christ hurts.

When the rest of the body of Christ hurts, it sometimes responds in the name of Christ but not like Christ. Responding in kind is, well, not necessarily kind. Lifting up Bible verses to justify our position/opinion is far easier—and far less effective—than owning and naming our own anxiety as we struggle to figure out how to love when we’re not sure we either want to or can.

Still, the body of Christ does not consist of one member but of many. I find great comfort in such things. It means that none of us has feel like we to have all the right answers—or even any of them! Instead we can trust that the one around whom the body of Christ gathers is none other than the crucified and risen Christ himself. His assurance is sufficient. In him we who are many are one.

Prayer: Lord, whenever we feel more responsible than necessary, help us to take a step back in order that we might demonstrate our trust in you and in the other members of the body you have so graciously provided. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 37-38 and 1 Corinthians 12)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Some thoughts on Penn State's situation and our situation in light of today's readings.

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 10:24 Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.

Observation: This is a basic Christian principle that is often overlooked.

Application: The current Penn State scandal began with an indictment alleging that a prominent person in power took advantage of a number of other people (in this case young boys) with less power.

Ironically, we actually applaud such behavior on the athletic field and in business, expecting teams, companies and/or individuals to exploit the opponent’s weaknesses. But, of course, in interpersonal relations, and most especially intimate relationships, society understands that taking advantage of another is wrong. It’s an unfair and sometimes dastardly abuse of power. We rightly have laws against such things.

The Apostle Paul, it appears, would agree. He instructs followers of Jesus not to seek their own advantage. He himself endeavors to demonstrate as much and he applies the principle to nearly all aspects of life. Nearly.

Sports, according to Paul, is the one area where competition is the norm. He tells people to “run in such a way that you may win.”

Unfortunately, we often have difficulty distinguishing the arena of sports from the rest of life. For example, we don’t want the companies we invest in to seek the advantage of the other because, if they do, our stock options might go down in value. And that’s just one example.

Consider, if you dare, the number of areas in your own life where you often seek your own advantage rather than that of another. It might take some thought because sometimes, in the process of seeking our own advantage, we delude ourselves into thinking that we’re actually helping someone else when we’re really not. Sick as it sounds, it would not surprise me if Jerry Sandusky convinced himself that he was ‘helping’ some of his alleged victims. Our efforts to seek our own advantage are hopefully far less horrific, but not necessarily any less misguided.

Authentically seeking the advantage of another is not easy. But it is Christian. And the one who offers the ultimate model of seeking the advantage of others rather than of himself is none other than the Christ from whom Christians get their name.

Prayer: Lord, help us to follow your example and, instead of focusing our outrage and disappointment on people that we will likely never meet, let us consider our own areas of influence where we daily have opportunity to personally follow Christ’s example and Paul’s admonition. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Psalm 122 and 1 Corinthians 9-11)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Making Sure our Boasting is not Misplaced

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 3:21a “So let no one boast about human leaders.”

Observation: Very true.

Application: Another scandal has hit the news, this time in the form of a prominent former assistant coach accused of sex abuse with under-age boys. There are also calls for his superior, the coach with more wins than any other major college football coach, to step down. It’s a total mess. Criminal proceedings have begun.

As I write there are disturbing accusations regarding a presidential candidate. That too is a mess, though perhaps not quite as heinous as the first.

Paul had the right idea long ago. “So let no one boast about human leaders.” Paul also reminds us that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.”

I am not personally acquainted with the pressures that come with being a person with a high-profile vocation and/or life. I can only imagine. But I do know what it’s like to be human. And to be human is a complicated mixture of moral victories and failures, of triumph and despair, of being saint and sinner all rolled into one. To be human is good AND bad, not good OR bad. Sometimes we emphasize the former and sometimes we emphasize the latter but it’s only when both sides are considered that we get the most reflective portrait of a real human life.

When we allow ourselves to categorize humans as either good or bad we miss the point of being human at all. When we boast about human leaders we almost assuredly set them (and us) up for a fall. And if we do nothing but criticize human leaders, well, that’s hardly wise either.

The Bible tells us that one time a fella came up to Jesus and said, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

I think Jesus was onto something.

Prayer: Lord, as humans we are a complicated lot. Let us make sure our boasting is not misplaced. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 33 and 1 Corinthians 1-3)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Freedom for and not just freedom from

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Galatians 5:13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.

Observation: Paul looks beyond freedom to something of more value.

Application: Sometimes we don’t think far enough ahead. We think of what might be good for us (to make the team, land the job, date a particular person, have the child, make X amount of money, etc.) but then don’t go on to think about how we might use such situations to actually be of service to others. Freedom is like that. For many, freedom is not having someone else tell us what to do. We think of being free from rather than being free for.

For Paul, freedom is both free from and free for. We are free from sin, death, and the power of the devil and free for loving service to our neighbor. We are free from the works of the flesh and free for the fruits of the spirit against which there is no law.

For those who have made the team, how will you serve? For those who have gotten the position, how will you make the world a better place? For those who are now dating (or married to) the person of your dreams, how will you nurture that relationship? For those who now have a child or children, how will you teach/show the child/children how to freely serve? For those who now have significant financial resources, how will you use them in a fruits of the spirit kind of way?

One of the things I appreciate about Paul is his ability to focus beyond the superficial, beyond present pleasantries to things of more lasting value. Freedom is freedom from. But feedom is also, and maybe even mostly, freedom for.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the freedom we have in Christ. Help us to use that freedom in ways that bring joy to your heart and satisfaction to our own. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 31-32 and Galatians 5-6)

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Remembering What God has done.

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Galatians 1:3-4 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Observation: In the verses that follow it becomes clear that Paul was very upset. Still, he begins by reminding the Galatians, and probably most especially himself, of what God has already done.

Application: Today is a church council retreat. One of the things we will do in our time together will be to review our core values and bedrock beliefs as a congregation. It’s easy to perhaps roll one’s eyes about such things, but it’s important stuff…important work. It can help us to stay on course should a situation arise (and for leaders, situations will always arise) that might otherwise lead us to respond or even lash out in ways that are harmful to ourselves, others, and even the body of Christ as a whole. It’s always good to be reminded of what God has already done. There’s a reason it’s referred to as the Gospel—it’s good news!

Prayer: Lord, thanks for providing trusted leaders with whom to share the privileges and responsibilities of ministry. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 28-29 and Galatians 1-2)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Letting God do the Heavy Lifting

Scripture passages that caught my attention today: Mark 15:1 As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate.
Mark 16:1-2 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.
Mark 16:3-4 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.

Mark 15 begins with people starting their day intending to harm. Mark 16 begins with people starting their day intending to do good. And in the process, doors (in this case a tomb) open for them.

Application: How shall we begin our days? Shall we do so endeavoring to build people up or endeavoring to tear them down? Shall our efforts be in the direction of offering comfort and encouragement, or in the direction of rebuke and scorn? Please note: it takes effort to do either. So it’s not necessarily a case of less work or more, but of what kind of work would we really like to do. What kind of work will make for a feeling of thanksgiving and satisfaction at the close of the day?

A couple of things come to mind. It occurs to me that people intending to do good will still encounter concerns. The women in 16:3 were wondering who might be able to open up the tomb for them. They knew they were going to start out their day trying to do something good, but they also knew that it might not be easy. There could well be obstacles. In fact, they were expecting them. Such concerns did not stop them from pressing forward.

To their surprise, of course, the stone was already rolled away from the tomb and the particular good that they intended to do was no longer needed. Now what?

Well, in Mark’s version of the story it’s a little unclear because most scholars believe that the original manuscript of the Gospel of Mark ended at Mark 16:8 which records that the women said nothing to anyone because they were afraid. But from the other gospels we learn that the women did, in fact, tell others the good news. So instead of merely attempting to do good they began to tell of what was truly good—Jesus is alive!

We can’t always (if ever!) know how our day is going to turn out. Mine, for instance, began on a slightly (but not overly) sour note. But if the news that Jesus is alive holds any relevance at all, then there is certainly plenty of reason to carry on with the day with intent of doing or sharing something good. And who knows, perhaps whatever obstacles that seem to be in the way of our efforts might somehow be given the heave-ho before we even arrive!

Prayer: Lord, help us to begin our days offering the best of ourselves for the betterment of the world and yet to also trust that you will always be the one to do the heavy lifting. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 26-27 and Mark 15-16)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Wondering if there's such a thing as Wise Generosity

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: Mark 14:5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.

Observation: A woman poured very expensive perfume on Jesus. Some saw the gesture as a waste. Jesus praised the act as beautiful.

Application: There is such a fine line between being generous and being wasteful; there is also a fine line between being a good wise steward and being stingy. Before we hop on the bandwagon of condemnation toward those who didn’t see the beauty in this woman’s gesture, we must also remember that, at times, Jesus suggested an alternative approach. He explained that wise people “count the cost” before building grand buildings and that wise bridesmaids keep enough oil with them to be able to light their lamps when needed. And so, as it says in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, there is apparently a “time for everything.”

More often than not I think humanity errors on the side of being too cautious, too self-serving. Jesus may give some Scriptural nods to being wise, but he also advocates offering everything we have. A poor widow in one of his stories is often lauded in comtemporary culture today for being a prime example of how it really doesn’t matter how much we give. Her two mites (worth about a penny) were enough. Baloney! That’s a horrible misinterpretation of Scripture. To focus on the amount of money she gave is to totally miss the real point of the passage found in the phrase that follows… “out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” That certainly doesn’t seem very wise by modern-day standards. Wouldn’t surprise me if her family thought she had lost her gourds. Same goes for the woman who poured out the ointment in the verse above. Yet Jesus offers praise for each of them.

I guess that means that we all have to figure out for ourselves and with each other how we might best express our thanksgiving to God. Different people will no doubt come up with different answers.

Dear Lord, help us to be wise, be generous, and be rooted in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Job 25 and Mark 13-14)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Voice Worthy of our Attention

Scripture Verses that Caught my Attention Today: Psalm 121:1 My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
Mark 9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Observation: Both the Old and New Testaments expect us to focus our attention on the one through whom true help can be found.

There are, of course, many distractions in life—lots of people and ideas clamoring for our attention. In the process there are often efforts to convince us that we really must focus on these other voices or else we will in some way be missing out or messing up. But are such claims really true?

Today’s lessons present an alternative view. Our help, we are reminded, comes from the one who made everything we see and even that which we cannot see. And the voice/witness/example we are to focus on, we are told from above, is God’s Beloved Son.

I’m struck by how often people clamored to get Jesus to go about his life in a way that was much different from the life to which he had been called and sent. Nevertheless, he stayed true to himself and to the One from whom he was sent.

To help us to go and do likewise, we are gifted with the opportunity to immerse ourselves into God’s story as witnessed in the Holy Scriptures and lived out among God’s people in this world; one can’t really have one without the other. It’s still not always easy, human inclinations being what they are. But at least we are regularly reminded from whom our help ultimately comes and whose voice is ultimately worthy of our attention.

Lord, thank you for this beautiful day and for the opportunity to serve and live in your name. Help us to do so ever more faithfully, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Psalm 121 and Mark 9-10)