Friday, December 30, 2011

Today's Short Workout

Warm-up followed by:

Chin-ups with knee-ups
Barbell Squats
Bench press
Ab-wheel roll-outs

Rest 30 seconds and repeat set. Done.

things can change quickly

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Revelation 18:15-17 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,
16 “Alas, alas, the great city,
clothed in fine linen,
in purple and scarlet,
adorned with gold,
with jewels, and with pearls!
17 For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste!”

Things can change quickly. Why are we so surprised?

Written long ago to people long ago, these words from Revelation were no doubt comforting to those who had been mistreated and marginalized. They saw in Christ a great reversal about to take place…at whenever it would happen, it was envisioned to take place quickly…within an hour.

Pretty much all of us of age remember when the twin towers fell—it all happened in less than an hour.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that the collapse of the towers was either a fulfillment of prophecy or an act of God’s judgment. I’m merely pointing out that there is a certain facade of security in life that is just that, fa├žade—and it can quickly be taken away. What then?

Only the assurance that we are known by Jesus—the one who was and is and is to come. When the temporal things we have placed our hope in have been sifted out, all that is left is the crucified and risen Jesus. Need we anyone or anything more? And why not, until that day comes, practice seeing life differently—as if are in but not of the world?

Prayer: Lord, thanks for allowing us to be part of your kingdom…and for teaching us (sometimes the hard way) not to rely on anyone or anything else other than you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings included: Revelation 15-18)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Match Made in Heaven?

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Revelation 9:20 The rest of humankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands or give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk.

Observation: It’s amazing what we as humans are sometimes wont to ‘worship.’

Application: Scripture is critical of people who worship ‘objects’ objects rather than the living God. In fact, just to make sure we get the point, in the Gospel of John we are told that the Word of God became flesh (in Jesus) and lived among us. Scripture, therefore, draws/points to a God who is alive, rather than some kind of human creation. Come to think of it, in Genesis Scripture speaks of God fashioning humans from the dust of the ground, rather than the other way around.

Most puzzling in all of this is humanity’s persistence at worshipping creations of our own making. In the verse above, even with destruction all around, humanity still doggedly clung to their own ‘objects’ of worship rather than to the living God.

Honestly, I’m not sure we’re any more insightful all these years later. Our ‘objects’ of worship may have become a bit more sophisticated over the years, but our base inclination to worship that which is not worthy of worship has hardly abated.

Thankfully, there are those moments when we are drawn back to the living water. There are those times when we look at ourselves and all around and realize that seemingly neither ourselves or the creations we have conjured up are ‘worthy’ to open the scroll. And then, perhaps, we are struck by the presence of God through Jesus. Perhaps then we see in the crucified One a worth that far surpasses anything or anyone else we have ever known. Even more striking, the crucifixion itself stands as proof positive that, in Christ’s eyes, we are of more value than anything or anyone he has ever known. It’s sort of like a match made in heaven come to earth.

Prayer: Lord, we can only ponder in amazement at the love you have for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Revelation 5-9)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

God's Gift and Assurance from Revelation

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Revelation 1:4-6 John to the seven churches that are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, 5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, 6 and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Observation: the beginning of Revelation is as important, as the end. These early verses in chapter one set the tone for the whole book. They tell us:

1. who the book is written to (the seven churches that are in Asia—in the time of John which would have been the 1st century AD)
2. what is offered (Grace and peace)
3. who the book is ultimately from (God, the seven spirits, and Jesus himself)
4. what this God does and has done (loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood)
5. what we are called to be (part of a kingdom, priests serving God)

Points 3 & 4, like points 1 & 2, were originally addressed to the people of John’s day 20 centuries ago.

Application: When I looked up the readings for today I thought to myself, “ah…time for Revelation again.” It’s a mixed bag. It’s not really one of my favorite books by any means. I can certainly understand why Martin Luther wasn’t too fond of it being in the Bible to begin with. On the other hand, since much of the evangelical world is fascinated (and at times seemingly fixated) on this last book of the Bible, it’s interesting to explore it periodically myself.

I was struck today by point #2 above: grace and peace are offered to the readers of this book. And this grace and peace come from God who, through Christ, has already set us free and has given us a mission.

Somehow I suspect that, if one were to take a poll of what thoughts first come to mind when the book of Revelation is mentioned, hardly anyone would blurt out “grace and peace.” Yet right after we see who the book is written to we find out what they are being offered—grace and peace! Or, to put it in other terms, they are offered both gift (grace) and assurance (peace).

Often I begin my sermons with the words “Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Yet until now I don’t think even I had fully considered the implication of these words.

Grace (gift) and peace (assurance) is like getting a gift with a lifetime warranty. It’s a gift that comes without worry.

Truth be told, Revelation will reveal some little worries. There will be persecutions to varying degrees. Yet such struggles cannot compare with the opportunity to eat from the tree of life. The people of John’s day were given both gift and assurance. So have we.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift and assurance you offer. It’s far more than we deserve and more than we could ever dream of. Yet you have swept up in each of them. We are most certainly blessed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: revelation 1-4)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

O Holy Night along Life's Path

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: 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: this is countercultural

An illusion that many of us follow these days is the idea that we are or should be independent. We shouldn’t have to worry, we think, about anyone else telling us what to do. We should be able to be our own boss, follow our own path, do our own thing. Sometimes, for a while, we do.

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus tells Peter that times are changing, that Peter will not be so independent any more? Following Jesus will not be a particularly rosy path, though it will be one that glorifies God.

Today is Christmas Eve. Hosts of people will gather in churches around the world to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Many will laud the good news of God taking on human flesh in the form of the Christ child—as well they should. Precious few, however, see that this holy child invites us to share in his journey. ‘Thanks but no thanks’ many reply in word and/or deed.

It’s understandable that we might want to avoid such a path. Ironically, eventually we all end up being led in directions that we might not necessarily choose on our own. And no matter how challenging our particular paths might prove to be, within them is the lingering promise that the one who came will come again and that even in this time in-between, his presence persists, giving every night the potential of being an oh so holy night.

Lord, thank you for your persistent presence. Grant us the grace to perceive it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: John 19-21)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Finding New Meaning in the question "Why Me?"

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: John 12:27 Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

Observation: So true.

Application: Whenever unwelcome challenges come our way it is tempting to ask, “why me?” Jesus, however, takes a different tack—“why not me?”


If the Son of God did not escape unjust suffering, who are we to think that we deserve any better?

Sure, we often times like to think that we deserve to be above the fray. Some of us are also relatively adept at distancing ourselves from some of the harshest of life’s realities. But truth be told, we’re never as far away as we might think. Sometimes we even back ourselves right into a situation without realizing it.

Be that as it may, I find it interesting and, more importantly, inspiring that Jesus finds his lot in life to be something to embrace rather than something to avoid.

Prayer: Lord, so often we want perceived trouble to go away. Help us, instead, to find its redemptive value. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: John 12-14)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lesson from the Trenches

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: John 8:56-58 Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” 57 Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.”

Observation: This is another ‘big picture’ passage.

Application: This past Friday there was a water leak at the front barn—a water hydrant that had been there for years had worn out. I learned that it would cost about a hundred bucks (plus the price of a new hydrant) to have some good and trusted local contractors do the job. But I like to save where I can, so I got out a shovel and dug down to the water line to see if it might be something that I could fix. To make a long story short, with the help of another local contractor who graciously opened up his shop after hours so that I could get the necessary parts, I personally fixed the whole thing. I was so thankful that it worked out and, to be honest, also proud of myself for figuring out how to fix it myself. It wasn’t till the light of the next morning that I noticed that, while everything functions just fine, I installed the hydrant somewhat crooked—a lasting reminder that there is still a difference between an amateur and a professional! Still, I derived a lot of personal satisfaction from that job—little things I had learned over the years about plumbing paid off.

Over the weekend and yesterday, while I was immersed in personal satisfaction for a job somewhat well done (I was still bragging about it to my father-in-law as recently as last night), our oldest son has been receiving college admission notices. They are excellent opportunities and, it suddenly occurred to me this morning, make my little fix-it-myself project totally and unequivocally pale in comparison.

And that’s exactly the big-picture point. There may be many things in life about which we are proud and/or where we place our focus, but there are only certain things we do that really make a profound difference in the world. After all, later this very week I’ll get to share again the good news of the birth of God’s son to a whole host of people on Christmas Eve. How cool is that!

Yet even that is still just a response to the big picture of what God has already done.

Long before people needed plumbing or even higher education, there was a need for the love of God through Jesus. And according to John, Jesus has been there to fulfill that need. “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am” said Jesus.

That’s a big picture worth keeping in mind, whether we’re studying at a premier institution or digging three feet down in the muck.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for just being you, and always being you…and always being there. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: John 7-8)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thoughts on Tebow in light of today's readings

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: 1 Peter 4:14-16 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. 16 Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name.

Observation: Encouragement for Tim Tebow and the like

Application: One of the big stories in sports these days is Tim Tebow. Tim is well-known for being an evangelical Christian and now that the team he leads is, by some accounts, otherwise inexplicably winning, he’s become the focus of Tebow lovers and haters alike.

I’ve written before that it makes little or no theological sense (at least in light of the New Testament) to tie the winning of games to God’s provision. Jesus himself was a “loser” in terms of earthly success. So those who imply (or outright proclaim) that Tebow’s team is winning because God is on his side seem to be a bit presumptuous in my view.

On the other hand, those who deride Tebow’s faith, scoff at the recent wins, and can’t wait to pounce when the inevitable losses begin to accumulate seem to be missing the point as well. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about trying to live out one’s faith, win, lose, or draw.

I suspect that my understanding of the faith differs from Tebow’s in a fair number of ways. And I am concerned that, with all the attention coming his way, he will likely have what some would call a fall from grace even though I would simply consider it his humanity coming through. But until then and even then, these words from 1 Peter offer significant encouragement for Tebow and, in fact, any of us who occasionally find our faith life to be a focus of scrutiny.

Prayer: Lord, help all of us to simply place our trust in you and not feel overly responsible for anything more than you place along our life’s path. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included 1 Peter 1-5)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Asking the Lord how it's Going.

“Good evening Lord. How’s it going?”

That’s how a couple of our congregation often begin their prayers at the start of meetings. I think it was a brilliant insight to actually ask God how things are going.

So often when we pray we want to tell God how things are going for us. We tend to be so self-absorbed.

That’s not completely bad. Certainly God has interest in our situations. The birth of Christ is probably the ultimate expression of God’s interest in us.

Nevertheless, turning the question around toward God opens up a whole new dimension of thought.

How IS it going, Lord?

It’s not hard to imagine the possible responses. I can almost hear God saying,

“Well, to tell you the truth, it’s been a rough day. Some of my people wouldn’t share and so a multitude of my people died of hunger, just like they did yesterday…and the day before that. On top of that, a bunch of the marriages that I put together, and told humans not to put asunder, are really struggling these days and I worry about them. And then there’s the fighting—sometimes between nations and people with weapons but even more often with words. I can hardly stand it. Yes, it’s been a tough day. Thanks for asking.”

How would we respond if we heard God say something like that? I don’t know about you, but I’d be inclined to want to jump in and try to do something! While thinking about what I might do, I might also hear God say something like this:

“I must admit there have been some bright spots. I saw a community of faith act like they really cared today too. They welcomed the stranger, visited the prisoner, and otherwise showed that they really do worship me. They don’t presume to always know what I think (it bugs me when people act like they always know what I think!), but they do presume to always believe that I care. And, of course, I DO really care!”

“By the way,” God might continue, “I care about you too. What’s going on in your life? How can I help you to be more grateful and/or more hopeful, and to see the plans I have for you? How are things going for you?”

At that point we’ve got a real conversation going. Put anther way, at that point the answer to prayer becomes the prayer.

Perhaps that’s a good way to begin the new year.

Variety in the Scriptures

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: James 2:17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Observation: Lots of variety in the Scripture.

Application: Scripture is a library of 66 books (possibly even more for those who included the books of the Apocrypha). And although each of these books was included in the Bible to build and/or nurture faith, they do so in different ways. I appreciate that that fact and today’s reading/book is a case in point.

The book of James focuses a great deal on ‘works’ or doing good—so much so that back in the 1500’s Martin Luther felt that James shouldn’t even be in the Bible. Luther did not feel that the book of James offered real grace.

In a way Luther was right; James doesn’t offer much if any grace, save for perhaps a line or two about mercy trumping judgment. The message of James stands in stark contrast to the writings of the Apostle Paul who held firm in the belief that we are justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.

Still, I’m glad James is in the Bible. I appreciate the variety of ways in which faith was both understood and practiced in those days. I’ll readily admit that I’m more convinced by the Apostle Paul’s point of view than that of James, yet the book of James nevertheless offers a counter balance worthy of consideration. It is, after all, Scripture.

For Christians, all of Scripture is inspired by God and is useful in some way—even if only to help us think more deeply in terms of what a life of faith might really be like.

Prayer: Dear Lord, thanks for the variety of faith perspectives that we find in your word. Help us to be inspired to add our own in response to your prodding. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: James 1-5)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In Rough Times

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Hebrews 12:3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

Observation: In Christ we find hope in difficult times.

Application: Recently I learned of a person going through a bit of a rough time who was expressing discouragement. It’s understandable. Most, if not all of us, go through such times.

When such times are the result of our own actions, we somewhat understand, even if it isn’t pleasant. But when such times appear to come without cause, well, that can be especially tough.

Scripture, however, doesn’t bat an eye at such things. One of my favorite verses for perspective comes from 1 Peter 4:12:

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

Jesus says as much in his sermon on the mount as recorded in Matthew 5:11-12: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

And here in Hebrews we are reminded to consider again what Jesus himself went through unjustly.

Rough times are part of life. Not necessarily pleasant, mind you, but still part and parcel of an earthly existence. I liken it to football receivers who are going up to catch a ball and are also going to get hit by the defender almost simultaneously. They are going to get hit anyhow, so they might as well catch the ball so that there is some blessing in the experience.

In life we will go through some rough times. We don’t have to like it, but we can embrace such times as opportunities to be gripped by the hope that can only be found through the one who suffered and died unjustly for us. With such hope, may we not grow weary or lose heart.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the example you provide. Help us to focus on you more than on ourselves and whatever plight we might be going through at any given moment. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Hebrews 12-13, Jude)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Seeing beyond the dishes.

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Observation: Sometimes we need a little provoking.

Application: Dishes. We’ve got a few of them in the kitchen…dirty ones that merely need to be put in the dishwasher (once the dishwasher is emptied). Six days a week this task is a responsibility shared among our three kids. They even receive a small commission for said work—a way for them to earn a small amount of cash for spending.

At least that's the theory. In reality it doesn’t always go so well. Sometimes I spend so much effort prodding them to get the job done that it would have been easier to just do it myself. I’m still trying to figure out how best to “provoke” them to one of the relatively simple “good deeds” I appreciate most—a relatively clean kitchen counter!

In their defense, they do have some very full days--not getting home till late at night and still having homework to do as well. So part of the issue is simply scheduling.

But the other part of the equation is motivation. How does one motivate people to do that which they are otherwise not so inclined to want to do?

The author of Hebrews suggests time together and encouragement. The author also suggests keeping things in perspective as we see the day is approaching.

One of the days I see approaching is the day when our kids are grown up and gone. I realize that that day is not nearly as important as the day of which the author of Hebrews writes, but it nevertheless is coming soon. Our senior will head off to college this summer. The other two aren’t far behind. What then? Doing our own dishes will be the least of my worries. By then I’d probably gladly accept a dirty dish on the counter if it signified a son or daughter’s presence.

Prayer: Lord, as your day approaches help us to treasure our days. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Hebrews 9-11)

Monday, December 12, 2011

What if we've "Fallen Away?"

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Hebrews 6:4-6 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.

Observation: Hmmm.

Application: This would be one of those troubling passages. What if we’ve “tasted the heavenly gift…and then have fallen away?” The author of this book says we can’t be restored.

That’s a tough pill to swallow. Is that what this really means?

Two responses come to mind.

First, all of us sin every day. Each of us has a daily need for repentance. As the Apostle Paul explains in Romans 7, we do not do the good we want and the very things that we do not want to do we do. Our human condition is corrupt, we have a virus of sorts deep in our soul. The good news of the Gospel is that, through the cross, Jesus is at work on that virus of corruption. It will not win the day. The power of life will triumph over the power of death. And so, it would seem, that it is possible to restore again such people to repentance.

Second, and conversely, there’s also a part of me that wonders if it’s possible to really fall away once we have really tasted the heavenly gift. In other words, if we “fall away,” is it because we never really tasted the heavenly gift in the first place?

It’s possible to be a great pretender, to convince others and even ourselves that we “have been enlightened” when, in fact, it isn’t necessarily so. Sometimes such people “fall,” sometimes in a very public way, and yet, perhaps, they were never totally enlightened in the first place. Maybe parts of their life reflected the good news of the kingdom, but other parts did not reflect the good news of the kingdom. It’s as if God had a hold of part of them, but they wouldn’t let God have all of them. In that case, sometimes, their “fall” can be a good (albeit painful) thing, an event that leads to the kind of repentance through which God can really work.

In some ways I think this may in fact describe most if not all of us. I’m curious what you think.

Lord, whatever it is that you are doing in our lives, keep doing it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Hebrews 5-8)

Today's Easing-back-into-it workout

For a variety of logistical reasons, I haven't had a real workout in 2-weeks--that's the longest workout dry spell I've had in a long time!

Anyhow, if you've been off for a while (or forever!), it's important to ease back into things.

On Saturday I began the process by simply doing one round of my standard warm-up. Good thing, because on Sunday I was actually a bit sore, most likely from the walking lunges.

Today (Monday) I did two rounds of the warm-up plus 10 push-up/jack-knife combos (with feet on skateboard), 5 pull-ups, and 2 rounds of 12 5-yard shuttle sprints (at about 2/3 speed). I could have easily done significantly more, but I don't want to be overly sore tomorrow. Wednesday I'll increase the intensity a little more and then, by Friday, will hopefully to a pretty full workout.

Most of you have seen the warm-up list before, but for first-timers, here it is:

12 bodyweight squats
15 leg swings (per leg)
24 walking lunges (12 at a time, rest 10 seconds and lunge-walk back)
12 close-grip push-ups
10 stick-ups
10 waiter's bows (oops, forgot those today...knew I was forgetting something, but couldn't remember at the time.)
30-second plank
10 dumbbell dead-lift/overhead shoulder-press combos (with light 15# dumbbells)

Repeated set, used 20# dumbbells for final exercise.

After the 2nd set of the warm-up I did the pull-ups, push-up/jack-knife combos, and shuttle sprints, all in our basement.

There may be some soreness from the shuttle sprints tomorrow, but that's why I tried not to over-do it.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Consistency in an inconsistent world

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: 2 Timothy 4:2 proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.

Observation: Consistency is key.

Application: It is easy these days to kind of get caught up in a moment of excitement and proclaim some things without really thinking them through. At the moment an example that comes to mind are a couple of Hollywood couples who, not so terribly long ago, proclaimed their undying love for one another but, now, sadly, are splitting up. As an outsider it’s hard to know what really happened that led to the split, but it is safe to say that there are many venues in life where we are not able to back up our bold pronouncements.

One of the things I appreciated about the verse above is the understanding that there will be times when things are not so easy. There will be unfavorable times. It’s true in farming, in relationships, at work, at school, in the financial markets, in physical and/or emotional health, at church, and even in faith. This should come as no surprise. But persistence and consistency is key. With God’s help we can weather such things and times. Indeed, we are called to do so. What kind of a witness would it be if everything was always peachy?

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the reminder of how you provide what is needed to be able to be a witness to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Timothy 1-4)

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Wisdom of Slaving Away

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: 1 Timothy 6:10a For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil,

Observation: Context, context, context.

Application: One of the most well-known non-verses in the Bible is this: “Money is the root of all evil.”

Those with more first-hand knowledge of the Bible (especially those of us with middle or greater incomes) are quick to point out that what the Bible really says is that it is “The LOVE of money” that “is the root of all kinds of evil.”

There, that feels better now, doesn’t it?

Today, however, I noticed the context within which this popular verse is placed; the entire section is written in regard to slaves!

Here’s the whole section:

Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. 2 Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.
Teach and urge these duties. 3 Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, 4 is conceited, understanding nothing, and has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, 5 and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; 7 for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; 8 but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Does this context change what the verse means? Maybe, maybe not.

Many scholars believe that 1 Timothy, even though it says it was written by Paul, was probably actually written by one of his followers at a considerably later time, a time when the early church was transitioning from a start-up movement into more of an enduring institution. As such, the early leaders were dealing with behavioral issues within congregations and were endeavoring to find ways to establish more order.

Their intentions were surely good in the sense that they wanted all things to be done in such a way as to present a faithful witness to Christ. Clearly they didn’t seem to want too many apple-carts upset at the same time. Yet their actual recommendations/directions were often very rooted in the social customs of the time. For example, women’s roles were limited and slavery was an accepted practice.

Still, pearls of inspired wisdom come through. Indeed, the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. We see it everyday, not just in the financial centers of the world, but in our own family economies. And indeed, as it says a couple verses earlier: “we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it…”

Surely these wise sayings are of benefit to everyone. Which means that those of us who consider ourselves free would do well to take to heart what was spoken to slaves long, long ago. We may have more in common than we realize.

Prayer: Lord, help us to all be of service to you, for you have already been of eternal service to us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today include: 1 Timothy 5-6, and Titus 1-3)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Who is the Main Actor in the Story?

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Colossians 2:13-14 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.

Observation: God is the main actor in this story.

Application: It’s human nature to want to take credit for things, to feel like we are fulfilling an important role. Indeed, people who claim to be disciples of Jesus do have important roles to fill. But those roles nothing more (or less!) than natural responses to what God has already done for us.

Notice the grammar in the passage above. God is the subject of the sentences and God the subject acts.

God made you alive.
[God] forgave us.
[God] erased the record that stood against us.
[God] set [the record against us] aside.
[God] nailed [the record against us] to the cross.

Yes, both grammatically and practically speaking, God is the main subject of the Scriptures and the Scriptures present this God as one who takes action for the sake of all humanity.

At least three of God’s actions are definitive for all time. 1) the fullness of God became human in the form of Jesus. 2) this Jesus died for the sake of all humanity. 3) this Jesus rose again, proving that death no longer has the final say for him or for us.
In a few weeks Christians around the world will celebrate the first of these definitive actions—the fullness of God coming to earth in the form of a vulnerable child. Even so, there will be tendencies among us to miss the point. We will at times want to take credit for our generosity, for our thoughtfulness. We will receive gifts from others and be tempted to think that we are deserving of such things.

Hardly. What we deserve is to be nailed to a cross. Through Christ, however, that has already been done. What’s left is simply the opportunity to express our profound thanksgiving through lives of generous and humble service.

Prayer: People who live with a profound sense of thanksgiving are the salt of the earth. Help us to sprinkle your world with joy and delight for all that you have done. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Colossians 1-4)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I can do all things through Christ?

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

This context of this verse is often overlooked.

Application: This verse is very popular, especially among athletes. It is often used as a motivator of sorts with lots of emphasis on the “I” and an implicit assumption that Christ will undoubtedly help us do what we want to do. It’s a particularly American understanding of the Bible, with a focus on individual will, independence, and achievement. But is this what the verse is really all about?

Not really. Here’s the full paragraph within which the verse is found:

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

When Paul wrote “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” he was referring more to survival than to individual accomplishment, more to submission to God rather than presenting expectations to God, more to dependence rather than independence, more to being open to God’s will rather than to impose our will on God.

This is hardly the stuff of “Lord, I know that you can help me score another touchdown.” It’s more to tune of the Lord helping us hold our head up high even after missing what would have been the game-winning field goal.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that God wants us to lose. But neither am I suggesting that God wants us to win. Rather, God gives us what we need to carry on in plenty and in want and to find contentment in any and all circumstances. Hence Paul could write such encouraging words from the confines of a prison cell.

Prayer: Lord, help us to find the contentment that is offered through you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included Philippians 1-4)

Monday, December 5, 2011

When the show is over, real life begins.

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Ephesians 5:2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Living in love is a profound concept that is sometimes overshadowed by other parts in this chapter that seem more legally demanding.

These days I’ve been wrestling a bit with what the Grace of God really means. I’m struck by the fact that so many churches and/or pastors have, at the heart of their/our message, what we should be doing if we really claim to be followers of Christ. I believe that my synodical bishop rightly describes such sentiments as “the Tyranny of the ‘Shoulds.’” Indeed, there’s nothing good about them.

Still, the ‘shoulds’ of living are hard to avoid. Even today’s readings seem to include their share of them. Does grace really exist? And if so, what does it mean?

‘Living in love’ may be the start of it.

Living as a person who is loved by Christ simultaneously makes it more natural to love like Christ. When we fully understand that we have been unconditionally accepted for who we are, it follows that we unconditionally accept others for who they are.

If this doesn’t always seem to happen it is likely because we have in some way minimized and/or forgotten what God has done for us. A profession of faith most authentically begins with a confession of faith—I can’t but God can, I didn’t but God did, I avoided but God confronted, I ran away but God stood in my stead, I sometimes pretended (very well, thank you very much!) to be God but oh…Good Point…God really is God. To paraphrase the popular singer Rianna—“We’ve put on quite a show, very entertaining, but it’s over now.”

When the ‘show’ is over, real life begins. How? With the awareness that real love has already begun. This love was willingly (though mercilessly) affixed on a non-descript cross section of wood centuries ago between a couple common criminals at the hands of an over-zealous and hopelessly misguided crowd whose power of persuasion had it’s way with the government leader at the time. If that love means anything, it means everything…even as we go about the rest of our day.

Prayer: Lord, help us to simply take to heart what you have done and what you continue to do in order that we might truly live in love. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Ephesians 5-6 and Psalm 119:1-80)