Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sins vs the Condition of Sin--and God's response

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Acts 7:51-54 [Stephen said] “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.” When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen.

Observation: The people accusing Stephen recoiled at being compared to the sinfulness of their ancestors.

Periodically I’ll be asked why the church doesn’t speak more about “sin.” What people most often are referring to are perceived ‘sins,’ not the condition of ‘sin.’ There is a difference.

“Sins,” in the minds of most people, are those things we do that we shouldn’t or those things that we don’t do but we should. Some refer to the so-called seven deadly sins. Breaking one or more of the 10 commandments is considered ‘sinning.’ So on and so forth…

I like to think of ‘sins’ as something on the surface that reveal something much deeper we all share, something theologians refer to as the “condition of sin.” Trying to identify and rectify the things we have done or left undone is to miss the point. There is an illness deep in the heart of us all that is, well, hostile to God.

It’s a strong statement, I know. But it’s true. God’s ways are not our ways.

The people accusing Stephen--religious leaders all—did not want to be identified with the sinfulness of their ancestors. They didn’t want to admit that they, like all of us, share the same sinful human condition of every generation before them. Surely they had progressed far beyond those from days of old!

Fat chance.

At that point they had the choice of facing the music or silencing the musician. They chose the latter, stoning Stephen to death as he claimed to see the heavens opened. How ironic that he pleaded for their forgiveness even as they hurled chunks from the very bedrock upon which their ancestors likely walked.

We like to think we’re different and, of course better, than those who have gone before us. A better, more realistic approach would be to see our common humanity and sinful nature—the likes of which can only be addressed by the One whom the Bible declares to be “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

Lord, let us look honestly at ourselves in order to more honestly see how gracious and merciful you really are. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Exodus 28-29 and Acts 7)

Friday, January 27, 2012

Garbanzo Bean Pancakes with Fresh Fruit Topping

Modified a recipe out of the VitaMix whole grain cookbook today for Lunch.

Garbanzo Bean Pancakes
In VitaMix Dry blade container:
1/2 cup dry Garbanzo Beans (blended for 1 minute into flour. Then added the following:)
3/4 cup water (should have added either a little less water or used more Garbanzo beans. Ended up needing to add a little wheat flour for desired consistency)
2 TBS olive oil
1 egg
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Blended an additional 20 seconds.

Fresh Fruit and Spinach Topping
-Thawed a frozen mixture of strawberries, blackberries, mango, pineapple, and papaya along with maybe a 1/2 cup of frozen spinach.
--placed in VitaMix wet-blade container and blended on low till everything was chopped together well but with some small fruit chunks left (probably 20-30 seconds)

Prepared pancakes in skillet, spread a little Greek Yogurt over the top of the pancake stack and then topped with the fruit/spinach mixture (Have no fear--I could not see or taste the spinach!).

Very healthy to be sure. I wouldn't go so far as to say they were fabulous, but they weren't bad either. Certainly they tasted better than I would imagine the recipe probably sounds. :)

When God's Power Shines Through

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: Acts 3:6 But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.”

Observation: Peter offers a great irony—he does not have want is wanted but does, through Christ, have what is needed which is, in reality, far greater.

It’s easy to underestimate what we ‘have’ through Christ. Through him we have (or can have) a presence/persona that is not utterly fazed by the challenges we encounter in life. We may not have what the ‘world’ desires/expects, but we actually have something far more valuable.

Please note that I’m not suggesting the we all (or any of us) necessarily have the power to tell some who is lame to get up and walk. But we can offer the type of presence that bears witness to a power far greater than ourselves—one which offers a glimpse of wholeness in the form of broken people coming to life again.

Prayer: Lord, enable us to let your own Spirit move in us in such a way that it can be seen through us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Exodus 17-20 and Acts 3)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

God Works Through Us as well as For Us

Scripture Passage that Caught My Attention today: Acts 1:6-8 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

They wanted to know what Jesus would do for them. Instead Jesus explained what the Holy Spirit would do through them.

It’s natural to want someone else to do what we wish would be done. That way we don’t have to share ownership in the problem. We can blame someone else if our expectations aren’t met. We don’t have to face our own humanity, nor our interconnectedness with others.

Interestingly enough, Jesus refuses to play that game. Rather than succumbing to the expectations/desires of the disciples for Jesus to do the heavy-lifting, Jesus says that they (after they’ve been empowered by the Holy Spirit) will be the witnesses. In other words, God will work through them rather than for them.

More often than not, this is exactly how God works—through us rather than for us.

Actually, that’s only half true. God has in fact done something for us. God sent the Son. The Son offered his life as both example and sacrifice. Death has been given notice that it is, well, short-lived. Sins have been forgiven. The great commission has been given.

The list of what God has already done could go on and on…yet much of what is left to be done will not be by some miraculous intervention. Rather, ordinary people, inspired by the Holy Spirit, will follow the servant-model of Jesus and get to work.

Then we’ll look back (rather than forward) and see for ourselves whether or not this was the (or ‘a’) time that God restored the kingdom.

Prayer: Lord, as you see fit, use us to do what, in your mercy, needs to be done. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Exodus 12-13, Psalm 21, and Acts 1)

Monday, January 23, 2012

God Uses Real People for Real Ministry

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Exodus 6:10-12 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, 11 “Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his land.” 12 But Moses spoke to the LORD, “The Israelites have not listened to me; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me, poor speaker that I am?”

Observation: Moses had just spoken to the Israelites, telling them that God was going to rescue them. But the Bible says that they would not listen to Moses. Now God wants him to speak to Pharaoh. It’s no wonder the Moses is hesitant.

Application: It’s hard to speak when you feel that no-one is behind you. And, in fact, we tend to view with suspicion those who do endeavor to speak out on their own without some kind of group backing them. Lone rangers, more often than not, tend to be a little delusional and/or self-absorbed. It wouldn’t surprise me if people felt that way about Moses.

But here’s what I really like about the story. Moses is very self-aware. He is aware that his own people aren’t listening to him, he is aware that speaking to Pharaoh will be an uphill battle, and he is aware of his own lack of speaking ability. This is a picture of a very human and realistic Moses.

It is also a reminder that God uses real people for real ministry. God will use some as leaders and others as more hands-on servants, but God uses real people, not surreal people.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be the kind of real people you can and will use. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings included: Exodus 6-8 and Luke 23)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Gotta Love the Effect Jesus had on Zacchaeus!

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Luke 19:8-10 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Observation: It’s hard not to love this story. Zacchaeus has to climb a tree to be able to see Jesus, Jesus calls him by name, tells Zacchaeus to come down from the tree and then Jesus invites himself over for dinner! Zacchaeus himself offers two forms of thanksgiving, first declaring that he will give half of his money to the poor (very generous) and that if he’s defrauded anyone of anything, he will restore it four-fold (nice, but that was what the law in those days required). And then Jesus declares that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house today and inserts Zacchaeus into Abraham’s last will and testament. Quite a day!

Application: I think it’s safe to say that Zacchaeus had one incredible day!

Sometimes we have those kinds of days too…days when there is a profound joy in our heart for the opportunities before us. Opportunities to be recognized for who we are and loved. Opportunities to turn over a new leaf, begin a new plan, be led in a new direction.

Our stories might not be as dramatic as the story of Zacchaeus, but they no less noteworthy. It could be:

--the day we see exercise as a blessing rather than a curse
--the day we discover a preference to eat healthy rather than otherwise
--the day we cherish the people with whom we relate rather than take them for granted
--the day we see our work as a calling
--the day we choose to embrace whatever lies ahead in faith (even if that faith is a bit feeble) rather than fear.

In our scramble to get a glimpse of Jesus we just might discover, as was the case with Zacchaeus, that Jesus has already taken notice of us!

And while our actions will never earn us salvation, they can none-the-less serve as daily evidence that salvation has already come to this house!

According to Luke, that’s why Jesus came to earth in the first place… “to seek and save the lost.”

Prayer: Lord, Zachaeus probably had no idea when he woke up that morning how much his life would change in that one day. Help us to give thanks for the opportunities before us, even if we can’t see them yet. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Genesis 47-48, Psalm 10, and Luke 19)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Faith Tip: When our To-Do List is Too Long

Have you ever experienced one or more of the following?

--your e-mail inbox gets so long that you forget to follow up on the items that have disappeared below the screen until it’s too late?

--the papers on your desk pile up to the point that, once you actually go through them you find the majority of them pertain to events that have already passed?

--you don’t even look at your to-do list anymore because it’s just too depressing? Instead you just react your way through the day with little or no real direction?

--you find yourself passively glued to the internet (or otherwise wasting time) with no real valuable purpose for what you are trying to find/see?

It happens.

Do we really believe God wants us to be saddled with all of this stuff that we never seem to get done?

I’m not saying we’ll never be busy. At times Jesus, we are told, was so swamped with responsibility that he had no leisure time, even to eat.

But that wasn’t the norm. Jesus regularly withdrew for prayer too.

I believe for Jesus this prayer was a two-way street—an opportunity to listen as well as speak.

Why? So that he would not lose sight of his calling.

Calling is something that comes from beyond us, though it relates directly to us.

For people of the Christian faith (or perhaps any faith) it has to do with a voice of sorts that one hears or feels. It inspires us to find joy and fulfillment in using our gifts and our passions for the needs of the world.

Not far away from calling, however, is trust. Trust that other people will be called to the sorts of things that need to be done but are, for whatever reason, not part of our calling.

Put another way, the world may depend on me for some things, but it does not depend on me for everything.

Isn’t the same true for you?

Now let’s take a fresh look at our to-do lists.

There are two kinds of things on our list, make that three, to sort out.

First, there are those things that are part of our calling.

Second, there are those things that are important but, if they are going to get done, will need to be picked up by someone who sees them as part of their calling.

Third, there are those things that do not appear to be part of anyone’s calling but, really, are the kind of waste of time that serves no useful purpose for productivity or the kind of leisure from which we will be grateful in the long run.

Focus on the first list, redirect items from the second list to where others can find them, and drop stuff from the third list like a hot potato.

Face it: We all have limited time. But if we will purge our to-do lists appropriately, surely we will find that God does provide enough time for what really needs to be done.

That’s a gift in itself!

Today's Hotel Workout and other thoughts.

I'm at a pastor's retreat at Sawmill Creek. Some of the folks go to the local YMCA to work out in the afternoon. I've done that before too, but it takes so much time! So last night I scoped out the fitness room at the resort to see what kind of workout I might be able to do this morning.

To my delight, they added dumbbells! They had heavier (30, 40, and 45# sets) than I have at home, which was good for some things, not so good for others.

At any rate, while others were on treadmills or elliptical trainers (which is fine, btw...good for them...it's always good to see people getting up early or staying up late or otherwise making time take care of their bodies!) I was doing the following:

Standard Warm-up of: body-weight squats, leg swings, walking lunges, close-grip push-ups, stick-ups, waiter's bows, plank, and light dumbbell dead-lifts.

Set 1:
Explosive Vertical jumps with knee-ups (12)
Lat Pull downs (in lieu of pull-ups) (8)
Incline Dumbbell Presses (10 with 45# dumbbells)
rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Set 2:
Dumbbell Split Squats (8/leg with 45# dumbbells)
Side planks with leg raises (15 seconds static, then 15 leg raises)
rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Set 3:
Dumbbell Inverted rows (used incline bench for this)
Lying hip extensions

Set 4:
Turkish Get-ups (5/side with 30# dumbell first time, light 7.5# dumbell on second set)
Cross-body-mountain climbers (30)
rest, repeat.

Finished with just a few cross-over side sprints for good measure.

Other thoughts
Met two people there and picked up these two tips/insights:

One was a traveling business person who obviously stays in great shape but also mentioned that traveling is "brutal" on health. So it's important to be really assertive taking care of yourself if you're a person who's often on the road.

The second was a woman with diabetes. I gave her kudos for getting up and exercising. Her reply: "Well, I really didn't want to this morning, but I ALWAYS feel better after I do."

There ya go. I hope you feel better too!
Until next time,

The End of Life As We Know It (and bonus song commentary!)

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Genesis 45:4-5 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.

Observation: The world changed before their very eyes and they would never be the same.

Application: I’m at a pastor’s retreat and the place where the internet is free is the lobby where there is also music coming rather loudly through the speakers. A few minutes ago the song was “the End of the World as we know it.” It occurs to me that today’s readings very much reflect that sentiment, not for bad, but for good.

Joseph’s brothers, faced with the reality that the brother they sold as a slave years ago was now a person of power, discovered the irony that he would in affect be their earthly savior—at least from famine. In today’s reading from Luke 18, the blind man’s world suddenly changed when Jesus restored his sight. And Peter and his companions, who left everything to follow Jesus, were told that they would get much more in return. It was the end of life as they knew it.

Ah, but the song now playing “you’re just a little in love,” seems reflective of the human nature reflected in the Scriptures and in our lives as well. We are often just “a little” in love. We want the benefits of the relationship with God without the sacrifice and commitment that go along with it. Or, to refer back to the earlier song I referenced, we don’t want the end of our self-serving/focused life as we know it.

I think part of the reason for this short-sighted approach is that we focus more on destination than journey, more on end result rather than the process along the way. It’s hard to grow past a constant reapplication of the childhood question “are we THERE yet?”

Now that I’m not too terribly far away from the half-century mark, it would be tempting to think of all the things I wish that I would have accomplished by this stage in my life.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a little self-examination now and then. Nor are there any reasons not to look ahead and re-evaluate one’s focus. But it is the ability to live, as in really LIVE, in the present grace of God that marks a true trust and even thanksgiving for the opportunity that comes with the end of life as we know it. At that point perhaps we can even chime in with the refrain of the song that is playing even now—“simply irresistible!”

Prayer: Lord, whether it’s the end of life as we know it or whether we’re just a little in love with you or whether we find you simply irresistible or not, let us always give thanks that in you we find promise and promises that can most certainly be trusted. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Reading today included: Genesis 44-46 and Luke 18)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Today's Exercise Tip and Workout

If you're not sure if you're up to doing a workout on any given day, at least commit to a warm-up. Often time the warm-up will lead to renewed energy.

Today, due to the nature of the week's schedule, I wasn't sure if I wanted to do the full workout today or tomorrow (and then every other day thereafter). But I knew I wanted to do a warm-up routine either way because it only takes a few minutes and I always feel better after stretching out and getting the blood pumping a little bit. Sure enough, by the time the warm-up was done I was energized to do the workout I came up with below.

Set 1:
Front Barbel Squat and overhead press combo (with 70# and 12 reps)
One-leg push-ups (10/side)
rest 30 seconds, repeat (only got 10 of the squat/press combos this time)

Set 2:
1 leg stability ball curls (15/leg)
Dumbbell split squats (10/leg while holding 2-25# dumbbells)
rest 30 seconds, repeat)

Set 3:
Cross-body mountain climbers (50)
Bent-over Dumbbell Inverted Rows (15)
Rest 30 seconds, repeat

Set 4:
Ab-Wheel Roll-outs (10)
Bent-over side deltoid raises with dumbbells (10)
Rest 30 seconds, repeat.

Set 5:
5 rounds of 30-seconds of jump-roping (with 20 seconds rest between rounds)

The Unexpected Benefits of Preparation

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Genesis 41:25-36 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. 27 The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, as are the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind. They are seven years of famine. 28 It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. 30 After them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; the famine will consume the land. 31 The plenty will no longer be known in the land because of the famine that will follow, for it will be very grievous. 32 And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. 33 Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man who is discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. 35 Let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”

Observation: Wisdom sometimes calls for action.

Application. Often times wisdom calls for patience—an ability to sit back a spell and let things play out. But there are other times when wisdom calls for a more assertive approach. Such was the case in the text above. Joseph advised essentially daily preparations for the years to come. And if one reads on in the passage (or already knows the story), one can see that the preparations really paid off.

One gift that we all share in common is daily opportunity. On a daily basis we all have opportunity to give thanks for what has been and to discern how we might best prepare for the day, week, month, years that—Lord willing—are ahead. The preparations may be personal or professional or both, but they are not just in the future; they are in the here and now.

And these preparations are not necessarily the responsibility of someone else. Often we are entrusted with the opportunity to take part in the preparations—at least if we want to be in a position to potentially, by the grace of God, be a blessing to others.

Of course the great irony in the Bible story above (as it eventually unfolds) is that Joseph’s preparations for survival and even economic gain totally paled in comparison with the blessing that eventually appeared before his very eyes—a reunion with his brothers and, most importantly, the opportunity to both see and bring joy to his Father’s face again.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the opportunity to prepare not only for what we anticipate, but also, sometimes unwittingly, for the kind of blessings we may have never imagined—or like Joseph, had long since forgotten. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Genesis 39-41 and Luke 16)

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Today's Workout

Warm-up followed by:

Set 1
Chin-ups with Knee-ups (8, then 6)
Barbell Squats (25 each time)
Bench presses (25, then 20)
Rest and repeat set, using second number of reps above)

Set 2
1 leg stability ball curls (15/leg)
Cross-body mountain-climbers (50)
rest and repeat

Set 3
Ab-wheel roll-outs (10)
Side deltoid raises (10)
rest, repeat

Set 4
1 1/2 rep bulgarian split squats (10)
Bend over dumbbell rows (15)
Rest, repeat

Set 5
Dumbbell shoulder presses (two sets of 10)

Mighty High Costs

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Luke 14:25-26 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Observation: Luke is often considered the most ‘inclusive’ gospel. Yet clearly the price of discipleship is still quite high.

Application: We don’t always know how much things are really going to cost. Unforeseen expenses often crop up, whether in terms of time, reputation, or money. Sometimes we are prepared to face these costs; other times not.

Jesus, upon having the crowd’s expressed devotion, now lays out the costs involved in following him.

Mighty steep the costs indeed! Who can afford it?

On the one hand, no one. On the other hand, we can’t afford not to follow Jesus.

Here’s the deal. The goal is not so much to cherish life, but to cherish the author and giver of life. The apostle Paul once said that if for this life only we have hoped, we are of all people most to be pitied. Better to place our hope in the one who, when we need our life back again, can deliver.

Prayer: Lord, help us to focus ultimately and only on you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Genesis 34-36 and Luke 14)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Who's really "Blessed?"

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Luke 11:27-28 While he was saying this, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” 28 But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”

Observation: we sometimes misplace our praise.

Praise is good, but often misguided. We praise the person who makes the winning basket, yet every other basket was necessary for the winning basket to be labeled as such. We praise the musician for the marvelous performance, yet the performance was probably only possible after years and years of practice and lessons. On and on it goes.

In Luke, Jesus is often presented as being especially inclusive of those who were often socially marginalized, including women. Yet Jesus won’t let women rest on the laurels (or even praise the laurels) of motherhood. Instead he admonishes one and all to hear the word of God and obey it.

There are at least two particularly interesting points in all this.

First, it should be noted that Jesus’ admonition was not a put down. Quite the opposite, actually. Jesus was saying that a woman’s value (indeed, blessedness) is not limited to that which only women could do (childbearing). Rather, Jesus was saying that all people—whether male or female, mothers, fathers or neither—are blessed when they hear the word of God and obey it. Since in that society only men were considered worthy of discussing spiritual things, Jesus was actually advocating for women and all people to step up a notch in their understanding of their role in God’s world.

Second, the word “obey” when connected with God’s word has a tendency to be interpreted in a legalistic sense. But Jesus is interested in something far more faithful than legalism. Later in this chapter he will denounce legalism when it is not accompanied by justice and love of God. These are the weightier matters of the law.

Blessed be the Lord Jesus who teaches such things, even on his way to Jerusalem and to the cross where justice and the love of God will ultimately meet.

Prayer: Lord, help us to do what you ask and, more importantly, be how you want us to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Genesis 27-28, Psalm 4, and Luke 11)

Today's Workout

Warm-up followed by:

Set 1
25 100# barbell squats
25 100# bench presses (wide grip)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set.

Set 2
15 1-leg stability ball curls/leg
15 bent-over dumbell rows with 2 25# dumbells.
Rest 30 seconds, repeat set

Set 3
10 Split Lunges with 2 25# dumbells (per leg)
12 ab Pikes with hands on floor and feet on skateboard.
Rest 30 seconds, repeat set

Set 4
2 sets of 10 5-yard sprints with 30 seconds rest between sets

Set 5
1 round of 10 ab-wheel roll-outs.
Done. 22 minutes including warm-up.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Distractions, distractions, distractions and, Oh, what is needed.

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Luke 10:41-42 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Distractions are everywhere. It takes real diligence to avoid them.

Working/Middle-class Americans live in one of the most distracted societies in all of history. Communication technologies alone have exponentially increased the challenge of trying to remain focused, let alone the distractions that come with ever more multi-faceted work and home responsibilities. Looking back, it would seem that Martha had it easy!

Still every age and, indeed, every day, brings distractions of its own. It’s a daily battle, if we’re willing to engage in it.

There are all kinds of ‘techniques’ for managing these distractions. For example, we can set our e-mail preferences so that we manually check for new e-mail on our own timeline, preferably not till early afternoon or at set times of the day rather than allowing ourselves to be constantly distracted by new e-mails arriving at any moment. We can get up earlier and try to plan our days while it is still dark and our houses and/or places of work might still be quiet. We can go to time-management seminars and the like and pick up some very practical tips.

Still, it seems at the heart of all distractions is a lack of appreciation for the gift already be before us—be it a person or a task or an opportunity. But it’s not always easy to know what we’re really dealing with. Distractions are sometimes a form of ministry in disguise. On the other hand, sometimes what we see as ministry is merely a distraction in disguise. It takes a lot of wisdom to know the difference.

Or maybe just thoughtful intention.

Jesus said, “Mary has chosen the better part…”

As Lutherans we rightfully are a little squeamish about putting too much stock in our choices. We believe that God chooses us, rather than the other way around. But when confronted with a plethora of options, it appears that we can sift through and choose the better part. Such choosing will not always (if ever!) be easy. But it will likely begin with an understanding that somewhere in the thick of all that life throws at us will be something worth holding onto for dear life.

Prayer: Lord, help us to choose more wisely and intentionally whatever is truly needed whenever we can. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Genesis 25-26, Psalm 6, and Luke 10)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Today's workout

Warm-up followed by:
Set 1
Chin-ups with knee-ups (8 reps)
Verticle jumps with knee-ups (12 reps)
Bench press (25 reps)
(rest 30 seconds and repeat set. Only got 6 chin-ups and 13 bench reps on 2nd round)

Set 2
1-leg stability ball curls (12 reps)
1 1/2 reps per rep bulgarian split squats (10 reps)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set.

Set 3
Bent-over dumb-bell rows
Pikes with feet on skateboard
rest 30 seconds, repeat set

Set 4
Turkish get-ups (5 reps/side)
only did one round of this one.

Set 5
12 5-yard sprints, touching floor at each end.


Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Luke 9:51-56 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

The disciples wanted to use their newfound power for revenge. Jesus admonished otherwise.

Application: When we have power (or even the illusion of power), we tend to want to use it. Powerful companies leverage their influence, powerful teams employ all their strength, powerful politicians exploit their opponent’s weakness, and even people who own powerful sport-cars seldom drive like grandma. If we have power, we tend to want to use it.

Even the disciples of Jesus shared this very human trait. When they encountered opposition, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” It was their way of saying, “we’ll show them what happens to people who mess with us!”

I can only imagine their faces when Jesus rebuked them. That’s when they saw the power of illusion which was, of course, their illusion of power—they only had power because Jesus had given them power. Now they would need to learn, from him, how best to use it.

Over time it becomes clear that Jesus’ use of power is for the purpose of love. He is on his way to Jerusalem where he will use the power of restraint over fury, the power of humility over bravado, and the power of loving service over dominion.

Had the disciples been listening, they would have scrapped the fire from heaven idea from the git go and simply shook the dust off their feet and moved on (cf. Luke 9:5). Thankfully Jesus was still there to remind them of the more honorable way, both with his rebuking words and, ultimately, his life.

Prayer: Lord, help us not to be consumed with acquiring and/or abusing various forms of power but, rather, to simply draw our strength from your love and offer that love in service to others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Genesis 23-24 and Luke 9)

Friday, January 6, 2012

It's Complicated

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Genesis 16:5-6 Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.

There was a conflict between Sarai and Hagar (the slave girl). Sarai tried to draw Abram into the conflict and also make him responsible for solving it. Abram refused to be drawn in and pointed out that Sarai already had all the resources and power she needed to deal with the situation.

Application: In counseling circles it’s called “triangulation” and it happens all the time. There is tension in a relationship and, rather than try to work out the situation directly, people will often try to pull in a third party to ‘side’ with him or her. When triangulation is used, almost everyone loses because the responsibility for a situation is passed from its rightful owner to someone else. More often than not, everyone is unhappy in the end, especially the person who allowed him or herself to be drawn into the dispute.

I find it striking that Abram had the wisdom to stay out of this situation. I’m not condoning any form of slavery, but in light of the situation Abram rightly realized that it was Sarai’s idea for him to conceive a child through Sarai’s slave girl Hagaar in the first place and so, if there was an issue between Sarai and Hagaar, Sarai would need to work it our herself.

Lord, give us the wisdom of Abram in terms of knowing when to get personally involved in situations and when to redirect responsibility back to it rightful owner In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Genesis 15-17 and Luke 6)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reflections on the Call of God

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Genesis 12:1-3 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

I wonder how Abram knew it was the Lord speaking?

With the presidential race getting into swing again (which I really don’t pay that much attention to at this stage of the proceedings) it’s pretty much inevitable that a few candidates will imply or even outright assert that God is behind their presidential run. Well…end of story I guess…who can argue with that?

Seriously though, how do we know if our call—regardless of our field of work/service—is from God?

I’ve often wondered what that original encounter between the Lord and Abram was like, especially since it’s such a foundational story in the Judeo-Christian heritage. Was God wearing one of those “Hello, my name is LORD” name-tags?

More troubling to me is the call to leave almost everything he knows (nation, relatives, immediate family) to embrace what he does not yet know (“land that I will show you”). These days we’d wonder if Abram was off his rocker or whether he was joining a cult.

Honestly, I’m not sure how we know for certain when we have received a call from God. For pastoral candidates there are a number of check points that enable the wider church to help a person determine whether or not he or she has a call to ministry. That way it’s not just up to the individual to decide if the call is authentic or not. But even that system isn’t fool-proof.

Here’s the most amazing thing; sometimes God uses people (who sometimes aren’t even religious!) for divine purposes without them even realizing it…or…gasp…even knowing God! King Cyrus of Persia is the Biblical character who first comes to mind. God used him to let the exiles return home (cf Isaiah chapter 45, especially verses 1, 4, 5, & 6).

I guess one take-away for me is that whether we keep the current president or elect a new one, the president’s faith (or lack thereof) is not the ultimate determining factor for whether or not the person will be of God’s service. Oh…and we may well be in God’s service too, often without even realizing it.

Lord, we don’t all receive calls like Abram. Often you work in ways that are far more subtle. Help us to be content to serve in whatever capacity you choose. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Genesis 12-14 and Luke 5)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Finding time to draw on the example and person of Jesus

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Luke 4:22-24 At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. 43 But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.

Observation: Jesus took/made time for self-reflection and then was able to stay true to his calling rather than succumbing to the expectations of others.

Application: Many of us who serve in what are often called ‘helping professions’ have a tendency to want to—well, duh!—help people! It’s part and parcel of our calling, whether we serve in ministry, social work, education, medicine, law, counseling or whatever. This may sound strange, but we don’t always ‘help’ as much as we could or should because we are too busy ‘helping.’

In other words, in our efforts to meet the ever-expanding expectations of others we may end up not satisfying anyone—neither others or even ourselves. If you’ll pardon my paraphrase of Mic Jagger (albeit considerably out of its original context): we can’t get no satisfaction. We’re chasing a pipe dream.

Jesus knew he couldn’t satisfy everyone, so he made time for the kind of self-reflection and prayer that helped him keep focused on his true calling.

The start of a new year is an excellent time to experiment with our schedules, where possible, to fit in quality time for such devotional reflection and prayer.

For example, normally I read the lessons and then write these reflections in one block of time, preferably in the morning right after breakfast or right after a workout. But sometimes it takes longer than I think it should to write the reflections. So I’m experimenting with reading the lessons in one small block of time and then writing the reflections a little later.

Today I read the lessons during breakfast, then made a couple phone calls, had a good workout, and now, while cooling down from the workout, am composing these musings. It gives me a little more time to reflect on what I’ve read, more time to ‘listen’ and, hopefully, let the way that God speaks though the word more fully soak in.

Then perhaps I can offer the help I am truly called and equipped to offer—nothing more and nothing less.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the example we have in Jesus. Help us to continually learn from him and draw from him. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Genesis 9-11 and Luke 4)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In Response to our Compulsive Nature

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: Luke 3:19-20 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison.

Luke presents Herod as a person purposely inclined to evil.

Application: The other day a friend of mine opened a fortune cookie and found the following adage just in time for the new year: “avoid compulsively making things worse.”

For many of us, this would be good advice. We don’t know how to quit while we’re ahead, hold our tongue, resist clicking the next link, leave well enough alone.

“Co-Dependent” was a big buzz-word when I was beginning ministry and one of our more useful assigned readings was a book entitled: “Co-Dependent No More.” The author encourages taking responsibility for our own actions and feelings but not to be consumed with taking responsibility for everybody else’s actions and feelings. It’s good general advice. Otherwise we become like an overly enthusiastic ‘handiman’ who begins with intent to fix a simple kitchen leak and ends up remodeling an entire aging house that we don’t want to keep and is now worth far less than we’ve invested to ‘fix’ it.

Herod, according to Luke, kept making things worse. He had done lots of bad things and then “added to them all” by putting John in prison. Agh! What’s next?

Answer in a word? Jesus.

Luke takes some genealogical pains to make sure we understand Jesus’ lineage. Biblical scholars will take issue with a few of Luke’s assumptions, but not with his ultimate conclusion—Jesus is the Son of God.

Perhaps that it why, from what I can tell, Jesus is the first person to walk this earth who compulsively makes things better rather than the other way around. Even more impressively, Jesus makes things better without falling prey to a co-dependent nature of trying to meet everyone else’s expectations to the exclusion of his own. Yes, Jesus actually knows when to stop talking, when to retreat for prayer, when to—as youth say today—“chillax,” and, of course, when to take a path others might suggest he avoid.

Perhaps someday we’ll have the wherewithal to follow suit.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for being Lord. Help us to recognize such things. In Jesus' name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Genesis 6-8 and Luke 3)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Dumb Luck strikes again--Adam and Eve Make the Right Choice

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Genesis 3:22-23 Then the LORD God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.

Adam and Eve chose the right tree

As I read chapters 3 and 4 of Genesis this morning I thought to myself, ‘would I have chosen to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil or would I have chosen to eat from the tree of life to live forever?’

Honestly, I think I might have chosen the latter, which is why I’m glad that the woman (she isn’t given a name until 4:1) and the man (we don’t learn his name until 4:25) chose the former. Can you imagine living forever but then being banned from the tree of knowledge of good and evil? That, it would seem, would mean living a very dumb and foolish life—forever!

Of course, in some ways we lead dumb and foolish lives as it is. We tend to make the same mistakes over and over and we tend to do or think things that are very short-sighted and lead us into all sorts of regrettable situations. So perhaps we haven’t learned much even after having access to the knowledge of good and evil!

On the other hand it could also be said that life would be more innocent if we didn’t know so much. In the story there’s no indication that the man and the woman had any unfulfilled needs prior to their fall, save for an apparent lack of contentment and an easily serpent-fostered lack of trust in God.

Either way, it seems to me that we’re not ready to live forever just yet. Christ may have saved us through the cross, but it seems the process of sanctifying us continues on and is not complete until we rest in peace to rise again.

All in God’s own good time.

Prayer: Lord, maybe the serpent wasn’t ‘smart’ enough to guide the subjects of your story to choose to eat from the tree of life or maybe it was just literally dumb-luck. But I’m personally thankful that things worked out as they did so that our lives are in your hands rather than in our own. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Genesis 3-4 and Luke 2)

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Genesis 2:19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.

Observation: God experiments.

Today is New Year’s day. Today’s assigned readings (Genesis 1 & 2 and Luke 1) reflect beginnings—the beginning of creation and the beginning of the new creation in Jesus. Of course, a new year serves as a new beginning of sorts for all of us as well. And all of life, in one way or another, is an experiment.

A few moments ago I read a little post by a fitness guru indicating that he was going to try an experiment for the next 30 days—eliminating a certain type of food/drink from his diet as some have recommended. Although I don’t have any interest or plan to replicate the same experiment myself, it did strike me as a good idea to conduct some personal experiments—whether for diet, exercise, behavior, or even in one’s profession/calling—in order to have a better chance of discovering better ways to live/serve.

So with that in my mind I read the passages assigned for today and noticed that God experiments too. In the second creation story (Genesis 1 and the first part of chapter two is one creation story is considered by myself and many scholars to be one creation story and then the rest of chapter 2 of Genesis is considered to be another creation story. Neither story is necessarily intended to be a scientific account of ‘how’ the world was created but, rather, an expression of faith in the ‘who’ behind creation.) we have this indication that God watched the first human interact with the animals and birds “to see” what the human would call them. That’s an experiment! It’s an intentional observation where the results are not known for certain in advance.

I’ll admit that it can be a bit disconcerting to think of myself, or my family, or even all of humanity past, present, and future as some sort of Godly experiment. Over the years it would seem that some of these experiments have, well, not gone so well. Free will has led to costly and even gut-wrenching mistakes time and time again. But it has also led to incredible demonstrations of love and grace—sometimes in the very darkest moments of time. Hence when God says, “Let there be light” there is light—enough to see through the midst of what will happen next.

Lord, as you watch us, help us to watch ourselves—to learn from our mistakes, build on our success, and be drawn ever more deeply into the heart and soul of you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included Genesis 1 & 2 and Luke 1.)