Saturday, March 31, 2012

For Those Who Are Easily Distracted

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 16:5-9 I will visit you after passing through Macedonia—for I intend to pass through Macedonia— 6 and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may send me on my way, wherever I go. 7 I do not want to see you now just in passing, for I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. 8 But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, 9 for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

Observation: Paul was rather intentional in how he spent his time, striving to make the best and most effective use of it.

Application: I was watching a time management/productivity DVD last evening. Much of it was old news and for some reason the presenter rubbed me the wrong way as well. Nevertheless, there were still kernels of wisdom to be found and one of my favorites was this:

Find something important enough to do that you are not willing to be so easily and frequently interrupted and distracted!”

It seems to me that Paul saw his work in Ephesus as this kind of important work. It also seems that he looked forward to doing similar work in Corinth—though not until he could give it his undivided attention.

In this day and age a certain amount of multitasking is inevitable. Even Paul took the time to write to the Corinthians. But even so, there can still be a primary focus. Paul seemed to be a master at giving such foci there due. I would do well to do the same.

Prayer: Lord, why are there so many things in life that are interesting but not necessarily fulfilling? Why are there so many things that can catch our attention but cannot transform our existence? And what makes us think that we should (or need to) pursue such empty paths without giving them a second thought? I’ve noticed that Jesus was willing and able to respond to some immediate/impromptu requests, but that he also was not swayed from moving in the direction of his over-all mission. Help me learn how to do such things. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Judges 9-10, Psalm 49, and 1 Corinthians 16)

Thursday, March 29, 2012


Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 14:26 What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

Paul wanted worship to be done in good order for the benefit of all gathered.

Application: We just finished our midweek Lenten services last night for this year. I’m pretty confident that we’ve had higher midweek attendance this year than we have had for quite some time. The services weren’t fancy. In fact, they were quite simple. A short dialog, a couple evening prayer hymns that were the same each week (one of which is sung in a round), one lesson, one reflection by the pastor, a hymn to match the evening theme, chanted prayers, the Lord’s prayer (sung), and a benediction. The services were simple and lasted just over half an hour.

There are many styles of worship and I suppose each has it’s place. But all worship is intended draw attention to what God has done and is doing in order that all might be built up. Paul understood this even way back in the day.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the opportunity to worship you. It is in worship that you delight in us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Judges 6-7, Psalm 52, and 1 Corinthians 14)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Today's Workout

Nice little workout today. Didn't take much time (most of my workouts don't) but certainly put my body through the paces.

Started off with my standard warm-up: bodyweight squats, leg swings, walking lunges, push-ups, stick-ups, waiter's bows, planks, Light Dumbbell deadlift/overhead press combo. Then on to the workout.

Set 1
Pull-ups or chin-ups
Front barbell squats
Walking push-ups with feet on skateboard
Rest 30 seconds, repeat set

Set 2
1-leg stability-ball curls
side planks with leg lifts
rest 30 seconds, repeat set

Set 3
Bent-over dumbbell rows
Dumbbell overhead presses
Rest 30 seconds, repeat set

Set 4
Cross-body mountain-climbers (50)
Rest 30 seconds and repeat.


What's your workout for the day? Almost any kind of movement is good.

Until next time,

Measuring Success--or Not

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Psalm 41:11-12 By this I know that you are pleased with me;
because my enemy has not triumphed over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
and set me in your presence forever.

Observation: This may be what the Psalmist believed, but it’s not what I believe. It’s also not what Jesus and the Apostles believed.

These days just about everyone wants to be considered ‘successful.’ The question is, how does one measure ‘success?’ Or, to put it in Biblical/faith terms, how does one know if God is pleased with him or herself?

In Old Testament times the measure of such things was easy. If something bad happened to you, it was because God was not pleased with you. If something good happened to you, it was because God was pleased with you.

The New Testament, beginning with the story of Jesus himself, tells a different story. We know that God was well-pleased with Jesus, yet he suffered torture and death at the hands of those with whom God was not pleased. The Apostles suffered similar fates. Personal well-being could no longer be automatically equated with personal virtue.

The same holds true today. Many suffer. Many do not suffer. But one cannot just point to one group and say “well done” and point to the other group and say, in the terms often used by a friend of mine, “bad doggie, no biscuit!”

Sometimes I wonder why I am spared particular hardships. Other times I wonder why I’m going through them. I try not to get too confident in myself on the one hand and not too despairing of myself on the other. In each case there are lessons to be learned and morsels of faith to be proclaimed.

Prayer: Sometimes I wish you’d give me a little success-o-meter that I could carry with me to know how I’m doing. But that really wouldn’t work very well, would it? Every time I thought I was doing well my pride would likely swell up and force the meter back down again. Ugh! I guess I’ll just strive to be thankful for every experience you provide. But that doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy some of them more than others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Judges 4-5, Psalm 39 and 41, 1 Corinthians 13)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Violence Again

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Judges 3:20-22 Ehud came to him, while he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber, and said, “I have a message from God for you.” So he rose from his seat. 21 Then Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into Eglon’s belly; 22 the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the dirt came out.

Observation: This is not a pretty sight, not something pretty to read. It makes a person wince, even if, perhaps, it was deserved.

Application: Today I read about some dastardly things that a small group of human beings recently did to a couple of their fellow human beings. It was violent, disgusting, and, ultimately, fatal. I wish I would not have read the article. Then a few minutes ago I read the Biblical passage above. Today’s scripture readings also included a story of cutting off the thumbs and big toes of a king, just as he had apparently done to 70 other kings. Is this what humanity has succumbed to? What’s worse, the violence of Ehud and several other Israelites was considered to be the work of God. Perhaps so. But that still doesn’t make it easy to read. And it makes me wonder again why humanity so often stoops so low. Surely there must be a better way.

The only consolation I can find at the moment is that the ways of Jesus in the New Testament take an entirely different track. There is violence done there too, of course, but it is violence done to the people of God, not by the people of God. Vulnerability replaces bravado. Violence is received by Christians, but not dished out by them.

Ultimately I would most certainly prefer no violence at all, by anyone…to anyone. Perhaps those days will someday come to pass. I pray sooner rather than later.

Prayer: Lord, is there not a better way to live? Is there not a way for such senseless violence to end? You’ve probably heard those questions before. Still, they bear repeating. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Judges 1-3 and 1 Corinthians 12)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Factions and Tests--All Part of God's Plan--Go Figure

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 11:19 Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.

Observation: This verse is an observation in and of itself. Interesting.

Application: Much of life is a test. It is sometimes a test of will, sometimes a test of faithfulness, sometimes a test of devotion, sometimes a test of sincerity, sometimes a test of character, sometimes a test steadfastness or, in the case of the verse above, genuineness. I’m sure there are many other types of tests that could be listed as well.

Sometimes we do not like tests of any kind. The very word conjures up anxiety in some of us. Will we pass? We sometimes fear that the answer might be “no.”

But tests can also be a good thing. I know a university professor who likes to give his students lots of tests because he sees each test as a learning event. Indeed. Whether the learning is pleasant or painful, it is still a form of learning.

Prior to reading Paul’s verse above I had never thought of factions as a way of testing genuineness. And I’ll readily admit that I’m a little uneasy about that consideration because it seems to contribute toward the concept of one side being completely right and the other side being completely wrong. Normally, it seems to me, life is a bit more complicated than that.

Nevertheless, all of us need our genuineness tested now and then. In each case is the opportunity for learning—learning more about ourselves, more about others, more about community, more about God and, ultimately, more about the relationship that our Lord has established with us through Christ.

According to Paul, one of the ways that we learn is through imitation. “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” Paul says in the first verse of this chapter.

I think he is onto something.

Prayer: Lord, one of the things I appreciate about Paul is that he seems to find your power working through almost any situation. I know this intellectually, of course, and your word is filled with examples. Still, in personal times of struggle it’s easy to lose sight of such things. Frankly, I don’t always feel prepared for your ‘tests’—for the things you can teach me through every-day life experiences at work or home. If you had a Facebook page dedicated to your “tests,” it’s doubtful that I would be inclined to “like” it—though maybe I would at least check it out every now and then, just in case…In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Joshua 23-24, Psalm 44, and 1 Corinthians 11)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Calling Hours

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Joshua 18:2-3 There remained among the Israelites seven tribes whose inheritance had not yet been apportioned. 3 So Joshua said to the Israelites, “How long will you be slack about going in and taking possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, has given you?

This sounds crazy but it’s true, after all those years of being promised an inheritance, of wandering in the wilderness, of fighting battle after battle to claim the land—some of the Israelites had not yet actually claimed the very inheritance that they were to be given and for which they had hoped.

Application: It’s possible to get used to things that aren’t healthy, beneficial, or even desirable. I’m reading a book right now called “Necessary Endings.” It reminds me, in some respects, of a book by a similar title (Necessary Losses) that I read many years ago. Though written by different authors, both books embrace, essentially, forms of death in our lives. And the reason that these forms of death need to be embraced is in order that new life might occur.

Some of the Israelites had gotten so used to wandering around over the years that they didn’t realize that their time of wandering needed to die so that they could experience new life in their promised inheritance. They simply needed to claim it, to redeem the coupon that had perhaps gotten buried in their wallet over the years but was still very much at hand. They needed to admit that one season of life in their lives (which had been good, all things considered) was now over (dead) and it was time for a new season of life for them to begin.

I’m only part-way into the book, but I’m finding it offers good food for thought—especially when paired with the death and resurrection of Christ himself and all that that means for us.

Prayer: Lord, what needs to die in me in order that new life might arise? Whoa! Don’t give it to me all at once! That list is too long! Just give me a few pointers, a few tangible things for which I might want to develop some mini “calling hours” that I can work into my schedule. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Joshua 18-20 and 1 Corinthians 9)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Love without all the Puff

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.

Observation: People who REALLY know things don’t have to make a big deal about it. Those who don’t really know things have a tendency to want to make a big deal about things.

Application: I’ve often enjoyed watching and/or working with people in skill trades—especially those who have been doing such work for a long time. Generally speaking, they are not the kind of people who promise too much and deliver too little. They don’t tend to rush into things. They tend to take the time to prepare properly and then do the job right. They are well aware that, even then, sometimes things can get more complicated then expected. No matter; they see the job through.

The Apostle Paul is careful not to boast much about his own experiences other than to point out what God through Christ has been kind enough to do through him. And in this passage he shares how important it is to embody the love that we proclaim. Here he shares that knowledge puffs up but love builds up. Later, in chapter 13, he will say that if we understand all knowledge but do not have love, we are, well, “nothing.”

“Nothing,” by definition, is less than not much. It’s a pretty bare term that takes the air out of anything that we’ve endeavored to puff up.

“Do you love me?” said Jesus to Peter a few times in John chapter 21. Peter always replied with variations of, “yes, you know that I love you.” Jesus asked him to prove it; “feed my lambs.”

Perhaps it was Jesus’ way of saying that it was time for all the puffing to stop and the loving to begin.

Prayer: Dear Lord, as humans we tent to huff and puff with great regularity and a fair amount of pomp and circumstance. But that’s not really what you had in mind now, is it? Didn’t think so. Thanks for the reminder. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Joshua 15-17 and 1 Corinthians 8)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 6:12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.

Observation: The phrase “all things are lawful for me” is in quotes—twice in this verse and also twice later in this book in 1 Corinthians 10:13. In each verse Paul adds the interpretation “but not all things are beneficial” and in each verse he also adds another wise interpretation which, the case of today’s reading is: “but I will not be dominated by anything.

What ‘dominates’ you? What thoughts dominate your mind? What habbits dominate your day? What drives dominate your actions? What experiences dominate your worldview? What principles dominate your understanding of the faith?

Paul, earlier in his life, was a domineering person. He endeavored to dominate anyone to tried to claim the name of Christ. He himself was dominated by a sense of self-righteousness which drove him to do dastardly things in the name of God. In this verse, however, he concludes that he will not allow himself to be dominated by anything.

It occurs to me that this is only partially true, and I believe Paul would quickly admit as much. Paul is now dominated by the love of God through Christ. This love has not sapped Paul’s drive but, instead, has redirected it in authentic service to the source of this great love and, in turn, to those (which is everybody) to whom this great love is also directed. So it’s not a question of if we are dominated but, rather, what/who dominates us.

So while it’s true that not all dominations are beneficial, there is also room for the possibility that some dominations are beneficial. Paul seems to know which are which. It would behoove us to discern such things as well.

Lord, each of us is dominated by something. Help us to choose the better part(s). In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Joshua 9-11 and 1 Corinthians 6)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Being Human

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Psalm 69:6 Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me,
O Lord GOD of hosts;
do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me,
O God of Israel.

Observation: this Psalm as a whole covers a lot of interesting ground. It offers a realistic portrayal of the human condition, a continual hope/trust in God, and an acknowledgement that sometimes we suffer unjustly too. Still, all is for God’s glory.

There’s an old saying, coined by the Apostle Paul, that goes like this: “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor. 4:5). This is, in fact, the proper role for the preacher, both in proclamation and in everyday life. We may be set apart for the calling, yet we live as a part of the body—a body that is broken yet still loved by God.

It would be interesting to know what all was going through David’s mind when he wrote this Psalm. Then again, it doesn’t really matter. I think every authentic preacher of every age is well aware of his or her own foibles. Our preaching is never based on personally having it all together (we can only wish!), but on a trust that the good news proclaimed to those who gather is intended for us as well. Preaching is like Holy Communion—we offer it to others, but we also receive it. I think David understood such things. I think, no matter what, he wanted God to receive all the glory. This is as it should be.

Prayer: Dear God, sometimes I wonder why you make us all so…well, human. Then again, I’m not aware of any viable alternatives. I have no desire to be, say, a dog or a cat. I guess I’ll just stick with what I am and trust that you know best. I’ll also pray that my preaching and living would reflect a deep dependence and gratitude for you far above anyone or anything else. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Joshua 7-8, Psalm 69, and 1 Corinthians 5)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Thin-Skinned Kent

Scripture Passage that Caught my Attention today: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive commendation from God.

Paul acted in good faith, but also realized that the ultimate judgment belongs to God. Such judgment will come in it’s own time. Human nature, being what it is, tends to rush to judgment. Those of us who judge can, for a moment, feel as if we are in the right. But it’s shaky ground. Paul is not aware of anything that can be held against him, yet he also knows that it is the Lord who will ultimately judge. He considers other human judgments against him to be “a very small thing.”

Application: Over the course of my ministry I’ve had the privilege and responsibility of supervising interns at various times. At the end of each internship year, after the final reports are finished, I ask the interns to offer a constructive critique of my ministry. Sometimes I’ve been able to incorporate their suggestions; other times not so much. One piece of advice from one of the early interns stands out; “Grow a thicker layer of skin.”

Sometimes I think I have grown a thicker layer of skin. But there are other times when it doesn’t feel very thick at all. Right now is one of those times. Paul considers human judgments against him to be “a very small thing.” For me it seems bigger than that and I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s because I agree that judgment, at least according to Paul, should not be pronounced before the time.

As humans we tend to rush to judgment much of the time. That’s human nature and perhaps unavoidable. But it would behoove us to never forget that such judgment will never be more than “a very small thing.” There will come a day when things now hidden will come to light, not the least of which are the purposes of the heart.

I know this…deep down…yet I still can’t seem to figure out how to grow that thicker layer of skin.

Prayer: Dear God. You’re the giver of all skin, thick and thin alike. And your skin was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. Who are we to think that we deserve any better? Sometimes we think or say things like, “I wish that I were more like Paul!” Really? Would we like to be put in prison and be falsely accused or be so “utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8)? Not so much. Today I’m just gonna try to learn to be content with being thin-skinned Kent. I’ll put that near the top of my to-do list. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Joshua 3-6 and 1 Corinthians 4)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Spiritual or not so much?

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: 1 Corinthians 2:14-15 Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

Observation: Paul makes a significant distinction between spiritual people and unspiritual people.

Application: If it is true that there are both spiritual people and unspiritual people, I wonder what causes this to be so. Why do some people think and act in relation to spiritual things and others not? If everything that God gives is a gift, is not spirituality a gift too? And if so, why do only some people appear to receive it?

On the other hand, I wonder if perhaps we are all spiritual people, but that some of us ignore that dimension of our being—either by dismissing it as unimportant or by simply failing to feed it.

Personally, I lean toward the latter view—that we are all spiritual but that some ignore or neglect this gift. In Paul’s terms, some see spiritual things as “foolishness.” To me that indicates that they see them but do not turn aside to take them in. In today’s Old Testament readings we finished out the book of Deuteronomy which included the death of Moses. Moses’ ministry began when he saw a burning bush that was not consumed. “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up” he said. Moses saw something out of the ordinary—indeed something spiritual—and he took the time to turn aside to it rather than ignore it and go about his merry or not-so-merry way. I think spiritual people entertain things, both in the form of people and in the form of notions. They ponder. They reflect. They are willing to be led.

This is not to say that one must be spiritual in order to ponder and reflect and be led. Those not affiliated with any religion can do such things too. But somehow it seems to take place in a different way…and the gift of God before them is somehow missed.

Prayer: Dear God, I still don’t quite understand why some people are one way and others another, spiritually speaking. Since I believe it’s a gift, I have no merit to brag. But I do wonder why this gift isn’t embraced by all. I’m left with more questions than answers today. And if it’s true that I am in some way among those who are ‘spiritual,’ why have I so often through the years still felt subject to other’s scrutiny? Just some questions I’d like for you to consider when you have the time. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Deuteronomy 32-34 and 1 Corinthians 2)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Today's Workout

Warm-up followed by:

Set 1
Full chin-ups with knee-ups (8 on first round, 6 on second)
Vertical Jumps with knee-ups (12)
Push-ups (15)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set.

Set 2
1 leg stability-ball curls (15)
Bent-over dumbbell rows (15)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set

Set 3
Body-weight Split squats (15 per leg)
Ab-wheel roll-outs (12)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set. Done.

Longer than normal post about taking your time.

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Galatians 6:12-18 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14 May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16 As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
Gal. 6:17 From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.
Gal. 6:18 May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.

Observation: Paul was most certainly upset when he wrote his letter to the Galatians. He saw their actions and motives, however well-intended, as lacking Christian substance and even diametrically opposed to the freedom and Spirit we are called to have in Christ. Still, by letter’s end, he was able to sincerely wish them well.

Application: Back in Paul’s day there was a considerable time-lag in communications. Letters were physically difficult to write to begin with (no word-processors or even modern pens and paper) and then it was sometimes months before the letter would even arrive. So each letter had to cover a lot of ground, from the opening greeting to the meat of the content to the words of peace at the end. With the time lag came time to reflect, time to get fired up and time to cool back down.

I remember of a time when a ‘demand’ was placed before me. I altered my schedule and gave it near immediate attention. A colleague, upon learning about it, offered this piece of wisdom.

“I have found it helpful to take my time (sometimes days) before responding
to requests / demands like this. As a leader, I really try to put issues
like this on my timeline. Also, I'm not that good on my feet, so that extra
time allows prayer, reflection, and wise counsel from others.”

I think Paul took such time in composing his letter. Yes, he was concerned. He’s barely through with his greeting at the beginning of Galatians before he jumps right in with his concerns. But he’s also careful to root his message from start to finish in the saving work of Christ, the marks of which, we are told, are branded on his body.

Prayer: Dear God, I wonder how much time you take before responding to our immediate requests. Do you drop everything (including the needs of others) and come running to see what’s up with us? Or do you take your good old sweet time? I’m guessing that it just depends on the situation. As the all-knowing One, you probably know right away how far up the scale of importance our particular concerns actually rise. Could I have one of those scales, maybe to put on my office wall? That way I’d have a more vivid sense of where my worries or concerns stack up. Better yet, could I have a second one to put outside my office for other people to see how their own concerns stack up before they come in? Or would you rather have me/us just spend a little more time in prayer, a little more time recognizing the needs around us, and come to realize that, with time, the scale I/we might seek is already before us when we focus on you? Is that what you mean when, through, Paul, you declare that “a new creation is everything?” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Deuteronomy 28-29 and Galatians 6)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Our Defense of our Neighbor

Scripture Passage that Caught My Attention today: Deuteronomy 22:1-3 You shall not watch your neighbor’s ox or sheep straying away and ignore them; you shall take them back to their owner. 2 If the owner does not reside near you or you do not know who the owner is, you shall bring it to your own house, and it shall remain with you until the owner claims it; then you shall return it. 3 You shall do the same with a neighbor’s donkey; you shall do the same with a neighbor’s garment; and you shall do the same with anything else that your neighbor loses and you find. You may not withhold your help.

Observation: God did not intend for us to look out for only ourselves. We are, at least in some respects, our brother and sister’s keeper.

Application: Once there was a merchant in a small town, the only one of its kind. It was a quaint little business, responsive to local needs of the community and school. Then another small business of a similar nature moved into town. This is where things get complicated. No longer is the question: “should we buy local or from big-box store?” Now, if we do choose to buy local, we have to choose between two businesses.

Some would say that this competition is good. And I can’t say that I completely disagree. At the same time it’s almost as if another has commandeered a neighbor’s customer—which is no less a source of livelihood in this day and age than a stray ox or sheep was in the days of Moses. It would appear that there is a mighty fine line between healthy competition (which makes everyone better) and outright theft (which takes something—whether a customer, spouse, parishioner or whoever—away from a neighbor against his or her will). Who’s to say which is which?

I guess the moral of the story is that, regardless of how savvy we become in our respective businesses and/or professions, there is still the imperative to harbor concern for our neighbor. Later in the Deuteronomy readings for today the farmers were told not to reap the entire crop in order that there might be some left for the poor to reap for themselves. These days leaving a few corn or soybean stalks in the field would be of little use to anyone—they would simply go to waste. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t all look for more contextually appropriate ways to make sure that there is still something left for those in need.

Prayer: Dear God, I still can’t figure out why we’ve never been able to figure out a system where everyone has everything they need. It seems that, if given opportunity, some of us will always want more. Why is that? Why couldn’t you make all of us more caring, more eager to please and share? Or why couldn’t you at least make us want to be more that way? I’ll be awaiting your reply, at least until I go upstairs and take a good look in the mirror. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Deuteronomy 22-24 and Galatians 4)

Monday, March 12, 2012

My Course in Life

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Deuteronomy 20:2-5 Before you engage in battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the troops, 3 and shall say to them: “Hear, O Israel! Today you are drawing near to do battle against your enemies. Do not lose heart, or be afraid, or panic, or be in dread of them; 4 for it is the LORD your God who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to give you victory.” 5 Then the officials shall address the troops, saying, “Has anyone built a new house but not dedicated it? He should go back to his house, or he might die in the battle and another dedicate it.

Observation: This passage offers a hearty dose of encouragement AND reality! It basically has two parts: Part 1 is what you really need to know, the concept to which one should really pay attention. Part 2 is the ‘oh, by the way….” that helps keep everything in perspective.

Application: It would be very easy to simply focus on verses 2-4. These verses offer heartfelt reminders of the power of God. They encourage—no…DEMAND—that people not lose heart or be afraid or panic or even live in dread. It’s actually a tough pill to swallow because I have, at times, felt all of those things. Perhaps you have too. But it’s encouraging to know that, with the Lord purportedly both with us and fighting for us, victory is assured. What a great point on which to end!

Not so fast! Reality sets in with verse 5 (which is followed by a few more similar verses). Some are likely to die in battle, even if they are on the victorious side.

Isn’t this essentially the story we see played out through Jesus? He did not lose heart, he was not afraid, he did not panic. And although in the garden he did express a bit of dread, he still followed through. The Lord was indeed with him and most surely fought for him, but he still died in the battle. The ‘victory’ wasn’t avoiding death and the like but, rather, embracing it. Who of us should expect to fare any better?

It occurs to me that for any victory to be accomplished, for any truly new life to begin, something has to die, even if it’s just our pride. But are we willing to let it be so?

Prayer: Dear God, I always thought that victory meant victory. You know…winning and triumph and big smiles and high fives and all the rest. But you keep teaching me otherwise. To be honest, it’s kind of a downer…or at least very different. I’m still trying to get used to it. I mean I believe it…I think…at least sometimes. Maybe that’s your class for me is not yet over. My ‘course’ in life is not yet done. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Deuteronomy 19-21 and Galatians 3)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Coward's Guide to Leadership

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Galatians 1:3-5 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: Paul is rooted in what Christ has done (given himself for our sins) and Christ’s purpose (to set us free from the present evil age).

Application: The other day I began a personal little writing project called: “A Coward’s Guide to Leadership.” I started it more for personal catharsis than anything else and I’m not even sure how far, if any further at all, I’m going to go with it. It just was and is a way to give voice to the fact that our very real worries and fears in life can be embraced for the sake of mission. We can name them and claim them and even hold them up semi-proudly and say, “yes, this is all part of me.”

Indeed! Trying to ignore them is hopeless. Pretending they don’t exist is a lie. Trying to swerve around them requires too much unnecessary energy—a theft of sorts from more noble pursuits. Better to plow right through.

Did I mention that, to some extent, they are the reason I am up right now? Writing an hour or more before the alarm was set to go off?

So be it. What’s the big deal?

This is what Paul understood so well. He had plenty of reasons to fear. Plenty of reasons to worry. There is evidence elsewhere in Scripture that he did both. But through it all he also understood something incredibly basic: Christ gave himself (which I think is even more profound than simply dying, though he obviously did that too) for our sins AND Christ did so for a reason (to set us free from the stuff of this “evil” age that endeavors to do us in).

In similar fashion we have daily opportunities to give ourselves over as well. Our motivation may be different—for we have no need nor ability to be a divine sacrifice—but there is still reason to hang in there. Or should I say ‘hang on there?’. Christ hung on the cross but we hang all our hope on Christ. Or maybe more accurately, Christ hangs onto us—the reason for our hope and proof of our utter dependence all rolled into one.

Prayer: Dear God, but why is this all still, at times, so hard? Shouldn’t it get easier with time and experience? Couldn’t you at least produce a little infomercial on the three easy steps to worrying without worrying and fearing without fearing? If so, let me know when it’s ready. In the mean time here I am. Use me as you wish. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Deuteronomy 13-15 and Galatians 1)

Friday, March 9, 2012

15 minutes of healthy movement

The routine today went like this:

Warm-up (12 bodyweight squats, 12 leg swings per leg, 12 walking bodyweight lunges/leg, 12 close-grip pushups, 12 stick-ups, 12 waiter's bows, 12 light dumbbell deadlift/overhead press combos)

Set 1 (light barbell tri-circuit)
--12 front squats
--12 overhead presses
--12 back squats
rest 1 minute, repeat set.

Set 2
--15 1-leg stability ball curls
--10 1-leg push-ups (5/per leg) followed by 5 regular pushups
rest 30 seconds, repeat set

Set 3
--15 Bent-over Dumbbell rows
--50 cross-body mountain climbers (25/leg)
rest 30 seconds, repeat set. Done.


Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention today: Deuteronomy 10:12-13 So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.

Observation: “Only” can be an encouraging word.

Life can be overwhelming, at times, for any of us. In those times it can be encouraging to determine what is really necessary and what are merely optional areas or activities of focus. Strange as it seems, my to-do list is starting to get shorter. This is not to say that there aren’t more things that I would like to do and that indeed should probably be done. It’s just that I’m starting to get a little more realistic in terms of what is actually possible. Rather than be discouraged by what is yet left undone, I’m starting to get encouraged by what, though God’s grace, I have been able to accomplish.

Lest you mistakenly be of the impression that I am therefore the epitome of a balanced life, let me be clear; at the moment I am pretty much spent. I’ve only been able to devote time and energy to a few things as of late and one of those things has involved an inordinate amount of time and energy.

But as we read in the Scriptures above, “only” is enough. It is enough to only acknowledge the Lordship of God, to endeavor to walk in God’s ways, love the Lord with all that we have and to see the commandments as gifts for our own well-being. Some days that’s all the time we have. Sometimes it takes all day to do it. But it’s still a mighty fine use of our time and energy, no matter what.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the opportunities to serve you and to be loved by you and to see that in you we have all that we could ever need. In Jesus’ name.

(Readings today included: Deuteronomy 10-12 and Mark 16)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Little by Little

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Deuteronomy 7:22 The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little; you will not be able to make a quick end of them, otherwise the wild animals would become too numerous for you.

Observation: Little by little is sometimes the better way.

Application: I don’t know about you, but I’ve often wished things in life could be fixed or attained or accomplished quickly, without a bunch of drama and stress. “Why” I’ve sometimes wondered, “do we have to go through a sometimes difficult process for any real growth to occur?” Why can’t we have a life-time’s worth of wisdom right now? If we are athletes, why can’t we accomplish great success without all the practice? If we are entrepreneurs, why can’t we just come up with one idea and have it immediately sell like hotcakes? Why can’t our children grow from cradle to adulthood without the occasional conflict of wills and God only knows how many other incidents of stress?

The passage above is telling; success (whatever that is) too quickly is incredibly difficult to manage. We’re usually not ready for it and incapable of truly handling it. Little by little is more manageable. We grow at each stage.

I’ll admit that parts to today’s readings are troubling. It’s difficult to process/comprehend/appreciate the Lord’s command for the Israelites to utterly destroy the people before them as found in Deuteronomy 7. Equally troubling is the fact that I caught myself almost skimming over the story of Jesus’ crucifixion today as found in Mark 15. It’s as if I was so familiar with the story that the gruesome reality of it didn’t even register! And to think that I sometimes think I have problems!

Yet little by little the Lord is helping me to grow in faith and understanding. The process doesn’t always move as quckily as I would like. Yet it would appear that little by little is still far more desirable in the long run.

Prayer: Lord thanks for the gift of faith and growth that you offer to us little by little, sometimes through struggle by struggle. Surely it prepares us for something. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Deuteronomy 7-9 and Mark 15)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Post number 500

Just noticed that today's devotion is my 500th post on this blog. It's just a number, but an interesting little milestone nonetheless. For whatever it's worth, here's today's entry...

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Deuteronomy 5:6 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 7 you shall have no other gods before me.

Observation: Sometimes the particular Scriptures we read share a convergence that is quite intriguing.

Application: Here’s the scoop. Earlier this morning I reviewed the Scripture lessons that are appointed for this coming Sunday (Exodus 20:1–17, Psalm 19, 1 Corinthians 1:18–25, John 2:13–22). I also reviewed a text (Mark 14:3-9) that I chose several weeks ago to preach on for tonight’s Wednesday evening service.

Then I read today’s devotional readings (Deuteronomy 5-6, Psalm 43, and Mark 14).

Deuteronomy chapter 5 includes the 10 Commandments. These commandments are also found in one other place in the Old Testament which happens to be Exodus 20—part of this Sunday’s readings mentioned above.

The New Testament reading assigned for today is Mark chapter 14 which includes the section that I had previously planned to preach on tonight.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that this convergence of readings is all some sort of divine plan. Nor am I denying the possibility of such. I’m just grateful. It just causes me to take an extra pause…sort of like when Peter heard the cock crow for the second time (also found in chapter 14 of Mark).

Even Psalm 43 is pertinent. It speaks of the desire:
for vindication;
for being led by God’s light and truth,
and for understanding of why a soul can at times be so disquieted within.

No wonder the Scriptures proclaim that we shall have no other gods.

Prayer: Dear Lord, regardless of who or what leads us to encounter particular scriptures on any particular day, I am deeply grateful for each new day and the Scriptures which are offered. Both the day and the Scriptures are a gift…a cause for pause and reflection in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

When We Can't Yet See the Ending

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: Deuteronomy 4:23-28 At that time, too, I [Moses] entreated the LORD, saying: 24 “O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your might; what god in heaven or on earth can perform deeds and mighty acts like yours! 25 Let me cross over to see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and the Lebanon.” 26 But the LORD was angry with me on your account and would not heed me. The LORD said to me, “Enough from you! Never speak to me of this matter again! 27 Go up to the top of Pisgah and look around you to the west, to the north, to the south, and to the east. Look well, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. 28 But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, because it is he who shall cross over at the head of this people and who shall secure their possession of the land that you will see.”

Observation: Moses acts kind of like a kid asking once again for the candy bar that the parent has already said he can’t have. He will have to be content to look at it, to know it exists, and to trust that someone else will in fact get to enjoy it.

Application: It’s natural to want to see the whole picture, to learn how a given story ends. But that is often not the case. Moses had to be satisfied to leave such things to his imagination and to rest in God’s promise.

Yesterday I shared with a couple different people that, Biblically speaking, it’s often hard to know if we’ve really won (so to speak) or lost, succeeded or failed. In Acts (chapters 6 and 7) we learn that Stephen had a face like that of an angel and that the people could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Nevertheless they killed him. We know he “won,” but in earthly terms he lost.

Same goes for the Apostle Paul. We see him as the greatest missionary that ever lived, but he was martyred in prison. Jesus himself, one would think, should have had a pretty good crack at ‘success.’ We worship him today, but at the time it certainly appeared that he was pretty much all washed up. Many of what we consider spiritual giants from the Bible never got to see how their story actually ended. And what some of them did see and experience was sometimes pretty ominous.

Even more haunting, those who actually thought that they were doing the right thing in Biblical times are now understood to have missed the boat. Hmmm…go figure.

On the bright side, maybe that’s okay. It’s enough, I think, to know/trust that the promise of God exists, that it has in many ways already been fulfilled, that there is a proven track record. Whether we experience it personally or must be content to in some way view it from afar, just knowing God’s promise stands sure is a comfort in and of itself. How is it that Job puts it in 19:25-26?

“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,

Prayer: Lord, whether or not we see the ‘endings’ of our stories, let us be thankful that we are in your story to begin with. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Deuteronomy 3-4, Psalm 36, and Mark 13)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sharing the Load

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Deuteronomy 1:9-18 At that time I said to you, “I am unable by myself to bear you. 10 The LORD your God has multiplied you, so that today you are as numerous as the stars of heaven. 11 May the LORD, the God of your ancestors, increase you a thousand times more and bless you, as he has promised you! 12 But how can I bear the heavy burden of your disputes all by myself? 13 Choose for each of your tribes individuals who are wise, discerning, and reputable to be your leaders.” 14 You answered me, “The plan you have proposed is a good one.” 15 So I took the leaders of your tribes, wise and reputable individuals, and installed them as leaders over you, commanders of thousands, commanders of hundreds, commanders of fifties, commanders of tens, and officials, throughout your tribes. 16 I charged your judges at that time: “Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien. 17 You must not be partial in judging: hear out the small and the great alike; you shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God’s. Any case that is too hard for you, bring to me, and I will hear it.” 18 So I charged you at that time with all the things that you should do.

Observation: Moses was feeling a burden. His solution was to share it.

Application: To share. It’s a crazy concept.

Some things we may not want to share even if we should. Privileges perhaps. Money. Power.

Some things aren’t meant to be shared, at least not entirely. Spouses, for example.

But some things are meant to be shared. Burdens and leadership number among them. Quite frankly, even Moses couldn’t do it alone. Parting water is one thing. Leading through difficult times is another. That’s why it’s almost always unwise to go the solo route.

Find the wisest and most reputable people you know. Charge them to be as impartial as possible and not to be intimidated by anyone. The judgment is God’s, right?

Well…yes…but this is not to say that it’s necessarily easy. Some cases are still too hard. Plus sometimes our own sinful nature gets in the way. Furthermore, since we no longer have Moses to call upon, we’re left to somewhat fend for ourselves. But even then at least we can move forward together, trusting Lord who has so kindly blessed us with the opportunity to work together with some of the wisest people we know.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for your provision in all of its forms. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings Today included: Deuteronomy 1-2, Mark 12)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

If you must Multitask

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: Numbers 33:1 These are the stages by which the Israelites went out of the land of Egypt in military formation under the leadership of Moses and Aaron.

Observation: We know Moses was a spokesperson for God, a leader of the people (leading them out of Egypt), a judge, and a priest. But now we see that Moses was a military commander too.

Application: If Moses were alive today we’d call him a multitasker. He had to spend significant time listening to God, significant time planning various ‘movements’ of the people—whether for escape from Egypt or for desert wanderings or for war, significant time listening to people’s ‘cases’ regarding various domestic disputes, and, of course, coordinating a host of worship events. Somehow he managed to do all this multitasking without the benefit of e-mail, the Internet, Facebook, or even an iphone!

I do a fair amount of multitasking too, though apparently not anywhere near as well. In retrospect I would propose that one thing that set Moses apart was the amount of time he spent listening to God. Regularly we read of him going to the “tent of meeting” or up the mountain to spend time listening to the creator of the universe. My little daily devotions hardly measure up to such a commitment.
Martin Luther, it has been said, used to spend an hour in prayer each day and, when he had an especially busy day, would spend two hours in prayer. He was a multitasker too.

I’m beginning to be more and more convinced that effective leaders spend more time listening, planning, and executing than much of anything else. If we’re going to multitask, pick the right tasks.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the examples of faith and service found in the Scriptures. Help us to learn from them and, ultimately, from you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included Numbers 32-33 and Mark 10)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Wasted Trip

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Mark 8:10-13 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. 11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.

Observation: This appears to have been a wasted boat trip.

Most of us have had a wasted trip here or there. We go to the grocery store without our shopping list. We take our car to the mechanic and it stops making the very noise that necessitated the service call in the first place. We rush to a government office of some kind to pick up a form of some kind only to find out that the office is closed for lunch. We sigh…sometimes deeply.

In Jesus’ case it was even worse on two accounts:

First, both the trip to and the trip from Dalmanutha required significant physical effort. They didn’t just hop in a car with an automatic transmission or even fire up the Evenrude 150 and leave a nice wide wake as their tracks. I’ve been on the sea of Galilee and, although one can see the other side, the disciples were still stuck with row, row, row your boat. Scripture doesn’t detail it, but I would imagine they sighed too.

Second, Jesus was presumably there to help people—to proclaim good news at the very least. Instead, all he got were questions…demands…tests… Clearly it was frustrating. I’m not quite sure what to make of it theologically, but it’s interesting that Jesus refuses to enter into their little make-shift trial; he will give them no sign. Period.

Of course, for those who have read the rest of story, things don’t get much better with his own disciples in the boat! They can’t seem to figure Jesus out either, to the point that Jesus fires off not one or two but rather EIGHT semi-rhetorical questions of frustration, the last of which asks quite emphatically, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:14-21)!

Anyhow, back to the trip...the wasted trip. It happens. One can have a wasted trip, a wasted effort, perhaps even a wasted season of life. At times in life we can pour our hearts out in service, quietly go above and beyond the call of duty time and time again and still find ourselves completely unappreciated by a few or even by many.

Perhaps these are the times when we can take but another cue from Jesus—sigh if you must, but then find a way to move on.

Chalk it up as but 4 measly verses from a much larger story—something Mark says from onset is the “GOOD news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Prayer: Dear Lord, you had your moments, didn’t you? So do we. Thanks for your example, fortitude and indeed your presence which carries us on. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Numbers 28-29 and Mark 8)