Monday, April 30, 2012

Making the Best of the Season

It happens.

Every so often we go through a season in life where things are not ideal and we just have to find a way to make the best of it.

For the last several weeks I have not felt like I was able (both from a standpoint of time and energy) to put my best foot forward in terms of exercise. The schedule has been extra full and, more notably, I've been low on sleep. And when I'm low on sleep I personally find it best not to go all-out in terms of exercise.

But that doesn't mean I go cold-turkey either.

Instead I find ways to a least do something.

One day I might just do a few rounds of jumping rope. It might only take me 5-10 minutes. Just enough to get the blood pumping a little.

Other times it's helpful simply to go through my standard warm-up routine. That only takes 5-6 minutes and doesn't require a lot of energy. It feels good to stretch out and, even in that process, to feel the blood pumping a little more.

This morning I did the standard warm-up routine and then simply added 6 extra moves (1 round of neutral-grip chin-ups, push-up/jack-knife combo, Dumbell squat/overhead press combo, Bulgarian Split Squats, bench presses, and ab-wheel roll-outs.)

All together it took 15 minutes.

I probably won't build muscle at that rate, but I will be able to maintain muscle mass which, as I inch closer to the half-century mark, is nothing to sneeze at.

I pray that you are finding ways to make the best of whatever season of life you are in as well.

The Line Jesus Was Not Willing to Cross

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Matthew 17:17-21 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Observation: Jesus appears to be getting a little frustrated.

We don’t normally think of Jesus as the frustrated type. We tend to envision him as always in control, always patient, loving and kind. In reality, there were clearly moments when he got more agitated. The above passage is a case in point. How stinging it must have felt to have Jesus mutter aloud “how much longer must I put up with you?”


I wonder how often Jesus feels the same way about us and our “little” faith.

No matter. While Jesus may have wondered “how much longer” he would need to put up with them, he did not go so far as to say “ I will no longer put up with you.” That was a line he was not willing to cross even as he eventually hung on the cross.

I suspect he feels the same way about us.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for putting up with us. Please endeavor to help us grow what little faith we have. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Samuel 6, 1 Chronicles 13, Psalm 68, and Matthew 17)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Righteousness verses Self-Righteousness

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Matthew 15:1-6 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. 6 So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God.

Observation: In the passage above the Pharisees were trying to prove their own righteousness and another’s unrighteousness. Jesus, however, pointed out that they were self serving in each case and were ignoring the larger aspects of the law in the process.

Application: At times we are all prone to smoke and mirrors. There is a fine but rather definite line between living as a somewhat righteous person and trying to either prove one’s righteousness or point out another’s unrighteousness. In doing either of the latter we usually retort to various ‘proof’ texts which normally involves ignoring the larger picture of faith.

Perhaps this is why even Jesus said at one point, “why do you call me good. No one is good except God alone.” The Apostle Paul said that no one is righteous for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

To be human is to be a sinner. But there are basically two types of sinners—those who realize the depth of their own sin and those who don’t. Those who don’t know the depth of their own sin tend to be especially prone to pointing out the sin of others, as if that should be some great surprise. Those who are aware of their own sin (and of God’s corresponding grace) tend to be much more forgiving on the whole and less inclined to focus on another’s sin.

We would all be better served to spend more time in the latter camp.

Lord, there’s a little Pharisee in all of us. There is also some of you in all of us. Please help us make more room for you and less room for more self-serving measures. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Samuel 3, 1 Chronicles 12, and Matthew 15)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Worship and Doubt Go Together

Scripture Passage that Caught My Attention Today: Matthew 14:30-33 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Observation: Worship and Doubt go together.

Application: This insight is not my own. It is a point I first heard from Dr. Mark Powell who is a professor at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. He noticed that, at least in Matthew’s gospel, worship and doubt go hand-in-hand.

In Matthew there are two times when people worship Jesus.

The first is indicated in the verses above. Jesus has observed their doubt (verse 31) and by verse 33 they are worshipping him. So worship closely follows doubt.

The only other time that Jesus is worshipped in the gospel of Matthew is at the very end of the gospel in chapter 28. This time also one finds doubt close at hand, though it’s not always seen for what it is in English translations of the Bible. Let’s take a quick look at the last 5 verses in Matthew:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Verses 18-20 are the popular verses but I’d like to draw your attention to verse 17. In the NRSV translation above it says “…they worshipped him; but some doubted.”

This is an unfortunate translation (and most English bibles translate it in similar ways) because it adds a word that is not found in the original Greek. The added word is “some.” Literally it should read: “They worshipped him; but doubted.” In other words, the original text does not imply that some worshipped and some doubted, but that they all worshipped and they all doubted.

Apparently the translators couldn’t comprehend the possibility of worship and doubt being found in the same person, so they added the word ‘some.’

Pulling again from Dr. Powell’s insights, for Matthew, worship and doubt go together. The next million dollar question is: could the same also be true for us?

For me the answer is yes. I worship and doubt much of the time. I say that I believe that Jesus has power over even death itself and yet I sometimes find myself afraid of earthly powers. What’s up with that? I trust that Jesus meant it when he said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age,” and yet I still get caught up in all kinds of worries large and small. Jesus proved himself trustworthy even unto death and yet still I sometimes carry a little knot in my stomach. Whenever one worships, doubt is often close at hand.

That’s okay. It may take a while—perhaps even a lifetime—to fully grasp the depth of our Lord’s power and love for us. But if we are somehow led to offer up a little bit of worship along with our doubt…well…we just might be onto something.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for accepting our doubts and leading us to those moments of worship as well. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Samuel 2, 1 Chronicles 11, Psalm 142, and Matthew 14)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Seeing Something Greater at the Judgment

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Matthew 12:41-42 The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!

Observation: Jesus indicates that others will be present, accounted for, and participants in the judgment.

A common Christian understanding is that we will all one day appear before the judgment seat of God. Most would also concur that Jesus will play an active role in that day. In some cases it is believed that some will go one way and some another. In other scenarios it is believed that all will be declared guilty and that Jesus will then plead for all.

What’s particularly interesting about the passage above is that those who had been condemned and repented (Ninevites) and those who had authentically sought out wisdom (like the Queen of Sheba) will also participate in the judgment. They too will stand as witnesses to testify to the wrong. They too will be there to remind us of “every careless word we utter” (vs. 36) and force us to give an account. It’s a group intervention. There will be no escape.

I think that’s a good thing…for all of us. I look forward to it.

Yes, it will be painful. Things will be brought to light that we have either long-since forgotten or have long held in secret. And right there will be the very people that we have either wronged and/or those who have witnessed our wrongs. That won’t be a pretty sight!

But with the truth comes opportunity. With the truth comes clearer vision. Perhaps then we will see first-hand not only the extent of Jesus’ sacrifice, but also that which God declares is far greater and even more desirable; mercy (see verse 7).

Yes, in Christ something greater than Jonah or Solomon or all the rest is here, maybe even now.

Prayer: Lord, you embody mercy and mercy’s power is only appreciated for what it is in the face of our own despair. Help us to see both and not delude ourselves otherwise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 30-31, 1 Chronicles 10, and Matthew 12)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Observation: Everybody likes these verses. Yet it is their context that gives them the even greater authenticity. Earlier in this chapter, at least according to Matthew, we are told that Jesus knew that he was being accused of being a glutton and a drunkard. A few verses after this passage he is accused of breaking Sabbath laws. So Jesus was not in a comfortable place. He was pretty much under attack. It is this context that Jesus offers the comforting words of verses 28-30 quoted above.

These words have been a source of comfort for many a person over the course of a couple millennia. It’s always nice to read, hear, and/or simply consider these words and take them to heart. There is the sense that these words alone are sufficient for the challenge of the day.

For me, however, what gives these words their transformative power is the context out of which they were spoken. Jesus was not having an easy time. Yet he offers himself to those around him as a source of refuge.

Last night a couple people in my family were tuned into one of those vocal-audition-coaching shows. One of the coaches told one of the candidates that he loved him so much that he would die for him (or something close to that affect).

Really??? However well-intended, somehow those words seem a little hollow.

Jesus offers something much deeper. His support is not dependent on our ability to prove ourselves worthy. Instead, in the midst of his own turmoil he offers an authentic morsel of absolute promise—rest for our souls.

Prayer: Lord, it doesn’t seem like it was a very restful time for you. People were upset with you left and right. Still you offered yourself. And it would appear that your offer still stands. For that we give you thanks and praise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 28-29, Psalm 109, Matthew 11)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Losing our Life and Meaning in order to find our Life and Meaning

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: Matthew 10:39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Observation: Jesus was onto something here.

Application: I can’t swim. My ‘excuse’ for not being able to swim stems back to childhood swimming lessons gone bad. Be that as it may, I’m not asking for pity. Nor am I asking for a better instructor and the like. For me, learning to swim is not some big unrealized dream. Instead it is just one of many ‘gifts’ that I don’t currently have or necessarily feel the need to have. I don’t know how to play the guitar either. It’s no big deal.

But what experience I have had in the water has taught me much. Part of swimming, it seems to me, is learning to relax in the water, to trust its ability to keep one afloat. When in the water, tension corresponds to what amounts to an increasing pull of gravity. As our bodies tense up, down we go!

What comes next is usually the two-headed coin of panic and frantic flailing about in a dire but unfruitful effort to save oneself.

It can’t be done. The effort to save oneself, whether in the water or on the Spiritual side of things, will always be a losing effort. At some point our only life-giving option is trust.

One of the reasons I have trouble trusting the water to hold me up is because I demand too much of it. Basically I want the water to magically keep my whole body afloat when all that really needs to stay out of the water (whether constantly or at regular intervals) is my nose!

Sometimes I feel this way Spiritually as well; I want the Lord to keep me far from every danger, totally insulated from all my fears, impervious to any foes, and completely inoculated from having to dip my toes into any earthly challenge where the outcome is anything less than certain.

Fat chance! Jesus says, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

Spiritually speaking, Jesus doesn’t call for cautious wading but, rather, for a total plunge. In short, we are called to entrust ourselves to the Savior rather than endeavoring (and woefully unsuccessfully at that!) to be a savior for ourselves.

Yes, however staid we might present them, efforts to justify ourselves are ultimately nothing more than a futile and even pitiful flailing about. Thankfully, through the crucified and risen Christ we have other options. Our life, and the meaning of our life, is both lost and found in him.

Prayer: Lord, help us always to be willing to be lost and found in you. In Jesus' name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 27, Psalm 141, 1 Chronicles 9, and Matthew 10)

Saturday, April 21, 2012


Scripture passage that caught my attention today. Matthew 8:21-27 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. 27 They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

Observation: Fear may be natural, but it’s not necessary.

Application: Recently a colleague posted a quote that went like this: “If the problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem cannot be solved, worrying will do you no good.” ― Śāntideva

Worry and fear, it seems to me, are two sides of the same coin. Many of us have quite a bit of this kind of spare change on hand. Sometimes our pockets are full of it. It weighs us down, limits movement, and is our near constant companion. We can hear it jingle and, in some kind of deluded way, even be reluctant to part with it. If a beggar on the street were to ask us if we had any spare worries/fear we could share, I’m not sure we would be willing oblige. I wonder why.

Apparently Jesus wonders too. “Why are you afraid?” he asked the disciples long ago. I fear it’s still a good question, even today.

Prayer: Lord, I would like to proclaim that through you all our earthly fears have vanished and that we are free to live as your people. Unfortunately we are often still slaves to fear in one form or another. Perhaps it is too much to ask for all of our fears to be alleviated at one time. If so, could you please whittle away at them one by one? Thank you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 8, Psalm 57-58, and Matthew 8)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Blessedness of Persecution

April 18, 2012
Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Matthew 5:11-12 AND Matthew 5:44-48 Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you……. 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Observation: As always, Jesus presents challenge.

Many people have felt persecuted at one time or another. A student may think a teacher has treated him/her unfairly, a teacher may think a parent or administrator has treated him/her unfairly, an administrator may think a board member or member of the public has treated him/her unfairly, and likewise the scenario goes for almost any profession, trade, or family situation. The church, and those called, elected, or and/or volunteering to lead her, may also at times feel such pressure. No one is immune. Persecution can arise at almost any time from almost any quarter with almost any amount of force. There is no magic protective shield from such things. If you think otherwise it would appear that your alarm as simply not yet gone off and you are still dreaming. Don’t despair…you will eventually wake up! ☺

Jesus has an interesting observation about persecuted people. He says that under certain circumstances (false accusations on Christ’s account, for example) they are blessed. Strange as it seems, Jesus contends that persecution may even be a sign of blessing and indeed of association with the prophets of old. He should know.

Be that as it may, these blessed persecuted people, if they are still breathing, have a mission that is not yet ended. They are called to love the very ones that persecute them. Notice Jesus doesn’t say “like.” Nor does Jesus say that persecuted people should necessarily “agree with” those who persecute them. But it does say love.

Exactly HOW that love might best be expressed—be it tough love or tender love or somewhere in between—is a process largely left open for the blessed persecuted ones to decide.

Prayer: Lord, I know of some folks who are feeling a bit persecuted even now. I believe they are blessed and I believe that they are endeavoring to love. Help them find the best way to do so…literally in Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 20-21, Psalm 34, and Matthew 5)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

As We Prepare to Say Good-bye

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Matthew 4:12-13 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali,

Observation: Jesus makes a home for himself.

Application: Our oldest son is in the process of deciding where to go to college. In a very real way he is choosing where to make a home for himself for the next four years. He will be leaving the region of Allen and Hancock counties for either El Paso or Cook counties. There he will set up shop as a student, organize his meager belongings in a dorm, and connect with other like-minded and/or similarly-focused individuals who will in some ways follow one another until they eventually discover a path of their own. As parents, we’ll be most interested to help him move into this new home he is making. Why? Partly because we hope it will help us deal with the grief of him moving out.

I wonder what it was like for Mary and Joseph as Jesus left the home they had provided and forged out on his own. Perhaps this wasn’t the first move. Perhaps he had already moved out some time ago but had just been living in the home area. Maybe the move was no big deal at all. Still, for Jesus I think it had significance. It doesn’t sound like he went to Capernaum with his friends. Since Matthew records him picking disciples just a few verses later, it sounds to me like he went their all alone and then, instead of holing up in his new digs, assertively developed community on his own.

I still wonder what that transition was like for Jesus and for Mary and Joseph even as I anticipate, with mixed emotions, what our son’s transition will be like for him and for us.

Prayer: Lord, I’m just filled with curiosity this morning. I guess it will be interesting to see how it all works out. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 19, 1 Chronicles 7, Psalm 59, and Matthew 4)

Monday, April 16, 2012

Looking forward to Winnowing Times

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Matthew 3:11-12 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Observation: John the Baptist was looking forward, it would seem, to the coming of the “more powerful” one who would clean up this mess of civilization.

Application: Wouldn’t we all like someone to come in and clean things up! All evil-do-oers? Poof. All people who have wronged us in any way and not repented? Poof. We might hope that such people might be afraid, be very afraid.

Not so fast. Some of the necessary “cleaning up” is closer to home. Much closer. Truth be told, all of us need Christ’s Holy Spirit and fire. We need to be sifted by the winnowing fork, cleared from the threshing floor (where everything is all jumbled together) and the good and bad from within separated, one from the other.

Yes, we are each a mixture of wheat and chaff. The wheat in us meant to be gathered and entrusted to God’s safe-keeping. The chaff serves as fuel for the fire itself.

Okay, but don’t some of us have more “wheat” than others? Or more “chaff?”

It’s hard to say because we can only see others in part. Furthermore, due to our own blindness, we can only see ourselves in part as well. We have the propensity, at times, to overlook our own chaff. Sometimes the opposite is true as well…we fail to see the kernels of fine grain within.

This is why we do not carry the winnowing fork in the first place. This is why we are the recipients, rather than the senders, of the Holy Spirit and fire. Through Christ we can indeed look ahead and forward to the “clearing.”

Prayer: Lord, winnow us as you will. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 18, ! Chronicles 6, Psalm 11, and Matthew 3)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Puzzling Old Testament Times

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: 1 Samuel 15:22-23 And Samuel said,
“Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the LORD?
Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is no less a sin than divination,
and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD,
he has also rejected you from being king.”
Observation: Given the situation, these are difficult verses to swallow. The Lord had told Saul to utterly destroy everything of the Amalekites—including all the livestock. But Saul kept the best of the livestock, purportedly to offer as sacrifices to the Lord. The Lord was not pleased. So what we have here is a situation where what the Lord originally asked for seems unreasonable and yet Saul will be punished for not following through with what seemed like an unreasonable request.

Application: This is one of those parts of Scripture that is difficult to reconcile in my mind. There is a part of me that wants to side with Saul and finds the command of God unreasonable, even wasteful. Yet we read that obeying is better than sacrifice and that stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry.

This is one of those cases where the new covenant of the New Testament is a welcome reprieve. There we are reminded that love trumps ridged adherence to procedures and regulations.

Of course, given the times, I’m not sure that Saul really spared the best of the livestock out of love. Even he admitted later that it was because the people wanted to save the livestock that he did so. Besides, is it really a “sacrifice” to offer up to the Lord what one has stolen from others?

Prayer: Lord, it’s often interesting to read of our ancestor’s feats and to try to make sense of them all. Someday people will likely say the same about us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 15-16, 1 Chronicles 5, and Matthew 1)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Leaders and Scrutiny

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 13:5-10 Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! 6 I hope you will find out that we have not failed. 7 But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. 8 For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. 9 For we rejoice when we are weak and you are strong. This is what we pray for, that you may become perfect. 10 So I write these things while I am away from you, so that when I come, I may not have to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

Observation: Paul has a deep and abiding desire that the Corinthians and others in the area may pass the test of living in faith, even though there is contention between he and them.

Application: This is a very interesting passage…and a rather deep one at that. The relationship between Paul and the Corinthians is not the best. Clearly they are or have been acting in ways that Paul finds unbecoming of the people of God. And although he mentions that he himself hopes that he and his companions may appear to have met the test, his real desire is for the Corinthians to start acting in ways that reflect the presence of Christ within. The authority the Lord has given to Paul over them, which can be rather severe if need be, is for the purpose of building them up.

One challenge of leadership is that the fact that, like all other human beings, we are all simultaneously saint and sinner. Put another way, if you want to find the good in us, you can. And if you want to find the bad in us, you can. It’s all there…and everything in between.

Usually this is just an accepted part of life and is no big deal or object of focus. But when the necessity does come for God-given authority to in some way be exercised, things can get more dicey. In those times leaders can feel the gaze of more and more scrutiny.

Paul, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much, tries to let that scrutiny roll off his back while continuing to focus on the issues at hand and the over-arching purpose for which he was called. It probably wasn’t easy. Never has been. Never will be. But as I mentioned in yesterday’s devotion, easy or not, Paul’s is still the lasting word and example that has endured down through the ages. From him all leaders can take note.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the examples in Scripture of faithful witnesses to your grace and mercy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: 1 Samuel 14, 2 Chronicles 4, and 2 Corinthians 13)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hope for When You Can't Please Em All

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 12:14-18 Here I am, ready to come to you this third time. And I will not be a burden, because I do not want what is yours but you; for children ought not to lay up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for you. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16 Let it be assumed that I did not burden you. Nevertheless (you say) since I was crafty, I took you in by deceit. 17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Titus did not take advantage of you, did he? Did we not conduct ourselves with the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?

Observation: There was definitely a strain in Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians. It is unclear whether or not it was ever resolved.

Application: Probably one of the most frustrating aspects of leadership is facing the reality that one cannot please everybody. Years and years ago I was told point blank, “Kent, you care too much about what other people think.” It’s true. It is this caring that sometimes keeps me up at night or, as is more often the case, wakes me up far too early in the morning.

In those times there are the myriad of imaginary conversations that come to mind. There are the letters written but, thankfully, not sent. There is the preponderance of wonder at how another’s interpretation of events and/or intentions could somehow become so askew. There are the efforts to convince and cajole. When none of that works, there is the second-guessing of oneself and the related propensity for feelings (often, but not always, misplaced) of guilt. What goes around, comes around.

As I mentioned above, it’s unclear whether Paul was ever able to get thing worked out with the Corinthians. But that didn’t diminish his ability to offer an effective witness. Year’s later, his are the letters we continue to read and describe as “The Word of the Lord.” The letters to Paul from the Corinthians themselves have long since fallen by the wayside.

It’s always appropriate to care for people, but it’s not always possible and/or appropriate to please them. That can be disappointing to say the least. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that God’s work isn’t being done. That in itself is enough solace for the day.

Prayer: Lord, I give thanks that you not only work through me but that you also work in spite of me and around me and, more times than I care to admit, even without me! That’s actually a good thing…a reassuring thing. To you be all the glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 13, 1 Chronicles 2-3, and 2 Corinthians 12)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

May I Have Your Attention Please!

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: 1 Samuel 11:6-7 And the spirit of God came upon Saul in power when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. 7 He took a yoke of oxen, and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the LORD fell upon the people, and they came out as one.

Observation: Saul was upset when he heard that the people were considering letting an opposing ruler take over their territory and the taking out of everyone’s right eye. Saul really knew how to get their attention and rally them for mission.

Application: The other day I saw a marketing piece that I found offensive. I almost didn’t open it and I almost dropped my subscription as well out of protest. Nevertheless, since I trusted the source of the marketing, I read on. I’m glad I did. Even though I still disagree with the particular tactic used, I was able to see their point and gain some valuable insight.

I’m thinking that Saul sending fresh oxen parts to people’s doorsteps was probably pretty offensive too. It was also effective, rallying the faithful together for the sake of their heritage.

Prayer: Lord, I don’t think it’s necessary or particularly helpful to deliberately offend people. But I can see that there are times when it’s important to capture people’s attention for the sake of the mission before us. Whenever those times come, enable me to find a faithful way to garner whatever attention is needed. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 11-12, 1 Chronicles 1 and 2 Corinthians 11)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Belonging to Christ is not just an individual thing

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 10:7 Look at what is before your eyes. If you are confident that you belong to Christ, remind yourself of this, that just as you belong to Christ, so also do we.

Observation: Paul was quick to ascertain the expansive grace of God and see that it would not be limited to a select few who think too highly of themselves.

Application: Every once in a while we all run across people who seem to act as if they think they know it all. They may be one of our classmates in school, one of our colleagues at work, one of our family members at home, or even one of our fellow members at church. Such folks tend to rub us the wrong way.

Part of the issue revolves around an inability to see Christ in each other—to trust that Christ can work through the other. Whenever anyone insists on his or her own way as the only way, well, for me that is usually a pretty big red flag. It seems to me that the only person in history who was able to insist on his own way with authenticity was Christ himself. It was Jesus who said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” All of us pale in comparison to him.

Since the time of Christ, individuals were no longer called to make decisions in regard to the community of Christ in a vacuum. Rather, even foundational leaders like Peter and Paul would discuss things with other leaders of the Christian church and come to consensus. Paul understood that belonging to Christ is never something to Lord over but, rather, serve in light of. Such service is through the community of faith but also with the community of faith rather than opposed and/or against the community of faith. Regard for the community of faith and its witness to the world takes precedence over individual ambition and/or even one’s raw ability.

This may be why the popular little song “Let Us Talents and Tongues Employ” goes on to say, “reaching out with a shout of joy.”

True joy is found when we recognize and cherish the work of God in each other and, most importantly, the work of God through us together rather than trying to impress each other with our individual gifts.

Prayer: Lord, throughout my life you have blessed me with a host of people through whom it is clear that you work. I gladly yield, in many cases, to the wisdom found in community—as well I should. I dearly thank you for that. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 8-10 and 2 Corinthians 10)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Realities and Lessons for the Monday After Easter

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: 1 Samuel 7:7-9 AND verse 13 When the Philistines heard that the people of Israel had gathered at Mizpah, the lords of the Philistines went up against Israel. And when the people of Israel heard of it they were afraid of the Philistines. 8 The people of Israel said to Samuel, “Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us, and pray that he may save us from the hand of the Philistines.” So Samuel took a sucking lamb and offered it as a whole burnt offering to the LORD; Samuel cried out to the LORD for Israel, and the LORD answered him…..13 So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel; the hand of the LORD was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel.

Observation: The Philistines were pretty much a perpetual pain in the neck for the Israelites—a consistent source of irritation and fear. Yet during the days of Samuel they were subdued.

Like Christians from all over the world, this weekend at the church through which I serve, we celebrated Easter. It was really quite a grand celebration and, all-in-all, it personally felt like a really solid set of Easter services. I’m deeply grateful for all who helped in any way and I’m also grateful to know that we had almost 130 more people worship this Easter at Zion than we’ve had for any of the past three years! That’s over a 40% increase. With the exception of maybe 10-15 people who may have attended because of a baptism, I’m at a loss to explain the rest of the increased attendance. But I am grateful. I’ll also be interested to see if any of this increased attendance carries over in succeeding weeks for the new “back to basic” series. At any rate, Holy Week and Easter were special times at Zion.

But today is Monday and Monday came early. Late last night we were on our way home from a nice day with family. It was after midnight and we were still in route. While driving I caught myself developing a little knot in my stomach as I considered a couple things that will need to be dealt with in the coming days and weeks.

Think about it. It’s been less than 24 hours since we’ve celebrated Easter and I’m already feeling more like I’m on the way to the cross than excitedly scurrying beyond the empty tomb. What’s up with that?

That’s an easy question to answer; I’m human. I’m prone to the same kinds of emotions that caused the disciples to lock themselves in a room after the resurrection for fear of the Jews. A resurrected Jesus does not remove earthly realities. We are just called to encounter them in a new light.

Back in the days of old the Israelites were constantly dealing with the Philistines and other peoples with whom for some reason they could not peacefully co-exist. The Monday after Easter encouragement for today is verse 1 Samuel 7:13; it indicates there was a reprieve from the Philistines when the Israelites were faithful—when they were able to summon up the courage to live in light of their faith.

Yesterday’s sermon for the people of Zion was taped. I think I’ll take a look at it again, this time for myself.

Prayer: Dear resurrected one. Have you not heard this song from your people a zillion times before? Have you not heard it a thousand times from me? Why is truly trusting in you so difficult? Why would any of us want to place more trust in ourselves than in you? In three short days did you not prove not only your love but also your power? Of course you did! You are helping me to see that my prime challenges will never be from without but from within. I don’t really need a reprieve from anyone else. I just need a reprieve from myself and my own propensity to so quickly dismiss all that I have seen and heard and even proclaimed about you. It’s time for me to look forward to whatever more you have in store… In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Samuel 6-7, Psalm 72, and 2 Corinthians 9)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Getting the Jump on Easter

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 7:5-7 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way—disputes without and fears within. 6 But God, who consoles the downcast, consoled us by the arrival of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was consoled about you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more.

Observation: God provides consolation even (and perhaps especially) in times of affliction.

Application: Today we will celebrate Easter. Purists will note that Easter is tomorrow, not today. But we have a Saturday night service and so we will celebrate at 5:00 tonight and then again at 8:30 and 10:45 on Easter day. By noon all the white paraments will be out for display and a host of beautiful flowers will no doubt adorn the sanctuary. Whether for reasons practical and/or spiritual, we can’t wait! There is good news to be shared! Consolation to be offered! Those who are afflicted, in whatever way or in every way, have reason for hope. What appears to be the light at the end of the tunnel is actually the light from the empty tomb. It will not disappoint.

It should be pointed out that the hope of which I speak is no false or illusionary hope. It is not a hope that turns a blind eye toward the very real afflictions of body or soul. The One in whom we trust felt the spikes pierce his skin and be driven between or even through his bones. Each driving rep of the hammer signified the venomous nature of the crowd. As mother Mary looked on one can only imagine her own affliction…and the preponderance of a prophetic word come true; “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”( cf. Luke 2:35).

Affliction is indeed very, very real. Jesus knew this. Mary knew this. We know know this.

But however real affliction may be, it is also temporary. Earlier in 2 Corinthians we read that “this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (cf. 4:17). Today we remember that this eternal weight of glory is able to make very light work of rolling back a very large stone! Today we remember that the help we so sorely needed has already arrived and, in fact, is coming back again!

Let the temporarily afflicted of this world find comfort and even rejoice at the hope that is set before them…and before us. May we be Titus to one another…a sign of what God has done and of what God is doing, even now.

Prayer: Dear Lord, we all need a little encouragement now and then. From the sound of things, the Apostle Paul was emotional mess at times as he tried to deal with “disputes without and fears within.” Most of the trials I face or have faced pale miserably in comparison, yet I too have experienced such feelings and situations. In each case you have sent modern-day equivalents to Titus. Sometimes you’ve even sent a whole host of Tituses. Affliction is temporary. The hope and promise of Easter is eternal. For that I give you thanks. In the name of the risen Jesus. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: 1 Samuel 1-2, Psalm 66, and 2 Corinthians 7)

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Break from the Regular on this Good Friday

Today’s readings (Ruth 3-4, Psalm 64 & 65, and 2 Corinthians 6) were especially rich and wonderful…good food for the soul. I sincerely hope that you will take a few moments and read them. They are well worth your time. Nevertheless, today I’d like to reflect for a moment on Good Friday rather than the actual lessons above.

It had occurred to me not long ago (and I mentioned it in a recent sermon message) that we can only imagine what Jesus’ night in jail was like. He had to know that he was in deep trouble. Was he able to sleep? Did things get quiet? Did he toss and turn? Did he wake before they came in to get him? Did he have any kind of pillow or anything else to lay on?

These are questions of which we can only imagine the answer. And the day before was such a bitter-sweet day. He celebrated the Passover with his disciples, something Scripture records that he was eager to do. He was also betrayed. Things continued to go downhill from there. As soon as it was morning, Good Friday morning, the wheels of abuse and scorn turned again.

Personally speaking, yesterday was probably the best day I can remember in a long time. I enjoy most days of life and ministry, but yesterday was just exceptional from word go, culminating in a Maundy Thursday Seder that was just an amazing display of gracious people in action and an experience of community and worship I will treasure for a long, long time. Still, the day had a touch of bitter-sweetness as well and, for that reason, though I went to bed quite late, I awoke quite early in reflection of such things.

It certainly wasn’t all for naught. In the process of reflection the Lord was gracious enough to offer me a significant morsel of insight to share in this year’s Easter message. And some time later when I came downstairs to do my Bible reading and reflection, I was blessed to see a bright orange and full (or nearly full) moon hanging nice and low in the western sky.

It’s Good Friday. I’m looking forward to worshipping twice today. Once at noon with other Lutheran pastors in the area, and tonight with the people of Zion at our Tenebrae service which is one of my favorite services of the year. Tonight’s service will include two new video elements that I believe are sure to inspire, while still holding true to our traditional way of experiencing this service.

Be that as it may, what was it like for Jesus on this morning? If there was a moon to be seen, it’s doubtful that his accommodations offered such a view. Whatever the weather was, I wonder what the other people thought of it. Did they think it was a good day for a crucifixion? What would a good day for a crucifixion be like? Sunny and in the mid 70’s?

It’s Good Friday. It’s also a good Friday. A day to give thanks for what God has done. A day to worship. A day off for some. A day that in some ways is the same as any other day and in other ways is profoundly different. In a strange but deeply meaningful way I’m looking forward to it. And you?

Prayer: Lord, your day is our day and our day is yours. Use it as you will. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Unskilled Apprentices Called to Speak Out

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Observation: there is the great reconciler and then there are the proclaimers of this reconciliation.

Application: It’s Maundy Thursday. It’s a day when we remember two betrayers: Judas and Peter. The first was a follower turned rogue and the second proclaimed himself a follower but couldn’t follow through. We often think of this as a dark day for Jesus, but it was also a low point for each of them.

Interestingly enough, although Judas and Peter in one way or another demonstrated that they were through with Christ, Christ demonstrated that he was not through with them. It’s not that he was blind to their significant foibles. He was just able to look past them. Reconciliation is Christ’s specialty. I believe that’s true even for Judas.

Our task as preachers is first and foremost to point to this reconciling work of Christ. We may and indeed should endeavor to practice reconciliation on our own wherever possible. But we cannot rely, depend, boast, or despair over how well our personal reconciliation efforts play out. Christ is the great reconciler of all and we are simply entrusted with sharing the depth of that incredible news. Paul called it the “ministry of reconciliation” which is accomplished by sharing the “message of reconciliation” which has been “entrusted” to us.

That’s our task. That’s our privilege. Let the day begin.

Prayer: Lord, in an ideal world we would all be reconciled to each other as well. Unfortunately the depth of our own sinful condition in combination with the sinful condition of others always makes such ideals fleeting. This can be discouraging to say the least. In such circumstances, help us to remember and proclaim that you are the true reconciler of all and that we are merely unskilled apprentices. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Ruth 1, 2, Psalm 53 and 61, and 2 Corinthians 5)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Different Kind of Mercy

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 4:1-5 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.

Observation: Paul has a most interesting view of “God’s Mercy.” For him God is apparently ‘merciful’ to let him participate in a ‘ministry’ that will include being: “afflicted,” “perplexed,” “persecuted,” “struck down,” and “being given up to death” (see verses 8-12).

Application: Chapter 4 of 2nd Corinthians is among my favorites in the Bible—it ranks right up there with Romans 8, making it one of those “go-to” chapters in times of stress or when one needs a sign of encouragement. This chapter in 2nd Corinthians is powerful in it’s own right without any knowledge of its context whatsoever. But when seen in context, the meaning goes still deeper…

Paul is in conflict with the Corinthian church. His 1st letter to the Corinthians was an admonishment to them for the ways in which they were behaving. This 2nd letter is apparently in response to their response to his first letter. He reveals that ministry is not always easy and, in fact, is sometimes downright painful. Nevertheless he sees even the opportunity to participate in such things as an act of God’s mercy.

Are difficult times really an act of God’s mercy?

In some ways the literal answer to that unanswerable question doesn’t matter. What does matter is the ‘witness’ of Scripture which informs us of how Paul (and other Christian leaders) saw understood such things. For them it was a privilege of sorts to serve through difficult times. They believed that, while times were tough, it was a privilege to demonstrate that the power they proclaimed came from outside of themselves. Although most might think that such circumstances would give every reason to lose heart, they saw it as the very reason not to lose heart. Why? Because they were not interested in proclaiming themselves.

Right now we are smack in the middle of what is known as “Holy Week.” We find a certain ‘holiness’ in the events of this week including: his bitter-sweet Last Supper, his agonizing prayer in the garden, his betrayal, arrest, humiliation, and, ultimately, his death on the cross. This is the one we are called to proclaim in any way, shape, or form imaginable.

Proclaiming Christ is not always easy because, unlike Paul, we are perhaps more often tempted to in one way or another proclaim ourselves. You know…to show that we can do things without the training wheels…to prove that we are competent…talented…worthy and deserving…

We tend to see affliction and the like as hardships to be overcome rather than the divinely merciful paths through which the source of “this extraordinary power” (vs. 7) might be revealed.

I think that’s what our modern-day Holy Week experiences are meant to entail…maybe even by God’s mercy.

Do not lose heart.

Prayer: Lord, sometimes life can be disheartening…or at least seem that way. I in particular am prone to access my ‘value’ by how well things seem to be going, for good or for ill, at any given time. I know better than that of course. But putting such ‘knowledge’ into practice takes, well, lots and lots of practice—something you seem all-to-willing to provide. Is that you being ‘merciful’ again? Okay. I’ll try to see it that way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Judges 19-21 and 2 Corinthians 4)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Different Kind of Confidence

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Observation: Paul speaks of what I might call a “quiet confidence.” It’s “quiet” because Paul realizes that it is not of his own doing. But it is confidence because he knows that the one in whom he confides is trustworthy and true.

Application: I hesitate to say this the week before Easter, but I’ve noticed a subtle change (hopefully for the better) in my preaching as of late. These days my proclamation seems to have less to do with what might be called ‘presentation’ and more to do with might be called ‘incarnation.’ I’ve found myself just drawing from a well Spiritual insights and experience that has been nurtured over the years through life, training, and these daily devotional encounters with the Scriptures. There is still plenty of preparation for messages, of course. But I’m starting to deliver them with a quiet confidence that alluded me in earlier days.

This confidence must not be confused with bravado. I am well aware of my many faults and you and I can rest assured that, should I ever forget them, there are others who can certainly help jog my memory! Rather, the confidence of which and with which I speak is more akin to an embrace of my humanity and a quiet trust in God’s ability to work through me (and through others around me), come what may.

For all practical purposes that, in a nutshell, is the message of Easter. Every time our lives demonstrate trust in God over and above our trust in ourselves, Christ rises again.

Prayer: Lord, keep rising. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Judges 17-18, Psalm 89, and 2 Corinthians 3)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Exercise Tip: Just getting after it

I didn't plan on taking one of our kids to school today, but I did. That meant the schedule suddenly changed and I was in that "make the best of it" kind of world. So here goes.

First I decided that it would only take a few minutes to go through my regular warm-up and that would feel good in an of itself.

Next I realized that, at the very least, I could go through one round of all the major muscle groups. And so that's what I did. After the warm-up the workout went like this:

Front barbell-Squat/Overhead Press combo
Cross-body mountain-climbers
Ab-Wheel Roll-outs
Single Leg Stability Ball curls
Bent-over dumb-bell rows

The whole workout (including warm-up) was less than 15 minutes and probably closer to 10. But it got the heart pumping well and, better yet, gave the emotional boost that comes with the satisfaction of doing something rather than nothing.

I pray that you'll find a way to "get after it" today too, if you haven't already done so!

Until next time,

A Whiff of Christ

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: 2 Corinthians 2:14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.

Observation: Paul understood the Lord as the leader of God’s people, the one whom they follow.

Application: There is a subtle but important difference between leaders leading and leaders being led. Leaders that lead from their own store of strength and acumen are often quite talented and, in the eyes of many, successful. But leaders who are being led (at least those led by the Spirit of God) have a little different nature to them. They too will be successful, but it will be measured in alternative terms. Their motivation comes from outside themselves. It is a calling not so much to leadership, but to service through the medium of leadership. In other words, leadership is just another form of serving.

The idea Paul proposes is that Christ is the master leader and that the rest of us (whether as those serving through leadership or through other means) are merely following in his footsteps. Yet though those of us who follow wafts the fragrance of the One who walks ahead.

This week (Holy Week) that “fragrance” will be of death come to life.

Prayer: Lord, it has been said that the sense of smell is one of the most powerful and memorable of our senses. I don’t know exactly what death comes to life smells like—and it’s not something I can manufacture on my own—but I pray that I might walk close enough to you to catch a whiff of it. And I pray that others might do the same, either from you directly or from the rest of us who endeavor to follow as we are able. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Judges 13-16 and 2 Corinthians 2)