Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Even Though No One Seeks God

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: Romans 3:9-12 What then? Are we any better off? No, not at all; for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, 10 as it is written:
“There is no one who is righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who has understanding,
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness,
there is not even one.”

Observation: Doesn’t reflect too highly on humanity, eh?

Application: I basically just ended up Lutheran by happenstance. My parents were Lutheran, most of the rest of the family was Lutheran and so it goes.

Interestingly, I’ve always had an abundance of openness to other denominations. Still do. In fact, there was a brief time when I almost ended up in an entirely different Christian faith tradition for seminary training. But alas that particular non-Lutheran seminary program didn’t include a year of internship. And since for practical reasons I thought that a year of internship would be very important, that made my decision to head off to a Lutheran seminary easy.

I still maintain significant openness to other faith traditions, but I must say that, as the years go by, I’m becoming more and more thankful for my Lutheran roots, whether by happenstance or not. And one of the very big things that I really appreciate is the Lutheran emphasis on the sinfulness of the human condition.

I know…that might sound crazy to some. Why would I find satisfaction in focusing on our sinful nature?

Answer? Because it’s a refreshingly honest perspective.

It seems that so often in life we are encouraged to delude ourselves into thinking that we can be above the fray. But that’s a half-truth. Sure, there may be some things we can “do” to improve our lot in life. We might be able to break some unhealthy cycles and such. We might be able to attain some significant measures of earthly success. But at the core of our nature there is self-centeredness. When the Scriptures say that “there is no one who seeks God,” they are correct.

Sure, some people seek God, but it’s almost always with a leaning toward some kind of self-benefit, be it assistance through a personal crisis, a longing for a safer world, or even the hope of eternal life. Our motive for ‘loving’ God is more often than not rooted in a desire for God’s help in some temporal or even eternal way. So much for love.

Thankfully, in the Lutheran church we can come clean about such things. We can lay our motives out on the table, not in some prideful way, but in a way that indicates that we recognize our situation—or at least part of our situation—and ultimately place our hope in Christ.

Paul deeply encouraged such thinking and acting years and years ago. We Lutherans most certainly have our many foibles, but we do take Paul’s analysis of our situation to heart, along with his faith that, through Christ, we who are sinners nature will still receive Good News in each day.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for enabling us to be honest with you and to trust in your forbearing reply. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 8, 2 Chronicles 5, Psalm 99, and Romans 3)

Monday, May 21, 2012


Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: Romans 2:4b Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

Observation: Kindness is a wonderful thing.

Application: This past weekend was the Northwestern Ohio Synod Assembly, an annual gathering/meeting of people from all the Lutheran Churches (ELCA) in our area. Our bishop leads the proceedings.

One of the things I’ve noticed and appreciated over the years is the manner in which our bishop leads. The same would be true for his predecessor. Almost every year there will be one or two (or sometimes several) well-meaning people who will make points that are either inappropriate in some way (off-topic, out-of-order, demeaning, or what have you) or simply in complete opposition to whatever view the bishop might happen to hold. In each of these cases I’ve been so very impressed with the kindly way in which our bishop has handled such situations. If the comment is out of order from a parliamentary standpoint, he will so rule, but graciously so. If the comment is adversarial, he gives thanks for the opinion and invites others to share their views as well. If a comment is very favorably received (to the point of applause), he cautions the assembly not to offer such gestures so that all might be heard and that one opinion not be esteemed to be more valuable than another. If a comment is condescending to the assembly, he will gently remind us to be mutually respectful of one another out of reverence for Christ.

This, I believe, is the kind of kindness to which the Apostle Paul refers in the verse above. Judgment tends to just bring about judgment in return. Kindness, even in the form of truth in love, has a better chance of success.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for people who model the kindness that you envision for all your people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 7, 2 Chronicles 4, Psalm 98, and Romans 2)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

In Need of a Little Exercise

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: 2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brothers and sisters, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified everywhere, just as it is among you,

Observation: Paul was regularly occupied with interest in spreading the word of the Lord.

Application: I think Lutherans have gotten soft. Or maybe I’ve just gotten soft.

I’m currently at the Northwestern Ohio Synod Assembly at Bowling Green State University. It’s a yearly gathering of clergy and laypersons from each of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregation’s in Northwestern Ohio. Here we are being inspired to consider the real work and mission of the church. Here we are being reminded again of our heritage, of the treasure that has been given to us by God through Christ.

This treasure is not of self-sufficiency but of Christ’s sufficiency. This treasure is not the self-help mantra of I can be all that I want to be but rather the confidence of being able to say, “by the grace of God I am what I am.” This treasure is not something that is rooted in us but, rather, through our baptism into Christ we are rooted in this treasure. To use Christ’s imagery, we are branches of the vine of Jesus, not the other way around.

This perspective itself is a treasure. It has lasting value and staying power.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for exerting personal effort. I’m all for harnessing our gifts and abilities for service. There is joy to be found in such things. But only when the purpose for all the efforts and the sharing of gifts and abilities is for a cause greater than our own…Greater than self…preferably in response to seeing that the treasure we have (as Scripture describes it) is in clay pots so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power does not come from us.

Lutherans know this. It’s our heritage. And although the Apostle Paul lived long before there was such a thing as a Lutheran, he inspired such thinking. His concern and passion was not for self but that word of the Lord would spread…and spread rapidly.

I’m thankful for gatherings such as this that remind us of such things. A quote that this year is serving as sort of a tag-line for what we are called to be about comes from Martin Luther himself:

"Faith is a living, daring confidence in God's grace, so sure and certain that a [person] could stake [his/her] life on it a thousand times."

It’s time to exercise our faith, get rid of the softness. Not in some “I know it all and you don’t” kind of fashion. Not with some 4-point tract that we can have printed up and distributed to people with the attitude of “so there!” No, it’s time to start living with such daring confidence in God’s grace that we could and would stake our life on it over and over again. That’s the kind of faith that is likely to inspire and spread rapidly through the very demographic of people that are largely missing from our churches.

It’s liable to inspire us as well. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually participate in the long-awaited answer to the Apostle Paul’s prayer!

Lord, the opportunities you place before us are incredible. Give us grace to see and pursue them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 4-5, 2 Chronicles 2, Psalm 101, and 2 Thessalonians 3)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Good Advice

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22 But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; 13 esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. 15 See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.

This is good advice and a good perspective.

Application: A book could probably be written as an elaboration of the above passage. Much wisdom is found there. But for today’s purposes I will highlight the verse “See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.”

To begin, I think Paul is acknowledging that, whenever we feel that we have been wronged, there is a natural impulse to strike back. This is why he indicates that people should not repay evil for evil.

To help in that regard (since the best way to break a bad habit is often to replace it with a good habit), Paul lays out the desired approach—“always seek to do good to one another.” This is simply a slightly different way of phrasing Jesus’ own directive to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

But then takes it one step further. Rather than simply focusing on seeking to do good to one another, Paul also adds an important additional phrase—“and to all.” In other words, we are encouraged to think beyond ourselves and one another to what might be good for all.

Therein lies a two-fold challenge. On the one hand, considering what might be good ‘for all’ takes significantly more thought and helps us to truly see beyond ourselves…perhaps. I say “perhaps” because the flip-side of this challenge is that it is possible to conclude and/or assume that what is good for us is good for all. Hmmm….

Perhaps this is why a couple verses later Paul advocates testing everything and holding fast to what is good. In many ways all of life is a test, a grand experiment by God to begin with but for us as participants in creation as well. Through trial and error we discover what works, what doesn’t work, and how different times and different contexts will often yield different results.

While that might be frustrating to some, Paul holds out a more positive view. “Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the wisdom found in this passage. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 1, 1 Chronicles 28, Psalm 91, and 1 Thessalonians 5)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Because No One is a Perfect Lover

Scripture passage that caught my attention today: 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12 Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; 10 and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, 11 to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, 12 so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.

Observation: Paul seems to be saying that the Thessalonians, though admirable, can still love people more. And he suggests that one of the ways that they can do so is to simply spend time minding their own affairs and to keep busy.

Application: Life can be difficult when we are occupied with finding fault in others. It seems to me that there is a reason why it is easy to find fault in others and the reason is this: no one is a perfect lover.

Seriously. None of us knows how to perfectly love another and so we will always be able to find fault in one another regardless of the context in which the loving (or seeming lack thereof) occurs.

Rather than be disappointed, upset or obsessed with the foibles of others, according to Paul we are better served to work on our own love-making skills.

Hopefully you realize that neither I nor Paul are talking about love-making in regard to physical intimacy, though the same could be said in that regard as well (within an appropriate relationship of course). Instead the point is simply that we all need practice in loving others—so much so that Paul encourages the Thessalonians “to do so more and more.”

Prayer: Lord, do you ever just shake your head and wonder why we can’t all be more loving? Or are you too busy perfecting your own ability to love? I guess so. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Chronicles 25-27 and 1 Thessalonians 4)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Encouragement in the face of Persecution

Scripture Passage that Caught My Attention Today: 1 Thessalonians 3:1-5 Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we decided to be left alone in Athens; 2 and we sent Timothy, our brother and co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you for the sake of your faith, 3 so that no one would be shaken by these persecutions. Indeed, you yourselves know that this is what we are destined for. 4 In fact, when we were with you, we told you beforehand that we were to suffer persecution; so it turned out, as you know. 5 For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith; I was afraid that somehow the tempter had tempted you and that our labor had been in vain.

Observation: Paul was anxious to know how the Thessalonians were doing and also to encourage them in case their faith was wavering due to the persecutions. He also wanted them to know that they should not be surprised by the persecutions and that, in fact, that Paul and others were ‘destined’ for such things.

Application: I think it’s save to say that almost all of us would prefer some kind of easy life. You know…family harmony, vocational joy and clarity, financial security, robust health, stress-free interpersonal relationships, an abundance of time and all the rest.

In reality, most people have issues in one or more of the above areas. That’s life. But according to Paul, it might even be something more—discipleship. Paul sees persecution and/or struggle as going hand-in-hand with discipleship.

Now, to be clear, the persecution Paul was talking about was as a result of faith and not just standard life issues. Paul was facing persecution from zealous people from within the religious sector. It was a constant struggle. Still, he had planted seeds for a different and better kind of life among the Thessalonians and he was eager to know if those seeds had indeed taken root and whether they were hearty enough to withstand the challenges of the day. Timothy brought back a report in the affirmative. That was both a big relief and a joy!

These days pastors like myself are also encouraged when we see the roots of faith taking hold in people and we see them, by the grace of God, facing the challenges of their life with grace and candor. Sometimes we prayerfully fret about them, wondering how they’re holding up. But when the good news comes it brings a double-joy, first in regard to the people themselves and then for the encouragement in brings to us as we face our own dilemmas.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the faithful ways in which you encourage all your people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Beyond Focus on Self

Scripture Passage that Caught My Attention today: 2 Samuel 19:4-6 The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 5 Then Joab came into the house to the king, and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your officers who have saved your life today, and the lives of your sons and your daughters, and the lives of your wives and your concubines, 6 for love of those who hate you and for hatred of those who love you. You have made it clear today that commanders and officers are nothing to you; for I perceive that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.

Observation: While leaders must attend to self, they cannot do so exclusively. David was experiencing deep personal grief because of the death of his son, even though Absalom had betrayed him. Yet he needed to find a way to move beyond that so that the people would see that they too were valued.

Application: It is easy to focus on self—one’s own challenges and/or desires. This is natural and, to some extent, necessary. To ignore such realities will surely take its toll.

But by the same token, overly focusing on them can become all-consuming and, in fact, detrimental.

One of the side benefits of prayer is that, as we combine prayer for self with prayer for others, we strike a healthy balance. Remembering others’ circumstances helps us keep perspective on our own.

David had every reason to grieve. The people had every reason to celebrate. David needed to keep both reasons in mind, though he needed Joab’s prodding to do so.

Prayer: Lord, help us always to be in touch with our own feelings/situations and those of others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Samuel 19-20, Psalm 55, and Matthew 28)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Departing from the Normal Routine

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Psalm 27. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail meto devour my flesh— my adversaries and foes— they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me! “Come, ” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation! If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up. Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence. I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

Observation: It’s unclear whether David truly embraced this when he wrote it or whether writing it was a way of trying to convince himself to embrace what he believed to be true. But either way, the truth came out.

Application: Those of you who follow the Bible reading plan that I follow are probably wondering why I’m journaling on Psalm 27 since that wasn’t one of the readings for today. You might then conclude that I picked this passage because I must be going through some sort of fearful situation right now.

Not really, though I have indeed been there and done that and will no doubt at some point do that again.

Recently my daughter started a little tradition with me where she picks and e-mails me a verse of the week for me and I in turn pick and e-mail a verse of the week for her. As quite the over-achiever, yesterday she sent me not just one verse but, rather, all 14 verses of Psalm 27! Due to the full schedule of the day, I didn’t really get a chance to look the passage over until this morning after reading the normal assigned readings for today. And when I saw it, I just decided that today I would reflect on her passage instead of one of the others.

There are two schools of thought on the relationship between belief and action. One school suggests that we believe our way into action and the other school suggests that we act our way into a new way of believing. Either way, belief and action discover a partner in each other.

From the looks of the passage and knowing some of what David was going through, it’s hard to know whether he was just trying to convince himself of what he believed to be true (sort of like repeating positive, true thoughts to help us overcome our fears) or whether he was actually giving voice to his convictions. Either way, truth can be found by those of us who take such passages to heart.

Lord, thank you for the gift of our rapidly-growing children and for how, each in their own way, they help remind us of the blessed truth that is ultimately found only in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Samuel 18, Psalm 56, Matthew 27 and, of course, Psalm 27)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Praising God isn't always about Trumpeting Delight

Scripture Verses That Caught my attention Today: Psalm 71:19b-20 You who have done great things,
O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
you will bring me up again.

Observation: Essentially the Psalmist praises and hopes in God even though the Psalmist also believes that the troubles and calamities he has faced were from God as well.

Application: Real faith, it seems to me, is able to praise God even (and perhaps especially) in times of trouble. Any schmuck can praise God when things are going well, just as loving ones’ friends is a piece of cake. But since Jesus said to love ones’ enemies, it’s no surprise that the Psalmist essentially serves as an example of one who praises God in good times and in bad.

Now, this is not always easy. In today’s reading from Matthew 26, Jesus isn’t exactly happy about the journey before him. Initially he prays in the garden to avoid it. Later, however, he concedes to the impending journey by yielding to the Father’s will. So praising God is not always about trumpeting our delight in suffering, but in demonstrating our trust in God’s ability to revive us again, even from the depths of the earth.

Prayer: Lord, the ‘great’ things you have done are sometimes puzzling and don’t always seem so, well, great. Yet your creative work is still visible in all of life and especially in your ability to bring new life out of death. I’m seeing it on the farm even now as I look out over the fields. The seeds from the crops that “died” last fall are already at work greening up the universe. May the same be true of us as we die to ourselves and rise to new life in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Samuel 17, Psalm 71, and Matthew 26)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

7 Thoughts on Stress

Recently a person who was feeling about "75% stressed" offered me his assistance because he was under the impression that I was about 90% stressed!

Hmmm…what shall I learn from this?

Point #1: Stress is not easily hidden.
Try as we might, stress causes fractures in our existence and through these fractures stress leaks. Observant people will see it oozing out.

Point #2: Stress is not always bad.
While too much stress is obviously a bad thing, too little stress brings its own demons. Some stress may be the world’s way (or God’s way) of assuring that we are engaged with this world in which we live. And sometimes it helps us rise to a new level, discover a new insight, or even pursue a new path.

Point #3: Stress can be handled well or poorly.
We all know this, of course. But just knowing something—as any addict can tell you--does not necessarily change behavior. Handling stress well, especially if one has a history of handling it poorly, will require a change of will, habit, and heart.

Point #4: Stress is natural (which is why, as indicated in point #2, it’s not always bad.)
Growing always involves some form of pain, hence the phrase, “growing pains.” Even Jesus, when considering the work before him, once said, “and what stress I am under until it is completed.” (see Luke 12:50) Stress is natural, and we can work through it.

Point #5: Stress can be measured.
Okay, so it’s not an exact science. But we all know about how much we think we can take. Add about 20% to that figure (according to my guestimate) and that’s probably more realistically what we can handle, though perhaps not for long. Aiming for 50-75% stress is probably about right for your basic high-achiever. The more moderately ambitious might want to shoot for 40-60% stress. And people who just enjoy life? Well, they’ll probably be better served in the 20-40% stress range.

Point #6: Stress can take its toll.
I recently read about a study where one group of students was given fresh chocolate-chip cookies while another group, in the same room, was told to eat only radishes. Both followed directions well, but then when both groups were given puzzles which were nearly impossible to solve, the chocolate chip group (which didn’t find the radishes to be a tantalizing/stressful temptation) kept working on the puzzles considerably longer than the radish group which had apparently been worn down by the temptation/stress of not being allowed to eat the chocolate-chip cookies that were easily within their reach. So don’t pretend that stress won’t have an affect somewhere in your life.

Point #7: Stress can be relieved.
At home I have a cheap weed sprayer with a hand pump to establish pressure. On the side is a simple little red valve that can be lifted to safely release the pressure. The challenge with stress is to find a way to safely release it when it gets too high for too long. For some it is a hobby, for some it is through faith and faith practices, for some it is companionship, for some it is physical exercise, for some it is writing or music or other forms of art. Whatever it is, find a safe way (as opposed to unsafe stress-relievers such as excessive alcohol, domestic abuse, promiscuity, drugs, etc.) to relieve at least a portion of said stress. Then give thanks for point #2!

Gee, I feel better already!

Just Trying to Stay Fit Under the Collar,

PS If you'd like more tips like this, just send an e-mail to me at: fitunderthecollar@gmail.com. Be sure and let me know just a little bit about yourself (as little or as much as you'd like to share) and what kind of tips would be most helpful to you. Thanks!

PSS Jot "Stress Tips" in the subject line so I'll know you're responding to this article. Double Thanks!

Taking all of Life in Stride

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: 2 Samuel 15:14 Then David said to all his officials who were with him at Jerusalem, “Get up! Let us flee, or there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Hurry, or he will soon overtake us, and bring disaster down upon us, and attack the city with the edge of the sword.”


2 Samuel 16:5-6a When King David came to Bahurim, a man of the family of the house of Saul came out whose name was Shimei son of Gera; he came out cursing. 6 He threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David;


2 Samuel 16:11-12 David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “My own son seeks my life; how much more now may this Benjaminite! Let him alone, and let him curse; for the LORD has bidden him. 12 It may be that the LORD will look on my distress, and the LORD will repay me with good for this cursing of me today.”

Observation: David’s own son Absalum had turned on him and was endeavoring to take over the kingship, to the point that David needed to run for his life. At this low-point in his life he also had to put up with the cursing of a man from the family of his former rival, Saul. So David was really getting kicked when he was down, though it didn’t seem to bother him too much; he just took it in stride.

We’ve all heard sayings like, “when it rains it pours” or “if it’s not one thing, it’s another” or “misery loves company.” Call it Murphy’s Law or whatever you will, there are times when it can seem like nothing is going right. In such times it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and either lash out in frustrated anger or retreat into a state of depression and isolation. Our world is full of the affects of either extreme. Perhaps we’ve offered our own contributions a time or two.

David’s example in these two chapters offers an alternative response. Although he is not oblivious to the threat and immediately takes appropriate action (in this case running for his life), neither does he let the circumstances totally overwhelm him. As he deals with the reality of his own son’s betrayal, he chooses not to engage in conversation with this other lunatic guy from Saul’s camp who would be impossible to reason with anyhow. Instead David trusts that the Lord is ultimately in charge and that things will just have to sort out however the Lord sees fit.

Indeed they will, as we will read in the chapters to follow. Still, for the high and low alike there’s some heartbreak to be found in much of life’s experiences, as David himself will most surely be able to attest. Yet he will continue to bless the Lord.

Whenever we find ourselves in such seasons of life, we would do well to do the same.

Prayer: Lord, seasons come and seasons go. Over the course of life we experience many of them. In all seasons help us to place our trust in you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Samuel 15-16, Psalm 32, and Matthew 25)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Carnal Desires

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: 2 Samuel 13:15-16 Then Amnon was seized with a very great loathing for her; indeed, his loathing was even greater than the lust he had felt for her. Amnon said to her, “Get out!” 16 But she said to him, “No, my brother; for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her.

Observation: Earlier Amnon had uncontrollable lust for Tamar. Suddenly, upon getting (or, I should say, ‘taking’) what he wanted, he suddenly becomes loathsome toward here. He never learned to take the long view.

Application: The story that comes to mind is that of a recent secret service scandal where, we are told, one agent in particular spent the night with a woman who was engaged in prostitution. They had agreed upon a price but, when morning came, the agent refused to pay her and, what’s more, rudely dispatched her from his room.

As was the case with Tamar, one could say that the wrong of the agent sending the woman away without the agreed-upon pay was worse that the original wrong of agreeing to pay to sleep with her to begin with. It became a source of shame for both of them.

One lesson to be learned from both the biblical and contemporary fiascoes is that our carnal desires can be dangerously disingenuous. In other words, what (or who) we might think we want is sometimes nothing more than an illusion. It’s like a bird flying full-speed into a clear glass window or a person diving into the sea at high tide without any clue of what rocks might be just beneath the surface.

Better to tread more carefully, take considerably more time in discernment, and consider broader and longer-term ramifications so that, if one has created an illusion, it might be seen for what it really is. That’s a much better path toward finding a happy and fulfilling relationship or toward keeping and cherishing the relationship one might already have.

Prayer: Lord, I’ve been mighty fortunate in this regard, blessed with a marital relationship that I have never regretted or wished to exchange. It’s really nice to be able to say that and I can’t thank you enough for making it possible. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Samuel 13-14 and Matthew 24)

5 Exercises in 5 Minutes for a Full-body Workout

Sometimes time is of the essence. After my standard warm-up, here are the 5 Exercises I did today that took less than 5 minutes to complete and still gave me a full-body workout.

Exercise #1 Chin-ups

Any chin-up or pull-up will do. Today I did neutral-grip chin-ups, focusing intently of good form. Today I did 10 reps.

Exercise #2 Bench Press
If you don't have a bench and barbell, regular old push-ups will do. Today I did 25 reps with a 100# barbell.

Exercise #3 Squats
Again, if you don't have a barbell, there are other ways to target the same muscle groups. Body-weight squats, lunges, or Bulgarian Split Squats will work just fine. Today I did 25 reps with a 70# barbell.

Exercise #4 Ab-Wheel Roll-outs
Rather than use an actual ab-wheel, I just have a 5# plastic weight on a 35 year-old dumbbell bar and use that at my ab-wheel. If you don't have something like that, you can substitute cross-body mountain climbers or, using a stability ball, do jack-knives. I did 10 solid reps.

Exercise #5 Side Planks with leg raises
Side Planks are a another good core-building exercise. When combined with leg raises the core gets a little extra work along with the legs. Today I did 15 leg raises while in the side-plank position and then held the side-plank position for an additional 15 seconds. Then I switched to the other side and repeated the process.

Enjoy! :)

PS If you're not familiar with any of the exercises mentioned above, simply type them into your favorite search engine and you're sure to find some explanations.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Impressed with Joab

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: 2 Samuel 10: 11-12 He said, “If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you shall help me; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come and help you. 12 Be strong, and let us be courageous for the sake of our people, and for the cities of our God; and may the LORD do what seems good to him.”

Observation: Joab, in the heat of battle and with no time to waste, takes stock of the situation, considers his partners in the struggle, develops a plan and puts it into action within the span of just two short verses. And regardless of what happens, he entrusts the efforts to the Lord.

Application: These two verses are quickly finding space among my short list of favorites. I’m truly impressed with Joab’s ability to size up the difficult situation and earnestly work toward a solution that is based not on saving himself, but on saving the whole movement. He is simultaneously looking at the big picture (for the sake of our people and the cities of our God) and the REALLY big picture (through it all, let the Lord do what seems good to him).

This is refreshingly inspiring leadership. It doesn’t resort to ‘woe is me,’ and yet also successfully avoids the kind of bravado from which many a fool is made.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the example of Joab in this passage. Help us all to have such clarity of direction. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: 2 Samuel 10, 1 Chronicles 20, Psalm 20, and Matthew 22)

Friday, May 4, 2012

For the Battle Weary

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: 1 Chronicles 18:5-6 When the Arameans of Damascus came to help King Hadadezer of Zobah, David killed twenty-two thousand Arameans. 6 Then David put garrisons in Aram of Damascus; and the Arameans became subject to David, and brought tribute. The LORD gave victory to David wherever he went.

Observation: The Lord may have granted victory to David wherever he went, but he was still regularly in battle.

Application: I’m not a big fan of either war or war imagery, but if we have the eyes to see it, all of us are in battles of one sort or another every day. We may be battling with weight loss or time management or parenting or work-related issues or cancer or depression or God knows (literally) what else. It’s often a daily battle with an outcome determined largely by incremental choices. There is seldom total rest and, whenever there is total rest (as we will learn later in 2 Samuel 11), that’s the time to be especially careful not to self-destruct.

The good news is that these daily battles are really just a form of daily work. And daily work is a privilege—an opportunity to express oneself--a reason to get up and face the day and, when weariness naturally settles in, to sleep through the night.

Most (but not all!) of us are thankfully far-removed from the sort of brutalities that David and his soldiers faced with regularity. Nevertheless, our own battles rage on. They are mini-bouts—rounds, if you will—that move us closer toward victory or further from it.

A key point, however, is that in Scripture’s view it was the Lord that gave the victory, not the efforts of David himself. And so, whether we are seemingly victorious or not, we can give thanks for the each of our own little battles—they are the work to which we are called.

Prayer: Lord, I must admit that sometimes I would prefer not to have any battles. But after a while that would get boring. Each of us appreciates a challenge now and then. And once we start seeing things as challenges, well, that can shed a different light on things and keep us focused on meaningful pursuits. For that I give you thanks and praise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Samuel 8-9, 1 Chronicles 18-19, and Matthew 21)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fair Enough

Scripture Passage that Caught my Attention Today: Matthew 20:13-15 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

Observation: Our sense of fairness is not necessarily a characteristic of the kingdom of heaven.

One of the somewhat respected professions these days is that of law. Granted, there are many lawyer jokes and that is because there is perhaps a hint of truth in these jokes as well. Nevertheless, we still tend to tip our hat toward those who have passed the bar exam and been given a license to practice law. It has been said that everyone should have a good lawyer. It is an honorable profession dedicated to applying a sense of fairness and correcting grave injustices.

Interestingly enough, in the kingdom of heaven there will apparently be no need of lawyers.

(If it’s any consolation, pastors are not likely to be needed either. The Scriptures declare that no longer will people say to each other “know the Lord” for they shall all know the Lord, from the least of them to the greatest—which pretty much wipes out the need for preachers!)

In the kingdom of heaven our sense of fairness is turned on it’s head. Most of us would agree that those hired at the end of the day should not have received as much as those who worked all day. If there had been a Vineyard Union Local 285 they would have been all over that situation and demanded a reckoning.

But God’s kingdom is different from and strikingly other than our own. In that kingdom God decides what’s fair, plain and simple. We may agree or disagree with the ruling, but the ruling still stands.

Interestingly enough, God’s rulings are generally in our favor, not in the sense of giving us what we necessarily want, but instead offering to us what we really need. The folks in Jesus’ day didn’t really need the money as much as they needed a purpose for their life—a way to employ their abilities in faithful service. Jesus could see that. Unfortunately they were not able to see such things as clearly.

Prayer: Lord, when I got up this morning I knew the day would offer plenty to do—some of it for pay and other parts of it for simply living. I’m so very grateful for both. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Samuel 7, 1 Chronicles 17, Psalm 2, Matthew 20)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Close Enough to Perfect

Scripture Verses that Caught My Attention Today: Matthew 19:21-22 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Observation: The man didn’t want to be perfect; he just wanted to be able to claim he was perfect.

Application: This passage took me down memory lane this morning. Seeing that desiring to be perfect didn’t work out so well for the man in the passage above, the phrase “Close Enough to Perfect” came to mind. I knew the phrase came from a song, but I had long since forgotten what song.

Thanks to google, it only took a couple seconds to look it up and find that the song was made popular by the country group Alabama. I used to listen to their music quite a bit in college and even went to one of their concerts in Columbus where I and thousands of others held up our lighters and swayed to the music with our dates (I have no earthly idea why I had a lighter since I never smoked…nor do I remember who I took to the concert). Good times…

All nostalgia aside, I think most of us are in one way or another like the man in the passage above. We would like to be able to say that we are perfect and, yet, there is always something that holds us back. We can always be found wanting. There is always something that is our sticking point. For some it’s riches, but for many of us who do not consider ourselves “rich” (even though in many ways we are rich) there are other issues that trip us up. Pride can be a biggie. The ability to forgive almost everybody but yet, NOT everybody can catch us up too. Feel free to add other issues to the list. We may wish we could claim to be perfect, but many of us don’t really want to be perfect. We just want to be close enough to perfect.

In some ways the man was trying to follow Jesus’ instructions. The word “perfect” is only found twice in the Gospels and both of these occurrences are in Matthew. In 5:48 Jesus says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Fourteen chapters later Jesus encounters someone who purports to want to be perfect but the man can’t follow through.

Was he close enough? Are we?

Rather than trying to attain perfection we would be better served, literally, to accept Perfection reaching out to us through Christ. It’s in his company that true perfection is found. It’s in his Word that we find hope and healing. It’s in his body and blood that we find the strength to continue our journey. It’s in his calling that we find our own voice.

That’s close enough to perfect for me.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for reaching out to us…and to me. I’m deeply grateful that you regularly stay so close at hand. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Chronicles 16, Psalm 106, and Matthew 19)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

To Party or Not to Party

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: 1 Chronicles 15:29 As the ark of the covenant of the LORD came to the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing; and she despised him in her heart.

Observation: This story of David dancing and his wife Michal despising him is found here and in yesterday’s reading in 2 Samuel 6. I wonder what made her opinion of him (which is not praised) noteworthy enough for Scripture.

Application: It would seem that the point of including Michal’s frowned-upon thoughts is that, when there is cause for rejoicing, we are to join in the dance—whether literally or simply in spirit. David was celebrating and most of the people with him. But not his wife. She had sour grapes.

Still, I can see her point. In times of celebration it’s easy to make a fool of ourselves—to go that one notch too far. We can drink a little too much, speak a little too loud, say that one thing we shouldn’t have said, etc. That can be personally embarrassing but sometimes even more so for those we love. Perhaps that is what Michal was feeling.

Nevertheless, she loses out in this story. In the more detailed account of 2 Samuel 6:16-23 David criticizes Michah and, to add insult to injury, she has no child till the day of her death.

Sometimes it’s better to simply join in the dance.

Prayer: Lord, help us to truly celebrate all that you have done and continue to do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Chronicles 14-15, Psalm 132, and Matthew 18)