Saturday, June 30, 2012

It All Starts with Christ

Scripture Verse that Caught My attention today: Titus 2:14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Observation: Christ gave himself for us. He is the great action-taker and invites us to follow suit.

Application: For me it’s really important to remember that everything starts with God. It is God’s momentum that starts everything rolling. Try as we might to delude ourselves into thinking otherwise, the saving work of God has already been done though Christ. He is the one to gave himself for us for the purpose of redeeming us and purifying us as his very own. In grammatical terms, God is the subject and we are the object, not the other way around.

Often times it seems that we want to change God, direct God, even ‘correct’ God to be more in line with our way of thinking. Bad idea. It never turns out well. Far better to allow ourselves to be more malleable to God’s way of thinking and acting in the world. Such malleability begins with the realization that Christ has already done what we ourselves could never do.

Prayer: Lord, help us to always take to heart what you have already done. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Amos 7-9, Psalm 104, and Titus 2)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Finding the Right Words

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Amos 6:12a Do horses run on rocks?
Does one plow the sea with oxen?

Observation: Great imagery.

Application:
As a person who grew up on a farm, I can’t imagine anything more insane than plowing the sea with oxen! Same goes for trying to ride a horse over a bunch of rocky terrain. A waste of time. Impossible. Ludacris to the extreme. For the agricultural community of his day, it was perfect imagery for Amos to use in making his point.

Recently I’ve been studying communication techniques and one of the things that great communicators do is search for the language that will really make the intended point. Amos didn’t have the benefit of such study, but as a prophet he did have the benefit of speaking the word of the Lord. And apparently the Lord had a course or two in communication techniques as well. ☺

Prayer: Lord, your messages and ways are important. Help those of us entrusted with such things to find the words—which are ultimately YOUR words—to convey them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included Amos 4-6, Psalm 86, and Titus 1)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Persecution

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: 2 Timothy 3:12 Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Observation: This is a rather universal statement.

Application: One of my little pet peeves is when people use universal statements liberally. For example, “everyone will be there.”

Really? Everyone? Well, you get the idea.

So when the writer of Second Timothy says “all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” well, I wince just a little. I wonder if the statement is completely true.

And yet Jesus says a curious thing himself. He says (in Matthew 5:10-11) that those who are persecuted are “blessed.” And so the persecution, if or when it comes, is not necessarily a bad thing in the greater scheme of things. There is redeeming value in it.

We hope. We pray. We hope. We pray.

Prayer: Lord, if there is redeeming value in persecution, let all who experience the persecution see the redeeming values more clearly. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Readings today included: 2 Kings 13-14, 2 Chronicles 25, and 2 Timothy 3)

Focus

Scripture Verse that Caught My Attention Today: 2 Timothy 2:8-9 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, 9 for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.

Observation: It a hectic world it’s helpful to keep focus on the essentials—that which really matters.

Application: This morning I downloaded the cliff-notes version of a book entitled: “What to do when there’s too much to do.” The book’s content was spawned when an audience member once told the author before a speech: “I don’t want to hear a productivity consultant telling me to do more with less. I want to do less and achieve more.”

That’s pretty much the way Paul lived. I’m sure he had much more to do than he could do. But he remained focused on the heart of his belief, the heart of the Gospel—the kind of thing that ultimately frees a person because it is a freeing message. The prison could hold Paul’s body, but it couldn’t confine his spirit because, in his words, “the word of God is not chained.”

It’s hard to focus sometimes—okay, most of the time! We live in a splintered world and we are often splintered people. Nothing particularly neat and tidy in most of our lives.

As a case-in-point, I started this article yesterday, got called away for something at church, and just now realized that I had never finished it!

Prayer: Lord, thanks for never losing your focus on us even if though we often lose our focus on you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Readings included: Jonah 1-4, 2 Timothy 2

Monday, June 25, 2012

Living in light of Supporters and Detractors

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: 2 Timothy 1:15-17 You are aware that all who are in Asia have turned away from me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. 16 May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chain; 17 when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me.

Observation: Some supporters turned away from Paul. Others remained true.

Application: We often consider Paul to be the greatest missionary that ever lived. Still, he had his issues.

While most scholars believe that First and Second Timothy were actually written by someone other than Paul and at a later time, it’s still interesting to read of people like Phygelus and Hermogenes who apparently once thought well of Paul but then stopped doing so.
I can’t help but wonder, what led them to change their minds?

And then there’s Onesiphorous who, for whatever reason, seemed to increase his level of devotion to Paul, even to the point of searching him out in a foreign land.

Why do some people increase their devotion while others pull back?

I don’t really have any profound answers to these questions today. But it does appear that our basis for carrying on with our work/mission cannot be completely dependent upon what other people think. There will be supporters, there will be detractors. Paul had that experience and so do we.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for the witness of people like Paul who struggled at times but also continued, by your grace, to carry on. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today include: Joel 1-3 and 2 Timothy 1)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Looking for a Kinder, Gentler World

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: 2 Kings 10:16-17 [Jehu] said, “Come with me, and see my zeal for the LORD.” So he had him ride in his chariot. 17 When he came to Samaria, he killed all who were left to Ahab in Samaria, until he had wiped them out, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke to Elijah.

Observation: Twas a brutal world in those days, and much slaughter was understood to be in the name of the Lord. Jehu as already had Ahab’s 70 sons killed along with the relatives of Ahaziah. Shortly hereafter he will have all the worshippers of Baal killed.

Application: What to say? The world was and is so far removed from the hopes at the time of creation. We’ve made all kinds of technological progress and at times claim to be above barbaric measures, yet the world is still a cruel place at times, whether in the name of the Lord or not. I am grateful that in the New Testament Jesus pointed to a better, far less violent way, even as he willingly became of victim of violence himself.

Prayer:
Lord, thanks for the better way that you have shown us through your son. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Kings 10, 2 Chronicles 22-23, 1 Timothy 5)

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Downside of a Life with No Regrets

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: 2 Chronicles 21:19-20 In course of time, at the end of two years, his bowels came out because of the disease, and he died in great agony. His people made no fire in his honor, like the fires made for his ancestors. 20 He was thirty-two years old when he began to reign; he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. He departed with no one’s regret. They buried him in the city of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.

Observation:
This is sad. Just plain sad.

Application: I’ve journalled on this passage before. There are people who are like this. They leave the party…or the team…or the company…or the community…or even the church and those who remain are more likely to breath a sigh of relief rather than regret. Tension dissipates. A feeling of new life resumes.

But it’s still sad. No one really wins.

Prayer: Lord, I pray for those who put themselves in such positions. I pray that you might somehow show them, or help us to show them, a better way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Kings 8-9, 2 Chronicles 21, 1 Timothy 4)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Joint Venture

Scripture Passage that caught my attention today: 2 Kings 4:1-7 Now the wife of a member of the company of prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant feared the LORD, but a creditor has come to take my two children as slaves.” 2 Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” She answered, “Your servant has nothing in the house, except a jar of oil.” 3 He said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not just a few. 4 Then go in, and shut the door behind you and your children, and start pouring into all these vessels; when each is full, set it aside.” 5 So she left him and shut the door behind her and her children; they kept bringing vessels to her, and she kept pouring. 6 When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” But he said to her, “There are no more.” Then the oil stopped flowing. 7 She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest.”

Observation: In a scene reminiscent of Elijah visiting the widow of Zarapheth (1 Kings 17:9ff), this woman’s oil did not run out until there were no more vessels within which to store it. And the oil had value, enough to pay off all of the woman’s debts with some left over upon which to live.

Application: Setting aside, for the moment, the seemingly miraculous nature of this story, a fundamental question remains; does God provide enough for our needs?

I think we all want to answer yes to that question, but doubts remain. One need not look very far to see examples of situations in which there does not seem to be enough. Otherwise there would be no need for the ELCA World Hunger Appeal and other such relief efforts.

On the other hand, as many have pointed out before, the way in which God provides is often through the miraculous inspiration of others to lend a helping hand. In the passage above it was the neighbors who provided the necessary vessels, even though God provided the oil. It was a joint venture, as is often the case.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for what you provide. Help us to see what you have enabled us to provide. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Kings 4-5, Psalm 83, and 1 Timothy 2)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Facing Reality

Scripture Verses that Caught my attention today: 2 Kings 1:15-16 Then the angel of the LORD said to Elijah, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.” So he set out and went down with him to the king, 16 and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron,—is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of his word?—therefore you shall not leave the bed to which you have gone, but you shall surely die.”

Observation: To make a long story short, Elijah, through messengers, had already been told three times that he would die from his illness. Still, the king persisted until Elijah told him face-to-face. The king was apparently hoping that, by asking the same question over and over again, that the answer might somehow change.

Application: There is a fine line between persistence and a stubborn refusal to accept reality. I think the king thought he was being persistent, which can be admirable. But in reality he was simply refusing to accept the inevitable, which requires a change in plan and perspective. The king’s original question (“Will I recover from this illness?”) was fair. His refusal to accept the answer led to a loss of precious time on his part and precious lives in regard to the two companies of prophets (102 people total) who lost their lives as a result of the king’s stubbornness.

Still, I can’t say that I totally blame him. Who of us doesn’t think it’s important to get a second opinion at times, especially in issues related to health? Who of us doesn’t want to seek out some specialist who might be able to offer a new treatment or some other form of hope?

The king, however, was trying to muscle his way to a more pleasing answer. He sent two companies of prophets to essentially try to bully a more desirable answer out of Elijah. But God doesn’t work that way and the king learned that for himself in due time. Unfortunately a bunch of unnecessary collateral damage occurred as a result of the king’s over-inflated sense of self-importance.

Prayer: Lord, help each of us to face the realities of our lives with wisdom and grace rather than a stubborn refusal to accept and work with reality. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 2 Kings 1-3, Psalm 82, 1 Timothy 1)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Three Important Words...and a Sign

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Colossians 2:6-7 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Observation: The word “continue” is an important word in the passage above. So are the words “received” and “thanksgiving.”

Application: One of the most important things in life is to remember whose we are, who we are, and what that means for us. The verses above are helpful on all of those accounts. But first a little history.

I first became acquainted with the two verses above many years ago I was involved in a little Bible study that included memorizing Scripture. These verses were pretty much the basis for the entire Bible Study, though that’s about all I remember about it.

Today comes opportunity to review them again and I am struck by at least a few insights.

First, Christ Jesus the Lord is someone we receive more than seek. Christ first comes to us…as gift…as precious gift…not meant to be forgotten. Hence the word “continue.”

Second, continuing to live in Christ is daily work. I don’t mean ‘work’ in a bad way but, rather, in a good way. But it does require diligence because otherwise we are all-to-prone to forget the very gift we have received. Although this isn’t my personal style, I know some pastors who regularly wear a clergy collar not because they have some kind of a need to parade their calling but, rather, because they appreciate having a visible reminder to themselves of who they are called to be. Good for them. I say do whatever it takes to remember whose we are.

Third, the more we continue to live our lives in Christ the more we are able to overflow with thanksgiving. And, in fact, one of the tell-tale signs that we might not be living as fully in Christ as perhaps we should is when we cease being thankful.

That last sentence is perhaps my most insightful one in some time.

When we allow worry and fear and consternation to replace or trump our sense of thanksgiving, there’s a good chance that we are not living our lives as fully in Christ as we might. Same goes for when our speech and actions reflect more about what we think we deserve rather than thanksgiving for what we already have.

Personally I find that I alternate/waver between thanksgiving and various forms of worry. I do some of one and then some of the other. Only one is healthy, but both are part of my daily existence. One leads to a greater sense of life. The other leads in the direction of death. Why do I not ditch the latter and retain only the former? God only knows!

Clearly I need the daily practice of Spiritual nurture and the weekly practice of Spiritual worship for me to help me to continue to live my life in him. And I’m deeply grateful for those opportunities.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for all that you provide. Help me to be more thankful. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 17-19 and Colossians 2.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Inspiring Work

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Colossians 1:28-29 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.

Observation: Paul speaks as if he is preparing everyone for a graduation ceremony of sorts.

Application: I was watching a little online presentation this morning related to building businesses. Whenever I watch or read about such things, I’m always trying to find applicable insights that might appropriately be applied to the church. This particular speaker, who had long since outgrown a need for more money, was now focusing on making sure his businesses had real meaning. He no longer promotes or sells anything unless he is fully convinced that it will make people’s lives better, that it will lead them closer to where they want to be in life rather than further away. And he wants people to feel like he gives them so much value for their money that they walk away feeling like they actually owe him much more than they’ve ever paid.

With that in the back of my mind while reading today’s lessons, I’m struck by Paul’s keen interest in presenting people mature in Christ. He wants to make it abundantly clear that Christ is the one that they are to serve and that Christ is absolutely worth serving. Paul wants people to feel like they are given so much value through Christ, that they will always owe Christ more. Not in the sense of guilt, but in the sense of thanksgiving, of gratefulness, of the honor of being able to be of some form of service to the One who has rescued us from without and from within.

What’s more, verse 29 makes it clear that even the energy for the toil and—get this—struggle of this pursuit is inspired by Christ himself. Paul too believes that he has received far more value than he has ever paid for monetarily or, actually, with his life. He’s that inspired!

I think of teachers who present their students for graduation. I think of coaches who present their players competition. I think of drill sergeants who present their soldiers rank advancement. I think of 12-step program sponsors who present their sponsoree (sp?) for continued sobriety. And most importantly, I think of pastors and other mentors of faith who present those under their influence before Christ for entrance into the eternal kingdom. It’s pretty inspiring work when we take the time to think about it.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for our respective callings. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 15-16, Colossians 1)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

When Not Everybody Wishes You Well

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Observation: This passage is from chapter 4, but it follows chapter 3 where Paul says that many “live as enemies of the cross of Christ. I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.” Paul says “their god is the belly… and their minds are set on earthly things.” Yet Paul says that, for the people of God, our “citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Application: Yesterday I ran across the following quote from former CBS news anchor, Dan Rather:

“One of the most shocking lessons in life is that not everyone wishes you well.”

It is a bit of a shocking discovery. We bump into it (or it bumps into us) in various avenues of life. The reasons for such animosity vary and, at times, are simply baffling. But no matter what reasons are or are not given, the reality remains…not everyone wishes us well. If even Jesus had to face such facts, who are we to think that we deserve to fare any better?

How we respond to such situations will in some ways reflect our ultimate heavenly citizenship. For Paul, four responses are appropriate. First, sadness. He indicates in chapter 3, as listed above, that he has “tears” about such things and, truly, it is sad when people become consumed by ill-will toward another. Years ago I ran into couple like this and, not too long ago I read a newspaper account about them that indicated that they were still wishing ill-will toward others. That really is sad. Second, rejoicing. In today’s passage we are to rejoice always. We need not let anything, even others' ill-will toward us, bring us down. Third, gentleness. By gentleness I do not mean weakness but, rather, exercising whatever power we have or is necessary in a firm but gentle way. In faith and by the Grace of God we can hold steady. Finally, prayers and supplications to God, the source from whom all of our help ultimately comes.

It’s na├»ve to think that everyone wishes us well. If everyone did wish us well, Jesus would have had no reason to instruct us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. By the same token, Paul would have had no need to instruct us to rejoice always because we would naturally be rejoicing. But since things in life are not always as lovely as we might like, God was gracious enough to give us the means cope with such things.

Prayer: Lord, it seems to be a good morning to pray for those who persecute and for those who feel persecuted, both locally and around the world. And may “the peace of God, which surpasses human understanding, guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 13-14, Philippians 4)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Process of Faith

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Philippians 3:10-11 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Observation: Strange verses in a way, since one would assume that Paul already knows Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings.

Application: Often times people in some evangelical circles will ask people if they know Christ or if they know Jesus. The question is usually asked with the expectation of a relatively simple yes or no answer. If the answer is yes, they might ask for a few more details and, if satisfied, offer their congratulations and best wishes. If the answer is no, they will likely offer a relatively simple plan (usually 4 points) of how they might know Christ. Simple, right?

Not so fast. According to Paul, knowing Christ is a process more than an accomplishment.

Do you know your spouse? Your child? Even yourself? The answer is yes and know. We know something about the people we are close to…probably considerably more than we know about other people. But there is also much that we do not know. Much that we discover with each passing day. There are surprises here and there (some welcome, some maybe not so much). The process of knowing is indeed a process.

Paul was in eagerly in the process of knowing Christ, even as he was already known by Christ. Same goes for getting to know the power of Christ’s resurrection and—swallow hard if you must—the sharing of his sufferings.

It’s a worthy process, perhaps the most worthy process of all. But process it is, even as God’s claim on our life through our baptism into Christ is already completed.

Prayer: Lord, life itself is a process with joys and challenges just about every day. Help us all in this process of knowing you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: 1 Kings 13-14, 2 Chronicles 12, Philippians 3)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Worthy Pursuits

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: Philippians 2:16 It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Observation: Paul had a narrow but huge metric for measuring his ‘success’—whether people held fast to the word of life.

Application: On Sunday I referenced a journal entry from the other day when I mentioned that, according to Ecclesiastes, all is vanity. I recounted how, for Ecclesiastes, joy is found not so much in accomplishment, but in the process of building or participating in the journey.

But there is one accomplishment that, at least for Paul, is worthy of pursuit—persuading/encouraging/teaching people to hold “fast to the word of life.”

In this world of many an empty or over-rated promise, finding ways to help people hold fast to the word of life is indeed a worthy pursuit. In fact, for those of us who are ordained ministers, it is the essence of our calling.

Prayer: Lord, there are many pursuits in life, but a relatively small number of them are worthy of such pursuit. Help us to be wise in where we place our energies. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: 2 Kings 12, 2 Chronicles 10-11, Philippians 2)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Faithful Witnesses

Scripture Passage that Caught my attention today: Philippians 1:12-14 I want you to know, beloved that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.

Observation: Paul has a way of seeing the hand of God through all of his experiences, especially the difficult ones.

Application: As I read through the first chapter of Philippians this morning I was struck by any number of inspiring words that seemed especially apropos. But I settled on the verses above because they remind me of the faithful witness of some of the people who have inspired me. And this inspiration did not arise out of some kind of heroics on these people’s part. Rather, it was their simple unassuming and gracious manner that won me over. Their ability to shun tit-for-tat exchanges, to move forward with an emphasis on faith and humility rather than with self-assurance and bravado. In so doing they demonstrated that whatever power there is to be found is rooted in Christ and not themselves. That makes for a faithful witness.

With such insights the Apostle Paul looked upon his imprisonment as opportunity for the gospel to be spread. Later in the chapter we learn that he even saw those who were seemingly insincere in their proclamation to be of some value in announcing the coming kingdom. So come what may, Paul trusted that God’s work would be done and he was willing to let some of that work be done through him and/or through his circumstances, however painful they may have been.

That’s pretty much what we hope is true for all of us who claim to be grasped by the love of Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, your ways are not our ways and yet our ways are occasions for your ways to be made known. May it be so more and more with each passing day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Song of Songs 5-8 and Philippians 1)

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Life Worthy of the Calling

Scripture Passages that caught my attention today: Ephesians 4:1-3 AND verses 11-13 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

Observation: The broad stroke of our calling/purpose has been painted.

Application: Great people remind us of our greatness. They inspire us to rise up to the challenges before us, to see ourselves as essential participants in the grander scheme of life. What’s more, they inspire us to do so not with the goal of being able to achieve status, but rather to be of genuine service—whether to humanity or, ultimately, to God.

In Ephesians we are reminded that our calling, whatever it is, is a noble one, one to which the writer begs us to live up. It requires a spirit of appreciation for the calling itself and a certain diligence to sort of grow into it in ways that are reflective of the spirit of God (humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with others, endeavoring to maintain unity and peace). We are also to see the calling’s ultimate purpose—equipping the saints for the work of ministry.

It’s not an exact science. Many of Paul’s letters bear witness to the fact that the very Christian communities that he started or helped to start were not functioning as he had hoped. Some years ago the Willow Creek Association created a sophisticated survey instrument to, among other things, ascertain the spiritual maturity of its members. They didn’t fare very well.

I have good news for them, from what I can tell, Paul’s congregants and fellow church leaders wouldn’t have fared much better. Otherwise why would he need to “beg” for them to “lead a life worthy to the calling to which [they] had been called?” Still, he enthusiastically labored on.

These days I’m trying to figure out how I might best lead a life worthy of my calling. I’m picking up some ideas, yet many of them are fraught with various theological pickles. Still, Paul (or whoever wrote the letter to the Ephesians) inspires me to continue to try, reminding me yet again that the calling itself is a noble gift and that the saints are eagerly depending on this gift to be exercised in order that they might be equipped for the work of ministry.

Prayer: Lord, thanks for all who share this calling. It’s nice to be involved in important work, but it’s also nice to know that we do not do it alone. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Ecclesiastes 7-9 and Ephesians 4)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Leaving a Lasting Impression

Scripture verses that caught my attention today: Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Observation: The power at work within us is great.

Application: I’ve reflected and written often that two of the great temptations in life are the following opposite extremes—to think to highly of oneself or to think too lowly of oneself. Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot.

A striking aspect of verse 20 above is that even our highest thinking is unable to comprehend what God can do through us. And yet what God does can do through us and how God works through us is often a complete surprise, sometimes without us even knowing it.

I was reminded of this fact the other day when listening to a speaker on a CD. He mentioned that sometimes it is a 10-minute conversation or even a single phrase scribbled on a napkin that can bring about a change in a person’s life. Something as simple as that can be the turning point, often before we even realize it. Such is the ways of the power of God.

For me one of those simple conversations was between my high school vo-ag teacher and my parents in my presence around our messy kitchen table in an even messier farm house. I doubt that the conversation lasted more than 15 minutes and one key sentence from him to them in my hearing has stood out over time; “I think Kent should go to college.”

That was it. That one sentence, and my parent’s affirmation of it, forever changed the course of my life and has led to “abundantly far more than all [I could] ask or imagine.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not for one minute praising the relatively elite experience of college as the only (or even always preferred) way to a life of accomplishment. But I am saying that, in my particular case, that particular move was extremely foundational for almost everything opportunity that has followed.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the people of influence in my life and in the lives of others. Allow all of us to in one way or another leave such lasting positive impressions…in Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Ecclesiastes 4-6, Psalm 18, and Ephesians 3)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Pleasures of Work, Work, Work...

Scripture Passages that caught my attention today: Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; 25 for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? AND Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

Observation: Who we are and the toils before us are both gifts from God. But that doesn’t always make them easy to understand.

Application: I was struck by a couple of themes in today’s readings.

The first, from Ecclesiastes, stresses that, even though much of life is vanity, there is nothing better than finding enjoyment in toil itself (though not necessarily in the results of said toil).

This, of course, is contrary to most mindsets. Most of us find enjoyment in accomplishments, in projects completed. Very few of us find enjoyment in starting over, especially on something that originally required considerable time and effort. But for the author of Ecclesiastes, it is the process in which joy is found, not the accomplishment. What is accomplished will eventually be left for someone else who may or may not appreciate the accomplishment or care for it. And even if they do care for it, what about the person that comes after them? There are no guarantees. Chasing after accomplishments is mere vanity. But no one can take away the joy of the process of the toil itself. No-one except ourselves, of course. We are the only ones who can refuse to find joy in our work.

Moving on, but in a similar vein, to today’s lesson from Ephesians, the writer surmises that we were created for work/toil; it’s how we are wired.

For the most part I find this to be incredibly good news. Last night the family and I caught the last part of a television program called “America’s Got Talent.” One of the contestants was a young man who purportedly had never sung in public or even in front of his family before. He also dressed in a way that would not be considered traditional. He claimed to not be good at anything but, as it turned out, his voice was quite impressive. The standing ovation of the crowd stood as testimony that he was a valuable person in his own right and that he should find joy in working to share the gift that he has been given. “We are” after all, “what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

But this still raises a few questions. While the idea of being what God has made us can be reassuring for many, what about for those of us who, well, aren’t exactly desirable in terms of our personality/disposition? To put it bluntly, what if we are primarily known as nothing more than a pain in the rear? Is this what God has made us? And if so, how do we find enjoyment in our toil when no one else seems to appreciate our work?

I think we all know people who might fit into such categories. Or perhaps we feel like such a person ourselves.

It seems to me that there are a couple options in such circumstances. The first would simply be to seek out a community where we are appreciated. Perhaps where we are currently at is simply not a good fit. It happens on teams, in companies, in churches and other organizations, etc. Sometimes it’s healthier for all to simply seek out a better fit.

But sometimes it’s not feasible to seek a different fit. For any number of reasons we might be stuck in a less-than-ideal situation. In such cases the second option comes to mind—deliberately seek to appreciate how God has made the other people in our midst. Seek to find enjoyment in THEIR toil. Seek to be amazed at their diligence, at their completely opposite way of seeing things, at their own way of being who God has made them to be. Don’t focus on their accomplishments or the lack-thereof, but in the ways in which they find enjoyment in their toil. Perhaps then we can begin to find more enjoyment in our own toil. Perhaps they will begin to do so as well.

Prayer:
Lord, let the work that you have provided (whether for pay or simply by availability), be a source of personal joy—especially when devoted to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Ecclesiastes 1-3, Psalm 45, Ephesians 2)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Goals without God are Godless Goals

Scripture Verses that caught my attention today: Ephesians 1:17-19 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

Observation: This is what is missing in much goal-setting today.

Application: Most people in leadership, myself included, find it helpful to periodically set up some goals for themselves and/or for the organization/company/business through which they serve. It’s almost standard procedure. Some are more organized than others in this regard, but nearly all would agree that setting goals of some kind is an important practice. And for me, Summer is a good time to do this important work.

The rub comes in when figuring out how to set such goals, especially in the church and/or for people of faith. The reason why it is so difficult to authentically determine such goals is because we are ultimately called not to lead but to follow! I believe it was Len Sweet who once tweeted something to the affect that Christ doesn’t need more leaders but, rather, more followers.

This is where the prayer for ‘wisdom and revelation’ mentioned in the passage above is especially needed. As we go about the important work of setting goals, it’s important—make that crucial—to listen for God’s voice/nudge/calling in the process.

This is not to presume that we always (or even ever!) know for certain the Lord’s will in such situations. Indeed, much harm has been done in society by well-intentioned people who made such presumptions. Yet humbly listening to for Gods direction with openness is a clearly a sign of the wisdom and revelation for which the writer of Ephesians most surely prayed.

Prayer: Lord, our ‘plans,’ however grandiose, are mere foolishness without your input. Help us to listen for the direction of your call. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Proverbs 30-31, Psalm 33, and Ephesians 1)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Abominal Prayers?

Scripture Verse that Caught my attention today: Proverbs 28:9 When one will not listen to the law,
even one’s prayers are an abomination.

Observation: Very interesting verse.

Application: One of the Bedrock Beliefs at the church through which I serve is this: “God Hears Our Prayers.” Prayer is a big part of our life. We have a prayer chain, we pray before meetings, before meals, at worship, individually in our devotional time, etc.

We were careful not to say, “God Answers our Prayers,” mostly because we don’t want presume to know when a prayer has truly been answered or not. It is enough for us to simply believe that God hears our earnest pleas.

The above verse provides an interesting twist to our belief. The verse suggests that some of the prayers that God hears are not to God’s liking. Actually, it would appear that whatever merit the prayer might have in its own right, if its context is rancid, God doesn’t even want to hear it.

Basically it would appear that God isn’t particularly interested in hearing our pleas if we are deaf to the needs of others.

Now, to be fair, this is but one proverb. There are many other proverbs and psalms and there are the various stories and sayings on prayer throughout the Bible that at times present a somewhat different story. Still, if we are persistently unwilling to demonstrate the kind of love that the law offers, some of our prayers might be abominable at best.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be less focused on ourselves and therefore more able to offer the kinds of prayers that you truly want to hear. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Readings today included: Proverbs 28-29, Psalm 60, Romans 16)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Continual Learning

Scripture verse that caught my attention today: Proverbs 23:12 Apply your mind to instruction
and your ear to words of knowledge.

Observation: Life is continual learning.

Application: A good question to ask oneself when deciding what to do is: “Where or what is the profit in this?” By “profit” I don’t necessarily mean financial reward, though that could be the case at times. But whether one is talking finances or skill-building or preparation for the future or relationship-building or whatever, profit and waste are opposite extremes. So when determining how best to spend one’s time—arguably our most precious resource aside from the promises of God through Christ himself who is the only one who can actually give us MORE time!—it’s a good idea to ask the question, “Where is the profit in this?”

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that we should not have rest or relaxation. Indeed, in some cases we probably need more of such things. But I am suggesting that our time is a resource of much value and that to intentionally use a good portion of it for learning and applying what is learned can be profitable in many ways.

Honestly, Jesus was a perfect example of someone who lived such a life. He was always learning. Jesus learned from observation (i.e. the story of the widow and the two mites), from listening in prayer (“not my will but yours be done”), from interacting with others (“Isaiah prophesied rightly about you…”) and all the rest.

Prayer: Lord, help us all to use our precious time in ways that demonstrate our thanksgiving for your precious gift. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(readings today included: Proverbs 22-24, Romans 14)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Salvation

Scripture Verse that caught my attention today: Romans 13:11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;

Observation: “salvation is nearer to us now…?”

Application: This statement by Paul is interesting. And I think it’s true. Salvation is to be saved. And there are many things from which we need to be saved. We can be saved from self-interest, saved from doubt, saved from insecurity, saved from excess pride, saved from co-dependency, saved from addictions great and small, saved from relationship struggles, saved from less-than-meaningful employment, saved from financial ruin, saved from foolishness, saved from arrogance, saved from violence and/or abuse, etc., etc., etc…not to mention saved from the powers of evil and life without God. All this and more is salvation.

Paul says that this salvation is nearer now than when we first became believers. It’s true. In Christ we have what I might call, partial salvation. It’s like a large download that is in process and we just don’t quite know how many minutes are remaining. Yet in some ways the salvation is already complete. We are in Christ. At the same time the salvation is not yet complete. There is more work to be done in and through us, as the list in the above paragraph makes perfectly clear. So complete salvation is not here yet. But it is getting closer with each and every passing day.

Prayer: Lord, your work in and through us continues. Help us to be open to what you are doing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(Scripture Readings today included: Proverbs 19-21 and Romans 13)