Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Now, let's see you get out of this one . . .

As we continue our trek through the Bible, as always, the daily lectionary passage can be found here: http://gamc.pcusa.org/devotion/daily/2010/8/31/
A lot of interesting stuff in today's readings.  I don't know if you caught it but in the Psalms there were a lot of references to pits and to lions, essentially to being trapped in pretty tough or precarious positions.  
All of which, I think, nicely leads us to the passage from Acts 12.  
As we pick up the story King Herod - who clearly just isn't a good guy - has already killed James, the brother of John, just for being a Christian.  And once he realizes that  the blood on his hands ingratiates the Jewish leaders towards him (they didn't not like him generally, and tended to cause trouble for him because he didn't observe Jewish religious custom or law . . . among other things killing his brother so he could marry his wife . . . remember??)  Anyway, he decides to arrest Peter next.  
Peter is, apparently, a pretty big security threat as he is locked away in a cell with guards on either side of him, guards outside the cell and guards stationed outside the prison as well.  So, Peter and the other Christians do what they have been told to do, the respond how they have been taught to respond.  They pray.  
And, if you have read the whole passage you know that their prayers are heard and answered.  An angel of God comes to Peter and in a way that can only be described as supernatural, guides him to freedom.  Wow.  Pretty neat trick, God.  
So, this story could be and is a great example of 'the power of prayer' and proof that 'prayer works'.  Definitely true, but that is not the focus I want us to have for this passage today.  
What I want us to remember is the other things that this story 'proves'.  
First, it proves - or at the very least illustrates - that there is nowhere we can go, no situation that we find ourselves in (whether there because of our own actions or because of things outside of our control) that God can not reach us.  There is no pit too deep for God to reach into.  There is no situation - even if it involves hungry lions (hey, remember Daniel?) that God can not come into the middle of.  God and God's love, grace, providence and protection can reach us anywhere we are, even in the most desperate times and situations.  Its a fact.  Mark it down and count on it.
And that leads me to my second point.   I once heard it said (I think by Mark Batterson - who interestingly enough wrote a book called 'In a pit with a lion on a snowy day') that worry is disobedience to God and a lack of faith and trust.  And I think he couldn't be more right.  I also think this is one of the most fundamental forms of disobedience we fall into.  When we worry - about anything - we are essentially saying to God that we don't trust him.  
This doesn't mean that we are supposed to go through life without thinking or planning and without being prudent - Peter didn't stick around to find out what Herod and the Jewish leaders were going to do when they found out he had escaped.  
But it does mean that, in light of the fact that God can reach us in any and all situations, circumstances and times that we should be working to respond to God by trusting and relying on him.  
Peter, in the midst of his desperate situation did not waste one minute worrying about what was going to happen, but instead demonstrated his trust in God by praying and then going to sleep (which I think is the surest sign that he truly wasn't worried, I mean seriously could you have slept in that situation?  with a soldier on either side?  knowing what was to come the next morning?)  
When we worry we take things out of God's hands and try to make do with our own.  What a critical mistake that is.  Sometimes it takes a situation truly and clearly beyond our control to make us realize that we can't handle things on our own and that God really can.  Many of us have had those experiences.  
I believe it is critical for us to begin living all of our lives - not just the big moments when we 'have' to depend on God - in a way that demonstrates our belief that God can reach us in any situation and our faith and trust that in all places and times God is with us.  
What would the church of Jesus Christ be able to accomplish in His name if we didn't spend a minute worrying?  
Why don't we find out?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Truth, Freedom and other birthrights . . .

For some reason, I am not feeling like I have a lot to say today.  But I do want to talk a little bit about the gospel passage from John 8, or at least the last two verses of it:
31Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
The ending of the chapter, in verse 32, is pretty well known.  It is usually said a little differently, something to the effect of, 'you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.'  Semantic differences, and not a big deal.  
What is a big deal, I think, is that we usually take that verse (32) all by itself, without the context of the rest of the chapter, the passage or even just the verse before it.  I think when we do that (and I think we end up doing this type of thing a lot, but that is maybe for another day) it can lead to a limited or even worse completely misinformed understanding of what is really being said.  
In this case I think it looks something like this: we hear that we 'will know the truth . . . and be set free'.  And we begin to think that this is a foregone conclusion, a certainty or some sort of right.  We think that simply by saying that we 'believe in God' or by darkening the door of the church on a Sunday morning that we are entitled to and will, without a doubt, receive both 'freedom and truth'  
But, ironically enough, the 'truth' is not that simple.  And this is where the context becomes so important.  Even if all we do is read the verse immediately prior we can see that there is more to it than simply getting what we 'deserve' or are entitled to.  
For in verse 31 it reads, 'if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples'  and it is to his 'true' disciples that Jesus is promising truth and freedom.  So for us to receive the freedom and truth that we are so interested in we must continue in the Word of Jesus Christ.  
The word continue is interesting because it runs counter to so much of what we look for or expect.  This isn't about a one-time thing that we will then reap the benefits of.  
To receive freedom and truth we must be in relationship with Jesus Christ.  To receive freedom and truth we must be actively engaged in the Word of God written (the Holy Scriptures).  To receive freedom and truth we must be seeking to continue in and abide by the Word of God, which is Jesus Christ.  
This isn't about a one-time transaction, but instead the receiving of freedom and truth is about what happens when we are actively engaged with and involved in a real relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.  

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Assigned seating and other bad ideas . . .

So today I preached on the lectionary passage from Luke 14 & the one from Hebrews 13.  I used and really like The Message version which you can find here: http://bit.ly/9lFCGa & here: http://bit.ly/ajD7vV
I never like the written version of my messages as much as the spoken one, usually because I end up adding little pieces (words and wording) here and there.  Oh well.
Here is is:

Most of us have been to weddings and wedding receptions.  One of the most interesting aspects of the wedding reception is always the seating arrangement.  I am not sure if this is the case for you or not, but . . . . As I walk into a wedding reception that has assigned seating, there is this little twinge of anticipation and anxiousness about where I am going to be seated. 
I pick up my name card and hope I’m not off in the corner or at the far end of the room – away from the head table.  The head table, of course is the table where all the most important people (usually the bride & groom & the wedding party) are seated – and the tables immediately next to the head table are usually filled with the other ‘important’ guests.
This image – of the wedding reception with assigned seating – maybe the closest we can come to picturing or understanding how dinners, banquets and parties functioned in Jesus’ society.  So as you listen to Jesus words of advice from the Luke passage this morning picture a wedding reception or some other function with assigned seating.
The first part of Jesus advice in Luke challenges the accepted and practiced social order (choosing the lowly seat at a banquet ran counter to what was done – a large part of what was happening at a meal like that was a reaffirmation of the social order and everyone’s participation and acceptance of that) 
You see, assigned seating at events like this in Jesus’ day were not like a wedding reception – the seats didn’t show who is most important to the bride or who the groom’s favorite relatives are, but rather the seating was about actual perceived importance and worth from a societal perspective. 
Your seat at a dinner like the one from our reading indicated just how much or how little you mattered.  You seat demonstrated your importance or lack thereof. 
The Second part of Jesus advice – the part about who to invite when you are hosting the banquet – takes it several steps further.  Here Jesus is overturning the social order and sitting it on its head.  He is saying to us, it is not enough to not be self-involved and to not be prideful ourselves, to no seek after affirmation and ‘honor’, but we also have the responsibility to actively work to lift others up – especially those that are not in a position to do anything for us. 
I once heard it said – in the context of Jesus’ concern for the hungry & our duty to share with others that: "Bread was important; in fact, where some eat and some do not eat, the kingdom is not present
Jesus has ushered in a new kingdom – a heavenly kingdom with a different set of norms, practices and values.  As children of God that kingdom is part of our inheritance.  Increasing that kingdom – sharing it with others and spreading it wherever we are and wherever we can, is our responsibility as the family of God. 
In sharing the two pieces of ‘etiquette’ advice one right after the other.  Jesus is telling us that we do indeed need to change our thinking – but changing our thinking isn’t enough. 
Jesus calls us to allow our transformed minds to transform our actions and our lives.  And in so doing transform the lives and the world around us.
As we all know, all of this talk of change and the upheaval of the social order does not sit well with everyone.  In fact, it is the insistence on this kind of change that eventually leads to his death.
What Jesus does in calling for this change in thinking and in behavior is incredibly profound: He dares not only to stand outside the social order of his day; he dares not only to call that social order – and all social orders – into question; but he also says these things are not of God.
Jesus proclaims here and throughout the gospel that in the kingdom of God there are no pecking orders. None.  He simply extends the kingdom to us and we either accept the offer to come into the royal family of God or not.
And while that sounds at first blush like it ought to be good news, it throws us into radical dependence on God's grace and God's grace alone. We can't stand, that is, on our accomplishments, or our wealth, or positive attributes, or good looks, or strengths, or IQ, or our movement up or down the reigning social (pecking) order.
There is, suddenly, nothing we can do to establish ourselves before God and the world except rely upon God's desire to be in relationship with us and with all people.
Which means that we have no claim on God; rather, we have been claimed by God and invited to love others as we've been loved.
Just last week I had an interesting experience as I travelled back from my continuing education retreat in Colorado.        I was sitting alone in the van, waiting for the shuttle to begin its journey to the Denver airport so I could head back home.  As we were getting ready to leave a man in his late 50’s or early 60’s hopped into the seat in front of me and quickly and pleasantly introduced himself.  It wasn’t more than a minute later that he started up a conversation with me.
I quickly found that his family was half-jewish, half-catholic; that he had three grown children (2 boys and girl) and that he was a venture capitalist who was doing quite well for himself.  What followed, for the entirety of the shuttle ride (an hour and ½) was a in-depth and interesting conversation about faith, doubt, organized religion and the state of the world in general.
One of the most interesting aspects of our conversation was just how much he bristled (more than that really) every time I mentioned Jesus and implied that we (or more specifically he) might in any way NEED Jesus or anyone or anything else. 
But how at the same time He kept asserting the need for religion for its social value.  Especially for ‘those people’ that need it to get by or that ‘need it’ to be taught the proper way to act & live.
You see, He was quite happy where he was in his life and quite confident that he got there on his own – and didn’t want to entertain any other thoughts – but he also thought that seemingly everyone else around him needed some religion to ‘keep them in line’
Now, it was initially very easy for me to criticize this man and see his shortsightedness and even to view him as a hypocrite.
But then I thought, ‘how different am I?’  ‘How different are we?’
We know about God and assent to a certain amount of his power or authority, but we still want our relationship with God on our own terms and we still want to judge ourselves (and others) by what we have done.
Especially if we are sitting here – in a church on a Sunday morning – we like the idea of some sort of social order, some reward or recognition for what we are doing with our time and our lives!  It is, after all, only fair.  Right?
But In his ‘etiquette lesson’ in Luke (reinforced by the writer of Hebrews) he is throwing all of that out the window.  Telling us that in the kingdom of God there is no social hierarchy – an ranking order of importance that we much be slotted into and abide by - and that it isn’t about where you sit but who you serve and in whose name you serve!  

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Just a quick thought . . .

As we continue to 'walk through the Bible', a quick reminder that you can find today's daily lectionary passages here:http://gamc.pcusa.org/devotion/daily/2010/8/26/
So, I wasn't planning on posting anything today - as my plan and commitment is to posting each weekday, but as I was reading the lectionary passages for today something stuck in my brain.  It has now been there all day.  I'm still up, so I thought I would share it with you.
Surprise, Surprise, it comes from the Psalms.
So, in verses 5 & 6 of Psalm 63 it says this:  
My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
        and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
  when I think of you on my bed,
        and meditate on you in the watches of the night
I think one of the things that many of us struggle with - and one of the reasons that disciplines like prayer and daily devotions are so difficult is because we often feel this distance from God, even in the midst of prayer or devotions.  So we end up walking through our days, not spending any (or very little) time in conversation with God or thinking about God or God's word, and then we wonder why God seems distant and we wonder why we aren't moved by God.  
The psalmist writes 'my soul is satisfied . . . as with a rich feast . . . my mouth praises you with joyful lips . . . blah, blah, blah.  It is this kind of stuff that turns me off from the psalms, because I can't relate to it.  My soul doesn't often feel satisfied.  My lips aren't always filled with joy when I am saying praise to God.  
But I think I am missing the point.  The psalmist continues that those things (the satisfaction of the soul & the joy) WHEN 'I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night'.
Connection to God, joy and satisfaction that are found in God are not random haphazard occurrences, but rather the direct result of time spent in relationship with God:  thinking about God and God's word, in conversation with God through prayer and dwelling on the word of God and the Spirit of God present and active in your life. 
These are the ways that we let God into our lives . . .Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit of God are quite literally standing at the door of our lives . . . are we going to let them in.  


Friday, August 27, 2010

The space between believing and doing

As we continue to 'walk through the Bible', a quick reminder that you can find today's daily lectionary passages here: http://gamc.pcusa.org/devotion/daily/2010/8/26/
There were several things that struck me about the passages for today, I will try to briefly highlight them in some sort of coherent fashion.
First, to be honest, I usually struggle through the Psalms.  I mean I get that they are beautiful poetry, written to and about God, but I just don't usually get anything out of them.  In fact, I often find myself unintentionally skipping through them or skimming them so that I can get to the 'real' meat of the day's passages.  
For some reason, though, the past couple days I have been struck by the Psalms.  I haven't been moved by the language or caught by a phrase, but just by the simple fact that they exist and how, in a very real way they are evidence of a kind of relationship and intimacy with God that I can only imagine.  
I mean, seriously, have you ever written a poem to someone or about someone?  I think I may have tried a few times in the foolishness of my youth (okay, I know I did, but I don't want to talk about it!) That kind of expression only comes from a depth of feeling and an intimacy that is incredibly rare, not just in relation to God, but in any relationship.  I truly think my attempts as a youth were so awful and inconsequential because they didn't come from depth of feeling and intimacy, but from a desire to have those things.  
And as I have read the Psalms the past few days, it has become so apparent to me the relationship that these verses imply.  The psalmist, speaks frankly and directly to and about God.  Sometimes praising in beautiful intimate language, which is engaging - but even more gripping is when the psalmist complains or confronts God, often directly asking for God's specific intervention in one element of the writer's life or another.  
Do you talk to God like that?  I don't, and it is hard for me to even imagine anyone talking to God like that.  But isn't that what happens when we are in a close relationship with someone?  The barriers and guards that we put up are slowly stripped away and we begin to truly be ourselves around that person.  We show who we really are and we share how we really feel: even when that makes us vulnerable - by sharing deep love, care and affection or when we are concerned or upset or mad.  That honesty is one of the truest signs of a deep, personal, intimate relationship with God.  And I think that is, for me at least, the real value of the Psalms.  They can serve for us as a witness and a reminder of the type of relationship and conversation that is available to us with God.  They are a goal to be aiming for.
Wow. That was a lot more than I meant to say, but I think it is important stuff. But anyway, a few more quick thoughts.
What struck me in the Acts 10 passage is that, here you have Peter, beginning his address to those gathered (mostly gentile friends of Cornelius) with the words, 'I truly understand that God shows no partiality'  and then a few verses later we read that all of those with Peter (mostly jewish converts to Christianity) were amazed when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the gentiles (who were not circumcised).  
The seemingly obvious contrast made me think about how often we stop at simply 'knowing' or 'believing' something.  Obviously, that is where things have to start, we have to believe in Jesus Christ and know him before we begin to live according to the plan and call of God on our lives, and so on.  But, for me at least, I think when the Holy Spirit gives me a new insight or I hear someone explain a part of scripture in a new way or whatever, I am all too often content to just know it or believe it.
But I think that isn't enough.  Once we know and believe in Jesus Christ we have to live like we know and believe in Jesus Christ.  As we know and learn more about God's call on our lives and grow in our faith and belief, we must continually be incorporating these new understandings into our daily lives and into the way we act and interact with others.  Otherwise, do we really know or believe them?  
Finally, a quick word about the Gospel passage from John 7.  In this passage today, for at least the 3rd time in the last week of readings we read something to the effect of, 'and they wanted to hurt/arrest/stone/kill Jesus, but nobody laid a hand on him'.  This is a much (much) longer discussion, but the only reason given for this seeming inability to touch or harm Jesus is that 'his time had not yet come'.  Again, a much larger and longer discussion, but what occurred to me is that if there was a certain time for Jesus' suffering - suffering that was his ultimate goal and purpose on earth.  Then maybe, just maybe when we go through difficult times or trials and tribulations, they are happening just at the time they were supposed to happen.  
And that in all of this there must be some reason.  So, easier said than done of course, but maybe the next time we are enduring a difficult time or season in our lives we might begin with the question, why is now the time for me to be in the midst of this?  How, now, in this circumstance am I to be glorifying God?  What from this particular time and place can I share with others to point them to Jesus Christ?  
Thats all for now.  
I may post tomorrow or Sunday, but I will definitely be back on Monday.  
See you then.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Where did you learn to talk like that?

As we continue to 'walk through the Bible', a quick reminder that you can find today's daily lectionary passages here: http://gamc.pcusa.org/devotion/daily/2010/8/26/
So as I was reading today's passage from John 7, I was struck by something.  In the passage the people hearing Jesus ask this question:
 How does this man have such learning, when he has never been taught?"
Jesus response is a direct one and one that I think is critical for us as we seek to follow Christ and live into the call of God on our lives.  Jesus responds: 
 "My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. 17Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own.18Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.
What I think we have to hear in this is that Jesus - even Jesus, you know 'Son of God' and all - didn't claim what he was saying and doing as his own.  
Jesus endeavored to fulfill the will of God and to teach only what God had given him to say and teach.  
As you can read, he goes on to say, essentially that if you are truly seeking to only do the will of God you will know if it is God's teaching or your own.  Jesus said it, so I'm with it, but I do think that it isn't quite as simple as that.  What I mean is that I don't think we can just all of a sudden stop, say a quick prayer - 'God I want to do your will' - and then know for sure that what we are teaching or saying or believing is from God.
But rather I think we begin to get the sense of if things are from God or simply our own thoughts and desires seeping through when we get in the habit of consistently asking for God's will and 'resolving' to only do what God has called us to.  
When we are consistently seeking to do God's will and only God's will, then I think in our hearts we can 'easily' know God's will and thoughts from our own.
I really think this is an important issue, and not just because we are to be seeking God's glory and not our own.  Okay, that is true and pretty clear.  
But I think the issue is more fundamental than that.  When we are not consistently asking God for His wisdom and when we are not resolute in our pursuit of God's will - even/especially when it is in contrast to our own I think it becomes all too easy for us to see things as we want them and not necessarily as they are.
We can deceive ourselves into thinking our predispositions are in line with God's will.  Sometimes they are (and isn't that great, when it happens!), but we are fallen creatures living in a fallen world and too often it isn't the case.  
Too often what we want or what we want to think or believe is not in line with God's will, God's mind or God's plan.  It is incredibly dangerous to blindly believe without asking God to purify our hearts, minds and vision.  It is even more dangerous for those of us that would be teachers and leaders to pass off our thoughts and our ideas as the Word or mind of God.
- Sadly, I think that happens a lot today.  In truth I think we see examples of it all through history: Jonah, Paul, David, the Gnostics,  and even religious fanatics (think the KKK, Islamic fundamentalists, or even someone like Rasputin) throughout history.  All allowed what they thought, wanted or hoped for (at one point or another) to substitute for the will, Word and mind of God.  Some, like Paul and David allowed God to sort them out eventually.  Others caused incredible suffering and hurt in the world.
It seems the only defense against this is a resolute turning to God.  Consistently seeking to know and then do the will of God in our lives and in the world.  So, let us all pray, read and listen for God to speak.  
See you tomorrow.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Who wins an argument with God?

As we continue to discuss the daily lectionary, a friendly reminder that it can be found here: http://gamc.pcusa.org/devotion/daily/2010/8/25/
Just a few quick thoughts today, as I am off to the hospital for some visits and have lots of other fun things to do . . . So, I found an interesting connection between a couple of the readings for today.
First, in Job (ch.7), we have him saying this: 17What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, 18visit them every morning, test them every moment?
Job asks a legitimate question, essentially 'who do we think we are in comparison to God?'  
I think a lot of our problems in life have, at least as a contributing factor, a confusion about where we are on the organizational chart of God's family.  We all too often think we are the ones making decisions and God is there to help when we need him.  I think we all would be well served by regularly asking ourselves the question Job poses - 'What are we that God cares for us?
I think it is with this perspective that we need to look at the passage from Acts 10.  Here Peter is given a vision of all sorts of animals coming down from heaven on a sheet.  An accompanying voice tells him that he is to kill and eat.  He balks at the idea because, according to Jewish law, the animals were unclean.  The voice (God) says, 'What God has made clean, you must not call profane'  
This is a critical turning point in Acts, as from this point on Peter sides with Paul in the assertion that believers in Jesus didn't have to submit to Jewish ritual and law to be faithful Christians.  
Of course, I am leaving out a piece of the story, the fact is Peter wasn't given the vision once - he received the vision 3 times.  It isn't said explicitly, but the implication is that the repetition was so that Peter would get it.  
And the question comes . . . 'who do we think we are to argue with God?'  
There are many implications to this question and to living life with a proper understanding of our relationship to God, but the overarching one is this:  
God has said that he loves and cares for all of humanity.  That there is even a special place in his heart for the 'least of these' (the widow, the orphan, the poor, the persecuted).  God has made it clear that his desire is to be reconciled to the entire world.  
In light of this, who are we to say any different.  In light of this who are we to attempt to withhold God's love  and grace from anyone?  Who do we think that we are?
See you tomorrow.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I guess its not all sunshine and roses, huh?

Here we are at day two of our little walk through the Bible and does anyone else think maybe we picked a bad week to start?  I mean, seriously, Job is asking for God to answer his prayer and 'crush him' the Psalms weren't exactly cheery and the Gospel reading begins with the disciples complaining about a 'hard teaching' that no one can understand.
If you don't know what I am talking about or just need a good place to read, listen to or download the lectionary, as always, check here: http://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/devotions/
I don't want to forget to mention the highlight of the readings today - that's right, we have a Dorcas sighting.  Hands down best name in the Bible, right?  Apparently she went by Tabitha - as Dorcas is the Greek translation of the name, but still . . . Dorcas is pretty awesome.  And to top all of that off, she dies . . . and Peter, through the power of the Holy Spirit brings her back to life.  Good times, people.  Good times.
But interestingly enough, it isn't the resurrection of Tabitha that struck me in todays readings.  Rather it was the opening line of the passage from John: 60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?"
So, to give background the 'hard teaching' is that Jesus, after feeding the five thousand and walking on water - this is a busy chapter! - has told them that the only way to eternal life is through the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  If you are like me you might be thinking something like, 'Duh, its called communion.  Get with it people.'  But to be fair, we know the whole story and the disciples were living it and we also know that they were still expecting a different kind of messiah, king and kingdom than what Jesus was and what Jesus ushered in.  
Not to mention they were living in a time where human sacrifice - while very uncommon - was not unheard of.  Was this what he was telling them?  Well, the short answer is, of course not.  And hopefully, we all know what he meant, but just in case, it goes something like this: Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father (God) except through him.  
What is more interesting to me is the audacity of the disciples and how clearly we have inherited that same audacity.  The disciples say to Jesus (you know God incarnate!) 'this is tough, no body can do this, and they say this 10 seconds after Jesus is done speaking.  It's not like this came at the end of days, weeks or years of trying to live into what was being asked.  
Nope,  they heard what Jesus said and quickly realized that it was just too tough for them.  Those terrible, ungrateful disciples.  I mean, can you imagine saying no to God?  or telling God that you know better than he does?  or telling God that what is being asked of us is just too tough or hard?
Oh, right.  We do that all the time.  And though it is easy to pick on the disciples because they had the privilege of walking and talking with Jesus, they also (as I mentioned) were living the story in real time.  We know how the story goes.  We know that Jesus is in fact the son of God, the Word of God incarnate and our savior and Lord.  We know all of that and yet we still tell God no everyday.  We know all of that and we still respond to God's call with, 'Sorry, its just too hard or too inconvenient or  too time consuming.'
I think the root of the issue is in what we believe about who Jesus really is, and I said it a few lines ago.  Simply, do we really believe that Jesus Christ is Lord of Us?  I think that is the question that each of us has to ask and answer for ourselves, because if the answer to that question is yes, than we are giving up the prerogative to say no.  That just isn't how the relationship with a 'Lord' goes.  
Most of us don't know our history and have no real world connection to a 'Lord' in our everyday lives, so maybe we need to come up with a new word . . . or learn our history, but I digress (I was a history major after all).  The subject doesn't have the option of telling his or her Lord no, that is what it means to submit to someone's lordship - to submit.  In history, like in the feudal system it worked like this: serfs or peasants submitted to the Lord and were to serve in whatever capacity the Lord required (usually farming the land) and in return the Lord provided for all of the needs of the people, protected them and cared for them.  Now when we put humans in the position of Lord, things tend to go wrong quickly.  
But this is exactly what we do with God, the one deserving of Lordship.  When Jesus our Lord, who seeks to care for us, protect us, teach us and love us, calls us somewhere we don't want to go or asks of us something that might be difficult - we say no.  
And in saying no we try to make ourselves Lord.  Sadly we just aren't equipped for such a job and the results are often disastrous and always outside of God's good and perfect will for our lives.  
I have gone on long enough, but I know that I need to work on actually living my life like I believe that Jesus is the Lord of it.  I am guessing that you might too.  
More tomorrow.  Thanks for walking through this will me.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Lectionary Day 1 : here we go . . . you are coming too, right?

So I am beginning to read through the Daily Lectionary (which, if you are scoring at home is a two year cycle that (roughly) gets you through the Bible)  I am inviting you to come along for the ride and conversation.  If you are looking for the daily lectionary, there are many places to find it, but I suggest the PC(USA) site where you can either read it, listen to it or have it emailed to you daily.  Check it out here: http://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/devotions/
So, now on to today's readings: Acts 9:19-31
The passage from Acts really struck me this morning.  Not that there is anything really groundbreaking in there.  Basically, just Paul beginning his ministry and the disciples being more than a little wary of accepting him.  Of course, they had good reason to be wary - prior to his Damascus road conversion he was actively persecuting all of the followers of Christ he could find and on at least one occasion was a party to a murder (The stoning of Steven - Acts 7:58).
In a cruel twist of irony, after Saul/Paul has seen (and been blinded by) the light on the road to Damascus he suffers from the same persecution that until so recently he was perpetrating.  It is always remarkable to me when life and death actions are just routinely mentioned with no fanfare, and this Acts passage has Paul escaping not once but twice from death at the hands of those trying to silence him.
So what, what does that possibly have to do with those of us sitting so comfortably in our 'tolerant' American society?
Well, since I have already been long winded on my first post today, let me say I think it has everything to do with us.  You see, if Paul's experience was an isolated one, a unique one, it might be different.  But it is not.  Paul, like Jesus and his first followers before him and like so many thousands (maybe even hundreds of thousands) after him, Paul is persecuted and threatened for proclaiming the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  His story and experience is not the exception, but rather the rule.
So I think it begs the question, have we ever suffered - or even been willing to suffer for the gospel?  Not to be dramatic, but I think if we are not at least getting uncomfortable on a regular basis - or even suffering some sort of persecution - than maybe we are not proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ with our whole lives.
Listen, I am a people pleaser - I want everyone to like me, but we must be willing to be isolated, be made fun of and maybe even suffer if we are even a little bit serious about following Jesus Christ.
Because, if we follow Christ (look what they did to him!), if we allow the Holy Spirit of God to work in us and through us it only stands to reason that we might encounter the world in similar ways to how Jesus and his followers through history have - with persecution and suffering.
So as not to end on a complete downer, I will share with you what was running through my head as I was reading the passages for today and writing this.  It was a song from my childhood, one I remember singing on many bus trips during Summers Best Two Weeks.  I don't remember the name or all the lyrics - but what I remember goes something like this: 'God did not promise joy with out pain, sun with out rain, peace without pain . . . but God did promise strength for the day, rest from our labor and light for the way'
I remember there were some fun motions or something to the song.  But more than that, the song highlights one hard and one encouraging truth: First, life is sometimes - in fact, often - hard and following Jesus means having a willingness to encounter not just the 'mountain top moments' but also the valleys of hardship and pain.  But in suffering or persecution or any difficult time we can and, in fact must, hang on to the fact that we are promised strength for the day, rest from our burdens and light for our way as we seek to follow Christ.  Amen.
 See you tomorrow.


Relevance anyone?

So some changes today.  I know all of you (is anyone here?  Hello?) are waiting with bated breath for all the updates to the blog.  Setting the world on fire, we are.
Anyway, two things happening here today.  First, a name change.  The old name was, 'something witty and Christian' - I never really liked the name and it was an attempt at humor that I think came off as pretentiousness. So, the new name, as you may have noticed is 'The Leaky Pulpit'.  This name was coined by either Carl or Tyler on our recent continuing education retreat.  Pretty sure that they were just kidding when they came up with the name, but I like it and I think it does a better job of being 'me' and describing what this blog is intended to be.
First, it makes me think of Harry Potter, which is obviously cool.  Second, it implies - at least I think it does - that what is here is the 'extra' that flows from my call to proclaim the Word of God.  Now, that sounds even more pretentious than the original blog title, but it is at least more accurate.
Most, if not all of what I will be posting here is a wrestling with or, better, the result of engagement with the Holy Scriptures.
So . . . stuff that is leaking out of my attempts to faithfully share with Good Shepherd and the world around me the Word of God.  Which isn't pretentious at all, it is in fact, simply what it means to be a follower of Christ (that is to walk through our lives sharing and reflecting the love, grace, peace and hope we have been given)

And now on to the second big change for today on the blog.  We are going daily.  Well, mostly anyway.  Due to the incredibly high demand, I have finally relented and will be posting daily (at least during the week).  Okay, only one part of the previous sentence is true.  I will now be posting here daily during the week - I make no promises during the weekend.  This is, obviously, not due to any demand, but rather because I started this blog as a different way to engage in and grapple with Scripture and to, possibly, engage in discussion about it.  While also giving me a discipline, holding me accountable to processing, in at least a semi-coherent form that engagement with the Word of God.
So the plan is for there to be daily posts starting today.
A semi-related tangent: We, most of us anyway, simply don't read enough of the Bible.   Forget the generalities, I don't think I read the Bible enough.  I have the vocational benefit of reading for preaching every week, but I think we need to spend time in the Word of God everyday.  So, with the help of the Daily Lectionary the plan is to spend time in God's Word every day and then share some reflections here.
Ideally these reflections would be the start of a conversation.
This is where you come in, if you are interested there are many simple ways of getting your hands (or eyes as it were) on the daily lectionary readings (which include a couple of Psalms, an OT reading, an NT reading and a Gospel).  I have them sent to my email daily through the PC(USA) website.
You can sign-up for the emails or simply read the passages here: http://gamc.pcusa.org/ministries/devotions/
I will be posting my thoughts on today's passages a little later - this post is already too long.
Hope to hear from you soon.
In Christ,