Thursday, September 30, 2010

Who do you think you are? . . . Knowing your role in relationship to God

For the second day in a row I am going to focus on the first part of the first passage I read in today's daily lectionary (which can be found here:  ).  You have to trust me on this, but I really am reading all of the passages, but these first four verses from Psalm 116 strike me as illustrating an important point that we all too often miss.  So here are the verses:  

1I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.
2Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
4Then I called on the name of the LORD:
"O LORD, I pray, save my life!
So what is the point?  The point is knowing our role in our relationship with God.  The first verse above says, 'I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice . . .'.  We love God because  he first loved us.  Our love is attached to what God has done for us.  And our love is dependent on God.  
This is not something to be ashamed of or try to overcome, this is the way God designed it.  This is the way God designed it and it points to a bigger truth - everything begins with God.  We love God because he first loved us, but even more than that we love God because he created us and breathed life into our existence.  
We are not some cosmic or biological accident - God intentionally chose to create you and God intentionally chose to create me.  We were each individually and intentionally hand crafted by the creator and ruler of the entire universe.  Love and thanksgiving are literally the only things we can offer to God - we have nothing else that God desires, because everything starts with God.  God was and is first and everything else comes somewhere after.
Having this perspective and understanding gives us the real humility we need to effectively love, worship, serve and share God with others.  It is why the Word of God says that 'fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom'.  Fear is a natural response to our stature next to Gods.   We are nothing and God is everything.  We are one little person among billions, God is the very originator of everything.  Again fear is a natural and reasonable response, if something were to happen to us, would God even notice.  How inconsequential are we?  Who are we to God?
Haven't you been listening????  We are God's handiwork, individually, intentionally handcrafted (sown together in our mother's womb) by God.  And God loves all of his handiwork!  Who are we to God?  We are his beloved children, the family he loves and sacrifices for.  
We love God because God first loved us.
We love God because God created us.
We love God because we are but one of billions God hears our voice and our supplications.
We love God because God knows our needs and responds by caring and providing for us.
We love God because of the love that God continuously demonstrates to us - perfectly shown to us in the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
We need to know our role and have a proper perspective.
We are beloved children of God and our love is simply the only possible, reasonable response to God's unreasonable love for you and I.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What would you do if I sang out of tune?

We will again today be taking up the daily lectionary (which can be found here:   ) But a few thoughts, that are at least some what related first.  As I look back at the blog entries since I started blogging through the daily lectionary it seems to me that many if not most of the posts can be put in the 'challenging' category.  I don't think this is bad or wrong, and I really feel like I can only share with you what the Holy Spirit has put on my heart, and I think it is clear that I hear (and need to hear) the challenge in Scripture more frequently than almost anything else.
Having said all of that there are times when the challenge of Scripture can seem daunting and more than a little bit unrealistic.  There are times and days (and weeks, and months, and years) when what we really need is a little bit of encouragement to help us persevere and continue 'fighting the good fight'.  I think all of us need that encouragement, and the good news is I think we can find it in the Word of God, if our eyes are open to see and our ears are open to hear.
Some days we need that encouragement more than others and, for no particular reason, today feels like one of those days for me.
So it was a real blessing for me when I opened up the daily lectionary and read the following words as the first taste of Scripture today:
1O sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
2Sing to the LORD, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
3Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.
4For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be revered above all gods.

At first we might not pay attention to what this Psalm is saying or simply lump it in with all of the other psalms as full of flowery, poetic praise that is beautiful but that doesn't really mean anything to us.  I think that would be a big mistake, because I believe that this psalm is saying something powerful and profound about how God views us and what God created us for.
The part that I want to really focus on is that first verse: 'O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.'
I spent some time this morning thinking about what that phrase means and the implications that has for how we understand ourselves and our purpose in this life.  The phrase and the passage are pretty familiar ones, at least a one fairly popular song has the words in the chorus and they are words we hear in church as well.  But today I think the Holy Spirit revealed to me a new and greater understanding of the meaning of those words.
The idea of a 'new song' is a really interesting one to me because I have sort of always prescribed to that other biblical quote (from Ecclesiastes): 'there is nothing new under the son'.  Or in the words of the Bare Naked Ladies - 'its all been done before'.  But while it may seem that way, and that is what the writer of Ecclesiastes has said (in a poetic lament, not to be taken literally) the Word of God for you and I says something entirely different.
You and I and in fact all of creation have been given a voice, a particular set of gifts, abilities, interests and passions, that resonate in us and through us in a wholly unique way.  There has never been and there will never be another you.  And for that reason you have the ability to sing a 'new song' of praise to God that only you can sing.  You have the ability to write, play and sing a song that has never before been heard and will never be able to be heard again.  
When we we join our voices together they too become a unique and new song of praise to the God that uniquely created us out of love.  
Hear the good and encouraging Word of God: God has created you with a song that only you can sing and with an element of the melody or harmony that only you can contribute.  All of creation is waiting for you to lift your life as a song of praise.  
Let us sing a new song of praise to God thanking him for the unique gifts we have been given and for the privilege of sharing them together for the glory of God. 
If you are using the gifts God has given you, if you are seeking to serve, praise and worship God by doing what you have been created to do you are in tune with God, singing a song that is pleasing to God and a blessing to others. 
What does your song sound like?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What if God were one of us?

Today we are back to the daily lectionary (which can be found here: ) After a few days off.  
In the lectionary today there are some great Psalms, and definitely some interesting readings from the Hebrew Scriptures (Hosea, anyone?)  and the New Testament.  But what really caught my attention was two things from the Gospel reading in Luke 5.  
The first is how Jesus took care of himself and responded to the pressures and situations he was in.  I think most of us get that we are supposed to be 'like' Christ or at least that we are supposed to try to be as much like Christ as possible.  But I think for many of us that it is hard to get at God's humanity in Christ and that leaves us pretty frustrated at just how far short we fall, not to mention that when we are thinking about Jesus as God, it makes trying to emulate him that much less tangible.   
I don't feel like I am being very clear, but what I am saying is that when we are striving to be like Christ we have to remember that we claim that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.   We often forget about the human part when we think of Jesus - and it is that part that we can actually relate to, understand and more closely approximate.  
Why am I bringing all of this up right now?  Because in this passage we here about how everywhere Jesus went people followed him - came from all over just to watch and listen to him, actually.  Wherever Jesus went, people were watching him.  Wherever Jesus went people wanted and expected something - miraculous things - from him.
I think that is something most of us can relate to.  We may not have people following us around, per se, and we may not be well known, but I think most of us feel pressure to live up to what people expect from us.  And the truth is, most people in our lives do expect something from us: our teachers, our employers, our friends & family, all of them have expectations of us  and sometimes those expectations can weigh on us heavily.   And I think this is important to note - if we publicly claim that we are Christians, whether we know it or not, people are watching us, looking at how we behave and interact with others to gain an understanding of what Christianity and Jesus is all about.  
The weight of expectations can be incredibly heavy sometimes.  Life is, even in the best of times, tiring.  Meeting the expectations of those around you - and more importantly living up to and into the call God has placed on your life can be difficult and maybe even a little draining.
This is where watching Jesus and learning from him, in his humanity can be so instructive.  In the Luke passage, verses 15&16, we have the summary of the weight of peoples expectations of Jesus and Jesus' response to them: 
15But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. 16But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.
It may not sound like much, but there is the wisdom for how to handle the stress and weight of expectation and how to properly prepare and restore yourself to live the life you have been called to - find time and make space to be alone in conversation with God.  
This is how we find rest.  This is how we find peace.  This is how we are prepared, emotionally, physically and spiritually for the call God has placed on our lives.  Finding time and space to listen to God.  Finding time and space to speak to God.  
If we could do that and do it consistently, I believe that simply by living our lives those around us would be drawn into relationship with God because the lives were leading would be so different than the world around us.  
I think it is worth a try.
Briefly, I wanted to just touch on the rest of the Luke passage, because I love the story of the friends carrying their crippled friend to see Jesus and be healed.  When they can't get close to him, they dig a hole in the roof and lower their friend down to Jesus.  It is a great story and I think it is a witness and model for us.  
What faith these friends had, they trusted and really believed (to the point they were willing to physically carry their friend and then ruin a roof to bring him to Jesus) that Jesus had the power to heal their friend.  That is the question we have to ask ourselves: do we really believe that Jesus Christ matters?  Do we really believe that an encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ has the power to heal the brokenness in our lives and the lives of others?  Do we really believe that following Christ makes a difference in our lives?
If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then why aren't we carrying our friends to see and encounter Jesus?  
And if the answer to those questions is yes, then what walls are we willing to break down, what dangers are we willing to risk to bring our friends to meet and be healed by Jesus?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Taking the blinders off of our faith

Tomorrow we will resume regular blogging activities, and resume our focus on the daily lectionary.  But for today, I thought I would share with you the message I shared at Good Shepherd yesterday.  The scripture references, which really should be read first, are 1Tim. 6: 6-19 & Luke 16:19-31 and can be found here:
As always thanks for reading, and I would love to here thoughts, feed back or anything else. . . .

As I was preparing for our worship service this morning, and specifically this message, one question kept going through my mind.  I had lots of thoughts about what to say and important points that I wanted to make, but they all seemed disjointed until I began to look at this one question.  The question is a simple one: (holding up a dollar bill used during the children’s sermon) Why do we want this?  What is so important and valuable about this piece of paper? 
Of course our answers might vary a little bit – I might want to be able to afford to buy one thing, and you another.  One of us might think first about providing for their family while another would think about financial ‘security’.  If we were to be given a million dollars this morning, what we did with it might vary a bit from person to person, but I think all of our efforts would be intended to get us to the same goal . 
I think the reason we strive after, work for and focus on money is because we need that money to get whatever our definition of a ‘good’ or full or ‘whole’ life might be.   Simply put we all want to get as close as possible to our own definition of the good life (whatever that looks like: financial security, a nice house, fashionable clothes, a fast car) and it seems pretty hard to get anywhere close to this good life (and the things in it) without some cold, hard, cash.
But God has a different economy and in 1Timothy 6, we get the privilege of reading the words of a older disciple of Christ – who had lived his life for Christ – to a young disciple just starting out.  And the author is trying to clearly communicate that money is not the means to the ‘good and full life’ that we all, instinctively and innately seek.
It is easy, I think, to read passages from Luke – like ours this morning – and passages from 1Timothy and start to think that money or wealth is inherently bad – I don’t think this is what is being said at all.  This  much is clear, just by reading the end of the 1Timothy passage, which is advice to those in Timothy’s congregation that happen to find themselves in a position of plenty – there is no condemnation, no unilateral call to sell all of their possessions and sell them to the poor.  Instead there is simple advice  to them about how they might ‘take hold of what is truly life’
There are two ‘sound bites’ or well known phrases from the 1Timothy passage: ‘you didn’t bring anything into the world, so you can’t take anything out of it.’ And, ‘The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’
From those two phrases it is tempting (or maybe even obvious) to think that the passage is all about money and the dangers of it.  When you add in the parable from Luke 16 about the ‘rich man’ and Lazarus it is even more tempting to think the whole sermon is going to be about money and the dangers of it.
Well, I don’t think the 1Timothy passage is ‘all about’ money and this sermon isn’t either.  The passage from 1Timothy and this message, instead, are all about what we see and what we focus on.  Or rather what we are able or unable to see because of where our focus is. 
Our passage begins with an interesting statement: Actually, godliness is a great source of profit when it is combined with being happy with what you already have.  Money is not an ‘evil’ and can sometimes be a source of profit.  But, it seems, only when combined with being satisfied with what you already have. 
The contentment with what we already have is a critical component to what we are to learn and understand about wealth and money  - and happiness.  Because if we are happy, content or satisfied with what we have then there is no reason to focus on, worry about or be motivated by the accumulation of money.
And it is that ‘accumulation’ part that is key.  It is the amassing, hording or excessive accumulation of wealth (or I think by extension the things that you buy with that wealth) that is the danger. 
It is the focus on becoming ‘rich’ that according to 1Timothy leads to temptation and ‘stupid and harmful’ passions that lead down the path to ruin and destruction. 
When money is your goal, you will cause yourself lots of unnecessary pain, and you may even lose your faith.  But if your goal is to follow and serve God.  To become an ambassador for Jesus Christ in this world, and you happen to have material wealth here are the words for you:      
Tell people who are rich at this time not to become egotistical and not to place their hope on their finances, which are uncertain. Instead, they need to hope in God, who richly provides everything for our enjoyment. 18 Tell them to do good, to be rich in the good things they do, to be generous, and to share with others. 19 When they do these things, they will save a treasure for themselves that is a good foundation for the future. That way they can take hold of what is truly life.
These are words – I think – for all of us.  Because comparatively we are all ‘rich’.  And in today’s passage seeking after wealth has a very clear point of demarcation: striving after more than you need (defined literally as food & clothing).  So if we have more than that – more than food to eat and clothes to wear we are, to some degree at least, rich.
As the richly blessed we are reminded of the dangers on putting our hope anywhere but in Christ.  And we are then encouraged to be rich in generosity with what we have been given, to be rich in doing good things for others and to be rich in sharing.  We are told that this – not money or things or ‘security’ or anything else – is the way to live into a full, whole and ‘good’ life.
But how do we do it, how do we become rich in doing good, in sharing and in generosity?  I believe it begins with what we are focusing on.  Are we focusing on God or on other things? 
When we focus on something like wealth, popularity or status, accumulating things acquiring titles and positions  - or even good things like our careers, school, friendships, anything but Jesus Christ its like we are putting blinders on.
That’s a phrase we use ‘putting blinders on’ but is important to understand what it means.  ‘Blinders’ are pieces of material put around the eyes of horses, so that all of their vision – except what is right in front of them -  is blocked out or blinded.  All they can see is what they are focused on and what’s straight ahead of them.
When we are focused on money or fame or power, or any good thing but Jesus Christ, eventually it gets us into trouble because that is all we can see.  But when we focus on God, when we focus on Jesus Christ and put him squarely in our line of sight and at the center of our lives the Holy Spirit removes the blinders from our eyes and allows us to see the connection we have with our brothers and sisters – God’s children – around us. 
With the blinders off – and our eyes open to the world as God sees it isn’t hard to see the need in our personal relationships, in our communities and in our world.   With the blinders off we can see the many places where the gifts God has given us (material, personality, skills) are needed and where we have the opportunity to serve others by sharing what God has given us.
We see the dangers of not ‘seeing’ those around us in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man from Luke 16.  When we read this parable, I think we – I know I do – read into it some sort of value judgment on to the characters in the story.  We think or assume that Lazarus did something to ‘deserve’ his place in heaven at Abraham’s side and that the rich man too was deserving of his place of suffering and torment. 
This is not what First century hearers of this parable would have assumed.  On the contrary, wealth in the ancient world was often viewed as a sign of divine favor, while poverty was viewed as evidence of sin.  The rich man’s sin was not that he was rich, but that, during his earthly life, he did not even “see” Lazarus, despite his daily presence at the entrance to his home.
The first time the rich man ever really sees Lazarus is when, from Hades “he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side” (verse 23)
In that way he is like those who pass by the man in the ditch in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. They “see” and cross the road. The Samaritan is the only one who “sees,” “has compassion,” and crosses the road to help the wounded man. The rich man, in his stepping over Lazarus, is like the priest and Levite in the Good Samaritan parable.
This sequence of seeing, having compassion, and acting is a common one in the Gospels. In Luke 7:13 Jesus “saw” the woman weeping at the death of her only son, he “had compassion for her” and brought her son to life. When the father “saw” the prodigal son “still far off… he was filled with compassion” and ran and embraced him (Luke 15:20)
Matthew and Mark repeatedly tell us that Jesus himself, when he “saw” the crowds, had compassion on them and healed, fed and taught them (Matt 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; Mark 6:34; 8:2) 
In the parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:14-46, what makes some blessed is the fact that, though they didn’t realize it, in seeing the poor and helping them they saw and helped Jesus. By contrast others never really did see Jesus suffering and in need because they never really saw the poor.
God calls us to focus on him, putting a relationship with Jesus Christ at the very center of who we are.  And when we do this the Holy Spirit removes those blinders that have been covering our eyes so that we can see the work in our own lives, in our communities and in the world that needs done.
The Good news of the gospel this day is that by focusing on God we begin to see the world around us as God sees it giving us incredible opportunities to become rich in sharing, in doing good and in generosity.  And that is a wealth that leads to a whole, full and very good life.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What do we worship?

Today's New Testament daily  lectionary passage (which can be found here: ) is from Acts 19.  And, surprise, surprise Paul is getting into trouble again.  Paul is in Ephesus, and the major trouble seems to be coming from the fact that many seem to be hearing Paul proclaim the gospel, accepting Jesus - and then here is the part that causes the problems - actually changing their lives.
One of the first people to notice this change in peoples lives - and to see the ramifications of these changes is a silversmith named Demetrius.  
Ephesus, was the the site of a great temple to the goddess Artemis.  Demetrius and many other artisans, along with a whole host of other people made a very nice living off of people coming to visit and worship at the temple of Artemis.  But all of those people that were becoming Christians were no longer part of the temple economy - and that was very bad for Demetrius' business and for business in general in Ephesus.   
So Demetrius gathers all the interested parties and starts to cause trouble for Paul and the Christians.  But what I really found interesting is some of the language he used to incite them into action against Paul and the Christians.  This is what Demetrius says in verse 26: 
26You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 
How first century and uneducated of them right?  I mean thinking that a God can be made with our hands or bought or purchased and held.  How foolish.  
But then, while that understanding certainly is different than what we say and/or think we believe is it really so different than how we act and how we live.
A god is something one is devoted to and focused on.  A god is something/someone that is put at the center of our lives as the focus of our existence.  A god is something/someone that we strive to honor and glorify.  

Now, look at the way that we live our lives.  Look at the way we prioritize our daily/weekly schedules and how we spend our time.  Look at what we spend our money on.  Looking at all of that, how many of us begin to look like we worship a god made with our own or someone else's hands?  How many of our lives look like they are focused around a god that can be purchased (like clothing, nice things, houses, etc.) How many of us have at the center of our lives something as fleeting as money, fame or influence?  
That is not the gospel that Jesus, Paul or any Christian preaches.  We know this.  But we have to endeavor to live lives to match our knowledge and understanding.  We can do this, with God's help.  Amen. 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What's in a name?

Today's lectionary reading from Acts (which can be found here: ) immediately made me think of that question from from Shakespeare's 'Romeo & Juliet', 'what is in a name?'  And the statement of Romeo's that goes with it, 'A rose by any other name, would smell as sweet.'
In the Acts passage we read that 'God did extraordinary miracles through Paul'.  God was working so powerfully through Paul that people were healed simply by touching pieces of cloth that Paul had touched.  The times Paul lived in were not so different than ours and there were those that saw this as a business opportunity.  In particular we are told about 7 sons of a Jewish high priest that were travelling exorcists (read: snake oil salesmen or scam artists looking to take advantage of those suffering from spiritual, physical or psychological ailments).
And, to be fair to these guys, you can see how they would get the idea to begin using the name of Jesus in their act - in fact, they probably thought they were tapping into real power - because Paul goes to great lengths, again and again to point out that it isn't anything about him that gives him this healing ability - but rather that it is the power of Jesus Christ and God's Holy Spirit working in and through him. 
So these, guys start using the name of Jesus in their act, and presumably all goes well until they run into some real demons - actual spiritual forces of evil.  And what those demons say to these con-men - con-men who say 'in the name of this Jesus Christ Paul speaks of -  is incredibly interesting.  They say: Jesus we know, Paul we know - but who are you? 
You see there is power in the name of Jesus Christ - but the name isn't magic.  The name of Jesus isn't a spell you can use or a get out of jail free card.  The power in the name of Jesus Christ comes from the relationship you have with the person of Jesus Christ.  The power in the name of Jesus Christ comes from how you have made yourself open to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit because of the call of Jesus Christ on your life and the place of authority that you have given Jesus in your life.  
The demons didn't know the con-men because the con-men didn't know Jesus.  Sure they knew his name, but they didn't know him,  they didn't have a relationship with him and they certainly had not opened up their lives to the leading of the Holy Spirit. 
Jesus was not a part of their lives - let alone the Lord of their lives so when they called out his name it held no power, because there was no connection to the person of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit that we have access to through the work and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  
The Holy Spirit of God is powerful beyond what we can even imagine - and the name of Jesus Christ carries that power with it, but we can not tap into or access that power unless we know the person behind the name and unless we have invited that person to be at the very center of our lives and who we are.
So do we know Jesus Christ or do we just know his name?  It is a question that makes a world of difference?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

How to succeed in life, without really trying . . .

Today we are going to look for a little bit at the daily lectionary passage from Esther (which can be found here:   )
Mordecai, I think gives us an interesting real life example of what I think is an essential principal of living our daily lives for Christ.  The principal can be summed up in a verse from Ephesians:  "Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord, rather than for people." (Eph. 6:7)
I think we often separate and categorize things and responsibilities in our lives - which, of course, makes sense and helps us make sense of our lives - but when we give less than our best in our jobs or really in anything we do, we have to understand that it isn't our employers or even ourselves that we are 'letting down' it is in fact God.  The God that choose us as his representatives in this world.  The God that loves us, created us and sends us into the world to invite others into relationship with him.  
So the point is then that no matter what category we put the work before us in (mission, ministry, mundane, pointless, vital, etc.) and no matter 'who' it is for (ourselves, our employers, a friend, our church, a stranger) we are called to do it with enthusiasm and to do it as if we were in fact doing it for God.  
So hold onto that idea as we look at the Old Testament passage for today from the book of Esther.  In this passage we have the three major players: the King, Haman, one of the kings most trusted advisors and a man obsessed with gaining power, authority and prestige for himself, and we have Mordecai who is a Jew and a humble servant of the king.  
Haman hates Mordecai because, out of faithfulness to God, he doesn't show Haman the 'respect' he think he deserves.  Everything Haman does is motivated by his ambition and desire for position, prestige and power.  In this passage he has plotted to have Haman killed.  
Mordecai, is a faithful follower of God and because of this works hard at his job - even though it is for a foreign king - to honor God.  
Because of this, when he became aware of a plot against the king he immediately took steps to save the kings life.  
At this point of the story the king remembers Mordecai's good and faithful service and wants to reward him, and he asks Haman what would be an appropriate way to repay a faithful servant.  Haman is so blinded by his own ambition and pride that he can't imagine that the king would be speaking of anyone other than himself.  So he suggests an elaborate and extravagant reward.  Which the king then instructs Haman to administer to Mordecai, his mortal enemy.  
Before we get to the 'moral' of the story and the connection to the Ephesians passage, it is important to understand that Haman was not just a cartoon character bad guy, one dimensional and clueless.  The reason he was a trusted advisor to the king with a lot of power is because he was intelligent and resourceful  able to make insightful recommendations and skilled in a wide array of disciplines.  
But he was so caught up in getting more for himself: more power, more influence, more money, etc. that his ambition blinded him and eventually lead to his downfall.  Mordecai, on the other hand, simply and humbly did his job - to the best of his ability - and in a way that honored his God.  The 'moral' is that we have to remember that God's economy is not that same as the world's economy.  Jesus told us that who ever wishes to save his life must lose it for God.  Seeking power, fame, fortune, importance and influence for yourself will always, eventually lead to trouble.  
But, if we look at all that lies before us (even mundane and boring elements of our job or our daily lives) as an opportunity to faithfully serve our God and Savior, then we will be wonderfully rewarded.  Sometimes that reward will only come in heaven, which is more than enough.
But sometimes, maybe even often if we are focused on faithfully serving God in all we do here and now, it allows us to fulfill our potential in ways we hadn't imagined or dreamed of and can lead to an overflowing of blessing here and now.  
May we use all that we have and are given - boring tasks, unpleasant jobs and great blessings alike to serve and honor our God. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You got to know when to hold em, know when fold em, when to walk away & when to run!

As per our usual here, today we will look at and talk about the daily lectionary, which can be found here:
In getting ready for today's post I did something a little different than what is my norm.  Usually, I sit down pray, read the lectionary and write the post all in one sitting with out interruption.  Today, after praying and reading I had an idea about what I wanted to say today, but I didn't have time to write it out just then.  For reasons that aren't worth explaining I needed to get my training run in before lunch and so it had to be then.  
And I am just now coming back to the blog post.  It was an interesting decision because I found that I spent most of my run thinking about the readings and trying to let them and their meaning wash over me.
I am going to get back to that in a minute, because I think it is an important point.  But first, let me share with you the part of the lectionary that grabbed me today.  As opposed to 'normal' when I focus on one passage and what I think is going on there, today I was struck by what I perceived to  be a running theme throughout all of the (non-psalm) passages.  For lack of a better term, the theme that stuck out to me was timing.  Epic, earth-shattering stuff, right?  Maybe, maybe not - but it is what I got and I think it is there for a reason.  So, lets quickly look at what I mean:
From the Esther passage: Esther risks everything to come before the king and ask for mercy for her people.  The king brings her in and immediately says something to the effect of, 'ask for anything you want and I will grant it, up to half of my kingdom'.  We may take that as simply bravado or overstatement but in those days words - especially the words of a king - meant something and could not simply be forgotten or ignored.  So it would appear, at least to us as we read the story the first time, that this is her chance, the opportunity she needs to save her people.  But she doesn't take it, instead she asks Haman (the man responsible for putting the Jews in jeopardy) and the King to come to a banquet she has prepared. 
Then at that banquet, the king extends the same offer as before, and again she doesn't make her request, instead asking them to come to another banquet the next day where she will finally make her request.  That is where today's reading ends, but we know - or at least can guess - how the story ends, so the timing must have been the right one.
Then in the New Testament Passage we have stories about Paul's travels and travails.  Here, like in so many other places he stays somewhere and goes, he's asked to stay but leaves, stays even though threatened, etc.  Again, all a question of timing.
Then in the Gospel passage we have Luke's account of Jesus' baptism, which is more sparse than the other gospel accounts.  But again is about timing - it was the time for him to be baptized by John - even though John knows and says that he is not worthy to do so.  
So for my whole run I kept coming back to one question: how did they know when was the right time?  How did Esther know when to make two meals and wait to be asked a third time before revealing her request.  How did Paul know when to stay and when to go?  How did Jesus know when he was to go and be baptized and who should do it?   Because it seems to me that in all of these situations, and in our lives, it isn't just about knowing the right thing to do or doing the right thing, but knowing where and when to be and where and when to do the thing you have been created and called to do.
After my run, as I sat back down to right this post, the answer felt fairly obvious to me.  Esther spent three days in prayer and fasting before she approached the king.
Paul speaks about praying 'without ceasing' and certainly talked as though he took direction from God on all of his decisions.
Jesus, is the very model for us of being in communication and relationship with God.  
In short (too late for that, I know): we cannot hope to have an understanding of God's call on our lives or the timing that God has planned for us if we are not consistently seeking after God.  We must be constantly open to leading of the Holy Spirit and to the whisper of the voice of God.  
God is always going to be there speaking to us, but if we are only listening for an hour on Sunday morning or for 15 minutes at some point in our days or if we only listen once we get in trouble or realize we need help - we will have missed so much of the conversation, and so much of God's words of instruction for us.  
So as we go through our day, wondering about what to do and when to do it, be open to God's Holy Spirit leading you and be actively listening for the still small voice of God guiding you along.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Use what your mamma (or heavenly father) gave you

Today it is back to the daily lectionary, which can be found here:
But there will be a bonus reference to yesterday's sermon (yippee!) as I think they go together pretty well.  But lets begin with the lectionary passage, specifically the Old Testament passage from Esther, which we pick up in chapter 4.  
There is a lot that has already gone on in the story so I will try to briefly summarize.  Basically, Esther, a Jew, has been made Queen of the Persian king.  This happens as she essentially wins a beauty contest after the king's first wife is more than a little insolent with the king and is replaced - different times, lets not judge.  
Esther was raised by her cousin Mordecai, who also worked for the king.  This is where it gets complicated,  Haman, one of the kings advisors didn't like that Mordecai didn't observe and certain traditions - like bowing to Haman when he passed by.  Mordecai, because of his faith would bow to no one but God.  Haman concocts and launches an elaborate plan to get revenge, not just on Mordecai, but on the entire Jewish race.  
Haman gives half of a story to the king and explains that 'these people' must be dealt with.  The King, then gives the order for Haman to deal with them.  Haman arranges for letters to go out to all of the provinces of the kingdom calling for all of the Jews to be killed at a certain time on a certain day (the coordination was so that word of the massacre would not reach other Jews and allow them to escape)  
Mordecai sends word to Esther (who the king does not know is Jewish) and implores here to plead for mercy and a change of heart/mind.  Which is the first part of our reading today.
She explains to him that she can't go to the king unless summoned - the penalty for doing so is death.  
Mordecai, first asserts that if she isn't willing to help God will find another way to save Israel (what faith! - seriously, how many of us could use faith like that when dealing with the problems and difficulties in our lives?)  but then suggests that maybe it was for exactly this situation that she was placed where she is in relation to the king.
Esther sees the point, asks for Mordecai to fast for three days while she does the same and . . . well, you will have to read ahead to see what happens next.  
The point I want to focus on is that God really wants, plans for and expects us to use ALL of what he has given us.  Esther was, indeed, placed where she was so that she could intercede for her people.  But how did she get where she was??? She won a beauty contest!!  
In our thoughts and discussions, in the reading of the Bible and and in any serious discussion or literature very few things are given less weight or importance than physical beauty.  It is only skin deep,  it is fleeting, its what's on the inside that matters, right?  But the bottom line truth of this story is that if Esther wasn't beautiful she would not have been in a place where she could approach the king at all.  She would not have had access to him or influence over him.  
Her beauty is what allowed her to be in the position to intercede for her people.  
I truly believe that we are given what we have: talents, gifts, abilities, interests - even physical attributes - for a reason and God fully expects us to use them for his glory and to help others.  This is the 'moral' of the story of Esther and it was the point of my message yesterday.  
The text for yesterday's sermon was Luke 16:1-13, the parable of the 'shrewd or dishonest manager'.  It is a confusing parable that most people ignore because Jesus seems to lift up and congratulate someone that is dishonest.  But that is missing the point.  Jesus lifts the manager up not because he was dishonest, but because he used everything at his disposal to his benefit. 
The manager was quick-thinking, creative and shrewd in looking after himself - using everything at his disposal to put himself in the best possible position.  God asks, calls and expects us to be quick-thinking, creative and shrewd in using ALL of the gifts God has given us and put at our disposal to share him with others, to minister to those around us and to demonstrate God's love in the best ways possible.  
There is no gift too superficial or so inconsequential that it can't be used to glorify God and point others towards him.
The lesson for today is this: if you have something, you have it for a reason and God expects you to use it for his glory and to help others.

Friday, September 17, 2010

My sin is way better than your sin

Today I wanted to look at a verse from Psalm 130 and share with you some thoughts that occurred to me while I was reading and studying it this morning.  The Psalm is part of today's daily lectionary and can be found here:
Before I get to the psalm, let me tell you about the conversation I had with Charlie as I was dropping off the boys at preschool today.  As we were walking in, I noticed Jack was a little quiet (Quiet is not Jack's default position and I was pretty sure he was nervous about maybe getting a shot at his Dr.'s appointment today) So I said something to him about his Star Wars lunchbox, which did the trick - got him talking about Anakin Skywalker and getting the bad guys.  
What I said to him was something to the effect of, 'Jack, that is a REALLY cool lunch box you have there'.  Now Charlie, walking just a little ahead of us, heard all of this.  He stopped, turned around and said, 'Do you like my lunch box too, Daddy?'  And I responded to him by saying, 'your's is PRETTY cool too'.  
Of course, Charlie immediately caught that I said Jack's lunch box was Really cool and I said his was only Pretty cool.  So, cutting right to the chase, he said, 'Daddy, which lunch box do you like better, my Spiderman one or the Star Wars one?  This posed a real dilemma for me, I didn't want to lie to him, and I know he will hear my answer as saying something about how much I care about him, not his lunch box, but I really don't like Spiderman that much.  So I said, 'I really like both lunch boxes, but you know that Star Wars is my favorite'.
Well, Charlie held it together admirably, but he clearly didn't like the answer - I think his spirits were buoyed by the hope that maybe Jack might be getting a shot at the Dr.'s office.  But whatever, the reason I tell that story is that I think it is indicative of something that we all do.  Something that comes so naturally to us that we have to work consciously and diligently to avoid it.  But I think we need to avoid it at all costs.  
It seems it is in our very nature to seek to compare ourselves against one another.  Charlie and his brother's lunch box, all of us with coworkers or on an athletic field - or in the gym.  The list could go on forever.  
And if we did list things out extensively it would most certainly include comparing our sins against one another.  Of course in this comparison, like in golf you are going for the lower score.  The 'smaller', more socially acceptable sins, the better.  We allow ourselves to think - just like the Pharisee looking at the tax collector - that 'at least I am not like that guy' or 'I know I am not perfect, but can you believe her?'  
This is a dangerous and unfaithful game we play.  The third verse of Psalm 130 says it as plainly as can be:

3If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
4But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

The point isn't that we aren't supposed to see other people's sins or that we are supposed to pretend they are perfect or that we are supposed to ignore the sins.  The point is this:
1. We are all in the same boat - 'all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God'.  I might be able to gain some (incredibly) small measure of solace if you got a 40 on a test, but if I got a 45 we are both still in the same situation.  We have both failed, I won't get any bonus points for the 5 more questions I got right.  Our lives are not graded on a curve or on a sliding scale, but rather on a pass/fail basis and on our own we are all on the wrong side of the line.  It is only Jesus Christ that can change that situation for us.
2.  When we look at others and judge ourselves against them we are putting our focus and our attention in the wrong place and on the wrong person.  Our eyes should be be fixed on Jesus Christ the author and perfecter of our faith and salvation.  We shouldn't be looking at how we stack up against those around us or if our sins are better or worse than theirs.  We have sinned, we have failed, we have fallen short.  We are helpless and powerless to do anything about it.
Instead we need to focus on Jesus Christ and the distance that he covered between us and God by his sacrifice on the cross.  
It doesn't matter what kind of lunch box you carry or what sin you are carrying around as baggage in your life.  You need - I need Jesus Christ to take it away.  I need Jesus Christ to pass the test and so do you.  What a relief!  What a blessing!  What a gift!  
Jesus Christ has wiped away all of our failings, removed the weight our sin and deemed us pure, acceptable and holy.  We have passed by the grace of God and sacrifice of his Son.  Amen.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

I've Got my eye on you . . .well, I don't, but somebody probably does.

Today I have two separate things to share.  The first is from another part of what I am currently doing with my daily devotions.  It also comes in the form of a daily email.  It is called 'a deeper walk' and it is from the Christian magazine 'Relevant'.  Each day there is a scripture verse or verses and a short devotional (and I mean short, you can read the entire email in about 2 minutes) from one of their contributers.  Today's was written by Margaret Feinberg, who is without a doubt one of my favorite authors - lots of reasons for that, but mostly because she has a simple, readable style that highlights the working and wonder of God in our lives and world.  Go. Get. Something of hers as soon as you can.  
Anyway, the email today was about 'primary focus'.  Here is the Scripture passage:
"Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith."  Hebrews 12:1-2 TNIV
And here is what Margaret had to say about it:
A STORY IS TOLD about a young boy who lived in a quiet village. On the edge of the village was a grassy knoll where the boy would go to sit, relax and look at a rock formation in the distance which strangely resembled an old man—complete with oversized nostrils and deep wrinkles around the eyes and lips. As the boy grew into a man, he often returned to sit and gaze at the rock carving. One day, while passing through the village, a tourist stopped and asked him, "Did anyone ever tell you that you look like the face on the side of the mountain?"

Whatever we love the most will eventually shape our lives. We become what we focus on. 

If our primary concern is money, accomplishment, power or ourselves, then selfishness and self-absorption are natural affects. Eventually, like the rock formation on the outskirts of the village, we will take on the likeness of the object of our desire. 

If we gaze on Him, look at His beauty, meditate on His Word, find a grassy knoll in our daily routine on which to escape the demands of our lives and learn to gaze on Him, then we cannot help but begin to reflect His image.
I would strongly recommend anything she writes to you, I would also suggest that you subscribe to the 'Deeper walk' daily email.  Which you can do by going here:
After filling in the form, simply check the 'deeper walk' box.  
The point she makes with here story is such a critical truth for us.  I think most of us know or realize the importance of what we focus on, but I think we all to often simply don't ask the question of ourselves.  So, today ask yourself, 'what are my eyes fixed on?'  and if the answer isn't Jesus Christ, its is time for a change of scenery!
Now, if you haven't got enough already, I also had a quick thought from today's daily lectionary reading, which can be found here:
So, the part that was particularly interesting to me today was from Acts 16.  It is a fairly well known story.  Paul and Silas are in jail, literally in chains for the gospel, having been beaten and imprisoned in an attempt to keep them from spreading the good news about Jesus Christ.   There is an earthquake and all the doors of the prison, and Paul and Silas' chains open.  Upon realizing this the guard is about to kill himself, rather than face the punishment of his superiors.  Paul yells out to stop him, assuring him that the prisoners are all still there.  
The guard immediately takes them outside and asks, 'what must I do to be saved.'  
It occurred to me that there is an important lesson here.  It would have been common sense for Paul and Silas to assume that God had caused the earthquake for them to escape, so they should get up and get out of there as soon as possible.  
But that is not what they did.  Now there are some things not in the text that I think it is safe to infer.  First, Paul and Silas were (as is shown numerous times in the Scriptures) deeply prayerful people, open to and in touch with the leading of the Holy Spirit.  When God spoke to Paul, he generally listened.  Second, again as demonstrated in the Scriptures, they dedicated their whole lives to sharing and spreading the Word of God and the good news of Jesus Christ to all that would hear it.  
With these two things in mind, it begins to make sense why they didn't flee when they had the chance.  They likely knew exactly what their absence would have meant to the life of the guard and were not lead to do so by the Holy Spirit, so even though they were unjustly imprisoned, they stayed right where they were.  And we know from the rest of the story that because of that, the guard became a believer that very night.  
So what's the point for us?  That it matters how we act, all time.  That people are not just watching and inferring things about Jesus Christ and the God we claim to serve when we are actively doing 'mission' or service, but people are watching us and forming an opinion about who Christ is by how we act when we are in difficult or unfair situations.  
When we are treated badly in a restaurant, it is an opportunity to bear witness to Christ
When we are in the middle of 'grey areas' in our work and job situations, people are watching and we are representing Christ.
How we respond - especially in situations like these, can be an invitation to others to a relationship with Christ.  Or it can be a witness to the lie that Jesus doesn't make a difference in the way we live our lives.  
What we are focusing on matters!  Know that people are watching and from how we act - in good and bad, fair and unfair situations - they will judge the power and importance of the God we serve.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Some closing thoughts on Job

So today's daily lectionary passages (which can be found here: ) include the last bit of the book of Job, which we have been going through and occasionally talking about.  
We have talked about it enough, probably, but as I was reading the 'resolution' of the story in the closing verses a few things really stuck out to me.  So, as is my custom, I thought I would share them with you. 
We have talked about it a lot here, and we are all familiar with the story of Job, but the first thing that hit me as I was reading this morning, was just how untrue the previous statement really is.  We, I don't think, are not familiar with the story of Job - at least not the whole story.  We certainly know about a part of the story, a part of his story filled with heartache, difficulty and distress.  But the truth, and the part that I think we miss, is that that is really just a part of the story of Job and doesn't give us anything resembling a full picture of Job's life.  What I am meaning and trying to say here is that if we only focus on the difficulty that Job encountered and the tragedy that he endured (which was real and not to be minimized) we do Job a great disservice and we have missed the essence of his life and story.  
Let me give an example of what I mean.  Like many people, I did not find my soul mate and wife in high school or college.  And in the years I lived before I met Traci, I went through my share of heartache and heartbreak.  I had one particularly difficult time in College.  Now, if all you knew about me and my story was my experiences during that time of my life, would you have a full picture of who I was and my story? 
Of course not.  And from my perspective you would have, in fact, missed all of the best and most important parts.  You would know nothing of who I am today, who I have become because of the relationship with Traci that God has blessed me with.  You would know nothing of the joy that has brought me in so many ways.  You would know nothing of the joy we share in raising Charlie and Jack.  If you haven't picked up on it, I think if you only knew about that part of my life you would know, well, nothing really.  
The same is true of Job, and the rest of the story, the part we don't really know much about is critical to having a proper perspective and for really knowing what the 'story of Job' is all about.
If we payed attention at the beginning of the story, we know that Job was very blessed with material things and a wonderful family - The Devil told God these blessings were the only reason he was faithful, remember?.  
What do we know about the end or the rest of the story.  We find it all in today's readings from Job chapter 42.  In that chapter we find that, after the time of suffering and trial, God 'restored the fortunes of Job'.  We hear about the blessings that he received materially, we here about the restoration and blessing of his family.  There is a lot there to take in, but it can maybe best be summed up by the final sentence: 'Job died, old and full of days'.  That we would all be blessed with that ending - a full, and happy life.  
We are getting long here, so I will get to the point, a point that I finally understood when I read that after his suffering Job lived another 140 years.  Our suffering is real, and painful and not to be dismissed, and it comes to us even when we are upright and faithful to God.  
But we can't lose perspective.  When we are faithful to God, our suffering and trials, no matter how deep and painful are noting in comparison to the life of blessing and grace we have.  
The story of Job is not a story of suffering, in the course of his life the time of his suffering was minuscule (less than 1%!!!).  No the story of Job, and the story of all of our lives if we are faithful to God and seek to follow Christ is a story of God's relentless, enduring and never ending blessing.
The full story of Job is the story of the blessings of God.  This is the same story God wants to tell with your life.  We you let him?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Too busy . . .

We continue to try and daily engage the Word of God through reading and interacting with the daily lectionary, which can be found here:
This is going to be a short one today.  It is a crazy busy day for me and I have been playing catch-up all day and I haven't been winning that race, at all.  Having said that when I woke up this morning and thought about what I 'had' to do today there were two things that weren't 'absolute musts'.  The first was my training run, 6 miles that went out the window by 10:00am this morning.  I already knew that I didn't have the time to be able to get that in, and I am supposed to have a 'rest day' in training tomorrow, so I can just pick it up then.  The other thing that could be left undone without any noticeable consequences was my daily devotions and this blog.  Now, considering my vast readership on the blog -obviously there would have been riots in the streets and global chaos had I note wrote something today, but the daily devotions part I could skip without any consequence.
Wait a minute  . . . I think I might have that mixed up, at least a little bit.  And, of course in reality, my first thought was that there would be no real consequence to skipping both the reading of the lectionary and the blogging about it.
To shorten the story a little bit, we will cut to about 20 minutes ago, when as I was working hard at my long 'to do list' for today, I was struggling to concentrate and I kept thinking about trite phrases like, 'too busy not to pray' and stuff like that.  I kept thinking about how busy I was and how much I needed to get done, but I kept thinking about the fact I hadn't read the lectionary for today yet. I just couldn't get away from the thought that I really needed to be spending at least some time in relationship with God and time spent reading and studying his Word is one of the best ways to do that.  So I decided I would quickly do that readings and I would skip the blog and pick it up again tomorrow.
So, now here we are, I read the lectionary passages for today and nothing revolutionary happened, the skies didn't open deliver all my work completed and I heard no voice from heaven giving me clear and explicit instructions on how to proceed in all the areas I am trying to figure out.
But as I was closing up the lectionary passages for the day I did have one thought that I felt like I just had to share.  It was spurred on by the NT passage from Acts 16.  In the passage a few of the early Christian missionaries are travelling around spreading the Word of God and the good news of the Gospel.  And they try to go to a couple of different places but the text says, 'they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go there' or that the 'Spirit of Jesus would not let them enter  there'.  And it struck me that the only way to a relationship with God, where direction comes so clearly and directly is by devoting time, energy and commitment to that relationship.  These apostles of God, these followers of Jesus didn't make their plans, book their hotels, set off on their journeys to have a voice from heaven,  out of nowhere, tell them to stop and not enter as they reached the city gates.
No, instead, these followers of Christ had an open line of communication with God, they were - as Paul puts it - 'praying without ceasing'.  They didn't have to stop what they were doing to consult God, they were constantly open and listening to the Spirit of God speaking the will of God in their lives.  That is how, they knew when they were beginning to go somewhere God had not intended for them to go, that is how they knew when they were heading in the right direction and that is how God was able to use them so powerfully when they spoke to others about the saving love of Jesus Christ.
But here we are, often forgetting to 'involve' God in our lives at all and even more frequently only thinking to do so after we get ourselves into real trouble or need real help - after we have already entered into a place God had no intention of us going.
One of my 'tasks' today was meeting with the copier repairman at the church, so he could replace the drum in our copier.  He did, but has to come back tomorrow to put another new one in.  When I asked him why, he gave me the honest reason, saying that 'I was hurrying to get things done, not paying attention and I dented your new drum.'  He added, 'so of course, I didn't save any time (or money), because now I have to come back here tomorrow and do it all again.'
I wonder how much of our lives we have to 'do over', 'back track' or 'repeat' because we were too busy to be in relationship with God enough to know where we were really being called and where we weren't
So much for short and quick, but I felt like I needed to share that with you.