Monday of Holy Week (Life Journal – 3/30/2015)

Scripture

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.  The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me.  She did what she could. (Mark 14:6-8a NIV)

Observation

Is Jesus critiquing their concern for the poor – what had they done to help the poor?

Jesus seems to contrast her devotion with theirs, her extravagance with theirs. He also is distinguishing something that they can do always with something that is timely, for this moment alone (anointing him).

Application

Monday of Holy Week… not a day with memorable events like Palm Sunday or Holy Thursday or Good Friday. Mark remembers Jesus’ anointing (John 12 suggests it was Mary the sister of Lazarus).

This year, this day, I hear Jesus’ invitation to serve him in the moment. My tendencies are toward thinking and strategy, toward planning, toward reflection. This woman is not thinking of principles of Christian service or how to advance the mission by her acts. She is thinking of her love for Jesus. She pours out the perfume and likewise pours out herself to him.

What have I done today out such extravagant devotion? Does my life for Jesus overflow so powerfully and wonderfully?

Prayer

Lord, on this Monday I remember the woman who anointed you. She poured out her gift, anointing you for burial. Soon you would pour out yourself for her and for those in that room – and for me. Make my love one of extravagant devotion and overflowing adoration. Amen.

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Palm Sunday (Life Journal – 3/29/2015)

227Scripture

Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9-10 NRSV)

Observation

Jesus is surrounded – some went ahead, some followed behind.

Jesus is hailed as the one bringing / restoring David’s kingdom.

In the King James Version, Psalm 118:25 (quoted by the crowds here) says “Save now..”

Application

Palm Sunday this year had me thinking of the word “followed” in this story. Some followed Jesus into the city, shouting his praises and crying out for him to save them – to save Israel.

How far would they follow him? The crowds followed him to hear his teaching, to witness and sometimes receive his miracles. They followed his career and ministry. They clearly understood, even in their misunderstanding, his coming as Messiah.

But they do not follow him to the cross. They follow him to the moment of his trial. But no farther.

Sometimes I am such a follower am I not? I follow Jesus when he leads me to happy places, to blessings of all kinds. I follow when I want to follow and when it is easy or at least beneficial.

But to the cross? To the death – of self, of self-interest, of ambition, of sin? Seldom. They missed the wonder of the resurrection, even those who went ahead, because they stopped short of the cross.

Prayer

Son of David, Hosanna! Save me from myself, from my stopping short of the cross. Save me from my own tendency to quit before I reach the death of all that needs dying. Lead me all of the way this Holy Week that I may experience the fullness and power of your resurrection. Amen.

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Love Last (Life Journal – 3/30/2015)

Today is the last day of Life Journaling from the reading plan I have been using until after Easter. Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday I will be doing readings from the traditional Holy Week Lectionary.

Scripture

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:8-12 NIV)

Observation

Hard to observe well with this one – like other well-known and well-read passages!

Love is the one thing from the Spirit that will not fail: prophecies, tongues, and knowledge.

Love also is complete… “completeness” is also translated “perfect,” “total.” Love is the thing that is complete.

(Reminiscent of Matthew 5:43-48 speaking of perfect love, love that mirrors the Father’s).

Application

Last night I watched Interstellar  (a great movie by the way – lots of spiritual themes to unpack). One of the great lines comes from Dr. Brand, played by Anne Hathaway – “Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends time and space.” I am sure that is why this morning 1 Corinthians 13 caught my mind and heart.

Love is the all-in-all of creation, of existence. Period. The quote from the movie grabbed me because everything in the world of physics requires math and observation… love does not. It alone cannot be measured by an instrument but it alone can be measured and seen by every human who has lived.

As Holy Week begins tomorrow, I am reminded that the cross is the most easily seen and most overwhelming way to observe perfect love. What would change in me, in my world, if love became what I measured and observed and tracked?

Prayer

Father of Love, your perfect love is the one complete thing in all human history and experience. Perfect love is the completeness that displaces all else, the totality that fills every space of human life. As the week of your Son’s suffering and death begins, may love fill my heart and mind and be the thing that I long to see. Amen.

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One Spirit… (Life Journal – 3/27/2015)

Scripture

 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:1-3 NIV)

Observation

When the Corinthians were pagans, they were led by Paul knows not what – as Christians by the Spirit of God. As pagans they worshiped mute idols – as Christians, the Holy Spirit who speaks through them.

This instruction precedes Paul’s teaching about spiritual gifts. Those who say “Jesus is Lord” say so by the influence of the Holy Spirit.

Is Paul speaking to a place where the diversity he is about to describe has led to assumptions about who is spiritual / who is a “real” Christian? In the next section Paul emphasized the “one Spirit.”

Application

My heart aches these days as I look at my denomination – the church tribe where I came to faith, where I was raised, where I am now a pastor. So many of us have tests for whether people (others mostly) are faithful. Whether they are really Christian, whether they are faithful Christians or not.

Paul’s test seems to have been simple – do they confess “Jesus as Lord?” Not Jesus as Lord according to some formula or creed. But is Jesus Lord? If so, then the one Spirit is behind that confession.

I know it’s not that simple. I know it’s not that easy. Or is it????

Prayer

 Lord, your Spirit speaks when we speak of our faith – and we serve and worship not a god who is mute but who speaks! May I listen for that profession in others – to judge not by my rules or standards but by ‘Jesus is Lord!’ Even so, you are Lord! Amen,

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Followership (Life Journal – 3/27/2015)

Scripture

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV

Observation

Paul has followers as Jesus does (this theme recurs in 1 Corinthians – sometimes as positive instructions, sometimes as criticism). And specifically here the issue is example. The New Living Translation has “imitate me;” Amplified Bible has “‘pattern yourselves.”

The “as” suggests a comparison – Paul’s following of Jesus is the comparison for their following of Paul.

Application

As a parent, I was often shocked to see how closely my children followed my example. It was almost to the point of mimicry at times. They did what I did – they said what I said. Now I catch myself phrasing things as my dad did or my mom does. I hear my children say things that sound just like me or like my wife.

Someone is following me… for good or ill. What I do matters as a follower of Jesus. And that is the point! I don’t have to set an example. I have to follow Jesus in such a way that when people imitate me they are imitating Jesus. When people find something praiseworthy it is something I have learned from Christ.

Prayer

O Lord, someone is always watching me. Someone is looking to me – to all of us – for answers and guidance even when they do not ask but rather follow. May I so follow Christ that anyone who follows me is really following Jesus. May my example in every way that is good be an example of how Jesus lived and lives in me. In the name of the one I follow… Amen.

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Quick to Divide (Life Journal – 3/25/2015)

Scripture

10 When they came to Geliloth near the Jordan in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built an imposing altar there by the Jordan. 11 And when the Israelites heard that they had built the altar on the border of Canaan at Geliloth near the Jordan on the Israelite side, 12 the whole assembly of Israel gathered at Shiloh to go to war against them. (Joshua 22:10-12 NIV)

Observation

This story takes place immediately after the same people had been dismissed to return to their homes and families after the conquest of Canaan. The “whole assembly of Israel” of course excludes these three tribes does it not? The narrative draws a distinction between the tribes who had land on the other side of the Jordan and the Isrealite “side.”

The planned assault is based on the report they received of this altar’s construction. The ensuing narrative explains how the situation was resolved without violence.

Application

This is one of those stories where I want to not put my values and perspective onto a story and make it mean something that I want or am inclined to believe. But I am drawn to the rapid taking of sides, the obvious textual contrast made between the “Israelites” and “Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.” These people had just accomplished the conquest of the promised land of Canaan together – without the other tribes the entire assembly could not have been victorious. But they could go to war with their own people!

It may be that this is a story about the Israelites demanding the purity, the entire consecration to the Lord that also informed their conquest and subjugation of the land. But it seems it is more about the “natural” inclination of people – even God’s people – to divide, to turn into parties, to fracture as soon as the task at hand is done.

In some ways this early division foreshadows the later divisions that will ultimately separate Israel into two kingdoms. And the church has always been prone more to a partisan spirit than the Holy Spirit it seems (witness in the readings from 1 Corinthians this divisiveness – “I follow Paul”… “I follow Apollos”… “I follow Cephas.” ) Our current landscape of denominations and internal divisions within them proves the point.

I am prone to this same spirit of division – I take sides, I classify people by my own arbitrary standards. The point is not unity as a universal principle on its own but unity in the faith and mission of purposes of God.

Prayer

Holy Trinity – One in Unity – look down upon our divisive hearts, our spirits so prone to fracture and take sides. Give us spirits that honor you, that seek to unite around your mission and purposes and your word. Help us to resist the urge to declare war at the first sign of something beyond our understanding. Help us not to react with violence – physical or verbal – because we are ignorant of other’s motives and convictions. May I become one who reacts in love and wisdom and in you above all. In the name of Jesus who prayed that those who follow him might be one… Amen.

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For the Sake of… the Mission? (Life Journal – 3/24/2015)

Scripture

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. ( I Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV)

Observation

Paul contrasts his freedom with his voluntary slavery for the sake of his mission. Belong to no one but a slave to all for the mission. He particularizes the general statement of his slavery to all by giving examples of how he has lived into this mission – what he has done for its sake.

He also repeats “all/everyone” several times – slave of everyone and then all things to all people. Paul’s mission is to all for the sake of the gospel.

Application

Paul reflects here on on his devotion to the mission of proclaiming the gospel. He has given his all to reach all. Earlier he had  been describing his due – his right to be compensated for his work but his surrender of that right for the sake of his work.

I realize that I am not so dedicated. I would like to think my life is all about the mission but I am sure it is not. So much of what I do is governed by my own gain from things – my salary, my pension, my benefits from work as a pastor. My motivations are all muddied with self-interest.

I am left not sure how to respond, what to do. Other than to ask the question. I need to live – I need to pay my bills and support my family. But what does it mean, like Paul, to put all other considerations aside? I am not sure… but I need to

Prayer

O God of All Blessings, you have given me everything that I have. You have also called me to share in the mission that consumed your servant Paul. Give me such devotion… such focus… such passion. For I confess that I have it not. In the name of the one whose gospel this is all about… Amen.

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Love Puffs (Life Journal – 3/23/2015)

Scripture

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God. (1 Corinthians 8:1-3 NIV)

Observation

Love vs. knowledge – a contrast. Knowing does not lead to loving. Puff up suggests the actor benefits while build up suggests the one loved benefits?

It is interesting that Paul answers a question about eating food sacrificed to idols by starting with the difference between love and knowledge.

Application

Not many of us worry about whether or not the food we eat has been sacrificed to idols. We are faced though with tough questions if we take following Jesus seriously! How do we apply Jesus’ commands and way of living to our modern world? No food sacrificed to idols but how to behave on the internet, what to do with the myriad of opportunities and capabilities that earlier generations didn’t possess. Paul didn’t have to worry about cloning for instance.

For me as someone who values knowledge I get this wrong sometimes too. Ok maybe a lot. Knowledge is not the same as love. It might, as Paul suggests, lead to just the opposite in fact. Knowledge is inward focused – love is outward directed. Knowledge is about what I know in my head – love is about what I do with my hands as well as my heart.

The other thing Paul observes is that love comes from God – knowledge need not. God is love as John observes (1 John 4:8). To love is to know what needs really known – to know God.

Prayer

God of love, build me up in love and teach me to build up others with that same love. May I seek not to know but to love, not to be better but to love better.  Fill me with love rather than knowledge. To love is to grow in that knowledge that you would have me acquire , knowledge of you and of your Son. Amen.

 

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Preparing to Hear It (Life Journal – 3/20/2015)

Catching up with posts today!

Scripture

13 “Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them. (Joshua 7:13 NIV)

Observation

In the midst of God’s miraculously-provided victory, some of the men took some of the valuables meant for the Lord’s treasury. All else was to be destroyed.

Again they are told to consecrate themselves – to make themselves holy. God will reveal what has been hidden from Joshua and others as well. God knows that no one else knows or sees.

Application

When God reveals there is always preparation – yesterday’s reflection was about “miracle-wonders.” Today’s is a revelation of wrong-doing and of sin in the midst of the people. God needs a space made for his movement. To sanctify is to make room for God to move and speak and do.

Do I really think that I can hide my sin from God – or from others for that matter? Maybe the latter but not the former. But even others will see the effects of that sin if they do not know or recognize the sin itself. They will see its symptoms if they do not see the disease.

And sin here is what Wesley termed “sin properly so called:” conscious choosing to do wrong in the light of knowing better. To know God’s will and not do it – to know the divine law and disobey – is a different thing than acting ignorantly.

And this repeated emphasis on preparation is a good reminder of why extended seasons of preparation like Lent are also reminders that we ought always to make ready for whatever God is doing or saying.

Prayer

God of Revelation – as surely as you reveal yourself in wonder and miracle, sometimes you reveal our sin and wrong. Prepare us to hear who we really are and who we could be and can be in Christ instead. Show us how to prepare to hear you when you speak words of judgment as much as when you do wonders. Both come from your boundless love and your infinite holiness. Amen.

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Miracle-Wonders (Life Journal – 3/19/2015)

Scripture

Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (Joshua 3:1- 5 NIV)

Observation

The Israelites are to consecrate themselves: sanctify themselves, purify themselves. This preparation precedes what God will do the next day.

The Israelites need guidance as they have not been in this place until now. The ark will be their compass.

Joshua tells them to prepare spiritually yet they are facing a military operation – the beginning of the conquest of the land.

Application

Do I expect God to do amazing things? How often do any of us expect such things? I am too rational, too much in control (so I think) of things for anything to amaze or astound. One translation says that God will do “wonders.”

One thing missing is this expectation – this waiting for the wonders, the amazing things. Eugene Peterson in The Message calls them “miracle-wonders.”

Connected but different is sanctification. What Joshua means is a little unclear but mostly writers seem to think some kind of purification ritual as they had performed earlier. They were, like the priests, to cleanse themselves in the presence of God’s might and glory and power.

Preparation and purification. Making ready. How can I do that today, this morning, in preparation for what God wants to do later – today, tomorrow, in the future?

Prayer

God of Wonders, create in me again that expectation of wonders and miracles to come; that certainty that something is coming from you but not quite yet. Cleanse my heart – lead me to purify myself, focus myself, open myself – in preparation for the miracle wonders you will do. In Christ’s name. Amen.

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