Monthly Archives: January 2015

Presence and Not Rescue (Life Journal – 1/16/2015)

Scripture

But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did. (Genesis 39:20-23 NIV)

Observation

The story of Joseph is a lengthy one with these verses coming at the end of chapter 39. Joseph, falsely accused of trying to rape his master’s wife, ends up in prison.

In Joseph’s narrative we do not see God preventing Joseph’s ill-fortune or suffering. From the sale of Joseph into slavery by his brothers to Joseph’s rise and fall in an Egyptian household God does not protect Joseph nor does God rescue Joseph in any dramatic fashion. Why not???

Application

We are assured in 39:23 that “… the Lord was with Joseph…” even while the Lord does not rescue or protect him. The key to Joseph’s life seems to be that God uses and works in the tragedies and trials of his life – works despite them in fact. God brings success to Joseph not once but three times – in his master’s house, in prison and then in Pharaoh’s court.

God is present in my trials and struggles. I want to be rescued, to be delivered – and sometimes these things happen. But God seems more to want me to acknowledge God’s presence, God’s blessing, God’s being with me as much or more than God’s make it all ok.

Perhaps – as with Joseph – because God cares more about the kind of man I am and am becoming by His grace than He cares about my context and circumstances. Joseph, if we are honest, does not come across as a youngster as very likable. Had I been his brother I am not sure I would have felt differently from them about him. But God transforms this spoiled boy into a man he can and does use. May I learn to see God working the same transformation in me in Christ.

Prayer

God of Joseph, may I know your presence as did he. May I grow from where I am, from fault and flaw and sin, by your presence more and more into the man and leader and disciple of Jesus you want me to be. As I face trials and struggles – sometimes of my own doing, sometimes not – may I live in and grow in and trust in your presence. Amen.

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Not Lost – But Lost (Life Journal 1/15/2015)

Scripture

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2 NIV)

Observation

 This introduction leads to Jesus’  parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost (prodigal) son. Not for the first time Jesus’ welcome of “tax collectors and sinners” provokes criticism and rebuke. The words that follow are directed not to these sinners but to the Pharisees and teachers of the law.

Even the Bible warns against spending time with the sinners and the wicked. The traditions and culture of Jesus’ excluded these people from the religious community. So the standards of the day would say the Pharisees and teachers were correct in criticizing Jesus, something we often overlook.

Application

I am struck that when we – I – hear the parables of Jesus that follow these words as speaking to us as the lost ones. We speak of Jesus’ love for the lost sheep, Jesus’ searching for the lost ones valuable to God, Jesus welcoming the lost sons and daughters who have squandered their divine inheritance yet have found by the Father’s grace their way home.

But these words are NOT spoken to the lost but to the elder brothers of the world, to the leaders and teachers of religion. To those who knew the law and the prophets, to those who best understood what God had said through the ages but simultaneously missed how those truths applied to their world and to their hearts.

I am caught by the realization that I am not as much a lost son as an elder one as I would like to think. I have spent my whole life in the church. I have never been a wanderer except in a temporary way. I have been in the fold, I have been one of the 99.

Prayer

Oh Lord of the One and the Ninety-Nine, I confess today how much I am like the Pharisees and teachers. I may not criticize but I exclude and ignore. I do not look to see where you are calling and searching and leading. I am lost but do not recognize or admit. May I hear anew the words of Jesus spoke to the religious as he speaks them to me today. Amen.

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God’s Investment Plan (Life Journal – 1/12/2015)

Scripture

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:32-34 NRSV)

Observation

Luke 12 has several admonitions to “not fear” or “do not be afraid.” (The Greek is the same root from which we get the word ‘phobia’). The fear here seems to be fear of want, of need, of poverty – the fear of being without what we need.

There is also here a theme of destruction – destruction of the soul, of the body, of treasure.

The phrase “good pleasure” is interesting. God wants to give the kingdom, treasure of the spirit, rather than earthly treasure that will not endure anyway.

Application

If I were to categorize my worries, my anxieties, I think that money would top my list. Having enough to live on. Financial obligations that loom on the horizon and move relentlessly toward me. Concerns about the future – retirement, health care, etc. This entire chapter hits close to home for me on many days.

I often read these words to be about trusting in God to provide (which I believe God does). But it is more about loyalty, passion, and focus. Where do I focus my efforts – as well as my fears? Where do my thoughts go when they dream of the future? On what do I spend my efforts and emotions?

God wants to give me the kingdom – not money. God wants to entrust me with a treasure that inflation cannot erode… that a poor economy cannot threaten… that fraud or deceit by others cannot diminish… that my own mismanagement at times will not destroy.

Prayer

O Lord, let me live into your pleasure. Let me receive what you so want to give – your kingdom. I invest myself today in you and your future. I save my anxieties and worries for your will and not my wealth. I seek to know this treasure that cannot go away, given by a God who is eternal, good, and loving. Amen.

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Wells That Are Well (Life Journal – 1/10/2015)

Scripture 

23 From there he went up to Beer-sheba. 24 And that very night the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham; do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you and make your offspring numerous for my servant Abraham’s sake.” 25 So he built an altar there, called on the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there. And there Isaac’s servants dug a well. (Genesis 26:23-25 NRSV)

Observation

This chapter is structured in part around Isaac’s attempts to dig and name and claim wells for his people. Early in the chapter he re-digs wells his father had dug but the Phillistines had filled. Each time conflict arises. He is forced to move on to new places and different sites for his wells. This same pattern is reinforced by his interaction with a local king who forces him to move away because Isaac has grown too prosperous and is therefore a threat to him.

These wells would have been important as sources of water and also of marking people’s land and possessions. Their names suggest that the namer had ownership and control of it.

Application

I wonder if this movement around is God forcing Isaac to make his own way. It is one thing to be the heir of Abraham and the recipient of God’s promises and the one with whom God makes covenant. It is another to simply inherit what Abraham struggled to receive, journeyed to find.

Perhaps Isaac – and Jacob his son as well – must find his own place in God’s plans, stake out his own territory in God’s land of promise. He cannot rest on what his father did. He cannot receive what he did not earn by sacrifice and struggle and journey of his own?

I have inherited much myself – a church as pastor that others have built and led (lay people and pastors).  I am surrounded by books and blogs and resources that teach and bless me. But I have to struggle to own these blessings, to call this church “mine” (although “mine’ is not a good word I think – it is God’s!).  There is no easy path to being blessed, no simple way to spiritual abundance. I have to dig my own wells. I have to find my own place even if it is with help of others and the blessing and grace of God.

Prayer

O God of Isaac and Jacob, guide me as I dig wells today. Bless these feeble efforts with water and provide what I and those I lead and love need. Show me where to dig, give me the courage and persistence to move ahead. In Christ’s name.. Amen.

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All That (Life Journal – 1/9/2015)

Still struggling to get back in rhythm with this flu… hoping I am better enough to hit this daily now.

Scripture

They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere. 

10 On their return the apostles told Jesus all they had done. (Luke 9:6, 10 NRSV)

Observation

Jesus sends the Twelve out and Luke tells us they preach the Kingdom and do works that demonstrate its coming (9:6). On their return they report the news to their master. What follows this brief account is quite interesting – a long narrative about the disciples not getting it. They try to send away the crowds who come whom Jesus then feeds. They cannot cast the demon out of a boy. They fall to arguing about who is the best. They want Jesus to call down judgment from heaven on a village.

Application

We usually equate right-thinking with right-doing with progress inn the things of God. Yet Luke tells a story in which they (Jesus’ first followers) do the things and say the things that Jesus did… but without really understanding. They are successful but unconverted. They have power but lack understanding.

Sometimes we want to see God’s power revealed and think that is the end. To see the Kingdom demonstrated in transformation and power.

God is most concerned not about our demonstrating the power of the Kingdom in the miraculous but in our changed minds and hearts. Not to have statistics to share with the central office but change hearts that will change others. Changed minds that will see what the eyes cannot.

Peter catches a glimpse in vs. 20 but loses sight of it again until after the Resurrection.

Prayer

Lord, give me a demonstration of your kingdom in my heart more than in my ministry. Transfigure me where only you can see rather than blessing me with fruit that others can see and praise. Make real in me the words and deeds of Jesus that others may see that more truly than they see great deeds. Amen.

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Laughing at God (Life Journal – January 7, 2015)

Scripture

“Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.”  But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh”; for she was afraid. He said, “Oh yes, you did laugh.” (Genesis 18:14-15 NRSV)

Observation

Abraham recognizes that these three men are an appearance of the Lord – or at least messengers or something special (hence the special treatment in verses 1-8). How does he know? We know because we are told the Lord appeared to him (vs. 1) but not how Abraham did.

This was no quick interaction either – the bread was made fresh, the calf was slaughtered and prepared. And Abraham doesn’t eat with them but rather stands ready to serve them as they eat what he has prepared.

Sarah’s reaction is laughter – to ridicule what the “man” says. How can this be when both of them are old? Does she still believe the promises?

Application

Yesterday I saw this Tweeted – “What are you praying for in 2015 that is so big only God can get credit when it happens?” And truthfully I had to answer – nothing. Most of my prayers are responses to specific needs in the moment – things I need, family members or friends in distress, church family members who need me and have asked for my prayers.

But do I pray for laughable things – things at which Sarah would also laugh? No – I because I laugh at God too. I laugh at the greatness, the goodness, the largeness of our Lord. I laugh or mock. I am cynical towards even my Divine Father, toward my Gracious Savior, toward the Ever-present Spirit.

And like poor Sarah I am caught out by God for my ridicule. I deny my laughter even as it is still on my lips. I deny my gentle mockery of others and of God for such audacious hope.

Prayer

Lord of Abraham and Sarah,
whose power is greater than my imagination of it,
whose promises are more enduring than my mockery of them,
whose presence sees into my heart and my unbelief:

Give me bold dreams, dreams as great as the on you gave to Abraham and Sarah. Give me courage to pray for what you would do that only you can do in my life, in my relationships, in my church, in my community, in my world.

May my laughter be replaced with joy, my mockery with awe. And may I in due season see you revealed at the end of such a time of prayer.

In the name of the one who came from Abraham’s line and whose words also brought laughter and unbelief and yet proved true – Jesus, the Son. Amen.

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Transaction Denied (Life Journal – 1/6/2015)

Scripture 

“But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36 NRSV)

Observation

Much human relationship is transactional – Jesus speaks in this section of Luke 6 about loving those who love us, doing good to the persons who do us good, and lending to those whom we expect will repay. Something is returned from what we give – love for love, good for good, money for money. Quid pro quo.

Jesus negates transactional relationships in God’s economy – an economy based on God’s behavior not ours. Love those who will not love, be good to the ones who will not return it, lend but expect nothing back.

Application

The holidays often bring is into situations like this – where we weigh what has been done to us before we do. When past wrongs are rehearsed, when old debts of various kinds are remembered. This way that Jesus commands is hard in real human lives – the lives we live.

Do I measure my interaction by what I might gain by it? Do I evaluate someone’s worth in how much he or she is worth to me? Do I base my response on what response I think the other will give, has given, or – worse yet – what the someone deserves in my judgment? More often than I care to admit.

A reminder to me today that to love as God loves, to extend mercy as God extends mercy is my calling. God’s expectation of me.

Prayer

Merciful God, make me to love as you love – especially those whom I find it hardest to love. Make me offer good to those who most would offer me nothing or worse in response. Make me lend, give, share with those who take advantage. Make me like you in fact. More today than yesterday. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Cast the Net (Life Journal – 1/5/15)

I had planned to stick to a daily discipline of posting my Life Journals but illness interfered after day 1. So I pick it up here and move forward. If you want to see what I am reading each day and try this discipline for yourself , go to http://www.enewhope.org/nextsteps/journaling/.

Scripture

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”  Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 

Luke 5:4-5 NRSV

Observation

 Jesus tells Simon to do what they had been doing all night without any fish. Yet he does what Jesus says. The following verses tell of a catch so overwhelming that it threatens to sink their boats. Jesus’ words are what cause Simon to do what he had been doing all along once again. Why does Simon do so at Jesus’ word when the evidence said they were done. Why does he let down the nets one final time?

It also seems that these men were tired – they had been fishing all night (it appears) and were preparing to put things away when Jesus shows up and commandeers their boats.

Application

As a Christian leader I confess that I often want to make things better – to grow them bigger, to make them better, to tweak the at the very least. Sometimes that means asking if what we are doing in the church is growing the church in any measurable way – numerically, spiritually, missionally, etc. And I am forced to ask – not always with good result – is what I am doing growing me in a meaningful way – more humble, more loving, more like Christ?

This passage causes me to struggle with the question of how to know when to stop doing something. When do we say “It is time to put the nets away” over against “Let them down one more time?” I don’t know the answer. What can seem like faithfulness can also be slavish devotion to what makes us comfortable – our habits, our traditions, our known circle, our understandings.

For this story and these verses the key distinction is Jesus. It is because Jesus says so that Peter does what he had decided to stop doing. It is Jesus’ authority, Jesus’ presence, Jesus’ call that was not yet spoken but was reaching out to grab Peter and his partners that made them let down the nets.

Just that simple… and just that hard.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, much of what I do is done out of habit, comfort, duty, and preference. I put my nets out when I think I should and put them away when I am done. Call me anew as Peter heard you call to let the nets down – to do what I do because you have said first and foremost. To minister because you call me to do and not because I am paid and employed to do so. To act not out of strategy or tactic first but first out of what you have said and because I have heard. Amen.

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God’s Embarrassing Posts (Life Journal – 1/1/2015)

Scripture

10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12 and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush.14 The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.” (Genesis 2:10-14)

Observation

It is is easy to skip past these verses in the creation account. They are filled with mention of specific places (rivers and regions) that do not mean to us what they meant to those who first read these words. And they are so specific! A quick Google of these rivers will show you where they probably were. Which means Eden is placed in a fairly specific locale.

Application

When I was a child, my parents would say things that embarrassed me. Things I wish they hadn’t said. Usually such pronouncements were made in front of friends or family (hence the embarrassment!). Even now I can remember a few such occasions and I still feel those feelings when I recall those moments.

Looking back, however, I realize that my parents did not mean to embarrass me. Often what they said so long ago makes sense to me now although at the time I turned crimson. Sometimes I hear myself when one of children say “Dad, why did you have to say that? Couldn’t you just have kept your mouth shut?”

Sometimes we wonder why God preserved what we have in the Scriptures. Some burning questions just aren’t addressed. Some details that we crave are missing. And then we have the four rivers that branch out of the river that watered Eden.

I am reminded on this first day of a new year that some things God will reveal in time to us. Some things not in this life. Some details that made perfect sense to men and women long ago need our work to understand. And some things in the Bible, some stories just don’t make any sense. And when we are honest we might even confess we are embarrassed they made the cut.

I hope to begin this year with a deeper sense of humility and of longing. A humility that admits that I cannot and will not understand every word or story in Scripture – nor every event that this year will bring. A longing to understand and to grow closer to the One who holds the answers. Who speaks still. Who steps into my specific life and speaks to my specific situation even when I am embarrassed or shamed or convicted and wish that God has just kept quiet.

Prayer

God of Creation, who made the heavens and the earth, who caused these words to be preserved for my instruction and my transformation: make me humble in this year as I admit what I do not know and live with what I cannot understand. Give me a longing to draw nearer to You, to dig deeper into the precious words left for us in the Bible. And even when I wish you would remain silent or would speak more… may I remember my earthly parents, too, and thank You for them as I thank You for knowing what to say to me and when to say it. Amen.

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