Monthly Archives: September 2015

Life Journal (9/30/2015) – You Will Perish

Scripture     Luke 13:1-5

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Observation

  • Jesus is speaking about two specific, contemporary events: one a human-enacted atrocity and the other (apparently) an accident
  • “Worse sinners” and “worse offenders” – are they the same thing?
  • Unless you repent — you will perish just as they did. What does he mean

Application

Sometimes Jesus is hard to understand. This passage is one of those times for me. On the one hand, Jesus seems to say that events, both human and natural. are not a good indicator of the sinfulness of those who are caught up in them. And then he says “if you don’t repent you will perish as they did.’ Huh?

Reading the whole chapter and thinking about his words here, I don’t think he means that those listening are being punished because he isn’t saying the others were too.

Perhaps he means that repentance is what makes life and death make sense? Not from our perspective but God’s. The only way to live fully and die peacefully is if our entire life is oriented toward God? The fact that Jesus goes on to talk about the kingdom makes me wonder.

Regardless it is true that life’s difficulties often – ok always – turn me back to Christ or draw me nearer to him. Whether my life is cut short or I live decades more, I want my face and life and future to be turned toward Jesus and his kingdom.

Prayer

Lord of Life, all will perish and all will suffer regardless of what they deserve or don’t. You are the constant, the one to whom our turning matters. Help me to see today through your eyes and not to see through my tendency to judge or evaluate. Amen.

T

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Life Journal (9/29/2015) – Fear Leads to the Dark Side

Scripture     Luke 12:4-7

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight.But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Observation

  • Jesus says “Don’ fear… you should fear… don’t fear”
  • Is this really about fear – or about why we shouldn’t fear anyone in the this world?
  • Contrast between the first verses (4-5) and the second (6-7)
  • Is the contrast between those whom we fear who don’t value us anway and God, who should be feared because of his great power but actually cares more for us than we acknowledge?

Application

The Jedi Master Yoda famously warns ‘Fear is the path to the dark side;” Jesus might agree. This little passage is interesting because it is not what it appears to be about  at first glance. Jesus contrasts those whom we tend to fear – those who have power over us in this life – but rather fear God because he can kill not just your body but also your soul.

But Jesus’ advice here is really “Don’t be afraid!” Weird. Not at all what you’d expect based on the intro. His point to me is  – “Here is the One whom you should really fear. But you are valuable to him, more than you know. And so don’t be afraid at all.”

So much of the gospel is about not being afraid if we look at its message without our preconceptions or the stuff we overly on it.

Prayer

Lord, I know your power exceeds any power I can imagine. Yet that power is applied to my good, not my destruction; to my benefit rather than to my harm. Teach me anew how not to fear but to live in the freedom from fear and the freedom of knowing how much you value me. Amen.

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Life Journal (9/28/2015) – Overtaken By Myself

Scripture     Zechariah 1:1-6

In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo, saying: The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord of hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the former prophets proclaimed, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.” But they did not hear or heed me, says the Lord. Your ancestors, where are they? And the prophets, do they live forever? But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not overtake your ancestors? So they repented and said, “The Lord of hosts has dealt with us according to our ways and deeds, just as he planned to do.”

Observation

  • Do not be like your ancestors… return to me
  • Ancestors – those who went into exile when Jerusalem fell?
  • “The Lord of hosts” repeated – why this formulation? What does this signify?
  • Is the genealogy of Zechariah a reminder that his ancestors as well as “theirs” were guilty?

Application

As Pogo famously quipped “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I am my own worst enemy. It is easy to blame others, circumstances, luck for things that happen/ And sometimes it is true to be sure. But more often than not. more likely than  not – my crises are my doing. Or at least where I land when they strike is anyway.

I love the image of the words and statues of the Lord overtaking the ancestors of the people. Like a storm they tried to outrun – but a storm of their own making – it hits them no matter how far and hard they run.

I cannot outrun the consequences of my decisions. They will overtake me for good or ill. For that matter I cannot outrun circumstances beyond my control either.

I can, however, not try to outrun the Lord or run away from him – even when I am guilty of some transgression. Return to him, he says. And he will return to me he promises.

Prayer

Lord of Hosts, you promised to return to those who returned to you. Even when the consequences of their disobedience came to fruition… so let me not run from you or need to return to you. Sometimes I know what it is to be overtaken by my sins or by my mistakes. May i trust in your word and in your grace even then. Amen.

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Toward a Spirituality of Fall (Part 1)

Fall-Banner-at-Top (1)

I love fall (if you know me and are reading this post, you won’t need the reminder). For some fall is a time of dreariness and dread. Summer is over. Winter is coming. Fall just bridges the gap between glory and misery. But fall also can teach, inspire, remind. Today I am starting some posts about what fall does for my spirit.

The seasons are often seen as symbols for the stages of human life. The dread some friends feel for the annual return of fall is akin to the dread some feel as middle-age becomes real and old-age is in sight (I am definitely in middle-age myself).

But the leaves of fall remind us that there is beauty, there is purpose, there is significance in every stage of human existence. The leaves of fall re-attune our hearts to a different kind of beauty, in part so that when winter comes as it does to all of us. we will seek and see the beauty it holds as well.  The leaves on the trees will fall and die as autumn advances. The tree is still alive!

As the leaves change from greens to browns and reds and yellows, in whatever season we find ourselves may they remind us that God has given every stage of life its own beauty and rhythm. Enjoy the one where you now live. And if, like me, summer is past and you are in the fall of life, enjoy it all the more today!

Yours is the day, yours also the night;
    you established the luminaries and the sun.
You have fixed all the bounds of the earth;
    you made summer and winter.

Psalm 75:16-17

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Life Journal (9/25/2015) – Words and Deeds

Scripture     Luke 8:1-3

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Observations

  • ‘Soon afterward’ refers to Jesus’ feet being washed and his teaching about forgiveness and responding in gratitude
  • The good news of the kingdom of God — this forgiveness? Suggested by the context (before and after)
  • The women following him are named and and their statuses / social roles
  • What is the difference (if any) between “proclaiming” and “bringing” the good news? Is one words, the other deeds? Is it merely repetition for emphasis?

Application

I was reading some pieces on worship this week. The most prevalent thought was the truth that those who lead worship best prepare by being spiritually connected and grounded themselves. The technical stuff comes second.

I’m reminded of that today in reading the story of Jesus’ missionary journey. The people who followed were not wowed by his teaching alone or captivated by this character and charisma. They were people whose lives had been changed! The disciples had been called and left lives and work they knew. The women named here had been transformed, healed, and remade by Jesus’ power and ministry.

They came not just bringing good news in words (which they did) but in their very selves. “If Jesus can do this for me… if this Master can master what enslaves and limits me… he can do that same for you.”

What has Christ done for me lately that I can share? And I have continued to live into that freeing power and that kingdom reality so that I have something to share – even if not in words alone?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you didn’t just call – you changed. You didn’t just bring the words – you brought the reality and power of your kingdom. May I be as great a witness in my transformed life today as I am with words or even pious deeds. Amen.

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Life Journal (9/24/2015) – Stirred Up

Scripture     Ezra 1:1

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in order that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom, and also in a written edict declared:

“Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of those among you who are of his people—may their God be with them!—are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.”

Observation

  • The Lord used Cyrus to fulfill what had been promised
  • Cyrus is not a Jew and yet he acts to rebuild the temple (why is there no “Temple of Cyrus” as there is of Herod?)
  • This scene is set quite particularly – in the reign of Cyrus and with reference to the prophecies of Jeremiah
  • Echoes of Exodus? the Lord stirs Cyrus’ spirit, the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart… the slaves in Egypt are liberated, the captives in the Persian Empire are… the Jews head for the Promised Land, the Jews head back to the place to fulfill God’s promises

Application

This release and restoration under Cyrus begins with God stirring Cyrus’ heart to do so. So much depends on Cyrus being responsive, on Cyrus yielding to God’s direction. But it happens and the drama of the return of the exiles and the attempt to rebuild the temple begins.

As I am reflecting I am reminded of John Wesley who felt his “heart strangely warmed” and others in the history of faith who were stirred by God and did incredible things.

I need this today! I am in a bit of funk (ok more than a bit) where I feel overwhelmed by challenges and limited by what seem to be far too few resources to do what I need to do. But here Ezra’s history reminds me that it was the stirring of Cyrus’ heart that led to this shift in the fortunes of the exiles.
I am not Cyrus – but I can feel some exilic angst however. God is stirring the hearts of people to move, to shift, to guide. God stirred Cyrus that the words he had stirred in Jeremiah might come to be. I am no Jeremiah either – but today is a good day to trust that where God stirs my heart there are other hearts stirred and the means and resources to do what God calls to do will follow.

Prayer

God of Jeremiah who stirred the prophet to promise deliverance… stir my heart to speak boldly and act as boldly in response to your stirring. God of Cyrus who stirred a great king to free your people and prove your faithfulness… stir others even where I cannot see or am not aware that your calling, your urging, your imperatives to me might come to be! Amen.

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Life Journal (9/23/2015) – Sabbath Breaking

After a not-quite two-week hiatus, my daily devotional blog posts are back!

Scripture     Luke 6:1-5

One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

Observation

  • Why were they walking through the grainfields? Premeditated sabbath-breaking? And why were the Pharisees there – wherever “there” was?
  • Jesus connecting himself to David
  • Jesus answers their question / challenge with another question!

Application

Hmmmm. Is Jesus the lord of my religious, spiritual practices? Or not? It strikes me as I read this familiar story today that Jesus is saying that he is lord of what people need, what kind of rest and renewal and restoration the sabbath is meant to bring. And that the day matters not as much as the Lord who is honored and worshiped on that day.

What would Jesus have me to today to honor him? What does God want me to do today to draw nearer? How does the Holy Spirit speak to bring rest and renewal? What I think works may not be – often is not- what God wants to do and me to do to find sabbath rest, to receive grace, to know more deeply the divine love.

Who is lord of my sabbath.. I or the Lord of the Sabbath???

Prayer

Lord of the Sabbath, you gave your people rest every seven days. May I rest today in you. You broke the rhythm of their week and work to remind then who is lord not just of the sabbath but of life. Show me today the ways, the paths, the channels of grace you want me to follow rather than to do what I want or what I prefer to receive your grace. Feed me soul as the disciples fed their bodies on that long-ago sabbath. And break my sabbaths to make them into your sabbaths again.

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Life Journal (9/10/2015) – The Song Remains the Same

Scripture   Revelation 15:2-4

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
    Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
    King of the nations!
Lord, who will not fear
    and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
    All nations will come
    and worship before you,
for your judgments have been revealed.”

Observation

  • John is describing something that is hard to describe (“it appeared”) in words
  • What does it mean for the singers to sing the “song of Moses” and the “the song of the Lamb?”
  • Only place in Revelation that refers to Moses by name
  • ALL nations will come and worship – not one or some but all
  • Two other songs of Moses in the Bible — one a song of deliverance (Exodus 15) and the other a song of witness against the Israelites who had not been faith to their deliverer (Deuteronomy 32).

Application

When John sees this vision from God of the church’s deliverance, he harkens back to “the song of Moses.” Moses’ two songs elsewhere in the Bible are about deliverance but also judgment, a reminder that God has delivered but that not all respond or rejoice at God’s deliverance.

 As someone has said, the more things change the more they remain the same. God the Deliverer appears again and again in Scripture. And the reminder of how quickly we forget, or don’t respond at all, is very real.

Today I celebrate the delivering power of God – seen long ago in Moses’ leadership of the people from Egypt but most perfectly and ultimately in the Lamb, Jesus Christ.

Prayer

Strong Deliverer, I praise you today! I sing the song of Moses and of the Lamb, the song of praise and deliverance. May I not forget where my deliverance lies, where my hope rests, where my praise should go. In the name of the Lamb who delivers from sin and death… Amen.

 

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Life Journal (9/9/2015) – No Anonymous Followers

Scripture     Revelation 14:1-5

Then I looked, and there was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion! And with him were one hundred forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the one hundred forty-four thousand who have been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins; these follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found; they are blameless.

Observation

  • The 144,000 are in contrast to those who have the mark of the beast (described in the previous chapter)
  • Name written on their foreheads – easily seen, cannot be ignored or hidden
  • Are th3 144,000 literal virgins? Or are they those who have not defiled themselves with the Great Whore (coming up in a later chapter)? Is this a symbol of purity along with their never having lied?
  • “Follow the Lamb” – echo of Jesus’ call to follow him in the Gospels?
  • 144,000 is 12 *12,000 and alludes to the 12 Jewish tribes but also to a completeness, a totality. But they are described as ” first fruits.”

Application

The image of the Lamb’s and Father’s names written on the 144,000 foreheads always reminds me of Ash Wednesday when many Christians have ashes placed on their foreheads as signs of repentance and mortality. They cannot be hidden very easily can they? I see them around town on that day and think “Oh, she’s been to church” or “He’s observing Ash Wednesday.

The name of the Father and the Lamb clearly identifies them as belonging to them. And they contrast with the mark in the previous chapter on those who follow the beast. In both cases there is no anonymity, no “private religion.”

And there isn’t for me either. I may not have a mark or a name on my forehead. But my lifestyle, my character, my loyalties all mark me for who and whose I am. Do people see the name of the Father on my forehead when they engage me in conversation at the grocery store? Do they know that I follow the Lamb when they follow me on Facebook or Twitter (that’s more than a little convicting!)?

Prayer

Father in Heaven, write your name upon me and upon my life today. Mark me out as yours and and as a follower of the Lamb. May I be counted among those who belong to you and seen as such. And where I am not obviously so, bring me to repentance and to renew my following of the Lamb and my life in Him. Amen.

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Life Journal (9/2/2015) – Prayers of the Saints Shaking the Earth

Scripture     Revelation 8:3-5

Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

Observation

  • Censer — used in worship to spread incense
  • The incense was “mixed” with the prayers of the saints
  • Is the censer filled with fire  and flung to earth still intertwined in some way with the prayers of the saints??
  • There is a great quantity of incense — to go with a great quantity of prayers?

Application

Some of John’s vision in Revelation is hard to imagine or envision. I imagine the symbolism/imagery would be more readily “accessible” to those who first heard these words.

The image of the incense mixing with the prayers of the saints is compelling. They prayers almost sound like they have a physical reality, a presence of their own – a substance even. When I think of prayer I think of words spoken and somehow heard by God. But what if they also have some reality that I don’t understand, some substance to them? Probably much too speculative but an image worth pondering.

And the censor that was used by the angel gets flung to the earth. The image I have is that the prayers are part of this picture of then – that the prayers of the saints (as we fervently hope and might dare to believe!) have a power on earth that is beyond our ability to understand. But is real and is vital in the plans and purposes of God.

Prayer

O Lord of Glory and Might – my prayers rise to you as the incense in John’s vision. Give me a sense of their reality, their power, their substance beyond just the words I say or the thoughts I think. They are power and they are real. May I see this so with my eyes as I believe it with my heart. Amen.

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