"We must trust, though we seem alone, there are others walking with us."

Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Day 242: Prostitute's Daughter

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 16-17

Imagine the prostitute who is pregnant, who has no way to support or raise a child. She births the babe and then leaves it out in the elements to die.
On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.

Along comes a man of compassion who sees the babe, tends and cares for her and as she grows, he falls in love with her. He crowns her with all good things. They marry.

But she does not want his love. She uses her beauty and health, prostituting herself, and becoming pregnant. She takes the children of her prostitution and offers them up to Molech, the glutonnous god whose firey appetite demands child sacrifice.

This is the parable of Ezekiel as he speaks of the people of Israel.

Is this the parable of people who claim Christ as LORD?

What hope did we have before Jesus came into our lives? Were we not left to the elements of nature and death? Did not God save us? Have we not been given amazing gifts of God's word, Spiritual fruit and the fellowship of the Body of Christ? Are we not known as the Bride of Christ, offered a relationship of intimacy and love?

And yet, do we prostitute ourselves in any way, giving the fruit of our labors to gluttonous appetites?

On a bright and sunny morning, this is not something I really want to think about. But if I am honest, this story rings true in some parts of my life.

How about yours?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Day 241: False Prophets

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 13-15

This past weekend and this morning, I have talked with members of churches who are disheartened about their pastors and mourning over conflict in their churches.

A couple with whom I talked, verbalized that their pastor does not care for the sheep, refusing to visit the sick or counsel the ones in need. They also comoplained about his inability to preach.

Another friend from another town verbalized her pastor was saying that the miracles of Jesus were just stories, untrue, and that anyone who believed in them were foolish and simple minded.

In today's passage, we hear of false prophets among the people of Israel who "follow their own spirit," who claim to have seen visions when in truth "they have seen nothing," or claim to have heard from God while God says, "I have not spoken." In other passages from the prophets we have heard that the shepherds called by God were not tending the sheep.

How do the people of God recognize false prophet? And how do the people of God address conflict and division in the church when leadership is questionable?

First of all, one cannot know if a prophet is true or false if one is not close to God. The way we become close to God and know God's will is two fold: studying the word and prayer.

Criticism and judgment are easy and false ways to deal with conflict. Most of us, when we don't like our pastor because of some annoyance or personality quirk that does not resonate with our own immediately put ourselves on the judgment throne, a place reserved only for God. It is obvious from today's passage that God is aware of false prophets and will deal with them. God doesn't need our counsel.

Withdrawal and despondency are easy and false ways to deal with conflict. Most of us, when we don't like our pastor or if there is conflict in the church, respond by withdrawing. We stop going to worship in our church and often do not attend another church. We stay at home, removing ourselves from the fellowship of believers. We talk with everyone else who agrees with us and rarely have the grace to go to the person with whom we disagree and work toward reconciliation.

God has called us to be "ambassadors of reconciliation." Our first call is to grieve and repent for any lack of prayer and any idolatrous pride we might have. God has declared, "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, then I will hear from heaven and heal their land." In humility, we need to ask God to show us where we have failed and move toward correcting our own actions and attitudes.

Next, we need to pray for the one with whom we are in conflict. Jesus calls us to pray for our enemies. If it is our pastor, we must discern whether or not the pastor is truly a brother or sister in Christ. Do they love the Lord? Has he or she confessed his or her faith in Jesus? If they have, then we need to especially pray for God to help us to discern what is going on. Has he become despondent? Has she entered into a personal crisis that is overwhelming her? Has he been seduced by knowledge? Has she been tempted to please others instead of pleasing God? Has he been overpowered by the temptation of power? Has she lost hope? Are there apparent areas of weakness that need the power of the Holy Spirit? Is the person demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit? Is the person in their rightful calling? Is the enemy of God, Satan, attacking?

If the LORD tells us that our pastor is not a believer, then we need to ask the LORD to show himself to our pastor. Pray for your pastor's salvation. You might be the loving instrument of grace which woos your pastor into a relationship with your Savior.

Leaders are responsible for the way they lead and for what they teach. This is a huge burden that most leaders forget in the everydayness of spiritual leadership. But leaders are just as vulnerable to temptation and straying from the path as the rest of us, especially if they do not take time or have time for prayer, study in the word or Sabbath.

Someone once said, "There can be no power in the pulpit if there is no prayer in the pew."

Most people who come to church on Sunday do not realize their incredible responsibility for the worship experience. Praying for our pastors is so important! Rarely are they strong enough in the LORD to fight the spiritual battle by themselves.

How can we pray for our pastors?

Pray for your pastor's love, knowledge, and obedience to the LORD and God's will to grow and deepen.

Pray for your pastor to have a heart for God alone and to have God's love for everyone.

Pray for your pastor to hunger for the Word of God and for truth.

Pray for your pastor to be convinced of his or her salvation through Christ, girded in truth, sure of Christ's righteousness and totally aware of his or her own weaknesses, shod with the gospel of peace and an excellent swordsman of the Holy Spirit.

Pray for your pastor's family: for their salvation, for love and compassion in their home, for wisdom, for protection against any disunity.

Pray for your pastor's ability to hear from God. Ask God to unstop the ears so that your pastor can hear where God is leading not only the church but the pastor.

Pray that your pastor might be humble before the LORD, and that he or she might have a confidant with whom they can confess and receive good counsel.

As you pray and are in the word daily, encourage others in this ministry. Listen as you sit before the mercy seat of God. Be an ambassador of reconciliation.

And remember, you are not fighting against flesh and blood, but against angels and principalities of this world.

God will deal with false prophets.

Your job is to be faithful in your post, to pray and feed on God's word daily, to put on the armor of God, to speak the truth in love, to love God and your neighbor with everything you have been given, and to discern where God is calling you to go and to be.

May God bless us all as we diligently discern and rise to the call upon our lives.

Day 240: A mark on the forehead

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 9-12

God's heavenly scribe, donned in linen and carrying his writing kit, is commanded to go throughout the people and mark the foreheads of those who are grieving and lamenting over the detestable things in their land. In other words, the foreheads of the repentant ones were marked.

Then, God's heavenly guards, most likely angels in God's army who are the spiritual guardians of the city, are to kill all who are not repentant, those who are stubborn and rebellious. Even though they claim to be Israelites and God's people, they are seen by God as the enemy.

Deduction: God's people mourn over sin. God's enemies are stubborn and rebellious.

Christians have a sacrament in which the forehead is "marked." It is the sacrament of baptism. One of the understandings of baptism is that of repentance and grieving over sin. The repentant one turns to Jesus Christ for salvation and is thus marked as Christ's own.

Baptism is not a right. It is a gift of grace. It is a sign of humility and an admission of great need, total dependence on God.

Later in Revelation, those who have been marked and sealed by God on the forehead are saved; their names are written in the Book of Life.

I wonder, if God's scribe came to my town today, if I would be one of the one's who would receive the mark on my forehead, or if I would be judged by God as one of the stubborn and rebellious ones.

This is something to ponder for those of us who have been baptized. Are we living a life of humility and grace wherein we mourn the disobedience and "detestable things" in our culture, or are we pridefully or ignorantly going along with the world, blind to the danger all around us?

I will touch my forehead today.
I will remember that you have claimed me in my baptism.
Claimed me as your own.
Claimed me to be a light in darkness.
Claimed me to see the world as it truly is.

Give me a heart of humility and repentance
To truly grieve my own sinful ways
Do not allow me to become stubborn
hard hearted
Keep me ever in your Way
until I am home at last in your presence.

Day 239: Hair Cut

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 5-8

Many of us frequent hair salons on a regular basis, enjoying the comfort of a nice head massage, deep cleansing and conditioning, perhaps some coloring and a new do, giving us a lift in our week. Hair cuts are a usual part of our grooming.

In Israel, hair was not only a part of their grooming, it, like all of life, had a spiritual significance.

Because of hair's capacity for constant growth, even after death, hair became a symbol of life and prosperity.

Men, who had made a vow to follow God with full diligence, did not cut their hair or trim their beards.

Married women were to never cut their hair and to save its beauty for the enjoyment of their husbands, thus, in modesty and respect to their husbands, they covered their heads.

The Israelites allowed their physicians to cut their hair for sanitary purposes. Levites, priests, shaved not only their heads but their entire bodies as part of their rite of purification as they entered into the priesthood.

To cut one's hair was a sign of mourning, a statement that life was being taken away. To have one's hair cut outside of the above mentioned purification rites was a huge disgrace.

God tells Ezekiel to cut his hair. This is a sign of deep mourning and disgrace that God feels for God's idolatrous people. God asks Ezekiel to weigh the hair on scales. The scale was and continues to be the symbol of justice. God is sharing that the punishment that is to come upon God's people is just and fair.

God then tells Ezekiel to divide the hair, which represents life, into three equal parts. The life of Israel will be burned: famine and pestilence will fall upon on third of the people. The life of Israel will be cut off: one third of the people will die because of the sword. The life of Israel will be thrown into the wind: one third of Israel will go into captivity and exile, scattered as a nation.

A few strands are kept close to the prophet in his garment. This represents the ones who will be the remnant of God's people, from whom God will rebuild the nation.

This judgment, this prophecy, was fulfilled.

God asked the prophet Ezekiel to do a strange thing, to cut his hair, to burn and splice and toss it into the wind. These things seem very strange if one does not know the heart and mind of God.

But Ezekiel heard from God and obeyed.

Prophets are a weird group of people.

They do strange things sometimes.

Sometimes, they say things and do things that do not make sense.

Yet, when they speak, we need to listen for the Word of God to us, discerning God's truth for our ears.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Day 238: Go! Speak!

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 1-4

I, like many in my generation, learned to read using the tales of Dick, Jane and Sally. These stories began with "See Dick." "See Dick run." The sentences were short. They were simple. And once we had mastered these simple commanding sentences, we were launched into a whole new and wonderful world of reading.

Exekiel is exposed to a very intriguing vision laden with the number four. Four represents humanity, but the living, created things in the vision have an interesting attribute:
"Wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go in that direction."

Ezekiel sees a vision of how beautiful and glorious the world would be if God's creation would listen and follow God's will.

Then the LORD speaks to Ezekiel in simple "Dick and Jane" language.



Here's what is intriguing about God's call on Ezekiel's life. God makes it very clear that Ezekiel's call is not dependent upon the people's response.

They might not welcome him. He is still supposed to "Go!"

They might not listen to him. He is still supposed to "Speak!"

Very simple.

Ezekiel, you are to go in the direction of my Spirit. You are to move when the Spirit says move. You are to stop when the Spirit says stop.

Robert Fulghum penned it perfectly in his book, All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten. From Dick, Jane and Sally's simple statements to "Mother May I," God's call on our life is fairly straightforward and uncomplicated.

But it is not simple.

It makes incredible demands.



despite the response...

Day 237: Soul Biopsy

Today's Reading: Lamentations 3:37-5:22

As a nurse, my job is to physically assess a patient. I not only examine and probe by asking questions of my clients, often I am called upon to examine and probe their bodies, also.

We ask questions of an intimate and private nature. We ask people to disrobe and put on hospital gowns which do not go far in covering one's modesty, and then we have the gall to feel necks for glands, stick things into any orifice, and knead all sorts of private parts of bodies. We are examining and probing for areas which might be unhealthy. If we feel anything amiss, we order up tests and biopsies to further examine and probe into a person's body.

Jeremiah, seeing Israel very spiritually sick, comes to her side and says,
Let us examine and probe our ways,
And let us return to the LORD.

Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living," yet how many of us live day in and day out never examining and probing ourselves?

My life's passion is to help people poke and prod at their lives, looking at motives, watching for patterns, acknowledging strengths and weaknesses alike, seeking forgiveness.

Each one of us has the opportunity to come to the Great Physician, lift up our hands as he takes off our outer masks and dirty rags, puts us into a restful Sabbath and then biopsies our very souls.

The beauty of our LORD is that when we submit to his examining and probing touch, He will discover exactly where we need healing and will provide it for us.

Each one of our souls contains some cancerous growth. Why not submit ourselves to God's healing power and regain our spiritual health?

Isn't it time to return to the LORD for not only a physical, but a "spiritcal?"

Day 236: The LORD is my portion

Today's Reading: Lamentations 1:1-3:36

The prophet Jeremiah begins his sorrowful weeping as he pens the book of Lamentations. As we read this mournful poem, we see that Israel has been stripped within and without.

Many of us have had friends who seem to have Job-like lives. It seems they can not absorb one piece of grief before another is knocking at their doors. Though Jeremiah acknowledges the wrath of God is just, he still, with compassion, cries for the destruction of Israel. It is pitiable to watch the consequences of bad choices begin to live themselves out.

Israel stands now naked, stripped of all her former glory, marched into exile, empty of all that is pleasing. Her inheritance has been squandered, much like that of the Prodigal Son. She is compared to a widow, who has no station or protection in life. She owns no property, she has no title, she has no honor, she has no blessing.

She has become like one without an inheritance and thrown out of the household. She has nothing, except one thing.

The LORD is my portion.

The LORD is now all she can see as her inheritance. No longer will silver, gold, wisdom, knowledge or glory be on her head. When they read the will, Israel receives the dusty treasure hidden in the attic.

The LORD is my portion.

And what a treasure this is, for it is more than sufficient.

Many people love the hymn, Amazing Grace. The first verse is memorized by even those who do not know or trust in God. But a wonderful verse, often left out of hymnals, has crept into my heart and claimed a special place. It gives me hope and piece in the midst of sorrowful situations.

The LORD has promised good to me
His Word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

This passage in Lamentations from the pen of Jeremiah has comforted many souls as they have faced trials, consequences or suffering. This portion of God's Word, though often neglected, has had its truth sneak into our favorite hymns.

With our brothers and sisters in ages past, let us declare with Jeremiah, "Great is thy faithfulness."

The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease,
For His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day 235: Sic 'em

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 51-52

There are many Disney moments when animated characters are fleeing the wrath of the Evil One or Destroyer featured in the most recently released flick. Whether it be Snow White fleeing through the forest full of grabbing trees and torrential rains, Pinocchio paddling away from a cresting wave, or Mulan galloping away from a surging avalanche, we can visualize the action that follows the warning, "Run for your lives!"

As God's wrath spills forth upon the enemies of God's children, God warns his people to flee, run; run as fast as you can!

We learn a bit about the spiritual realm when we listen to God's word very closely. Consider the implications of this revealing passage:
This is what the LORD says:
"See, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer."

It is as if God has some chained up pit bulls and rottweilers, snarling and snapping at the air, just waiting to be let loose and to hear the command, "sic 'em" so they can aggressively and fearlessly maul people to death, holding onto their prey until all their life blood is poured out.

Did you ever think of God as being in charge of "the spirit of the destroyer?" In some ways, this is very disturbing. God has an arsenal of destruction waiting eagerly to execute God's commands. God uses Satan, the destroyer, to do his will.

At the same time, it comforts me to know God controls the destroyer. He hold the key to the padlock on the kennel. God can open or shut the door.

And the barking, blood hungry beast must be still and retreat with tail between legs at God's command.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Day 234: Gentle Jesus Meek and Mild?

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 49-50

In 1792, Charles Wesley, the founder of Methodism, wrote a poem found in his work, Hymns and Sacred Poems. The first few lines are this:
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

Whether it was this poem, paintings or sermons which lifted up Jesus as friend,---gentle, kind, easy going, non abrasive,---many often refer to the "God of the New Testament" as some further "evolved" God who looks longingly at us with wavy brown hair and reverent, waxy eyes.

They seem to think that the "God of the Old Testament," whose wrath demands justice and holiness, some how was shelved or retired for some newer, less clunky model of God.

Many Christians refrain from reading the Old Testament to avoid the militant, angry God who goes around destroying idolaters and wiping out entire cities of sinners. Some even believe in their hearts that God and Jesus are two entirely separate beings which can be dissected one from the other. Or perhaps they believe God to be schizophrenic with a multiple personality disorder.

For these people, reading the Old Testament truly is a spiritual discipline. In fact, many "read" it by skimming through it, trying to avoid yet another battle or flood, famine or drought. Though they give the Old Testament their time, they do not give it the ears of their heart.

Yet, God claims to be the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. And Jesus claims, "I and the Father are one." If this is true, and I believe it is, Jesus is just as concerned about justice, holiness and righteousness as the Father, and the Father is just as concerned about mercy, forgiveness and compassion as the Son.

I believe, once we hit the New Testament in this disciplined reading, we will discover that Jesus is not "Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild," except.....except when it comes to the same folks with whom his Father is especially gentle.

In the midst of all the slaughter and disaster of God's vengeance, we read these words from the mouth of God.
"Leave your orphans; I will protect their lives.
Your widows too can trust in me."

The weak, the helpless, the very young and the very old all seem to have a special place in God's heart, whether God reveals himself in the Old or New Testament.

With this in mind, I pray the prayer with my brother, Charles Wesley.
Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,
Look upon a little child;
Pity my simplicity,
Suffer me to come to Thee.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Day 233: Have No Fear

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 46-48

My son is highly allergic to peanuts. We discovered this allergy when he was very young. Eating anything with peanuts or even breathing the air in planes where people were opening those little peanut appetizer packs would send him into a respiratory fit. We would end up in the hospital where he would receive epinephrine or adrenaline which would combat his allergic reaction.

My son learned very early in his life he could HAVE NO PEANUTS. He learned to ask the right questions:
Was this fried in peanut oil?
Did you use peanut butter?
He sniffs food not made by his mother before he takes a bite.
He has been very careful to HAVE NO PEANUTS.

Two years ago at Christmas, he ate a very highly concentrated peanut infested cookie by mistake. Immediately, his airway began to close. We called 911 and rushed him to the emergency room. He was minutes away from dying.

Peanuts are lethal for my son.
If he eats them again, it could mean death for him.
He continues to be very vigilant.

In today’s reading from Jeremiah, the people of Israel are in exile.

They see God destroying their enemies all around them, and are afraid they will get destroyed in the fray. They know they have sinned against God. They know the exile is their punishment, but they have also been assured by God that he would save them. Still, they tremble as they look at their circumstances.

We hear a common phrase out of God’s mouth as God addresses his people:
Have no fear, my servant Jacob, and do not be dismayed, O Israel;

This is not just a suggestion or a plea to calm down; this is a command. God knows that the greatest weapon of the Enemy, Satan, is the arrow of fear. God is telling his people, have nothing to do with fear.

Some versions of the Bible translate this phrase, "Do not fear." This implies that we can change an emotion simply by being told to not experience it. As most of us know, this is a rather difficult request.

I prefer our NRSV translation, "HAVE NO FEAR." Just as my son must stay clear of peanuts, the people of God must stay clear of fear. We need to sniff it out and recognize it before we even allow it to enter us.

When a UPS man comes with a package, we sign on the line to receive it. Most of us receive packages before we even know their contents.

Jeremiah is saying to the people of Judah and of Israel
Be aware
Be diligent

If a UPS delivery of fear comes your way, sniff it out and then, do not receive it. Don’t sign for it. Reject it before it can even enter you. Say to Satan, your enemy, “I’m not signin’ for that!” and send him on his way.

God’s people are allergic to fear. It is a foreign substance to how God created us.
When we entertain it
When we allow it to enter into our lives
When we decide to “have” it
Our bodies respond much the same way as when one has an allergic reaction.

An allergic reaction is the body's way of responding to an "invader." When the body senses a foreign substance, called an antigen, the immune system is triggered.
If the immune system is unable to protect the body against this invading substance,
anaphylaxis occurs.

The symptoms of anaphylaxis are much like the symptoms of fear: shortness of breath, flushing, stomach ache, feeling out of control and panic.

The actual word anaphylaxis means “against protection.” It is the state in which the body is almost defeated, when its protective system is attacked. It is a life threatening emergency.

How does one deal with anaphylaxis?

You give epinephrine or adrenaline. Adrenaline improves airway patency, improves blood pressure, and may be life-saving. Interestingly, it can be administered every 5 minutes until the symptoms of anaphylaxis are gone. The word adrenaline refers to the kidneys which secrete this protecting hormone. In Hebrew, the word kidney comes from the word meaning "armor, protecting weapon."

Just as the body has been created to defend itself against antigens by triggering the immune system which produces adrenaline, the spirit has been created to defend itself against Fear by triggering its spiritual armor which produces a form of spiritual adrenaline.

So let’s review what God is saying and see if we can detect how we are to respond to the sharp arrow of Fear.

1. Like my son, we are to HAVE NO FEAR We need to sniff it out, avoid it, and not sign for it. We are not to allow it to come into our lives.

2. If it does sneak in, though, we need to recognize it and its symptoms and get immediate “treatment.” We must respond immediately before it chokes the life out of us, before it paralyzes us in our walk of faith.

3. So what is the antidote, what is the adrenaline for fear? What is our weapon, the armor God has given us? Look again with me at two verses from Jeremiah.

Verse 27 says, "have no fear for I am going to save you from afar." Just as God promised to bring Israel out of the land of their captivity, God has promised to save us from our captivity to sin. This knowledge that you have been saved by faith in Jesus Christ is the helmet of your salvation which allows you to transform your thinking, transform your mind.

Much of fear’s power over us is in our minds. If we focus on our own weakness or present circumstances, the life giving breath of God will certainly be choked out of us.

But if we allow God’s amazing compassion and grace given to us from afar in the saving act of Christ on the cross to be our adrenaline, to be our armor and weapon, we can stand with the breastplate of his righteousness and with the shield of faith and ward off any flaming arrow from Satan.

Martin Luther, when challenged by the fears of excommunication, exile and his own inadequacies would pull out his “shot of emergency adrenaline” by proclaiming, “I have been baptized.” I have already been eternally saved by Christ, sealed as his own, guaranteed salvation. What can Satan do to me?

Just as adrenaline can be given frequently until the symptoms disappear we need to meditate upon our salvation and what God has already done for us in Christ.

God’s adrenaline antidote is two fold. Not only do we have God’s amazing salvation from afar, look at verse 28. "Have no fear for I am with you!" God is present, defending and working for our good in every circumstance. Jesus says, I will never leave or forsake you, but I will come to you and your heart will rejoice.

God has promised his people he will not destroy them, they will not experience eternal death. God truthfully tells us that he might have to discipline us once in awhile, but he will discipline us justly and with mercy.

God is with us. …This has been the constant proclamation of our God since the beginning of time. Have no fear, I am with you.

The Psalmist declares, Where can I go that you are not with me?

Paul echoes this truth: Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our savior.

The Holy Spirit is God’s seal of his presence, "You are never alone."

God demonstrated this most fully when he sent his son whose names became the very proclamation of God’s truth:
Jesus--He shall save his people from their sin.
Emanuel--God is with us

The prophet Jeremiah spoke to the people of Israel and he still speaks to us today.
Fear is something for you to avoid.
It is foreign to how God made you.
If it invades you, pull out our emergency antidote, your spiritual adrenaline and administer these two truths until the life giving breath of God returns.

If my brothers and sisters and I were being disruptive in our home, my mother would come in and say, "I'll have none of that." When your fears become disruptive in your soul, discipline them by saying, "I have none of that!"

God has saved me.
God is with me.

Breathe in these life giving words, this good news,
And live life without fear.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Day 232: Why even ask?

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 41-45

A general of an army, his entire regiment and all the auxillary people come and ask Jeremiah, the prophet, what they should do.
"Please hear our petition and pray to the LORD your God for this entire remnant. For as you now see, though we were once many, now only a few are left. Pray that the LORD your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do."
Jeremiah 42:2-3

Jeremiah spends ten days in prayer, seeking the LORD regarding this matter.

He then tells them very clearly and precisely what God says.

Now, wouldn't you think the general and all the people would heed the prophet's words?

Well, guess what? They don't.

Why did they even ask Jeremiah to inquire of the LORD, spending ten days on his knees in humble supplication, if they weren't going to listen?

I'm wondering if I do this very thing.

Do I sit with my open Bible or at the feet of teachers who have spent hours--days--in prayer while seeking the LORD, only to listen to what they say and walk away unchanged?

It is one thing to act out of ignorance, but even more dangerous to act against what we know is God's will. We all ask for a sign, for a word, and then when it is not what we were fishing for, we walk away from it.

People prayed for centuries for the messiah to come, and when he did, they rejected and despised him.

If this is our common response to God's revelation to us, why even ask?

Day 231: Prayer life

Today's Reading: Habakkuk

I must admit; I am intimidated by the prayer life of the prophets of the Bible.

They so articulately call out to God and then received such long and complete answers.

In my prayer life, I humbly speak my mind. It is not very flowery or even in sentence form. Most of the time, my prayer life is "thinking with God." I envision the situation of my concern, the person for whom I care or the love and gratitude I feel for God. Most of the time, my prayer is "wordless."

And when God speaks to me, the reply is most often a calm or a nudging. When I actually hear words, the phrasing is very short: "I have taken care of this." "You are praying for the wrong one." "Go, and speak to so and so." "Watch what others have done."

Granted, I have not lived through exile or the immense suffering of a war torn country, and so, perhaps my prayer life has not been pushed to the discipline of articulation of Habakkuk and others.

But to tell the truth, I love my prayer life, simple though it may be. God listens and I speak. God speaks and I listen. We are conversational and, though I understand God is the LORD and I am the servant, I also know God is my Abba and I am his child. I love that God knows me so intimately and can read my thoughts and intentions. Sometimes this is scary, to be so well known, but most of the time it is comforting.

The LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.
I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Day 230: Weapons in the hand of God

Today's Reading: 2 Kings 24-25; 2 Chronicles 36

The writings of the book of Kings and Chronicles are really quite amazing. Whoever the theologians of the age were, they had an understanding of the exile of their people which would astound most of us if we listened very closely.

According to the shapers of these documents, the faithful believed God used their enemies as weapons--tools--for their discipline. The recorders of this faith history declare that their enemies were acting on behalf of God.

Now that is a very incredible and humbling acknowledgement--God is using my enemy, who seems to be more obedient than I am, as a means to bring me back to God.

This is not a new concept for the Hebrew theologians. They believed God had power over any resource to demonstrate God's faithfulness, even if the faithfulness of God was demonstrated in suffering.

Consider this.

God used a great fish belly to discipline Jonah. God used famine to show the wisdom of his servant Joseph. God used our worst enemy, Death, in order to save us.

Though it sometimes feels like God is against us, the Hebrew faithful believe that any horrible circumstance, when viewed from the throne of heaven, makes perfect sense. They boldly testify that the worst could be and in fact,is, a demonstration of God's love.

The Psalmist proclaims in God's voice, "My ways are not your ways."

We would proclaim right back, "You got that right! Guess what, God, this suffering from you does not feel like love."

The faithful declare to us that our role is to completely trust in God, despite present circumstances. Nothing is random. Everything has meaning because everything is under the rule of a sovereign God whose central and defining attribute is everlasting love.

That is an easy doctrine to embrace when all is well.

But when one is on the road to a foreign land with shackles around one's neck, I'm sure it is a hard doctrine to swallow.

Day 229: Feet sunk in mud

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 38-40; Psalms 74 and 79

I have two ponds in my back yard. They are old ponds with silty bottoms. To get to the very wonderful and refreshing water for a swim, you have to walk through some very gooey mud. My feet sink down into the mud, sometimes half way up my shin. In this state, it is very hard to keep one's balance. The suction of the goo throws you in directions that do not make sense to your brain. Walking through the mud is necessary to reach the freedom and refreshment of the lake. The only alternative would be for my husband to build a dock extending over the bank, reaching beyond the mud. If I had a dock, I could walk out onto it and jump right into the wonderful water, avoiding the slime.

Jeremiah was the bearer of some hard news. "Don't fight the invaders; instead give in to them and allow yourselves to be captured. Then, and only then, will your lives be spared!"

For telling the truth, Jeremiah gets slung into a cistern with only gooey mud as his sustainance. As he stood in that mud, with no means of escape or rescue, I'm sure he felt a bit off balance. "LORD, I have done your will...why am I being punished."

An unlikely rescuer comes along. A man from Cush. The Cushites were considered a cursed people. If a negative message was to be sent to a king from the battle front, the captain would send a Cushite. Why? Because the people of Cush had very dark skin and from afar, the watchers in the tower could see the black messenger coming and know the news was bad. Yes, unfortunately, prejudice is deeply rooted in our history.

And so, the usual bearer of bad news is the one who rescues Jeremiah from the muddy cistern of despair. He even graciously and gently pads the rescuing ropes with old rags and cloth to keep Jeremiah from being harmed any further.

The mud becomes a symbol for the king. Jeremiah shares with Zedekiah that if he does not listen to God, he will be mocked by women, a huge offense for a man in power. Yes, unfortunately, sexism is deeply rooted in our history.

'They misled you and overcame you—
those trusted friends of yours.
Your feet are sunk in the mud;
your friends have deserted you.'

Feet sunk in mud symbolizes the inability to move forward in power. It is the picture of vulnerability, of being out of balance. God won many battles for his people by allowing enemy chariots to be sunk in mud, leaving them useless in battle.

Why would one wade through mud, only to slip and fall or to become hopelessly entrenched in the mire, when God always provides a dock? God's invitation is this:
I have provided a Way for you which allows you to pass over the miry clay. Why don't you take it and jump into the cooling waters?

Yet, in our stubbornness, many of us choose the dirty and unbalanced way, as if to prove ourselves able to walk where others have failed.

Jeremiah calls out to Zedekiah, "Obey God and live."

Zedekiah says, "I think the mud looks like a better option."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 228: Poverty 101

with radical thanksgiving for The Community Table
and my dear friends, Tom and Shanthi

I hate poverty
and I blame the poor
with their unclean bodies
their stale sweat smell
their tobacco breath
their rotting teeth
their unkempt clothes
their self inflicted tattoos
their unshaved chins
their lack of manners
their constant need

I hate poverty
and I blame my mom
with her tapes in my head
saying, "Go anyway
Do what is right
Put on the mask
Smile and engage
Start conversation
Control your thoughts
Sit at their table
'til it comes naturally"

I hate poverty
and I blame myself
as I judge on the inside
and feign interest
as I secretly mock
and puff up my righteousness
as I believe deep down
I'm above, they're below
as I look at the clock
and hope this encounter will end soon
as I lie, lie, lie

I hate poverty
and now I blame her
the one across the table
who claims she recognizes me
"Aren't you your mother's daughter?
Isn't she my cousin?"
How can I sit here
at the table of judgment
when the woman sharing bread
is my kin
offering me hospitality?

I hate poverty
and I blame you, Jesus
as you bless the poor
and invite me in
and wash my feet
and offer me bread
and look at me
when I deny you
"No, I don't know him."
or ask
"Am I my brother's keeper?"

I hate poverty

Day 228: O, for a descendant of Jonadab

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 35-37

A strange story today, of a family who faithfully made obedience a tradition. Jonadab said:

We don't drink wine.

We don't build houses.

And generations later, the family abstains and lives as nomads in tents.

God lifts up this family to make a point. The point is not that it is a sin to drink wine, nor is it a sin to live in a house, unless...unless God tells you not to.

Here is a long line of people who obey the command of their ancestral father, a mere human, and yet, God's people will not obey the command of their divine creator.

As I ponder this, though, I realize the power of our ancestors, our parents, our traditions. Often they hold more authority over our lives than the authority of scripture.

This is scary for me as a parent. I must watch what I teach my children, the commands I speak and the demands I place. Whether I like it or not, I carry power over their lives like none other.

Blood is very thick.

I hope my children long to obey God as much as they long to receive my approval.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Day 227: "Is Anything Too Hard for Me?"

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 32-34

for Rita
I love the way
My God stands strong
And boasts and calls
"Is anything too hard for me?"

God stands like an athlete
With vaulting pole in hand
"Is anything too high for me?"
No wall can keep me from you,

God kneels like a physician
With medical bag in hand
"Is any disease incurable for me?"
No brokenness can keep you from being healed,

God marches like a general
With courageous power in hand
"Is any foe too strong for me?"
No enemy can capture or kill you,

God sits like a mother
With blanket in hand
"Is any night too long for me?"
No darkness can steal my shining light from you,

God whispers like a breeze
With sweet fragrance in hand
"Is any storm too rough for me?"
No chaos can disrupt my peace for you,

God runs like a lover
With flowers in hand
"Is any wood too deep for me?"
No thing can hide my love for you,

I love the way
My God stands strong
And boasts and calls
"Is anything too hard for me?"

Day 226: So there is Hope

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 30-31

Do you remember the old tale of the man and woman who were given three wishes, and how they wasted all of them? We all thought, if given the chance, we would be able to use that opportunity in a much better way. We wish on stars, make birthday wishes while we blow out candles or we toss coins in the fountain with tightly shut eyes, focusing on our latest and greatest desires. We can wish for many things, rubbing all the genie lamps in all the antique stores. Yet all the wishing in the world does not move the cosmos.

Our scripture today assure us with these words: So there is hope...

Hope is not just wishful thinking. It is the reality of a peaceful and blessed future. It is not based on who we are, how hard we strive or what gifts we might offer as bribes.

Hope is based on our relationship to God. God gives hope for each of our futures because God proclaims: "You will be my people and I will be your God." Hope is God's covenant, God's promise, to us.

Acknowledgement of God being God, moves us from a life of wishful thinking and meaninglessness, into a life of hope and promise. Even in the midst of circumstances that appear bleak, a person who trusts in God is able to lift up a tambourine and dance with joy because she knows she belongs to God.

Hope is also based upon God's central and defining attribute: Everlasting Love. The LORD tells us, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness."

No matter what we face, no matter where we are, no matter the circumstances, there is nothing anywhere that can out trump God's everlasting, eternal, unable-to-wear- out love for us. We can't out live it, we can't out run it, we can't earn it and we can't lose it. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our LORD.

And so there is hope for your future.

And mine...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Day 225: Silencing the Truth

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 26-29

Being a prophet is not something you wake up one morning and decide to do. After all, you might be called to wander in a desert, run around naked, speak to angry crowds, stand alone against 800, speak to people who hate what you are saying so much that they plot to kill you.

Yeah, it's not something you sign up for, for sure.

God calls prophets to speak the Truth to God's people usually at the precise moment they do not want to hear it. They plug their ears, they wag their mocking tongues and they raise their defiant fists.

The quickest way to silence the Truth is to be bull headed, stiff necked, angry and mocking. The Truth's sword might be swinging but a hardened heart is tough to pierce, even for God's Spirit.

"Let's just kill the messenger who is saying the very thing we do not want to hear!"

But God picks tough skinned people to be God's prophets. They seem to be the kind of people who value Truth more than their own lives. God gives them something special: mock resistant skin.

And even if the prophet is killed, no one can kill the Truth. They might crucify it one moment, but it will always resurrect stronger and more shining than ever before.

This is really, really good news, even for those of us who are stubborn, because God's Truth is marching on.

Glory, glory hallelujah!

We cannot zip the lips of Truth.

Day 224: Scattered

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 23-25

One of my favorite movies is BABE, a sweet flick about a herding pig. Babe, the pig, is raised by border collies, and becomes a negotiator and reconciling agent in the barnyard.

The sheep warn Babe about wolves and wild dogs who want nothing more than to scatter, scare and eat them. The sheep have sworn an allegiance with one another against the bad dogs of life.

Babe witnesses a horrible scene when some stray dogs come and scatter the flock, leaving an old wise ewe near death with broken legs, and a little lamb ravaged and slaughtered.

Jeremiah claims there are those people in our lives who will scatter us, the flock. They will run wild in our lives, scaring us and tearing us apart.

There are not only people like this, there are issues like this. Our desire to "do what is right in our own eyes" often splits the church, our communities and our families.

At some point, we need to recognize that we all need the Good Shepherd who know not only how to manage the flock, but what is best for the flock. If the faithful are being scattered, it is important to note if there is a bad shepherd or a wolf running loose.

And we must always remember that we all have wolfish tendencies.

The disciples asked, "Is it I, LORD?"

A very good question to consider in the midst of conflict.

Day 223: Clay

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 18-22

Where I used to live, I had a friend who had a pottery studio.

Everytime I passed his shop, I'd drop in for a visit and to see just what he was creating that day. I loved to watch him shape the clay on the spinning wheel, drizzling water onto it, moving his hands up and down. After it would dry, he would paint it and then fire it in a kiln. His work was fabulous.

One day he asked me if I would like to try it. I sat at the wheel and clumsily tried to work the very stubborn clay. What came out of my efforts was a very misshaped mess.

He then took some clay from the plastic bag, placed it on the wheel and, with skillful hands, resumed shaping yet another pot. I wanted to watch the process from start to finish, so I pulled up a stool.

Round and round went the wheel. Up went the clay in the hands of the master, until what I thought was a perfect form was made. Suddenly, he violently smashed the clay with his strong hand. The force of the motion made me jump. But he just continued to work with the clay, reshaping it.

When I asked him what that was all about, he said, "You must shape the clay into the form you want it to take, but then you must completely smash it in order to make sure there are no weak points or air pockets which would cause it to explode in the heat of the kiln."

"Then," he said, "you reshape it into what you originally intended."

I thought about my life, in the hands of my Potter. There have been times when I thought everything was going along just as it should and then it seemed as if a giant hand smashed everything. It always puzzled me as I would slowly watch my life rebuild.

Now, I know.

God knows the heat of the kiln is very hot.

God does not want any weak areas or puffed up pockets, no matter how small, to shatter me, to explode me.

The smashing times are just as significant and important, if not more so, as the building up times.

I'm thankful for my potter friend and the lessons he has taught me.

"You are the Potter,
I am the Clay."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Day 222: Prone to wander

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 14-17

This is what the LORD says about this people:
"They greatly love to wander;
they do not restrain their feet."
Jeremiah 14: 10

We have two dogs.

One is a wise old border collie who loves to work, loves to please, loves to obey. He waits every morning at the door, making sure his family is all safe and sound inside the fold. As soon as one of us leaves, he follows us to the boundary of our property and then waits patiently for us to return. He then follows us back to the house and lies down at the door.

If there are kittens in the yard, he makes sure they are all rounded up and gathered together in their place. If there are geese in the lake, he tries to shepherd them into the family property. He wants everyone in his charge, which means anyone or anything that enters our property, safe and in their rightful place.

Our chocolate lab, on the other hand, loves adventure, testing the boundaries at every turn. She loves to chase after the latest distraction, and tempt and tease anything in her sight. She is proned to wander, sniffing with her nose to the ground, unaware of where her curiousity will lead her.

When we first got her, I thought we would have to kennel or tether her. She had a very strong will for adventure, but fortunately, our border collie's will to shepherd and tend outweighed her wanderlust. Despite the fact that she is 5 years younger than he, he is able to "keep her in her place."

He will be lying peacefully in the shade, watching, watching, watching until the moment she gets a little too close to the property line. Then like a bullet, he shoots toward her, barking, herding and nipping at her until she is safe within the proper boundaries.

As I watch the antics of these two beautiful animals, God teaches me a lesson.

"You are very much like that chocolate lab," God says. "You are curious, playful and not as diligent as you should always be. Note how easily she is distracted. Note how prone she is to wander, following her nose, the immediate that is before her."

"Now, watch my sheperding collie. See his patience. See his attention. See his guarding nature. He is forever vigilant. He is forever observing and discerning."

"Because of his character, he is free. You never need to chain him. He never needs a word of discipline from you. In fact, he causes you only good."

Dear LORD,
Change my labrador behaviors
into border collie traits.
As the hymn states:

'Prone to wander, LORD, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above.'

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 221: Tent Pitchers, Shepherds and Runners

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 10-13

The poetic form of Jeremiah is unsurpassed in Scripture. Here we find not only prophecy and warning, but symbolism and artistic use of language.

As a pastor, I was particularly struck by the imagery used when talking about the leadership of the spiritual community.

In Jeremiah 10:20, we read these words:
My tent is destroyed;
all its ropes are snapped.
My sons are gone from me and are no more;
no one is left now to pitch my tent
or to set up my shelter.

This is a direct reference to the keepers of the tabernacle, the temple, the house of meeting, God's symbol of God's presence with the people, the place of worship. The priests, referred to here in this passage as "my sons" were the tenders and keepers of the tent, the ones responsible for "pitching the tent," in other words, erecting the call to worship; making sure there was always, at the center of the community, the symbolic presence of God.

As we studied the tabernacle in the Torah, we remember its presence in the center of the encampment, surrounded by the dwelling tents of the 12 tribes. It was pitched first and foremost. It led the way in the wilderness journey. It was the epitome of the sacred and the center of the nation of Israel.

When God's sons (and daughters) who are responsible for the spiritual faithfulness of God's people dessert God and the pitching of the tent, the call to true and holy worship, destruction on every level follows.

The next image is also poignant:
The shepherds are senseless
and do not inquire of the LORD;
so they do not prosper
and all their flock is scattered.
Jeremiah 10:21

The priests and prophets, known as the LORD's shepherds of the people, forget their loyalty to God, their need to "inquire of the LORD," and go off doing "what is right in their own eyes," the people of God fail and are scattered.

Self reliance in ministry is disasterous. Pastors, elders and deacons who believe themselves to be the "lead shepherd" instead of the "servants to The Shepherd," will do the flock no good, only harm.

Later, in Jeremiah 12:5, we hear this warning:
"If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?"

The spiritual leaders of God's people need skill and tenacity, they need to be disciplined and exercised in the ways of the LORD, for they will not just be walking along gentle pastures. Leadership demands competance above and beyond the norm. God's challenge to God's leaders is to be able to run like swift horses and be able to traverse difficult terrain.

These are important passages to ponder for all who are called into leadership.

May God give us the grace to grow into God's plan for us.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Day 220: Safe?

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 7-9

The "two faced" life is common.

Most of us have an exterior life which portrays much of what we think society or religion demand of us---Politeness, political correctness, ethics and morals.

Then there is that secret interior life and the life of our actions done when we are alone.

Today, God's word nails us.

" 'Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, "We are safe"-safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 7:9-11

We all do detestable things, whether we want to admit it or not. Our speech about others is judgmental and cruel as we gossip. Our thoughts are not pure as we covet what does not belong to us, or go down the paths of our fantasies. Though we might look as though we are making right choices to those around us, often our minds flirt and then go to bed with evil.

And then we dare go worship God, believing all is well, that we are safe.

Jesus nails his disciples with this word.
What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight. What you have whispered to someone behind closed doors will be shouted from the rooftops.
Luke 12:3

For me, this is a scary reality. I know my heart is corrupt. Though I pray for a clean heart to be created in me, the center of my thoughts is not always true. I wobble, off balance and fall, like a gyroscope.

The rabbis say, "Character is what we do when no one is watching."

God says, "I have been watching!"

Dear LORD,
I am not safe.
I am exposed and naked before you.
I am Shame.
Forgive me and cover my sin.
Do not allow it to be shouted,
for I could not bear it.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day 219: Ancient Pathways

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 4-6

Jeremiah 6: 16
For Michael Evanchak

There are paths of Destruction
There’s the Pathway of Peace
There are roads into Bondage
There’s the Road to Release
There are ways of the Idol
And the Way of Jesus’ feet

Christ, our Way,
Ancient Pathway
Lead us on, Lead us on
Christ, our Way,
Ancient Pathway
Lead us on.

There are paths that are Crooked
There is One that is Straight
There are roads toward the Evil
There is One toward the Great
There are ways into Darkness
And Light’s Way to Heaven’s Gate.

Christ, our Truth,
Ancient Pathway
Lead us on, Lead us on,
Christ, our Truth,
Ancient Pathway
Lead us on.

There are paths into Ruin
There’s the Path Restoring Earth
There are roads into Sadness
There’s the Road of Joy and Mirth
There are ways into Death’s grasp
And the Way into New Birth

Christ, our Life,
Ancient Pathway
Lead us on, Lead us on.
Christ, our Life,
Ancient Pathway
Lead us on.

Day 218: I Knew You

Today's Reading: Jeremiah 1-3

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."
Jeremiah 1:5

In my mind, I have an idea for a landscaping design which will set off perfectly a screened in porch which is also only real in my mind. I am hoping one day to sit on that porch on the chair, I also have in mind, and watch the world go by.

None of my designs are reality. The trees have not been bought, nor the plants. The stone and the paint have yet to be purchased. Even the furniture is still a dream, but in my mind I know it. Before it is actually formed, I know it, I have plans for it.

Can't you just see God doing the same thing? God says to Jeremiah, before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. To think that God plans and designs for each and everyone of us is a mysterious wonder.

Have you ever thought what it is for which you have been set apart? Perhaps it is for many great tasks. Perhaps it is for one moment. Perhaps you have been born to serve one lonely one, or to change the world.

No matter what it is, God knows, and God knows YOU.

And it doesn't matter whether you think you can do it, whether you are old enough, smart enough, wise enough, kind enough...none of this matters, for God is able to command any thing or any one into God's will.

I think this is exciting!

God what are your plans for me today?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Day 217: Good Housekeeping

Today's Reading: Zephaniah

It's Friday.
Time to clean the house.

The kitchen needs its dishes washed
And a roast needs to be put in the oven.
Bread needs to be kneaded and raised.
Cookies formed and baked to fill the empty jar.
Windows, streaked cloudy with the weeks dust
Call for the powerful ammonia to clear the
Smudges to allow the morning sun's entrance.
Cobwebs and grime need to be swept away.
New linen upon the beds.
Places of cleansing and toilet require
Sanitizing, so freshness can return.
Pull the sweat laden clothes from the hamper.
Dirty rags from the week.
Handkerchiefs and underwear soiled with life's waste.
Plunge them into the cleansing waters.
Scrub them with the fresh hyssop.

It's Friday, LORD.
You are cleaning house.
You are preparing for the Great Banquet,
A feast and festival for your children.

Welcome, Holy Sabbath!
Welcome, Filling Feast!
Welcome, Sunshine's Light!
Welcome, Fresh Clean Garments!

Day 216: Unearthed Huldah

Today's Reading: 2 Kings 22-23; 2 Chronicles 34-35

The scrolls of the Word of God are unearthed by young King Josiah's temple rebuilders. They are pulled from ruined vessels and dusty cobwebs are cleared. Their ancient truths are once more given voice.

The gentle heart of the innocent child king is cardioverted by the high voltage shock of truth. A kingdom is about to be resuscitated into a new and second chance life. "How?" asks the young king, "How can we live into this new reality?"

King and priests, counselors and sages seek the wisdom of another unearthed treasure. A prophetess, whose name points to a wise creature who lives underground, comes to the surface to interpret truth which has been buried by idolatry.

What voices of truth have we buried because of our pride and idolatry?

Whom have we long silenced and put underground because of our prejudice and culture?

LORD, unearth the voices of your truth.
No matter our station
Call us to seek humbly
And engage in the life giving dialogue
Of your word and your prophets.

Day 215: Victory Song

Today's Reading: Nahum

I rejoice in God, my Defender,
My Victory, My Song!
Whom shall I fear,
For who can stand against Him?

My God is not a gentle enemy.
Patient, yes. Slow to anger, yes.
But once my LORD moves to strike,
There is no turning back.

God calls forth Creation's waters
to flood the Enemy's path.
Thorns from the earth
Tear at and entangle advancing boots.

Grapes of wrath do their worst
Changing the wine of joy
Into the confusing seduction
Of drunken stupor.

God's anger spreads like wild fire
Burning, consuming
All the lifeless rubble of the
Enemy's taunts.

The strength of the Enemy of God
Is drained
And its life blood now
Paints its weapons of war.

"I demand Peace," says the LORD.
"My people will have Peace.
The treasures I have planned for them
Will be returned;
The treasures of Heaven will be theirs."

"Shame upon you, O Enemy of the Most High!
Let your naked weakness be exposed.
Your skirts cannot be lifted high enough
To cover your reddened face."

"You are no threat to our King.
He is the Lion King of Judah.
Your growl can no longer
Put fear in our bones."

"We will pelt you with your own garbage
And send you away
Like a dog with its tail
Between its legs."

"Your strength is weakness,
Your defense is squashed like a bug.
You are fleeing with no where to hide.
Run, run, run away into your destruction!"

The LORD is my Strength
And my Defender.
My sure and certain hope.
Whom shall I fear!

Day 214: Morning Prayer

Today's Reading: 2 Chronicles 32-33

for Mark, my gentle Warrior
2 Chronicles 32:1-8


Before my eyes open to Light
Not knowing what the day will bring
Whether peaceful tidings of a friend
Or arrows of the enemy

I invite Wisdom to be my guide,
I check my Living Water supply
I make sure the springs and streams
Are flowing toward me

I dare not waste this precious source
Of life, on things destructive.
I check for the weak areas in my life
And repair them quickly.

Broken places in my wall
Could allow a leak of bitterness
Or pride to sneak in.
Best patch them quickly and let them dry

And set, while setting up way high
An extra watch tower or two
So approaching evil can be spotted
Way before it comes knocking on my door.

How about a double wall?
My life and all the treasures of God
In me, are precious.
I dare not be frivolous for even a moment.

Now shield my heart with Righteousness
And fashion the Spirit's sword
Not only guard the outside places
But the precious inner core.

O Captain, may I hear your cry:
Be strong and courageous; do not fear!
I am greater with you in me
Than any foe that comes my way


Monday, August 2, 2010

Day 213: Fifteen more years

Today's Reading: 2 Kings 20-21

Hezekiah is dying. He has an incurable illness. God has revealed to him that he is going to die. "Get your house in order," says the LORD.

Hezekiah weeps and prays to the LORD for his life. The LORD gives Hezekiah fifteen more years to live.

Most of us do not know the day of our death. I wonder what would change in my life if I knew I had fifteen years yet to live. I'm sure it would change things dramatically.

What would you do differently if you had just fifteen more years? If you knew the day of your death?

Would you live in fear and worry, or would you begin to live with an intentionality never known before? Would you cower in your home awaiting the "grim reaper" or would you joyfully welcome each day and begin checking off things on your "bucket list?"

Fifteen years.

Now that is something to think about.

Day 212: Come out, come out wherever you are!

Today's Reading: Isaiah 64-66

The prophet Isaiah is caught in a game of Hide and Seek. Justice is hiding. It has found such a good hiding place, it has been so covered up, that all the other players have given up and have gone home, tired of seeking. Only the prophet remains way into the twilight looking for justice. All the rest have tired of the pursuit of justice.

Why is this?

One of the reasons is that justice is a very difficult destination. It is so much easier to be caught up in the downward flow of the status quo stream. It is hard to paddle against the currents of poverty, politics and power.

Justice is also so illusive. Though it seems simple to state "be fair," "be kind," "don't lie," "treat others the way you would want to be treated," actually incarnating those statements is a daily challenge for even the most ethical among us.

And justice calls for such selflessness. Our greed, our power, our gluttonous appetite for comfort often squeak louder, demanding the grease of our labors. Justice's voice is often overrun by the other noise pollution in our lives.

We are called to seek justice. To call out for it. To search high and low, near and far. To run after it. To listen for the slightest whisper.

O Justice,
Come out!
Make yourself known to us.
Draw us into your passionate embrace.

Day 211: Preaching to exiles

Today's Reading: Isaiah 59-63

The people of God were living in exile. They had been transported, against their wills, away from their homes and all that was familiar, to another country. In the midst of all this sorrow and despair, the prophet Isaiah promised release, healing, and return.

During the Roman Empire, a rogue rabbi was invited to preach at a local synagogue. Religious men, at their wits end, trying to hold what little was left of their lives, culture and religion together, listened as Jesus unrolled the scroll of Isaiah and read:
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

Recently, my daughter was living in a part of the country very unlike the midwest in which she grew up. The people, culture and religious beliefs were foreign to her. She said, "Mom, I just want to come home to the place where I understand what is going on."

The New Testament speaks to all of us, calling us aliens in a foreign land. It says our home is heaven, and thus we struggle with the culture of "darkness" that is all around us.

Jesus still crashes into our modern day places of worship and preaches to us exiles. He offers a trade that is not fair; it is a trade of grace. Good news, healing, freedom, light, comfort, beauty, gladness and an attitude of praise. These are all marks of our true homeland.

So, if you are feeling a little frustrated and lost in this world, it's because you are in exile.

One of these days, you'll get to go home.

Day 210: Never again abandoned

Today's Reading: Isaiah 54-58

There have been times when I feel very alone and lonely, but I have never felt abandoned by God.

Now, before I go on, I know there are those who have felt abandoned by God.

People who have faced great and long periods of pain.

People who have been prisoners of war.

People who have been victims of abuse or violence.

The people of Israel not only felt God's cold shoulder, God admits that he abandoned them. How horrible that must have been!

In the admitting, God promises never to abandon them again. What an incredible promise that is! Read these words again.

"For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with deep compassion I will bring you back.

In a surge of anger
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
I will have compassion on you,"
says the LORD your Redeemer.

"To me this is like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
never to rebuke you again.

Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,"
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

Jesus repeats this promise as he is about to ascend into heaven: "I will not leave you comfortless, but I will come to you and your heart shall rejoice."

You might be feeling very lonely at this very moment. You might feel abandoned. But, you have not been left alone.

God also swore not to be angry with us anymore. Just as he promised never to flood the earth again to destroy it, he promised never to be angry with us again. That is an incredible promise! Instead, God says, "My unfailing love for you will not be shaken."

God's stance toward us is love and presence.


Day 209: Engorged breasts

Today's Reading: Isaiah 49-53

Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

I breast fed both of my children until they were at least two years old. I feel like I am close to being an expert in breast feeding as I have fed a baby at my breast at least 10,000 times.

All breast feeding mothers know a couple of things. A breast feeding mother does not have the option of forgetting her child.

When your baby cries, your breasts respond by letting down milk. Many a time, the front of my shirt or blouse was drenched with milk before I could get my crying baby to my breast. This can be quite embarrassing. This is something over which you have no control.

You cannot easily skip a feeding. Your breasts become as hard as rocks and very painful with the pressure of milk that is built up in them. There is nothing like putting your baby to your breast and getting the relief as the sucking child drains the milk.

The relationship between a breast feeding mother and her child is incredible. They are mutually dependent and the time spent in that kind of intimacy bonds them for life at an unexplainable level.

God speaks today as a mother with engorged breasts.

"There is no way I can forget you."

Day 208: Face Shine

Today's Reading: 2 Kings 18:9-19:37; Psalms 46, 80, 135

Recently, I visited with a young family. The five year old son, aware that his dad and mom were engrossed in a conversation with someone else, tried a lot of tactics to get their attention away from me, their guest, back to him, their son. Finally, he climbed up in his dad's lap, took his dad's face in his pudgy little hands and turned it away from me so they were nose to nose. "Look at me, Daddy," he demanded.

As a mother, I have noticed my face turning to my children. When there is a class picture from a field trip, none of the other people in the picture hold any interest for me until I find my son. During a concert, it is very hard for me to enjoy the whole production as my eyes are fixed upon my child everytime she is on the stage. My face beams with delight; it shines when my child walks in the door way, coming home from college.

The Psalmist begs:
Make your face shine upon us.

Bring us to the center of your attention, LORD.
O, that I might hold your interest.
Fix your eyes of love upon me.
May I bring you delight.

Day 207: "I belong to the LORD"

Today's Reading: Isaiah 44-48

I am getting ready to teach a confirmation class.

I have been pondering just what sort of information the young people need to be taught, what experiences would we especially provacative and what projects would spur their imagination.

But the real objective is to help these fabulous young people answer one question and one alone.

To whom do you belong?

We can belong to a family, a club, a sweetheart, a team, a church. To "belong" not only implies privileges, it evokes responsibility and commitment.

But in each of these instances, the idea of "ownership" is not part of the deal. We would say, "That car belongs to me," but we would never want to be "owned" by anyone or anything. We want to be free agents, in control of our own lives.

But when we declare, "I belong to the LORD," there is a sense of being "owned" by our God. God has power and authority over all of our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not.

Belonging to God demands something of me. "I belong to the LORD," therefore, I cannot belong to any other god. God's faithfulness to me demands my faithfulness to God. It changes everything--every choice, every moment, every other commitment.

The Brief Statement of Faith of the PCUSA sums it up like this:
In life and in death, we belong to God.

For me, I find great comfort in the phrase, "I belong to the LORD." I am one of his children. I am one of his sheep. I am one of his beloved ones for whom he has died.

Day 206: Comfort, Comfort

Today's Reading: Isaiah 40-43

Each one of us has had a time when we have been very, very brave.

We have stood against a very hard enemy. We have faced the foe. We have gulped down our fear and moved forward. We have swallowed our tears in order to minister to another.

But when we get home from a day like this, or when we come to a Sabbath rest from a season like this, we crumple in a heap and have a good cry.

It is at times like this when the words, "Comfort, comfort..." encircle us like two loving arms. It is at times like this when we need someone to speak tenderly to us and let us know "It is all over; you don't need to be strong any longer. I am here, I will take over for you."

I remember a time when my children were both very young. I was fighting cancer. My dad had just died. My hair had fallen out. I couldn't keep any food down. The laundry was piling up. I was overwhelmed. I thought nothing else could come and hit me. And them my children came down with the chicken pox. I sat on the living room floor feeling as though I could not go on.

I remember someone coming to me in that moment, putting arms around me, walking me up to my bedroom, pulling a blanket around me and telling me to sleep. That someone told me, "Do not worry. I am here. I will take care of everything. You rest." Later, that someone brought up a cup of tea and spooned the warm liquid into my mouth. When I asked about the children, she shushed me, telling me everything was under control. I sank back into my pillow and slept deeply.

Jesus said, "I will send you the Comforter." Many have been the times the Comforter has soothed me with the still small voice. Many have been the times the Comforter has soothed me with the hand and presence of a brother or sister in faith. Many have been the times the Comforter has brought up to me the wonderful words of life. Many have been the times the Comforter has given me Sabbath rest.

Praise be to the living God.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.