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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Day 272: Old Testament Summary

Today's Reading: Malachi

Today is the last day in the Old Testament and Malachi reads almost as a summary book of the major themes.

The first thing God says in the book of Malachi is: "I have loved you."

Through creation, flood, wilderness, judges, kings and prophets, exile and rebuilding, God has loved God's people. Even when the people do not recognize God's love, God has been faithful.

After the first couple verses, it seems that God changes the subject by declaring, "I hate divorce." One might think, "God, that came out of the blue!," but isn't interesting to put the attribute of God's faithful love along side the paradigm of divorce? I don't think this is a mistake.

No matter the faithlessness of the human race, God does not file for divorce. Instead, God encourages us with these words in Malachi, "So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith."

It is almost as if it is a foreshadowing of more challenges and more action and more love and more mystery to come.

The Old Testament ends so perfectly, giving us a clue about the sequel coming soon.
"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse."

Just as the heavenly Father has turned his heart to the heart of his children and is unwilling to allow himself to divorce from them, God promises a prophet who will come before the great judge who will encourage fathers to reconsider their priorities. Parents will be encouraged to remember their children before they even consider a split.

God hates when relationships crumble and never reconcile.

Why else, do you think would God risk giving up his Son to save the world?

And the saga continues...

Day 271: Order for worship

Today's Reading: Nehemiah 11-13, Psalm 126

In the church worship wars, do you ever wonder what it would be like to tansport back in time and check out "temple" worship. Nehemiah 12 gives us that opportunity.

First of all, there is a huge staff of priests! Among their duties is singing--a lot of singing. Their singing is not the singing of soloists but two huge choirs singing responsively and antiphonally to one another. Their songs are songs of praise and thanksgiving!

Then there is a big storehouse available to feed the ones participating in worship. So big a storehouse that there are guards in place!

Next there is a band of sorts consisting of the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. To sing with this group, singers from all around are brought in to form two more choirs. (That's a lot of singing!) Trumpets show up, too.

Then it seems that part of worship is a big purifying ceremony with lots of water. And lots of giving of sacrifices and offerings of gratitude. You'll note, the women and children are present, rejoicing along with the best of them.

The worship of all God's people IN ONE PLACE is SO LOUD it can be heard for miles around. No mumbled standing with a hymn book in hand. Loud rejoicing, praise and thanksgiving.

I wonder how the church of today would be changed if this was the new proposed worship order. It sound like a rock concert except with a focus on the ROCK OF SALVATION.

It sounds like a lot of fun!

Imagine that!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Day 270: The joy of the LORD is your strength

Today's Reading: Nehemiah 8-10

Imagine this day...

Everyone in a community who can understand comes to listen to the priest read the Holy Scriptures. They have no chairs. They have no shelter. They all stand all day as all scripture is read. No one glances at the local sundial or hour glass to see if time is up. Instead, they listen.

And while listening, they begin to cry. They are so moved by God's word, they weep. They mourn.

And they stay.

And they stand.

Their mourning soon turns to joy. The story of their God moves them to radical celebration! To feasting! To dancing!

The joy of the LORD strengthens them!

Today, as I went about my work, as my mind filled with the concerns of the day, as I labored in the kingdom of God, I asked myself, "What would your life be without the Word of God?" The thought brought tears to my eyes. I could not imagine the hole, the barrenness, the despair.

Suddenly my heart turned to great praise and gratitude for the gift of Scripture and revelation in my life. Joy filled me as I began to ponder everything God has done, is doing and will do on my behalf.

It does not matter what happens today. The joy of the LORD gives so much strength, my weakness is borne up.

I will not be afraid.

I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Day 269: Now strengthen my hands

Today's Reading: Nehemiah 6-7

You work and you work, and then you work some more. And as if the work is not enough, someone comes along to malign you, to gossip against you and to distract you with their lies.

What is it about other people who create havoc? Are they bored with their own lives that they need to stir up trouble? Do they not have enough going on to keep themselves occupied in their own business? Does your success scare them?

Nehemiah speaks truth to the critics, once, twice, three, four, five times and they still come at him. His ability to function in the midst of all the slander is amazing.

It is grounded in his relationship with God.

When many of us grow weary and frustrated, we droop, we withdraw, we begin to give up. The key to reverse this defeat is in Nehemiah's prayer: "Now strengthen my hands!"

Whatever battle you face today, wherever you are growing weary, apply the prayer--Now strengthen my hands--LORD, I'm tired and growing weak, now strengthen my hands.

It speaks to the immediacy of the request--"Now..."
It speaks to the need--"strengthen..."
It is personal--"my..."
And it addresses the main part of the body dealing with labor or warfare--"hands..."

Give me enough strength today
to accomplish what you have set before me
despite all that would try to ensnare me.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Day 268: Good Work

Today's Reading: Nehemiah 1-5

Called out, he was,
from servant's role
of waiting table
and serving wine,
to wait upon
the LORD himself
to tend the vineyard
of souls,
who in the wine press
of sacred stress
built up the temple
which still today
gives poured out wine
to thirsty ones
who come when called
to dinner.

Confessing true,
this man of God
becomes a priest
who intercedes
and speaks the cries
unspoken previously
due to pride
or sorrow
or hopeless veil of doubt.
"I confess
for all of us--
We all have
acted wickedly
and nought obeyed
your precious laws.
Forgive, O LORD, forgive."

Construction now
begins with all
assisting at
their part of wall.
Clearing rubble
mixing clay
stomping mortar
chopping clay
Finding each
within their homes
treasures borne
by shared labor
by eager joy
of hope reborn.
Protection grows
with community.

Courage brave
is needed, for
the mockers storm
upon the doors.
The raiders come
at night to sack
and topple work
of previous day.
So with a sword
in hand called "Left"
and in the "Right"
the mortar's tool
Or by joint venture
one stands erect
with sword while friend
bends back to build.

Commendable this
good work borne
not only of strong
back and hand
but a new strength
of neighbor bonds.
At first, working
only at one's gate,
now band together
in common task,
each one making up
for the other's lack.
Guarding and bending
'til task is done.
A wall is built.
The boundary drawn

Day 267: How would you explain this?

Today's Reading: Ezra 7-10

There are some stories in the Bible that blow me away! When the Israelites left Egypt, the Egyptians threw gold and jewels at their feet. As the slaves left their captors, the captors did not hold them back but instead gave them riches!

Now, the exiles are leaving Babylon and a similar thing is happening. King Xeres is opening up his treasury and ladening the Israelites with wealth as they leave from being servants to being freed people.

How would you explain this?

It goes counter to everything we would expect. Master do not freely release slaves and then also laden them with treasures! Usually slaves have to sneak away from bondage under the fear of blood hounds on their feet and bounty hunters with guns.

This kind of amazing happening can only be attributed to God who "puts it in the king's heart" to honor God's people.

These kind of stories give me great hope when I get absolutely frustrated with politics. Despite the "powers and principalities" of this world, my God can, in an instant, put it into an arrogant and self-serving ruler's heart to work good for God's people.

Let us pray for this kind of work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of our leaders.

Day 266: Purim and Halloween

Today's Reading: Esther 6-10

Purim is the holiday celebrating the salvation of the Jews from annihilation during the reign of King Xeres and Queen Esther. During the three day celebration, some very interesting customs are allowed for Jews which never occur any other time.

The eve before Purim, massive amounts of drinking are allowed. Cross dressing, usually forbidden for the Jews, is part of the celebration along with beauty pageants.

What is all this about? What is going on?

It is believed Jews were allowed to "hide" on the eve of Purim; to seem as though they were not Jews at all, but common pagans. Thus, the men of Haman could not recognize them in a crowd of people. They were allowed to indulge in practices disavowed at any other time; to be charaded and masked against any suspicion of being of Hebrew origin.

This costuming and wild behavior bled over into the Christian celebration of all saints eve, hallowed eve or what we know now to be Halloween. Satan's demons, like Haman, are out trying to destroy Christians the night before this great day. It is their last chance to snatch souls from heaven's grasp, or so it was believed. Thus, Christians would dress up as goblins and ghosts to confuse the demons so as not to be recognized. They would perform tricks unlike Christian behavior to throw the demons off their trail.

Little did I know, back in the days I went door to door with my mask on, dressed in my mother or dad's old clothing, that I was participating in a tradition borne out of violence and fear. Or when our daughters dress as princesses, did they know they were lifting up Queen Esther's role in the salvation of her people? Or do our boys understand that their gruesome costumes originated as a ploy to trick demons from snatching them into hell's fires?

I think not.

Most love the drama of costume dress up play and the joy of an extra piece of candy in their lunch box from their next door neighbor's gifting!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day 265: Beauty Queen

Today's Reading: Esther 1-5

How does it feel
to stand atop
the stage while
down below
they sit and gawk
at your beauty?

"Bring her out
that we may see
this lovely thing!"
And "thing" you are
for they are blind
to you.

At first, it's thrilling
all the stares,
the brand new gown
the braided hair
the fancy shoes
the polished nails.

"Am I the best?"
you ask yourself,
when deep inside
you wonder if
your tummy's tucked,
your hips too wide?

And if they label
you the best,
what is your task?
what will come next?
Will you become
the trophy you crave?

What is this thing
the world so craves?
This beauty trait?
It moves you, dear,
Into position.
And for what purpose?

For such a time
as this, he says.
What payment will
your beauty demand?
All that preparation
for what?

Enough from me.
Look, that man
is wanting you.
See it in his eyes?
Who will be the spider
and who will be the fly?

Day 264: There is a town...

Today's Reading: Zechariah 8-14

There is a town
where shines the sun
and down the street
play old and young.

And in this town
the porch swings sway
as people chat
about their day.

The middle-aged
are valued too
for who they are
not what they do.

The seeds will grow
The vines will yield
The concrete lots
Will turn to fields.

And months will change
from "March" to "Joy"
and guns removed
from hands of boys.

And all will long
to join this town
from places high
they'll all come down.

Here they will know
God's perfect bliss.
And each will feel
the Giver's kiss.

Day 263: Not might, not power

Today's Reading: Zechariah 1-7

I often think
it's up to me
to build and toil
to crank and oil
the cogs that move
my life around
that set the course
of days.

I often think
my might must grow
I must try harder
and learn to barter
in order that
my family's fed
and all is well
each day.

I often think
if I'd more power
to change the plans
if I'd more hands
more would get done
and order won
the way I run
this day.

But God breaks in
and says, No! No!
You foolish child
Your brain's gone wild
it's by my Spirit
mountains fall
and swords transform.
My day!

I often think
if I could rest
and be real still
and hear God's will
the world would change
and fall in place
Shalom would reign
this day.

Day 262: Whacked upside the head!

Today's Reading: Haggai

This past weekend, our church hosted a yard sale. This was the second yard sale of the year for our church. We hold a yard sale twice a year.

As I looked upon the mounds and mounds of clothes, the lines and lines of shoes, I thought to myself, "It this isn't a visual sermon on stewardship, I don't know what is."

So much stuff and never satisfied.
Such a wealthy nation and yet poor and poverty ridden.

As I read Haggai today, I couldn't help but confess God's truth as the LORD says:
Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.

God calls the people to rebuild the temple, but they feel the time is not yet right. Why? They feel they live in scarcity. Even though their homes are paneled--strong and covered, the like the homes of the wealthy--they feel poor.


God smacked me upside the head. I got a whack on the back of my crown like Gibbs gives to DiNozzo on NCIS.

You see, our church has been considering a new building project for at least the ten years I have been their pastor. We've been moving slowly. We've come upon a lot of roadblocks, but perhaps our biggest roadblock is our own "paneled homes."

Give thought to your ways, declares God.

Just how many outfits of clothing do we need? How many pairs of shoes? How much food and entertainment do we need in our lives? Or modes of communication? How many cars and how much insurance coverage will it take to make us feel mobile and secure?
How many bedrooms or how much space is needed in our homes?

All one has to do is go to a neighborhood yard sale and one gets the picture loud and clear.

Our money does fall through holes in our pockets.

Not because we need new pockets.

We need new ways.

Day 261: Realities

Today's Reading: Ezra 4-6; Psalm 137

One Saturday evening, a group of parents gathered in the Fellowship Hall of their church. Their presence had been requested by the Christian Education Committee and the pastor. They were very excited. On the next day, their 2nd grade children would receive a Bible from the church.

After introductions by the Christian Education Committee, the pastor came to the podium and asked, “Do you really want to expose your children to this book?”
The parents, thinking this was yet another one of those obvious questions asked during rituals at the church, responded with a resounding, “Yes!”

The pastor then handed the parents a list of passages from the Bible and encouraged them to look them up. Each dad and mom eagerly received the list, hoping to prove their prowess in Bible passage Bingo.

The first passage on the list was from Psalm 137 verses 8 and 9. When the parents found the passage they were appalled. Suddenly the expected pleasant evening twisted into an evening of shocking reality.

Psalm 137 is a Psalm known as the scandalous Psalm of scripture, a Psalm whose last verses are not included in the lectionary readings and are rarely read aloud in church.

The Psalm we are listening to today was written during the exile, a three stage process of Jewish removal from their homeland to become like slaves in Babylon.

While the people were being forced to leave their homes and every thing familiar to them, the temple, the center of their community was defiled and left in shambles.

Once in Babylon, They were forced to change their Hebrew names, many of which declared their birthright blessings to Babylonian names, linking them to foreign gods.

They went from free people to being people serving their enemies. In the midst of their new surroundings they were mocked and scorned by their captors.

Psalm 137 was written after the second deportation to Babylon. In it we hear the realities of the despair of the people.
By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.

Water was the usual communal gathering spot of joy for the Hebrews. Women would gather at Jacob’s well and chat. Shepherds would draw water for their herds and exchange news. Now, the Hebrew captives went to the foreign waters, doing the bidding of their captors. The remembrance of better days became especially poignant as they realized their captivity and all that was lost in their homeland.

On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"
How could we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?

Singing the Psalms and making music was a central part of the Hebrew culture.
They not only sang the Psalms we know which spoke of God, the temple, and their trust in God, but they also sang their history—what we might call patriotic songs.
They sang songs to express their emotions and they sang songs which highlighted the essential transitions of life. One might say, the Hebrew people were a people defined by their music.

The favorite way, then, to mock their captives was for the Babylonians to say, with a sneer in their voices, “Hey, why don’t you sing one of those songs about your heroes! I guess you aren’t as strong as you thought. And I think I heard something one time about the pride you had in your beautiful temple. Remember what we did to it! And your god---where is your god now?”

In their great sadness, the Jews lost their voice to sing praise. In their despair, they lost the key to their joy.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

As if the Hebrew Psalmist knew that if he forgot his homeland, he would lose his entire identity, he tried to remember the former days and the former things in Jerusalem

His roots,
His language
His traditions and customs
His God.

She realized her captor could take much from her.
Her virginity,
Her freedom,
Her youth,
Her dignity.

But if she could hang onto her inner core, she could survive.

To forget,
To give in,
Would be worse than death.

Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem's fall, how they said, "Tear it down! Tear it down! Down to its foundations!" O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

And here we hear the reality of the seething bitterness which occurs when people are overwhelmed with hate, anger and despair.

Death to the enemy!
Kill them, O God.
And not just them, but their children.
May I live to see the day when their children’s brains are poured out
Upon the stones.

At first, it might seem hard to relate to this Psalm on a beautiful morning.

We left our homes this morning.
We go about our days speaking our mother tongue without a thought.
Our governmental monuments gleam in the sun.
We sit in an air conditioned church, free to worship and sing praise to our God.

For some of us, if not for most of us, this Psalm seems inappropriate to address. We want to set it aside, as did the shapers of the lectionary passages, and hope the preacher will not unearth it. But, in God’s wisdom, this is the passage for the day
as we read chronologically through our Bibles this year.

And, truthfully, I think it is more pertinent and full of the realities of life than we first give it at first glance.

1 The reality of EXILE
Though we close our eyes to it,
There are many in our midst who are “deported” on a daily basis.
One might think quickly of those who live among us whom we call,
People who have moved into our community who did not grow up here,
Or the ones who just don’t fit in socially
Who look different,
Who act strange,
Who speak with an accent
Who have different ways
Who can’t make it in school
Who have different music
Who roll around in wheel chairs or slow us down with their canes and walkers.
Who deal with gender issues.
Who are homeless
Who are abused
Who have been raped or are pregnant out of wedlock.
Who speak in a different tongue
Who make us feel uncomfortable because of their developmental, social or behavioral disabilities.
Who have a different history.

And what is our expectation?
Become like us.
Learn our language.
Change your names
Don’t bother us with your needs.
Go away.
Get out of our way
We don’t want to deal with you
Unless you can produce or fit in.
Prove yourselves and then maybe we will accept you.

And we feel justified with our expectations, don’t we?

But here is yet another example of the reality of exiles in our midst.
What about the children and adults who have been ravaged by the enemy called divorce?
Homes are broken.
Children must travel from one bed to another during the week
Moving from one parent’s “country” to the other’s
And the parents,
Find themselves in the foreign land of singleness
With its new traditions and expectations
Its sorrows and sadnesses.
I’m sure many of them feel as though the Lyres of their lives
Are hung permanently on the weeping willows
And never again will songs of joy be sung from their lips.

2. The reality of the missing church.

The true reality and sadness for many of the “exiles” in our midst
is that they feel the church,
the temple,
the center and identity of their lives during their exile
is missing.
It is easy for the church to shine for people when they are going through normal circumstances like births and deaths,
Health and even physical sicknesses that are acceptable.
These are the things we can share in our Joys and Concerns.

But many people who hit upon financial crises,
Mental illness,
Job loss
And despair
Find it hard to stay in their church of origin.
Most churches have a hard time embracing the neighbors around them who are from differing countries or back grounds.
We have many exiles in our midst who feel as though their temples have been defiled and left in shambles.

Most of us in the church realize
There is a limit to what some congregations can bear.
We come to church with the “approved lectionary” readings on our faces
Determining never to expose the true sorrow,
And bitterness.
Believing the church could not bear such despair
Believing the church could not bear us
if we truly shared those parts of ourselves.
We have learned the language.
We have changed our names.

3. The reality of the scripture.
Exile, whether physical, mental, social, emotional or spiritual does exist and is addressed,
Brought out into the open
By our God.
Despair, anger, bitterness and hate are realities we all have faced,
are facing or will face at one time or another.
And Praise God!
There is room for the exile in scripture,
in the church and,
Thus, room for the exile in the hand of God.

4. The reality of PROMISE.
As the exiles sat down and wept,
They declared, perhaps knowingly or unknowingly the reality of their freedom.
They realized their salvation was in their ability to remember----
To Remember
Even in the midst of exile
Who they were,
Who their God was
And what promises God gave to them.

What we do not hear in this Psalm is the presence of Ezekiel,
The prophet who went into exile with the people
Constantly reminding them of the promises God gave
Of their return to their homeland
The rebuilding of the temple
And the fruitfulness planned and promised to their children.

Hanging onto the reality of the promises of God is the key.
It is the key that will open the prison locks of our despair.

In the book of Revelation which our PW are studying this year,
We hear the words we shared together as our call to worship this morning.
Grace to you and peace from God who is and who was and who is to come,
To Jesus Christ who loves us
and freed us from our sins by his blood,
and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father,

The realities of this life are these:
We are all exiles here on earth.
We are on foreign soil
We will be expected to conform to ways that are not God’s ways
We will be tempted to speak a language foreign to the people of God.
We will be mocked for our faith in Jesus Christ at some time or another
We will be tempted to stop singing the praises of God and hang up our lyres in despair.

But the greatest reality is that we hold the promises of God
Right here
The key is around our neck.
God is faithful
God is, and was and ever shall be.
God is always with us
God is always working out good for us
God has freed us
We are saved
We are royal priests no matter what filthy rags of slavery this world might try to put on us.
Even when we cannot see it
Or feel it
Or believe it.

Every day, we have the ability, with sure and certain hope,
to grab the key of the promises of God,
To unlock the doors.
Doors of our own prejudices
Our own shortcomings
Our own disabilities
Our own weaknesses
Our own Castles of Despair
And with Hope,
Walk by the Holy Spirit
Releasing other captives
And together walking into our blessed future
Our true reality.

Day 260: When God speaks, Kings listen

Today's Reading: Ezra 1-3

Did you hear the amazing, amazing irony in the passage today?

God speaks to a pagan king! God speaks to a non-believer. He doesn't use a Bible study group or the testimony of an evangelist. Somehow, God speaks into the ear of a king and the king does something totally wild.

God speaks to a pagan king and the pagan king demands that God's people be free to rebuild the temple! Totally contrary to any worldly political savvy, the king sets his slaves free and orders them to rebuild their culture, centered in God.

I need to get this in my head.

God speaks and creates whatever order God wants out of chaos. God did it at creation. God did it during the exodus. God did it during the exile. And God does and ever will speak.

And when God speaks, God doesn't need an army arrayed with weapons. God speaks and nations are lifted up or razed. God speaks and people come alive or die. God speaks and the land becomes fruitful or desolate.

There is no power on this earth which will not obey God if God speaks and demands obedience. There is no king, ruler, nation, or ever random guerrilla group God cannot use for God's purposes.

Amazing what this Bible says.
Amazing what our God claims.

Embrace it.
Trust God.

Day 259: Closed up and sealed

Today's Reading: Daniel 10-12

It seems from reading Daniel that there are somethings God wants us to know and other things which are unknowable until God decides to open them up and un-seal them.

As a mother, I might prepare a meal ahead of time but I close it up and seal it, putting it away into the freezer until the appropriate time. I do not want my children or my husband to mess with these dishes. I don't want them getting them out of the freezer, unsealing them or trying to eat them until the time has fully come when they are to be served.

Jesus said, "I have much to tell you but you could not bear it at this time." (John 16:12)

Just as a baby needs to drink first milk, then begin to eat gruel and slowly move toward solid foods, God reveals to us only what we can bear.

LORD, how do I become someone who can bear your revelation?
What is needed?

What do I need to leave alone?
What do I need to leave untouched
until you bring it out of the freezer
and prepare it for me?

Day 258: Confusing...

Today's Reading: Daniel 7-9

Visions, angel visitations and prophesies about 'end times.'

It is all very confusing to me. I am in good company then, because even Daniel did not understand all that was being shown to him.

Many theologians, scholars and people more spiritual than I have tried to decipher the 'code' of the visions of Daniel.

Though I do not understand much about the visions, I do understand and am not confused about Daniel's response: repentance.

Daniel pleads, fasts and prays.

Not only for himself but for his nation. Such honesty and such humility!

He ends his prayer with these words:
O Lord, listen!
O Lord, forgive!
O Lord, hear and act!

For your sake, O my God,
do not delay,
because your city and your people bear your Name.

There is nothing confusing about this.
Daniel understands his position before God.
He is not only a sinner,
he is an intercessor--a priest--begging God on behalf of God's people.

Perhaps getting the humility and repentance thing right is more important than fully understanding the future prophesy.

God will take care of the future.
We have the hard work of humility in the here and now!

Day 257: Speaker for God

Today's Reading: Daniel 4-6

Whether Daniel was interpreting a strange dream with an even stranger outcome, reading writing on a wall scribed by a mysterious hand, praying and communing with the one true God while all others were bowing to a human or spending the night in a den with some very large cats, Daniel was speaking for God.

Each time, his articulation went against the reigning and obvious power of the day, and relied upon the unseen reality of Jehovah, the most high God.

Though humble and refusing gifts for his prophecy, he boldly spoke and patiently waited upon the provision of God for his every need.

I wonder what it would have been like to live alongside a man like Daniel. As we read his story, we cannot help but be amazed.

Day 256: Oh no, you can't take that away from me!

Today's Reading: Daniel 1-3

Imagine this.

You are in your middle school years. You are bright, beautiful and of royal birth. And suddenly, you are taken away by the enemy of the land, unable to be around your parents, teachers, pastors or other mentors.

Your captors tell you you are no longer allowed to speak your native tongue. They change your name, your birthright, trying to rob your identity. They demand that you worship other gods and they insist you eat different foods.

You are scared out of your wits!

They hold swords and shields. You wear only a tunic.

They are older and stronger than you.

They are the new masters and you are the slave.

Would you have the gall, the courage, the chutzpah to defy them at risk to your own life?

Many of us shy away from people who disagree even mildly from us. We are embarrassed at times to speak up for what we know is truth because we are afraid we will be looked down upon.

Could we, at risk of life, defy an evil power right in our face?

Daniel did.

Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself.

You can remove me from all that is familiar.
You can try to change everything I know which defines me.

But you can't take my LORD and my God who defines me away from me.
I refuse!

Man! I love Daniel. With the passion of a lover and the boldness of a warrior, he stands true.

Dear LORD,
Give me the courage and the resolve of Daniel.
I thank you that you have promised that nothing can remove me from the palm of your hand.

Do not allow me to let people take anything of you
away from me!

Day 255: Tell your children!!!

Today's Reading: Joel

There is nothing more exciting for me than when the Holy Spirit is poured out!!! Wow!

The prophet Joel starts his prophecy with these words:
Tell it to your children,
and let your children tell it to their children,
and their children to the next generation.
Joel 1:3

God is always acting and acting boldly. And God doesn't want us to hide what the Spirit is doing; God wants to make sure our children know about it.

Did you ever wonder why?

Does God want us to warn them about the horrors? Yes! Our children should not be sheltered from the holiness of God, God's wrath against unfaithfulness and what God does to God's enemies. Tell your children! Warn them!

Does God want us to amaze our children with God's power? Yes! Our children should not think of God as something they can control or contain in a box, but a force and spirit beyond our control and our imagining. Tell your children! Shock them!

But even more exciting to me is that God wants to include our children in God's action! When the spirit is poured out on all flesh, both our sons and daughters will prophecy!!!

Even our sons and daughters will prophecy!!

Worship will not just be for the older folks while our children play tic-tac-toe on the bulletin. Offerings will not just be given by the adults while the children hold open their hands to receive a measely quarter from their dad's pocket or mother's purse.

Our children will participate.




Tell your children!

Get them excited and let them anticipate the joy!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Day 254: Deep and Wide

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 46-48

I am constantly amazed how scripture interprets scripture, how images in one part of the Bible build upon other images in the Bible. As I read today's passage, I was amazed at the images of the temple, the living water and the healing, cleansing power.

The vision of the temple in Ezekiel shows a spring of living water coming from the altar of God which flows out of the temple, getting deeper and wider as it flows. Everywhere it flows, life springs forth, healing occurs, and in its rushing and depth there is a sense of danger and excitement!

The living water image took me to the gospel of John, where in chapter 4, Jesus claims to be the source of living water. I, like Ezekiel, followed this water stream through the next chapters of John.

As the river from John 4 grows deeper in chapter 5, Jesus begins healing, above and beyond the healing previously offered by the shepherd's pool.

In chapter 6, the water is so deep that it becomes dangerously choppy, with winds blowing and storms breaking. Jesus, the source, easily walks on top of all the chaos, and then teaches his disciples that they must drink deeply of his life giving blood. Who can bear that, unless they remember that water and blood both carry the image of life. Remember? Jesus claims to be the temple, and on Calvary, the altar of sacrifice for us, a stream of blood and water flowed, symbolizing his life blood.

Then in chapter 7, hidden deep in the text is Jesus speaking on the very day during the Feast of Tabernacles when the priests pour water on the altar! The eighth day of the feast, (the number eight being the number which is for baptism and new creation), Jesus states: Out of the believers heart shall flow rivers of living water!

Now we are the temple and our lives lived sacrificially for Christ pour out life to those around us; we become the ambassadors and vessel of this living water---The Holy Spirit---by which people come to life and receive wholeness.

We then are flown to Revelation where out of the new Jerusalem, the throne of God comes again this living water, which flows "through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life (remember Psalm 1?) with its 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations!!!!" Note that the throne is the throne of God and of the LAMB---the sacrifice--whose life was given, whose blood was shed, to restore life to all who trust in the LORD.

I tell you, I just get so excited, I want to dive into the deep and wide living waters of the Holy Spirit and live abundantly, bearing fruit and leaves!

Day 253: Linen Garments

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 44-45

Linen is made from flax, a plant requiring much water. The entire plant is used, roots and all. Flax seed is planted closely together in order that the straight stalks which grow to over 4 feet high can be supported by others. Once harvested in bundles, flax is allowed to dry. Then its fibers are woven, often over 500/inch into a fabric which has incredible "breatheability."

God's priests wear linen, not wool. Why? According to this passage, linen breathes and, because of this, God's priest will not perspire.

The service of the priests is not to be considered "labor," but joyful service. It is to be like the service first imagined by God in the Garden of Eden, before the curse of thorns and a life lived "by the sweat of the brow."

I think there is also something to be said about the property of flax. Its source is an abundance supply of water, much like the Faithful's need for the refreshing living water of the Spirit. When called into use to make linen, the entire plant is given over to the task. So it is when we say "yes" to God. The call upon our lives involved a "yes" from our entire being--past, present and future--and of our entire resources, without reserve. Flax must grow tall in community. We, too, are dependent upon others to hold us up as we form the environ of mutual support. And as the flax is gathered in bundles to dry and woven tightly and densely, so, too, our ministries do not stand alone but together make a beautiful tapestry.

It is important to note that linen is the fabric of the redeemed in heaven. Imagine the joyful service there!

Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)

Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!' " And he added, "These are the true words of God."
Revelation 19:7-9

Day 252: People look east!

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 42-43

Ezekiel's vision of the new temple is just about completed. The structures are all in place and the interior decorating is done. It seems to be a splendid fixture.

But it is as dead as dry bones until...

"Hark! Look! Here comes the LORD and all his glory, coming to enter into the temple."

A church is just a building without the presence of God. It is just another structure without the movement of the Holy Spirit. It is just dry bones without God's breath to give it life.

Our ancestors of the faith realized this well. They saw the coming of the LORD as magnificent as the sunrise after a long night. In hope, they looked east; set their eyes toward the future dawning.

For this reason, most temples, cathedrals and churches face east. They face the future. They face the dawning of God's glory, longing to catch a glimpse, if not be filled with God's glory.

One of my favorite Advent hymns by Eleanor Farjeon catches the spirit of this vision of Ezekiel long ago.

People, look east. The time is near
Of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the guest, is on the way.

Wake up early tomorrow and catch the sunrise.

LORD, may your glory fill me
with awe and beauty.
May your temple receive
its LORD and priest.

Day 251: Measuring the Future

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 40-41

Imagine, sitting in a place of misfortune, poverty, and hopelessness, and having an angel visitation. The angel whips out a measuring tape and begins to measure out a huge mansion. In the vision, the angel does not just measure out the outer perimeter, but measures every inch of cabinet space in the kitchen and bathrooms.

Would this feel like a mocking or a promise?

Ezekiel sits in exile with God's people who have lost all due to their faithlessness. In the midst of all the sorrow that I cannot imagine, Ezekiel begins to have visions of a new and bright future.

And the vision is not some fuzzy or foggy blur, but a precise, detailed picture. The more precise, the more one begins to hope.

God is the god of incredible and seemingly impossible futures. God is the master craftsman who not only measured the boundaries of the sea, but is preparing a place for you in his marvelous plan. And it is not a vague future, one that could be voted down by a board. It is set, with all glory, and is backed by the one who can afford it.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Day 250: No more guessing

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 38-39

Today, I sat with a man struggling with cancer. He asked me, "What is God thinking? Why is this happening? Is God punishing me? Is there something I should be learning?"

These are good questions for which I had no answers. God's ways are not my ways nor are my thoughts like God's thoughts.

Sometimes, God's hiddenness is difficult for us. God's silence is deafening. God's ways do not make sense in our finite minds.

The Psalmist asked questions, "Why do the wicked prosper?" "Have you forgotten me?" "Why have you turned from me?"

But the prophet Ezekiel, speaking on behalf of God, declares, "I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD."

Though the questions we ask in the darkness of the night on our beds seem despairing at times, the revelation of the LORD in Ezekiel sounds even more frightening.

It makes me wonder, which is worse or which is better, to be in the dark or to have the light of God's revelation before us?

As I listened to the man struggle today, the Spirit said to me, "Trust me."

This seems to be God's word to God's people whether they are in want or in plenty.

"Trust me."

I believe there is no more guessing when we conform our minds to that task.

Trust God.

Pretty straight forward, no matter the circumstances.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Day 249: Two become One

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 35-37

Judah, the son of Jacob (Israel) who received the blessing, and Joseph, the favored son of Jacob (Israel) who saved his family, are two strong threads throughout the Old Testament. Though sent into exile with the tribes of their other 10 brothers, God now prophecies through Ezekiel that these two tribes, the descendants of these two brothers, will become bound together and be served by one king. The split kingdoms will no longer exist after the return of the exiles.

Think of all the time, blood, sorrow and agony that has passed. The family feud and the idolatry of the nation's people have thwarted God's will for his people. But in God's faithfulness, though the plan has been delayed and even pronounced as dead as dry bones, God's will will be accomplished by the fresh blowing breath of God's mighty Spirit.

As bone joins to bone and flesh joins to flesh in the valley, and as the prophet sets aside two common sticks, marks them as God's own and binds them together, God proclaims God's power and God's faithfulness.

All of this symbolism reminds me so strongly of the marriage covenant. Two opposing sexes, meant to bless one another, often torn by the idolatry of pride or the iniquity of an arguing spirit, are bound in the sight of God by vows which hold them together.

"The two shall become one!" proclaims God.

Bone will join bone,
flesh will join flesh,
mind will join mind,
blood will join blood.

"And I will blow my breath, my Spirit, upon them.
And they shall be ruled by me, the one King, the LORD."

Today, LORD,
keep our unions free from
the waste of time,
the shedding of blood,
the creating of sorrow and agony.
Do not allow us to exile one another.
Instead, bring us together in love
bound and breathed upon by your most
Holy Spirit.
Breathe into those slain
that they may live.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Day 248: Tending Care

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 32-34

Many of us have people who rely on us to care for them: employers, teachers, parents, pastors, scout leaders, nurses and doctors, military officers.

Though we may think it is a place of power, prestige and authority to be over someone else, to have people dependent upon us, it is truly a place of great responsibility.

God is hard on shepherds who don't tend their flocks well, who do not listen to the bleating needs, who profit from those under their care.

As we celebrate the Labor Day weekend, let us make sure our labors are true and not in vain. That we tend well those in our care. That we show compassion and great gentleness, as well as fortitude and persistance.

Day 247: Intelligence, Wealth, Beauty

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 28-31

"Ho, ho, hee! I'm smart, you see!
I can win the spelling bee,
Calculations, strategies,
Ciphering, technology,
Wisdom, creativity,
Narratives and poetry,
I'm a little god, that's me."

"So you're proud of what you're dealt?
Look at me, I've got the wealth.
Making deals and being stealth
Adding coins into my belt
Buying stocks, hoarding gelt
Playing games, I've got the meldt,
Many to my name have knelt!"

"Boring, boys, just look at me!
Full of grace---a real beauty
Flowing hair, abs of steel
Perfect eyes and shaped booty
When I'm walking down the street
You can't keep your eyes off me
The goddess holding all the keys."

"Stop your noise! Your hearts are proud!
Your blasphemy is much too loud!
Sharing my throne is not allowed!
You've corrupted gifts endowed
Meant to benefit the crowd.
Soon you'll meet diaster's cloud.
Arrogance will be your shroud."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Day 246: Burnt Pot

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 24-27

I had a friend once who was such a bad cook, she couldn't even boil water. She'd forget about it and burn the pot. One time, she left the boiling water on the stove so long, the water evaporated and burned right through the pot.

This is the image God is using to speak of the destruction of Jerusalem. But God adds a twist.

Choose the choice pieces of meat...

God is saying Israel was the very best. Her flavor should have been the most satisfying to the LORD. But instead, she would be cooked, the broth would evaporate, the bones would char, the pot would burn through. Something beautiful would become ruined.

The sweet smell of a living sacrifice of love would turn into the stench of a burnt pot.

God has a real way with words. God uses images of everyday life to try to explain to us how he is feeling about our behavior.

Today, God is asking, "Are you a wonderful Sunday potroast which makes everybody feel at home or has your burnt stench sent everybody outside until the smoke clears?"

Day 245: Contempt of offspring

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 22-23

There are ten commandments. The first four deal with our relationship to God and the last six deal with our relationship to other people. The first commandment which deals with other people has to do with our relationship to our parents.
Honor your father and your mother, that the days may be long in the land which the LORD has given you.

To honor our parents does not necessarily mean we obey them, but we do make an effort to respect them and not to disgrace them.

One of the violations of Jerusalem's people is that they had contempt for their parents.

Contempt begins with a sigh when asked to do something for our parents. It moves to the rolling of eyes to a glaring, mocking stance. It then moves to rebellion and belittling. Soon, contempt finds the son or daughter ignoring and/or demanding from the parent.

This was the sin of the prodigal son. He had such contempt for his father that he basically said, "I wish you were dead, for my inheritance means more to me than a relationship with you while you are alive."

Bringing honor to our parents is easy if the relationship is full of love. It gets harder when personalities clash or, worse yet, when abuse enters the picture. In these cases, we think we have the right to snub, withdraw from and even condemn our parents.

Beware if you are walking down that path. Time to turn around and retrace your steps.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Day 244: First Do This

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 20-21

There is a story about a new pastor who moved into town. The first Sunday he preached on the text "Love One Another." It was an excellent sermon and the parishioners went home feeling proud of their new pastor.

They came the next week excited to hear from the young pastor again. Much to their disappointment, the new pastor preached the same sermon. Some of the more gracious parishioners suggested that perhaps the pastor had been busy moving into the new home and offered this as a possible excuse.

With eagerness, they attended the third Sunday. Again, the pastor preached, "Love one another." By this time, the church elders were very disturbed. They decided they much approach their new pastor and set him straight.

"Pastor, you have preached the same sermon three weeks in a row. When do you plan to preach a new sermon?"

The pastor said, "I'll preach a new sermon when you plan to heed the task of this one."

In the passage from Ezekiel, a group of elders want to "inquire of the LORD." They want a special word; they want a miraculous sign; they want a unique knowledge.

But God tells Ezekiel, I really have nothing more to say to this group of people until they follow through on everything else I've said to them already. Tell them to first do what I have already commanded. Then and only then will they hear from me.

Many people want to hear from God. God has given us the entire Bible from which God will speak to us constantly if we come with an open heart. But, we want a special revelation so we can have a "God experience." Maybe God seems silent to most of us or our churches because God is waiting for us to first do what he has already revealed.

So I ask myself, what has God already told me to do that I have left undone?

Day 243: God's Graciousness

Today's Reading: Ezekiel 18-19

In today's passage, we have a perfect example of why a text should not be taken out of context.

Let me explain.

Consider the possible sermon, lecture or theology that could be spun if the listeners only heard this passage of scripture:
The soul who sins is the one who will die.

The orator could use this to truly berate and condemn his audience. She could speak of the wrath of God and lead people into despair. This kind of biblical interpretor would be doing God and God's people an injustice.

The emphasis in the eighteenth chapter of Ezekiel is God's graciousness. God explains that a parent is not responsible for the sins of his or her child; and a child is not responsible for the sins of the parent.

It goes on to say that an unrighteous person can turn from their unrighteousness and be forgiven.

In the culture of the exiles, this is incredibly good news! The sin of idolators in exile would not transfer to their children. Their children would not die in exile but return to their land.

Though the children bear the sorrow and the culture of the generations who have gone before them, they are not under the "generational curse" any longer. In like manner, a parent should not be held responsible or have to carry the shame of a child's unrighteousness.

And there is always the clause about forgiveness.
But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live.

Until we die, there is always the hope of forgiveness. In fact, God, like a good parent, does not want to punish, but always hopes for repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

I am grateful that this tallying of righteousness is not up to me. I am even more grateful that the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to me.

Without grace, I'd not only be dead, but during my life, I would be a nervous wreck!