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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Day 303: Right to the Heart of the Matter

Today's Reading: Matthew 19, Mark 10

A rich man--perhaps a very good student who pleased his parents, who got the job, who worked hard, who saved his money, who invested well, who has position, who lacks nothing, save the guarantee of kingdom citizenship--comes to Jesus and asks the question of the day.

What must I do to inherit eternal life?

I've loved my parents and provided for them. I've been faithful to my wife. I am trustworthy and fair. I am not a violent man. I am generous and kind to my colleagues.

I have been a good boy.

I am now a good man.

What must I do to get eternal life?

Jesus' eyes become focused, zooming vision into the man's heart, checking every cell of intention for health and wholeness. He sees a growing cancer of greed, pride, idolatry and love of mammon.

"Sell everything you have, give it to the poor; and then come, and follow me."

Too much, Lord; you ask too much.

The man walks away.

Does this mean all who follow Jesus must own nothing?

Or does this mean each of us has something sitting upon the throne of our hearts where Christ alone must reign?

For this man, to give up his riches was his greatest challenge. For this man, to share with the poor around him was his deepest need.

What is my greatest challenge? What holds me back from completely embracing the life God has set forth for me for all eternity?

What am I tempted to hoard? Is it money? Is it pride? Is it control? Is it unforgiveness?

What would Jesus have me give up? Unload? Drop? So that I can follow him? Anywhere... Anytime...

What is it that keeps me continually walking away from Jesus?

That is the heart of the matter.

Day 302: A very strange verse

Today's Reading: Luke 17:11-18:14

"Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather."


I'm reading along, reading along...

I'm saying to myself, "Yes, this passage is familiar; Yes, I've heard this before; Yes, I've heard sermons on this; Yes, I've studied this."

And then I hit a strange verse.

If this verse would have been pulled out of scripture and I had been asked from whence it came, I might have guessed Shakespeare or Tennyson, but never would have guessed its originator to be Jesus!

Yet another good reason to read the Bible multiple times. We miss things if we don't.

So why the talk of dead bodies and vultures in the middle of a discourse about the final days and the coming kingdom of God. Is this saying all the distruction will happen, there will be dead bodies all around and then the vultures will have a banquet? I don't think so.

The disciples are concerned about the Kingdom of God. Where is it? What is it? When will it come?

These are questions still asked by theologians, science fiction writers, politicians and everyday common folk.

Jesus replies by saying, "Sometimes you all are asking the wrong questions." For Jesus, "when" and "where" are not as important as "who." The questions Jesus wants us to ask are "Will we be a part of it?" and "Will we recognize it?"

Jesus' answer to these two questions is a statement. If the statement were broken down into two rhetorical questions, they might be these:

Do vultures eat dead meat?

Does anyone need to tell a vulture where carrion is?

As the Holy Spirit has its way with our lives, Jesus' death and resurrection for our sakes guarantees our part in the kingdom. And just as vultures instinctively come to dead flesh, we, who are created in God's image, will recognize the kingdom.

Day 301: Jesus wept

Today's Reading: John 11

Did Jesus weep
Because his friend
Had suffered and was dead?
Did he mourn deeply
As we do
With sorrow and with dread?

Did Jesus weep
For his best friends
Did not yet understand?
Did he feel lonely
For dearest ones were
Blinded to his plan?

Or did he weep
To know that for
His own great glory's sake
His most beloved,
Gentle one must twice
Death's evil face?

Perhaps he wept
With great relief--
As one who loves so dear--
To know the battle's
End was soon
And victory was near!

Day 300: So watch yourselves

Today's Reading: Luke 16-17:10

Jesus, like his Heavenly Father, hates sin. And he abhors those who lead others into sin. Jesus hates those who prey upon others, who dupe others, who tempt others.

So check out the sins railed against in the Ten Commandments and watch yourself.

1. No other gods before me. Am I fiercely loyal to YHWH or do I nod my assent to other gods? Do I encourage others to foster other allegiances?

2. No graven images. Do I buy trinkets, totems and idols as home decor? Do I worship things and encourage others to do the same?

3. No vain talk about God. Do I allow God's name to be taken lightly in my presence? Do I promise things of God to others and then not follow through?

4. Sabbath keeping. Do I cause others to work on Sabbath? Do I plan events which pull people away from their families and worship on their Sabbath day?

5. Honoring parents. Do I allow people to speak disrespectfully about their parents in my presence? Do I dishonor my parents verbally?

6. Don't murder. Do I speak out against killings? War? Abortion? Capital punishment? Euthanasia? Are all these things wrong or are there exceptions?

7. No adultery. Do I allow unmarried people to sleep together in my home? Do I flirt with those who are attached to another? Do I wear seductive clothing?

8. No stealing. Do I encourage dishonesty of any sort? Do I gossip and thus steal another's good name?

9. No false witness. Have I ever encouraged someone to fudge on anything? Do I lie about another to make myself look better?

10. No coveting. Do I take my children shopping, insisting they must have something which is not affordable? Do I encourage my family members or friends to want something belonging to others--fame, position, prestige?
What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.

I guess I better start watching myself.

Day 299: Hating Mom and Dad?

Today's Reading: Luke 14-15

Jesus says some pretty radical things.

Intentionally lower yourself.

Invite poor people to your house.

Leave ninety nine sheep behind and go look for one.

Hate your mom and dad.

This last one was always a hard one for me. I absolutely loved my Mother and my Daddy. After all, I was instructed by the Ten Commandments to honor them. They birthed, raised, cared for, provided for and loved me like none other. They prayed for me, taught me, sang to me, shared their faith and dreams with me. How could I not love them?

I didn't understand this passage until I received "the call" from God. My dad thought the call would ruin his plans for my life. My mother thought the call was extravagant and irresponsible. I knew the call was exactly what God created me to do.

For seven years, I honored my parents and followed their dreams for me.

Then, in my daily devotional, I fell upon this passage.
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.

I called my parents and with tears told them I could no longer fulfill their dream for me. I had to obey God's call.

Jesus' call upon our lives does not allow us to have any other loyalty above our allegiance to him. We are not to allow anything to stand in the way of what God's will is for our lives. All traditions, schedules, attachments must submit to our new life in Christ.

It's a tall order. Jesus speaks strong words.

That's so like him.

It can be very disturbing.

Or Christ's truth can set us free...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Day 298: Knowing what to fear

Today's Reading: Luke 12-13

Here is my confession of the day...well, maybe it's not a confession, more likely it is a frustrated observation.

I am getting really, really annoyed with people's prayer requests.

There, I said it.

Now, before you think me a total jerk, fully insensitive and lacking of all compassion, let me argue this point. I think this is a very Biblical annoyance.

For what do most people request prayer? Usually it is for someone who is ill. They ask you to pray for healing. Now, let me just say, this not only annoys me, it bores me, it frustrates me and it drives me batty.

Before you take me before the disciplinary committee to have me de-frocked, look at today's scripture.

Jesus says, "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him."

During a time of sharing concerns, most people verbalize their fears about some disease or someone whose loved ones have died. Cancer. Accidents. Alzheimer's. Strokes. Blindness. Mental illness. Suicides.

Legitimate, right? We weep and cry over something that will befall us all at one time or another. This flesh is going to fail us. We are all going to die.

Just once, I would love to hear someone proclaim, "My friend is ill. Pray he will not be afraid of the illness. My friend is dying. Pray she will not be afraid of death. Please pray instead that he will truly comprehend who God is, will experience tremendous fear and awe, and long for a relationship with his heavenly Father and eternal life."

I wonder what would happen in the Body of Christ if we really started listening to Jesus instead of listening to our fleshly fears. How would it change our prayers? How would it change our testimony? How would it change our lives?

Are we wise enough to fear God?

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.

Didn't I read that "somewhere?"

Day 297: Fanny pack comfort

Today's Reading: Luke 10-11, John 10: 22-42

My daughter is embarrassed by me.

She is a designer purse type of gal. She would love to have matching shoes and purses for every outfit. She likes to have names of people I've never heard of on her handbags. She could tell you if something is in style or if it is passe.

I am clueless.

My daughter is embarrassed by me.

I like to wear a fanny pack.

I am a practical kind of gal. A leather fanny pack is sturdy and durable. It is always accessible. It leaves both of your hands free. It is attached to your body. You don't have to worry about keeping it on your shoulder or setting it aside when you sit down. It travels with you.

And best of all, it is almost un-snatchable. No one can grab it off your shoulder and run off with it. It is held close and snug.

Fanny packs might not be the most fashionable or flattering way to carry around the necessities of a woman's life, but it works just fine for me.

Consider it my faith statement.

I am like a fanny pack on Jesus' hip. I am so closely bound to him, he declares that no one can snatch me from him.

I find great comfort in that.

Day 296: What do you know?

Today's Reading: John 9:1-10:21

When I was in school and had to study for tests, I was always frustrated when the teacher asked questions for which I had no answer. I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be great if the teacher would give a test which simply stated, 'what do you know?'" Then I could demonstrate everything I had learned on a given subject.

Today's story reads like a comedy about a blind man. Everyone is blind to him until he is healed by Jesus. Then suddenly, the paparazzi pounce asking questions...questions the now seeing man cannot answer: Who did this? How did he do it? Is he a sinner?

The healed man answers the best he can. "I don't know a lot about the man. He spat on some mud, put it on my eyes, told me to wash and now I see." After awhile, he gets frustrated with all the wrong questions and says, "All I know is I once was blind but now I see."

I think it is the wrong questions from the world that silence most people of faith. "How do you explain creation, salvation, sanctification, redemption, atonement, suffering, sacrifice, the sacraments?" "Who is saved and who isn't?" "Just how does the trinity work?" "What happens when we die?" "What is heaven like?"

Even though theologians and scholars have been trying for centuries to explain the mysteries of God, there will always be more questions than we have answers, for God is beyond our understanding.

Perhaps the best question of faith is this: What do you know? What DO you know? What do YOU know?

The disciples wanted to know about who was sinning. Jesus wanted God's glory and God's work to be done. The crowd and the enemies of Jesus wanted to argue the law and discount Jesus. Jesus wanted to know whether the man believed.

Perhaps we don't need to study for other people's questions and faith tests. Perhaps the only test of faith we need to prepare for and have an answer to is this one: What do you know? Where has God's work and glory been demonstrated in your life? Do you believe in the Son of Man?

What do you know?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Day 295: Talent Scout

Today's Reading: John 7-8

Hey there, Bro
You ought to know
I have the brights
to get your name in lights!
You've got the skill
I have the will,
I know the places
To get the aces.
You need more time
In the Newsweek line
I'll promote your act
There's no room for slack.
I could make you their idol;
No need to bridle
Their hunger for dazzle
With very little hassle.
You come with me
And then you will see
My plans for you
Will make us a few!
This secrecy must stop,
I want you on top.

Therefore Jesus told them, "The right time for me has not yet come; for you any time is right. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that what it does is evil. 8You go to the Feast. I am not yet going up to this Feast, because for me the right time has not yet come."

Day 294: Household Rules

Today's Reading: Matthew 18

Perhaps these are the five rules posted on God's refrigerator.

1. Remember you are a child. You are loved. You are not in charge. You are protected.

2. Don't set traps. Do not cause others to stumble or sin. Don't participate in anything that would hurt others or cause them to doubt. It would be very dangerous for them, but moreso for you.

3. One person's life is of utmost importance. The one in trouble gets first priority. If you are doing well, you are not the one who needs attention.

4. If you have a problem with someone, it is your problem. You are responsible for the reconciliation. It matters not that they caused the problem. The real problem is your unforgiveness. Deal with it! and soon...

5. Mercy always trumps justice. Be mindful. Being "right" is not as important as being "humble."

Day 293: How long shall I put up with you?

Today's Reading: Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9:28-62

Did you ever wonder what it was like for Jesus, the King of Heaven, the Creator of the World, the Ruler of the Universe, to deal on a minute by minute basis with people endowed with the "duh" factor?

Every word he shared, each teaching he gave, even his stories or blatant demonstrations of his glory were misunderstood and misinterpretted. It is no wonder he felt the impatience of a great scholar trying to tutor a dimwit.

It makes me wonder...how long will Jesus put up with me--with us--before he throws up his hands and says, "I'm done!"


I guess he already did that.

He raised his hands. Nails kept them there. Until he proclaimed...

It is finished.

How long will Jesus put up with us?

Until the will of God is done.

Day 292: Bread

Today's Reading: Matthew 16, Mark 8, Luke 9:18-27


No matter where you go in this world, every culture has some form of it.

Bread is a basic. Some women spend a portion of each day baking it. Some men spend their lives making it. All people want their share to eat it.

Jesus uses this basic need to point to the essential element of faith. Bread is provided. That which spoils bread is warned against. Statements of faith are proclaimed to be even more necessary than bread. Jesus, the bread of heaven, is left on shore while the disciples venture into trouble.

Don't forget the bread.

It is your sustenance. It is your comfort. It is your life.


Day 291: Because of the Crowd

Today's Reading: Matthew 15, Mark 7

Because of the crowd
will I miss Jesus?
Too tight they are around me
blocking my ability to be near

I could climb a tree,
but what if I skin my knee
and experience pain?

I could call some friends to aid me,
but what if they shy
at my state?

I could join the crowd,
but what if I become their
associate, unclean sinner?

I could sneak in for just a touch,
but what if his robe is
just out of reach?

I could call out in my blind state,
but what if I am pushed aside
and silenced?

I could beg for help
but what if I am recognized
as the dog I am?

Because of the crowd
I almost missed Jesus.
I had many excuses.

But the yearning ace
trumped them all.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Day 290: Too hard!

Today's Reading: John 6

Did you ever sit at a desk with a homework assignment? Did you ever struggle over one math problem, trying to work it over and over and over again, paper torn with erasures and smeared with mistakes? Have you ever abandoned something--a project, a job, a marriage--because it was just too hard?

If you have ever had such an experience, you can empathize with the followers of Jesus. The lessons are becoming more difficult. Eating flesh. Drinking blood. Descending from heaven. Greater than Moses. Who can understand all this? It is more complex than a physics equation.

When the students ask for an explanation, Jesus speaks in mysterious language. Spirit revelation. Eternal life. God's seal of approval. What is Jesus talking about?

If you think you understand this passage, one of two things might be happening. Either you think you understand and actually don't have a clue; or you do understand only because God has chose you to have this revealed to you.

You see, Jesus is talking a foreign language---kingdom of God language. This language is as amazing as the thoughts it possesses. This language is as miraculous as its speaker multiplying bread and walking on water, materializing in places and descending from heaven.

Too hard?


Unless...you believe...by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Day 289: What is my response to Christ?

Today's Reading: Matthew 14; Mark 6; Luke 9:1-17

It is fascinating while reading great chunks of scripture to focus upon different responses to Jesus Christ. They are so like many of ours, depending upon the moment, the month or the mountain before us.

Ponder these responses with me.

What is my response to Christ?
Demons are afraid of him. Am I like the demons, wreaking havoc in others lives? Am I aware of my own participation in evil? And then suddenly Jesus walks in. Do I say to Jesus, "I know who you are. I understand your powere, but give me some more time before you put me in my place?" Do I comprehend that Jesus could destroy me?

Students are amazed at him. Am I a student who loves to hear Jesus' teaching? Do I find Bible study fascinating? Do I love the thrill of a new insight? Do I seek out Jesus to be amazed and stimulated intellectually?

The crowds run to him. Am I someone who runs to Jesus? Do I drop everything on my schedule, knowing a moment in his presence is worth more than anything I can imagine? Or do I run to him only when I need him? Do I long to be healed and have the opportunity to just touch the hem of his gown?

Some are offended by him. Am I someone who wants to argue with Jesus? Am I offended by his forthrightness and his narrowness on some issues? Do I despise the way He is always 'right?' Do I think I have a better way to run things if only God gave ME the power? Does Jesus offend me and my lifestyle? Do I want to tell Jesus to back off?

Those in power plot against him. Am I someone who secretly desires to put Jesus away? Do I look for contradictions in what he says? Has Jesus so riled me, I want to put him totally out of my life? Do I think he could be a danger to some people if they get too fanatical about him?

The disciples are terrified of him. Am I a disciple, who, the more I see and the more I experience of him, the more I desire and yet the more I am terrified? Do I see his power and tremble, yet realize my whole being is worthless without him?

What is my response to Christ?

I think this is an important question today.


Perhaps the most important question of a lifetime.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Day 288: Courage, Man!

Today's Reading: Matthew 9-10

A friend of mine died today.

She was my age. Some would say she was too young to die.

She fought hard to see her daughter dress in a lovely canary colored gown and pose for prom pictures.

She fought hard to attend her niece's wedding.

She fought hard to smile daily at her amazing prince of a man who never left her side.

There were many of us who carried her pallet. We walked along side her as the cancer of her body paralyzed hands previously mobile to create fiber masterpieces. We strapped gait belts to her and held her as paralyzed legs which used to hold a gardener's body erect gave out.

We couldn't find a roof to dig through, so instead of letting her down, we lifted her up in prayer.

Today, as she is present to the LORD of all Creation, as room has been made for her in the throne room, I want to hear the same words said to her that were said to that paralytic long ago.

"Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."

"Courage, daughter; your sins are forgiven." Stand up, join me now and let me show you true beauty.

Thank you, LORD.
Thank you for my friend.

Day 287: Reined In

Today's Reading: Matthew 8:14-34, Mark 4-5

I don't know about you, but I find it fascinating what comes out of the mouths of demons and spirits in the New Testament. Though they seem to ravage many souls and are found everywhere in Jesus' daily jaunt through the community, they do not seem so cinematic in the presence of the Messiah.

They act like naughty bullies caught in the act.

And bullies they are. Tormenting, scaring, manipulating and badgering.

But evil glaring faces and ghoulish countenances back off meekly when face to face with the Son of God.
"What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time? Swear to God that you won't torture me!"


They recognize who Jesus is, calling him by his earthly name, "Jesus" and his heavenly name, "Son of the Most High God." They know Jesus has power and authority over them. They know their fate is coming soon when they will be "tortured" at some "appointed time."

And they know Jesus will follow his Father's will to the letter. That Jesus will rein himself in until that unknown appointed time.

Imagine the patience it took from Jesus not to just come and cleanse the entire world of all its evil. What was he waiting for? What is God waiting for? Why is all this suffering continuing when at the clearing of the Messiah's throat, all bullying demons could be quieted and all could be restored?

I do not have the answers to these questions except I know God's plan and timing are perfect. And I know, the self control and reining in of the Messiah's tongue must be because of his incredible love and grace for us.

The appointed time will come when all that has been harassing creation will not only be silenced but tortured. That's a very graphic picture.

Jesus declares later, that if he so desired, he could call down his legions.

But he decided, instead, to do the Father's will, remain silent and go to the cross.

Though his white stallion is champing at the bit, Jesus is saying, "Whoa, Boy, not just yet."

Day 286: Lake sitter

Today's Reading: Matthew 13, Luke 8

I know I should blog all about parables today, but I just can't get past the first words in Matthew 13.
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.

This morning the mist is coming up off my lake. A blue heron took wing. The tall grasses are waving in the breeze and a turtle is swimming with her nose in the air.

We focus so much on the world of humans we know that we forget there is a whole other part of the world depending upon God's sustaining power. I always think of the incarnation as an act on behalf of humans, but I never thought of the rest of creation longing to "see" its Creator. Until today. I'm sure Jesus wanted to spend some time with his masterpiece also.

Maybe today, we need to take Matthew 13: 1 to heart and be like Jesus.

Jesus was a lake sitter. He found rest in the lapping of the water, in the feel of the welcoming give of the sand beneath him, in the delight of the aqua world before him.

Too bad the sixth day creatures had to interrupt his communion with the previous five day creatures and elements. Youngest children can be very demanding.

Humans are like that. We like to burst in on each other and then expect to be the center of attention.

Let's go to the lake and learn some new lessons.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Day 285: Strong Man in the House

Today's Reading: Matthew 12: 22-50, Luke 11

Spiritual warfare is not something often taught in the main line church. And this is a shame. There are powers and pricipalities we fight on a daily basis, and most of us are unaware of their existence. We are very aware of the symptoms in our souls, just not aware of their source.

I know, I know...

Many scientists say that all the talk of demons in the Bible was really about chemical imbalances and diseases which we have now discovered and can treat with medicines.

But there are some oppressions and possessions outside the medical field. Even as a nurse I can say this. But as a Christian and a Bible reader I can believe it.

Jesus comes and drives out demons. The fact that demons exist is never in question. What is in question is "Who is Jesus?" and "By what power is he healing people?"

As Jesus gives us a glimpse into the spiritual world, he shares a parable about a house being robbed. One cannot rob and ravish a house unless one first "ties up" the "strong man." Then Jesus warns us not to blaspheme the Holy Spirit.

When we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our house. The more we yield our lives to Christ, the stronger his Spirit becomes inside us.

Those of us who know the Holy Spirit in our lives--his power, majesty, comfort, and revelation--would not want to "tie him up," for we know his protection of our souls.

So try to get this in your mind.

Your life and person are like a home. Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, has come to dwell with you. He has posted guards all around you. Nothing can touch you without it being for your good or according to God's will for you. The more in cooperation we live our lives with Christ, the greater amount of the Holy Spirit's power is released in our lives.

Strong man in the house!

I love this imagery!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day 284: Come unto me

Today's Reading: Matthew 11

There is a pattern I am noticing. Have you noticed it too?

Jesus shows up in town and places and then people come to him.

Jesus rarely goes to people. People come to him.

Does that strike you as odd?

It does me.

Until I think about Jesus and how he does not force himself upon anyone.

God loves the World. God sends the Incarnation of God's self to the world. Jesus shows up and says, "Here I am. I'm standing in your midst. I'm knocking at your door. I'm here. Come to me. I will give you rest."

Are we weary? Yes, we are.
Are we heavy laden with cares, worries and concerns?
Yes, we are.

Jesus says, "Come to me and I will give you rest."


To me it is an amazing thing to rest with Jesus. The one who feeds me. Calms my storms. Heals my diseases. Forgives my sins.

Imagine what Jesus could do for you.

Jesus sends out the invitation. "Come!"

Get up right now and send your RSVP.

Day 283: I am willing

Today's Reading: Matthew 8:1-13, Luke 7

It is no mistake that right after the Sermon on the Mount, a man with leprosy comes to be cleansed by Jesus.

Physical leprosy has always been understood as a symbol of the depths of spiritual depravity. Who, after listening with open ears to Jesus' sermon, could walk back into "normal life" and be satisfied.

When one hears the beauty of holiness and then looks at himself, one cannot help but see one's own sinfulness.

Matthew is a clever writer. The Holy Spirit leads him to tell this story of miraculous healing right after the warnings are issued by the Son of Man.

God is like that. God always gives warning. God gives time for repentance. And then God delivers wrath upon those who will not and do not listen.

If you are willing, LORD, heal me.

Are you kidding? God is so willing! We are the ones who are unwilling! We are unwilling to admit our leprous hearts. We are unwilling to come and kneel before the creator and savior and ask.

Jesus is willing.

Are you?

Day 282: Your Righteousness

Today's Reading: Matthew 5-7

The sermon on the mount is so full of wisdom and truth, many churches spend entire years studying it. It is daunting to think about preaching or blogging on it. Where does one start when trying to explain or interpret such a thick body of material?

So I asked the LORD to focus me upon one verse.

It was a verse to which I never gave much attention, but it hooked me, especially the words "your righteousness."

Unless your righteousness is greater, far exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you have no place, you have no case before God, in the kingdom of heaven.

My righteousness.

This is something I guard with a vengence. How do I know this? Just have one person criticize me, or challenge me, or correct me, and my righteousness is defended by my ability to blame, rationalize and prove my way or my point. I easily know when I can do something better than another or if someone else is not up to my par. I like to be right. I like to think I am always right.

The Pharisees and scribes felt the same way. The Pharisees tried to be right by demonstrating their right living as their strength. By gum! We're going to love God so much it hurts. We're going to prove ourselves by keeping the Law as perfectly as anyone could imagine.

The scribes tried to be right by demonstratin their right thinking. By gum! We're going to love God with our minds, even if it means that's all we do. We're going to know more, memorize more, go to school more than anyone else.

The Pharisees and the scribes looked "right" on the outside, but Jesus looks at the heart. You don't murder? he asks. I tell you if you are even angry with a brother or a sister you have killed them in your heart. You don't commit adultery? I tell you if you even lust after someone or have fantasies about someone, you have committed adultery!

The gavel comes down and we all slink as the guilty sentence falls.

I can't do it. I can't be even as righteous as the Pharisees and the scribes, much less exceed abundantly in my strivings.

Paul calls our righteousness "dirty rags."

If we think we can walk into the throne room of God in dirty rags and be welcomed, we are mistaken.

When Moses walked into the throne room of Pharoah, God told him to lay down his rod, his identity as a shepherd and the defense of his personhood. Lay it down!

Lay it down, I hear God saying to me. Don't come in here toting your righteousness! Take off those dirty, filthy, stinky clothes of self righteousness, scrub up in the baptism of the Holy Spirit and then have your big brother, Jesus, loan you his clothing for the rest of your life...his righteousness must become your own. Only then do you have a case and a place in the kingdom.

Day 281: Angry and deeply distressed

Today's Reading: Matthew 12: 1-21, Mark 3, Luke 6

In parenting, have you ever been so upset with the attitude and stubbornness of your children that you just want to spit! Have they ever acted in a way totally against what you have taught them that you want to disown them?

Imagine how Jesus felt when there was the opportunity for a man, whose hand had been shriveled, to be healed! Lord, have mercy! How wonderful!

A man who could not use his hand to hold a cup of water, or caress his wife; to lift his child or to participate in labor; a man unable to go to synagogue or offer his sacrifice at the temple because of a withered hand.

And now, healing is available! Praise the LORD!

But the stubborn ones, the ones with the stiff necks and the worshippers of legalism want justice instead of mercy. They want revenge instead of forgiveness. They want to see rules followed to the "tee," while people are suffering.

Jesus looks at his creatures--his creation--and becomes angry and deeply distressed at this kind of attitude. Where is your mercy? he asks. Where is your loving-kindness? Didn't I create you in my own image? I see nothing in you that looks like me or even resembles who I am.

O the sorrow Jesus must have faced every day as he walked with his creation. No wonder he needed much time in quiet communing with the Father.

Day 280: Court's in session

Today's Reading: John 5

John 5 is full of court room language: accusation, testimony, acceptance, judgment, witnesses, condemnation.

Though the people want to put Jesus on the stand, the truth is that Jesus is the judge and the defense attorney. And God is the main character witness for Jesus.

In this chapter, Jesus speaks very clearly about who he is, his relationship to his Father, God, and what he thinks about what people are saying about him. Jesus is not doubtful nor does he hedge. He is the chosen Son of God who has come into the world to testify to the Father, to do the work of the Father and to speak about the coming kingdom.

Jesus warns us:
"How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?"

Now there is a great question!

We have a judge and jury of one, and it is Jesus Christ. No other opinion, judgment or affirmation is needed.

Day 279: Rules

Today's Reading: Mark 2

Remember when you were a little child and rules seemed an everyday part of your life? I remember that they were not only the stuff life was made of, they seemed so clear.

Wash your hands before you eat.

Brush your teeth.

Say "please" and "thank you."

Obey your parents.

To tell you the truth, I never much analyzed rules. I just knew I should follow them. In many ways, that keeps life simple.

Often, when we want to become God pleasers, we think, "If I just follow rules X, Y and Z, I'll be OK." Perhaps the rules to obey in your life have to deal with what you wear and put on your body, the length of your hair, the use or non use of makeup. Maybe your rules deal mostly with what you eat or drink; what you allow or do not allow into your body. For others the rules are about what one can say and how one can say it, or even who has the right to speak.

Sometimes it is easier to follow a set of rules than it is to follow Christ. Legalism has always been a temptation for even the most alert Christian.

The ones in the Gospel who were really trying to please God felt they were on the right and righteous path by keeping the Law. And they were. Until the rules became the LORD instead of the LORD becoming LORD of the rules.

In chapter two of Mark, we see good people blinded by good intentions. They thought they had become masters of the rules. Instead, the rules had become their masters. So much so that when the one who fulfilled all the Law and the prophets stood right in front of them, they were blind.

Chapter two teaches us that Jesus is LORD over sin, sinners and even Sabbath. Not that he breaks the Law, but fulfills the Law in the perfect understanding and living out of those laws.

I often wonder...would I recognize Jesus if he walked in my church today in human form? Would I adore him?

Or would he offend me?

Day 278: Who to trust?

Today's Reading: John 2-4

Reading and blogging on New Testament passages is a bit more challenging than reading and blogging on the Old Testament. Why? The New Testament is so much more familiar. I've preached and heard so much preaching all my life on especially the gospels that it is hard to lay all my presumptions aside and hear the word fresh, today.

Thus, I thank the Holy Spirit for bringing a hidden passage to the fore for me.

As Jesus is breaking into the scenes of the ancient eastern world, healing, preaching, working miracles, people are beginning to take notice of him and form opinions. Many are beginning to put their faith and trust in him.

But there is a very interesting couple of verses at the end of chapter two of the book of John that I never noticed before.

Though people are believing and trusting in Jesus, Jesus is not trusting them.

But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.

Though many would testify to who Jesus was, Jesus did not need anyone to fill him in on the human condition. John claims, "(Jesus) knew all people."

This past Sunday, our confirmation class studied Psalm 139. "O Lord, you know me...you have searched me and know my thoughts."

Jesus, as God, knows the human condition and knows none of us are trust worthy; because of something "in us," we are not worthy of trust. Thus it is no surprise to Jesus when his friends betray and deny him.

And it should be no surprise to us when our friends betray and deny us. In fact, if there is any loyalty and faithfulness, integrity or honesty from our fellow human beings (and even from ourselves,) it should surprise and give us cause for gratitude.

So who can we trust? Friends, family and those we love will fail us at one time or another.

The disciples "put their faith in (Jesus)."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 277: Who are you?

Today's Reading: Matthew 4, Luke 4-5, John 1: 15-51

As Jesus moves into the front and center of the stage performing miracles, preaching, healing and calling disciples, the people around him begin to wonder, "Who are you?"

Their responses and those of the demon and satanic world point to the varied responses to this question.

Some say, "Ah, that's just Joseph's son." He's no one special. Just another guy who doesn't make that big of a difference.

Some say, "This man and his friends are dangerous." John is locked up in prison and there are rumblings of discontent beginning.

The demon world knows full well who Jesus is and addresses him as Jesus of Nazareth and Holy One of God in the same breath.

Listen to all the names in this passage and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the full nature of Jesus to you.

Son of God
Jesus of Nazareth
Holy one of God
The Christ/Messiah
Son of Man
God, the One and Only
King of Israel
Joseph's Son
Demon Possessed
A man
Lamb of God

Day 276: What should we do?

Today's Reading: Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3

To read the gospels side by side, we get a glimpse of the personalities and the points of view of the different authors. Matthew and Luke follow much the same path, Luke with a little more attention to Jesus compassion, but Mark is on fast forward. Jesus hits the ground immediately running and the people are all amazed--amazed a lot!

John the Baptist is preaching, and so is Jesus. In fact, Jesus states that his purpose is to preach. Many want miracles and healings. Jesus wants to talk about the kingdom of God and about his Father.

I am fascinated, though, by the direct preaching method of John. I don't know if he would "make it" in our local American churches with his directness! Imagine calling the leaders of the status quo a "brood of vipers!" No wonder he didn't have a long pastorate. His message was a constant and continual message: Repent and believe.

It interests me that each group of believers is not "assigned" the same spiritual discipline. One group is told to share food and clothing, another is told to be fair, still another is exhorted to not abuse their power. John speaks directly and clearly to each one who comes to him for spiritual direction. And the mode of repentance is different for each one.

This leads me to ask, "What should I do?" Where does my life need to turn like a sunflower toward the new sunshine of the kingdom? Where is my repentance? Where is the fruit? What speaks to the core of my spiritual need?

Some of us are called to share clothing and food; minister to the basic needs of another because in doing so, we will realize the power and bondage of the scarcity we feel for ourselves is broken only when we open our hands to share.

Others of us need to stay within the boundaries of our own calling and not extort from others. We need to recognize that we are not above our brothers and sisters; they are not instruments to be used for our own pleasure or gluttonous needs.

And still other of us in authority need to guard ourselves from ourselves. We need to use power to help others and not to abuse them.

Repent and believe.

That's a tall order for one sermon.

How will John's sermon change me today?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Day 275: At Great Cost

Today's Reading: Matthew 2, Luke 2:39-52

During Christmas, I am usually focused on a sweet baby who we hope doesn't cry, a cleaned up Mary, a costumed Joseph with glued on beard, shepherds who are trying to keep their headpieces on, baby angels with tinsel halos and wise men tripping over their too long robes. Reading the nativity narratives during October is helping me to see beyond the Christmas pageant stereotype of Jesus birth.

Chapter 2 of Matthew is really quite disturbing. After the mysterious story of wise men coming from afar, we hit a horrible story of slaughter and then the great escape of the Holy Family to Egypt. Often the slaughter of innocence is relegated to the Sunday lectionary after Christmas, and rarely preached. After all, who wants to ruin the festivities of Christmas with the reality of the cost of the incarnation. It is much like receiving the credit card bills in January.

Research shares that the average American spends between $700-800 on Christmas. That is an average of $2,800-3,600 per household of four people. Is this shocking to you or does this seem about right? Consider not only the gifts but the decorations, food, parties and travel and the number begin to make more sense.

But these numbers are minimal compared to the cost of the first Christmas. Let's look at these three stories and see if we can begin to imagine some of the initial costs of the incarnation.

Who were the wise men and what did it cost the magi to travel from "the east" to Israel?

The wise men most likely came from Persia (modern Iran and Iraq) and probably served as priests and members of the Parthian government during the time Jesus was born. The most important duty of this group was the selection of the next king for their country.

The distance, then, would have been anywhere from 500-1000 miles, taking at least six to eight weeks. The caravan needed for travel alone would have consisted of animals, slaves or porters, food, shelter and money to make passage through dangerous and barren lands.

The political risk was also great. Rome was not a welcoming empire to people from other lands, especially people from enemy groups.

The magi carried great treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Wealthy travelers were at the mercy of ruthless desert thieves. The cost was great but even greater was the risk to their very lives.

And speaking of lives risked, imagine the cost of the descendants of David living in Bethlehem. All male children under the age of two were slaughtered. Though the numbers vary as to exactly how many children this would be, can we comprehend the devastation and great sorrow. In Bethlehem, there were at least two years when no young man became a "Son of Righteousness." Synagogue classes were empty. Young girls had no male playmates and grew up with no male counterparts for their age. We forget the mother's grief and the father's helplessness as children were grabbed from homes and cut in two. What kind of horror and fear did that place in the people of Bethlehem?

One more story in this chapter. Mary and Joseph must steal away into the night and head toward Egypt, at least a 300-500 mile journey. Most likely, Joseph walked the entire distance; perhaps Mary rode. But imagine leaving all you know, entering a foreign land in order to save a child who isn't even your own. Joseph not only risked his reputation to shelter Mary and her child, he risked his livelihood and his life.

So what will Christmas cost us this year? Or would it be better to ask ourselves, what are we willing to risk this year at Christmas that we might join in the story--the story of salvation offered to all; of peace on earth and goodwill?

Day 274: Fourteen--Hidden Meaning?

Today's Reading: Matthew 1, Luke 2:1-38

The book of Matthew is the gospel written to the Jewish Christians. Possibly, there are hidden meanings within which are Jewish symbols that many Gentile Christians would miss. In the genealogy of Christ, the author of Matthew makes a point of stating there are three cycles of fourteen in the generations from Abraham to Jesus.

Three in Christianity represents the trinitarian nature of God and the resurrection (in three days Christ rose from the dead.) In Hebrew understanding it represents God and limitless light.

Before we look at the three cycles of fourteen in the genealogy in Matthew it is important to note that the Matthean genealogy is not the only genealogy we have in the gospels. Jesus' genealogy in Luke begins with Adam and is quite different from the one in Matthew. Many believe the Lukan genealogy is Mary's genealogy and not Joseph's. The gospel of Luke is written to the Gentiles and speaks of salvation for all people. The genealogy in Matthew begins with Abraham and addresses "the children of Abraham" in its text.

It is important to note, both genealogies have David in the line. In the Hebrew language, every letter is assigned a numerical value. Since the Messiah was to be a descendant of David, it was important to trace Jesus back to the defining personality of the Hebrew people. Interestingly, the name David has the numerical value of fourteen (daleth = 4 and waw = 6 so the numerological value of David’s name is 4+6+4 = 14.)

Fourteen is also the number of years Jacob worked for his favorite bride, Rachel. His first wife, Leah, was not the one he had "bargained for" with his uncle Laban. He was tricked into marrying her. Rachel was his true love. She became the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, the two favored sons of Jacob, though Judah, the son of Leah, held the birthright for the Messiah. Some believe the number 14 points, then, to the two "brides" of Jesus, or the joining of the Jewish people with the Gentiles in order to bring the possibility of salvation to all God's people. Jesus is descended from Judah, but Joseph is seen as a foreshadowing figure of Jesus who was despised by his brothers, the Jewish people, but ended up saving them.

The meaning of fourteen is related to the Hebrew characters yod (10) and dalet (4). Fourteen is thus represented as: Yod dalet, the Hebrew word for “hand." Interestingly, there are 14 knuckles on a hand. Jewish tradition points to the number 14 as representing Moses who was the "strong hand" which received the Law and the Torah. In Matthew 5: 17, Jesus states he has come to fulfill all the Law and the Prophets. Thus three fourteens, the three cycles of generations in Matthew, could be pointing to the Godly (three) fulfillment of the strong hand (the Mosaic Law) in Jesus.

Fourteen is also the number of maturity. In Jewish tradition, a fourteen year old male was considered a man, fully grown. In Galatians 4:4-5, we read these words: "But when the time had fully come (matured), God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive adoption as heirs." Maturity equalled the idea of the fullness of time. Note that this passage in Galatians speaks to the incarnation, the law and the engrafting of the Gentiles into the Jewish line, God's chosen people.

It is interesting to note that the symbolism of the number fourteen was more important to the author of Matthew than the full accuracy of the ancestry. In order to preserve the symbolism, the author excludes three kings in the second group of fourteen (Ahaziah, Joash and Amaziah.)

One more side note, five women are listed in the Matthean genealogy: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the mother of Solomon who had been Uriah's wife (Bathsheba) and Mary. Five represents balance and divine grace. Each of these five women experienced divine grace in their lives, and their listing in the genealogy gives the patriarchal listing a balance of sorts.

Very interesting, yes?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Day 273: How can I be sure of this?

Today's Reading: Luke 1; John 1:1-14

Right from the beginning of the New Testament, the first words spoken by a human are the words we all, at one time or another, utter in our minds. Some even dare to speak them aloud.

"How can I be sure of this?"

It is the question of faith. It speaks to the "stuckness" of our feet in the very miry clay from which we came. It is hard for us to think, much less believe outside the visible and scientific, the factual and the visible things we know of this world.

How can I be sure there is a God?

How can I be sure when I see a vision or dream a dream?

How can I be sure of mysterious impossibilities?

How can I be sure of strange faith stories, of testimonies from long ago or even from friends today?

How can I be sure of this?

In the Greek, the question comes in this form:

How can I understand this?
How will I know this?
How can I perceive this?

The question points to our problem.

How can I understand God and the ways of God with just this feeble, finite mind?

How will I know this is all true? Will there be proof? Can you show me the formula and give me something I can sense with my ears, eyes, hands...?

How will I perceive and recognize this even when it is standing right in front of me? How will this be revealed to me?

The author of Luke begins by sharing his research and careful investigation, hoping to convince Theophilus (whose name means "the friend of God.") His account tries to give the facts---dates, times, historical markers---in which the mystery exploded.

John speaks in mysterious paradigms and symbols to give depth and breadth to the physical and spiritual realities of the man Jesus who, though, looking like a common human, shocked, amazed and transformed those around him.

How can we be sure of this God, this Jesus, this story of salvation and love?

That is a mystery.

The gospel writers will give us their testimony. And then we wait.

We wait as our forefathers and mothers waited for the birthing of the miracle despite our barrenness.

Some of us wait mutely.
Some of us wait hopefully.
Some of us wait cautiously.
Some of us wait expectantly.

Notice that Mary asks the same question. "How will this be, considering my limitations," asks Mary.

It is our question.

Perhaps the answer comes as it did to Mary.

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you...For nothing is impossible with God."

Come, Holy Spirit, come.